This year, some of us absolutely HAVE to make a decision.
We don’t need to go through the pain barrier of remaining ‘Adventist’ on the outside because we have stopped being Adventist on the inside.
It’s not necessary for the brothers to spend three hours in the barber’s on a Friday just so our hair looks good for Sabbath. We now look like respectable brothers. But are we actually the kind of men of whom God can be proud when we’re not on display? And as for our ladies, the hair and beauty regimes would be one thing if many of us had more to offer than being eye candy for both guys and gals on a Sabbath, but the time spent preparing to look good for an event that is supposed to be about more than what we see physically may seriously need reviewing.
Our Facebook posts do not show us to be qualitatively different to non-Adventists in how we live our lives. More and more non-Adventists are turning to vegetarianism and veganism. More and more are reducing their alcohol consumption to the point of actual abstention. More and more are recognising the need for ‘quiet time’ every day, and the importance of gratitude and helping those less fortunate. More and more see the importance of political choices in the ongoing struggle for a better world.
If Facebook is anything to go by, we eat most of the same foods, watch the same TV programmes, wear the same clothes, battle our bosses and co-workers for promotions in the same ways, fight to climb the ladder of material possessions in the same ways (‘cept we then ‘give God praise’ for a new car and bigger house) and have the same social values (with the exception of things like homosexuality, of course, and not all the supposedly enlightened post-religious secular types see homosexuality as a good thing).
Some of us are quietly racist. Many of us are more class-oriented than many secular people (indeed, the ‘classist’ tendencies of many Adventists, be they black, white, Asian or whatever, is beyond embarassing!). And our levels of insularity and myopia mean that if we were to lead a group of undercover reporters into one of our large urban churches and let them loose with technology that would beam the results onto the world’s televison screens (yes, like the Truman Show), would we be comfortable with what is portrayed?
Could we make 2016 the year in which we decide that we are either going to be Adventist – or not? Could we decide to become more familiar with the inside of a quarterly this year, and move on from the little bits of theology we learned in children’s Sabbath School to which Joyce Meyer and Myles Munroe seem to have added more than Mark Finley and Ellen White?
Could we decide that we really need to be out of the workplace by the time the sun sets? Perhaps that might mean some of us have to find new employment, but a serious question: is God more honoured by the cars we drive and houses in which we live than by our faithfulness to the fourth commandment? Are we actually Seventh-Day Adventists, or what?
Can 2016 be the year in which we become the friend – son – daughter – brother – sister – father – mother – wife – aunt – nephew – colleague – pastor – elder – church member – that God has called us to be? Can this be the year in which those appointed to leadership positions actually SERVE rather than demand?
We don’t need the pain of striving to keep up appearances in 2016. Life is too short. If you’re going to wear makeup and jewelry in the week, wear it on Sabbath as well. If you’re going to drink alcopops in your student bar this week, then just be upfront about it. If that girl who has made her intentions very clear and who doesn’t see your Christianity as a barrier to pleasure is going to get a seeing-to, then be someone who does that, but don’t bother showing up suited and booted on Sabbath morning just because you’re expected to play keys or teach a Sabbath school class or whatever.
C.S. Lewis pointed out that a person has no idea how bad they are until they try to be good. This year, I intend to win some battles that I lost in 2015, but I know that Satan has some bespoke temptations for me that are based on both my wins and losses of 2016. I am not addicted to Seventh-Day Adventism. At times I wish I’d never been born into this message and could claim true ignorance about the Sabbath (etc) at Judgement. But I have been born into this message, and both because of AND despite my own parents, this IS my message. And despite the fact that my church is an intellectual wasteland at the best of times, I remain amazed at how Nietzsche and Ellen White have more in common than you’d ever know listening to some Adventists, and how Marx, Hegel, Kant and Foucault have all helped me remain in my theologically-conservative Adventism. But by gum, I am going to be closer to some secular people than some fellow baptised Adventists for the rest of my life and that really is okay.
The psychologists talk about ‘learned behaviour.’ Sabbath-day Adventism (yes, I meant that!) is now ‘learned behaviour’ for many of us. But maybe 2016 can be the year in which it becomes the real deal for the first time, or the year in which we accept that we are not prepared to live this life and we go off in search of whatever we want elsewhere. I’m saying this straight – those who leave are often more honest than those who ‘stay,’ so maybe we need to spend less time planning ‘homecoming’ services and more time discovering why our church does not grow…because the reason/s why will come back to us.