Posts tagged Adventist Review
Why Do People Leave the SDA Church? (Revisited)
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The following paragraphs are from an article featured in the latest edition of GLEANER. The article is a response to the article "Beyond Belief"  which deals with why people leave the SDA church. I am quoting the start of the article here and share some thoughts below.

Its Beyond Belief Revisited 
...His article, first published in the Adventist Review (March 21, 2013) and reprinted in the North Pacific Union Conference GLEANER(June 2013), is in large part predicated on a study conducted by Southern Adventist University’s School of Business and directed by Lisa Goolsby.
While the responses of those surveyed in their study are forthright and heartfelt about how they relate to Adventist theology, based on how this study was conducted,* it does not establish a new leading reason for why people leave the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Relational and personal issues are still the primary reasons why people leave the church according to every other North American Division (NAD) retention study conducted across Bermuda, Canada, Guam/Micronesia and the United States.
Through the years, leaving because of doctrinal reasons has hovered around 9 percent. Recent data shows an uptick to 14 percent. This is data we can rely on that represents the trends over more than three decades collected from stratified random samples of people identified by third parties (pastors, church clerks, etc.) as former or nonattending members. Read More
14 GLEANER • September 2013
*The “Former Seventh-day Adventist Perceptions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church” study used a nonprobability sampling method, which means one cannot scientifically make generalizations about the total NAD population from this sample because it would not be representative enough.
So here's the deal. Good article. Thought provoking. Balanced. Healing-based. Charitable. The whole schmear. However, the article does unintentionally present yet another thing to argue about - retention studies. This one is valid that one isn't. This one is scientifically sound, the other isn't. The one saying "A" is false, but the study that says "B" is true. Pretty soon someone will print an article about how this article got it all wrong and the first one was the one that had it right. Then some new guy or gal will pitch in with a "they are both wrong" article that presents yet another study which supposedly reveals the "truth." And so on and so forth. As far as I am concerned, we have enough things to debate. We don't need another.

Lets keep it simple. Do people leave church because they are changing beliefs or because they have had a bad experience? My answer is: Who cares? The point is they are leaving and those are the reasons why. Regardless of which is more prevalent people leave for one of three primary reasons: Bad experience, change of beliefs, or both and we need to respond appropriately especially when the issues are doctrinal. Richardson stated it well when he said that we should "not ignore their legitimate questions but accelerate our responses to them in reasoned and redemptive ways." 

Unfortunately, ignoring questions, giving cliche answers, quoting Ellen White, and proof texting has been the way in which we have historically approached honest questions. Perhaps the real problem is most Adventists don't really know their Bibles. What they know is the Bible according to Amazing Facts. Or they have purchased one of our wonderful Ellen White study Bibles and have built their faith on that.* Then when someone comes with a real question that requires real answers we're bankrupt. Feeling threatened we respond with a cultish "don't question the truth" and walk away with a renewed sense of self-righteousness (or with a nagging feeling of hopelessness that we choose to ignore). 

The solution? We need to get into our Bibles and dig deep. We need to get rid of the proof texts and build our faith on the rock Jesus Christ not on the ministry of a modern prophet. We need real answers that satisfy modern minds, not stuff from the 50's. We need to realize that no amount of "niceness" or "friendliness" is going to make up for unanswered questions. While we may never be able to convince and satisfy everyone we need to be intentional in being truthful and biblical. And ultimately we need to exercise charity toward everyone regardless of whether they agree with us or not. It is this conviction that has enabled me to form good relationships with many former Adventists. And by relationships I don't mean an inauthentic gimmick to get them back into our church but a relationship that embraces their spiritual journey and honors it even where it differs from our own.

One of the greatest experiences I have had on this blog is the opportunity to connect with and talk to former Adventists. Many are not apostates. They are not "rejecters of the Spirit" And no, they are not heretics who are lost unless they return to the "true remnant." Instead, I have found many of them to be honest, brilliant people who are wrestling with faith and truth. They love Jesus. They love the gospel. And we have failed them. Some have been hurt by our attitudes, yes. But many others have had real questions that we failed to answer or, as in the case of Eliana Matthews, have been raised with such a distorted and perverted version of Adventism that the only way to heal would be to start over from scratch.

But there is no need to despair. The reality is that people leaving a church because of bad experiences or changes in belief system is not unique to Adventism. Ask anyone who left the Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, or Presbyterian church and 9 out of 10 will most likely tell you they left because of a bad experience of a change in belief system. Books like Crazy Love by Francis Chan and The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley reveal that Adventism is far from alone in its legalism and lukewarmness. In addition, lost in this debate is the amazing work that Adventism is doing all over the world and gained is the misconception that all of Adventism is beset by these issues. The issues are real and need attention but the church, while in need of a spiritual reboot, is daily moving in the right direction. Of that I am truly happy.

___________

* Adventists should not be ashamed of Ellen White study Bibles. After all, there are C.S Lewis study Bibles so why not Ellen White? The problem is when we think Ellen White was an inspired commentary of scripture and that if we read her comments we have no further need of study. This is a misuse of the prophetic gift and breeds less, not more, biblical knowledge and spiritual growth. We must always remember Ellen Whites own words, quoted in the above article, which state:
“There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error... 
“[A]s real spiritual life declines, it has ever been the tendency to cease to advance in the knowledge of the truth. Men [and women] rest satisfied with the light already received from God’s word, and discourage any further investigation of the Scriptures. They become conservative, and seek to avoid discussion. 
“When God’s people are at ease, and satisfied with their present enlightenment, we may be sure that God will not favor them. It is God’s will that they should be ever moving forward, to receive the increased and ever-increasing light which is shining for them” (Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 35, 38–41).
Why Do People Leave the SDA Church?
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"People leave the Adventist Church only because they've had a bad experience, right? Not anymore. A new study indicates that more and more church members are leaving because they have changed their beliefs." - Adventist Review article, Beyond Belief by Andy Nash. Click Here for the article.
My Response: Nash's article on the contemporary reasons why people leave the SDA church was long overdue. I really enjoyed reading it and felt that it was about time someone shared this with the world church. Although the SDA church  is still the fastest growing church in north America and has, in my estimation, the most beautiful message of Jesus and his work of salvation, we are definitely not perfect. For everyone who walks in the front door we have another who walks out the back door - and these days its for a different reason than what it used to be: doctrine.  Nash offers five suggestions on how to deal with the issue. His suggestions were excellent especially number 3:


3. We should clear up false understandings. For a myriad of reasons, many former Adventists seem to have serious misunderstandings of Adventist beliefs. One survey respondent wrote: “Keeping the Sabbath does not save anyone.” Another respondent wrote that she believed Ellen White was inspired by God—but that she is not our way to salvation. “I don’t think you have to believe in her to be saved,” she wrote.
It’s truly sad that these former members were taught so erroneously....
Many survey comments falsely reflected an impression that Ellen White dreamed up Adventist beliefs—when in reality her own study and writing complemented, and often trailed, that of other Adventists.

I really resonated with this suggestion because in my experience, people who leave the SDA church because of beliefs have misunderstandings, sometimes serious ones, as to what the church actually believes and teaches. Growing up I used to think that the New World Order conspiracies were all part of our message. I could have easily walked out and said Adventists are nuts. But when I dug deeper I discovered I was simply influenced by the nutty people around me whose views did not represent the SDA church. I also used to think the Investigative Judgment doctrine was inherently legalistic until I studied it for myself and found it to be the Bibles strongest affirmation of salvation by grace through faith. I used to think that salvation was "What Jesus did + what I do = eternal life" until I discovered the church doesn't teach this at all! And failure to understand Ellen Whites view on this left me confused when reading many of her books. When I discovered salvation is what Jesus did alone, I didn't even want to believe it. I thought it was too good to be true. So I went on the official SDA church site and checked what I had learned against our fundamental belief, and to my surprise - it was there! And I could share countless more stories of the times I have come to the edge of leaving the Adventist church only to discover that the problem isn't the church at all but my own misunderstandings (often influenced by highly conservative Adventists or extremists within the church). My wife has her own share of stories like being told that one little sin like drinking coffee or eating a steak could keep her out of heaven. Or, as I wrote in my paper on the Investigative Judgment, 

Growing up, my wife was taught that she did not know when her name would come up in the judgment. If it did and she was found not “worthy” of eternal life because she was sinning at the moment (or some other reason), then she would be lost forever and not know it. She could continue to strive to follow Jesus for the rest of her life, but this would be in vain since she was already lost. - The Pre-Advent Judgment and Righteousness by Faith. 

I wonder how many people were raised like my wife and I were, with extreme ideas and misunderstandings, who still think that this is what the SDA church believes and teaches. My only suggestion is that we clear up misunderstandings, not only with those outside the church, but with those still inside of it - especially the youth. Many of them have as their teachers people who have grown up with the same misunderstandings and errors that point us away from Jesus and his grace to legalism and self.

In conclusion, this article really gives me hope. Hope that we can right the wrongs. It's OK for people to leave the SDA church. But if they leave because of doctrine, let it be for doctrine that we actually  teach and not false ideas of those doctrines.