September 20, 2006

Every Principle, Every Rule, Every Standard

2006 1526 page21 cap am a first-generation (born) Adventist, so I did not grow up with decades of Adventist culture and tradition behind me. I would say that my heritage was more that of the too-serious convert than it was one of the balanced, long-time member. My mother was leery of the spirituality of Pathfinder clubs and potluck dinners, not to mention Saturday night pizza and Rook parties. However, I longed for what I thought I saw in long-time Adventist families—mostly “workers’” families. So I aspired to create a worker’s family of my own—to have tradition, a subculture, a sense of belonging.
But over time I came to realize that not all the church members with more nostalgic memories than mine felt as if growing up submerged in Adventist subculture had molded them positively. What happened to take away from them the warmth in childhood remembrances of singing [“The Captain Calls for You”] under a huge, circus-style tent while the cold metal of camp meeting folding chairs pressed against their bare sweaty legs and sawdust came in the toes of their summer sandals?
Perhaps the standards and lifestyle behaviors they experienced were “taught” as rules, but not “caught” as lived-out principles. You can only “catch” something from someone who already has it. But things can be “taught” by persons for whom those teachings have not had any personal impact. A church can have a divinely inspired “curriculum” of uplifting truths and lifestyle behaviors that it teaches, but if the principles behind those truths and behaviors have not transformed the lives of one generation, the next generation is not going to be able to relate them to God’s character of love. The whole purpose of God’s standards and His revelation of truth is to reconnect us with Himself and to transform us into His image.
2006 1526 page21There is a proportionally severe disconnect for learners to any hypocritical element in the character of those teaching them the truths and standards. Don’t get me wrong: parents and teachers don’t set out to be hypocritical; it’s just that an adherence to a lifestyle and an acknowledgment of a set of truths does not transform wounded personalities. Only a Savior can do that through the power of grace. Too many times parents and teachers do not attend sufficiently to the transformation God is trying to administer to their own souls. Thus, what they attempt to teach another generation becomes only a set of impotent behaviors.
To turn the tide and bring back more joy to growing up Adventist, I propose three foundational assumptions that could transform the spiritual-growth experience of both teachers and learners.
1. Every rule or standard must be rooted in an unchanging principle from God’s Word that remains the same across time and culture. Unchanging principles should be explained, in an age-appropriate manner, to anyone expected to incorporate that rule or standard into their lives.
2. Every principle upon which lifestyles and behaviors are based is simply a small window into the loving character of God. The reason He has outlined those principles for us is to give us a mirror by which to get a glimpse of His image—the image into which He is attempting to transform us.
3. Every one of us is a growing child of God. Parents and teachers need to model that to young people, rather than simply play demigod while stuffing away and excusing the areas of their own lives that need the transformation of grace.
Growing up an Adventist Christian can be a wonderful thing. When it is not, the devil can turn it into a painful and deforming experience. Ellen White advised: 
“Not a pause for a moment in His presence, but personal contact with Christ, to sit down in companionship with Him—this is our need. Happy will it be for the children of our homes and the students of our schools [whom we want to grow up happily Adventist] when parents and teachers shall learn in their own lives the precious experience pictured in these words from the Song of Songs:
            ‘As the apple tree among the trees of the wood,
             So is my Beloved among the sons.
             I sat down under His shadow with great delight,
             And His fruit was sweet to my taste.
             He brought me to the banqueting house,
             And His banner over me was love.’ Canticles 2:3, 4.”*
*Education, p. 261.
Kathy Beagles is editor and curriculum specialist for the General Conference Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department.