Non-Adventists in Adventist Pulpits?
It’s amazing what 4 little words can do. They can pave the way for a pastor’s removal. They can make conference presidents drive hours to referee a business meeting. They can even change a religious community’s attitude about an Adventist church. The 4 little words, “Non Adventist Pastors in Adventist Pulpits” have done all that and more.
The battle has raged for years. It ebbs and flows. But don’t be fooled, it’s a sensitive topic in many circles. In his 2014 Annual Council address, President Ted Wilson discouraged Adventist pastors from inviting ministers of other denominations into their pulpits. He noted that this was his counsel and not an order, but he raised strong concerns against “ecumenical entanglements purporting to bring unity.” (1)
He’s right about the danger of pursuing a false unity. He’s right about acting as if differences don’t matter. He’s right about ignoring the important distinctives and contributions of the Adventist Church. But he misunderstands the motivation of most pastors for inviting non Adventists into their pulpits. He also underestimates the benefits.
Listen. We should be cautious when inviting ANY guest into our pulpits. Adventist or non Adventist. But let me give 5 reasons it’s dangerous to prohibit non Adventists from preaching from our pulpits.
Because Relationships Matter
Ministers have incredible influence. Even in this age of suspicion and leadership distrust, pastors impact the lives of millions in our communities. As Christians, we are in the people business. It makes sense for us to establish relationships with people who influence people. When pastors forge friendships across denominational lines, they not only discover common concerns, but the potential for theological dialogue is real.
A number of years ago I was able to share my understanding of glossolalia – tongues- to a group of prominent Pentecostal pastors in Southern California. They initiated the conversation because they trusted me. I was a friend. And there is probably no greater sign of trust, than when a pastor invites another pastor to share the pulpit. I had preached for them and they had preached for me. All of them? No. Just the ones I trusted.
Because It’s Arrogant
“Some of them (ministers of other denominations) who have rejected the light may be dishonest, critical and sharp…… but there are others who have lived up to the best light they had upon the scriptures.” (2)
Interesting insight from Ellen White over 130 years ago. Spoiler alert! Adventism is not the only faith community that trusts and believes the word of God.
- Adventists are not the only ones who love Jesus.
- Adventists are not the only ones who believe in holiness
- Adventists are not the only ones who believe in the Sabbath.
- Adventists are not the only ones who believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ.
- Adventists are not the only ones who believe that worship can get out of hand
A quick glance at our fundamental beliefs reveals very little that Adventists believe that is not shared by most mainline denominations. Our history and theology have a prominent Methodist influence. When a godly minister of another denomination preaches on a belief we share, it’s a blessing.
Because It’s Dangerous
Something interesting happens when the only voices you hear are familiar voices. You don’t realize it, but you go through life talking to yourself. You live in an echo chamber. You say something and the words come right back at you. No opposition. No contradiction. No change. That’s dangerous!
Adventists face the dangers of living in a bubble. We have our own everything. Adventist academies. Adventist universities. Adventist television. Adventist music. Adventist hotdogs and ham! But its’ difficult to see the problem when the problem is you. Outsiders can be our salvation if they help us appreciate our strengths and confront our weaknesses.
Because It’s Inconsistent
Saturday morning, Adventists across the world will gather in local churches and sing hymns that have strengthened their faith through difficult times. Some will complain that the problem with the church today is that we don’t sing enough of these great hymns. They not only inspire us but teach us. We’ll sing:
- Amazing Grace
- How Firm a Foundation
- Lift up the Trumpet
- When We All Get to Heaven
All written by amazing musicians. Not one Adventist in the bunch. There are certainly impressive works by Adventists, but not on that list. So, we sing non Adventist hymns with no problem. But we can’t listen to a non-Adventist preacher without a problem? That’s a problem. Hymns teach. Books teach. Teachers teach. Preachers teach. We must be careful and use our judgement with them all.
Because It’s Judgmental
For Ted Wilson, his opposition to non -Adventists in Adventist pulpits goes to the idea that we don’t want false unity and weakening distinctives. I get that. But what I don’t get are Adventist Christians who claim that ministers of other denominations are false prophets- all of them. It’s insulting, judgmental, and frankly incorrect. Ellen White again. “Ministers (of other denominations) have been treated by some of our laborers very much as if they were heathen-and they feel it.” (3) It’s wrong.
Finally, for the local pastor who has the liberty to invite non-Adventists into the pulpit, be careful. First, you need to be super critical about whoever feeds your flock. Period. Adventist or non -Adventist. Some churches are not mature enough to handle a non -Adventist voice. You shouldn’t allow your liberty to become a stumbling block, even as you are helping them to mature.
And then, everything rises and falls on the preacher you pick. I’ve been blessed over the years to hear giants like Gardner Taylor, Charles Adams, and Sandy Ray bless Adventist congregations. The tradition continues today with the likes of Ralph West, William Curtis, Charles Booth and others. Frankly, I’ve had few problems with guest Adventist preachers in my pulpit, and never a problem with a non-Adventist guest. Perhaps it’s because I vet them all, and outsiders more carefully than insiders. That’s good counsel and an even better place to stop.
So what are your thoughts? Share this with everyone you can, because it’s a conversation we need to have.