A return to the time of the pioneers?


A few days ago I saw the name of a new ‘ministry’ for the first time: DEB (=Declaring the End from the Beginning). This ministry has a special message for Adventist believers. I am not going to invest much of my time in studying this new group to acquaint myself with all the details of its message. I understand that the Old Testament prophecy of the 2520 days (=years?) plays a very important role. According to this group the correct interpretation of the apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel and Revelation must conform to the ‘prophetic charts’ that were used in the nineteenth century Miller movement. Why?  Because it is claimed that Ellen White endorsed these charts!

I find it rather curious that an explanation of some 175 years ago—which clearly has many aspects that most Adventists no longer accept and which Ellen White did not follow in her own writings—must be our present-day point of departure. However, for a sizeable group of people the mere fact that a particular point of view dates from the time of the ‘pioneers’, is the ultimate guarantee of undiluted orthodoxy!

Soon the world will celebrate the fact that five hundred years ago Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the chapel of the Wittenberg castle—something that is now universally seen as the starting point of the Reformation of the church. This event will create a lot of attention for this period in church history. According to some Adventists who are interested in the Reformation period, the books by Jean-Henri Merle d’Aubigné, an eighteenth century church historian, are the best historical source. Why? Because Ellen White relied to a significant degree on this author when writing her ‘Great Controversy’ book. It seems that in the eyes of these Adventists, this invests d’Aubigné with a degree of derived infallibility. When studying church history we are supposed to  forget that since the days of Ellen White lots of new studies about the reformation period have been published; we must continue to be content with the books that the ‘pioneers’ had in their libraries!

In recent weeks I read (as I already mentioned in a previous blog) the biography of J.N. Loughborough, written by Brian E Strayer. On page 102 I found a remarkable statement which I decided to mark. Of course I knew of phenomena in early Adventist worship that most Adventists prefer not to be reminded of. This short description of a meeting, however,  brought  some frowns on my forehead. Subsequently James White described this meeting as one of the most inspiring ones he ever attended.

“As the group met for worship services, Hart, Everts and the Whites explained why the Laodicea message especially applied to Adventists als part of God’s last-day remnant church. Ellen White received three visions that week: one lasted half an hour, the other two for two minutes each. She appealed to her listeners to return to the Lord. Deeply convicted by the Holy Spirit, some shouted: ‘Glory! Hallelujah.’ Others wept, and still others spoke in tongues. J.N. Andrews and one woman present  were ‘prostrated by God’s power’, their bodies ‘limp as a piece of cloth’. . . . The meeting continued past midnight.’

This is just one illustration of how meetings of our early spiritual forbears might proceed. It may be interesting to read about it, but would we really want to go back to this kind of church, as it was established by our spiritual forebears more than a century and a half ago? There is much in our heritage that we must keep and that may continue to inspire us. But there is also a whole lot that we should definitely leave behind, if we want to be the kind of faith community that is able to communicate with people in the twenty-first century, in a relevant way. And that, after all, would be in the true spirit of the ‘pioneers’.