Dear Church Leaders,
I’ve been following the recent events of the Seventh Day Adventist General Conference very closely; and I’m not talking about the great things happening in Adventist education, healthcare, or ADRA. I’m referring directly to the issue of church unity that has come to the forefront of the debate on women’s ordination. While I was frustrated with the GC decision regarding women’s ordination, I believe your current approach to maintaining “church unity” is what will finally push myself and every other gen-X and millennial away from the church.
First let me tell you at my core I’m an Adventist. I’m a third generation Adventist with both my father and grandfather being Adventist ministers. Most all of my family has attended Andrews University. I personally chose Andrews over other private and public schools I was admitted to because finding a spouse who believed in Adventism as I did was most important. This is why your actions regarding women’s ordination and church unity are so hurtful to me. I don’t see any of those things as being a reason why I’m Adventist.
The issue of women’s ordination and the subsequent fall-out are cultural issues, not doctrinal or even salvific. When you’ve got people from literally every country on the globe as part of your church there’s going to be disagreements like this. Should church greeters kiss, bow, or shake hands? Who cares? Yet for some reason in 2016 we approach our differences like the Pilgrims telling Native Americans to put more clothes on. Church unity means making everyone the same. Why? Whatever does that have to do with where I spend eternity?
See To me and almost all the people who are mad at the church and/or leaving the church, we care about two things. The first is something Jesus said (go figure). Jesus said to love God and love your brother. That’s it. How much does our church show love? Love to people who are sick, hungry, ex-cons, single parents, divorcees, refugees, mentally ill, black, white, gay, lesbian, transgender, or have had abortions. LOVE EVERYONE!!! And second only to the love everybody thing is community. Because you can’t have community without love and acceptance and tolerance for our differences. Because in the messed up lives we live in we want to know our church will love us and accept us despite our flaws. When you have love as Jesus asked then community falls right in place. And notice what comes at the end of community. UNITY!
Unity comes when we take a step back from pointing out each others differences and start appreciating them. We then leave the judgement up to God. After all, he’s going to do a lot better job at it than any of us. When we lose sight of what Jesus actually told us to do, we put ourselves in his place. It’s almost like we don’t trust Jesus anymore. It’s 2000 years later and we think we’re smarter and know what he was talking about better than he did. After all He didn’t have the Ellen White Library or the Seminary to guide Him. And if you don’t trust Jesus, you don’t trust the people in your church to follow his command. You don’t believe that the Holy Spirit can talk through anyone but yourself and the people who agree with you. But if you don’t trust people, you’ll never have unity. And that’s not something you can bring about with a vote or board action.
Church unity is something every pastor and church leader has preached about since Paul. It’s an annual staple right up there with the Christmas sermon and that year end sermon about giving. If you listen to those sermons (and I’m sure you’ve preached a couple too), then you’ll remember every one of them references I Corinthians 12. The body of Christ is made up of many different parts and you can’t expect them all to be the same. Yes, I agree with unity in the church, but in the respect that we are all unified through Jesus who created each of us uniquely marvelous. However, your approach to church unity more closely resembles to Torquemada and the inquisition than it does to Jesus and the woman at the well. And that’s a big problem.
Unity isn’t everyone agreeing on the same thing. Unity isn’t about drawing a line in the sand and telling everyone to choose. Unity is letting the tide wash away the line and enjoying the beach together. It’s about finding the common things we agree about not trying to eliminate each other’s differences. It’s about living Jesus lives and trusting him to change the hearts of men and women so His kingdom can be built, not ours.
So I’m begging you right now to take a step back from what you’re doing. You hired the Barna group to tell you all the numbers about the next generation leaving. This thing you’re doing right now is one of the reasons why. Look around and you’ll find members are literally on the edge of their pews right now ready to get up and walk out; never to return. Even giving a “year of grace” to come in line and repent won’t work. It will only delay the inevitable. Instead, follow the advice of Gamaliel. Let this go. If it is of man it will fail. But if it is of God you won’t be able to stop it. You’ll simply wind up with a bunch more empty churches.