The Dawn of Neo-Adventism?

The Dawn of Neo-Adventism?

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The title of this article is punctuated with a question mark because of the embryonic stage at which it is being put forward. In his latest two-part series, “Advent Christians in the 21st Century”, Corey McLaughlin has set before us what is in my estimation one of the most pivotal reflections on Adventism in late Advent Christian history. Conditionalism has dominated Advent Christian identity in the latter part of our history, but McLaughlin has reminded us of our other hand, in fact what was once our dominant hand, which is our Adventism.

What he describes I venture to term “Neo-Adventism”, not because he totally forsakes Adventism (or else we’d drop the term altogether), but because what he lays out marks a significant and, I think, commendable departure from the Adventism that characterized the Advent Christian denomination in its first fifty years of existence.

Like Catherine Rybicki in her work on Abigail Mussey and the ministry of early Advent Christian women, I too was engaged in Advent Christian research this past Fall. I wrote a paper entitled, “Hope After Disappointment: An impression of the Second-Advent message of the late 19th century Advent Christian Church.” There are a couple reasons why I have not published this paper on Advent Christian Voices. The first basic reason is that it is not entirely conducive to our format and space. The second reason is that I am embarrassed by what I found.

When I approached Duane Crabtree in the Advent collection at Gordon-Conwell for help with research, I asked him if he could direct me to books that had been written once Advent Christians had generally got past date-setting. I figured anything past the year 1860 would do the trick. He laughed. Duane proceeded to show me numerous instances of date-setting occurring at regular intervals into the early 1900s. Even so, I thought these were perhaps just the speculations of some obscure oddballs. I could not imagine leading Advent Christians would even sniff at such speculation after the Great Disappointment. Certainly they had left that with Miller.

To my disappointment, I was wrong. After reading books by William Sheldon, John Cargile, E.A. Stockman, and D.T. Taylor, it became clear that the tradition of calculating that originated with Miller continued to fuel the enthusiasm of leading Advent Christians. They did not personally set dates (though Sheldon, Cargile, and Taylor do hint and suggest) but their entire frame of reference legitimized the setting of “approximate” dates.

Comparatively mild to some of his peers, we nevertheless find this electrifying comment from E.A. Stockman in his book, “Why are We Adventists?”,

Is the reader aware that at this moment there are scores of thousands of persons, scattered through every civilization of the globe, including many of the best Bible students in the world, both laymen and ministers, who are now looking with solemn interest for the immediate coming of Christ? Their expectations are based upon the fulfillment of prophecy and the signs of the time. We regard this as a most significant evidence that the Lord is near. The Holy Spirit would not awaken in the heart of the bride such ardent expectations of the bridegroom's coming if it were not true.[1]

This statement contains some of the self-same logic that led Miller to eventually embrace the 1844 date, positing that the Lord couldn’t possibly stir them up like this with all these signs and not make an “immediate” return.

The use of this word “immediate” brings us back to McLaughlin. In his second article he writes,

There is a difference between something that is imminent and something that is immediate.  To tell someone they are in immediate danger is to say that the danger does not delay in coming to them but is upon them instantly.  To tell them they are in imminent danger is to say there is some separation of time and space between the danger and the person.  A drug user who is seen as an imminent threat to others may find help to enroll in a program, fill out the application, go through an interview process, etc.  If the same person is seen as an immediate threat they need to be locked up without delay.”[2] 

He makes an important distinction here, one that early Advent Christians seldom made. The driving force of the movement drew from the sort of urgency suggested from immediacy, the sort which demands that, “If the same person is seen as an immediate threat they need to be locked up without delay.” Advent Christians traded precisely on this sort of crisis. Is it any surprise then that a denomination founded on sounding an alarm of immediate danger/anticipation should eventually find itself in decline once it simply cried wolf too many times? Honestly, it is more surprising the message had any success after the Great Disappointment than that it eventually lost traction. Adventism has become a vestigial organ; the problem is that it is our heart.

And so Corey McLaughlin introduces his series saying, “We are currently in the final stage of decline and therefore soon failure. The grave is dug, the tombstone is written, but the body has yet to fall. Is there yet still vibrant life in this mortal frame?”[3]

He seems to think so, but he is aware of the difficulties, “How do we re-capture the same fervency of our past without it being merely lip service?  Without hollow revival meetings that lead nowhere. Without endless sermons aimed only at convicting our people and ourselves?”[4]

McLaughlin understands that this fervency was fomented by Advent Christian confidence in the imminent return of Christ. As previously mentioned, he makes a distinction between “immediate” and “imminent”, his definition of imminent meaning that Christ’s return is “impending”. However, this “is not to say that it can happen at any moment in the present, but to say that it will happen soon and it will be sudden and unexpected when it does happen.”[5]  

This brings us to the crux of his series. He writes, “Should Advent Christians be committed to the imminent return of Christ or to making His return imminent?  The answer, I believe, will determine the success or failure of our denomination in the 21st century.”[6] 

His answer to the question is that Advent Christians should be committed to making the return of Christ imminent. Below are several selections from his second article that crystallize exactly what he is saying:

My point is this, either we claim the imminent return of Christ as our clarion call and with it the fervency of its expression as our distinguishable characteristic as a body (similar to say, the attitude of the Moravian missionaries and their world renown sacrifice for the Gospel), or, we discard it as something that in practice only creates the rotten fruit of hypocrisy. [...]

If Christ will not return until the Gospel light is shone to all people groups, tribes and tongues in all the world then joining His mission and accomplishing the task is the only thing that will make His return possible and tangible, real and visible.  In other words, Jesus speaks of his return in the way that God speaks of so many promises in the Old Testament, i.e. as conditional promises that require the people of God to do something, to respond, to act, in order to bring them about.  The longer they delay, the longer the promise takes to come to fulfillment.  Thus, contrary to popular opinion then, there is not a “set” time that cannot be changed when it comes to the return of Christ.  Instead, the midnight hour rings forth when the Gospels goes forth to all peoples, and those hearts pour forth the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord of all (Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:9).  This is why Peter tells us not only to LOOK for the Day of the Lord, but even to “hasten” it (2 Peter 3:12; ESV), to “hurry it along” (NLT), to “speed its coming” (NIV).  This cannot be overstated.  We do not “hasten unto the coming of the day of God” (KJV) which implies we are merely speeding on the subway of time towards our final destination with us sitting and waiting to arrive.  There is no “unto” in the text.  Peter says that we ought rather to be about the business of actually,“hastening the coming of the day of God.”[...]

The end of the matter is this:  God invites His church to pull hard on the Gospel rope to bring up the bucket of eschatological salvation from the well of life.  How fast and how hard the church pulls determines how quickly she can drink from its refreshing waters.  With this conviction then we can reclaim the Millerite fever of fervency and cut out programs that do not support this mission, and fund programs that do, and give generously to God’s mission, and raise up missionary leaders, and send out missionary leaders to new tribes, new tongues, new peoples, that all may cry out with one voice in joyful adulation, OUR GOD REIGNS![7]

He presents much to dig into, but my main purpose is to draw what he is putting forward into comparison with what has come before. What is he saying here that might legitimize using the term “Neo-Adventism”?

Historically defined, Adventism has generally been marked by historicism. McLaughlin clearly maintains that tradition when he denies the “any-momentness” of the imminence of Christ’s return.[8] He does not deny that we can mark Christ’s approach. He would, however, reject any attempts to guestimate the time of Christ’s return. This makes Adventism palatable, but this comes at the cost of making it bland. I think it is safe to say that there would have been no identifiable Adventist movement without the conviction that the time of Christ’s return could be calculated. The fervency that was produced was a reaction to claims that estimated the time of Christ’s return. This fervency is what gave life to the Advent Christian Church, but once such estimations became more ethereal, this life began to sap. There was simply nothing to prompt a reaction.

If this is where we stand and we will no longer attempt to estimate the time of Christ’s return, Adventism as an energizing distinctive is as good as dead . But it is precisely on this point that Corey McLaughlin has put forward a new focus. While the energies of Adventism have been historically produced by being reactive to Christ’s return, McLaughlin has laid out a proactive approach to Christ’s return that should create no less energy and potentially more.

It must be studied further, but if it can be said with all its force that the Church not only can but should hasten Christ’s return, then nothing should prevent us from regaining our sense of passionate mission in relation to Christ’s return. If this is Adventism today, Neo-Adventism, no other distinctive should command our denomination and her churches more than this. If the whole creation is groaning for Christ’s return, and we ourselves in our very being are crying out, how can we fail to do all that we can to quicken his return?

 

Hold on Tom and Corey...I want to go on vacation!

Hold on Tom and Corey...I want to go on vacation!

Putting to Death the Flesh

Putting to Death the Flesh