“Adventist Outreach Through Worship”
Jon Paulien, Ph. D.,
Chairman of the New Testament Department, Andrews University Theological SeminaryOne of the great “hot potatoes” in the Adventist Church today is the subject of worship. That must not prevent us, however, from noting the impact that Adventist worship styles makes or does not make in a secular world. When secular people begin to come to an AdventistChurch, are there ways we can make them feel more at home?
While public evangelism often succeeds in increasing baptisms, it does not always result in sustained church growth. One reason for this is that the people didn’t join a Saturday morning church. They joined a church that meets five nights a week, uses lots of visual aids, and has exciting music by professionals or with taped accompaniment. They are then expected to settle for once a week, with few visual aids if any, and a piano or organ played with a minimum of enthusiasm. A little reflection indicates that the quality of Sabbath worship is crucial to sustaining church growth, not just among secular people, but in general.
The Drawing Power of VibrantChurch Worship
Many SDA churches, therefore, are now finding that a relevant and vibrant worship service has a powerful, word-of-mouth drawing power upon the unchurched. Those who have fallen away from church attendance because the worship service seemed boring, manipulative, and out of touch with their lives, are often open to giving the church another chance when the worship service is interesting and speaks powerfully to contemporary issues.
Part of this worship renewal includes a use of contemporary language and harmonic idioms. While this has appeared threatening to some, history teaches us that revivals of faith are usually accompanied by revivals of Christian song-writing. The need for fresh melodies, styles, and lyrics lies in the fact that faith must touch base with real life if it is to become the everyday experience that is needed to overcome secular drift. Contemporary secular songs, though often presenting messages that are contrary to the gospel, nevertheless express deeply the struggles of life in today’s world.
When Christian music demonstrates an awareness of those contemporary struggles it has a powerful influence in behalf the gospel’s solutions to those struggles. Thus, it is not surprising that many of the great hymns utilized contemporary lyrics and melodies to bring Christianity home in a relevant way to earlier eras. We must not be afraid to be as bold as the hymn-writers of the past.
A YouthChurch Worship Service Experiment
Before I continue, let me explain that I too once feared that contemporary music might lead us in a dangerous direction. I have now changed my mind. Let me explain how it happened. Some time ago our home church face a lengthy period of time without a pastor. As part of its worship plan the church invited the youth (ages 14-22) to present a “youth worship service” on a monthly basis. This included contemporary praise songs (no drums, very low key), a dramatic sketch illustrating the theme of the sermon, and a sermon that spoke directly to contemporary issues.
A number of exciting things happened almost overnight. The youth group for the first time felt that it was a valued and accepted part of the church. Young people got excited about the chance to contribute. Not only did the youth group grow rapidly, but they brought parents and friends, and soon attendance in our church more than doubled (no parking available after 9:20 AM!).
What impressed me most, however, was what happened to my own children. Up until then they had expressed the usual disinterest in everything that happened in the church service with the exception of the children’s story. But during the youth services their eyes and ears were entirely up front. I knew this not only from the looks on their faces and the unused Magna-Doodles lying on the pew, but from what happened the rest of the week. All week long I could hear them singing the songs that they had heard and seen on the screen during the worship service. But even more impressive is the fact that I often heard the three-year-old and the four-year-old exchanging one-liners from the sermon in the course of the week!
Somehow the use of contemporary songs, and the visual medium of the skit communicated to children too small to dissimulate that the sermon was also relevant to them. Somehow, in a subtle way I do not understand, my children perceived that worship was worth their time and energy. Please keep in mind that we do not even have a television set in our house so our children are not “jaded” by hours of bleary-eyed saturation in the secular world.
That was when I realized that none of us are fully insulated from contemporary life. Though we may shun the television and radio, we are influenced nevertheless. When you call a bank, a store, or the credit-card company they put you on hold and guess what comes over the phone! When you go to the grocery store or the shopping mall to obtain items necessary for life what kind of music comes over the PA system? It is impossible to live totally in a world other than our own. When worship fails to speak to the world we live in, it is easy to live a double life. One is the life that we live when we are in church or associate with fellow Christians. The other is the life we live as we work and play. Such a compartmentalized life will neither save us from secular drift, nor attract secular people to our faith.
A Contradictory Example
Some time after the “youth experience” in our church I visited a major city in a third world country. In that city were two pastors, one who pastored a “celebration” church, and the other who pastored an “anti-celebration” church. It was hoped that a joint worship service of the churches might help to build relationships and understanding. I stayed at the home of the “anti-celebration” pastor. An interesting thing happened at sundown on Friday. The television and the VCR were turned on and throughout the Sabbath hours contemporary Christian music videos from Adventist groups played in endless cycle. Much of the music was of a “racier” variety than that used at the “celebration” church in town. I was stunned.
I said to the conference official who had brought me to that city, “This man opposes using this kind of music at the eleven o’clock hour, but enjoys it the rest of the week. Do you realize what this does? It means that worship is the one hour of the week that is totally cut off from the rest of his experience. The Sabbath morning worship service is almost guaranteed not to speak to what matters most in his day to day life.” I say this not to be critical of a very godly pastor, but to illustrate how easily worship becomes isolated from our everyday experience, an obligation to be performed, instead of being the driving force behind our outreach for God.
I have learned one more thing from my church’s short-lived experiment with contemporary Christianity. The youth services are now a thing of the past in our little church. The attendance has dropped back to previous levels. The youth have settled back into their isolation. My children no longer pay attention to the worship service. Things are back to normal! I have learned that, as a group, change is a very wrenching experience for church people, even when the results are dramatic.
The Danger of Forcing Drastic Changes
We must not forget that many people do appreciate a more traditional worship style. Many of the great hymns of the church still speak powerfully. There is nothing inherently wrong with the traditional service. If it is working well where you are, don’t throw it out! Not only do many people prefer the traditional style, but maintaining it is has become a matter of conscience for them. It is a terrible thing to force a people to go against their conscience.
I have, therefore, concluded from my own experience, and those of others I have worked with, that it is usually unwise to attempt to make large changes in the worship style of a local church, even though change may be a positive thing for many. Too many souls are troubled, too many hearts are broken. This world has enough tears already! And it hardly seems fair to take a church that has functioned in one place for decades and “tear it away” from those who have given their lives to it. I plead that those who have a passion for reaching the secular mind have compassion on those who do not. Coercion and force are tools of Satan, even when exerted in a “good cause.” It is a terrible thing to be forced to go against one’s conscience.
It is Better to Start a New Congregation
If worship style is to be a central component of outreach to a secular world, it may be better to start a fresh congregation dedicated to outreach on a contemporary basis. Those who prefer a more traditional style can continue to go where that style remains in force. Just as individuals have unique gifts that can be applied to God’s work, so churches may also be gifted to carry out tasks that other churches could not accomplish. I must, therefore, plead with those who prefer the traditional idiom, not to burden the lives of those who bravely strive to raise up new churches with bitter and endless criticism.
I realize that such “praise churches” will gain some of the best and brightest from other Adventist churches and thus cannot go unnoticed. But this will be a wondrous opportunity to speak the most difficult, yet greatest words ever spoken by a sinner, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” (John 3:30) There is room in our church for more than one model of worship, just as there is room for more than one model of ministry.
“User-Friendly” Service for Secular People
In many geographical areas of this country, however, there are hardly enough Adventists in a community to keep one church afloat, much less two. In such circumstances it makes little sense to orient an entire church, kicking and screaming, into targeting exclusively the classes of people that are most difficult to reach, especially when such targeting involves spiritual risk. The best that one could hope for from the worship service in such a setting is that the service would at least not be hostile to a secular seeker. The goal would be to design a church service that can, on the one hand, meet the needs of traditional Adventists, while, at the same time, providing a more “user-friendly” environment for secular people.
In the following I offer six suggestions that could be introduced into any Seventh-dayAdventistChurch without a board action. None of these suggestions compromise the basics that are vital to the spiritual health of more traditional people in Adventist congregations, yet, if followed, these suggestions would make the worship service more inviting and attractive to secular people.
Avoid Adventist Jargon
First of all, it helps a great deal to utilize everyday language, the kind of language that is understood on the street, in all parts of the worship service rather than the in-house lingo of Adventism. The use of common, everyday language is important for at least two reasons. One reason is that God has always gone out of His way to communicate with human beings in their contemporary culture and idiom. While everyday language may at times seem a limited tool for expressing the realities of the spiritual realm, it makes up for any limitations in the power with which it can unify the spiritual realm with everyday life.
A second reason to use common language is that it expresses caring. When we go out of our way to communicate with people in a way that meets them where they are, it communicates that we care enough to understand where they are coming from. They matter to us. When people know that they matter to other humans it makes it easier for them to believe that they matter also to God.
To avoid Adventist jargon will not kill anybody. No one will leave the church if we stop using words like “investment” and “light” in our unique way. This is not a major sacrifice for someone who is accustomed to more traditional style of worship. It lets people from a variety of backgrounds know that they are welcome. They don’t need to learn a new language as an initiation. Where hymns, Scripture readings, or other worship aids are in the obscure language of the past, a short, well-prepared introduction can help people relate to the original setting of the language and, thus, meaningfully engage with the sentiments expressed. The bottom line here is to do all we can to make sure that everything we do in the worship service is readily understandable to the secular person who may wander in or be invited by a member.
Worship Must Have a High “Take Home Value”
A second change that will make a major difference in how “user-friendly” a church is to secular people is to make sure that whatever happens on Sabbath morning has high “take-home value,” in other words, is usable on Monday morning. How many Seventh-day Adventist sermons are worth a dime on the street? How often do our sermons have any impact on the way we really live? Are we just spending excess time? I tremble to think that if a thousand people attend a church service and nothing significant happens for an hour, you’ve wasted half a work-year of life. Preaching needs to have high take-home value. People need to be hearing something that they can apply on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings. And you can do that without compromising the faith one iota.
“Ministers should not preach sermon after sermon on doctrinal subjects alone. Practical godliness should find a place in every discourse. (Ellen White, RH, April 23, 1908).
“In laboring in a new field, do not think it your duty to say at once to the people, We are Seventh-day Adventists; we believe that the seventh day is the Sabbath; we believe in the non-immortality of the soul. This would often erect a formidable barrier between you and those you wish to reach. Speak to them, as you have opportunity, upon points of doctrine on which you can agree. Dwell on the necessity of practical godliness. Give them evidence that you are a Christian, desiring peace, and that you love their souls. Let them see that you are conscientious. Thus you will gain their confidence; and there will be time enough for doctrines. Let the heart be won, the soil prepared, and then sow the seed, presenting in love the truth as it is in Jesus.” (Ellen White, GW 119,120).
While Ellen White probably had geography in mind when she wrote this counsel, the secular environment certainly qualifies as a “new field” for us at this time. Few people have heard of us, few know what we believe. For such individuals, a demonstration of practical, living Christianity will be an attractive force that will invite them to inquire further into godliness.
I have found that when I teach people how to live I offend no one but develop all kinds of interest in the study of the Scriptures and the overcoming of sin in the life. This counsel should be so obvious that one wonders why practical godliness does not ring from every Adventist pulpit every Sabbath. The answer may lie in a chilling statement that lays open the grounds why my own preaching has often been ineffective: “It is a sad fact that the reason why many dwell so much on theory and so little on practical godliness is that Christ is not abiding in their hearts. They do not have a living connection with God. (Ellen White, 4T 395,396).
A Concern for Quality Worship Service
A third area that makes a big difference with secular people is a concern for excellence, for quality in everything that we do as a church. Too often Adventist churches look shabby in the extreme. The choice of participants and the content of the worship service is clearly an afterthought. The sermon and special music seem thrown together at the last minute. Some Adventists may tolerate shabbiness, but secular people consider shabbiness to be an insult both to their intelligence and to their sense of stewardship of time.
I think we can learn a great deal on this point from the Disney Corporation. A major reason that the Disney Corporation is successful is because it insists on excellence in every detail of its parks. You will never see a garbage dumpster around the corner of a building in a Disney park. They do not want a single thing to detract from the visitor’s experience. There is excellence in the music, excellence in the decor, excellence in every detail.
The same is generally true of television. While the content may be contrary to the gospel, it is usually served up with supreme care. Hours of work go into every minute. This is particularly true in the case of commercials. Multiplied hours and huge amounts of dollars are spent to make a single minute as productive as possible in its impact on the viewer.
Although we demand quality in the products we buy, the motels we stay in or the programming we may enjoy, we somehow expect a secular person to enjoy a half-hearted sermon and a thoroughly butchered song. But instead of enjoyment that person will report to his or her friends on Monday morning, “You should have seen the sorry excuse for a church service I saw this weekend. There was a singer there who must have had her throat removed in an operation, it was so bad. And the pastor had no idea what he was talking about, he was unbelievable.” “Oh, what church was that?”
All it takes is one report like that and you have destroyed the church’s credibility with not only one, but five or six, maybe ten. Is excellence that difficult? Is the worship service so unimportant that it doesn’t matter? Isn’t worshiping God worth the very best that we can offer, whether we’re preaching, singing, or praying? We have come to a place in earth’s history where we need to be the best that we can be for God. Less than the best isn’t good enough anymore. In saying this I must confess that as a pastor I had much too flippant an attitude toward the parts of the worship service that I didn’t “star” in personally. The music, the Scripture, prayer, and even the announcements are worthy of careful planning and skilled execution.
Having said this, I would like to qualify it just a bit so as not to discourage the many small churches that may seem devoid of world-class talent. On the subject of excellence, it may be helpful to make some distinction between mistakes of enthusiasm and mistakes of carelessness. What I am talking here about are mistakes of carelessness and neglect. Just as secular people are forgiving about social mistakes if one is genuine and open, they can also tell the difference between sincere effort and carelessness, or between enthusiasm and phoniness.
Use Visual, Attention-Grabbing Devices
A fourth area that can make a difference is directly related to the reality of the media. Worship needs to be more visual and attention-grabbing than before. What do people do with those little radar guns that turn all the channels on the TV? It drives me nuts. They sit there–click, watch for five seconds; click, on to the next channel; click, on to the next channel, ranging through. What are they doing? Looking for something worth spending time on. How long do they take to decide? Five or ten seconds per channel at the most.
Preacher, if you have never thought about this before, fasten your seat-belt. The kind of people we are talking about here, many of whom sit in your pews, have decided after ten seconds whether the sermon is worth listening to because they have been trained to make those kind of decisions. Thus, the very first sentence becomes “do or die.” Speakers these days must grab people right at the start and then keep them listening throughout. People’s attention cannot be taken for granted anymore. To grab attention is in harmony with the example of Christ who had a fascinating way of asking those little rhetorical questions like, “Which of these two sons really obeyed his father?” In that society, a story and a question like that turned the temple court into an E. F. Hutton seminar. Today, we may only have five or ten seconds to make a case for people to listen to the sermon.
Music, if it is done well, can enhance the attention quotient of a worship service. Equally effective is the use of visual aids to communication, such as drama. While the word “drama” may frighten some Adventists, we make powerful use of drama in nearly every Adventist church on Sabbath morning. We call it the children’s story. And guess who gets the most out of the children’s story? The two-year-olds usually ignore it. The children’s story is there for the adults! They would be upset if you didn’t have one.
You can’t fool me. I start dramatizing a Bible story for the kids, and then peek out of the corner of my eye. All the adults are leaning forward with their eyes as big as saucers, they don’t want to miss anything. So I really lay it on thick; I lay down, I snore, stand on my head (well almost!), all kinds of things. But if the kids love it, the adults love it even more. Some of these same adults would be upset if we had a “drama” or showed a video. Then I get into the pulpit and watch the same adults settling down for their snooze! Case closed. Drama brings spiritual lessons home with contemporary power the way few things can.
Worship Must Have a Strong Spiritual Tone
The fifth matter that is critical to worship renewal is strong spiritual tone. Truth is not enough to keep people in church today. Most backsliders still believe the truth. My wife’s mother, for example, spent twenty-five years out of the church. But she could argue any Baptist under the table over the Sabbath! Truth is not enough to keep people anymore, it must be combined with spiritual life. People need to experience a living God. When secular people decide to come to church it is because they sense that the living God is present there. Secular people are drawn to churches where the people know God and know how to teach others to know God.
There is nothing un-Adventist about spirituality; there is nothing heretical about prayer and Bible study. Right now in our church of about a hundred members there are three prayer groups meeting every week. There is increasing interest in our denomination in family devotions, prayer, and spiritual life in the church. The concepts discussed in Part Two of this book are one way to approach the issue of spirituality in the church.
When secular people start seeking faith, they are looking for evidence that God is real and that other people experience Him. A church made up of people who know God and who know how to teach others how to know Him, will draw secular people in as with a magnet. Everything that is done, whether it is the sermon, the special music, or the prayer needs to be driven by the spiritual vitality of those who participate. Secular people are not easily fooled. If the spiritual life of the church is phony, it will fool no one, certainly not its own youth.
Worship Must be Genuine and Authentic
This brings us to the sixth area of potential improvement in Adventist worship, and probably the most important one. People today are crying out for examples of genuine, authentic Christianity; or to use street terms, being real. Not long ago I was sitting at dinner with a number of leading thinkers in the AdventistChurch. At one point in the conversation, they turned to me and said, “Jon, what do you think is the greatest need of the AdventistChurch right now?” Almost without thinking I responded, “To stop living a lie!”
Well that stopped the discussion right in its tracks, but the more I thought about my casual reply, the more compelling it became. So often in Adventist churches, people are just going through the motions, playing church. Why do you go to church? Do you go to church because your mother did? Or because you want your children to get a religious education? Or do you go because . . . just because you go? Is church-going just a game we play? “Well, that’s out of the way, now we can have fun the rest of the week.” Secular people seem to have a sixth sense about who is genuine and who is not. They can smell phony Christians a mile away.
What does it mean to be genuine and authentic? Authenticity is when the inside is in harmony with the outside. Living a lie is where the inside and the outside are two different things. It was reported to me that at a meeting of Christian leaders the discussion became so hot that they began shouting back and forth and some swear words were used. A couple of ministers even threatened each other physically. Suddenly at seven-thirty that evening a knock came on the door and someone entered and said, “Don’t you know what time it is? The people are here for the prayer meeting.”
The fellow who had been right at the center of the fight walked out in front of the assembly and said, “Isn’t it good when brethren to dwell together in unity? Isn’t it good to be together with the people of God tonight?” If I had been there it would have made me ill. Why did he do it? Was it to protect his image as a Christian leader? The reality is that the phony is usually the last person to know that everyone knows he or she is a phony.
What would be true Christian genuineness in that situation? To act as if nothing had happened would be to live a lie. Should the leader have come out swearing instead? No, that would not be Christian. I would hope that between the office and the pulpit he might have gotten the realization that something was dreadfully wrong. It would be genuine to come up before the people and say, “You know, we’ve just had a meeting backstage. And frankly, some of us didn’t behave much like Christ. I’m really not worthy to stand up here and run this meeting. But I know that in Christ there is a way to be forgiven and a way to change. First of all, I need to apologize to these brethren over here. And second of all, we need to kneel down so that YOU can pray for US because we need it desperately.” That would be genuine. And secular people would find that kind of religion much more attractive than one that is always sickly, sweetly smiling when it’s not really for real.
I remember a student who enjoyed expressing his irritation at “them,” the administrators of the AdventistChurch. Right and wrong seem so much easier to determine when you are not at the center of decision-making processes. Since he was a fun-loving, unorthodox type of guy, he certainly did not fit the typical “mold” of Adventist administration. Nevertheless, because of his considerable administrative and people skills, I warned him that he was in real danger of becoming one of “them” some day. So it was with some amusement and no little excitement that I greeted the news sometime later that he had indeed become one of “them.” Would he maintain the carefree and independent spirit so natural to his personality, or would he try to fit into the mold?
Some years later we were assigned to the same church committee. At break time I moved across the room to greet him with a high five and a, “Hey, man, how’s it going?” He stood up regally in his three-piece suit, put out his hand formally and said in a measured voice, “Hello, Jon, so nice to see you again.” He had become one of “them!” He was now playing the role of his new position, a role so unlike his previous demeanor. I found myself quite disheartened by the encounter. Christianity must be more than just an image that we project. (To tell the other half of the story, I am glad to report that he has since relaxed into his new duties and become much more human again!)
When I started out in ministry I used to get a splitting headache every Sabbath. It was very frustrating because on the very day that I needed to be at my best for God, I was feeling my worst. A couple of years later it finally dawned on me (some people are slow learners) that the reason for the Sabbath headaches was that I was trying to be someone I was not in front of the people. I was playing a role. I was being what I thought people wanted me to be rather than what I truly ought to be in Christ. God helped me finally to understand that He wanted me to be myself for him, not Billy Graham, or H. M. S. Richards, or Roland Hegstad. Just be Jon Paulien for Christ. What a relief! What a blessing! I know from sharing this with Adventists around the world that the reality of “Sabbath headaches” is more widespread than I would like to think.
Be Honest in Your Devotional Encounter with God
The most effective path to true authenticity is to cultivate genuineness each day in a devotional encounter with God. Christ can help you to see yourself as others see you. In Christ it is possible to learn how to be yourself. Certainly you cannot be transparent with people if you are not transparent with God. Have you ever lied to God in prayer? “Dear Lord, I love You so much”; when really, in the back of your mind you are thinking, “Boy, I’d like to punch You right in the Nose.” Yet God prefers that we tell it like it is in prayer. Jesus certainly did. “Why have you forsaken me?” If Jesus could be honest with God, it cannot be a sin for us! The Lord wants to hear our deepest needs, our deepest feelings, yes–even our anger. Anything but trying to fool him with sweet-talking words that mean nothing.
Do you know why confession and repentance are essential to salvation? Because confession and repentance are simply acknowledging the truth about oneself. Not to confess and not to repent is to live a lie before the world. It is to be more concerned with one’s image than with reality. Do you remember that Jesus said something about dirty cups with a shiny exterior? We are all dirty cups. But there is one thing uglier than a dirty cup and that is a dirty cup that goes around telling everyone how clean it is. In the light of the cross the only authentic existence is to live in continual and transparent repentance.
Willingness to Live the Truth
I have learned as a biblical scholar how easy it is to make the Bible say whatever you want it to say. One’s interpretation often arises out of the need to protect one’s personal failings and shortcomings from coming to the light of Scripture and the Spirit’s gentle persuasion. Our interpretation of Scripture can be made to serve as a wall of denial to protect us from having to acknowledge our sins and weaknesses to God and to others. I have learned that when I sit down to “exegete” Scripture, it must be with the prayer, “Lord, I want the truth, no matter what the cost.”
We are often willing to learn the truth as long as it doesn’t cost us anything. But knowing and living the truth can cost you your job, your friends, your family, everything that matters most to you. It can mean carrying a cross for the rest of your days. So don’t pray such a prayer if you don’t mean it. I guarantee you, however, that God delights to answer the prayer, “I want the truth, no matter what the cost.” He delights to give you the truth. But along with the truth there is a price to pay.
Willingness to Acknowledge One’s Failures
Truth-telling has not been an easy experience for me. I find myself sabotaged at times at the most inward levels of my being. Natural defense mechanisms threaten my very best intentions. Recently, for example, I tried to analyze why a particular preacher had such a powerful effect on me. It dawned on me after a while that nearly every illustration in his sermons came from personal experience, and that almost all of those illustrations were of his failures and not of his successes. I then compared with my own preaching. I realized that I featured only my successes and not my failures. I was smitten to the core of my being. Another’s confession was my road to confession. The truly authentic Christian will be slow to boast and quick to forgive, because such a person will see their own depravity clearly.
As we reach out to the secular people in our communities, we will discover that one of the best ways to find the point of contact in another person is through our own confession of need. People are reluctant to make themselves vulnerable to others. But if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with them (at the appropriate time and in an appropriate way) they may feel comfortable to share their deepest needs and concerns with us.
I have learned, therefore, that I must take my prayer for truth to a deeper level yet. I need more than just biblical truth in order to be effective for God, I need the truth about myself. I need to discover when my subconscious defense mechanisms are defeating my very best intentions. The perilous prayer that opens the depths goes something like this, “Lord, I open myself to your inspection (see Heb 4:12,13). See me as I truly am. Teach me the truth about myself, no matter what the cost. Help me to see myself as You see me.”
This prayer is a frightening but marvelous opening to the journaling experience. When we open ourselves to God’s inspection, He will gently and kindly lead us to things we could never discover any other way. And He will not open to us more than we can handle (see John 16:12) at the time we pray.
“The closer you come to Jesus, the more faulty you will appear in your own eyes; for your vision will be clearer, and your imperfections will be seen in broad and distinct contrast to his perfect nature. This is evidence that Satan’s delusions have lost their power; that the vivifying influence of the Spirit of God is arousing you. No deep-seated love for Jesus can dwell in the heart that does not realize its own sinfulness. The soul that is transformed by the grace of Christ will admire his divine character; but if we do not see our own moral deformity, it is unmistakable evidence that we have not had a view of the beauty and excellence of Christ.” (Ellen White, SC 64-65).
Please allow a momentary digression. I do fear in regard to authenticity, that some Adventists may take it as a license to dump on others whatever gossip and negative suspicions they may collect in the course of church life. Some personality types love to “tell it like it is” in the most brutal ways. To all such, I commend the gentleness of Jesus who said, “I have many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12) Jesus cares enough about our feelings to wait for the right moment before sharing something that may be hard to bear. And the next verse (John 16:13) makes clear that the Spirit can often communicate what human beings cannot. Authenticity does not require us to tell the whole truth in any or every circumstance. It does require us not to live a lie.
In conclusion, as I come in contact with ex-SDAs, the number one excuse for not returning to church is, “They all claim to be so holy, yet they do this and this and that.” Now such excuses may at times be exaggerated, but if there is one thing above all others that will draw secular people into a church it is the sense that people who are living real lives with real struggles and real failures are, in Christ, growing in grace and in love for one another as failing but forgiven people. Nothing gives me more courage in faith than to realize that my fellow brothers and sisters struggle with the same things I do and that I can face my problems together with others who care about me. The greatest need of Adventism in the 90s is to make an end of living a lie.
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