Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Adventists and Apostasy

The Greek word apostasia (apo, from, and stasis, station, standing, or position) originally meant desertion of a post or the giving up of a state of life.  But in the early church apostasy meant the voluntary, complete abandonment of Christianity by either going back to Roman paganism, or Judaism, or even giving up religious beliefs altogether. The first few centuries of Christianity believed it to be so grievous a sin that the church would excommunicate the apostate (as if the apostate would care?) and they would leave them to the mercy of God. 
After the Decian persecution of the mid third century, so many Christians committed apostasy and later repented that the church at the Synod of Carthage relaxed the penalties and forgiveness was granted more easily. (1 Theodosian Code XVI title 7, De Apostatis; title 8, De Judaeis, “Corpus juris romani ante-Justinian (Bonne, 1840) 1521-1607; Code of Justinian I, title 7, De apostatis I. c. 60, 61.)
After Christianity became the state religion, the emperor withdrew all civil rights of apostates. To entice anyone into apostasy brought the death penalty.
The word appears only twice in scripture: 
Acts 21:21 This is where Judaisers entreated Christians to be circumcised and return to Judaism under the Old Covenant. This was not a form of Christianity but a refutation of it. 
2 Thess. 2:3 “Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.”
As an Adventist or former Adventist you will immediately understand that this text was used by Ellen White to teach that the last day apostasy is by the Protestant church following the influence of Catholicism. (See Great Controversy, pp 445-447.)
White’s view was that you could remain a Christian in 9 out of 10 commandments but that it was the breaking of the Sabbath commandment that defined you as apostate. This is a misunderstanding and misapplication of the word as understood during Bible times as well as a millennia and a half after Christ.  

Apostasy is not a serious backsliding or heresy. Apostasy is turning your back on Christianity and defining yourself as an atheist, Buddhist, Moslem, Jew, etc. You openly deny Christ and publicly call yourself something else. You no longer attend a Christian church. 
Here are some EGW texts that show her misapplication of Paul’s pronouncement of “apostasy.”
For many centuries thereafter an apostate form of Christianity held sway. The truth was suppressed and lost sight of, and ignorance prevailed. ...These centuries of apostasy are correctly designated in history the “Dark Ages.” CET 241-242

The apostle Paul, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, foretold the great apostasy which would result in the establishment of the papal power. ... Even at that early date he saw, creeping into the church, errors that would prepare the way for the development of the papacy... GC 49-50 See also GC 443-444

When the leading churches of the United States, uniting upon such points of doctrine as are held by them in common, shall influence the state to enforce their decrees and to sustain their institutions, then Protestant America will have formed an image of the Roman hierarchy, and the infliction of civil penalties upon dissenters will inevitably result. GC 445 

Ellen White’s prediction misunderstood what Paul was saying. Paul foretold that Christians would become unbelievers, atheists or perhaps join another religion altogether. This great apostasy would not be those who claimed to be His Church, call themselves Christians and worship Him and simply not fully understand or even be deceived. According to Ellen, all Christians for a thousand years would be then apostates. This is not logically sound but anachronistic thinking. Ellen misunderstood the word heretic for apostate; heresy for apostasy.

Paul wants us, as Christians, to be looking for a great falling away of Christians who choose to believe evolution or join the Muslims or become Buddhist. Apostates are not bad Christians, they are not Christians at all and publicly denounce their Christianity. There will of course be lots of heretics... those who claim to be Christians and do not follow Christ’s New Covenant Commandments and teach heresies, but this is a different group. Apostasy is the step after being a stubborn, unrepentant heretic, but it doesn’t have to ever go that far.

So Adventist calling other Christians apostate is unsound exegesis of Paul’s words as well as being rather uncharitable to fellow Christians.

My SDA In-laws Christmas Visit

All I can say is, "wow".

Background: My father-in-law is a very traditional SDA. He grew up SDA, went to school in an SDA school, finished his degree at an SDA college. His first wife, who died, was SDA as is his current wife. He worked as a Adventist principal for thirty years and is an ordained SDA minister. He is thoroughly an Adventist.

They just spent the last five days with us. And I have been praying about it and worrying about it for weeks. The family reunion with my liberal SDA family didn't go so well, so I didn't want a repeat of that. Because in fact, Arthur's family is way, way more Seventh-day Adventist then mine ever was--so I assumed it would be difficult at best.

Should we get rid of our Catholic books? Will our crucifixes offend them? Should we have worship together--after all we use a Catholic Bible and have Catholic prayers and always do the sign of the cross? What should we avoid doing and saying in order to not offend them? If we avoid all our Catholicism will they just think we are ashamed of it and hiding something? If they pull open a drawer and find our rosary, will they ask us about it or will they just silently judge us?

I can tell you, I have been panicked. Since it was my husband's parents, I decided to let him make all those decisions. The only one I suggested with my heart was that if they want us to go to church with them, we should go. That was the only suggestion I made and the only bad one made.

This is how utterly distant Adventism is to me now. I totally forgot about Sabbath School. Catholics don't have Sunday School so it just slipped my mind.

(Hugh breath.) The Sabbath School teacher talked all about the Ten Commandments and how we need to keep Sabbath. Well, it wasn't a big deal. I could sit there patiently enduring the heresy spoken so as not to upset my eighty-year-old father-in-law and my mother-in-law who had just the day before driven sixteen hours to see us (as well as a few hours the day before!) I  could so totally shut up for an hour and a half for respect for their gray hair and in the spirit of Christian love and unity.

AHH, so much for good intensions. The teacher was rattling on using the SDA talking points, then he asked point blank to us all if we agreed. Then he paused and looked around. (My heart sank.... and I took a big gulp and recited a heartfelt Hail Mary.) Then he said, "Okay, I am assuming we all agree on this." And I couldn't sit there and lie. I raised my hand up just a tiny bit hoping God would see me but not the teacher. (Then I officially didn't lie.) He spotted my hand.

The teacher asked me what I disagreed on and I just said the least I could in a very shaky voice, "I'm not Adventist... so..." I thought that would say it all. But it just threw the teacher off and me off and the whole Sabbath School was then awkward as I tried to explain something or other... I sincerely don't remember for I was having an out of body experience and wanting to just rewind the moment and go to the bathroom during his question about agreeing.

Okay, told you that hard moment.

We went to Sabbath School and church with them. Arthur told me that he was certain his parents were hoping that we would see the light and return to Adventism. He knows his parents, so I won't argue the point, but that surely would be a ridiculous hope for them. He thinks the fact that we even went to church with them showed them the door was open. That certainly wasn't why I thought we should go with them. I thought it would show them our love even in our theological differences.

Then the unexpected "wow." They went to mass with us that evening. I guess because it was technically on the Sabbath (although it fulfilled our Sunday obligation) that it made the service more palatable. I don't know, I don't want to put thoughts in their heads. But they came with us!!

There is nothing unrealistic in my expectations. I would never expect that their joining us would be saying something like "Hey, maybe I need to rethink this whole Catholicism thing." All I could hope  for is that they were saying to us, "we love you enough to endure this!" And that is one huge, huge sacrifice for them to make for us! And I was so touched. They didn't criticize anything.

Then, the next evening we went out to get a really special meal at the local Asian restaurant that's specialty is gourmet sushi. My daughter and I went early to order the hor d'oeurves and clearly said "vegetarian" sushi--no raw, no shellfish, etc. (Eye roll) When they brought out the three tiers of sushi--it was visually spectacular--but it contained shrimp and raw fish and crab meat. I wanted to crawl under the table. I so did not want them to think I ordered that to provoke them. But my kids, having eaten there, knew how expensive it was and ate up all the "unclean" sushi so that their grandparents could have what they could eat. I was mortified. Even though I knew my kids were being sacrificial as I knew raw fish wasn't something they normally ordered. (And I saw one of my kids steel themselves as they ate the raw fish.)

I cried when we got home for I knew that would be misunderstood by my SDA family. I was sure they would see us as purposefully ordering it and my kids openly, defiantly eating it front of them. When they were truly being polite and unselfish.

My SDA in-laws didn't chastise or question or judge us. Can you believe it? Has the polar north changed? They are not in the habit of publicly denouncing our beliefs, but I thought at the very least they would be horrified. They said they weren't and believed me when I said it was a total miscommunication with the chef.

The five days together, we had worship, we read scripture both from their Bibles and ours.  We talked theology and carefully expressed our opinions so as not to ignite a firestorm.  Dad finally had enough about our discussions of homosexuality and abortion at one time and told us to change the subject. But it was his wife who had started the conversation so it wasn't me he was chastising. (Whew... ) We prayed together. We talked about our relationship with Christ and it was quite surreal. Aslan is on the move!

We truly bonded in the Lord. A Christmas miracle. I saw their beauty and got to openly love them. And they said they really, really enjoyed the visit. I believe them. I think they really respect our relationship with Christ and as I do theirs.

Wow. Hope your Christmas with your SDA friends and family is the miracle ours was. Thank you Lord! We praise you for your grace and mercy upon us!