Adventism's Latest Offshoot, Pt. 2: Self-Presentation
We plan to publish multiple articles each week for the near future concerning the current matter. Some will be larger, some shorter. We will preface each new article with Breaking News, if any, concerning the situation.
President Don C. Schneider of the North American Division initiated a conference call of the NAD union presidents concerning this matter on August 10. Later on August 10 he also mailed a letter to all NAD union presidents and conference presidents. The short letter indicates that Schneider and two other conference representatives met with Ron Gladden for several hours on Saturday night just after the conclusion of the ASI meetings. In the meeting, Gladden outlined his plans.
We understand that Gladden was discontinued from employment by North Pacific and Mid-America unions in March as part of a budget reduction move. This may have been a low-key way of making changes. The trend of some church planting efforts initiated by Gladden and his cohorts has become odiously apparent in recent years, as detailed in our article, Adventism's Latest Offshoot, Pt. 1: Breakaway. Seventh-day Adventist churches that are unidentifiable as Seventh-day Adventist churches surely have given pause to some concerned leaders. (For example, this Gladden-patterned church is an SDA church. Or is it?)
In any case, our leaders see this as a “very congregational” set of churches, which do not have the same beliefs as us but rather, similar beliefs. They are clear that these men will no longer return a penny of tithe through the conferences and that they will no longer carry a Seventh-day Adventist credential. It is indicated that in a telephone conversation Gladden acknowledged that his plan “will create a new denomination.” This would be an interesting admission in light of the marketing line taken on the Offshoot's website, that seeks to obfuscate whether the new group is truly a new denomination or not.
We learned not only that Ron Gladden and Lavelle Whitehouse were disemployed by NPUC in March of this year, but also that this past week, Dennis Pumford, an ordained minister working with the Iowa-Missouri Conference submitted his resignation. This increases the number of known former church employee participants.
We now live in the era when deception is perfected. Bald-faced misstatement of the facts has become commonplace. Through pure omission or mutually exclusive side-by-side assertion, error is exalted. Serious Adventists have for years warned that the end result of Celebration churches is not the gain of but rather the loss of, church members. Further, we have for years warned that the New Theology underpinnings of this would return to haunt the Church. When we consider Adventism's latest Offshoot, we see that that day has arrived.
In our last article, (“Adventism's Latest Offshoot, Pt. 1: Break-Away”) we considered some of the basic information we developed concerning the founding of the Mission Catalyst Network. As we proceed now with part two of the series, we analyze in greater detail the self-presentation of the Offshoot group.
We begin today with a look at the “first impression” the Offshoot attempts to make. The index page of their website is composed of six major visual spaces.
Upper Left Corner. The Mission Catalyst Network logo incorporates a yellow sunrise across a horizontal yellow line. This is apparently an attempt to depict the idea of progressive movement through time or a moment when the latest Offshoot begins to operate, thus initiating (catalyzing) an event of chemical combustion. It remarkably resembles the moment of sunrise on the eastern horizon. Alternatively, it may be meant to represent each launch of a new church plant by mission catalyst. It reminds one of the beginning, years ago, of the television program “Mission Impossible,” where a fuse quickly burned across the screen. But will their form of “Adventism-Lite” advance the third angel's message?
Upper Right Corner. This field is dominated by the slogan, “Same Cart. New Wheels.” The image is that of a moving wheel on a blue wagon. To the right, we find the statement, “Our Mission: To do whatever it takes to equip local churches to accomplish the Great Commission.” Our first article included a quick review of the doctrinal statement provided by Mission Catalyst Network. We showed then that it in no way positively supported key Seventh-day Adventist concepts such as the 2300 years, heavenly sanctuary, investigative judgment, remnant church, Spirit of Prophecy, church standards, or a variety of other particular Adventist points. This is not at all the same cart!
What it is, is Adventism on the minimalist plan. Although varying somewhat, this is similar to the plan urged upon the Church a decade ago by none other than Adventist Review editor William G. Johnsson in his 1995 book, The Fragmenting of Adventism, (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1995). Johnsson follows a stealth plan, claiming that he is only asking questions, not providing answers. Johnsson goes on to propose that the 27 fundamental beliefs are only a “good start.” On the next page he whittles the 27 down to—seven—Fundamental beliefs. His list?
Although he said he was just asking questions, on the next page Johnsson says, “let's get it down, so far as we can… (William G. Johnsson, The Fragmenting of Adventism, p. 122). Is this the answer? Dropping more than two-thirds of our teachings? Johnsson proposes we whittle it down to these seven points and then that we must hold that fort (Ibid.). How does this compare with the Offshoot's list?
The Offshoot's list is actually longer than Johnsson's! But the essential difference is that Johnsson's list retains at least a few rump Adventist distinctives. The Offshoot keeps the state of man in death but leaves aside the Spirit of Prophecy, the remnant, the investigative judgment, et cetera.
The sad fact is that Johnsson's minimalist plan only provides encouragement for the development of various forms of Olestra-Adventism. The theory is, take away the hard things and keep the soft things and see whether you can sell it. The World Church has agreed to highlight 27 distinct points of doctrine, not seven and not ten.
But let us proceed. The Offshoot's slogan in this section should receive our attention: “Our Mission: To do whatever it takes to equip local churches to accomplish the great commission.”
“Whatever it takes” sounds like deep commitment. But what if “whatever it takes” means denying the Spirit of Prophecy, which insists we have no time to set up a new organization? What if it means a philosophical commitment to being “non-judgmental” running so deep that it means Daniel 8:14, the 2300 years, the investigative judgment, et cetera, are removed from the list of doctrines? What if “whatever it takes” means refusal to become specific on Bible standards of lifestyle? What if whatever it takes means ordaining women pastors and that means trimming the Bible testimony that an elder is to be the husband of one wife? (1 Timothy 3:2).
Also, there is little if anything here with reference to edification. This is a myopic focus on outreach and the gospel in general, with no meaningful emphasis on Adventist distinctives. Is the message for this hour one that we must water-down for God? Was the message we were charged to deliver a century and a half ago in error?
Center Right Side. Here is the largest visual element. It is a message which reads, “The Mission Catalyst Network is an association of churches that embrace the fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, are outreach focused, grace oriented, and fully committed to God.” Notice here that the “network” language is cover for the fact that this is “an association of churches.” But it does not embrace the fundamental beliefs of our Church. It selects certain ones for preferred treatment and ignores others.
Furthermore, is this new denomination truly outreach focused in the same sense as the Seventh-day Adventist Church? We must ask, outreach with what? Seventh-day Adventists, viewing ourselves as a prophetic movement, have preferred to lead out with Bible prophecy. At the center of our reason for existence is the vindication of God's character and the development of a holy people who follow Jesus wherever He leads. By stripping Adventism of its supposedly objectionable features, the movement is stripped of its prophetic heritage. There may be an outreach here, but the question is, with what kind of message?
The new group claims that their message is “grace oriented.” Remember, we tracked and documented the origination of this phrase in our paper a few years ago, in “GraceLink: Origins and Ideologies.” The fact is, this idea comes neither from the Bible nor the Spirit of prophecy, but from the contemporary, washed-out Lutherans, who already have tried the loose-theology approach to keep their own youth in their Church, but with equally disappointing results as our own. In fact, the droning, repititious buzz about legalism and works-salvation in our midst is a modern form of anti-nomianism, a bitter battle against God's law. Apparently this group does not feel we were ever “grace oriented” enough. Now they are going to go out and do contemporary Lutheranism the right way because Adventists wouldn't. Fine.
The idea of commitment is an interesting one for the offshoot to seek to emphasize. They have already demonstrated a lack of commitment to the remnant concept, the Spirit of Prophecy writings, and the standards of the Church. Now they are breaking away from the commitments they had previously made to serve God through the Adventist Church. They have broken away from their support of the many institutions inspiration tells us to develop. But they want us to mark them for their depth of commitment.
Commitment isn't just something you talk about; it is something you have to do something about. We have not always agreed with every step taken by some in positions of authority in the Church, but rather than going out to found our own structure, we have ever remained loyal. The GreatControversy.org (GCO) ministry is ideologically committed to the idea that God wishes us to remain within the organized structure. We are not hiding that. And we are fascinated. Now a certain crowd with a certain destructive theological position is cutting and running. We are staying put right where the Lord wants us. We know this is where He wants us, for the messenger to the remnant warns, “We cannot now step off the foundation that God has established. We cannot now enter into any new organization; for this would mean apostasy from the truth” (MS. 129, 1905).
Lower Left Corner. Here is a photograph of seven Mission Catalyst types, four women, three men, mostly baby-boomers. A tall caucasian man stands on the left, one african-american woman is in the center, and there are a few younger people toward the right edge. They look fresh, egalitarian, casual, and unlike what you normally think of in an offshoot. But perhaps that is the plan. They want to portray the idea that they are not an offshoot, but another ministry. They look very North American. These people want you to return to the Lord His holy tithe through them because they think they can do better the Lord's work than the Seventh-day Adventist Church can. We will see.
Bottom Text. The bottom-most text tells us that in a few days we will be informed of their latest church planting project. It will be interesting to see how many of these come from recent conference-sponsored or supported projects and how many come from truly new and separate and non-parasitical work done by the Offshoot. The last thing on the page are links to the main website of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, along with the claim that “Mission Catalyst Network is not a legal entity of the Seventh-day Adventist Church or corporation. We honor our roots and are supportive of the stated mission and vision of the Church.” So long as our people will do more than merely click on the links, and will be studious and thoughtful and dig a little deeper, we expect that few serious Adventists will be persuaded to participate in the Offshoot. At the same time, we do not doubt that they will continue to seek Seventh-day Adventist dollars, hearts, and mindshare for the work they feel certain that God has called them to do—the development of their version of Adventist-lite. And so it goes.
It says much that this group thinks it can be successful. It must be felt that the prophetic moorings of our people are now so loose that they can be dislodged by unproven pleas of increased efficiency. If the new structures could truly do all that we are doing now and do it more efficiently, would even that, we have to ask, be a sufficient reason to switch? Would even that be enough to countermand the word of the Lord's messenger to us that, “We cannot now step off the foundation that God has established. We cannot now enter into any new organization; for this would mean apostasy from the truth”? If there is any risk that making such a move would mean yours or my apostasy from the truth, then I want no part in it. For Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the Author, Shaper, and Promoter of present truth. I believe He will bring this Church through to triumph if we only allow Him to.
Next article: Part 3 will follow in a day or two, as we continue our exploration of the teachings and values of Adventism's latest Offshoot.
Document history: September 27, 2004, further edit.
Pastor Larry Kirkpatrick is an ordained minister of the gospel. Since 1994 he has served in the American Southwest as pastor to several churches. He received his BA in Religion from Southern Adventist University in 1994 and a Master of Divinity from Andrews University in 1999 with a specialization in Adventist Studies. While in Michigan he was employed by the General Conference at the White Estate Berrien Springs branch office. More important than his scholastic preparation has been his immersion in the biblical and Spirit of Prophecy materials. He is author of the 2003 book Real Grace for Real People. Presently he serves as Pastor of the Mentone Church of Seventh-day Adventists, located near Loma Linda, California. Larry is married to Pamela. The couple presently live in Highland, California along with their two children, Etienne and Melinda.