I was reading a blog post by one of my former classmates at Vanderbilt Divinity School on how pastors must deal with the ghosts of the past when attempting to lead a church today.
Much Adventist historiography paints the picture of a “glorious group of saints seeking desperately to be more Christlike while reading their Bibles to stay pure from the encroachment of culture in movies, music, and dress.”
Culture As Enemy
There is a strong “us against the culture” orientation latent in much Adventist discourse. Even today when one goes to YouTube one can find various attacks on demonic culture from those with an Adventist background. Certainly we must recognize that the God against culture theme is embedded in even the New Testament. From Paul’s call to “Be not conformed to this world…” Romans 12:2. To his description of “Spiritual wickedness in high places.” Ephesians 6:12. They all point to God’s people facing a culture that is hostile to Christian values.
After accepting that culture must always be battled we often take the next step which is that in the past, we were much more effective at battling culture. We were more “peculiar” in the past. We were “more Adventist” in the past. We were more “recognizable” in the past. Some would quote Ellen White who speaks about a return to “primitive godliness.”
But today, in contrast, this mindset argues that we are unrecognizable to the world, according to the argument. We are less Adventist. We have chosen the demonic culture over against the spiritual values of our past. This mindset privileges the past with a godliness that is not here now.
Is There Any Truth to The Argumentation?
Now I understand where this argument comes from. To be fair, it seems to me that the church seems to look more like the general public than it did when I grew up. The music is more like the general public as well as dress and the like.
I mean I remember arguments over whether to attend theater in my early years. I doubt that the theater is even a discussion today as most if not all go. To be honest, most of us have the theater coming into our homes through cables and even wirelessly into our computers. All piping movies that most Christians of all denominations would be ducking and hiding to see. But that ain’t my point. My point is that the mindset of “Spiritual us against the demonic culture” seems to have broken down.
What About A Call to The Past?
It is a comforting call to go back to a time when we were allegedly more “Adventist.” I always wonder about calls to go back to the past though. Was the past really so great? Am I seeing only part of the past? Even my suggestion that Adventists look more like their non-Adventist neighbors might be conditioned by an orientation that privileges the past.
Look at race relations today and then look at the 50s, 60s, and lord help us the 1800s. Certainly we can’t say that the church of today is not better on this issue than in the past. I just give this as an example to say that we often ignore very important pieces when we glorify the past.
I don’t want to condemn those who long for the past. I really think it is a longing for “home” that is in all of us. In addition Adventists who were born in the Great Disappointment was supposed to usher in “home” have a very deep desire placed in our psyche for home. I want home. I want a place where all will be treated equally. I want a place where humanity seeks to become more and more like God rather than taking on attributes of the evil one. The more I define what I want…the more I realize that it is not in the past that we will find that, for it never existed. It is in the future of God’s coming Baselia.