About the theological dangers which supposedly threaten the Church

As I write this blog, the Annual Council of the global Adventist Church is almost over. The council consisted of hybrid meetings, with part of the GC executive committee physically present in the chapel of the headquarters office in Silver Spring (USA), and most of the board members scattered around the world, at often inconvenient times, participating via Zoom. In terms of technology, it is quite a feat, with live streams in five different languages and many fine graphic presentations. I am pleased to see that, despite the corona crisis, the church has managed to stay afloat organizationally, and has suffered relatively limited financial damage. But the pandemic has not left the church untouched. It is estimated that some 17,000 church members succumbed to the virus, including some 800 employees. Anyone who thought that God would protect all faithful Seventh-day Adventists from the Covid-19 epidemic urgently needs to revise his/her theology.

I realize that from a distance I have not been able to get a complete picture of everything that has been discussed and decided in the past few days, but there are a number of aspects about which I am very concerned and which depress me quite a bit. First of all, there is the statistical report by the flamboyantly dressed David Trim, the director of the statistical office and the archives of the Church. Over the last two decades we have become accustomed to the fact that the membership of the Church worldwide each year increased by more than a million people. During the recent pandemic that figure remained at about 800,000. The question is whether this decline is only due to the practical problems during the pandemic or whether it also confirms a negative curve in church growth. More alarming in the statistical report is the graph that shows that of every 100 men and women who join the church, 41 leave again after a shorter or longer time. That frightening percentage is slowly but surely creeping further upward. And the unpleasant reality is that this number is actually even higher, since many drop out without this being registered anywhere.

Church leaving is a complicated issue that most denominations have to deal with and that has many aspects. But I am convinced, it certainly also has to do with the conservative course that the church leadership of the Adventist Church has embarked upon, especially since the current president of the world church took office. This ultra-conservative course was again strongly emphasized during the past few days. It was very clearly expressed in Ted Wilson’s sermon on Sabbath morning, in which he listed no less than fourteen dangers threatening the Adventist Church. He called his sermon “pastoral,” but it was anything but that. Brothers and sisters of non-heterosexual orientation are more likely to have felt that there is no place for them in the church. Many of them wonder why they should stay in a spiritual community where they are not welcome.

One of the important agenda items on Monday also had to do with the “theological dangers” threatening the church. A group of four men, led by the president, was tasked with identifying these threats. Their list of ten points mostly paralleled the sermon of Sabbath morning. Many have already commented on this via the social media, both pro and con. I was particularly struck by a comment on Facebook from someone who noted that it was not he who had left the church, but that slowly but surely the church had left him! We need to keep that aspect in mind when looking at church figures about church leaving.

A burning question concerns the role of the hundreds of theologians associated with the Adventist colleges and universities. The situation is sad and disconcerting: almost all of them are sidelined. The list of the “theological problems” on the agenda of this fall meeting was compiled by just a few confidants of the president of the Church. Guarding the “doctrine” of the church apparently cannot be entrusted to people with solid theological training but depends on the insights of a few top executives. (By the way, it is striking that the list of dangers fails to mention the heresy of Last Generation Theology! One wonders why.) Rightly (but at this point in vain) the previous General Conference president called for the building of bridges between theologians and administrators!

All in all, the past few days have left me rather depressed. But I am not giving up hope that at some point a new wind will begin to blow. If it doesn’t, the Church to which I belong, with all my heart and soul, risks becoming a museum instead of a place where I can recharge myself spiritually, and where my faith connects with the challenges of everyday life.

6 thoughts on “About the theological dangers which supposedly threaten the Church

  1. Kenneth Brummel

    I believe we are stuck in 1915. We have too many who live vicariously through the ministry of Ellen White without living guided by the Holy Spirit. (I have a high view of Ellen White as I joined the church after reading The Great Controversy and Desire of Ages.) I believe we are like the Israelites who told Moses, “You talk with God and tell us what God says.”

    I believe we will remain stuck until Revelation 14:1-5 is seen as critical to the Three Angels Message that follows.

    Three things separate the 144,000 from the traditional 3 Angels message as currently taught. 1) pure woman = pure doctrines which is the connection between these two portions of Scripture. 2) They follow the Lamb wherever He goes. This implies you can be part of the 3 Angels message “in good and regular standing,” have pure doctrine, but only follow Jesus partially or not at all. 3) They have no guile, literally “fish bait”, figuratively deception. It also implies you can be part of the 3 Angels member in good and regular standing and still use guile. My point is we stopped considering teaching anything beyond Ellen Whites time of death in 1915. I believe Revelation 14:1-5 is present truth for those who have come out of Babylon and are taking final step to prep for Jesus return.

    Thanks for your thoughts about End of year meetings. And yes the wind is blowing…

    Ken Brummel, Site Director
    Washington NH SDA Church

    “Washington still speaks”

  2. George Tichy

    When Ted Wilson became GC President in 2010, he out the SDA train in reverse gear. Destination: 1844. And there we are, stuck now in the middle of appears to be a Coup d’état. Elections are past due…, but oh…, that pesky Covid… As if the job could not be dome via ZOOM! Sure…

    1. Kenneth Brummel

      Perhaps our orgaization needs to train members about the power of the local constituency. We used to be taught at seminary about our structure and that the “secretary of the local conference’s main job was to keep the conference in harmony with the laws of the state it is organized within.

      What would happen if the local constituency discovered it could drop the NAD Policy Book from having any authority??? It is not required by state law to have any hierarchy above the conference.

      Yes, if this is done, the conference would have to do many things currently done by the other branches of our denomination. And yes, I do not think this would be good. But… as long as leaders in our organization recognize it is a possibility, perhaps we can move from the “kingly power” back to Bublical servant-leadership.

      Each local constituency, the body of believers, revotes our working together each time we vote our constitution to include the NAD Policy Book . And perhaps we should talk about GC and other leaders being in rebellion to God when they are claiming unions and conferences are in rebellion for daring to follow God’s leading locally.

    1. Reinder Post author

      Last Generation Theology is the theory that Christ can only come back when there is a group of perfect people. This is based on a number of very dubious premises. Read my book: In All Humility: Saying “No” to Last Generation Theology. You find it on Amazon.

  3. Hilde Huru

    TWs focus on the theological dangers facing the church seems amazingly lopesided to me.
    All the while TW is pointing out certain dangers supposedly threatening the church, and at the same time looking to the third world countries for support of his leadership and as the home of most of the ‘still true Adventism’ (- the kind that rejects that women can be equipped by the Spirit for church leadership and ministry, discriminates against those who are not pure enough, still practies strict church discipline and so on). And while TW is claiming that true SDA’s in the first world cannot be meat eaters there there seems to be no such demand of the believers in third world country (though meat is mostly a luxury item in many of these places and people are well aquainted with the fact that you can survive well om rice and beans).

    In my hometown and country we have seen quite a few adventist refugees come from african countries in the last few years, but I have yet to meet an african adventist family who do not eat meat (nor any Asians).

    I have also been surprised when these faithful, lovely, conservative believers come to me as the church elder and ask me: “Is it really true that norwegian adventists don’t drink beer?” Or they explain that their son is not attending church for the next few weeks because of a sporting event, or that the whole family will be going out shopping after church. All these things that we were told that good adventists don’t do, and that such things are all proof that first world adventists are backsliders.

    But never have I been more surprised than when I heard from an African lay leader that still many in the church i Africa, including church leaders and officials still do rituals to appease the acestor spirits while also being ‘adventists in good standing’. Is not our belief in ‘the state of the dead’ one of our pillar beliefs according to EGW? – So where is TW’s sermon on these theological dangers?

    And while ordination of women is a banned topic in the Western world, the world leadership seems to be covering up the fact that in China ordained women pastors are doing a wonderful job exercising their spiritual gifts and harvesting the results. Who is behind the work of these women if not God?

    It seems to me that our church all over the world has both challenges and successes. One great challenge in many parts of the world being a lack of understanding (and practise) of important concepts such as democracy, social justice and servant leadership rather than abuse of power.

    So in summary, I find TWs continual attempts to chasten and cleanse the church with his ‘pastoral’ sermons more than just a tad bit lopesided and scewed.

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