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Welcome to my blog, MB's Theological Thoughts. If you have a question you'd like me to answer, feel free to ask, either in a comment or an email. If it's a legitimate question, I'll do my best to answer it. Might take some thinking and some time, but again, I'll do my best.

02 April, 2010

Culture Shock: A Point of Contention

Many people ask the question: Why are our young people leaving the church? Many answers percolate through the minds of our church members. But none of them are definitive, and all of them are abstract. "It's the music," some say. The reasoning is that either the youth won't accept the divinely appointed music or that the elders are too traditionalistic and won't accept the music of today. Another rationale is that the church services are too boring for the youth, who are kept coming by flashy and complex performances, dramatic portrayals of Biblical events or abstract concepts, things the Church has long frowned upon. Another explanation is that the youth are simply troubled, seeking solace and acceptance in the arms of the whore of Babylon. But the reality is simple: The decline in youth attendance and activity corresponds to all of those reasons. The cause is even simpler: A subtle yet deadly form of culture shock.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church arose in rural, 19th century Michigan from the Millerite Movement. The Church's values largely corresponded to the values at the time. Simplicity was king, frugality was the norm; it was the common sense values of the American Frontier that drove the core values of early Adventism. Therein lies the problem: we as a Church allowed the core values of the 19th century American Frontier become the core values of the Adventist church, labeled them as divinely ordained, and thus they cannot change. It is true that some things have indeed changed: Wedding bands, for instance, are now considered a cultural symbol and are permitted when previously they were considered jewelry and disallowed. But we still have a long way to go in reforming the Adventist church, taking cultural values and breaking their dogmatic statuses away.

Exegesis and hermeneutics are two terms referring to the study and interpretation of a piece of written information such as the Bible. Biblical exegesis in a Protestant denomination such as Adventism relies heavily on the rejection of the Roman Catholic Church's allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures. Such was done by Protestants from Martin Luther to William Miller. But Protestants' literal interpretive methods pose several conundrums. The parables of Jesus, particularly the Rich Man and Lazarus, are clearly full of figurative language (Luther's philosophy was to interpret literally except in cases such as this). But then what about the Old Testament God, a God of vengeance, of war, and of death?

The thing exegetes have to take into account when studying the Scriptures is cultural context. In the Old Testament, the culture was very collectivist. It was about the group and not the individual. That is why Achan, his entire family, and all of his animals were killed after the spoils of war were found in his tent. If the head of the family broke the law, everybody was held responsible. In the American individualist culture, this seems to be an unfair punishment. But in the days of the Israelites, it was perfectly acceptable. Similarly, in the culture of the Old Testament, war was between gods. The reason for the Israelites' many conquests was to prove to the Lord's enemies that He was indeed the One true God. While in today's age it seems barbaric, it was culturally necessary for the wiping out of nations like Canaan and cities like Jericho. Let's not forget that Rahab helped the Israelites and was therefore saved from the destruction of Jericho.

My point in this is not to give you a Bible class or a history lesson, but to point out that God works across cultural boundaries. When we try and say that the 19th century values of Adventism are divinely ordained, or that the Old Testament is clearly fallacious because it paints a different portrait of the Lord, we ourselves are trying to be God. We are trying to put God in a box, and anybody who knows anything about Him knows that no box can contain Him. What the elders in the Church need to realize is that cultures change. And with the changing cultures, so changes the way we should look at our values and doctrines. As long as we keep the same fundamental truths the same, the little things can change. But the younger members of the church also have to realize that with the advent of things like computers, cell phones, and contemporary music, we have an entirely different culture than those who might be older. Things we may find perfectly acceptable may be culturally inappropriate in their eyes. We need to respect the culture of those who came before us while finding ways to change the status quo without being blatantly offensive.

Remember, we may be the future of the church, but the current culture is vastly different. We're not trying to knock down the Berlin Wall here. What we as young people need to do is realize that so that we can coexist peacefully with our fellow Adventists. One of Satan's favorite games is destroying our relationships with God. So stand up to him and stay with the Church.

Your Brother in Christ,

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