She was a young adult who had grown up in the Catholic faith. Through friends inviting her, discipleship and their personal outreach, she turned to Adventism.
My grandmother was only months into her Adventist faith when a church leader came up to her and quizzed her on whether she was a Jesuit—probing to find out whether she was here to infiltrate the Church. She was crushed.
When I was a child, I remember my father experienced something similar. My dad, a pastor, was confronted by people claiming he was a Jesuit. A young man, with a young family, this is what we witnessed growing up.
When Jesus left His disciples, He challenged them to be people of peace. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27 NJKV).
I wonder: Is our faith community known as a people of peace? Do Catholics, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims and those from other faiths see us, individually and collectively, as people of peace? Or are we better known for a critical spirit?
I realise this is a difficult conversation, but it troubles me that we have let something so dangerous as a critical spirit take root in parts of our body.
I wonder: Do we just tolerate people who self-righteously divide our community? Do we turn a blind eye to these “accusers”, who point fingers at people from “Babylon”, especially people they don’t agree with?
Some of the types of labels or phrases used include:
- “That is from Babylon”
- “They are a conservative” or “a liberal”
- “There is false teaching at Avondale”
- “That music is from the devil”
- “That is from Hillsong”
- “That is the Emerging Church”
- “This is the wheat” and “that is the tares”
- “That is anti-Christ” or “you are a false prophet”
- “Jesuits have infiltrated Adventist Church leadership”
In this age of sound-bite media, it’s very easy to make “sound bites”—isolated phrases taken out of context to fit a label, to paint a certain narrative.
It is this demonising language—so pointed and harmful—that can actually damage people’s wellbeing: spiritually, mentally and physically.
To be quite honest, this form of bullying and harassment isn’t even tolerated in secular work environments, let alone within a body of faith that’s committed to bringing the Advent message to “every tribe, language, people and nation”.
It is this type of logic and behaviour you might find in unruly students at a primary school, where kids feel justified in bullying and harassing students who might think, believe or who look different from them.
I remember being asked to serve as a worship coordinator when I was a young person. It was both exciting and overwhelming as it was the first time that I had ever done anything like this.
On the day I was coordinating, I had organised “Millennial Prayer”, a version of the Lord’s Prayer, to be played during the offering. As it was being played, an older leader in our church marched up to me at the sound desk and started raising his voice, telling me that this song was not appropriate for church. I was so shocked, I was shaking. I had hardly spoken to this man before. As a young person, this situation really rattled me. And I know of countless other stories of people encountering similar situations.
I really believe this dark cloud, this culture of criticism, has not only damaged people on a personal level it has also stifled creativity within corporate worship in our Church. In many parts of the body, this culture has developed into a form of political correctness whereby we are too afraid to do certain things, too scared to offend a vocal minority to the detriment of discipleship and the vitality of the whole Church.
In many Sabbath School groups, people are actually afraid to share what is on their heart because somebody might throw fire and brimstone at them.
I know personally of pastors and church members who still cling to their faith but no longer feel like they belong to this body. When this happens, it doesn’t just affect one individual but also the faith journey of their community, their family and their friends.
Yet, when I look at my own spirit, criticism often disguises itself as being constructive. For me, I know my critical spirit rises when I feel discontent with the way things are being done. I use blanket statements like “they always” or “they never” to describe my frustration. Sometimes I am directing it to “that leader”, “the Conference”, “GC” or “the Church”. I forget the person behind the label. I also forget that I am part of this Church too. The problem with criticism is that it’s often aimed at a person or group’s character and not at the behaviour or action.
And while I can be frustrated, have holy discontent, I need to ask myself what spirit am I bringing to the situation? Is this coming from a place of pride, jealousy, discontent, insecurity, fear or am I just being mean? What spirit is causing me to speak up?
The apostle Paul says, “stop being critical and condemning of other believers, but instead determine to never deliberately cause a brother or sister to stumble and fall because of your actions”.1
As the body of Christ, we should be known as people who encourage, bring healing, bring peace; the atmosphere of our environment is changed because people feel God’s presence there; people are encouraged to see the world as Jesus does, seeing hope in people’s brokenness.
The Bible has clear methods of navigating difficult situations and dealing with people who we don’t agree with.2 One thing is very clear: it is the Holy Spirit’s role to convict. John 16:7-15 explains, “I will send the Holy Spirit to you and the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, and the Holy Spirit will convict the world of righteousness.”
We must remember that the Holy Spirit might live in us, but we are not the Holy Spirit.
Ellen White, a founder of our movement, also shared on this3: “if you walk humbly with God you may unite with the students not of our faith, agreeing with them as far as possible by dwelling upon points wherein you harmonise. Make no effort to create an issue. Let them do that part of the work themselves. Let them see that you are not egotistical, pharisaical, thinking no-one loves God but yourselves, but draw them to Christ, thus drawing them to the truth. All heaven is engaged in this work. Angels wait for the cooperation of men in drawing souls to Christ. We are labourers together with God.”4
As we meet key people of influence, allowing the Holy Spirit to unite on points where we harmonise, it will take humility, wisdom and patience. Yet, may we bring God’s presence to our spheres of influence, to every tribe, language, people and nation. May we be known as people of peace.
Martin van Rensburg is a brand and organisational culture adviser. He is also elder at Springwood church, Queensland.