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Hope International and Associates—Another Perspective

by C. Mervyn Maxwell

(Previously published on as the "Four Legitimate Hungers" Letter.)

NOTE: It was with considerable regret that I read a few months ago the ill-conceived report of the ad hoc "committee on Hope International and Associates," learning at that time of the plan eventually to publish it to the general membership of the church through the Review. Since this has now been done, we thought we would simply present to you what C. Mervyn Maxwell had to say. If you have done any study into SDA theology, passed through the Seminary in recent decades, read Adventist Affirm, or served in the literature evangelism ministry, then you've seen the work of Elder Maxwell. His credentials as an Adventist are impeccable. If ever a man lived and breathed who "knew" Adventism, it was he.

Although Elder Maxwell passed to his rest last year, his works do follow him (Revelation 14:13)—in this case, his written works. 10 August 2000 LK

The following document appeared some years ago. C. Mervyn Maxwell (author of the tremendous God Cares, vols. 1 (Daniel) and 2 (Revelation) sold around the world by literature evangelists) had been asked by church leaders to provide input for the (then) forthcoming book Issues: The Seventh-day Adventist Church and Certain Private Ministries (1992). As random chance would have it(!), his contribution (singularly different in tenor from the remainder of that tragic book) was left out of the materials published. Yet his letter was soon in wide circulation. Although the point in time which it then addressed is now nearly a decade in the past, we have here republished the letter. This was done for the simple reason that (1) there are few documents which in so little space present such helpful insight and identify so concisely some of the key theological issues, (2) it outlines the three major theological strands present in the church and their tendencies, (3) it demonstrates that much of the basis for the tensions in the church today reside in the theological changes imposed upon members during the last half of the century, and (4) it presents solutions to those problems (although these have not been embraced). There are a few peripheral points of limited interest amidst what follows, but we expect that you will find the bulk of letter quite insightful. -Ed.

ONE MORE NOTE: If any should doubt that which you are about to read, then run don't walk down to your local Adventist Book Center and purchase a copy of J. R. Zurcher's new Review and Herald Published book titled Touched With His Feelings. This volume abundantly, even verdantly, and with unquestioned scholarship completely sustains one of the particular points at issue. LK 10 August 2000. And now the words of Elder Maxwell:

On Disciplining Hope International

Some general and specific observations, based on a letter to a denominational leader in response to a request of his when his Committee was preparing Issues. By C. Mervyn Maxwell, May 1992.

I do not agree with everything in Our Firm Foundation. I receive a complimentary copy every month, but I do not subscribe to the magazine and have never sent a donation: Ron Spear has called me on the phone a number of times over a period of several years, but I have never called him. I would rather the magazine didn't exist. But I must add that a number of Seminary teachers, I among them, have appreciated quite a bit of what has been published in the paper. Though we deeply regret the critical spirit that appears at times and oppose the one-time article on tithing, we nonetheless have wished that the best of Our Firm Foundation could have appeared in the Adventist Review.

I would like to see the magazine voluntarily cease publication sometime soon, but I feel that for the time being it fills a useful place in feeding Christ's sheep.

In response to your letter requesting my assistance, I make bold to suggest several procedures which church leadership might adopt.

1. Feed the Sheep's Four Hungers

The Review has carried a variety of warnings, especially the Perth declaration, aimed against Our Firm Foundation and other private publishing ventures. Recently it has published an insert on "independent ministries." What I have not yet seen but would like to see is an exploration into the reasons why these private publishing ventures succeed with their publications.

Career malcontents are going to publish critical materials no matter what any committee comes up with, and neither spiritual appeals nor demagoguery will make them stop. If the committee is trying to reach career malcontents, it might as well quote Nehemiah and refuse to waste its time.

I therefore assume that the Committee is trying to reach, not career malcontents, but the loyal and reasonable church members who send donations to support the independent publishers. So let us ask, Why do these readers support these private publishers? I'd like to propose four reasons, four legitimate hungers.

a. A hunger for what appear to be solid food.

Our Firm Foundation is notable for its lengthy doctrinal articles and for its republished appeals by Ellen G. White. Evidently, then, people are supporting Our Firm Foundation because they want to read lengthy doctrinal articles and they want to read earnest appeals written by Ellen G. White.

b. A hunger for prophetic interpretation and application.

Several of the independent papers consist largely of prophetic interpretation and application. Evidently, then, people pay for these papers because they want to read articles on prophetic interpretation and application.

c. A hunger for the serious use of Ellen G. White

The conservative publications quote the Ellen G. White writings copiously and do so as if they regarded the writings as authoritative.

d. A hunger for sincere repentance by church leadership.

It is easy to dismiss the Pilgrims' Rest as merely salacious and erroneous. I assure you that I don't subscribe to it and only rarely even see a copy of it. But a very large number of Adventist church members in the North American Division are aware that some local and general church leaders are opinionated, selfish, and power hungry. Some of our church members hunger for evidence of humility and the character of Christ in these leaders.

Of course, a lot of our NAD members don't have these four hungers, or don't have all of them. And some of them scarcely read any of our papers, not even their Union papers or the Review. On the other hand, some are excited by Spectrum, with its (a) criticism of Ellen G. White, (b) rejection of the sanctuary doctrine, (c) campaign for social activism in preference to the three angels' messages, and (d) advocacy of a millions-of-years post-creation- of-life chronology.

But these people aren't sending their tithe to Our Firm Foundation, so they aren't in the Committee's focus.

Speaking about those who, I presume, are in the Committee's focus, my first suggestion for reclaiming the loyalty of the people who read the independent publications is that as promptly as possible the North American Division acknowledge as legitimate the four deep hungers I have listed and meet them with

(a) solid, sound doctrinal articles,

(b) solid, sound prophetic interpretation and application,

(c) appropriate respect for the inspired authority of Ellen G. White, and

(d) evidence humility and the character of Christ as needed among our leaders.

I have heard (the information may be incorrect) that one of the reasons the Committee was commissioned to prepare its big book (Issues) against the independent publications is that "third world" ministers are basing sermons on articles in Our Firm Foundation. But of course they are! Our Firm Foundation appears to meet at least three of the four hungers. By contrast, the Adventist Review--

(a) usually offers little dollops not over six type-written pages in length, (b) pays only sporadic attention to the fulfillment of prophecy, (c) virtually never cites Ellen G. White for authoritative direction, and (d) admits the failings of denominational leadership only in extraordinary areas of finance (e.g. Davenport and Harris Pine Mills).

The Review has commendably begun the Anchor Point series; but this series occupies only a fraction of the available pages.

NOTE: March 1993. The Review is to be commended for announcing a new overseas edition that will include in each issue a doctrinal article and a reprint of an Ellen G. White article.

To stop Our Firm Foundation, make it seem unnecessary by feeding the sheep's four hungers.

2. Avoid Discrimination

NOTE 1. Previous drafts of this letter have made references to the Quiet Hour and the Voice of Prophecy which were n no sense at all intended to criticize them but which have been misconstrued in a critical sense by critical individuals who have been distributing copies contrary to my express demand that the letter not be published. The Quiet Hour and the Voice of Prophecy do accept tithe but they turn the tithe over to the Conference in the same way that local churches do; they also submit themselves to regular official audits.
NOTE 2. Previous drafts of this letter have also referred to a case in the Carolina Conference and the Southern Union which has involved at least five informal and formal appeals for mediation over a period of more than four years, and which even now has resulted only in a reluctant beginning of a response. All this, in spite of a NAD policy which requires Conferences and Unions to respond "normally within fifteen days." I have, literally, almost a drawerful of evidence that the minister in question, who has been fired, has very likely been subjected to repeated discrimination and harassment. If NAD is going to discipline Hope International for accepting tithe in disregard of denominational policy, who is going to discipline the Carolina Conference and the Southern Union for repeatedly ignoring this man in disregard of denominational policy respecting "normally within fifteen days"? American sciety today is very sensitive to discrimination.

If our leadership is going to defrock conservatives without discrimination, it absolutely must be evenhanded and also defrock supporters of Spectrum. (Who the principals of Spectrum are can be identified by a glance inside any front cover.)

On another discrimination theme, who is speaking out officially in favor of the loyal, tithe- paying Seventh-day Adventists who for decades have supported our church schools and our missionary magazines and the Voice of Prophecy, etc., who are now deeply pained to attend their own churches because of the "evangelical burlesque" (so-called Celebrationism) going on there in a misguided attempt to retain the unconverted? Who is speaking out in their behalf? If in a given Conference no one is speaking out in their behalf, can Conference leadership in good conscience blame these loyal tithe-paying Seventh-day Adventists if, after paying their tithe to the Conference for decades, they now send some of it to someone who does have courage to speak out?

I don't agree with these people who don't pay all their tithe to the Conference. I only say that if the Committee is serious about persuading such members to return to paying all their tithe to the Conference, then the Committee should persuade Conference leadership to speak up in their behalf in respect to the worship-entertainment issue.

The Committee, I say, must do all in its power to avoid discriminating against easy conservative targets while neglecting to tackle the serious problems that so deeply concern the easy conservative targets.

3. Evaluate Actual Losses

Inasmuch as tithe is a major bone of contention, I should like to ask the Committee to find out just how much money the NAD is actually losing to the independent publications. Is the amount worth the blood that may be shed by a frontal assault?

To determine the money being lost to the NAD, tallying up the income of the independent publications isn't good enough. It is my current impression that many of the Adventists who are sending their donations to these publications would not start sending their money to the Conferences if these publications were today shut down. So long as their four hungers persist unsatisfied, they will send their money elsewhere or bide their time till the publications are replaced with other independent publications.

What I'm trying to say in this section is that the loss of offerings to these publications is not due to the existence of the publications, but to the doubtful quality of the Review and the apparent lack of humility and repentance among some of our leaders.

I would also like to urge that the amount of money these publications receive is relatively small, and that the proportion of tithe involved is very small.

Suppose Hope International, the largest publisher, does actually receive $1,250,000 a year as Ron Spear, when I asked him, told me that it does. Well, the total church contributions made by NAD Adventists is over $600,000,000. So Ron Spear gets only 1/500th (0.2%), a sizable amount to be sure, but scarcely enough to credit him with holding up the general progress of the cause.

But what about the tithe he receives, the increment of his earnings most zealously targeted by denominational leadership? Spear says (I am told) that only about 10% of his $1,250,000 represents tithe. By nature he seems to be an open man with figures, but let's suppose that the tithe total is closer to 20%. Twenty percent of $1,250,000 is$250,000--whereas NAD Adventists give $400,000,000 tithe each year. So let's figure it out. The tithe that creeps into Hope International represents at most 1/1600th (0.0625%) of total NAD Adventist tithe paying.

Against the amount of money that might be gained by opposing the independent publications, the Committee will want to weigh the value of souls who may become discouraged by a denominational outburst. What will it profit the church to gain several thousand dollars but lose hundreds of souls?

Leadership in Australia has waged a vigorous campaign against long-time Seventh-day Adventists who believe that Jesus was a Son of David (rather than a copy of Adam) and was an Example that by God's grace we can emulate, and moved as our High Priest into the Most Holy Place in 1844. This bitter campaign has neither lassoed the "Concerned Brethren" nor persuaded them. If it has done anything, it has made the leaders hardhearted and the "CBs" desperate.

It is almost inevitable that castigating Hope International will save the church almost no money and will irritate those of our laity who already feel hostile.

4. Remove the Offense

You said in your letter that the Committee dealing with Hope International wants to be "balanced." This is commendable; and I expect the objective is sincere. You ask my comments in a desire to achieve this end. Inasmuch as you asked, let me continue to oblige.

What about Spectrum, which I have already mentioned, and its parent organization, the Association of Adventist Forums? If you don't read Spectrum, I don't blame you. But you probably made an exception and read about Elder Folkenberg and the anonymous doners in the August 1991 issue.

Is it all right for Spectrum to be sharply critical of leadership but not for Pilgrims' Rest to be critical?

Far, far more seriously, what about "Growing Up with the Beasts" and "Social Reform as Sacrament of the Second Advent" in the May 1991 issue of Spectrum? These articles reinterpreted the beasts of Revelation as social ills and the "remnant" as social activists!

Has the Committee no concern about the very prophecies which define our existence as a movement?

The Committee should surely savor the relish with which the Spectrum's March 1992 issue, on pp. 63-64, reported that Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International won its trademark case against the General Conference. The Committee should then read the articles about Desmond For and by Ford himself beginning on pp. 9 and 12 of the March issue.

Inasmuch as this letter of mine is no longer private correspondence, I am deleting the names of certain individuals whose behavior and theology are strikingly out of harmony with normal Adventism. But I have privately called them to your attention.

In the meantime, what about the seven papers written by honor students at Walla Walla College in the Spring of 1991 that have received deserved notoriety? I understand that Elder Folkenberg has reproved the WWC religion faculty, and I am glad to hope that the report is true. But will there be any real change at WWC?

Very seriously: What are our people to expect of Adventist education as long as strong supporters of Spectrum serve as college presidents? The president of one of our colleges publically praised one of our retired educators for coming out in favor of a millions-of-years post-creation-of-life chronology! Can we reasonably expect our conservatives to support our schools?

As earnestly as I am capable of saying it, if the Committee is serious about reclaiming the loyalty of those people who support our independent conservative publications, I urge it first of all to set about removing the most obvious offenses.

Many of our administrators are by nature committee men rather than theology men. By nature, they apparently have no real awareness of the deep pain being endured by thousands of our loyal North-American believers. I mean PAIN. Attending sermons and worship services, and sending children to schools that ignore and/or defy the Adventism to which they committed themselves years ago, can be a severe trial.

5. Review Our History

Our Firm Foundation, like some of our other independent publications, (a) worries about a "New theology" that it says arose in the 1950s. It (b) emphasizes that Jesus had the same human inheritance as we all have, rather than having been created as clean as Adam. And t (c) talks about perfecting our characters in preparation for the Second Coming.

These emphases annoy a branch of our "conservatives" just as they also annoy our "liberals." These annoyed conservatives almost angrily scold Our Firm Foundation for emphasizing doctrines that are "Not generally agreed on" in our denomination.

But does their distaste for Our Firm Foundation on these points prove that the magazine is wrong on these points?

(Notice that we are talking about three kinds of main-stream Adventists at this point: (1) "Liberals," those who question the authority of Ellen G. White and even of the Bible and who accept the so-called New Theology; (2) "New theology conservatives," those who accept Ellen G. White and 1844 but who vigorously assert the pre-Fall nature of Christ and call old-theology conservatives legalists; and (3) "old theology conservatives," who accept Ellen G. White and 1844 and believe that Jesus victoriously lived God's law in a body like our own through the indwelling Holy Spirit and offers to do the same in us.)

I have taught a course in the development of Seventh-day Adventist theology for over twenty years, requiring me to do constant research. I have also lived at the Seminary with my antennae out for the same length of time and have served as a minister since 1946. I can say unequivically that in the 1950s Adventist theology as taught in our NAD centers did undergo a change, one that can be attributed especially but not exclusively to two of the editors of Questions on Doctrine (QOD) and to at least two fascinating and influential but highly controversial Seminary professors. This clear and definite change has been perpetuated and (we must recognize) distorted by students of these professors who rose quickly to positions of educational and administrative prominence. Yes, indeed, there is a "New Theology," and Our Firm Foundation is historically correct when it refers to it as such.

Perhaps, however, we should say more precisely that certain views which had been held for some time by a small minority were, in the 1950s, reformulated, and given new emphasis, and taken up by a group of those Adventists who enjoyed the advantage of attending our schools. I believe in our schools, of course (I teach in one), but I observe that the theological cleavage which exists today among conservative NAD Adventists is largely between those who have studied the writings of non-SDA theologians in our colleges on the one hand, and, on the other hand, those who, deprived of an SDA college education, have confined their study mostly to the Bible and the writings of Ellen G. White. I am repeatedly struck with the way new converts, fresh from the study of the Bible and Ellen G. White, side with the older SDA theology, while so-called "second- " and "third-generation" Adventists tend to side with the New Theology.

I should add that language used by the QOD Editors in defense of their product set an ugly stage that leadership still needs to sweep clean. The QOD editors were deeply embarrassed to have the Evangelicals discover that many Adventists did not agree with QOD's New Theology. In response, the QOD editors cruelly denounced the conservatives as a "lunatic fringe." I knew a lot of those lunatics and respected them highly. They included the fine PUC teachers who set the tone of my ministry.

Leaders can say things like this, yes; but it seems hardly reasonable for them to expect people they call lunatics to enjoy paying them their tithe.

The cry is often raised by the New-Theology conservatives that Our Firm Foundation and similar publications are terribly wrong when they insist on the view that Jesus was not given a pre-Fall nature like Adam's. These New-Theology conservatives say that the publications are wrong in that they insist on a view of Christ's nature that has never been accepted as a Fundamental Belief by the church as a whole.

In actual fact, the 1872 Statement of Fundamental Beliefs, Article #2, specifically stated, as a near-unanimous belief of all Seventh-day Adventists at the time, that Jesus took on Him the nature of Abraham (Hebrews 2)--which means He did not restrict Himself to the nice nature of pre-Fall Adam. And see DA 49 (published in 1898), which says that it "would have been" an almost infinite humiliation for the Son of God to have taken man's nature when Adam stood in his innocence in Eden, but Jesus took the nature of man as it was after 4000 years of sin. But please look it up for yourself.

If, however, it were so, as is so often stated, that the denomination has never taken an official stand on these subjects, why would it be wrong for the old-theology conservatives (like Ron Spear and Colin Standish) to publish articleson htese subjects but perfectly right for the New-Theology conservatives to do so? Old-theology conservatives such as the editors of Our Firm Foundation are frequently criticized for bringing up the issue. But let's face it; they didn't start the argument! The argument was started publically by the 1949 edition of Bible Readings, by the 1957 publication of QOD, and by certain Seminary professors and others in the years that followed. The pot has been kept boiling by the New-Theology liberals and conservatives who now control several of our magazines and colleges.

One recalls the old quip: "You started the fight when you hit me back."

The fact that New-Theology people control the chief NAD publications and colleges represents choices made by entities of the NAD. Choices involve consequences. If NAD entities have chosen such editors and presidents, NAD must expect a reaction. It is in my opinion irresponsible and unsportsmanlike for NAD to choose partisans of New-Theology views which have not been officially accepted by the General Conference and then cry foul when loyal church members publish evidence in favor of the old-theology views which they committed themselves to when they became Seventh-day Adventists.

6. Assess the Implications of Voluntaryism

I have just spoken about the convictions of people who adopted certain understandings when they became Seventh-day Adventists. If church leadership thinks the time has come to teach different views from the views being taught when these people became Seventh-day Adventists, that is one thing. But to treat people as rebellious, heretical, disloyal, and legalist because they choose to continue to believe what they sincerely committed themselves to years ago, seems gross and boorish.

Commitment is precious, and church membership is sacred.

Church membership is also entirely voluntary.

Payment of tithe and offerings in the Seventh-day Adventist movement is totally unenforceable. Loyalty is unenforceable. Ours is a voluntary movement.

Members will pay or will not pay tithe as they please. They will be loyal or disloyal as they please, and no one can force them to be any different. How important, then, that our leaders seek consensus rather than political victories. Our previous General Conference presidency was marked by increasingly sharp politicization at the expenses of concensus. You and the Committee are painfully aware of this.

If leadership wants to settle for, say, a vote of 60%, let it do so. No one can stop it. But let leadership recognize that when it settles for 60% it runs the real risk of alienating many of the other 40%. Alienation and loyalty are opposite principles.

The trouble with administrating a voluntary organization on the basis of major-fraction votes is that the volunteers who are unconvinced may simply stop being volunteers. How much better, how very much better, for the church to move slowly enough and persuasively enough to secure consensus!

One of the seething causes of the current wave of unofficial publications is frustration with disenfranchisement. Church leadership, apparently intent on retaining our educated liberals, has found ways politically and editorially to give several of the denomination's colleges, periodicals, and key administrative positions to educated liberals. Time after time our conservatives, the ones who still read the Spirit of Prophecy, have been frustrated. Their articles have been rejected by denominational editors. And even when they have written "letters to the editor," too often (it has seemed) their letters haven't been published unless a contrary letter was available for publication next to theirs, to make their letters look foolish.

All of this manouvering has left many of our thinking conservatives frustrated. But they love our church more than they love their money. They are alarmed at the way things are going because they care enough to be alarmed; and so, well, they speak up through their own publications, and they put their money where their mouths and hearts are.

They are, after all, volunteers, generous, giving volunteers who support the kind of Adventism they believe in.

7. Conclusion

It is my conviction, as I said in beginning, that Our Firm Foundation ought to close down- -not be closed down. We ought not to need it. We ought to have an Adventist Review that feeds our people's legitimate hungers without needing Our Firm Foundation.

The Review--and also our colleges, pastors, and teachers--should feed our people's hunger for solid, sound doctrinal instruction, for solid, sound materials dealing with the fulfillment of prophecy, and for solid respect for the inspired authority of Ellen G. White. And our administrators should use the columns of the Review to make earnest confession, acknowledging specific wrongs and offering specific restitution.

The Committee (it seems to me) should persuade leadership to act without discrimination, removing offenses, and counting the possible gain in money against the possible loss in souls.

In brief, in dealing with the supporters of Our Firm Foundation the Seventh-day Adventist movement needs to display strong, clear-headed, moral leadership.

God give us moral leadership, armed by faith, winged by prayer, and informed by the Spirit of Prophecy, its souls cleansed and its influence enhanced where necessary through public confession and repentance.

Berrien Springs, Michigan. Revisions, Oct., Nov. 1992; Jan., Aug., Sept. 1993. Corrections, Mar., Apr. 1993.

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