Change in the SDA Church
Change? Why Not? What’s the Problem? Let’s discuss why there is no change in the SDA Church, even though it’s long over due.
The Nature of Entangled Doctrines
Fact 1: The SDA church has a collection of rather entangled doctrines that it promulgates.
Fact 2: The SDA church clings tightly if not desperately to two of these doctrines, namely a short earth chronology and a global flood several thousand years ago.
Fact 3: The overwhelming — can’t ignore — weight of scientific evidence is that those two ideas can not possibly be historically correct.
Now surely most Adventist Alumni have made peace with these three Facts. This author suspects that many Adventist Alumni got nudged further along their alumni path because of Fact 2.
Change in the SDA Church What Does it Mean?
In this essay I will not make arguments for the truth of Fact 3. That issue has been and is being debated endlessly because those who do not want to believe Fact 3 simply choose to ignore the scientific evidence. Scientific reasoning does not apply to a decision made in the absence of such reasoning.
Church dogma does not apply to a decision made on the basis of scientific evidence.
So why Fact 2? The short answer is twofold: (1) “they” are afraid that their whole belief system will crumble and their church will cease to have a reason to exist; (2) Ellen White agreed with the young earth and global flood ideas.
Who are “they”? Those who are in positions of power and those who are believed when they promote the two Fact 2 doctrines.
What I would like to talk about here is (1) the question of whether the SDA church would necessarily fall apart if it allowed flexibility on the Fact 2 doctrines and (2) how could the church go about allowing flexibility.
What is the Answer to Change?
Let’s deal with (2) first: all that needs to happen is for them (the “they”) to quit talking about the Fact 2 issues and the matter will quietly (but not quickly) fade away. People will continue to do what they are already doing: namely believing what makes sense to them. Besides most people sitting in the pews each Sabbath are not thinking about Fact 2 anyway. And if someone raises the question of why the silence, simply promote the dearth of supporting scientific evidence, talk about belief system tolerance and unity in diversity. In other words promote the “big tent” approach to being a church. The “they” will not have problems deflecting questions about Fact 2 if they decide to quit talking about it.
Now let’s talk about (1). Will the church fall apart if the issue is allowed to quietly fade away? Of course not. The fading away would happen over an extended period of time. Writers for church papers could and should write material consistent with a plan to let these two contentious issues die a well deserved death. Statistically speaking, the majority of people in the pews do not get all worked up about issues that are not kept before them in the church media, which media includes, of course, Sabbath sermons. There are competent SDA theologians who can disentangle the Fact 2 doctrines from the SDA belief system without the church’s belief system falling apart.
What is the Result of SDA Stagnation?
Is a conscious decision to let the Fact 2 issues fade away likely to happen any time soon? No. What if it never happens? It will happen — the fading away — by default, but it will take a long time. Suppose all the members who do not need young earth and global flood beliefs leave the church under top-down pressure, then what? That’s easy: many of the remaining members will get educated and the church will be right back where it was before: more people to pressure to leave. Why is this true? Because even though untruths triumph for a time over truth, in the end they get exposed for what they are: untruths. Promoting an untruth can not change it into a truth.
Consider this. Does it really make sense to pressure people to leave the church, or make them uncomfortable so that they want to leave, at the same time that large sums of money are being spent to convince more people to join?
If freedom is important and the truth makes you free, then educating people to know the truth is important. And not educating them with untruths is even more important. Furthermore, people will get educated, with or without the church.
Founder of adventistalumni.com, is a retired mathematician, computer scientist, and former faculty of Andrews University.