Friday, November 25, 2016

Church Unity - A Time for the Men of God to Lead the Way

John the Baptist - Troublemaker
It is a tough time to have opinions here at the end of the world. It seems that you can't believe anything without 40 or 50 people doing a Youtube video that says you're crazy or malicious or even downright evil. I looked up "Seventh Day Adventist" this morning and the ones that were against us outnumbered the ones for us by far better than 2 to 1 against.

Many of these videos were by former pastors or independent pastors attacking the church for one perceived sin or another. I've been critical of a few moves by church leaders in the past in my own blogs and comments, so I can't righteously cast the first stone.

The Psalmist (133) says, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" There are preachers among us who say this means we should all sit down and shut up and do what the church leadership tells us to do no matter what. But while Scripture praises the beauty of unity among God's people, it also bids God's servants to tell the truth for "The Truth shall set you free." Just as many of us interpret that to mean we should speak out loudly and firmly against what we believe are the sins of those who claim to be of the body of Christ.

Myself, I have come to believe that the church can have differences of opinion and still remain unified in loving service to Christ. Sadly, not everyone believe that works. There are those who believe that all must believe exactly the same things across the board or be purged from the church.

If you look at the history of the Adventist church however, you'll find that we've always had differences of opinion; sometimes strident disagreements as a matter of fact. Despite these, the church still stands. There has always been disagreement in the church over doctrine and details of Christian life - women's ordination, drums in the church, the sanctuary, righteousness by faith and the Shut Door vs. the Open Door doctrines to name a few.  We've always worked it out.

Before Christ came the first time, the children of God had descended into nitpicking and to the development of rigid interpretations of laws and customs related to everything from how far you could walk on the Sabbath to whether or not there would be life after death for anyone. There were Pharisees and Saducees duking it out in loud debates within the Sanhedrin and the synagogues.

Today we have offshoot ministries, lapsed Adventists and angry fundamentalists blasting us and sniping at each other on the Internet. We even had a prominent SDA evangelist recently banned from holding an evangelist series in a North American Conference because he was considered too polarizing to be allowed to hold an evangelistic series in that Conference.

As the signs more than ever point toward Christ's soon coming, the spirit of dissent and disunity spreads among human beings like a pestilence. More than ever before, people are divided on every possible point of belief, whether it be on politics, religion, custom, tradition and even on subjects as basic as diet and sex.

It is time for the men of God to arise and stand together; to unite and lead our families to heaven. It is time we put away the kinds of nit-picking, strivings about fine points of theology. Jesus sliced through the tangled web of human practices heaped upon the Law of God, reducing all the law and prophets to two principles. Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. "Upon these," Jesus said, "Hang all the law and the prophets."

The simplicity of the Gospel is what will bring us unity. Religious bullying and condemnation are the devils tools and must be laid down by the Children of God. We may disagree. We may engage in discussions over out differences, but they must not divide us. Angels will not stand at the gates of heaven to kick out those who guessed wrong on the Feast Days or the Sanctuary Doctrine. God will judge. We must not for by the same standard by which we judge others, we ourselves will be judged.

Me, I hope God will go easy on me, so I try to keep my judging of others to a bare minimum and focus on Christ, the power and source of our salvation.


© 2016 by Tom King

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Camping Genius: The Monkey Bridge

Ambitious Monkey Bridge (not recommended for a first time out)


If you're going to work with Pathfinders, you've got to know how to build a monkey bridge. You may think it's a useless skill, but I've built two or three of them over my career. One was over a deep gully at a treatment center for emotionally disturbed kids. It was part of our obstacle course. The kids helped me build it and keep it up. It expanded our nature trail significantly. They loved to cross the gully after a rain when there was water in the creek below.

It's a basic Pathfinder thing. Here's how to build one.  It's easier to build one over the ground than over a creek or gully. Start out with a simple practice one before you try to build one over a gap. You can string the support ropes while standing on ground. Over a creek, you have to work your way across while standing on the ropes. It's a lot trickier. For detailed instructions, the Boy Scouts

Materials:
  • 3 strands 5/8" to 3/4" rope - each the length of the span plus 1/3 to 1/2 the gap extra for tie-offs 
  • 3/8" to 1/2" support ropes
  • 2 pair of 5/8" to 3/4" anchor ropes - 15 to 20' long
  • 6 heavy 3 foot long steel spikes
  • 50 feet of 1/4" lashing cord
  • 3 pound sledge hammer or 20 pound sledge - your choice
  • 6 - 8' landscape timbers for the sheer legs. 
  • 2 - 3' squares of thick fabric
Basic Directions:
  1. Measure the distance you need to span. Twenty-four feet is a good beginner's span with kids.
    Anything much longer can be dangerous, especially if the lashings aren't secure as they are likely to be with kids. Lay out the foot rope
  2. Set up two teams. One group starts out building the sheer legs (the big wooden A's in the picture).  The other bunch should drive in the anchors. 
  3. When putting together the sheer legs, put some kind of thick fabric between the legs to protect the foot rope from friction against the sheer legs.  
  4. Drive 3 anchors about 2 feet apart and 8 feet or so from the sheer legs. Some experts drive the three in a line as shown in the drawing. Drive the stakes into the ground angled away from the sheer legs. Drive them deep. They'll have to take a lot of strain.
  5. Lash the sheer legs together as shown in the picture and raise them on both ends. To make them more secure dig holes for the legs to secure them. 
  6. Tie anchor ropes to the outside stakes and tie them between the anchors and the tops of the sheer legs. Use a clove hitch with a keeper half hitch to keep them from slipping. You can also use a round turn and two half hitches to secure topes to the sheer legs.
  7. Run the foot rope between the legs of the sheer legs over the top of the fabric between the sheer legs. Tie the ends of the foot ropes to the center stakes at either end. I've used a stick or pole as a lever, taking one turn of the handle in the foot rope between the sheer legs and the anchor. Once the foot rope is in place, you can take half turns in the rope with your stick and then lash the end of the handle to keep the foot rope tight. The foot rope will take most of the weight so it needs to be tight. The top ropes will provide extra support. 
  8. Next thing is to tie the handropes between the tops of the sheer legs so that you have two handrails that will be shoulder height above the foot rope. The bridgeway will be shaped like a  "V". Again use a clove hitch which you can pull tight and secure and then tie an overhand knot as keeper
  9. Now begin tying the support ropes between the handrails and the foot rope. I use clove hitches and lengths of rope long enough to make four passes. Start tying the ropes from one end. If you run out of rope start a new length by overlapping the first knot. I use clove hitches because they make a nice longer knot to step on. The first time you can tie the support ropes standing on the ground. For fun try doing it as though you were working over a height. It's tricky, but challenging for the kids and that's what you want.
  10. When you're done, check all the knots, make adjustments as necessary, put away your tools and let the kids try it out. 
Here's a simple X-frame version

Notes:
 
You can find details on the knots and safety recommendations by following the links below. The Scouts have some really good material on building a monkey bridge. Once you've mastered it, you can hang one anywhere.  At camp we once hung one over an inlet of the lake. If you fell, you made a big splash. How cool is that?

If you've never built one with your kids you owe it to yourself to do it.


Detailed References:
  1. Double-A-Frame-Monkey-Bridge
  2. Single X frame Monkey Bridge
  3. Monkey Bridge - Boys Life Article 
  4. Handbook of Scout Engineering (PDF download)
  5. A Survivalist's Guide to Rope Bridges

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Seeds of Change

Deborah - ordained of God
Since the big "high level" GC meeting on October 6, I've been getting a confusing flood of "updates" from the GC and the North American Division seeking to clarify what actually happened at the meeting. According to the Adventist Review, "...officers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church voted on Oct. 6 for a document detailing actions to be taken in response to certain entities of the world church that are not in compliance with an action voted on by more than 2,000 representatives of the 19.5 million-member denomination at its most recent General Conference Session held in San Antonio, Texas from July 2-11, 2015."

The San Antonio vote, despite many efforts to either explain or obscure what happened in San Antonio, was not a vote to end women's ordination. It was a vote about who has the power to decide whether or not to ordain women. The vote took back power from the divisions ceded to them at a 1903 general conference where power was decentralized away from the church - a move Ellen White, who attended the conference, approved. Rather than voting down women's ordination - a tricky proposition given that opinions on the subject are sharply divided among SDA theologians and previous study committees that have found no objection to ordination of women - the GC in 2015 merely got itself made "the Decider."

Ultimately the issue comes down to who ways whether we can ordain women as pastors or not. GC says, that's us. The divisions, at least some of them, beg to differ. Over here in the Washington Conference and in both West Coast divisions, sentiment has come down rather firmly on the side of women's ordination. Women have been ordained pretty widely in this and other divisions, particularly in the North American Division. Now the GC says they can't do that. Heretofore, such decisions were firmly in the hands of the division and local conferences. Now it's not.

Daniel Jackson, NAD president keeps reassuring us that nothing is wrong and that we all need to be unified and that everything is okay. Obviously everything is not okay, especially if the GC forces division and conference leaders out of office and demotes or removes women pastor's already installed. A guy I knew back in college, Randy Roberts, who pastors the LaSierra College church, recently made an impassioned pro-women's ordination speech at a meeting of concerned division leaders. His motion at that particular conference probably seemed "rebellious" to come folk. It was not. It mostly reaffirmed the shared beliefs of an apparent majority of pastors in the division.

With all of the controversy over this issue, NAD staff probably need to keep looking for less inflammatory words than "rebellion" to describe the resolve on the part of some conferences to ordain who they please. 

Two things trouble me.  First the words "high-level" to describe the October 6 GC committee that decided how to handle the non-compliant divisions. I've never found the authoritarian approach to religious organization to be good for the church. To be honest, I think the headship doctrine of strict levels of authority based upon church rank and gender are not very representative of the structure of the relationship God seeks to have with his people. It's Calvinist in its origins and unprecedented in Adventist theology prior to Samuel Bacchiochi's return from earning advanced theology degrees in Vatican schools. This is not to say old Sam turned Catholic on us, but his writings took a turn for the more restrictive in many ways. I lost more than one friend that left the church after reading Bacchiochi, looking for a path to God that was a little more arduous than the then prevalent 'righteousness by faith" path.

The second thing that troubles me is the seeming intent by some in our GC leadership to return Adventism to "the way it was".  I remember how the church once was when I was a child. It was authoritarian, legalistic and more than a bit grim and it nearly scared me away. I fortunately met Christ thanks to an HMS Richards Sr. protoge' who taught us about righteousness by faith. I met Christ as He is - a loving God whose love awakens in us love and obedience and who saves us by his Grace. That was a new version of Christ in my church. Prior to that, evangelists just hammered us about our clothes, our diet and our behavior as though somehow we could grit our teeth and that would get us through to Paradise. Combined with vivid pictures of the last days and the time of trouble, that formed the old time Adventism of the day, I had a completely wrong picture of God and kept me more out of the church than in.

In a recent speech, Ted Wilson called for members to "“... lay aside our personal opinions for the good of the body of Christ, and that we will, together, march forward to the kingdom of God." The calls for submission have become almost daily lately as the GC seeks to enforce its will on "noncompliant" Adventist believers.  I think this is a bad thing. I am not good at marching. I'm more of a wanderer. Sheep are like that. We need a shepherd, not a drill-master.

The thing that has made our church strong over the decades is a willingness to look at Scripture as our spiritual source. We also have the prophetic gift to help us form our belief system. We've got 28 fundamental beliefs and membership in the church requires we adhere to those. God only gave us ten, so I think we've probably got those covered. A difference of opinion over a relatively unimportant point of doctrine should probably not be characterized as a rebellion.

Progressive revelation has played an important role in the development of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Ellen White commented that ""There are mines of truth yet to be discovered by the earnest seeker."  She believed that capital "T" Truth was an advancing truth. We can clearly see this with respect to the issue of monogamous marriage which was tolerated in ancient times, but became a clearly accepted doctrine by Christ's time. Slavery, which was accepted as a fixture of life, even into New Testament times, is clearly not something God approves of.  In Scripture were the seeds of the end of slavery.

The Biblical roots of our Constitution, injected into that document the seeds of the end of slavery in the United States. We learn slowly, we human beings do, but God has promises in Isaiah 54:13 that he will be our teacher and our children's teacher. The reason that slavery, polygamy, stoning, the divine right of kings and other ideas became repugnant to us is because the seed of that repugnance is buried in the pages of Scripture, planted there in Eden, watered at Sinai and grown to fruition on the tree on Calvary.

Because we are a people who believe in "Thus saith the Lord" some would have it that there must always be one firm and exact way of looking at things and no other. Had our forefathers adopted that attitude, we'd all still be Catholics. The great reformers like Luther, Zwingli, Wesley and Calvin mined great truths from Scripture. Some of them they got right. Some they got wrong. Others they overlooked altogether to be discovered later by other searchers.

Our responsibility as a church is to be God's Earthly MASH unit. We are the front-line aid station for a wounded and suffering world. Our job is to take in the lost and sick and injured, not to focus on ways to exclude and marginalize others. Adventism has been able to absorb debate over issues over the years. Within the church you'll find everything from feast day keeping legalism to vegetarians waiting for the coming of the Lord to people with more liberal ideas about love and forgiveness and Grace.

The point of unity for the Christian church is, of course, Christ. Are we going to turn the focus away from Christ over whether or not to pay women pastors the same as we pay men, which is a lot of it if you really want to get right down to it?

I really liked the Norwegian church's response to the GC vote on ordination. All their male ministers turned in their ordination credentials and the conference's pastors, male and female, instantly became equal as commissioned pastors. It was a courageous act on the part of the men and it left the GC without any real leg to stand on since the GC staked the issue on ordination and not on whether women should be silent in church.

Ellen White, in responding to an earlier church crisis counseled strongly that the church's leadership should not attempt to exercise what she called "kingly power".  It would do our leaders well to remember that. In the meantime, whatever I believe I am not in rebellion against my church nor will I leave it. As Morris Venden once pointed out, you can't change the church from outside the church.

Men do have a leadership role which I believe is a God-given trait that goes with being men. That said, remember what God did when men wouldn't step up and do the job. Deborah led the Israelite armies when Barak proved too chicken to go on his own. God even used a woman to knock off the enemy general.  A couple of men turned down the prophetic gift prior to Ellen White's taking it up.  So female leadership is not unheard of in the Bible.

Perhaps we should call what the pastors of Norway did and the men like Randy Roberts who are risking their careers over the issue, not "rebellion", but "resistance".  We are a fellowship after all and not a dictatorship. Seeking change is not rebellion. No one I know wants to break up the church. The truth will set you free and, as a whole string of dictators over the centuries have learned, you cannot rule a free people. The chain of command in the Christian church is short.  There's you and then there's God. That's pretty much it for the chain.

While we might disagree with our leaders on issues of conscience, as I have in the past, that does not mean I will leave the church in any way other than feet first in a pine box. As one church deacon told one of our church's self-declared "leaders" when he tried to move a Filipino family out of "his" pew, "Brothers, nobody owns a pew in this church. They all belong to God!" My church belongs to Jesus. He lets anybody be in it that wants to be in it and lets anyone out who wants to be out. The only one we need to absolutely obey is God and even He, as perfect as He is, is pretty good about forgiving us when we mess up. Perhaps in return, we should go easy on our leaders and our leaders should go a little easier on those they are responsible for. After all, like us, they're only human.

© 2016 by Tom King