Thursday, November 12, 2009

As Simple as 1-2-3

I came across a recent column by Loren Seibold that caught my attention. It did so mostly because he touches upon a topic that I have burdened by for a while but never took the time to write about. Either that, or I didn't have the courage to address it. But since he has opened the discussion (or at least furthered it), I guess it is time for my two cents.

The name of his article is "Can We Adventists Learn from Others?" In my mind, the answer is quite obviously "yes," (though you may be interested in reading my further views here) but his particular reason for raising the question is what piqued my interest. Specifically, he asked the question in response to the Ohio Conference’s now-annual Innovation Conferences. Now in its fifth year, the Innovation Conference is a "three day gathering for hope-filled, faith-inspired individuals with an almost cellular drive for transformation, creative change, and purposeful living. The sharp, daring, and provocative explorations will expand your thinking, stretch your faith, and compel you to live out your values in a bold and revolutionary way."

In essence, the conference tries to "foster innovation" and the presenters are trying to be as innovative and edgy as possible. As Seibold notes, "One sometimes suspects" that the presenters are "experimenting with ideas" that "they themselves may not, after all, subscribe to."

And herein lies my problem. To me, the desire to be more innovative, more edgy, more "cutting edge," more insert-your-adjective-here, is a sign of a weak message. Don't get me wrong, we should try to package our message in an attractive way. But when the methods start overshadowing the message, you have to start wondering about the message itself.

It's really simple, folks. There is nothing complicated about it. Over 120 years ago Ellen White declared that "the loud cry of the third angel [had] already begun in the revelation of the righteousness of Christ, the sin-pardoning Redeemer. This is the beginning of the light of the angel whose glory shall fill the whole earth" (1888, p. 1073). She was saying this in reference to the message of justification by faith that E.J. Waggoner and A.T. Jones had introduced. She described their message as the "third angel's message in verity" (Review & Herald, April 1, 1890), saying that if all those who "had received the third angel's message and proclaimed it in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord would have wrought mightily with their efforts. A flood of light would have been shed upon the world. Years ago the inhabitants of the earth would have been warned, the closing work completed, and Christ would have come for the redemption of His people" (The Great Controversy, p. 457).

Again, I want to say: it's very simple. The only reason we need to get more and more innovative and more and more edgy is because we have not "received" the "third angel's message." Obviously, if we had already, the earth would have already been illuminated with God's glory. At least that's what our own prophet has told us.

In the meantime, we try to get more creative, packaging a lifeless message in "attractive" wrapping. We get edgier and edgier with our "worship" styles, hoping to keep our young people in the church. But, it's nothing but a valley of dry bones - all symptomatic of a much deeper ailment. Until we receive the message of Christ's righteousness into our heads, hearts, and hands, we will continue to try to "push the envelope" in being innovative - all the while simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Sound too critical? Maybe. But, as I have said above - and I will continue to say - it's really simple. Just accept the message, and then watch it spread like "fire in the stubble" (Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 118).

9 comments:

Kyle Baldwin said...

Shawn,

I believe I've read some of your earlier thoughts on using truth from other sources and I appreciate your perspective on this issue. I agree that if we as a people would simply accept the third angel's message there would be transformation.

However I have been thinking about the subject of the world's receptivity to the third angel's message and I think that there things we need to consider. First I believe that if the loud cry rings forth than the those who are honest in heart will respond to it's call.

But at the same time and this is my second point I believe that the hearts of those that are indulging self will grow more and more cold as scripture predicts. This put pastors and others who are overtly trying to win souls in an interesting position.

Like Elijah we need to prepare people to meet the Lord in earnest. However also like Elijah we need to realize that while we are called to give the message of the third angel with truth through love the winnowing of the wheat has begun and we may not always like the results or the lack thereof.

Kyle

Sherman Haywood Cox II said...

Yes...this is a question that needs a nuanced answer as you have attempted to give.

My greatest issue with a lot of these innovation presentations is that they often specialize in "tactics." And these "tactics" are not given scrutiny to see if or how they would fit into the proclamation of the third angel's message. Often we take a pragmatic approach like: "if it works, lets try it."

Another issue is whether many of these "tactics" even "work" within the context of the Third Angel's Message. They may or they may not. Some will, some will not. I guess even more problematic is that many of us don't put forth a definition of what does it mean when we say that a tactic "works."

But finally, I would tend to agree with the perspective that whatever we do, we should seek to make message more prominent than tactics. Such a perspective will help us keep our feet on the ground rather than being blown away from "tactic" to "tactic."

Another interesting point is how often groups like amazing facts, 3abn, and it is written, among others, are not usually considered "innovative" enough...even though they make great and explicit use of technology, advertising, and television in their efforts to promote the message. Agree or disagree with their use of these message, or methods, it is hard to argue that these groups are not "innovative."

Shawn Brace said...

Thank you for your thoughts, Kyle and Sherman.

Kyle, I have to go back to what Ellen White has said. The message that Jones & Waggoner proclaimed was the message that would illuminate the entire earth with God's glory. It would usher in the end. I don't know how that will look, exactly, but I know that it's not happening at present. That much I do know.

Sherman: good points about 3ABN, Amazing Facts, etc.

Magnetic Irish Mentor said...

Hey Shawn,
I don't think using postmodern marketing of the Gospel to be inappropriate. Using current media to get the message out is not anti-truth or anti-third angel's message. To say that truth must stand on its own without any real focus on what people are interested in who don't have the Gospel is not practicing true love. True love meets people where they are at and gains their confidence and shows and interest in who people are, their ideas, their thoughts, their music, etc. The real dilemma is when people who lack the Spirit of God try to push current 'trends' to cloak over their own lack of trust in the power of the Holy Spirit. Technology or trends never replace God's power, but God's power can use those things. The Holy Spirit has no boundaries to reaching the lost. Why are we so timid then?

Shawn Brace said...

Thanks Irish Mentor! I'm sorry if I made it sound like we should not meet people where they are. I firmly believe that we should. And I don't disagree with anything you have said.

What I am talking about is when the methods overshadow the message - even to the diminishing of it. We are now in an age when orthopraxy is coveted far more than orthodoxy. Doctrines/message aren't important. All that matters is what you do and how you do it.

So goes the prevailing sentiment.

Steve said...

Shawn you have hit the nail on the head with this article!! I know you believe in the importance of the third angel's message, so this isn't intended to inform or convince you of anything, but like a fire in my bones I must comment on the subject you have raised.

Historically, the Adventist approach to evangelism has been to teach people our distinctive doctrines in the context of end-time prophecy. This approach unfortunately often comes across as a fear based message. "According to Bible prophecy, Jesus is coming very soon, so you had better shape up before it's too late!" This is what people hear in our message however innocent our intentions. What they are not hearing for some reason, is HOW to prepare for the final events of prophecy. There's no question that during times of crisis in the world, the current strategy does produce baptisms, but the question we should ask is, does it produce converted Christians? From my observations, the answer to that question is nearly always no.

In 1995, my wife and I became good friends with a couple who had recently joined the church through a prophecy seminar. Within two years, they left the church when the pressure from their non-Adventist family became too much. There were other issues in that case for which I have had to repent of my negative influence, but the point I want to make is, that when the correct foundation is missing it is very often difficult to undo the damage. 1 Corinthians 3:11 says, "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." This suggests to me that our evangelism should be built primarily upon the gospel and NOT end-time prophecy.

Have we as a church been guilty of trying to build the church upon a fear base message of "the law and the testimony" without balancing our message with the love and mercy of the gospel? Ellen White emphatically said yes! Regarding the events at Minneapolis she said: "It is true men will say, 'You are too excited; you are making too much of this matter, and you do not think enough of the law.... don't be all the time reaching for this righteousness of Christ, but build up the law.' Let the law take care of itself. We have been at work on the law until we get as dry as the hills of Gilboa, without dew or rain. Let us trust in the merits of Jesus Christ of Nazareth." E. G. White Materials, pg 557.

Steve said...

Continued:

I know I'm painting with a broad brush here, and I don't want to leave the impression that we are completely off track as a church. Progress is being made by a growing list of pastors and evangelists in learning to present a balanced message that God can bless. It is the unspoken message behind our message that I'm concerned about, and there is no question, in my opinion, that we are still plagued with a fear based message in many circles. There is also no question that we have been told what our message should be.

"The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people through Elders Waggoner and Jones. This messages was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Savior, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God. Many had lost sight of Jesus. They needed to have their eyes directed to His divine person, His merits, and His changeless love for the human family. All power is given into His hands, that He may dispense rich gifts unto men, imparting the priceless gift of His own righteousness to the helpless human agent. ***This is the message that God commanded to be given to the world.*** It is the third angel's message, which is to be proclaimed with a loud voice, and attended with the outpouring of His Spirit in a large measure."

Don't miss this plain statement. "This is the message that God commanded to be given to the world." I don't think this point can be understated!

Anyone who has taken the time to read the writings of A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner, especially the 1893 and 1895 GC Sermons of A. T. Jones, cannot help but see that they had a constant focus upon the beauty and righteousness of Christ! This method of preaching Christ doesn't seem to be taken seriously in our churches or in the Seminary. I don't know that for a fact, I'm just making a judgment base on what I typically hear from the pulpit. God commanded that we present a certain message and it's high time for us as a denomination to take that command seriously!!! The righteousness of Christ and related truths should be the focus of our evangelistic presentations AND our Sabbath sermons because only when "perfect love casts out fear" can anyone receive the proper motivation and power to keep all the commandments of God which is the prerequisite preparation for the final crisis.

I can personally testify to the beauty and the power of the 1888 message. The spiritual high points of my life have been at National and Regional Conferences I have been able to attend where the "third angel's message in verity" was presented. The "light, power and much love, joy and peace" indicating the presence of the Holy Spirit (EW 55) at these meetings has truly been a foretaste of heaven for me and I know many other people who can say the same. I hope and pray that this message will soon be proclaimed throughout the world as God commanded.

Steve Shedell
GFN Radio, Grenada

Dingo said...

The outlook on gospel work you describe reminds me of a tentative book title another minister was toying with several years ago:

"Sign working, Message Broken". I believe his thoughts may have been going along a similar course to what you were saying. We are great at keeping the sign in wonderful repair with constant upgrades, while allowing our beautiful message to fall into disrepair and neglect.

Cutting edge encourages some to be receptive; however, if the message is neglected or overshadowed by the cutting edge signage, it doesn’t win and retain souls. As I remember, Thom S. Rainer’s research [Surprising Insights From The Unchurched, And Proven Ways To Reach Them by] that sound biblical teaching on firm doctrines served as a far better attractant than cutting edge message-dressing. After the cutting edge has drawn people’s attention, we need to have a plain, solid message that can be seen clearly.

It’s also good to remember that what is cutting edge to one demographic may be just plain cutting to another. Christian rap, for example, may attract someone while grieving someone else away from Jesus. We need to be time, place, and demographically sensitive when employing the latest.

That is a very positive thing about 3ABN et al. Sometimes people dismiss them as non-innovative because their use of the cutting edge does not show overtly. They are using it to present the gospel, not to call attention to itself.

While trying to find ways to reach people where they are, we need to constantly evaluate what is lighting the world with its glory – the signage or the message.

Shawn Brace said...

Steve and Dingo,

Thank you so much for your wonderful thoughts!! I read them with great interest and excitement. I wish that I could respond to each of your thoughts in detail, but time does not allow me to at this point.

But just know that I very much appreciated your thoughts, and definitely share your sentiments.