I had the opportunity to attend the Sabbath program at the NAD annual meetings on October 29th. While there were a lot of musical numbers, one in particular stands out.
It was piano number played by a talented young gentleman. I am not sure, but I think he wrote the piece himself. It was a magnificent piece, filled with all sorts of difficult passages. It was a piece that somehow transcended melody and emphasized mood. Parts of it felt like they were from a Broadway musical, other parts reminded me of a Liberace performance. The whole piece was very loud, and I wondered how the pianist’s fingers could stand up to such a pounding. When he was done, the audience applauded loudly, as they had done numerous times already in the service. The pianist took a bow.
My thoughts went to Ted Wilson’s sermon at the 2010 GC Session after his first election, and to Spirit of Prophecy passages where she talks about the effect of clapping on the musician—that it exalts man and has no place in church. For me, there was nothing spiritual in this music number. Rousing, yes, but spiritual, no. Perhaps it was a different spirit present.
As a young adult, I had come out of rock music, jazz, and movies with their soundtracks. I know that music is not neutral, and so does our church — or at least it did in 1972, when it wrote its position on music. Didn’t these leaders know any of this? They must! Or are they so willfully blind that they have forgotten. I don’t know.
Alex Bryant introduced the speaker, NAD President Elder Dan Jackson. It was a glowing introduction, devoid of simplicity. Dan was praised as a “Daniel,” about to be thrown into the lions’ den.
Alex pledged everyone’s love and support, and promised that everyone in the room would follow him into the den, as long as Dan went in first. Given the context, Alex was obviously referring to the NAD’s support of women in ministry and the likely fallout. I suppose it is a matter of opinion, but I felt the comparison tarnished the name of Daniel. Daniel is an example of unwavering obedience to God in a time of extreme distress. Daniel always stood firm, whether in smaller matters, such as diet, or in larger matters, such as worship. Dan however, is leading an organization in disobedience to the applause of his subordinates.
In his defense, I am sure he and perhaps all the clergy in the room that day, understand his conduct as not mere disobedience, but rather, civil disobedience. It should be obvious to anyone — if our church splits over this issue, it will not be because the membership wants to split. It will be because pastors have led their congregations to split.
Stated another way, without the rebellion of the pastors, the women’s ordination issue would be minor. Without a pastor leading them, the laity would never leave the world church. Certainly the harder choice would be for a pastor to lead his congregation against women’s ordination. In most cases, the difficulty would not be with the laity, but rather, with his superiors in the conference, the union and the NAD. Perhaps the even greater difficulty will be the peer pressure from his colleagues and his professors from the seminary. A genuine Daniel would attempt to heal the church. But I digress… let me continue.
Dan Jackson’s sermon Scripture was taken from 2 Kings 6, where we find the story of Israel and Elisha surrounded by the Syrians. Elisha struck the enemy with blindness and led them into another city where the enemy was taken within the walls and surrounded by Israel. Elisha then opened their eyes, and commanded the Israelites to feed them. After they had eaten, the enemy was allowed to leave, not to return again. Though it was not explicitly stated, Elder Jackson was likening the NAD to Israel and the world church to the Syrian enemy. Somehow, God would find a way to deliver the NAD from the GC. Elder Jackson went on to emphasize another point, specifically that we “should not judge one another.”
Aside from the above central motif of the sermon, I’d like to point out a few things that he actually said. I couldn’t write fast enough for verbatim quotes, but this is a very close paraphrase. He said, “God’s realities are different than our realities.” The point being made was that for Israel, their reality was that they were surrounded by the enemy and facing certain defeat. But for God, He could strike the enemy with blindness, and thus has a different reality than we do. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. A brief thought experiment can illustrate this. Suppose a young boy has a tricycle and one of the wheels comes off. Crying, he takes it to his father who bolts the wheel back on. Was the boy’s reality any different than his fathers? No. Both are bound by the same reality. If there are multiple realities, then there are multiple “truths.” If there are multiple truths, then all truth is relative, and there is no truth at all. Dan Jackson is a bright, well-trained pastor with a grasp of the issues facing our church, Postmodernism being one of them. For now, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t know he was invoking Postmodern, “all truth is relative” thought patterns.
Elder Jackson made another statement, “when we place ourselves in the center of God’s reality, we place ourselves on the throne.” If you look too closely at this statement, this is a nonsense statement. There can be no literal center of any reality, nor is he stating that there is something central to reality. Rather he is stating that if we insist on our own reality, we are placing ourselves above God, because God has a different reality. Thus our duty is to get out of the way of God’s reality. The problem with this is that it is based on a false premise — the false premise that there are multiple realities. Reality is singular. We serve a God that reveals himself primarily through his written Word, but also through his providences and occasionally through a contemporary prophet. Since reality is singular, truth is absolute, and not relative. Our duty is to discover this reality, primarily through the Word. As we discover reality, we will know more of our God.
Romans 10:17 says “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” To hear is to understand. To understand, is to understand reality, or absolute truth. Coming full circle, I must agree with Elder Jackson, in that if we insist on our own reality, we do place ourselves on the throne of God. But the conclusion I draw is directly opposed to Elder Jackson’s. Reality is singular, and to insist on a personal reality is to insist on a personal opinion, or in Biblical terms, a private interpretation. As a biblical Believer, I deny a plurality of realities, not everyone can be correct, but everyone can be on a journey towards the truth, with the word of God as the ultimate arbiter of truth.
What is the truth of the story in 2 Kings 6? God is more powerful than we are, and God is wiser than we are. God can take an impossible situation and bring good from it. God does not mean unnecessary ill will towards anyone. Finally, because God loves us, we can safely depend upon him. We see God’s love upon the cross. Love, by its very nature, places the one beloved as its central object. Our love for God makes God the supreme interest in our lives. God’s love for His creation makes us His supreme concern. This talk of multiple realities belittles God’s love, our love, and the nature of the beloved. It cheapens the gospel.
Moving on, Elder Jackson referred to the church as enfeebled and defective in a resigned tone — as if it could never be anything else. While the church in its current state certainly is enfeebled and defective, lukewarm in Laodicean terms, the church will not remain so. She will not be preaching a “Live and let live” theology, nor a “Pick the second best” theology as we have seen so recently in the Theology of Ordination’s Study Committee third option, explained so well in these articles on Fulcrum 7. Rather she will be the Church Triumphant, depicted in by the woman clothed in the sun of Revelation 17.
In describing the defects of the church, Elder Jackson mocked three important doctrines of the Church: the health message, the church’s position against gambling, and the Sabbath.
The health message he mocked in a joke about tofu. I couldn’t help but think about the lack of pastoral support that J.H. Kellogg received in his day — from ministers. And yet the health message is a critical message of love, and God’s chosen method to bring the Message into the hearts of man in these final hours of earth history. I credit the very life I live today to an adherence to the health message. There is a pathetic sadness in hearing the message mocked by someone who is obviously in need of the benefits of the message. Perhaps it is the hypocrisy of pastor who orders steak when no one is looking — or the un-concealable failure of an obese man to adhere to the message — which causes that man to mock the message. It hurts to see men needlessly dying from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, with all the awful complications.
Elder Jackson mocked the church’s position against gambling by disparaging the church for its willingness to receive money obtained from the lottery (which almost never happens). While the church should never condone gambling, it has always been the church’s position that the Lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and all the money in the earth is God’s. We are mere stewards. So long as no other injustice is committed, it is always proper for someone to remit money to the Lord. To do so can never justify the means by which the money was obtained. But it is never wrong to give back to God what is His anyway. I fail to see a problem with the Church receiving money from anyone.
Finally, Elder Jackson made a very interesting sophisticated joke wherein he quoted the 4th commandment. The exact nature of the statement escapes me, but the use of the Scriptures in this manner denigrated it.
Approaching the end of the sermon, Elder Jackson stated that salvation was based upon our relationship with Christ. In this he is certainly correct, but taken in the context of the sermon his statement means more. He is stating that our salvation is based upon our relationship with Christ, regardless of the truth, which for him is relative. If truth is relative, then the law is relative. If the law is relative, then salvation is independent of our keeping of the law. No longer can the statement, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” have a literal application. And thus our relationship with Christ is transformed away from its scriptural basis, a very dangerous doctrine. Everyone has a relationship with Christ, whether good leading to salvation or bad leading to destruction.
Prior to the service, I had mixed feelings about attending. I wanted to find a sincere group to meet with who would study their Bible with me, but at the same time, I wanted to see what the soul of the NAD leadership was like. I chose to attend the services with NAD leadership. While I was there I was struck by a new thought, “Here is the church I left.” It was an odd thought to me, because I never left the SDA church, but looking back on my journey, it is a thought that perfectly matches my experience. There was a time in my life when I was more in the world than in the Word. I attended a big SDA institutional Church, where I was not troubled by the messages. But by God’s grace, I was led to read the Scriptures for myself, be re-baptized, and attended a much smaller, much more traditional Adventist congregation. It is with this background that I questioned myself as to whether I would ever want to baptize someone into this church of the NAD. The answer in my heart was “no.” But then I thought about it and remembered that I would love to baptize someone into the community of believers I had found in my little home church, and that I have since found scattered all across the globe.
In the final analysis, the music set the tone for meeting. Elder Bryant’s introduction led the audience’s feelings and expressed the audience’s feelings towards Elder Jackson. Elder Jackson’s sermon was an expert use of postmodern rhetoric. While I cannot judge his audience as I was a member of that audience myself, the overall feeling in the audience was one of agreement and exuberance. The Bible says “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” Our church leadership spoke that morning. While I judge no man, the Church service was of a different spirit than the Remnant Church of Revelation 12.
We are living in a time where the NAD and the world church are on a divergent course that will result in a split. Don’t be deceived. The split is nearly complete in the clergy, but does not yet extend to the laity. As a lay person, you are going to be faced with a decision as to what you will do. While you are not to follow men, God has ordained a church structure complete with human leaders. As a lay person, you will be forced to decide which church follows the Bible and which church you are going to be a part of. There may be a leadership vacuum in your local church. Prepare yourself to fill that gap if the Lord calls. You may be called to give the speech of Joshua, “Choose you this day….” Will you be ready? I am in awe at the General Conference’s restraint in this matter. Right now, this restraint is buying us time to prepare ourselves and our fellow members for what is to come. What are you doing to prepare? The storm is coming. Pray for our church.
Baruch is the author's pen name.