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.
I read an article which mentioned a pastor's wife who would wear her wedding ring at work but take it off when in a primarily Adventist setting. Somebody saw her at work and stared at her for a few seconds. Then that person had the gall to say, "Oh, I didn't recognize you with your ring on." The moment I read this, I about blew my top. Granted, it was in the 1980s when wedding rings were finally considered customary and then permitted. But the amount of condescension in that one sentence I highly doubt even Lady Catherine de Bourgh could have equalled.
In June of 2007, amidst what I now see was a very deep depression, I wrote a short story which became a novel about a girl whose life hit rock bottom. She attempted suicide, but through a Deus ex machina in the form of a kind upperclassman, she survived and became a Seventh-day Adventist. The pastor of the church in Lamond, California, a fictional town 20 minutes from Redding, was Noah Murphy. He felt using his given name was too sacrilegious and went by Murphy. He was married, but refused to wear a wedding band. When Clarissa, the protagonist, came to church the first day, the youth Sabbath School class welcomed her, but the pastor did not. The long, pink scars on her wrists, combined with the necklace she wore caused Murphy to shun her--and to shun her new boyfriend, the man who had saved her life. Later on in the story, he saves the two of them from a potentially disastrous encounter caused by heavily spiked punch, and later still he officiates their wedding. But even though I made him a good guy in the end, I still stereotyped him for a reason.
In the Adventist church, plainness is heavily encouraged. In the 1866 standards for dress, we were to be "scrupulously plain". Adornment of any kind, including but not limited to makeup, jewelry, elegant dresses, pearls, and so on and so forth, was outlawed not only by the Church, but by Scripture, citing a particular passage in Isaiah that was taken somewhat out of context. In my own family, the condescension produced by the Adventist church in the last quarter of the twentieth century has driven people away for forbidding things that were culturally appropriate, that were customary.
It seems that a lot of people view plain dress, and abstention from wearing jewelry and other adornment as requirements for membership, even as requirements for salvation. They are in reality teachings, not requirements. And I question these teachings. Why? They are so rooted in the keeping of standards as divinely ordained that we lose sight of the reason they are there in the first place. The reason for discouraging the wearing of jewelry, makeup, fancy clothes, etc. is so that we focus not on ourselves, but on Jesus. By judging people (Matthew 7:1) for wearing jewelry, how are we promoting the love of Jesus? By making sure that others follow our now irrelevant standards, who are we like? Read the Gospels and you will see that the same kind of enforcement was the pet control scheme of the Pharisees. If we weren't as flexible as we are, we'd have thrown out anybody who suggested that wearing a wedding ring was all right!
Another thing that makes the teaching of abstention from adornment seem almost Pharisaical is church attire. If we are to dress plainly, simply, without adornment, why do we almost require that people wear formal or semi-formal clothing to church? What struck me as the most hypocritical was when I saw in church a woman wearing a flaming magenta dress, sporting a sterling brooch the size of a golf ball, and wearing a hat which matched the dress. I was confused because I'd always been told wearing hats was irreverent. And aren't brooches jewelry? And what about that magenta? It attracts attention! Could it be a cultural difference? I still don't really know.
My sister has a pair of magnetic stud earrings that she could wear without getting her ears pierced. She got them for a fairly low price, maybe twenty dollars. They look great on her, and if somebody told her to take them off because they're jewelry I'd step in and defend her. Why? Because those earrings aren't to show status. They aren't to draw attention. They aren't gaudy, aren't kitsch. If you make my sister take off her twenty dollar earrings, then you should take off your five hundred dollar suit coat, sixty dollar tie and eighty dollar shoes because you, my friend, are no better than a Pharisee.
So again I ask, if we condemn (Mt. 7:1!) our fellows for wearing jewelry or makeup, what are we doing to further God's kingdom? Are we spreading the love of Christ or are we being legalistic, expecting perfection from our followers? Is it really a theological issue, or is it one of the last ways the Church controls their members? Wedding rings are fine in a lot of circles, but there are people, the fictional Noah Murphy for instance, that refuse because wedding rings are jewelry.
I myself plan on wearing two wedding rings: one that the Church will approve of and one that it won't. One will be a band of gold, and another will be a tattoo, a symbol of permanence. And will I want to hide the fact that I have my wife's name tattooed on my finger? No way! I would wear it with pride, reaffirming my love for her every day regardless of whether or not I'm wearing that band of gold. The letter of the law says no jewelry, no tattoos, no adornment. But the spirit of the law is much different: instead of focusing on looking good, we should focus on Jesus Christ. It's what He would have preached.
I would love to do a case study on this topic. But sadly, a weekly blog entry doesn't hazard months' or even years' worth of research. Instead, I'm just going to state my opinion on the matter and show you the reasons why we have Adventist schools and why in the long run you will be better off either attending or sending your children to an Adventist school.
Adventists have always been about excellence: excellence in character, excellence in life, excellence in health, excellence in spirituality, and the list goes on to no end. But one of the things that we as a Church have striven to provide since the very beginning was excellence in education. Our matriarch, our prophet Ellen White vehemently opposed public schooling. Conditions were horrible, classrooms were cramped, and children were being taught the ways of the worldly wise men. She decried public education for cultural as well as theological reasons, and said that children were better off waiting until age eight or nine to attend public school so that the families could set their children on the right path before they went to school. Then as a response to public education, we came up with Adventist schools.
These schools strove to promote Adventist ideals, teach children about God, and prepare them for life. That is what Adventist schools strive to do today, and I believe that in modern day society we need a good quality Adventist education more than ever before. Modern day society teaches us that we will never be good enough to do anything. We idolize models and movie stars, swooning, "I could never be as good an actor as [for instance] Ben Affleck," and "I could never be as pretty as [for instance] Kate Beckinsale." But God teaches the contrary, that everybody is unique, has unique gifts and talents, and that everybody is equally capable. I admit myself to fawning over Thomas Tallis and Sir John Tavener, two composers with amazing, God-given abilities that have immortalized them (Tavener is still alive, too!). God, though, has given me a love for composition, and these great composers are merely sources of inspiration and enjoyment. Why is this? I believe it's due to the fact that I have gone through Adventist schooling almost my entire life.
Adventist schools, when they do their job properly, encourage the downtrodden, empower the powerless, and educate the uneducated. They are, or should be, warm and friendly atmospheres that make learning into something more than just memorizing facts. Adventist schools teach ethics, life lessons, and use care in teaching children what they need to learn. This environment is like the womb, a place for children to develop in safety.
Many parents choose not to send their children to Adventist schools because they can't justify the cost. All Adventist schools are private institutions because they are parochial schools. By definition, the Government cannot teach one particular religion in any given school (nor can they prohibit the exploration or exercise of Christianity, but that's a different issue for another time). The fact that they are private schools makes them run on tuition instead of being funded by tax dollars. In order to keep the budget in line with operating costs, tuition is quite high, with some schools running hundreds of dollars per month per student. In this economy it makes perfect sense to pull the children out of private school and send them to public school to save money, while giving them the spiritual education at home. This will easily satisfy any theological qualms that prevent us from sending our children to public school. But what about the other side of the coin? White's reasons for disapproving of public schooling were twofold, as I mentioned earlier: theological and cultural.
Public schools are far from a wholesome environment. Harsh language is rampant, sexual promiscuity is shrugged off, and God is notably absent from the culture. Children are taught not by their teachers, but by their peers to conform to society. Musical choices, acceptable body shapes and weights, lifestyle decisions: peers affect all of these. We've always been told that we should choose carefully the people we make our friends. In public schools, Adventists' conservative values could be seen as weakness or weirdness, making students unpopular. The quest for popularity may lead the students to make choices that go against their beliefs. Peer pressure is a powerful force that Satan uses to snare today's youth.
So what do we do to keep our kids on the straight and narrow? Even in Adventist schools we see teen pregnancy and sexual promiscuity, language, underage drinking, disbelief in God and a plethora of other stains. But attending an Adventist school gives students the opportunity to make the right decisions, with encouragement from teachers and peers. They are more likely to take the right path if they are in an environment that is conducive to it. Ellen White was absolutely right: it's better for children to stay home and be grounded in their faith and lifestyle before going to public school. But Adventist schools strive to eliminate the qualms we have about public schooling. The immense cost of educating a child in Adventist schools from elementary to post-secondary is a pittance compared to the potential for making the right choices versus making the wrong choices. Parents, think about it: if you're so worried about money that you're willing to rob your children of the wholesome environment of an Adventist school, are you really trusting God? He wants the best for us, and Adventist education is the closest I have come to finding the ideal. I am here at Walla Walla University because God moved mountains for me to be here. Why? He wants me to have this wholesome Adventist education. And if He moves mountains for me, then why not for your kids? It just makes sense: an Adventist education will be better, bottom line. You want the best for your kids, and so does God. If you can afford Adventist schooling, I highly suggest you take advantage. Even if you have to tighten your belts and count every penny, it will be worth it. Remember, this world is not our home. And when we prepare our children for the bigger picture, God will smile and He will take care of it.
This is going to be a short one, but I came upon an epiphany in class today. Jesus's nature was that of Adam before sin. This is why He is referred to as the Second Adam. Just as Adam, He had the ability to sin, but did not have a sinful nature. When He did not sin and yet gave His life, it was like a matter-antimatter annihilation, like dividing by zero! It totally obliterated the eternal death penalty for those who accepted His death. That's they beauty of it all: Somebody took our place, an innocent Lamb. And He did it without hesitation. As Jonathan Henderson says, the very moment of the first sin, the plan was set in motion. Jesus knew that somebody had to die to save everybody. Without another thought, without any consideration, He threw up His hand and said, "I'll do it." Acting out of a love we can never truly understand, He gave everything for His children. And if even one of them accepted Him, He still would have done it.
When I mention 1888, Jones, and Waggoner, what comes to mind? For some of you, nothing comes to mind. For others, it means debate. The debate was whether or not we are to keep the Law for salvation, or whether it is the Blood of Christ that gives us salvation. Most of us today would agree that the Blood is what sets us free, but also that the Law is important. Some would say that it is just the Blood, and that nothing else matters. Others will go the other extreme and say that if you don't keep the Law--all 10 Commandments--perfectly, you will be damned. So which is it: Sanctification, Justification, or both?Before we find a definitive answer to the question, we have to note that no definitive answer can really be found in this situation. It's a matter of interpretation, exegetical or otherwise, mixed with cultural, political, and other biases. That is one thing that compels me to believe that the correct answer is both to trust that you have salvation by faith, but also that it is important to keep laws such as the Sabbath.The origin of this conflict had its roots in the young SDA Church.
The passage so many Protestant denominations used to denounce the Sabbath as dated and no longer applicable was Galatians 3:23-25. As it reads in the King James Version, "But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster." They cited this "schoolmaster" to mean the Mosaic Law in its entirety, including the Ten Commandments. Early Seventh-day Adventists pushed a different interpretation, that the "schoolmaster" was actually the sacrificial system. Their emphasis was in keeping the Sabbath, which was what separated them from the "animals"--the liturgical and other organized churches, or as they called organized religion, Babylon.Allow me to explain the likening of organized, Sunday-keeping denominations to Babylon. In the time of the Millerite movement, the Roman Catholic Church was seen as the Beast in Revelation; it was the only entity of power to fulfill the 1260-day prophecy. This was preached across the entire movement, and those that followed the message of the Millerite Movement, most notably the Seventh-day Adventists, followed this belief. This was one of the reasons that the SDA Church was not an organized denomination until they started giving out credentials in 1853: they didn't want this hierarchical structure that got in the way of the individual's relationship with God. Similarly, Babylon, the Roman Catholic Church and other organized churches, kept Sunday as Sabbath instead of the Seventh Day, Saturday. The emphasis on Sunday-worship as the Mark of the Beast caused the more legalistic interpretation of the controversial passage in Galatians.Then, around 1888, the fledgling Church received a hand with two wild cards: E. G. Waggoner and A. J. Jones. They began to preach a different interpretation of the Galatians passage, that it did in fact mean what it said. The Law was no longer something necessary to point us to Christ because Christ already came and died. He Himself said that he "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled" (Matthew 5:17-18, NKJV). This means that we are still under that which is not fulfilled, which means essentially the set-in-stone Commandments, at least in my interpretation. But the early Adventists didn't see it that way. They saw this interpretation of the Galatians passage as a threat to the Sabbath. The Church leaders tried to silence the message because of it, but Ellen White spoke out in favor of letting them preach.
Today, though, I often see the message Waggoner and Jones preached taken to the extreme. The "Justification Party" is the road to the Once Saved, Always Saved doctrine. This doctrine, one that Adventists reject, essentially states that works are worth nothing and that through faith and grace alone are we saved. The doctrine is wholly unbiblical, for James clearly states in his epistle, "What good is it to say that you have faith, when you don't really do anything to show that you really do have faith? Can that kind of faith save you?" (Contemporary English Version). It is true that we should show that we have faith in God. We should follow Christ's example, and doesn't that include following the Law, particularly the Ten Commandments? Many people use Galatians 3:24, 25 to throw out the Fourth Commandment, but I think that it just reinforces our need to keep the Law. Jesus kept it, so why shouldn't we? I don't believe we're sealed forever once we accept God. It's something that the Once Saved, Always Saved doctrine hasn't ever explained: what if you decide that you don't want to be a part of God's kingdom after all? And also, if Salvation is by grace alone, why are some saved and others lost? It gets very dicey, and blooms into skunk cabbage like Predestination, which undermines the very nature of God.
Wrapping everything up, I can see that it's plain that salvation is primarily by faith and grace, stemming from Christ's sacrifice on the cross. But along with that, we need to keep the Law. The analogy I've used for years is that salvation is a gift. Jesus, in His death, gave it to everybody. Some of us choose to accept it, but some of us toss it on a dresser and forget about it. There is always an opportunity to open it, but for one to really want to open it, one must first know the Man who gave it to them. In order to do that, one has to align oneself with His teachings, ideals, and Law. For us to understand Him, and understand His gift, we have to understand His position. It's as simple as that. The Law is there for our benefit, not our detriment. And while we cannot as humans keep it perfectly, we do know that the love and blood of Christ blots out "a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8). And that, my friends, is the reason we can rejoice.