Towards a more thorough understanding of identity.
Recent events in the Seventh-day Adventist Church have left me and many others question their relationship with the organization.
But my faith is about more than just the organization, which led me to think about a way to explain the different aspects involved, and how the sum of these dimensions makes up our identity.
For this purpose, I will split religious identity into four dimensions:
- Theological: The faith, the credo, what you believe.
- Liturgical: The practices and traditions involved in corporate worship.
- Ecclesiastical: The church structure and organization.
- Socio-cultural: The habits, traditions, and common memories which define a subculture.
There may be ways to measure these in a scientific manner. For now, however, I will stick to a gut feeling. And this chart illustrates where I currently stand on each of these, on a five-point scale:
A higher number denotes a higher level of fidelity to official or mainstream Adventism. Let me explain my reasons for each.
I believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and I share the Apostolic Creed with my fellow Christians in every other church.
Furthermore, I identify strongly with the two themes implied in the name “seventh-day adventist”: the blessing of a weekly day of rest on Saturday, and a belief in the physical return of Jesus to earth to restore humanity to a glorious future.
I also share the traditional Adventist core of the four S’s: the Sabbath, the Second coming, the Sanctuary, and the State of the dead. So far so good.
As for the 28 fundamental beliefs, I may have issues with a few, hence the score 4 and not 5. But my faith is strongly rooted in the traditions of Adventist theology, and will continue to be so.
My upbringing and my heritage has been shaped by the worship traditions of Adventist churches in Denmark and the US. This worship style is well-known to me, and for the most part I like going to church.
But worship style is also in upheaval. I have seen – and helped – the spread of praise worship, which is different from my childhood experiences. On the other hand, I have come to appreciate the liturgy in the Danish Lutheran Church through many years of playing and singing.
So I am not fixated on one style, hence a 3.
This is really the pain point right now. And as I’ve stated previously, the actions of the current General Conference leadership go against their protestant roots and traditional Adventist theology on the role of the church.
If the church as an institution has a special, sacred, prophetic place, then that church is Rome. But Reformation thinking rejects that claim. There is indeed a sacred place for church – but church as in people meeting together, with every person a minister.
One strain of thought in Adventism holds that the Adventist Church has a unique position as a “remnant” of the few righteous. I do not share this thinking, and strongly reject that salvation is unique to one particular version of Christianity.
This also means that I feel no obligation to the Seventh-day Adventist Church as an institution: it is no more sacred than its actions. In the current climate, this is a 1.
I know people who cling to the subculture of Adventism and eagerly support many of its activities, but only half-heartedly participate in actual worship activities, and never profess their faith publicly.
I’m probably more the opposite.
I have a lot of memories and shared experiences with people in the church subculture. But my life has moved on. I don’t talk about Vejlefjord (academy) all the time. I don’t particularly love church properties, except for their function and occasional slight nostalgia. And my close friends are not necessarily centered around the church, as they might have been previously.
I do celebrate and appreciate the Sabbath, but to me that’s not subcultural but theological, and an essential part of my faith.
So as the subculture has come to mean less for me, this is a 2.
This explains why, as stated in the title, I identify as a seventh-day adventist (lowercase), but not so much as a Seventh-day Adventist (uppercase).
The adventist faith and theology is important to me. But the things around it, all the man-made structures, are less important, and in times like these they are dispensable.
Where do you stand on the four dimensions?