Some weeks ago my wife and I enjoyed our customary early-morning walk in our neighborhood. We’ve lived in the area for more than three years, and so most people in our community know the couple walking every morning and most evenings, and there is always time for a friendly wave or a quick chitchat. Turning a corner, we saw this poignant scene: one of our neighbors was trying to walk his two dogs—both of them smallish in size but with large egos. Dog A (a white fluffy one) pulled on his leash in one direction, while dog B (a beagle look-alike) just ambled in the opposite direction. The leashes had tightened, and in the middle of the two stood the poor owner who wasn’t sure about his next move. As we commented about his dilemma, he replied: “Until these two will agree on a direction, we are not going anywhere.”
A point well made—and not just for dogs pulling on leashes in different directions. As we continued our morning walk, both my wife and I immediately thought about our church with its millions of members, thousands of churches, pastors, teachers, and administrators that face every day the pull of many directions. Think of some of the hot spots in contemporary Seventh-day Adventism. Some feel we should change our stance on creation and definitely tone down our position regarding the remnant; others feel strongly about the ordination of women and justice; there are some (though fewer) who are concerned about our position on homosexuality. What about those who fear that our current engagement with contemporary culture has transformed us into Babylon, or others who feel that we have come to de-emphasize sanctification over justification?
I am sure you can think of a handful of other issues that are causing rifts in your part of the vineyard that I did not even mention. Fact is, the church, the body of Christ, is being pulled in many directions. I often wonder how we can advance with all the pulling. Here are some options on how we could respond as a church.
We could try to ignore the deeper issues associated with the pulling apart and become better at managing and creating majorities. I call this the political response. We could make sure that constituency meetings, commissions, and committees are “stacked” with the right people. Of course, there is a problem: most likely we would find only the smallest common denominator (as so many Protestant denominations have), resulting in a church that may not be recognizable by our spiritual forebears.
Here is another possible reaction: we could become discouraged and angry and bitter and contemplate moving to the mountains so that we could survive the final crisis. We could reminisce about the “good ole days” of theological unity (when was that again?) and try to establish an Amish version of Adventism—according to the motto: “Everything was better 100 years ago.”
Neither of these two possible responses grabs me as biblical or faithful to Jesus’ command of maintaining unity (John 17:20, 21). Rather, we should remember the raison d’être for church (remember that huge task that Jesus left His followers with?) and our individual roles in church. As members we are part of the body of Christ—but each of us is just one part. Our agendas, egos, self-sufficiency, pride, political correctness, insensitivity are to be deposited at the foot of the cross. I am challenged by this quote from Ellen White: “Self-esteem and self-sufficiency are killing spiritual life. Self is lifted up; self is talked about. . . . This is the reason why the Lord can do so little for us. Should He work with our efforts, the instrument would appropriate all the glory to his own smartness, his wisdom, his ability, and he would congratulate himself, as did the Pharisee: ‘I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.’ When self shall be hidden in Christ, it will not be brought to the surface so frequently. . . . It is only when we are careful to carry out the Master’s orders without leaving our stamp and identity upon the work that we work efficiently and harmoniously. ‘Press together,’ said the angel, ‘press together’ ” (Lift Him Up, p. 310).
In spite of all the forces trying to pull us apart, it’s time to press together.
Gerald A. Klingbeil is an associate editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published September 20, 2012.