Models for Understanding SDA Pluralism

Speaker: Categories: Nov 14, 1998


[57min, 30sec / 53min, 15sec]


Paraphrasing a statement of commitment well-known to many readers might serve to introduce the November 13 discussion --One denomination, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Does that fit? Can this be applied to the Seventh-day Adventist church world-wide? Is thereONEdenomination,indivisible, withliberty, or at leastjustice, for all?

Mike Scofield observes:"Modern Adventism in North America is a complex collection of many unique individuals with different beliefs, values, expectations of the church, and views of spirituality. Even taking into consideration lingual and ethnic diversity, Adventism has become a surprisingly heterogeneous denomination, particularly in urban areas. Labels such as"liberal"and"conservative"are often too ambiguous to describe the great variety of beliefs and phenomena. So this presentation introduces a more complex model which may be more useful."

“Members (and often congregations) may be classified by several characteristics. The first is how they view church, divided intoPrimitive Adventism,Institutional Adventism,Congregational Adventism, andInformation-Age Adventism. These are vastly different, though they may co-exist in close proximity. The second major category is found in measuring the degree of orthodoxy with which members interpret scripture and authority in the setting of their beliefs. We find four groupings on this linear vector. At one extreme are those who take Ellen White's writings as verbally inspired. At the other extreme are theCalifornia liberalswhose behavior would severely offend their eastern conservative relatives."

"Another significant characteristic which distinguishes members is the degree of immersion they have in Adventism. The institutional community (such as Loma Linda) has its influence on the individual's world view, often different from the member who functions primarily in a secular world."

"These characteristics are not to be confused with true spirituality (great or small) which is a dimension of the individual, not to be confused with yet another characteristic that of loyalty to the denomination. All of these dimensions or characteristics are distinct from each other, although some may have some degree of correlation. And this produces a heterogeneoussoupof Adventism which is difficult to manage. Church leaders do not have a compliant, homogeneous membership with a uniformity of belief with which to work. Rather, we find many groups of members in a chaotic and evolving church environment."

Having read thus far, what are your thoughts and perceptions about the entity we callAdventism?

Mike Scofield further sets the stage for this curious result of goingunto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people:“To seek unity among often incompatible views and beliefs is a major challenge. The attempt to bring aboutunityby demanding uniformity of behavior and beliefs may be futile. In spite of the hierarchical nature of institutional Adventism, the doctrinal diversity is already out of control."

Isn'tout of controlsomewhat over-stating the situation?

Our November speaker has concluded:“With this great diversity of beliefs and values found in North American Adventism, we can see how tensions develop between such different groups. It is tempting for leaders to ignore or deny such divisions exist. Such diversity among members of small, rural churches may be resolved by denial, avoidance, or by the minority group dropping out of participation in the congregation. But in large urban areas, with economies of scale, congregations tend to take on a particularflavorand therefore these tensions and divisions are most visible in board meetings and particularly constituency meetings where representatives from such diverse congregations must interact."

"The task of reconciliation of doctrinal diversity is daunting and cannot be begun until the pluralism is acknowledged. This presentation provides some cognitive and graphical tools for grappling with this diversity."


With a bachelor's degree in physics from La Sierra and an MBA from UCLA, this six generation Adventist has served on (or using his wording, survived) numerous denominational committee experiences, including the 1984 Pacific Union Conference Church Structure Committee, the Forum Task Force on Church Structure, and the national board of the Association of Adventist Forums. He currently serves as Vice-President and Manager of Information Quality for one of the largest banks in the United States. He has been published in various journals. His current writing focus is on a book-length manuscript tentatively titledAdventism for Dummies. Mike has formally shared his thoughts with this AAF Chapter on three previous occasions: September, 1981; April, 1985; and August, 1992. His unique insights into thesystemandstructureof Adventism have challenged the thinking of his previous audiences. Certainly, the November 13 presentation will continue that tradition.

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