Oppression in the Seventh-day Adventist Church

 

Eugene Shubert

The following mention of the problem at the Richardson Seventh-day Adventist Church in Texas was brought up by Dzien Dobry in a thread called, Theology of Righteous Policy, on the Adventist Online Internet Forum (09-15-1999). I consider it an overly simplified approximation to what really happened and it exaggerates the sincerity of the church pastor but I do appreciate Dzien's point. He only wanted to talk about the basic theology of what necessitates the use of totalitarian methods and then bring up the accepted degenerate behavior of the SDA leadership without pointing a finger, which is very hard to introduce gently and tactfully. Experience explains that all the Adventist forums are notorious for censoring anything that puts the Adventist church in a bad light, so you can see why some facts were not mentioned and certain questions not answered. But insights and amazingly frank confessions were mentioned in that thread, being somehow overlooked by the moderators, so much of the thread is worth quoting. I won't quote everything. There were posts and points made that were off the topic. What follows is an excellent condensed version.
 

Dzien Dobry

This is a great Biblical and theological question for all you deep thinkers out there.

There was once a believing church member who attended his large Christian church faithfully. This believer had an independent spirit and was condemned on his last day for being "too animated." He never disrupted the worship service but felt he had truth to share in a personal way and he was always seeking to share it with fellow church members at every opportunity, if they expressed an interest. He did this between study time and sermon time and after church. The pastor of the church feared that this member was seeking to create 'a new movement within the movement,' was possibly undermining the credibility of church leadership and that this member's efforts to politely engage others in discussions about wild sounding ideas that seemed very persuasive, might create division.

There was to be no disruptive influence. The topics of discussion were carefully selected, prepared and approved in advance for the church members, but this member dismissed the appointed, pre-selected lessons decreed to be present truth by the highest ecclesiastical authorities of the church and ignored the structured worship/ no worship times, long established by tradition.

The pastor became very intolerant of this member's 'disruptive theology' and had no time in his busy schedule to instruct the member as to where the error was. The pastor did throw out comments to the member expecting his words to be received as respectable, instructive and promptly obeyed. It was clear that the pastor charged the church member with wrongdoing. The member replied that the pastor was in error, that he was innocent and was only speaking of new and interesting ideas with those who express an interest at appropriate times. The pastor felt that he, as the leader of the church, should be explicitly obeyed. With this impasse, the church member wanted the congregation to decide the matter, according to Scripture. The pastor refused on the belief that if he was to honor Scripture, he would have to honor a teacher of error and his false doctrines, which was the wrong thing to do. This pastor would not countenance giving this person's 'deceptive and unsettling doctrines' a platform to be heard by church members. It was exactly what this teacher of new doctrines wanted! Therefore, there would be no fair and open hearing before the church. Furthermore, the pastor, based on decisions formed in secret committee meetings with the elders, told the member that if there were any more signs of him speaking to other members about theology, the police would be called to give him a criminal trespass warning and to escort him off the property. If he ever returned to the church, he would be promptly arrested for criminal trespass and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Given the presupposition that this scenario was faithfully told, do you have any Biblically approved 'righteous' judgments you would like to make?

What do you think of the troublemaker, the elders and the pastor?
 

Dolf

In your scenario, I would have grave concern for the spiritual welfare of the church minister.

The Apostle Peter subscribes this 'self indulgent and self justifying' behavior, which while giving the appearance of benevolent regard, actually diminishes others, to false teachers who breach their covenant of Grace obligations towards others: "[2 Peter 2:13-15 quoted]."

[Matthew 11:16-17 quoted]

To paraphrase this within a spiritual context, 'malakos' can be said to be especially condemnatory of those who misrepresent the kingdom of heaven. They profess to be the Lord's people and whilst giving the appearance of Grace and regard for others, actually engage in self justifying behaviors through the debasing diminishment and judgment of others in direct violation of their obligations within the experience of Grace.

From our brief word study of 'malakos' we have identified that its prohibition within Scripture relates directly to the violation of the principle of life, to show a regard for one's neighbor as oneself. It occurs in a specific instance where the needs of the neighbor are clearly seen and the obligation to meet those needs are understood. However instead of meeting those needs, occasion is sought to indulge self with the consequence of further detriment being placed upon the neighbor. Having said that, let us reread the text of 1 Corinthians 6:9 within its broader context: "If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren. Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate-malakos, nor abusers of themselves with mankind. . ." [1 Corinthians 6:4-9]
 

Mark R

All across the world that very scenario is taking place. I've seen it in several different states in the USA. It will continue.

I suppose we need to know if what the "troublemaker" is teaching is TRUE or FALSE.

1 Testimonies 181
"I asked the meaning of the shaking I had seen, and was shown that it would be caused by the straight testimony called forth by the counsel of the True Witness to the Laodiceans. This will have its effect upon the heart of the receiver, and will lead him to exalt the standard and pour forth the straight truth. Some will not bear this straight testimony. They will rise up against it, and this will cause a shaking among God's people."

On the other hand, there are heresies both in and out of the church. Adventist Book Centers are full of deadly deception. It comes from the pew and the pulpit.

The pastor cannot forbid the man from kindly talking to church members and inviting them to study the Bible God forbid. What the pastor should do is expose the unscriptural ideas, if there are any. If there are none leave him alone. 

 

Collin Ott

That independent believer is our Friend, Jesus. And many churches are still throwing Him out.
 

Bill Diehl

Dzien,

In the past there was no platform from which a member in the SDA Church could express himself in matters of faith and doctrine. A member who wanted to discuss doctrinal issues had to hunt for a local church where the pastor was very tolerant of discussion of doctrine among the members. In the Adventist church most of the pastors are very dogmatic and will not really allow the members the freedom to do this. Anyone who is enthusiastically wanting to form study groups is usually considered an agitator. Here and there however you may find a pastor who allows real freedom among the members to discuss and study all the doctrinal and moral issues being debated within the SDA church. I know of many such pastors here in California but they are rare and usually few and far between. If your pastor does not allow free discussion in your local church there is really nothing you can do to change the situation. Your choices are to either look for another local church where there is freedom or stay where you are and keep silent.

There is however something else to consider regarding "freedom of expression". There are many who are emotionally ill who wish to use "theology" and the Bible to vent their emotional illness and anger towards all authority figures. They will not tolerate any pastor who seeks to restrain their self will and independent spirit. These sick people were evident even in the apostolic church and the apostles had to deal with them sternly. You can read about them in the epistles of Paul, Jude, John, etc. Sometimes these individuals refuse to be counseled according to sound doctrine and they must be silenced in the church by public rebuke and failing all else must be disfellowshipped and refused entry in the church.

In your post you do not mention which doctrines that are being dealt with so we here on this forum do not know if the pastor was correct in his actions or if he was being intolerant of innocent discussion of doctrinal issues. Perhaps you could give us some idea of what the doctrinal issues were. Then we could better comment on the situation that you describe. 

 

Mbrown

My bible is not handy, but I'll give my educated opinion. For the sake of the spirituality of the church, this individual should avoid any activity that would be deemed inflammable. If that individual believes that the pastor is teaching false doctrine in the church, and it is doctrine contrary to SDA teachings, then he has the right to find another house of worship. I don't think it's appropriate to "cause a scene." There is nothing wrong with approaching the pastoral staff about such problems, but going around the pastor and trying to influence the members can cause a great deal of harm. The pastor should handle this situation with care as well. Someone who has a problem with doctrine and/or biblical topics should not be turned away, nor should they be deemed heretical. Testing and proving all things against scripture is something all Christians are instructed to do to protect themselves from false teachings. A pastor is in the position to guide his members in these quests for truth. The individual with the problem should not attempt to usurp the authority of the pastor, nor should the pastor exert his "power" to prove that he is in control of the church. These individuals must be willing to work TOGETHER in resolving the problem. If they continue working against one another, and attempt to sway members privately "behind each other's backs," they will only bring harm to the congregation.
 

Dzien Dobry

There is much more to the story. It's hard to tell. It won't be easy to compact it all into a few brief posts. I pray that everyone will forgive me for just trying to convey the gist of it, not minding that many details are being compressed or omitted.

This brother was told that he could not return to church for 8 to 10 weeks. He felt that this kind of censure was wrong because the church elders and pastor did not even permit him to say a single word in this own defense. He wrote a letter to 6 or 7 of them, (all he had addresses for), citing that part of the church manual that says it is a fundamental principle of justice that every member has the right to be heard in his own defense, and to introduce evidence and produce witnesses. A phone number and return address was provided but no replies came. After a few weeks of waiting, this brother returned to church, fully believing that church leaders must sometimes be disobeyed. He sent his mind to do right knowing that he would be arrested. He thought that some good might come out of it. He did this with a sincere hope that a sleepy congregation might be awakened and properly respond to the injustice in their very midst. As expected, the police were called and this brother was arrested for trespassing. This courageous brother endured a lot of mental anguish about his treatment at the hands of willfully deceived church members. He quickly got over it. He knew that he weighed his decision prayerfully and believed that the voice of duty is the voice of God.

When released from jail two days later, he felt victorious about his experience. The pastor and son came to visit him. The pastor asked, "So what is it like to be in jail?" The answer was, "It's just like being in church. The conversation isn't very stimulating and the food is bad." (He likes that joke).

What this brother did not foresee, nor could endure with any grace at all, came a few weeks later. The church leaders appealed to the next notch up in the hierarchy of church governance and persuaded them to join them in a lawsuit against the brother. That part of the church also refused to hear anything from the brother and said that the church attorney was going to handle everything. You can imagine how unbiased that was.

The brother appealed to the very top levels of the church hierarchy but no one at the top had any more concern than those on the bottom. Even the president of the church was appealed to. No reply was received. I think it was because he had his own legal problems to worry about.

Here are some of the subtleties of the problem. This brother would have welcomed being rebuked before his brethren. Scripture says, "Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning." 1 Timothy 5:20. The problem is, these church leaders were unwilling to do this because it would draw attention to this brother and his message. People are naturally inquisitive and many would want to know more. If there were any misrepresentations, this brother would have made it known and that would have called for further and deeper investigation. This brother practiced no duplicity. He took his message to many of the elders and teachers of the church at the very beginning.

I disagree with some on the gospel. Shouldn't this brother have been condemned before his arrest and not afterward? Does any message that a brother sincerely believes justify the harsh treatment that he receives for just sharing it? If he acted out of mental illness, was he made better by jail? Do not the weightier matters of the law justice, mercy, kindness, a living example of the gospel of grace do a lot more than the civil and criminal prosecution of those who express dissent?

 

Dolf

"Are You not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O LORD, You have appointed them for judgment; O Rock, You have marked them for correction. You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours A person more righteous than he?" [Habakkuk 1:12-17].
 

Mark R

MBrown,

After reading your post, I'd like you to think about John the Baptist and Jesus. Were they "inflammable" and teachers of "false doctrine?" Did they "cause a scene?"

 

Dzien Dobry

We all approve of the zeal of the Lord in the scene where Jesus turns over the tables of the money-changers. What about the peculiar act of nailing 95 theses to a church door?

Mbrown,

By all means, get out your Bible. Turn to Lev. 19:17. The law of God says: "Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt." NIV.

I also want to share with you a beautiful gem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He quotes a Scripture that tends to support the false sentiment you have expressed but then argues against the sentiment, utterly ripping it to shreds with a great quote from Luther. I'm sure you'll agree that his doctrine is true.

" 'How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!' (Ps 133:1). ...
The Christian cannot simply take for granted the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. In the end all his disciples abandoned him. On the cross he was all alone, surrounded by criminals and the jeering crowds. He had come for the express purpose of bringing peace to the enemies of God. So Christians, too, belong not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the midst of enemies. There they find their mission, their work. 'To rule is to be in the midst of your enemies. And whoever will not suffer this does not want to be part of the rule of Christ; such a person wants to be among friends and sit among the roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the religious people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing, who would ever have been saved?' " Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 5, pages 27-28. 

 

R Lee

Dzien,

I don't know where your illustration occurred, but I have two friends here in the states who were thrown out of the ministry in similar circumstances. In one, the children in the local church school were instructed to show up at the church board meeting so they could "witness someone being disfellowshipped."

I trust your example, like Dr. Desmond Ford and many of my friends, was wise enough to join or start a fellowship in which he could share in a support system.

 

Dzien Dobry

R Lee,

I hope that I didn't give you a false impression. I believe that it's Scriptural to disfellowship wayward church members and pastors. I also believe that if Scripture is followed to the letter on this, the decision is ratified in heaven. Quite obviously, the mistake of directing children to witness the disfellowshipping of a pastor does not invalidate the injunction given us by Christ.

You say you have two friends that were thrown out of the ministry in similar circumstances. I assume you mean that their circumstances were similar to my example. Could you share any details? Are you implying that in the trials of your two wrongfully accused friends, only one was actually allowed to appear?

In thinking about trials in general, I'm reminded of two different types. The first is a recollection I have of a weekly TV show called CourtTV. I only saw maybe six or seven episodes of that; but my memory says that it was a real court review, well edited and very informative. I assume it was taken off the air because no one was interested in that show's emphasis on revealing real facts about the law (which reminds me: are adult Seventh-day Adventists expected to attend the meeting when a church member is being disfellowshipped?). The second example I have is also from TV, a memorable one-liner from an episode of Hogan's Heroes (a comedy about Nazi Germany?) General Burkhalter tells Colonel Kink that he is to be taken away and executed. Colonel Klink complains, "What about my trial???" General Burkhalter replies, "The trial is over. I have already accepted your confession. I happen to have dictated it myself so I know it is correct!"

My example refuses to walk away. In his mind, he considers it extreme selfishness to think only of oneself and express no concern for the church and those who are lost in it. He believes that Seventh-day Adventists are under judgment. He has a web site featuring many Spirit of Prophecy statements on this, which says basically that the entire church is guilty of permitting all the abuse recognized to exist and in having it continue. Here are a few brief samples of his belief.

There is this extract from an article with the title, The Sin of Achan, published in The Signs of the Times, April 21, 1881.

"The history of Achan teaches the solemn lesson, that for one man's sin, the displeasure of God will rest upon a people or a nation till the transgression is searched out and punished. Sin is corrupting in its nature. One man infected with its deadly leprosy may communicate the taint to thousands. Those who occupy responsible positions as guardians of the people are false to their trust, if they do not faithfully search out and reprove sin. Many dare not condemn iniquity, lest they shall thereby sacrifice position or popularity. And by some it is considered uncharitable to rebuke sin. The servant of God should never allow his own spirit to be mingled with the reproof which he is required to give; but he is under the most solemn obligation to present the word of God, without fear or favor. He must call sin by its right name. Those who by their carelessness or indifference permit God's name to be dishonored by his professed people, are numbered with the transgressor, registered in the record of Heaven as partakers in their evil deeds."

"There is need of earnest work to set things in order in the church of God, and it is fully as essential to do this work as it is to preach or to pray."

"Do we not encourage sin, by failing to meet it with plain and pointed reproof? We may have the clearest understanding of God's word, we may make a high profession of godliness, yet if injustice or iniquity is concealed among us, we need not wonder that our souls are dry and fruitless as a withered branch."

"The spirit of hatred against reproof is steadily increasing. It is considered uncharitable to deal plainly and faithfully with the erring. Sin is glossed over, and thus blindness has come upon souls until it is impossible for them to discriminate between right and wrong, between sin and holiness. Many have closed their ears to reproof, and hardened their hearts against every influence which would set their sins before them."

"We repeat, God holds the church responsible for the sins of its individual members."

"Those who have the true love of God in their hearts will not teach that sin should be handled with gloved hands. The words of God to Joshua contain a solemn lesson for every one who professes to be a follower of Christ, 'Neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed thing from among you.' "

 



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