By January 1844, William Miller had been preaching the impending Second Coming for 13 years. Miller had never been dogmatic about a particular date, merely fixing the time period 1843-1844 as the approximate time. As the end of that window approached, there were as many as 50,000 looking for the imminent Return of Christ.
Our church was born out of this movement, and with it came a sense of urgency which remained with us for more than a century. It remains with some still. As I have written before, I agree with the need for urgency, though with a different understanding of why it remains important.
Because our church was born out of this sense of urgency, and because there was, at the time a concern that a formal organization was akin to being part of Babylon, many issues and doctrines were simply assumed, rather than studied through. When necessity made organization unavoidable, some of these assumptions were institutionalized. Our order of service still looks a great deal like that of the Methodists, because many of our early pioneers had Methodist backgrounds.
I am not criticizing the pioneers for these choices. They were human beings, not gods. And the New Testament makes it clear that the early church made similar types of mistakes. Nevertheless, this left the denomination with some weak spots in his theological foundations. Some of them we have only recently begun to come to grips with, women’s ordination being a prominent example.
As I blogged several years ago in this space, ordination did not begin with a scriptural study of what ordination was and was not, but simply was a solution to a problem at the time. There were people going around claiming to represent Adventist thought and doctrine, who clearly were not. So the church began ordination simply as a way to distinguish those who did represent church teaching from those who did not. Only as an afterthought did they bring in scriptural support. And while understandable, that approach always presents hazards.
It is nearly always a mistake to begin with a practice or a conclusion, and then go to Scripture seeking evidence to support it. At best, it leads to a weakly supported doctrine. At worst, it is a proof texting distortion of Scripture, the kind that claims the Bible justifies slavery. As far as I’m aware, most of the mistakes resulted in the former outcome, weakly supported doctrines. In a number of cases, there was simply a vacuum, no clearly thought out scriptural case for a particular practice.
iif you leave a portion of ground implanted, it generally brings up a variety of weeds. That is what has tended to happen in a number of these areas where the church assumed a practice, letting time and chance fill in the vacant space. Which brings us to where we are today.
I mentioned women’s ordination in the previous blog. But that is far from the only issue threatening to divide us today. The relationship between “regular” conferences and regional conferences, and how to resolve that, is another divisive issue, as is race, in general. The churches stance toward L GBT Q + questions is another.
There are others. Resolving any one of these issues would have little effect on the others. That tells us that these are surface issues, reflective of the voids in our understanding at a deeper level, just as the cracks in a brick wall reveal weaknesses in the wall’s foundations.
So what are these deeper issues? I’m not sure that I know all of them, but I have observed three basic ones:
1 Confusion over Caesar’s realm and God’s. We disagree on what is rendered to whom because we do not clearly identify the limits of each.
2) Another divide is about the nature and function of inspiration, which affects our understanding of scripture and SOP.
3) This third divide is even more difficult, for it is usually unrecognized and therefore assumed rather than posited or articulated. It concerns what God values most, His *summum bonum,* if you will.
There may be more, but I see these three continually roiling our debates, concealing the truth, and sowing discord among the brethren — one of the things that God hates. None of these issues are easily dealt with, that is why they are dividing us: it is far easier to argue over surface issues than to dig down and build a new foundation theologically. But so long as we avoid the more difficult task, the divisions at the surface will grow, and God’s work will languish.
So I propose to examine these. I invite you to come along, to comment and contribute. For that is the only way I know that will be able to move forward. Together.