Has anyone else been concerned about the Adventist Church?
First, all the closings: The academy our family enjoyed visiting a few months ago for a volleyball tournament—Mount Vernon Academy—is about to close. The oldest boarding academy still operating, Mount Vernon joins dozens of others that have dismissed its students for a final time. It’s not easy seeing campuses that once burst with life go quiet.
If struggling boarding academies can be explained, what about our colleges? Students are supposed to go off to college. So why aren’t more going off to Adventist colleges?
Of even more concern than the state of our institutions is the state of our hearts. In North America too many of us are apathetic, secular. Sabbath schools are sparsely attended. Half of our members don’t study Scripture on their own. Worst of all is the troubling mind-set that being correct about the Sabbath automatically means that we’re spiritual. (Does being right about your spouse’s birthday mean that you’re happily married?) The Sabbath (and everything else) means nothing outside of a personal relationship with Christ: nothing, nothing, nothing.
Recently one of the most well-known Adventists in the world is no longer an Adventist. Ryan Bell, a former Adventist minister in Hollywood, California, was once the poster pastor for the progressive Adventist movement and the heavily trafficked Spectrum blog. At the beginning of 2014, shortly after being asked to resign his position, Ryan announced a very public endeavor: he would go a “year without God,” then write a book about it.
At the close of 2014 Bell declared himself an atheist. Amazingly, he’s been lauded as courageous; not only by the atheist community but even by some church members.
Surely this is a low point.
In fact, it might be exactly that. The former pastor’s declaration has seemed to galvanize Adventists from different quarters. Spectrum, under the leadership of thoughtful new blog editor Jared Wright, could have easily swept the story under the carpet. Instead it tackled it head-on, even publishing responses from Bell’s former church members.
“During the Ryan Bell years,” wrote Melody George, “there grew a fear of appearing intolerant that superseded our desire for truth.” She told of church members struggling with drug addiction and sexual purity who received plenty of acceptance, but no help; and of a visiting atheist who remarked he didn’t respect a church that tried to appeal to everyone.
“I have great fear,” George continued, “for a generation of Christians that thinks truth is relative and morality is self-defined. It leads toward a dangerous line of thinking that says, ‘I will be like the Most High.’ ”
There are, however, signs of hope.
At my own local church the year’s opening sermon was given by a Collegedale Academy science teacher, Stan Beasley, whose former atheism gave way to believing in a Creator God. Beasley’s January 3, 2015, testimony, as well as his weekly “Evidence for God” Sabbath school class, can be viewed at http://new.livestream.com/ConnectWorship.
This is why we still need Adventist schools: 1,000 teachers a day pointing 10,000 students to Christ. We need believers everywhere standing up, particularly those at the very center of the church: those who submit to God’s Word and know that they’re saved by the grace of Christ alone.
“The church,” Ellen White wrote, “may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out—the chaff separated from the precious wheat. This is a terrible ordeal, but nevertheless it must take place.”1
Again, she wrote: “Satan will cast all the reproach possible upon the chosen ones whom he cannot deceive and delude with his satanic inventions and falsehoods. But . . . will Christ, our representative and head, close His heart, or withdraw His hand, or falsify His promise? No; never, never.”2