The Adult Sabbath School Class

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Greg Brothers is an Adventist pastor in Oregon.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

And no, I'm not happy with the Magnificat, either.

I don’t like this idea of God judging the earth.

And chances are, neither should you.

If you’re reading this on the Web, after all, then you’re better-off than 95% of the people on this planet. The status quo has been good to you, in other words. It’s pushed you to the top of the heap.

No, “the system,” as a friend of mine likes to say, “is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting right now” – and if you like the results you’re getting right now, then you certainly don’t want to change anything.

You just want more of the same.

And that’s the problem with this whole idea of judgment – it’s based on the premises . . .
  • That the “best of all possible worlds” for people like us may not be “the best of all possible worlds” from God’s point of view.
  • That God may rate something else more important than our own satisfaction.
  • That God may even shake up things so that other people get a chance at the good life.

And when I say “other people,” I mean “people other than us.”

In short, the judgment is an inherently subversive activity. It penalizes winners. It rewards losers. It threatens the status quo.

And why would anyone ever want to do something like that?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Three Phases of the Investigative Judgment

If there's one thing we've learned from this quarter's lessons, it's that the Adventist Church's doctrine of the Investigative Judgment is non-negotiable. It is not open to discussion; it is not open to change.

But even if the doctrine itself has not changed, the uses we've made of that doctrine most certainly have. Over the years, as a matter of fact, Adventists have used the Investigative Judgment as both a comfort and a club.

Phase One: Focus on Daniel
In the immediate aftermath of the Great Disappointment, for instance, Adventists were cheered by the thought of judgment. We liked the idea that God was sifting through the names of professed believers; we liked the idea that God was determining just who was really and truly a Christian . . . and who was such in name only.

And if you were a Millerite who had been mocked, abused, and expelled from church by those so-called “Christians,” then you looked forward to the day when God vindicated His saints in this Investigative Judgment . . . because that was the day those other people finally got what they deserved!

Phase Two: Focus on Leviticus.
But as time passed, Adventists realized that people inside the church could be just as bad as those outside – that Adventists could be hypocrites just as easy as anyone else.

And with that, the Investigative Judgment changed from a means of vindication to one of motivation; it became less of a comfort, and more of a club.

“At any moment,” we told church members, “your name could come up in the Judgment . . . and if there is one sin you’ve not forsaken – one sin you’ve not confessed and put behind you – then you will be lost for all eternity.

“What’s more,” we said, “the day will come when probation closes for everyone – the day when the Great Anti-typical Day of Atonement comes to an end. So you’d better get right with God before then . . . otherwise, you will not be ready to stand before God without a mediator.”

Phase Three: Focus on . . . ?
In the past decade or so, Adventists have tried to make the Investigative Judgment a lot less scary. Spend much time at Loma Linda University, for instance, and you’ll hear that the real subject of this judgment is God – that the Investigative Judgment is God’s way of proving His fairness and love to the questioning Universe.

Hang around Andrews University, on the other hand, and you’ll hear that Jesus has demolished anything that once separated us from God; as a result, we may come into His presence with boldness, because Jesus led the way.

Obviously, there are important differences between these two views.
  • The first draws inspiration from Ellen White’s theme of a “great controversy” between good and evil; the second is more rooted in the Book of Hebrews.
  • The first is more comfortable with Abelard’s “moral influence” view of the atonement; the second with Anselm’s “forensic” theory.
  • The first stresses our freedom of choice; the second God’s sovereignty.

But both views try to make the Investigative Judgment more “user” friendly; both views view it as a comfort (and not a club) -- and just like this week's Sabbath School lesson, both views pretty much ignore whatever it was that Jesus was supposed to have been doing before 1844.

In short, Adventists have always believed in an Investigative Judgment; no discussion there.

But when it comes to what we mean by that belief . . .

Well, that's open for debate.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

Times change.

And so do the meaning of words.

Take “liberal” and “conservative,” for instance. Back in the 19th-century, a “Liberal” favored free markets, while “Conservatives” backed government intervention.

Today, it’s the other way around. The meanings changed, in other words, even though the words themselves did not.

The same is true of this week’s lesson – a lesson that hearkens back to the time when “Conservatives” sought to rule by “crown, sword, and altar,” i.e. the aristocracy, the army, and the established church.

And yes, the “established church” was usually (but not always) Catholic.

Lined up against this cause was an uneasy coalition of Protestants and Liberals – Protestants who opposed Conservatives because they were Catholic, and Liberals who opposed anything that stood in the way of free markets and free thought.

The Fundamentalists and the ACLU had joined hands against the Old Guard, in other words – and if you want an example of the way this worked out in practice, then read The Great Controversy; notice how Ellen White critiques the Conservative establishment of her day. It’s a critique based, not just on religious values, but on Liberal values as well – Liberal values such as efficiency, reason, and democracy.

No, when Ellen White wrote The Great Controversy, it would have been controversial. Provocative. Even “edgy.”

But it was a book you could give to a Liberal President or Prime Minister – a man such as Theodore Roosevelt or William Gladstone – and you could do so knowing he’d understand.

Even if he didn’t agree.

Try that today, however, and they’d throw you out; they’d lump you in with those crazies who think the Federal Reserve is a front for the Trilateral Commission!

That’s because the times have changed. “The divine right of kings” is dead; the old alliance of crown, sword and altar has long since passed away. And whatever it meant to its original readers, anyone who reads The Great Controversy today must do in light of these facts:
  • the Conservatives -- the old Conservatives -- have lost.
  • the Liberals have long since moved on to other opponents (i.e. Fascism and Communism),
  • and yes, the Catholic Church has finally made its peace with democracy.

As you teach this week’s lesson, in other words, it won’t be enough to simply repeat the same things we’ve been saying for the last 150-years . . . for even if you did, they wouldn’t mean the same thing they did 150-years ago.

Talk about the "errors of the Catholic Church" back in 1875, after all, and you could still be a Partner in the Great Alliance Against Authoritarian Regimes. But try it today, and you're going to sound like a bigot.

And no, this isn't an argument for a Sabbath School class that is "polically correct."

I’m just stating facts – the fact that times change.

Words change.

And sometimes, the only way to keep on saying the same thing you’ve always said . . .

Is to say something new.