WHEN CULTURE IS KING

 

By Lisa Winn

At a recent church event I attended, it just so happened that there were six different soups served for supper; not one of them looked vegetarian. Upon asking, I was assured that the cream of broccoli contained “just the tiniest bit of chicken broth.” I smiled politely and said “Thanks”, but did not eat the soup!

I know, logically, that there is nothing wrong with, or gross about, eating meat; however, the astronomical levels of anxiety that accompany eating even the smallest piece of it destroy any pleasure I might experience in doing so. My half-hearted attempts to overcome this aversion have so far failed. Regretfully, this is one of the ways in which I am still culturally Adventist.

Pray for me!

 

Culture is What Cults do Best

The average Adventist’s cultural indoctrination is complete upon reaching adulthood. His best friends are most likely Adventists due to the Adventist educational system. His doctrine, shaped by The Great Controversy worldview, is vastly different from Christianity (although he may not even be aware that he holds this worldview). Being raised vegetarian, along with a belief that one must keep the Seventh-day Sabbath, makes fellowshipping with non-Adventist Christians challenging. Often he will work for an Adventist organization in some capacity, be it in one of the hospitals, churches, or educational institutions. He is most likely suspicious of “Sunday-keeping Christians” who, he’s been told, “reject God’s holy Law,” and is unlikely to read their literature. All these factors combine to isolate the Adventist from external theological views and influences.

In progressive Adventist circles, an Adventist who is skeptical of his church’s teachings finds that he can simply divorce himself from doctrines of traditional Adventism—or at least redefine and/or reimagine them—and remain in the culture indefinitely. He may not believe Ellen White was a true prophet, in the strong sense of the term, but can resolve himself to consider her “a good, albeit flawed woman who at least got the Sabbath right.” It doesn’t matter if he truly keeps the Sabbath—merely assenting in his mind that it is the right day is good enough. Ultimately, it is not the faith that holds him fast; it is the food, the life-long friends, and the Sabbath day of “rest” (or should I say, day of pot-lucking, socializing, and nature walks) that bind. This rationalizing member is exactly the type of questioning Adventist that I used to be!

 

Culture Shock

A couple years after I drifted away from Adventism, I built up the courage to go to church on Sundays. None of the Christians at my new church knew much about Adventism and did not always understand my doctrinal struggles. At times, I felt I was speaking a different language than they. I had trouble establishing close friendships. Everyone was so nice, but I was such an odd duck! The way they taught about God and His sovereignty was completely foreign to what Adventism had taught me God was like. I was having so much trouble adjusting, that after about six months, I decided it might be easier if I were to stay Adventist!

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. (Galatians 4:8-11)

I began earnestly studying Adventist doctrines, hoping to find a shred of truth in them—anything that could justify returning. The six months I had spent at my new church, however, was enough to teach me always to read proof-texts in context, thus destroying Adventist interpretations. I was longing for a passionate faith, and I realized I could never truly commit to Adventism and maintain any sort of integrity.

 

Safe Haven Prison

It is common for the progressive Adventist to view his culture positively. In fact, he often speaks of it as a good reason to remain Adventist, even though he has abandoned many of its unique doctrines. In reality, this culture has become a comfortable prison of sorts, keeping him from seeking out truth. He eases his mind with thoughts such as, “Look at this great institution God has created out of the ministry of Ellen White. Surely God has blessed Adventism through its successful educational system and medical innovations.” This line of thought ignores the fact that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Matthew 5:45).

Sometimes it is the Sabbath doctrine alone that holds an Adventist captive. His innate fear of “Sunday-keepers” discourages him from trying out a new church, even if he otherwise withdraws from Adventism completely. In his mind, he’d best not go to church at all than to go on Sunday. He neglects to consider that if Adventist doctrine has everything else wrong, it most likely is wrong about the Sabbath as well. Adventism’s twisted interpretation of a handful of proof-texts has been so effective that he cannot believe the Bible teaches anything different.

Adventism has also poisoned the well of Christianity, misrepresenting most of its beliefs. The average Adventist usually assumes that he already understands the doctrines of “other Christians,” but he most likely does not (I certainly didn’t!).

 

When Christ is King

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I cried the day I realized I could never return to Adventism. I felt as if I was losing my identity. Thankfully, around that time I was born again, and suddenly the joy I felt in my heart surpassed any desire to return to Adventism. I didn’t look back. The road since has not always been easy, but it has been eternally rewarding.

It is now nine years later, and I no longer derive any sense of pride in the food I eat, the day on which I go to church, or any other cultural distinctive. I find my identity in Christ alone. That is the beauty of the gospel. Christianity should transcend cultural particularities, and Christians should gain their sense of identity primarily from the gospel. Adventism, on the other hand, sets itself apart as “the remnant church,” and considers its cultural values to have ultimate significance. In fact, Adventists often gain their sense of identity through lesser doctrines, such as the health message, the Sabbath, and their end-time views—not from the gospel. Every time I read Colossians 2:20-23 I can’t help but think Paul was writing it as a warning against cults like Adventism:

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Yes, leaving Adventism for good can come at a great cost—but then, worthwhile, courageous acts usually do. God does not promise us good things on earth in return for following Him. On the contrary, we are promised persecution. I can’t think of any former Adventist I know who hasn’t lost something by leaving Adventism, be it a job, the unexpected and undesired demise of a marriage, a close friendship, or peaceful relations with family. When I was battling through thoughts of leaving Adventism years ago, I happened upon this quote, which changed the course of my life forever:

Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. “He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,” is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice. He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine.

—G.K. Chesterton

I may no longer be a part of my once cherished (and most certainly idolized) Adventist community, but I am now a member of the body of Christ, which is far better!

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ  and be found in him… (Philippians 3:8-9)

 

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