The Legacy of Luther and Adventist Authority

Calling out power abuse is just as relevant today as 500 years ago.


Anniversaries always come short of the actual event. How do you do justice to the magnitude of the Reformation, which began 500 years on this day? Answer: you don’t. Not in a single blog post, at least. Others have celebrated and commented throughout the year, for the legacy of the event is pervasive and has many threads.

The impact of the Reformation on Western thinking is indisputable, and not just in the field of religion. Max Weber’s thesis on the spirit of capitalism, while disputed, remains seminal in understanding the world we live in, for instance.

Dealing with Adventist dissent

In this post, however, I will comment more specifically on the issue of religious power. It is ironic and sad that in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which I am a member of, this issue should become one of full-blown conflict this year.

Adventists proudly see their movement as a continuation of Protestant ideals, continuing to question the status quo and search for ideas and theologies truer to the original Biblical intent and free of centuries of human degeneration.

Ellen G. White, the thought leader of the movement in the 19th century, described Luther’s adversaries with descriptions like this: “Crafty ecclesiastics, interrupted in their work of sanctioning crime, and seeing their gains endangered, were enraged, and rallied to uphold their pretensions.” And on his banishment from the Church, she penned: “Not a trace of Christian principle, or even of common justice, is to be seen in the whole document.” (GC, pp. 130, 134)

JanPaulsenThis is not far from the words of former church president Jan Paulsen, who recently stated: “I do not see the hand of God in this.”

His words came during a recent debate on how the world church deals with ‘dissent’. The apparent issue is the ordination of women, but that issue has become almost secondary to how the global leadership chooses to approach the discussion.

Matthew Quartey summarized it bluntly in the independent magazine Spectrum: “Our president’s seven-year leadership has been a continuous tugging at the seams of our togetherness.  He has prioritized his antipathy toward women in ministry over the church’s higher goal of mission. He has spent more time and resources engaged in this private campaign than focusing the church on what truly binds us.”

Open or closed leadership?

While women’s ordination is the battle ground, the overarching point here is authority. Any organization needs leadership, sure. But you can choose to lead like a dictator or like an apostle.


The sitting president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is an American, brought up in the system, and his actions convey an overarching goal of not rocking the boat. He pursues unity at any cost, ignoring the paradox that forcing unity destroys openness, which in turn damages commitment and encourages more dissent.

Even more alarming is the apparent ignorance of any limitations to his power. You will find this tendency anywhere, but perhaps it is especially American: If you are given any position of power, you believe you have the right and mandate to do and decide anything.

Donald Trump also acts like this, neither understanding nor accepting the democratic ideal of checks and balances. If you claim to listen to the people, then you need to do it properly; otherwise call a spade a spade and eliminate the illusion of democracy altogether.

The Adventist Church has prided itself in its ‘democratic’ institutions, but there are many limits to how much the people actually decide. And these years even those institutions are under attack from a leadership who wants to centralize, dictate, and enforce.

The Lutheran Church in Denmark, for all its shortcomings, may have chosen a better path. It has a collective of bishops, but no central leadership. Its political leader has no say in matters of theology. While the church is defined as keeping to the Apostolic Creed and Luther’s writings, nobody is able to speak on behalf of the church.

I can see the Biblical and Reformation merit in this approach. Power to the people – a priesthood of all believers – nobody is exalted above others.

Pope or no pope?

George Knight, a well-known figure in the church and arguably a ‘prophet’ for our times, has given a thorough analysis of the situation in a recent paper. He describes the predicament of the church president thus:

“Obviously, what is needed is a new policy that allows the General Conference president to initiate actions against anybody deemed deserving of such attention. Such a policy, of course, would be a major step toward papalism and unrestricted kingly power. […] The October 2017 meetings may help the worldwide Adventist Church decide whether it wants to move more toward an Adventist Ecclesiology or toward a more Roman Catholic variety.”

I am no expert on the theology of the Papacy, but seen from the outside, it makes sense as a coherent system. Putting the authority of the Church over, or alongside, that of the Bible is a valid belief, and if you hold that belief you also accept that authority.

Protestants, however, have no such luxury: putting the Bible unequivocally as the highest authority does not allow for an authoritarian system. Rome claims a legitimate authority over all believers. Protestant denominations may very well represent the body of Christ, but with sola scriptura any attempts towards papal authority in these institutions are theologically void, and must be called out as human power-grabs.

I don’t really want a pope. But if I had to pick one, I would choose the one in Rome, not the one in Silver Spring, MD.



Finding a Church, Part II

A year ago to this date, I wrote the entry Finding a Church, voicing my frustration about the too difficult task of finding a new church family. So what has happened since?

In short: too little. We put paper behind our actions and moved our membership to the Café Church in Copenhagen, after realising that this was the church we were primarily attending, and we got tired of treading water. Being a member hasn’t changed everything, though. Sure, some things have grown to the better, but it’s still not a perfect match. I can still have doubts as to whether this is the right church for me. I still don’t feel fully a part of the fellowship. I still find myself unmoved way too often. And I still have a hard time figuring out what the church is and wants.

So what is wrong? It seems fair to start by blaming myself.

For one, my own personal spiritual life has been somewhat lagging. I know this may be a chicken-and-egg issue, but it certainly plays a part. For this reason or others I have never been fully enthusiastic, and I have maintained a degree of dissociation – just in case. I could probably also have done more on my own part to integrate myself. And I have definitely been too focused on what others should do, and what the church should do, instead of what I could do.

I have tried my hand at some involvement, though. Playing the piano has been one thing that I have helped out with a bit. And more recently, I have taken the initiative to raise the level of fellowship dinners. This project had its debut two weeks ago, and is a great success so far. More than anything else it was started because I see a need for closer integration between church members. Eating together could help.

My own failures may be the greatest. However, there are also points where I have not been impressed with the church. Some may be a matter of match – things that work out fine for others. If so, then by all means carry on. I don’t believe in one-size-fits-all churches. But here are my observations.

It has been surprisingly difficult to break into the social side of being church, i.e., making friends. Especially surprising since I knew a lot of people beforehand. There are one or two exceptions, but most of our meaningful relationships are with people we know from elsewhere and happen to meet at church. There are a lot of cliques in the Café Church, and most people seem content to be with their own.

I have grown increasingly indifferent to the worship. Some of this may be personal taste or lack of spiritual engagement on my part. But it’s very rare that I’m actually moved by anything that goes on in church. Which is kind of sad.

Finally, for all its merits and entrepreneurial achievements, this church still doesn’t have a clue what it wants. Sure, some individuals, even within the leadership, may have ideas and visions. But there’s no common goal. No shared vision. No long-term planning. Why does the church exist? To some it seems like the raison d’être of the Café Church is the fact that it’s different. It may be less explicit than previously, but there is still somehow a prevalent sense of “we’re better than the others because we’re different”. Wake-up call: you’re not all that different. At least not to merit this kind of separation. So what’s the point? Why are you here?

Frankly, I’m tired of having to choose between Café Church and traditional church. At least in the Copenhagen area the options are divided to a degree that doesn’t make sense. I feel at home in both settings, but would like to see someone aiming for the middle ground. Who will lead into a Third Way?

DUCH Session – Once Again

Exactly three years have now passed. Once more it’s time for the Seventh-day Adventist Church to meet in session. This means electing (or re-electing) officials, hearing reports, voting on various business items, and of course gauging and debating the state of the church.

As many readers may remember, the session three years was somewhat turbulent, but ended on a positive note. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the new administration has set a new tone. There have been unforeseen challenges, especially financially, and unfortunately my own position has been cut away, and I now find myself in search of new job by the end of summer.

But the current leadership has, in fact, managed to draw us closer together and refocus many churches on doing what churches should be doing: good for other people. Like many others, I am hoping for a reelection of the current leadership.

Previously mentioned on this blog, the great controversy this year will be the inclusion of new churches as full members of the union fellowship. Café Church in Copenhagen is the most well-known of these. My prediction is that the vote will pass, but not without some painful outbursts from concerned brethren and others. While the conservative wing is still active, there is now a much broader consensus that new initiatives and expressions are not evil, but should be accepted and even encouraged. Or so I hope.

Currently I’m still employed by the church. And my job at the session is keeping the world updated. I’m in charge of writing press releases, news item, tweets, and more, hopefully satisfying those at home wanting to follow the news, and others who might gain knowledge of the church from my work. You can follow all this in Danish at (here, you’ll with links to Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, and live streaming of the meetings).

Thus, my blog will remain dormant during the session. But I’ll probably post some thoughts afterwords, so stay tuned. Good night, and good luck.

Come As You Are

During lunch today I had a look at a random article in Politiken, and something resounded in me when I read the following quote:

“When you enter, you can let go of everything. Lose all your inhibitions. You can be yourself, even come in your nightgown and morning hair and jump around, and maybe walk on stilts. No one will look at you stupidly. It’s just: ‘Welcome’.”

What she’s talking about is the youth subculture of “Hardstyle” – a growing lifestyle movement focusing on heavy dance music.

But what if people could say the same about church?

Why the Café Church Matters

At the upcoming business session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Denmark in May, delegates will vote on whether to grant the Café Church in Copenhagen full church status, thus upgrading it from its current “company” status.

The move will doubtless be controversial to some people, since this congregation has had more than its fair share of criticism and gossip since its inception 10-15 years ago. On the other hand, it will be crucial to the future of Adventism in Denmark, not because of this individual church, but because of the vision it represents.

The Café Church is a new way of doing church which downplays certain typical traits (or oddities) and focuses on bringing the gospel to people with as few restrains as possible. Just as Paul became Greek for the Greeks, etc., it strives to become postmodern Copenhagen-ish for postmodern Copenhageners.

And of course there have been hiccups along the way. One of most talked about is the struggle with Adventist identity. But this is hardly unique to the Café Church. We all struggle somewhat with the issue of identity, and that’s not going to go away anytime soon. Here, at least, some people are honest in expressing their concerns about how the connection should be to the wider church body, or whether it should exist at all. But now the Café Church actually wants to be a part of the Danish Union. It is not necessarily an enthusiastic move (which is understandable, given the bumpy history), but it is sincere in wanting to embrace a wider fellowship, while maintaining its unique position.

The CC has been a pioneer, not only in Denmark (inspiring, among others, Aarhus Café Church, a big part of my life for many years), but also internationally, showing the world church community that fresh expressions of church are in fact possible, and essential to kingdom growth.

The decision on whether to include the Café Church into the Danish Union will be a final litmus test of the church’s willingness to embrace change and diversity. A rejection would signal, and result in, segmentation and streamlining. While this might enhance efficiency, since there would be only one right way of doing things, in the end the church would suffer immensely. The remaining church would be narrow in thought and expression, and its relevance to society would have to be reconsidered.

On the other hand, an affirmation would send a clear signal that there is hope for the future. It would express a belief that there are, in fact, ways to make the gospel relevant to a new era. This is not the only way – but it underlines the idea that there is not one way of doing things, but many.

I believe that the majority of church members in Denmark are actually in favour of fresh expressions and new ways of doing church. They may not all cherish a certain style, but they will embrace diversity and acknowledge that we are working in different ways toward the same goal.

Recently, I moved my own membership to the Café Church. And so the fate of my own new church body is at stake. But more than that, this is an opportunity to move forward, putting old grievances behind us and uniting in diversity for the sake of the gospel.

Finding a Church

A common criticism of the post-modern ethos goes something like this: “Young people today are unwilling to commit to formal structures and engagements, such as church membership.” And this year, I’ve come to realise I’m one of them.

Not that I’ve stopped believing in church membership. I’m still a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and I’ll probably stay that for at least some years ahead. I’m referring to local church here. Upon moving to the Copenhagen area, we knew that it would be a challenge to decide for or against joining a specific church, but we were not anticipating that we should still be in the void after 7 months.

This may be a negative result of being involved in church planting. For all its faults, Aarhus Café Church was my church – literally, since I was part of it from even before the start. When you join something existing, you have to accept it as it is, living with inconsistencies and imbalances. So how do you find a church family to belong to? Some of our criteria are: we want to be able to make a difference; we are looking for a church that has a clear mission and vision; we want a church that is going somewhere and which has potential.

If we limit the search to Seventh-day Adventist Churches, there are at least 5 within reasonable distance, but our considerations have mainly focused on two of these. There’s the one in which we were married; a large, traditional church which is pleasant but has a built-in inertia that, despite honest efforts, seems difficult to shed. And there’s the one which we attend most regularly; a newer church with lots of young people and a bigger potential, but which seems to be treading water at the moment, lacking the drive and vision of earlier years.

Then there is the radical option: start something new. We had talked about this even before leaving Aarhus, but know from that experience that church planting is a huge undertaking and needs a big commitment. Furthermore, partners are needed for such ventures – we would need to build a vision together with other people, expanding the thoughts we already harbour with the input of others willing to join such a project.

So what path should we take? That has yet to be decided. And while thorough thinking is a blessing, indecision can be a bane. Somehow, somewhere, something needs to happen.

In Real Life

This is a blog post. You read it in “cyberspace”. You may respond, you may not. Either way, it stays online. Unless you choose to hit Print – which is not recommended, for environmental reasons. Does the digital character of this interaction make it less “real” than if you were taking a walk in the park with me? Apparently, many people would think so.

Again and again you hear the thought voiced that meetings online, friendships in social networks, and digitally mediated discussions are just a shadow of the “real world”. Even the common expression IRL (In Real Life), builds on this assumption. Digital media can be good, but they can never replace the “real thing”.

Now I do believe there is a “real thing”, but I don’t believe that the digital world, the Internet, is fake, and but a poor replication of the world as it should be. But here’s the thing: all communication is mediated. Whether it is language, body language, telephone, email, or social networks, there is always something “in between” two minds interacting. Communication is indeed possible, but always mediated.

People are networking through social media. It’s not a game. This is real life. If you’re like me, most of your interactions take place online, and they’re not less real for this fact.

I post this during an Internet Evangelism seminar in England, focusing exactly on helping people to interact with their (digital) network and share the gospel with their friends in non-obtrusive, digitally mediated ways. There is potential in this, but apparently some mind-sets differ here.