Not One in Twenty

The false myth of the good old days of Adventism.
(This is a re-posting of something I wrote previously.)

Sometimes I hear people pine for the good old days when the Adventist church was characterized by a wonderful zeal and a pure commitment to the proclamation of Jesus and his end time message. According to Ellen White, such mythic purity never existed. In 1893 she wrote, “It is a solemn statement that I make to the church, that not one in twenty whose names are registered upon the church books are prepared to close their earthly history, and would be as verily without God and without hope in the world as the common sinner” (GCDB, February 4, 1893 par. 9). To paraphrase: 95 percent of church members were in a state of damnable spiritual corruption. Perhaps one might argue this was late in the development of the church–by 1893 James White had been dead for 12 years. Surely things were better when the church was younger. Maybe. In 1867, EGW wrote, “Names are registered upon the church-books upon earth, but not in the book of life. I saw that there is not one in twenty of the youth who knows what experimental religion is. They serve themselves, and yet profess to be servants of Christ; but unless the spell which is upon them be broken, they will soon realize that the portion of the transgressor is theirs” (1T504, repeated in MYP 384). Again, just to make sure you get the math: in 1867 ninety-five percent of the young people on the church books were lost.These statements apply to the laity. What about the clergy, the men and women who lived in poverty and devoted their lives to preaching the three angels messages. “Every minister should study closely the manner of Christ’s teaching. . . . There is not one in twenty who knows the beauty, the real essence, of Christ’s ministry. They are to find it out. . . . Then all this tame sermonizing will come to an end; for frequently this is an exhibition of self, rather than the fruit that the teacher bears who has been at the feet of Jesus and learned of Him” (6MR 72; PaM 281.2). So back in the good old days, 95 percent of the preachers did not know the real essence of Christ’s ministry. Their preaching was an exhibition of self. Ninety-five percent of the young people were damnably self-absorbed. Ninety-five percent of the church members were as “verily without God” as common sinners.So, without apology, I am boldly in favor of a church that is different from the church of the pioneers. I advocate progress, change and reform. The church of 95 percent failure is not a trustworthy model for our life today.(Doing the research for this blog entry reminded me of the evils of Messages to Young People. The tone of that book was consistent with the notion that 95 percent of Adventist youth were damned. No wonder my teenage religion was characterized by fear and anxiety.)