Sunday, September 20, 2009

Exporting Adventism

Overseas not long ago, I had an interesting interaction with an Adventist pastor. I had just finished telling him about a person who had expressed to me a desire to begin keeping Sabbath and to be baptized. I would have expected him to be thrilled with the news, as this individual had been an ongoing ‘project’ for him for some time. To my surprise the pastor appeared disappointed, annoyed, and even a little angry.

The new convert in reference had little (if any) desire to become a “Seventh-day Adventist”. Her perspective of the church (through being in contact with them for over a year) was that they were angry, legalistic, judgmental people. Being connected to another Christian community, she simply wanted the gift and goodness of keeping Sabbath and to publicly commit her life to Jesus Christ through baptism.

In our interaction, the pastor coolly peppered me with questions about the young new convert. Had she been to one of my evangelistic meetings? What had I said to her? How had I made that connection? Who was going to baptize her & when? He seemed put off that this ‘soul’ was now “off the market” for him.

She had been attending my meetings and I hadn’t had much more than a short greeting with her before we spoke about her baptism; I hardly knew who she was. As far as I was concerned, it was God who was doing the connecting – and I wasn't worried about who would be doing the baptizing (it happened to be a pastor whose authority she was under).

What could God’s perspective be on this person’s conversion? What might God’s expectations be with regard to her denominational association? How might He react to the Adventist pastor’s lack of enthusiasm?

Can we as Seventh-day Adventists celebrate people’s rescue from sin (its current destruction & future consequences), even if they do not come to be a part of the Adventist denomination/movement?

Can we ‘bless’ people with the gifts Adventists have been given on their terms? (I.e. can we ‘bless’ people with the goodness of Adventism without ‘taking’ from them [requiring membership/participation to our organization]?)

A dear friend of mine says “yes” – and he calls it ‘exporting’ Adventism: offering what we have to offer with no expectations of a ‘return’ on our ‘investment’. Exporting Adventism would mean allowing people to incorporate the blessings we have been given into their own spaces and affiliations without necessarily joining the Adventist Denomination. It would kind of mean stepping into the Abrahamic model of becoming a blessing because of God’s blessing on us - freely giving what we have received.

In his mind, if we became open to the idea of gifting what we have, we might lose some of the sense of ‘market share’ we currently carry. We might find ourselves partnering with other groups in creating kingdom breakthroughs. We might share our gifts on a much broader scale (it’s far far easier to talk about resting on the Sabbath when that is not exclusively tied to joining an organization). We might be able to celebrate the baptisms of people like my friend overseas.

In some sense we are doing it already (think no-pressure health programs & mission programs like food-banks); yet in a much larger sense, given our modernist-pragmatist cultural milieu, we have a hard time even envisioning what 'exporting' Adventism might look like. In many instances, we have theologies that work directly against it (“come out of her my people” ring a bell?). Ironically however, I believe that if we were willing to take the risk in no-strings-attached gifting, ‘exporting Adventism’ without expectations, we would become far more relevant, vibrant with life, and even growing than we possible could otherwise.

What are some ideas of what it could look like in the future?