I couldn’t resist.
As I approached the office of a colleague in the General Conference headquarters a few days ago, I spotted an exquisite set of hand-painted Russian matryoshka dolls perched on a counter outside his office. Each of the nine nesting figurines was decorated in vibrant reds and blues. The tiniest doll—barely a half-inch tall—could only have been painted with a brush of a single bristle.
Full of mock seriousness, I addressed my colleague’s assistant, who had noticed me scanning the dolls.
“Aren’t you afraid of the pagan influences of those dolls in the office of a General Conference leader?” I queried, trusting that she understood the joke. “From what I’ve heard, those dolls radiate a magical influence on any space they occupy.”
There was a half beat while she winced—and then we both laughed. Tales of the kind that I had just spun from an overheated imagination unfortunately make the rounds in our church, some of them going “viral” even though they have no more truth than the one I had invented. It takes almost no effort, and certainly no cleverness, to manufacture a rumor about supposed insidious influences surrounding church leaders—influences that somehow deflect the course of decision-making and compromise the integrity of what is preached in Adventist pulpits and taught in Adventist classrooms.
“Did you know that the pastor quoted from a book by a Roman Catholic author in his sermon today?” The question, baited with prejudice, lures the listener into dangerous speculation about the heartwarming message he has just heard.
“Why do you think the academy English teacher assigned a book that implies a belief in an immortal soul?” Eyebrows arch as voices lower, muttering of persistent attempts to undermine Adventism’s clear teaching about the state of the dead. Chances are that no one will ever ask the teacher herself what she intends to say about the faulty theology, or see the lesson plan that clearly articulates why Adventists believe as they do.
“There’s an inscription in praise of Dagon, a god of the Philistines, on a potsherd in the college museum.” Which would all be merely an interesting archaeological find that confirms the biblical record—unless you believe that pagan influences magically affect the museum’s visitors, and curators, and perhaps the entire campus.
It is time—actually, long past time—that we gather our collective resolve as a people and resist the baleful influences of those who poison the people of God with such stuff. The church has real difficulties enough that we dare not spend our energies distracted by the rumor-mongering that fastens on first one and then another church institution, leader, or pastor. Those who naively believe that they are purifying the church by passing on such gossip never estimate the damage they have done to the church’s ability to proclaim the three angels’ messages. A dozen church communication offices are kept busy, defending when we should be advancing, consumed by attacks that conveniently ignore the millions yet unreached.
Ellen White’s clarity still instructs us: “Multitudes are going down to ruin; the people who have received light and truth are but as a handful to withstand all the host of evil; and yet this little company are devoting their energies to anything and everything but to learning how they may rescue souls from death.”1
There can be no doubt that the church will always need reforming—right up to that day that Jesus gathers His bride to Himself. Until then, dear friend, be careful how you speak of her—her leaders, her schools, her pastors and teachers: “Enfeebled and defective as it may appear, the church is the one object upon which God bestows in a special sense His supreme regard. It is the theater of His grace, in which He delights to reveal His power to transform hearts.”2
1 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, pp. 458, 459.
2 Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 12.
Bill Knott is editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published April 14, 2011.