“I Have Heard the Angel’s Sing”

March 20, 2010

Hymn singing was of great importance to the early Adventists. James White recalled that at the first official Millerite camp-meeting held in Exeter, Maine in 1842, “the singing of Second-Advent melodies possessed a power such as I had never before witnessed in sacred songs”. (James White, Life Incidents, Steam Press of the SDA Publishing Association, 1868, p73.)

Such hymn singing produced wide ranging responses from the “almost breathless silence” of nearly a thousand listeners that James White experienced when he commenced a service in Litchfield Maine, by singing “You Will See Your Lord a-Coming”; to the “animated singing” and “shouting aloud for joy” that Joseph Bates experienced at a camp-meeting in Taunton, Massachusetts in 1842. (Joseph Bates, The Autobiography of Elder Joseph Bates, Steam Press of the SDA Publishing Association, 1868, p265.)

For these early Adventists, hymn singing was an integral part of their daily life—Joseph Bates recorded that following an 1842 camp-meeting in Salem, Massachusetts, a two-hour delay at the railway station resulted in the waiting Adventists “singing Advent hymns” and becoming “so animated and deeply engaged that they people in the city came out in crowds, and seemed to listen with breathless attention”. (“Incidents in My past Life. No. 45.” Youth’s Instructor September 1862, p66.)

Singing was also an important part of home and family life for Adventists. Willie White recorded that “the singing of advent hymns in those days invariably constituted a part of the social intercourse of devoted Adventist families”. After news had been exchanged with visitors, it was typical that “they all joined in song.” (“Sketches and Memories of James and Ellen G. White XXX” The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, February 13, 1936, p7.) White also noted the part hymn singing played in the White family worships: “At seven o’clock all assembled in the parlor for morning worship. Father would read an appropriate scripture, with comments and then lead in the morning song of praise or supplication, in which all joined.” (“Sketches and Memories of James and Ellen G. White XXX” The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, February 13, 1936, p7.)

There was great diversity in the singing of early Adventists. Joshua Himes addressed some of the issues in 1843 in his “Preface” to The Millennial Harp—the second Millerite hymnal published,
“We are aware of the difficulty of suiting the taste of all classes in musical and devotional compositions; the greatest possible diversity for this purpose, which is consistent with the nature of the work in which we are engaged, must therefore be allowed. Some of our hymns, which might be objected to by the more grave and intellectual, and to which we ourselves have never felt any great partiality, have been the means of reaching, for good, the hearts of those who, probably, would not otherwise have been affected; and, as our object, like that of the Apostle, is to save men, we should not hesitate to use all means lawful, that may promise to ‘save some.’ (Joshua Himes, Millennial Harp, Boston, 1843, p 2.)

Furthermore, there was some degree of controversy over not only the styles of Adventist hymn singing, but over the presence of musical instruments. As C. Warren Becker points out, “During the early years of the Seventh-day Adventist church, no musical instruments of any kind were used in its worship services.” (“‘Such as Handle the Harp and Organ:’ Organs and their Masters in the Seventh-day Adventist Church”, Adventist Heritage 14:1, 1991, p5-11.) It was not until 1877 at a Californian camp-meeting, that an organ was used to accompany Adventist singing. At the first morning meeting, J. N. Loughborough read from Psalm 150 in an ultimately successful effort to convince the congregation of the propriety of organ accompaniment.

By 1900, Ellen White is herself actively promoting the use of instrumental music—and using a similar argument to that used by J. N. Loughborough: “In our camp-meeting services there should be singing and instrumental music. Musical instruments were used in religious services in ancient times. The worshipers praise God upon the harp and cymbal, and music should have its place in our services.” (Testimonies Vol. 6 p63.)

The earliest Adventist hymnals did not include music and one Adventist described some of the resultant problems “alas! When we sang; one prolonged a quarter note, until it consumed the time of a whole note, with a hold and swell besides. Some were singing one verse, until others had progressed pretty well into the next; and the ending word of each verse echoed and reechoed, each according to the different notions of propriety”. (J. Clark, “Music”, The Adventist Review and Sabbath Herald November 10, 1859, p200.)

One way of addressing this issue was to set new hymns to well known popular tunes, and early Adventist hymnals display several examples of this practice. “Land of Light” was written by Uriah Smith and first published in 1856. Smith’s hymn focused on heaven and was set to the popular secular tune “Old Folks at Home” by Stephen Foster. Smith also penned “O Brother Be Faithful” and set it to the popular tune, “Be Kind to the Loved Ones at home” by Isaac Baker Woodbury.

As Adventism matured, some of the more vibrant aspects of Adventist worship were replaced with a focus on order and discipline. Ellen White emphasized this when she wrote, “Singing is a part of the worship of God, but in the bungling manner in which it is often conducted, it is no credit to the truth, and no honor to God. There should be order and system in this as well as in every other part of the Lord’s work”. (“Co-operation with Ministers” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald July 24, 1883, p466.)

While promoting order and discipline, Ellen White championed singing with enthusiasm. Once when a congregation sang listlessly and without feeling she stopped them and remarked, “I have heard the angels sing. They do not sing as you are singing tonight. They sing with reverence. Their heart is in their expressions of song. They sing with meaning. Now let’s try again and see if we can’t put our hearts into the singing of this song.” (Recounted in Arthur L. White, The Lonely Years 1876-1891, Review and Herald, 1984, p384.)

Following the Great Disappointment of October 22, 1844, as new doctrines were formulated: the Sabbath, the state of the dead etc.; new hymns on those themes were added to the Adventist repertoire. “Lo! An Angel Loud Proclaiming” was first published in 1848 and represents the first hymn written by a Sabbath-keeping Adventist. It was written by Herman Gurney who was known as the “singing blacksmith” because of his habit of singing while he worked at the anvil; and outlines the new Sabbatarian Adventist understanding of the Third Angel’s Message and the eschatological role of the Sabbath doctrine.

“He sleeps in Jesus” was written by Annie R. Smith and was first published in 1853 as a poem honoring Ellen White’s older brother Robert F. Harmon who died of tuberculosis at the age of 27. It effectively outlines the relatively new Adventist doctrine on the state of the dead, and was then published with music as a hymn in 1855. Smith was one of early Adventism’s most prolific hymn-writers with three of her hymns occurring in the current Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal.

Perhaps one of the strangest inclusions in any Adventist hymnal is the anonymously authored “Smoking and Chewing Song” found in Temperance and Gospel Songs for the Use of Temperance Clubs and Gospel Temperance Meetings edited by Edson White and published in 1880. With the chorus: “Chewing! Smoking! Spitting! Choking! Sending clouds whirling in everybody’s face. Chewing in the parlor, Spitting on the floor, Is there such enslavement? Is there such a bore?”; it is perhaps not surprising that the song was never republished in an Adventist hymnal. (Reproduced in James R. Nix, Early Advent Singing, Review and Herald, p190-191.)

For Adventists, the singing of hymns served many functions – from the teaching of doctrine to the building of community. Despite ongoing struggles over music styles and lyrics; Adventists continue to sing of the soon return of  Jesus Christ.


The IBMTE and I

May 7, 2009

Post removed while I reflect upon the situation.


Should I Fight?

December 12, 2008

Following the AAR Meetings in Chicago I flew to Toronto & then traveled to Oshawa to present a paper at a symposium organized by Barry Bussey called Should I Fight? Conscientious Objection and the SDA Church.

I am very grateful for the financial assistance from both Helderberg College and the Canadian Union Conference that enabled me to attend the symposium. The Symposium was held at Kingsway College who were very gracious hosts providing us with good food & the use of their chapel.
While the number of attendees was somewhat disappointing–very few local SDA pastors even took advantage of the Symposium–the Symposium was videoed and a DVD is to be produced. I hope that this will enable this symposium–on this very important topic–to have a greater impact than just that weekend.

The Symposium began on Thursday evening with presentations from Barry Bussey and Lincoln Steed (Editor – Liberty Magazine). On Friday, presenters included Ronald Lawson (Queens College – The City University of New York) who reviewed the history of Adventism and Military Service from both a sociological & historical perspective. Ron utilized Church/Sect theory to explain the reasons behind the changing of SDA attitudes toward military service, noting that we began as a sect–in high tension with society–but have moved towards a denomination & as such have sought to minimize tensions with society. Thus the SDA Church’s changing attitudes toward military service are essentially one result arising from this desire for acceptance & “mainstreamization”. Ron pointed out that current estimates of soldiers with a SDA background who serve in the US armed forces (as combatants carrying arms) are around 15,000–a far cry from our pacifist stance during the American Civil war! It was great to finally meet Ron, a fellow Australian, Queenslander, & alumnus of the University of Queensland; I have read his articles and utilized them in my research & teaching.

Ron’s presentation was followed by that of Doug Morgan (Columbia Union College) a historian & founder of the Adventist Peace Fellowship. Doug focused on the early history of the SDA Church, pointing out that contrary to what has been believed in the past, SDAs initially took a pacifist position rather than one of conscientious objection. This is particularly evident during the American Civil War. His evidence included the following quotes: the third GC Session in 1865 stated that the SDA Church would “decline all participation in acts of war and bloodshed”; the fifth GC Session in 1867 similarly stated that “the bearing of arms, or engaging in war is a direct violation of the teachings of our savior”; while in 1868 the church noted “that war was never justifiable except under the immediate direction of God”. As Doug pointed out, “Historical accounts since World War II, misconstruing the early Adventist debates over how and when to express their commitment to the government, have tended to obscure the fact that the Seventh-day Adventist Church began as a peace church. Thus, a distorted understanding of the past has contributed to the relatively easy acceptance of voluntary enlistment for armed military service that has become apparent in American Adventism during the past two decades.”

Doug was followed by Jose Mclaughlin a chaplain for Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries. Jose was a bit like Daniel in the Lion’s Den in that environment and it was great that he attended and presented. It was important that the SDA Church’s position on military chaplaincy be heard, despite the very real objections and questions that many Symposium presenters had regarding the theology and ethics of military chaplaincy. Importantly Jose pointed out that the SDA Church regards military service as an issue of individual conscience & not as a test of fellowship. I do feel however that the church needs to take a very close look at military chaplaincy and ask whether our prophetic voice as Christians is in fact silenced or distorted by our participation in the military. As I pointed out in my own presentation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa pointed out that: “The military chaplaincy gave moral legitimacy to a culture characterised by the perpetration of gross human rights abuses. It served to filter out dissenting voices, to strengthen the resolve to kill and to reassure the doubting soldier that he or she was serving the purposes of God. In spite of professions of a loyalty higher than that of the state, chaplains found themselves lending succour to persons trying to kill ‘enemy’ soldiers who were sometimes members of their own denomination.” One has to ask if–in any context–a Christian should be “strengthen[ing] the resolve to kill” of anyone ever.


Jose McLaughlin, Ron Lawson, & Doug Morgan during question time.

After Lunch Alison Bryan, a graduate student at Memorial University in Newfoundland, spoke on Just War theory. Alison’s best moment came when she pointed out that “Christ said ‘Go make disciples’ not ‘go wage war in my name'”. She was followed by Ronald Osborn’s presentation on “The Christ of the Fifth way: Recovering the Politics of Jesus”. Ron is a graduate student at the University of Southern California and gave an excellent presentation influenced by the thought of John Howard Yoder. Ron pointed out that Jesus’ Palestine was a place of “the rich few and the poor many”, and noting that Christians are called to incarnate the Kingdom of God in all areas–including that of economic justice and peace.

Friday evening’s presentation was taken by Olaf Clausen, pastor of the Lethbridge SDA Church in Canada, who served in the Canadian Navy for 12 years–including time spent as a military recruiter. Olaf’s intensely personal & passionate presentation pointed out the various costs associated with joining the military.

Saturday’s presentations began with Karen R. Scott, who asked the question “Where is Your Citizenship?”, pointing out that Jesus simply said to pray for our enemies, and that this wasn’t metaphorical nor a text to be be ignored or explained away. She also noted, referring to the SDA Church, that “Because we are the remnant, we think that God thinks just like we do.” We joined with the College Park SDA Church for the Divine Service, taken by Barry Bussey who shared his grandfather’s experience in WWII in a sermon titled “The War to End All Wars”. You can download the sermon in .mp3 format here. That the Symposium took took place over this weekend was particularly appropriate as November 11 is Remembrance Day in Canada (and other Commonwealth nations). Saturday’s program continued after lunch with presentations by Ginger Hanks Harwood (La Sierra University) whose presentation “Did Christ Give You Permission to Beat Your Ploughshares Into Swords?” definitely had the best title; but was also an excellent survey of changing SDA attitudes toward military service, rich in historical detail.


Ginger Hanks Harwood

The afternoon & evening sessions were taken by Barry Bussey who focussed on the experiences of SDA conscientious objectors in Canada. Barry also introduced us to clips of his not-quite finished documentary called “For Conscience Sake”. Barry & producer Douglas Bruce travelled extensively throughout Canada & the US interviewing Canadian SDA Conscientious Objectors from WWII. Watching these interviews was fascinating & I hope that the documentary challenges SDAs all over the world to consider their position on military service. A very short trailer is viewable here. “This is a trailer of the documentary “For Conscience Sake” currently under production. It tells the story of Canadian Adventist conscientious objectors in WWII who refused to take the rifle when conscripted. They worked in the “Alternative Service Camps” throughout Canada and some eventually joined the Canadian military as Medics. This is a story about conviction of religious conscience during a time of national crisis. Expected release is March 2009. Copies of the 60min final production can be preordered by contacting Tina Keys – cost is $25.00 including taxes and shipping.”

Joel Willet is a graduate student at the University of Kentucky and served as a military police officer for nearly four years. His presentation was very personal and as a student of Diplomacy & National Security he raised a number of interesting points concerning the use of force. Joel took a very realist position and asked important questions that must be answered by modern pacifists.


Joel Willet.

My own presentation titled, “The Spirit of War is the Spirit of Satan” followed Joel’s. “Military conscription in apartheid South Africa was an issue that dominated the lives of generations of white South African young men—including Seventh-day Adventists. From 1952 a system of compulsory military service existed in South Africa, first through a selective service system where men were chosen by ballot, and then from 1967 onwards all medically fit white males were legally required to perform military service for the state upon leaving school. This remained the reality until the last intake for compulsory military service in South Africa took place in July 1992. As early as 1924, Seventh-day Adventists could be exempted from peace-time service in the South African Defence Rifle Association, and in wartime would be exempted from service in a combat capacity. This exemption was reiterated in 1979, when Seventh-day Adventist conscripts were granted particular privileges including being excused from handling a weapon, and were where possible, excused from Sabbath duty. The issue of Seventh-day Adventists and military service in South Africa becomes more complex—as does the issue of military service generally in South Africa—during the 1980s when the South African Defence Force (SADF) was deployed in cross-border conflicts in Angola and South-west Africa (now Namibia); and in the Black township areas to quell Black anti-Apartheid resistance. My paper examined the South African Seventh-day Adventist Church’s attitude towards military service within the context of Apartheid; and will discussed the ethical implications of the Church’s stance of non-combatancy within such a political context.” My paper is available in .pdf format here. Comments are welcome. The paper is a work in progress and a number of significant issues must still be dealt with. I would also like to one day conduct interviews with South African SDAs who were impacted by compulsory military service under the Apartheid Government.

The final presentations were taken by Keith Phillips and Karl Tsatalbasidis, co-authors of a new book I Pledge Allegiance: The Role of Seventh-day Adventists in the Military.

The book is available from a number of sites including here, here, and here. The book is well-written and accessible. Their presentation dealt with a number of important issues including popular misconceptions about the correct translation of the 6th commandment. Karl noted that: Regarding the 6th Commandment. The Hebrew word rasah is the word that is found in the 10 Commandments yet the decalogue does not provide the context to suggest if the word should be translates as murder or kill. This means that the best way to find out the meaning of the word is to investigate its usage in the Bible. It’s mentioned 47 times in the OT. This verb rāsah is used a total of 11 times to identify definitively the intentional slaying of another human being, i.e., “murder,” in the following passages: Numbers 35:16 [2 times], 17 [2 times], 18 [2 times], 19, 21 [2 times], 30, and 31.In contradistinction to the above, rāsah is used 19 times in these “city-of-refuge” passages to indicate the accidental taking of human life, i.e., “manslaughter,” or “killing,” in the following texts: Numbers 35:6, 11, 25, 26, 27, 28; Deuteronomy 4:42 [2 times]; 19:3, 4, 6; Joshua 20:3, 5, 6; 21:13, 21, 27, 32, and 38. In three additional passages (Numbers 35:12, 27, and 30 ), the context indicates that the broader term “kill” would be more appropriate, since rāsah here cannot be limited to “murder.” Thus, in 22 of its 33 appearances in the “city-of-refuge” passages, rāsah needs to be translated as “kill” rather than as “murder.”

The Symposium was a wonderful experience and as the book & DVDs are released I hope that it has an impact on the world-wide SDA Church. As a final observation, it was interesting to me to note that the topic of military service was one that drew SDAs from all spectrums together–“conservatives” & “liberals” both.

As a pacifist, one of course must wrestle with the question of our response to evil–popularized in the question: What about Hitler? I would like to take a moment to draw your attention to an excellent book by Robert W. Brimlow on this question, titled appropriately enough, What About Hitler? Wrestling With Jesus’s Call to Nonviolence in an Evil World (Brazos Press, 2006).
Brimlow comes to the following conclusion which I find both personally challenging and completely christological:
“We must live faithfully; we must be humble in our faith and truthful in what we say and do; we must repay evil with good; and we must be peacemakers. This may mean as a result that the evildoers will kill us. Then, we shall also die. That’s it. There is nothing else–or rather, anything else is only a footnote to this. We are called to live the kingdom as he proclaimed it and be his disciples, come what may. We are, in his words, flowers flourishing and growing wild today, and tomorrow destined for the furnace. We are God’s people, living by faith.” (p151.)

Finally I would like to note how great it was to dialogue and discuss with others these critical issues. I was blessed in doing so.


The presenters. Absent are Jose McLaughlin & Lincoln Steed.


The AAR in Chicago

November 29, 2008

I was fortunate to attend the meetings of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) – held this year in Chicago. I have attended the meetings once before – in Toronto in 2002 when they were combined with the Society of Biblical Literature.
One of the first sessions I attended was a Wildcard session on Apocalypticism – The End Is Not What It Used to Be: The Taming of the Apocalyptic Movements in American Religions, chaired by a friend of mine, Julius Nam of Loma Linda University. Ginger Hanks Harwood of La Sierra University was one of the presenters.

From L to R: Kenneth G. C. Newport (Liverpool Hope University), Ginger Hanks Harwood (La Sierra University), Grant Underwood (Brigham Young University), Richard Landes (Boston University), and Julius Nam (Loma Linda University).

The second session I attended with a SDA connection was a session sponsored by the Psychology, Culture and Religion group which focussed on a play called “Red Books” written & directed by Mei Ann Teo, artist in residence at Pacific Union College. The session was presented by A. Gregory Schneider (Pacific Union College), and Mei Ann Teo, and was titled, “Knowing through Becoming- Exercises in Documentary Theater: Reflections on Red Books: Our Search for Ellen White”.

The title refers to the books of Ellen G. White which were (and still are) published as red-bound hardcover books:


The session was interactive & very interesting. You can purchase the DVD of the play here. There were many. many other sessions on everything from Street Side Memorials, to the Reformation, to Black Gospel Music.  It was good to meet others interested in the study of religion. The publishers were there in force also & while I did try to restrain myself, I came home with the following pile, a rather eclectic mix:


From Eerdmans I picked up the new edition of Prophetess of Health by Ronald Numbers as well as the new biography of William Miller: God’s Strange Work by David L. Rowe. I have started reading the latter & will post a review in due time.

On Sunday evening I attended the Adventist Graduate Student Reception. It was great to meet new people including Trisha Famisaran and Ron Pickell of the Adventist Christian Fellowship of the North American Division. After the meal some of us walked to Millennium park. Here’s the group in front of this cool stainless steel bubble sculpture:



Ellen White – the real human being

November 5, 2008

Reconciliation—The Heart of the Gospel.

August 18, 2008

Read II Corinthians 5:18-20.

I want to talk with you this morning about this most radical passage in the Bible. I realize that such a statement is a bold claim & there may be those here this morning who would suggest other Biblical texts as the rightful recipients of this title. I do not apologize however, and as we explore the passage that we have heard twice already this morning – II Corinthians 5:18-20—it is my payer that each person here this morning will come to grasp both the radical nature of the message found in these verses and the challenge that they present to each of us as Christians—members of the body of Christ.

James Denney, a little known Scottish pastor and theologian, spoke of the doctrine of reconciliation as “the inspiration and focus of all” doctrines of the Christian faith.[1]

Similarly Karl Barth, a much more widely known Swiss pastor and theologian stated that with the doctrine of reconciliation “we enter that sphere of Christian knowledge in which we have to do with the heart of the message received by and laid upon the Christian community.”[2]

Likewise Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian pointed out that the central message of the New Testament was that “God loved the world and reconciled it with himself in Christ.”[3]

The doctrine of reconciliation, I would suggest then—as the heart of the Christian message—as the heart of the gospel—is worth taking seriously.

Our passage of scripture this morning, II Corinthians 5:18-20 begins in the middle of the story—Paul makes an assumption in this passage that I want us to consider for a moment.

If we are all reconciled to God through Jesus Christ; if we have all been given the ministry of reconciliation as II Corinthians undoubtedly states, then Paul’s assumption is clearly, that for all of us, there is a need to be reconciled with God.

Reconciliation is necessary for all because the whole of humanity is sentenced to death as sinners, as enemies of God.

As we read in Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Likewise three chapters later in Romans 6:23 we read “For the wages of sin is death.”

Humanity is caught in a sinful situation from which it cannot escape.

Not only are each of us as sinners under a death sentence, but our sinfulness has alienated us from God. “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.” Colossians 1:21

Reconciliation involves a change in the relationship of people who were previously enemies. People who have been reconciled with each other “exchange” a relationship of separation and hostility for one of friendship and peace.

The word reconciliation carries the idea of an exchange, not an exchange of gifts or other physical objects, but an exchange of state or status. The Greek word that we translate as reconciliation is typically used outside of the NT in reference to enemies who exchange their state of separation, hate, anger, and war for a state of unity, friendship, peace, and love.

In the Good News translation, II Corinthians 5:18 reads:

“All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also.”

This translation captures the meaning of reconciliation very nicely—we are changed from God’s enemies into God’s friends.

Reconciliation is actually not a very common NT word, occurring with its’ derivatives: reconcile, reconciled, reconciling, only 15 times. 12 of these times occur in the Pauline writings: in Romans, I & II Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, and Colossians. Importantly, in each of these statements God is clearly shown to be the sole author of reconciliation—that is, it is God who begins the process of reconciliation; it is God who initiates.

¨ All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ (II Corinthians 5:18)

¨ in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself (II Corinthians 5:19 )

There is no mention in any of the verses where this term is found, of God needing to be reconciled; or that God is the recipient or beneficiary of a reconciling act.

God initiates reconciliation when we were still enemies—God loved us first.

Our reconciliation with God can be described as a one-sided offer of peace where there was conflict. Our reconciliation with God does not take place on equal terms. As sinners we have nothing to offer; the reconciliation of sinful humanity with God is achieved only through Jesus Christ.

The reconciliation of humanity with God is achieved only through Jesus Christ.

¨ The sinless Christ is identified with human sinfulness

¨ As a result, sinful humans may be identified with God’s righteousness (II Cor. 5:21)

See also Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”

Romans 5:8 “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”

Don’t miss the immensity of that statement—Christ died for us while we were sinners.

Col. 1:22: “By Christ’s death in his physical body, God has reconciled you to himself.”

Col. 1:19-20a: “For in him God in all his fullness chose to dwell and through him to reconcile all things to himself.”

According to II Corinthians 5:19, reconciliation is the fundamental purpose of the Christ-event. We cannot speak about reconciliation without speaking of the cross—because without the cross there can be no reconciliation.

Miroslav Volf in his book Exclusion and Embrace puts it this way:

“The cross is the giving up of God’s self in order not to give up on humanity; it is the consequence of God’s desire to break the power of human enmity without violence and receive human beings into divine communion….The arms of the crucified are open—a sign of a space in God’s self and an invitation for the enemy to come in.”[4]

This momentous event—this breaking in of God into the human sphere is not something to be glossed over or taken lightly:

As Volf puts it:

“Whoever thinks the cross is not an offense has never followed the Crucified to Gethsemane let alone to Golgotha….If the fate of the Crucified and his demand to walk in his footsteps disturb us, then we will also be disturbed by the God of the Crucified. For the very nature of the triune God is reflected on the cross of Christ….At the core of Christian faith lies the claim that God entered history and died on the cross in the person of Jesus Christ for an unjust and deceitful world.”[5]

The nature of God—as mediator, reconciler—is indeed reflected on the cross of Christ.

Jurgen Moltmann in his book The Crucified God puts it as follows:

“In Jesus, God does not die a natural death, but rather the violent death of a condemned person on the cross. At Golgotha he dies the death of complete God-abandonedness. The suffering in the suffering of Jesus is the abandonment, and indeed condemnation, by the God whom he called Father….The God-abandoned Son of God takes the eternal death of the abandoned and the damned upon himself in order to become God of the abandoned and brother of the damned. Every person damned and abandoned by God can, in the crucified one, experience community with God. The incarnate God is present and accessible to the humanity of every [person].”

Through his death on the cross, Jesus Christ has reconciled the world—all humanity—with God.

Bono of the group U2 gets it exactly right when he sings, “But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide.”

God’s love expressed through Jesus Christ has indeed conquered the great divide of sin that so irreversibly separated us from God.

The message of reconciliation that we are exploring today is a message of universal application—we are all sinners in a state of separation and alienation from God.

But the good news, the wonderful, magnificent, life-changing, reality-shattering news is that just as sin is a universal human reality—so is God’s act of reconciliation.

II Cor. 5:19. The implication here is that Christ acts and accomplishes reconciliation on behalf of the world as a whole. He acts representatively—on behalf of the world—so that the particular achievement of one becomes effective for all.

Jürgen Moltmann gives us this powerful image:

“Here [under the cross], rather, is where the godless are justified, enemies are reconciled, prisoners are set free, the poor are enriched, and the sad are filled with hope.”[6]

Reconciliation with God is not just a possibility that is open to individuals who respond to Jesus Christ in faith, but rather in terms of an already accomplished alteration to human reality—God has broken into our human reality in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

Understand this: The world as a whole has been reconciled to God in Christ—this reconciliation has been accomplished already.

II Corinthians 5:19 points out that “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their sins against them.” It is the world’s sins that are not counted—not merely those of the converted.

Paul points out in Romans 10:13 that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”

Murray Rae puts it this way:

“Here is the glory of the gospel. Neither race, nor religious purity, nor cultural pedigree, nor great learning, nor moral perfection, is the criterion upon which salvation is attained.”[7]

In this respect, God has dealt with humanity collectively—as a group—for God loves and has redeemed all that God has made.

The entire world is included in God’s mission to make all things new, not just some section of humanity. This means that if we rejoice that God came to rescue “me,” we must also rejoice that God came to rescue our enemies, those we don’t like, or with whom we disagree, or even those who have wronged us in serious ways. God did not act just for some. God has reconciled the whole world to himself.

The relationship of reconciliation with God is one in which nothing can separate believers from the love of God in Christ.

Romans 8:38-39:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Once we were enemies of God. Once we were so separated from God by our sin that there was nothing we could do that would bridge the gap.

Now, having been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ—there is nothing at all in the entire universe—not death, not demons, not distance, not darkness—there is nothing that can separate us from God.

Such an incredible gift.

God acts toward the world in a way which calls forth individual faith and repentance and obedience.

The South African theologian John de Gruchy makes the challenging observation that:

“The fundamental difference between the church and the world is that the former recognises, acknowledges, confesses and seeks to express God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ in its life, whereas the world fails to recognize and acknowledge what God has in fact done….The church is thus a sign of the new humanity that God is creating in Christ, having broken down the walls that divide the human race into warring factions.”[8]

Faith is not a condition of reconciliation; but rather the objective reality of reconciliation invites our response of faith, repentance, and obedience.

These three human reactions—worked within us by the Holy Spirit—are the glad response to what Christ has accomplished for us; but are not conditions to be met before Christ’s act of reconciliation applies to us.

“The finality of this accomplishment notwithstanding, however, it is also the case that the reconciliation of the world in Christ involves—through a continuing event of divine grace—the Spirit-inspired but nonetheless human event of response and a new life.”[9]

The human response to God’s grace is a response of thanksgiving and praise. It is a response of gratitude and joy for that which has been accomplished in Christ.

Whoever responds in faith to the person and work of Christ does not aid Christ in his priesthood. The reconciling act is exclusively the work of God in Christ, directed to the world.

We cannot imagine as Karl Barth contends in his argument with Emile Brunner, that we are able to swim a few strokes on our own.

Our response then, is to be conceived fundamentally as an act of praise. It is in this act of praise and thanksgiving—or perhaps more properly, these acts—this life—of praise and thanksgiving, that we as the church become witnesses to the reconciliation of the world to God through Jesus Christ.

Reconciliation implies a new form of existence, a new way of living, as Murray Rae puts it:

“the reconciliation of the world in Christ calls people forth to live according to the new reality that has, once and for all, been accomplished. The fact that the world has been reconciled to God in Christ becomes apparent…in a community of men and women who actually do live, albeit in a not-yet perfected form, in reconciled relationship with God and with one another.”[10]

We may then regard the life of Christian discipleship—living as the Church, the body of Christ in this world—“as a participation in and witness to the reconciliation of the world with God.”[11]

The reconciliation of the world to God through Jesus Christ becomes apparent through the existence of the church—the body of Christ called into existence as a sign that God HAS reconciled the world to himself.

A final implication of this message of reconciliation is that because of the reality that we are all sinners, yet all now reconciled with God through Jesus Christ; the distinctions of class, nation, race, or gender lose their significance—our identity is defined only as sinners reconciled to God. This is the only label, classification, or categorization that matters—I am—and You are—sinners reconciled to god through Jesus Christ.

This is what Paul is talking about in Galatians 5:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

We are all one in Christ Jesus—we have all been reconciled to God—and that is all that matters.

Remember Jesus’ prayer as recorded in John 17? Towards the end of the prayer in verses 20 to 23, Jesus prays:

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

The Nobel prize-winning English poet T. S. Eliot ends his poem “Little Gidding,” with the following words:

“And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

When the tongues of flame are in-folded

Into the crowned knot of fire

And the fire and the rose are one.”

And the fire and the rose are one. And all manner of creatures are one. And all manner of Christians are one. And all manner, yes, even of Seventh-day Adventists, are one. And this broken and fearful world and its creator are one. And this broken battered church and its Lord are one. Thank God that we are each and every one reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.[12]

HYMN: Amazing Grace


May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace as you celebrate the good news of your reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ.


Jeff Crocombe – Helderberg College Church – August 16, 2008.

[1] Quoted in John de Gruchy, Reconciliation: Restoring Justice (Augsburg Fortress Press, 2002), 44.

[2] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV:1 The Doctrine of Reconciliation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2004), 3.

[3] Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (New York: Macmillan, 1965), 204.

[4] Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 126.

[5] Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 127.

[6] Jürgen Moltmann, “The Ecumenical Church under the Cross”, in Theology Digest 24:4 (1971), 382.

[7] Murray Rae “A Remnant People: The Ecclasia as a Sign of Reconciliation” in Colin E Gunton (Ed.) The Theology of Reconciliation (Edinburgh: T & T Clarke, 2003), 97-98.

[8] John de Gruchy, “Racism, Reconciliation, and Resistance” in On Reading Karl Barth in South Africa (Charles Villa-Vicencio (Ed.) (Grand Rapids: William B. Eeerdmans, 1988), 147.

[9] Murray Rae “A Remnant People: The Ecclasia as a Sign of Reconciliation” in Colin E Gunton (Ed.) The Theology of Reconciliation (Edinburgh: T & T Clarke, 2003), 94.

[10] Murray Rae “A Remnant People: The Ecclasia as a Sign of Reconciliation” in Colin E Gunton (Ed.) The Theology of Reconciliation (Edinburgh: T & T Clarke, 2003), 94.

[11] Murray Rae “A Remnant People: The Ecclasia as a Sign of Reconciliation” in Colin E Gunton (Ed.) The Theology of Reconciliation (Edinburgh: T & T Clarke, 2003), 94.

[12] This ending is modified from a sermon by John Wilkinson: http://www.covenantnetwork.org/sermon&papers/wilkinson3.html


Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll – without the drugs and rock & roll

June 23, 2008

Human sexuality was a popular topic amongst American “Health reformers” in the 19th century. One of the first publications on the subject was Sylvester Graham’s Lecture to Young Men on Chastity published in 1834. Most other popular health reformers: Alcott, Coles, Trall, Jackson etc also wrote on this subject. The focus for most of these reformers was the danger of “excessive” or abnormal sexual activity—with a particular emphasis on the evils associated with masturbation.

In order to understand 19th century views of sexuality, we need to understand the concept of “vital force”. Seventh-day Adventist leader John Loughborough wrote in 1868 that vital force was, “that power placed in the human body, at its birth, which will enable the body, under favorable circumstances, to live to  certain age.” (Handbook of Health, 1868, 14-15).

As the amount of “vital force” each person possessed was limited—and since each sexual activity used up an irreplaceable amount—every individual should keep their sexual activity to a minimum so that they would not die prematurely. To illustrate this concept, many nineteenth century authors compared it to money in a bank account gradually depleted by repeated withdrawals over the years until none remained.

Ellen White is no exception—the phrase “vital force” occurs quite frequently in her writings:

“Those who acquire and indulge the unnatural appetite for tobacco, do this at the expense of health. They are destroying nervous energy, lessening vital force and sacrificing mental strength.” (Signs of the Times, January 6, 1876.)

“Those who make great exertions to accomplish just so much work in a given time, and continue to labor when their judgment tells them they should rest, are never gainers. They are living on borrowed capital. They are expending the vital force which they will need at a future time. And when the energy they have so recklessly used is demanded, they fail for want of it.” (Christian Temperance and Bible Hygiene, 1890, 64.)

Ellen White—like many of her contemporaries—does use the phrase in relation to human sexuality. In regard to what she terms “self abuse” (masturbation—we’ll come back to this topic later), Ellen White states:
“They sacrifice physical strength and reason upon the altar of lust, and can they think that God will accept their distracted, imbecile service, while they continue their wrong course? Such are just as surely self-murderers as though they pointed a pistol to their own breast, and destroyed their life instantly. In the first case they linger longer, are more debilitated, and destroy gradually the vital force of their constitution, and the mental faculties; yet the work of decay is sure.” (An Appeal to Mothers, 1864, 24.)

“Females possess less vital force than the other sex, and are deprived very much of the bracing, invigorating air, by their in-doors life.” (An Appeal to Mothers 1864, 24.)

Health reformers in the 1800s considered sex to be very draining upon the vital energies. Well-known Seventh-day Adventist physician John Harvey Kellogg wrote in 1877:  “The reproductive act is the most exhaustive of all vital acts.” (Plain Facts for Old and Young, 119.)

Ellen White believed the same:
“They do not see that God requires them to control their married lives from any excesses. But very few feel it to be a religious duty to govern their passions. They have united themselves in marriage to the object of their choice, and therefore reason that marriage sanctifies the indulgence of the baser passions. Even men and women professing godliness give loose rein to their lustful passions, and have no thought that God holds them accountable for the expenditure of vital energy, which weakens their hold on life and enervates the entire system.” (Testimonies, Vol. 4, 472.)

During the 1800s it was believed that the ideal spiritual woman manifested little interest in sexuality. Writing in 1871, German neurologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing pronounced, “Woman, …if physically and mentally normal, and properly educated, has but little sensual desire.”
John Harvey Kellogg has a similar quote in his 1877 book: “I should say that the majority of women, happily for them, are not very much troubled with sexual feeling of any kind….The best mothers, wives, and managers of households know little or nothing of sexual indulgences. Love of home, of children, of domestic duties, are the only passions they feel. As a general rule, a modest woman seldom desires any sexual gratification for herself.” (Plain Facts for Old and Young, 473.)

Ellen  White writes that it is the duty of the ideal wife to restrain the desires of her husband:
“It is not pure, holy love which leads the wife to gratify the animal propensities of her husband at the expense of health and life. If she possesses true love and wisdom, she will seek to divert his mind from the gratification of lustful passions to high and spiritual themes by dwelling upon interesting spiritual subjects. It may be necessary to humbly and affectionately urge, even at the risk of his displeasure, that she cannot debase her body by yielding to sexual excess. She should, in a tender, kind manner, remind him that God has the first and highest claim upon her entire being, and that she cannot disregard this claim, for she will be held accountable in the great day of God.” (A Solemn Appeal, 1870, 175.)

“Sexual excess will effectually destroy a love for devotional exercises, will take from the brain the substance needed to nourish the system, and will most effectively exhaust the vitality. No woman should aid her husband in this work of self-destruction. She will not do it if she is enlightened and has true love for him. The more the animal passions are indulged, the stronger do they become, and the more violent will be their clamors for indulgence. Let God-fearing men and women awake to their duty. Many professed Christians are suffering with paralysis of nerve and brain because of their intemperance in this direction.” (A Solemn Appeal, 1870, 175.)

We should note that Ellen White never defined exactly what excessive meant. The term marital excess was however used by the other health reformers of her day.  In 1834, Sylvester Graham favoured a maximum of once a month. (Lecture to Young Men, on Chastity, 144-148.) Orson Squire Fowler stated, “to indulge, even in wedlock, as often as the moon quarters, is gradual but effectual destruction of both soul and body. (Hereditary Descent, 1843, 206.) [Since the moon quarters every seven-and-a-half days, Fowler was saying that engaging in sex at a frequency of once a week was too frequent!] Adventist physician John Harvey Kellogg seemed to agree with Graham by suggesting marriage partners “limit indulgence to the number of months in the year.” Kellogg considered daily sex to be dangerous for both partners: “Another case came under our observation in which the patient, a man, confessed to having indulged every night for twenty years. We did not wonder that at forty he was a complete physical wreck.” (Plain Facts for Old and Young, 487, 468.)

Ellen White did not employ the word “masturbation” in her writings—instead she used euphemisms such as “solitary vice”, “secret vice”, and “self-abuse.” Her first reference to this subject appeared in a 64-page pamphlet, An Appeal to Mothers, (quoted above) that was published in April 1864. Primarily devoted to masturbation, pages 5 to 34 were from her own pen; the remainder consisted of quotations from medical authorities. An Appeal to Mothers was reprinted in 1870 as part of a larger work, A Solemn Appeal Relative to Solitary Vice and Abuses and Excesses of the Marriage Relation.

In the 18th century the concept of harm to the body brought on by masturbation came to the fore in the United States. A European physician, Dr. S. Tissot took up the cause and brought to America his theories, which included not only the harmfulness of masturbation, but of some sexual conduct between husbands and wives as well. The list of disorders following such sexual behaviours were said to cause problems all the way from “acne to suicide.” Parents were alerted to this proclaimed evil to every body system. Much energy, time and money were spent on “cures” to put an end to this activity. These consisted of preventive measures which included mechanical devices and surgical procedures, many of which would now be considered abusive.

Male anti-masturbation device 1.Anti-masturbation device 2.

anti-masturbation device 3.

Above are examples of Anti-masturbation devices for men.

In her booklet, An Appeal to Mothers, Ellen White writes:
“I feel alarmed for those children and you who by solitary vice are ruining themselves…you listen to numerous complaints of headache, catarrh, dizziness, nervousness, pain in the shoulders and side, loss of appetite, pain in the back and limbs…and have you not noticed that there was a deficiency in the mental health of your children?” (p11)

“Secret indulgence is, in many cases, the only real cause of the numerous complaints of the young.” (p13)

“The state of the world is alarming. Everywhere we look we see imbecility, dwarfed forms, crippled limbs, misshapen heads and deformity of every description… Corrupt habits are wasting their energy, and bringing upon them loathsome and complicated diseases… Children who practice self-indulgence…must pay the penalty.” (p. 14)

“The results of self-abuse in them [females] is seen in various diseases, such as catarrh, dropsy, headache, loss of memory and sight, great weakness in the back and loins, affections of the spine, the head often decays inwardly. Cancerous humor, which would lay dormant in the system their life-time, is inflamed, and commences its eating, destructive work. The mind is often utterly ruined, and insanity takes place.” (p24)

“I have been shown that children who practice self-indulgence previous to puberty, or the period of merging into manhood and womanhood, must pay the penalty of nature’s violated laws at that critical period. Many sink into an early grave, while others have sufficient force of constitution to pass this ordeal. If the practice is continued from the ages of fifteen and upward, nature will protest against the abuse she has suffered, and continues to suffer, and will make them pay the penalty for the transgression of her laws, especially from the ages of thirty to forty-five, by numerous pains in the system, and various diseases, such as affection of the liver and lungs, neuralgia, rheumatism, affection of the spine, diseased kidneys, and cancerous humors. Some of nature’s fine machinery gives way…there is often a sudden breaking down of the constitution, and death is the result.” (p18)

“Moral pollution has done more than every other evil to cause the race to degenerate. It is practiced to an alarming extent and brings on disease of almost every description. Even very small children, infants, being born with natural irritability of the sexual organs, find momentary relief in handling them, which only increases the irritation, and leads to a repetition of the act, until a habit is established which increases with their growth. These children, generally puny and dwarfed, are prescribed for by physicians and drugged; but the evil is not removed. The cause still exists.”

“Parents do not generally suspect that their children understand anything about this vice. In very many cases the parents are the real sinners. They have abused their marriage privileges, and by indulgence have strengthened their animal passions. And as these have strengthened, the moral and intellectual faculties have become weak. The spiritual has been overborne by the brutish. Children are born with the animal propensities largely developed, the parents’ own stamp of character having been given to them. The unnatural action of the sensitive organs produces irritation. They are easily excited, and momentary relief is experienced in exercising them. But the evil constantly increases. The drain upon the system is sensibly felt. The brain force is weakened, and memory becomes deficient.” (Testimonies Vol. 2,  390.)

It was common for health reformers of the time to see a link between diet and sexuality.
John Harvey Kellogg wrote in 1886, “flesh, condiments, eggs, tea, coffee, chocolate, and all stimulants have a powerful influence directly on the reproductive organs. They increase the local supply of blood; and through nervous sympathy with the brain, the passions are aroused.” (Plain Facts for Old and Young, 178.)

For Kellogg, the solution was simple: “Nothing tends so powerfully to keep the passions in abeyance as a simple diet, free from condiments, especially when coupled with a generous amount of exercise.” (Plain Facts for Old and Young, 179.)

Ellen White took a similar stance to Kellogg:
“Our food should be prepared free from spices. Mince pies, cakes, preserves, and highly-seasoned meats, with gravies, create a feverish condition in the system, and inflame the animal passions. (An Appeal to Mothers 1864, 19-20.)

“Children who eat improperly are often feeble, pale, and dwarfed and are nervous, excitable, and irritable. Everything noble is sacrificed to the appetite, and the animal passions predominate. The lives of many children from five to ten and fifteen years of age seem marked with depravity. They possess knowledge of almost every vice. The parents are, in a great degree, at fault in this matter….They tempt their children to indulge their appetite by placing upon their tables flesh meats and other food prepared with spices, which have a tendency to excite the animal passions.” (Spiritual Gifts Vol. 4, 132-133.)

Ellen White did not say that all of the serious consequences she associated with masturbation would be visited upon any one given individual; nor did she indicate that the worst possible degree of any of these consequences would be experienced by any particular person. However, no link has been found between masturbation and any of the conditions Ellen White discusses. In fact modern medical advice is generally that masturbation in both males and females is a normal part of human behaviour without adverse (and possibly even beneficial) consequences.

Studies show that over 90% of adult males masturbate and around 65% of females. Possible beneficial consequences include:

  • Increased fertility
  • Decreased levels of depression
  • Decreasing the chance of prostate cancer (for males).
  • It has been suggested that there is a possible link between masturbation and physical illness:
    “The amount of zinc in semen is such that one ejaculation may get rid of all the zinc that can be absorbed from the intestines in one day. This has a number of consequences. Unless the amount lost is replaced by an increased dietary intake, repeated ejaculation may lead to a real zinc deficiency with various problems developing, including impotence….It is even possible, given the importance of zinc for the brain, that 19th century moralists were correct when they said that repeated masturbation could make one mad!” (David F. Horrobin, Zinc, 8.)

    It should be pointed out that if this were correct, the same problem would theoretically arise in consensual sex between a married couple. Would this also mean that masturbation was OK provided one took zinc supplements? And what about women who masturbate and do not lose zinc via semen?

    “I believe that God’s ideal for sexual expression is an act to be consummated between a loving wife and husband in a committed, exclusive, and till-death-do-us-part relationship. Anything else in the way of sexual behaviour falls short of that ideal. But I also believe that by using scare tactics to prevent masturbation as almost the unpardonable sin, we have turned off many young people and have actually turned some away. I would rather see a balanced look at this issue.” (Alberta Mazat, Questions You Have Asked About Sexuality, 1991, 24.)

    It is quite clear that early Seventh-day Adventist views on human sexuality were shaped primarily by Ellen White and John Harvey Kellogg—noting that Kellogg in particular had a very negative view of sex—even with marriage, seeing it as a destructive activity intended solely for reproductive purposes. Gradually however, change in attitudes have however occurred within the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

    • In 1931, the 2nd edition of The Home Physician and Guide to Health was published—still advocating sexual restraint within marriage. However, for the first time in Seventh-day Adventist history, the idea was expressed that sex was a divine gift, and that viewing it as solely for reproductive purposes was untenable.
    • In 1949, Harold Shryock published Happiness for Husbands and Wives, stating, “Sexual expression represents the culmination of all the desirable features of the family situation—the ultimate in marital happiness.”
    • In 1974 Charles Wittschiebe published God Invented Sex which was concerned with sexual pleasure within marriage.
    • Similar books were published in 1979 by Nancy Van Pelt: The Complete Marriage, and Alberta Mazat, That Friday in Eden. Van Pelt’s statement that, “Husbands and Wives should aim to be imaginative, creative, and willing lovers. God designed that sex…be exciting, enjoyable, and fulfilling” clearly indicates that some major shifts had taken place in Seventh-day Adventist views of human sexuality

    Seventh-day Adventists still strongly discourage both pre- and extra-, marital sex:

  • A 1990 survey in the US showed that about two-thirds supported the Church’s traditional view.
  • A 1993 survey in Australia found that 79.9% of Seventh-day Adventist youth believed that “Sex should only occur within marriage”.
  • HOWEVER, actual practices are somewhat different:

  • A 1991 American survey found that 27% of Seventh-day Adventist youth surveyed were sexually active in school.
  • Roger Dudley surveyed a group of America 25-26 year-old Seventh-day Adventists of which 65% were sexually active.
  • References:
    Malcolm Bull and Keith Lockhart, Seeking a Sanctuary 2nd edition. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007).
    Alberta Mazat, Questions You Have Asked About Sexuality (Boise: Pacific Press, 1991).
    Ronald Numbers, Prophetess of Health (New York: Harper & Row, 1976).