Our journey towards the truth as a part of the body of Christ requires us to listen to many channels of information: the natural world; our sources of inspiration (the Bible, Ellen White, prophetic voices); information sources like history and science; a variety of people in our church (the academics, the practical people, different ethnic groups); and most importantly the young as they are our future. The young are the new shoots heading toward the light that largely determine whether our Church becomes a stunted, diseased organism or a thriving community of believers exhibiting the characteristics of God’s people.
None of these channels of information has perfectly encapsulated God’s revelations to people over time. They all had/have various limitations. The natural world as expressed in Romans 1:19,20 tells us much about the qualities of God. There is also much in nature that is brutal and harsh that can be confusing without listening to other voices like we find in the Bible and also the science disciplines.
The Bible itself was written to particular situations and needs to be interpreted through a variety of lenses. For example, we have worked out that we shouldn’t practice slavery, but it took us a long time. It has been 157 years since the civil war ended between the Union and the Confederate states of America. There were more than 500,000 people killed and millions of casualties. This terrible toll, which still scars the United States today, could have been avoided. One reason that other solutions were not found was the belief by both sides that God, biblical truth and the respective clergy were on their side. In 1865 President Abraham Lincoln spoke of this oddity. “Both (North and South) read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other”.1
We have also worked out that gender is not the basis for recognition of spiritual gifts or access to salvation. The language of the Bible in many cases reflected the patriarchal nature of their society. Applying this principle to 1 Timothy 3:1, we see the tis (anyone) who aspires to the role of a bishop or deacon as “anyone” rather than “he” and the focus of the text is on the character of the person rather than the gender. Just as the tis (man) of Matthew 16:24 who would follow Jesus refers to anyone. Again it has taken us a long time. Our young people are often way ahead of the “Church” in recognising these important ethical principles. If we listen to them, we all benefit. They feel it is their church and we end up with less egg on our faces.
Similarly, Ellen White operated within a particular mileu. She changed her position on issues. She was subject to all the pressures we face so didn’t always get it right. Her vast writings are a blessing to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but not a source of authority to settle doctrinal, health, historical or scientific disputes. She is just one of the voices to listen to.
This principle also applies to sources of knowledge like history and science. They are developing disciplines. Each new generation stands on the shoulders of previous giants. Galileo and Copernicus contributed to an astronomical revolution, but others like Einstein and Hawking have built on their discoveries. The variety of voices in our community need to be heard and acknowledged. The most important voices are our younger members.
We have a tree plantation on our property that consists of a variety of native species. About half of the trees are Corymbia Citriodora, a variety of spotted gum. When healthy they grow into tall, majestic trees. However, they are prone to a fungal infection called quambalaria. It attacks new shoots and is particularly damaging to the leader shoots, which results in a stunted bushy tree. Trees are designed like humans to head toward the light until they face challenges like this fungal disease. The new shoots, the young in our church, must be encouraged in their pursuit of light. When the wider church sends a message to our youth that discourages their pursuit of light, we are harming the whole body of Christ.
Some of these inappropriate messages include that we as a denomination have the whole truth and other believers and sources of knowledge are wrong; a failure to be honest and acknowledge we have made mistakes in the past about what constitutes present truth; have treated some individuals unfairly at times; and finally, the things that matter to our youth are not unimportant or wrong, simply because they disagree with our current perception of truth.
What are the things related to their spiritual journey that matter to our youth? We need to ask them. When was the last time we heard a young voice engaging in the decision-making agenda at the various levels of this denomination? I don’t speak on their behalf, but from my experience I think the following things really matter: The nature of the gospel at an experiential and practical level. How do I live my life as a follower of Jesus Christ? An important component of this is the ethical treatment of other people. Are all people treated fairly and do we listen to a variety of information channels when determining the nature of inspired truth for our situations. I also think they’re very interested in the “language” we speak to share the gospel. Is our worship style a “language” that resonates with young people and communicates the gospel to them? An important part of worship is music. Their music tastes may differ from my tastes and as an older member I need to be open to contemporary expressions of praise that are just as valid as nineteenth century hymns.
I don’t think they’re very interested in some of the theological debates that are peripheral to the teachings of Jesus. October 22, 1844, is a long time ago and is not seen to add value to their Christian experience today. Some would respond that this is because the message has been ignored. Another possibility is that our youth don’t see it as “present truth” for their Christian experience because it’s not a core component of the teaching of Jesus Christ.
The body of Christ, our “tree”, is being attacked from many directions. Some of these attacks are beyond our control. Some are things that we can control, particularly when they come from within our community. These sources of harm to our young people need to be vigorously opposed as they compromise the whole body of Christ and affect the little ones that Jesus Christ charged us to protect.
Terry Bottrell writes from Queensland and has worked most of his life as a secondary teacher in Adventist schools.
1. sunherald.com, “The Bible played a role on the civil war’s battlefields.” 19/12/2011. (Author unknown). Accessed 12/7/20.