Back to the Future
“Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next,” paints the statistical picture of Americans 18 to 29 years of age. A startling reality emerges. Compared to their parents and grandparents at the same age, Millennials are less religious and less likely to affiliate themselves with a particular faith. (See http://pewforum.org/Age/Religion-Among-the-Millennials.aspx.)
This ascendant view of faith and church confronts us squarely in the marketplace today. How will we — who place a premium on “joining” and “making a stand for the truth” — corporately meet an audience that values neither?
I propose that we guide our course by the radical values which steered the pioneers of the Adventist movement. In so doing, we present a vision that can captivate and engage young men and women.
Do you need your passion for mission rekindled? Take an online visit to the General Conference Office of Archives and Statistics (www.adventistarchives.org). Does this sound like a dusty and musty place? To the contrary, here you will discover the treasure trove of digitized editions of every Adventist Review and its predecessors stretching to the founding of our Church. Captured in prose and poetry are the theological debates, the mission adventures into new fields, and the sacrificial faith of the young adults that blazed the trail before us.
But these pages contain more than inspiring Sabbath afternoon reading. The genius of Adventism emerges. A few diamonds sparkle especially bright:
- A dynamic, biblical foundation. “To the law and the testimony, if they speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). These believers were obsessed with Scriptural study. They not only read the Bible through repeatedly but knit its pieces together into “present truth.” Creedal statements were rejected because God’s light is ever-ascending, never setting. Every traditional faith formulation or culturally rooted assumption was brought before the judgment bench of the Inspired Word. The genius of Adventism then as now is an unapologetic commitment to dynamic, biblical theology.
- Everyone to everywhere. Adventism was a reform movement rooted in a Scriptural mission. In the arenas of health, education and organization a noticeable practicality suffused every decision. This was also evidenced in the role that men and women played in the execution of the “loud cry” to the world. These believers saw in themselves the fulfillment of Joel 2:28, “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.” The Spirit is in everyone, so the message goes everywhere. Here was the explicit call to equality of gender, race and socio-economic rank in fulfilling the missional purpose of the Remnant Church. The genius of Adventism then as now is the ideal of equality in executing Christ’s command, “Go ye therefore into the entire world.”
- Form follows function. In contrast to religious institutions that appeared to be ends in themselves, Adventist believers advocated a practical approach to governance. What forms most efficiently utilized resources to accomplish the mission? The genius of Adventism then as now is the ideal of adapting structure and method to a changing world.
- Counter-culture. “Popular, mainstream, go-with-the-flow” were never terms ascribed to our pioneering Adventist predecessors. They defiantly clung to Peter’s description, “But ye are … a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” These believers resisted being co-opted by the culture, politics, mores and values of contemporary culture. The genius of Adventism then as now is our intentional reflection of how to think and act within a world in the throes of the Great Controversy.
In our Adventist past is a template of vision and action that can ignite the imagination of a new generation. The genius of Adventism is still ours as we have the courage to apply the lessons of our own story.