October 14, 2009

Where Have All the Grown-ups Gone?

Our “As I See It” features are designed to stimulate discussion and promote dialogue among our readers. They are not meant to be definitive in terms of the opinions of church leadership or the editorial staff.—Editors.

2009 1529 page20 capn the not-so-distant past Seventh-day Adventists were either children or adults, but not so anymore. I’m not exactly sure when it started, but Adventists have begun growing up less gracefully.
One example of this can be seen in our Sabbath school divisions. Today, when it’s time for teens to advance beyond youth Sabbath school, they are no longer expected to proceed directly to an adult Sabbath school class. Instead they now spend a few additional years in a collegiate class studying the collegiate quarterly,1 which, though sharing the same theme as its adult counterpart, is authored by a variety of peer contributors.
After this gradual acclimation, one might expect the adult Sabbath school class to be the next logical step, but surprisingly it does not. According to the collegiate quarterly’s official definition, the collegiate age extends all the way to the age of 35!
Apparently, since even the completion of a college education still leaves Adventist young people unprepared for the rigors of an adult Sabbath school class, we now have young adult classes, many of which study neither quarterly option. Then only after spending an indeterminate number of years fanning these last embers of youth, many Adventists finally resign themselves to the ash heap of full maturity and \venture into an adult Sabbath school class.
As if such curricular concessions weren’t enough, when all else fails many resort to outright denial. Poke your head into almost any Sabbath school division and you will likely find an interesting phenomenon: some of the “youth” will be in their 20s; several of the “collegians” will be in their 30s; many of the “young adults” will be 40 or older, leaving most of the “adults” well into their 50s and beyond. Apparently the written invitation we need to join an adult Sabbath school class is a welcome letter from AARP.
A Time to Grow
Sabbath school programming is only one indication of what has been a subtle shift in the ethos of our denomination. Objective studies of the Bible and the writings of Ellen White are giving way to primarily subjective conversations and quasi-religious experiential events. The embedding \of these methods of spiritual growth into the hearts and minds of our youth is resulting in a generation of Seventh-day Adventists who are becoming, in the context of their faith and beliefs, functionally illiterate. In the same way that secular society venerates youthful appearance, our church seems to be enamored with youthful thinking.
2009 1529 page20I worry that in the days just before us testimonies akin to that of Paul, who confessed, “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” (1 Cor. 13:11), will be less often heard from the current generation of Adventist youth.
Of Jesus’ maturation the Bible simply states that He “grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). In one succinct passage the Gospel writer explains that Christ developed along the same trajectory we all must face mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially.
At the age of 12 Jesus began to understand clearly the significance of the Scriptures that foretold His mission as a suffering Savior, and conversed intelligently with even the most learned of Israel’s teachers.2 Remaining faithful to the prophetic outline for His life, He began His public ministry at the age of 30 and completed His work on earth at the age of 33. How many of us have ever considered Jesus to be anything less than a completely mature adult during His years of public labor? But according to our current classification, Jesus began and finished His entire earthly ministry before ever reaching full adulthood!
Even for those who might protest such an analogy because of a perception that Jesus had a special developmental advantage to which we are not privy,3 we are still challenged to explain other examples of God’s people who tackled grown-up tasks and thoughts while in their collegiate or young adult stages of life. Note the Lord’s encouragement to Jeremiah and Timothy not to hide behind the label “youth” as an excuse to avoid daunting tasks.4
The same expectation was placed upon Joseph, David, Daniel, and many others. Ezra’s Bible study for postexilic Israel was attended and appreciated by “men and women and all who were able to understand” (Neh. 8:2). In the same way, the teachings of Jesus were intended for “anyone” who had “ears to hear” (Mark 4:23). The Scripture standard for participation in mature Bible study is simply the ability to understand.
The writer of Hebrews even expressed frustration with Christians who had not advanced to more mature thinking. In the midst of a discussion of the nature of Christ, which is still a contentious issue within Adventism, Paul wrote: “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:11-14).
Seventh-day Adventist history is replete with individuals who, while in their youth, made significant theological contributions that are rigorous even today. James and Ellen White, John Loughborough, Annie Smith, J. N. Andrews, Uriah Smith, E. J. Waggoner, and a host of others were substantively involved in Adventist thought and work while in their teens and 20s.
During the keynote address of the Sabbath School and Youth Convention on July 10, 1907, General Conference president A. G. Daniells reminded participants that “some of the strongest and grandest missionaries of this last century were men who went to their mission fields under 30 years of age. We have a very definite, well-defined message, and why should not our young men go out, strong in God, fortified by His Word? Why should they not become giants of strength among our people?”5
Our earliest youth periodical, The Youth’s Instructor,6 contained articles of theological depth and import rarely seen in any of our current papers for youth or adults. Yet today, Sabbath school Bible study guides, magazines, books, and even books by Ellen White continue to be reformatted and rewritten in hopes of appealing to a generation of Seventh-day Adventists who do not read and converse as proficiently and studiously as they should.
Christ’s primary warning to His people living just prior to His return was not about war, natural disasters, economic instability, or even religious and political persecution. Jesus simply said, “Watch out that no one deceives you” (Matt. 24:4). Since the beginning of the world, deception has proven to be Satan’s only successful weapon against God’s people. In fact, his introductory conversation with humanity opened with the cunning question “Did God really say . . . ?” (Gen. 3:1).
With this same approach he assailed Jesus in the wilderness, only to be repelled by the single sure defense against the devil’s schemes: “It is written” (Matt. 4:4).
To this point, Ellen White counseled: “The reason why the youth, and even those of mature years, are so easily led into temptation and sin is that they do not study the Word of God and meditate upon it as they should. . . . If the Word of God were appreciated as it should be, both young and old would possess an inward rectitude, a strength of principle, that would enable them to resist temptation.”7
Adventists in general, and our youth in particular, are becoming less spiritually studious and thus more vulnerable to Satan’s deceptive power. If we are to finish the work and stand firm against evil in these closing days of history, we must reclaim the distinction of being “people of the Book.”
Concerning the commands of the Lord, Moses instructed Israel to “impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut. 6:7).
It is my prayer that we ever keep before us the Lord’s promise to guide and gift His people, “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4:12-15).
1The following explanation is from the official collegiate quarterly Web site, www.cqbiblestudy.org: “CQ (Collegiate Quarterly) is a devotional Bible-study guide for young adults, ages 18-35, published by the Seventh-day Adventist Church®. The topics for each quarter are based on the same topics as the Adult Bible Study Guide published by the church. Each week’s lesson in CQ is written by seven different young adults from around the world. Even the illustrations are done by young adults.”
2For a more complete treatment of Jesus’ maturation, read The Desire of Ages, chapters 7 and 8.
3Ellen G. White, however, did not endorse this perception. She wrote: “Every child may gain knowledge as Jesus did. As we try to become acquainted with our heavenly Father through His Word, angels will draw near, our minds will be strengthened, our characters will be elevated and refined. We shall become more like our Saviour” (The Desire of Ages, p. 70).
4To Jeremiah’s reluctance to serve on the basis of his youth, God replied in Jeremiah 1:7, 8: “But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am only a child.” You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the Lord.” The same inspired message from Paul to his young associate is found in 1 Timothy 4:12: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set ?an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”
5From Malcom J. Allen, Divine Guidance or Worldly Pressure: Youth Ministry in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, p. 94. Published by the General Conference Department of Church Ministries, this book offers an excellent history of the strength of our denomination’s youth ministries when they have been faithful to their original calling; and the deterioration of such ministries from infidelity to the unique message and mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
6Established in 1852 by James White at the age of 31, The Youth’s Instructor predated the official organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church by more than 10 years. Running continuously for nearly 120 years, it was replaced by Insight in 1970.
7The Ministry of Healing, pp. 458, 459.
Kameron DeVasher is an associate pastor at the Avon Park, Seventh-day Adventist Church in Avon Park, Florida. This article was published October 15, 2009.