Relevant yet distinctly Adventist

Tolerance is needed for our range of expressions as we share the Gospel

Commentary | Sharon Platt-McDonald

Tolerance is needed for our range of expressions as we share the Gospel

We can be both practical and relevant to our community without losing our distinctive Adventist identity.

But what happens when there are divergent views of what it means to be Adventist or what constitutes Adventist practice?

For four months I've watched an ongoing debate over pictures of a youth banquet that appeared in an Adventist magazine. The pictures featured a couple who won the "best dressed" award and another young lady awarded for outstanding achievement in her contribution to youth work.

The subject of contention was their dress. This engendered a flood of letters to the editor expressing various views. Readers reported being "shocked," "pained," "concerned about standards," "sexual purity" and other associated woes. The debates ranged from whether the pictures should have been published to how great it was to see our young people enjoying themselves.

There were arguments for supporting and encouraging our young people in spite of what they wear to whether our Adventist standards are being eroded because we want to follow the fashions of the day.

Vocalizing diverging views

With the arguments and counterarguments going back and forth it made me realize how diverse we are as Adventists and how passionately we vocalize what we view as being the right stance to take on any given subject.

With divergent views on a range of subjects and individuals polarized and unyielding, how is the right balance found? Is there a balance? If so, how do we reach the comfortable fusion of minds and beliefs?

The key I believe lies in tolerance. That's the internal battle we have amongst ourselves.

Yet how do we present truth as we know it to a postmodern society, and packaged in a way they are most likely to receive favorably? We can't present a divided message to a waiting world.

Over the decades our outreach programs have been reformatted, recreated, and undergone several makeovers in an attempt to be relevant while bringing an everlasting message to an ever-changing world. At times, some have felt that this has come at the expense of us losing our distinctiveness as Adventists. Some feel that the effort to "blend in" has taken priority over our commission to be, as apostle Peter wrote: "...a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."

Varying practices of belief

I once heard an individual in a debate make the statement "truth is progressive." While that in itself may create debate and varying perceptions of what truth is, I feel that it is worth exploring. Put another way, we may believe the same things but our practice and expression of those beliefs may vary.

It's not that we need to change what we believe, but that we need to have better answers to the questions that our postmodern generation asks. Do I still believe, for example, in a literal six-day creation and the biblical account of the flood? Yes. However, my answers now are more informed than they were, say, 10 years ago, and I am better able to defend my reasoning based on emerging scientific evidence that underpins the biblical account.

Does this mean that I don't value the simple "thus says the Lord?" Of course I do. There are times when God's word stands as it is without any undue explanation and we allow the Holy Spirit to do the work of convicting hearts. However, when going into a university class with a roomful of students there are times when just presenting the "word" to these enquiring minds is denying relevance and will meet with resistance. At such times, using science where it underpins our faith and biblical standpoint demonstrates both relevance and distinctiveness in our beliefs.

As a health professional, when I present health information within a church environment or the community, I present our health message from a biblical standpoint, using the inspired writings of church co-founder Ellen G. White -- where relevant -- and the use of scientific evidence to augment the material being presented. There are times, however, when some of what we think are "good" answers may not suffice and our closely reasoned arguments come up short.

These are times when absolute belief and trust in the divine word of God, spirit-breathed and inspired, is enough to quell the "what if's" or fill in the grey areas where no amount of emerging ideologies or human reasoning can answer the questions of the unknown. We need to be reminded that as God declares to us in Isaiah 55:8, "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.'"

How can we ever then expect to be able to answer all the questions of life? Indeed, where human extremities end, God's omniscience begins.

Belief is witness

I once took part in a television series called The Big Question in which key ethical issues are discussed. On that particular show the question was posed: Is there evidence for God?

The panel and invited professionals ranged from Christian scientists, evolutionists, sociologists, humanists and pastors each trying to prove the existence or non-existence of God. The summation from the presenter caught my attention. She concluded by saying that while there was evidence for the power of belief in God and its positive impact, she needed more evidence for His existence.

While those of us Christian participants may not have been able to adequately prove God, or convince the skeptics, we did leave a witness in terms of what we believed even though it differed from many others who voiced their views. We were not ashamed by the views we held and sought to share.

Perhaps our focus should not be on seeking to be exclusively relevant but on sharing the blessing that God has been in our lives and why we believe the way we do. Witness is not just how many we reach but how many are changed or impacted as a result.

To do this effectively as Adventists we have to present our unique and timeless message to people looking for something that they do not currently have.

We are that difference.

Sharon Platt-McDonald is the Health Ministries director for the Adventist Church in Britain