3 Things I'm Looking for at Triennial
by Erik Reynolds
I’m new to the denomination and have been working as the Director of Student Ministry at Oak Hill Bible Church in Oxford, MA for the last two years. I came in as a Southern Baptist, but through the mentorship of others I found inconsistencies in my view of anthropology and eschatology; I’m now a conditionalist. As my good friend Nathaniel now likes to say, “Erik is a Reformed Baptist Adventist” or in other words, “Erik is two parts jerk and one part confused.”(I'll let you figure out the formula) During my short tenure, I’ve noticed that we have several issues as a denomination that many have tried to fix, most will recognize that we still have a lot of work to do. In this piece, I would like to tell you what I’m looking for next week at Triennial as a new Adventist who plans to stay here awhile.
Identity: What does it mean to be an Advent Christian?
This question has come up at every meeting of the Restoration Network of which I am a part. I’m not sure if anyone has really come up with a solid answer. Mostly what comes up is, “We believe in the imminent return of Christ, the renewal of Earth as the New Heavens and New Earth, and Conditional Immortality.” In addition to these doctrinal distinctives, we have long prided ourselves in our theological inclusiveness. While not a bad thing, this has certainly provided its challenges in the past.
So what does it mean to be Advent Christian? I don’t know. I’m hoping that this will be somewhat addressed at this upcoming Triennial in the various breakout sessions. I challenge you to comment below what it means to you to be an Advent Christian. The Christian, Advent or otherwise, should seek to keep the Gospel at the center of everything. Meaning if preaching Christ and Him crucified isn’t central to our mission and purpose, then we are missing the boat. We can wave the flag of Conditional Immortality, but it shouldn’t be our primary focus.
Vision: Where are we going and what is our mission?
Advent Christians seem to have a long history of Foreign Missions...that’s awesome! What are we doing in the U.S and North America? Are we planting churches? Are we revitalizing churches? How are we serving the poor in spirit in our communities? Are we standing up for the marginalized? What are we doing? American Missions is broken. Why? It’s broken in many instances because we don’t focus on spreading the Gospel and establishing churches but put most of our time and energy into building orphanages, water filtration systems, and clinics for health care. Do you agree? Are they mutually exclusive? Can we do both?
How are we training leaders? How are we discipling people? Are we going to come to the aid of Berkshire Christian College and Berkshire Institute for Christian Studies in their efforts to train our future leaders? Are there other ways to do theological education, such as through South African Theological Seminary or Antioch School? Could BICS and BCC ever merge to create a viable option for theological education?
Is our mission to hold the flag of our doctrinal distinctives or to spread the Gospel? How do we define the Gospel? Is the nature of Christ integral to the Gospel message or can we say Jesus isn’t God and still honor God and fulfill His mission?
As someone new to the party, I feel like we are playing checkers while many other Christian denominations are playing chess. We aren’t planting churches, unless you believe numerous church splits are synonymous with plants. One person from North Carolina has, in fact, indicated that Advent Christians have long confused church splits for church plants. How many fledgling churches have come back from the grave? Is there any life to be found in our many sets of dry bones? This past year I had the opportunity to take Church Revitalization at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. In this class, I was excited and encouraged to hear real life stories of how God used ordinary people to revitalize churches that were down to just a few committed members; these churches are now often filled with hundreds of more people who are hearing the Gospel message. Can we get excited? If them, why not us?
Conversations: How can we join the work that God is already doing?
Tom Loghry did an interview with Andy Rice and Derek Irvine about the Restoration Network. I noticed one person commented on the article, “How can I be a part of that?” There are some exciting things happening, Gospel work that many of us have yet to hear about. Let’s share what’s going on so that others can join in.
Are there already churches and conferences that are planting churches or revitalizing churches effectively? Can we join you? Since coming to the denomination there has been no bigger disappointment for me than seeing no plan for either of these tasks, other than the lack of a statement of faith. When I was with the SBC the process was quite clear on how to get evaluated to become a church planter and the type of help you would receive from the local church and other organizations. Church planting has been the main focus of many denominations for the better part of a decade.... Are we asleep at the wheel or do we not care? I don’t know the answer but at times it seems that we are content to see our churches die.
We probably have some people who are already working within their local church and conference to address some of our issues. In the Heritage Conference, we are designing a pastoral residency program that will provide practical training and mentorship to up and coming pastors even as they are also engaged in theological study. Who wants to join us? Are there other churches and conferences doing the same thing? We have a shortage of Pastors; rushing young men into the ministry without proper training could result in them leaving the ministry prematurely. By working together we could train up the current and next generations to share the Gospel message with the world.
Most importantly, is our talk going to lead to some walk? I’m super excited about the Church Planting and the Leadership Development breakout sessions. If it leads to kicking the can down the road, I’m not interested. I’m about as interested in kicking the can down the road on these conversations as I am about the Celtics trading the number one pick in the NBA Draft. DON’T DO IT!
Let’s have some real conversations about solutions. Don’t avoid the tough questions or the tough answers. If our goal is to spread the Gospel message, then we don’t have time to “table” things or worry if people disagree. We are all fallen sinners. We will hurt each other's feelings, speak out of turn, and rely too much on our cleverness than God. However, sitting back and just letting the vocal few handle everything will be far less effective. If someone hurts your feelings, extend grace. If someone says something you disagree with, challenge them in love. We need to come together to address the myriad of dire issues facing us. One of the things I learned in the Army is that failing to speak up can cost lives. In the Army, we were talking about lives on this side of eternity; as the Church, we are not just focused on seeing people temporarily saved, but on seeing people ultimately saved for eternity in Christ. With that in mind, we should be all the more urgent!