November 9, 2015

Cliff's Edge

Dear Alex,

Hey, brother, hard to believe it’s been two years since your baptism. Two years! I’m glad, too, that you’re still as zealous in the faith as ever. Might I daresay a bit too zealous?

What do I mean?

Listen, Alex, you have joined us at an interesting and, well, tumultuous time. Many forces, from within the church itself and from without, are stirring the saints in the pews. We’re seeing incredible changes in society and culture that cannot help impacting us as a movement.

That’s why, brother, it is important for you not to get caught up in a “fortress mentality.” As a people we don’t have to insulate ourselves from, or, even worse, fight against, every cultural trend. On the contrary, if we want to be relevant, if we want to be effective in outreach, if we don’t want to be fossilized remnants from antiquity, we must acclimate to the times.

We shouldn’t keep the church bound by the dogma of narrow and parochial thinkers reaching out from a mythical past and holding us back. 

Of course, I know your immediate reaction. What about the Israelites and how they compromised with the world? What about the words of Jeremiah: “Only acknowledge your guilt—you have rebelled against the Lord your God, you have scattered your favors to foreign gods under every spreading tree” (Jer. 3:13)? Or those of Isaiah: “Their land is full of idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their fingers have made” (Isa. 2:8)?

Fair enough. But that was then, this is now. And we’re in a new age, one so much closer to Paul than to Isaiah, so we mustn’t forget Paul’s words, either: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).

I’ve been in the church a long time—my whole life, actually. I’m part of a generation of young people who won’t accept the old answers or traditions just because they’re old or traditions. We want good reasons for what we believe and what we practice. We are interested, not just in doctrines or in teachings or prophecy, but in mercy, in compassion, and in helping the oppressed and the poor. Our church should be about the social justice that Jesus preached and lived out in His life and ministry.

We have to keep moving, progressing. We cannot go backward. The world is changing, and in order to be relevant, we must too. New ideas about morality, truth, and the natural world are unfolding around us. We have to interpret the Bible in light of what we are learning today, and not stay ensconced in shadows emanating from a darker and less enlightened time. We shouldn’t keep the church bound by the dogma of narrow and parochial thinkers reaching out from a mythical past and holding us back. After all, it has been more than 150 years since Jesus died. One hundred fifty!

Thus, my friend, I plead with you. Don’t be part of the anti-intellectual obscurantist wing of the church, the fundamentalists who interpret Scripture in such a literal way that they insist on still keeping the seventh-day Sabbath instead of Sunday. Be part of the future, Alex, not the past.

Your brother in the Lord,


Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide.