Sunday, February 1, 2015

An Adventist Church leader "gets" the young adults

I generally do not like to discuss a specific church or denomination in my blog, because I am not one to endorse any institutionalized way for practicing Christianity. However, I was impressed by a recent editorial and article by the Canadian Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Editor, Halsey Peat in the newsletter Ontario Highlights. In the Autumn/Winter 2014 edition of the Ontario Highlights, Peat pens two articles, which I will briefly summarize in this post and give a few comments on.

In the first article, entitled "Multi-Generational Churches or Seniors' Centres?" Peat expresses concern about the departure of the youth and the young adults from the church. In part of his editorial, Peat also points out what he feels is the problem with the church that is contributing to this:

We [SDAs] have sought to remain unchanged in a world that is constantly changing. We look to the past as if they were the glorious days, failing to recognise the struggles that our pioneers and those after them had to go through...we have stubbornly, and maybe even arrogantly, considered that our pioneers resolved every issue and question, so we default to regurgitating their answers. There seems to be a reticence to examine our beliefs and practices in light of twenty-first century North America. Meanwhile, our youths and young adults are scrutinizing what they see and hear in the church. Some will pick and choose what makes sense to them, ignoring what does not, but remain in the church. Others, what seems to be the majority, simply leave, discarding everything. (p. 2)
I believe Peat has hit the nail on the head. As a young adult myself, I have chosen to remain in the church community despite objecting to the way church is done. I see them putting out evangelistic meetings that have no relevance to my peers and the questions that my peers ask. Time and time in this blog, I have had to highlight some of these problems which are not just specific to the SDA church, but to Christian denominations that I am aware of. I feel that most Christian churches today are out of touch with the young adults and the youth and the spiritual challenges to faith in a secular world and a world increasingly hostile to Christian culture.

Peat goes on in another brilliant article to address young adults like me about why stay in the SDA church and how to go about reforming it. In his article, "For Young Adults Only", Peat begins with a lengthy introduction that indicates that he is in touch with the young adults in the church:
I f you are a young adult reading this, you’re doing so because you are still attending the church in which you were most probably raised. I’m glad that you are still there because you know of friends who no longer attend. For one reason or another, they ceased attending church, but you remained. 
I’m glad you remained, but will you stay? I sincerely hope so. I hope that you have recognised the truth that even though your church is imperfect, God still works through it for the good of His people. Yes, on occasion, it is even frustrating in how it addresses your concerns, and how it relates to contemporary society, but it is still a place where there is potential for you to grow, flourish and be happy to call home. 
Part of the frustration, I know, is with the word potential. Everything always seem to be in the future. Meanwhile, you feel side-lined, unimportant, unappreciated, and undervalued. Like your teen brothers and sisters, it can sometimes seem as if you are only appreciated when you fit the cultural stereotype of an Adventist in appearance, accepted behaviour pattern, and you use the clich├ęs and jargon of Adventism. 
Over the years, while conversing with young adults, I arrived at a conclusion, shared by many of my generation, that you love the Lord. I learned that you are in this church because you believe, and you want to participate in its mission. You seek spirituality, but you do not necessarily believe that spirituality is determined by traditional views and practices. You want your church to be relevant to your community. You want it to be such a welcoming and relevant place that you will gladly invite your friends to attend with you. However, you’re often reluctant to invite them because of how embarrassed you’d feel by what sometimes happens on a Sabbath morning. So, you wait for change. 
Waiting for change is never easy. It can be very frustrating because just when it looks like it’s about to happen, something seems to derail it. Some of your former friends gave up waiting and left, but you do not want to leave truth for error. You’re very aware that when people separate themselves from fellowship, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain spiritual disciplines and practice. Over time, there is a distancing, not only from the practices of a Christian but from its principles, and ultimately from God. Yet, you wait for the church to change. (p.10-11)
 Once again, Peat is on target. No need for me to add to his words, as he said exactly how I feel about church and Christianity on a whole. Yet, make no mistake. I do appreciate my seniors and the work they have done even teach me the elementary stuff and preserve faith so that I could learn about it today. And I am happy that they have kept track of the history and preserved it for me so that I can know the evolution of faith and where we are coming from.

In fact, for as much as I have protested and critiqued Roman (if not Western) Christianity, I still respect it. In fact, I greatly appreciate that Roman Christianity took on Paul's revolutionary theology of becoming relevant to the culture in order to conquer the culture. According to the letter to Corinth, the multi-cultural Paul argues his theological method:
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 New International Version [NIV])
I feel that Roman Christianity, by adopting this theological position made Christianity malleable, and therefore appropriated whatever it could from national or popular cultures in order to evangelize and win converts to the religion. And so far, this approach to spreading Christianity has been the most successful to date.Whereas Judeo-Christianity (or Jewish Christianity) failed to convert Jewish rabbinic schools and perished for a while after the destruction of Jerusalem, Roman Christianity converted the entire Roman empire, from Britain to Northern Africa.

Today, I recognize the same Roman Christianity principles in the present day Pope. Assimilate some of what the modern day culture and secular world see as good or reasonable in order to win them. While I may disagree on some of the things that the Roman Catholic Church accepts as not contradicting with the teachings of Christ and the Apostles, I do realize that the church is merely pursuing a theology of adapting to its world in order to remain relevant.

So I welcome Peat's message and will try to be optimistic that at least a few adults in the church do understand the young adults and will listen to them. Nonetheless, I feel pessimistic that SDA church traditions will change anytime soon. Especially when I think of my experiences in rural Jamaican Adventism, where laymen cling to reading only the King James Version of the Bible and indoctrinate the youth into conspiracy theories about how Jesuits are trying to infiltrate the Adventist church and seminaries.

References:

Peat, H. (2014). Multi-generational churches or seniors' centres?  Ontario Highlights Autumn/Winter 2014, 2.

Peat, H. (2014). For young adults only. Ontario Highlights Autumn/Winter 2014, 10-11.

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