Our church library might as well be a museum. The slumping bookshelves hint of forgotten glory, like the once-chiseled physique of an aging body builder. It’s been a decade since the last book was officially checked out, and H.M.S. Richards, Jr. (may he rest in peace), would recognize many of them from his childhood.
Moving on from the bronze age, there’s a shelf loaded with VHS tapes. This technology meant that anyone could be a televangelist, and anyone could host an evangelistic series in their home. Though, in hindsight, if the books aged like cheese, videos age like milk.
Which leads me to McDonald’s. The burger empire’s marketing minds celebrate their “special sauce” as that je ne sais quoi granting them victory over their flame-grilled foes. McDonald’s has done such a great job praising the goo that when they finally unleashed 10,000 bottles of the stuff many of them were sold for $100 to—no kidding—$100,000. “Special sauce” has since become a byword for that unique quality that sets you apart from others.
Musician Bono got at the same idea when he described Apple: “What the competitors don’t seem to understand is that you cannot get people this smart to work this hard just for money.” Money isn’t enough. You need to find the mysterious more. Speaking “McTalk,” you need some special sauce.
Turning bland, formal, and tasteless is not an aspiration.
Which brings me back to my admiration for our little church library. For me, that room represents Adventism’s special sauce; that ingredient that helps make the Seventh-day Adventist Church special.
Someone gathered those books and videos so that the church would be more than a place of worship; it would be a place where members could keep learning. This room has Adventism’s special sauce: the principle of semper discens, “the church always learning.”And this sauce has flowed through our veins from the beginning (it’s also great on haystacks).
Emerging from the Great Disappointment in 1844, the men and women who founded our church went back to the Bible to learn where they had been wrong. They believed that they should “study of the Scriptures, that they might divest themselves of errors which have been handed down.”1 From the beginning the special sauce has flowed through our Adventist veins.
Early on, learning meant knowing the Bible stories and doctrines. Then the 1888 crisis made clear that head knowledge wasn’t enough: “We have a great and solemn truth committed to us for these last days, but a mere assent to and belief in this truth will not save us. The principles of the truth must be interwoven with our character and life.”2 Knowing, loving, living Jesus is the goal of true Christian learning.
Appreciating the delectable flavor of our Adventist faith includes understanding the spiritual and practical implications of its special sauce, of which I shall highlight three:
First,our special saucemeans openness to truth: while we appreciate the past, we will never be defined by it. We respect the past because our history builds our confidence for today and tomorrow as we see how wonderfully God has led in our yesterdays. But our church pioneers ruled out the use of creeds, lest they handcuff the ways the Spirit could lead us in the future: As their very name indicates, Adventists are forward lookers.
Second, our special sauce stands for conscientious commitment to the great Protestant principle of semper reformanda, or “the church always reforming.” Only if Christians are always learning in grace will the church always be reforming. Ellen White wrote: “When our people search the Word of God for themselves, we shall hear less murmuring than we hear today.”3
Finally, our special sauce provides balance and maturity to our Christian living. “Those who are continually learning in the school of Christ will be able to pursue the even tenor of their way.”4 The knowledge that we always have much to learn should keep us humble. It astounds me how a certain almost-retired colleague regularly harasses me for thoughts on how to improve his ministry! He embodies Ellen White’s counsel that “God would have his servants, old and young, continually improving. . . . They should not settle down contented, thinking that their ways are perfect, and that others must work just as they do.”5
My grandmother is a prolific cook. Her cooking year (yes, “year”) culminates at Christmas with a batch of tamales. Everyone argues over how many they’ve earned throughout the year. All agree that there’s never enough. Our own tries at tamales never work; we can’t match a lifetime of practice. But we’re painfully aware that someday our own knockoff tamales will have to do.
It’s a critical, vital, indestructible truth: multiple pitfalls risk the sauciness of our sauce; history is littered with movements that ran out of gas when later generations became more interested in legacy than in mission. To preserve relevance and sustain authenticity every generation has to learn the special sauce recipe for themselves, and then perfect it—not by discussion in the classroom, but by action in the kitchen of day-to-day living.
To every pharisaical claim that we’re Abe’s kids, Jesus responds, “If you were Abraham’s children, . . . you would do what Abraham did” (John 8:39). Adventism must not cheat our ancestors and our God by forfeiting the unique and rousing flavor of our faith. Turning bland, formal, and tasteless is not an aspiration. And fossilization is not an ambition!
For God’s sake, and for our awesome grandmothers’ [and grandfathers’] sakes, we must, we shall: (1) stay open to all truth into which the Spirit would guide us; (2) stay open to change for the better, and (3) constantly grow in spiritual balance and maturity. One day soon Jesus, Author and Finisher of our faith, will show up to transport us to a school of holy culinary exercise where that special sauce of growing in truth and grace will be lathered over every dish of glory!
Matthew J. Lucio pastors the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Peoria, Illinois.