April 6, 2017

Restating the Brand

“Brand loyalty was the stuff on which my generation cut its teeth.”

Bill Knott

At 12 I was all for Ford, NBC, and—though I never drank it—Coca-Cola.

Fordliness was next to godliness, so far as I knew, since my first three cars of memory were a Fairlane, a Falcon station wagon, and a wood-paneled Fairlane station wagon.

The Huntley-Brinkley Report gave me a soothing, managed version of the turbulent sixties each evening during supper. When Chet and David wished each other a gruff “Good night,” it seemed—for a moment—that all might be right with the world.

And Pepsi was clearly the upstart, rival soft drink at a time when I was all about tradition.

Imagine my discomfort when Dad drove home a Plymouth Fury III from the Chrysler dealership; when the channel switched to the ABC Evening News; and when I learned that Coke’s original 1886 recipe included a small amount of cocaine—eliminated not long after.

Brand loyalty was the stuff on which my generation cut its teeth—just before learning to brush them with Crest, which, you remember, more dentists recommend “than all other toothpastes combined.”

“Brand loyalty was the stuff on which my generation cut its teeth.”

That loyalty extended to our “brand” as Seventh-day Adventists. There was just one kind, so far as we knew—the carefully behaving, church-attending, vegetarian, non-jewelry-wearing kind: people just like us. We had heard of places where not all these norms were practiced, but we knew instinctively that these regions—such as coastal California and interior New Guinea—weren’t really, fully Adventist. Some of those places allowed guitars in worship services. Some even omitted the Doxology.

And then the world fell apart, or so it seemed, about the time men first landed on the moon and Watergate became our first—but not our last—political soap opera. We were suddenly aware of differences, major and minor, in what we once believed to be a unified brand. One could now be an Adventist and a Democrat (!); an Adventist and go to the movies; an Adventist and wear a wedding band. Both beards and bell bottoms came to church each Sabbath, and those who prized tradition squirmed uncomfortably as the brand began to lose the clear, sharp edges for which we had so valued it. We spoke to friends of a “remnant within the Remnant.” We wondered softly to ourselves if 144,000 might, in fact, be a real number, and possibly too large.

Our quandaries multiplied as competing Adventist theologies called us “back” to sanctification or “forward” to the cross. We learned to parse each sermon, each cassette and MP3, for code words that would place the preacher on the spectrum of salvation. Uncertain that the gospel could really be that good, we hesitated when we heard of grace; the brand we knew required effort, sacrifice, and perseverance. Unwilling, though, to be the dinosaurs who kept the movement focused on the past, we sang new worship songs from screens; discovered that prayer meeting might, in fact, be all of prayer; and learned to navigate the potluck cards that noted “Vegan,” “Vegetarian,” and “Who Knows?”

If only we could interrogate those well-intentioned ones who branded Adventism for us—the ones who taught us that the faith of Jesus was always this, but never that; that keeping Sabbath meant denying godly pleasure; that only what was difficult was good; that righteousness might be a gift, but a very rare one—and not for all. If only we might ask them what they think of Jesus and His people now—the world-circling fellowship of colors, languages, and tribes; the wonderful varieties of faithful Adventism that flourish through the Spirit’s gifts; the many forms of worship now ascending to the Father’s throne.

Our real brand has always been—will always be—Christ crucified and risen, interceding in the sanctuary, and coming for His people; though sometimes we sing another tune. Now is the time to tell the world how great and good the gospel is; how love for Jesus transforms and changes lives; why waiting for His coming makes us long for Him like “watchmen for the morning.”

Restate the brand this way, and all the world will seek what we have found.