February 8, 2006

Forever Growing

?When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.?--Paul (1 Cor. 13:11).

?I may be getting older, but I refuse to grow up? (seen on T-shirts and bumper stickers).

1504 page6 capor a movement weaned and nurtured on the concept of ?present truth,? some might wonder whether today?s Seventh-day Adventists have reached the point where tradition has hobbled our desire to learn more about God.

Often, when someone reads in the pages of this magazine an unusual or nontraditional interpretation of a Bible text or prophecy, he or she will write to protest: ?That?s not what I was taught when I became an Adventist 40 years ago.? Just because the Bible says God never changes, that doesn?t mean His followers should remain stagnant in their understanding and appreciation of Him.

I?ve always believed that one of the benefits of living forever will be the ability to continually probe and explore the mysteries of the universe, delve into the infinite wonders of God?s character, and examine the many facets of the plan of salvation. But many Adventists seem to have an aversion to examining the Scripture for new insights and higher standards of behavior. More than 100 years after Ellen White wrote ?It is the work of true education . . . to train the youth to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men?s thought? (Education, p. 17), even a casual observer might well conclude that as a movement we put more of a premium on indoctrination and memorization than we do on exploration.

1504 page6A disclaimer: I don?t have anything in mind in terms of ?new light,? but from time to time I receive letters and telephone calls from people who believe God has granted them a fresh insight or understanding of Scripture. They always express frustration at their inability to get anyone to take them seriously. They are often dismissed as cranks or kooks. But certainly in a church that prides itself on being people of the Book, we can afford the time and energy it takes to sit down and examine their discoveries.

As much as we hate to admit it, we?ve become bound by our traditions. We don?t study the Bible for insights as much as we allow others--pastors, scholars, writers--to do the studying for us, and tell us what they think. The first thing many of us think when challenged to explore some new thought is not Is it the truth? but Does it agree with our traditions?

Our church?s pioneers didn?t come up with our doctrines in a vacuum. The Holy Spirit challenged and led them in their quest for Bible truth. Some of their traditional understandings had to be discarded as they searched the Scriptures. Other positions had to be refined as they discovered new texts and interpretations. As they grew in maturity, so did their understanding of God and His character.

Today, not everyone has the temperament for in-depth Bible study, and that?s all right. The truths necessary for our salvation are remarkably simple and easy to put into practice. But as Christians all of us are obligated to so focus on Jesus that we will be ?transformed into his likeness? (2 Cor. 3:18).

Even if we don?t admit it publicly, our understanding of truth is shaped by our spiritual maturity and our experience integrating faith and experience. Our fundamental beliefs unify us; a church with 15 million members can hardly have 15 million statements of belief. But it?s useful at times, certainly as individuals, to examine our fundamental beliefs and see how they square with our experience and the claims of the gospel. Orthodoxy goes beyond our ability to subscribe to all 28 fundamental beliefs. It also has to do with the way we reflect Christ?s character to others.

As we grow intellectually and spiritually, our understanding of God and His claims on our lives should develop and mature as well. At issue is more than just, How can I be a better Adventist; it?s more, How can I be more like Jesus? There?s no end to that journey.


Stephen Chavez is managing editor of the Adventist Review.