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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

LIVING THE TRUTH IN A RELATIVE WORLD

THE SDA CHRISTIAN STRUGGLE TO KEEP AND SHARE FAITH IN A SECULAR SOCIETY
HINTS FROM THE BOOK PRESENT TRUTH IN THE REAL WORLD’ BY JON PAULIEN. (USED BY PERMISSION*)

“The greatest need of Adventism today is to stop living a lie”

How does one define “secularization” in contrast to “secularism”?
Secularization means that a society is becoming more and more inclined to view life without reference to God or religion. There is a gradual erosion of belief in the supernatural, a perception that whatever happens is limited to this world and to sense experience. Religious values and practices are increasingly discarded. And the church, as an institution, declines in its influence on the larger society. A secular person or society may not consciously reject religion or God, but God plays a diminishing role in people’s day-to-day lives.

Secularism refers to a consciously adopted philosophy that rejects all forms of religious faith and worship. A secularist may be described as a “missionary” for secularism. He or she is in contrast, however, to the more typical secular person who merely finds religion to be irrelevant to life, but is not hostile toward it.

N.B: In this context a secularist is not one and the same as a secular person

How do secular people think?

1. Contingency/Naturalism-everything in this world happens by cause and effect within the historical cycle i.e. no event need to be explained in terms of supernatural intervention e.g. if I am a bitter person its because the way my parents raised me. If I am rich, its because my parents were rich or because I worked hard
N.B: in practice many of us Seventh Day Adventist Christians (SDAs) make decisions more on a scientific basis than what we perceive Scripture to say.
N.B: When a person’s view of truth is in practice limited to the reality of the 5 senses, God is crowded out of that person’s existence


2. Autonomy-‘a law unto oneself.’ One no longer sense any need for God’s direction. One retains for him/herself all the rights and privileges in decision making that people once assigned to God’s direction. It is up to each person to decide the meaning of life.

3. Relativity-If there is no supernatural, and if human beings decide their own destiny, then meaning, values, and truth depend on the situation. What is right in one situation may be wrong in another. What is right for one person might be wrong for the next person. Whatever the group agree on becomes the basis for judging all behaviour within the group. Society creates its morals, principles, and ‘truth’ on the basis of social and economic needs. If something is useful or enough people practice it, it can be allowed or even encouraged. Relativity denies that there are objective morals and principles that should control the development of society-there are no absolutes. Rather than speaking about “truth” or right or wrong, secular people like to talk about whatever is ‘right for you”
N.B: The power that the principle of relativity has over people’s mind is illustrated by the decreasing significance of lifestyle standards among SDAs today. Church standard were based on the concept that there is a God who is actively involved in everyday life and who has the right to tell us what to do in even the most personal and intimate areas of our lives. But once a person begins to question, even unconsciously, God’s involvement in human affairs, many personal standards lose their primary reason for existence.

4. Temporality-there idea that this life is all there is. To the secular person, the afterlife, though attractive as a concept, is only wishful thinking conjured upon by those who cannot face the fears and anxieties related to death and dying. (Viz.” life is short play hard”)

What kind of person is more likely to become secular?

Secular/Religious
Male/Female
Young/Old
Urban/Rural
More educated/Less educated
Rich/Poor
Mobile/Stationary
Public/Secluded
Industrial/Agricultural
Information/Manufacturing

What influences in the society cause people to become more secular?

1. Science (both natural and social sciences)
Most people make decisions and solve problems on the basis of science and the scientific method. They observe a situation. They gather information about it. They talk to other people who have experienced similar situations. They formulate an explanation for what they see and experiment with possible solutions. In the end they put all the information together and make a decision. And whether they know it or not, the process that they went through in making that decision is known as scientific method. The scientific way of reasoning affects everything we do and everything we believe.

This is not the way people solved problems in Bible times. When Daniel and his 3 friends faced and information deficit, their first thought was prayer, not research (See Daniel 2)
This is not to put down the tremendous benefits that have come to us as a result of a scientific approach to problems. But because science cannot deal with the supernatural-because it can only operate only within the realm of what can be observed with our natural senses-it has a natural bias toward explaining what happens in life as though God either doesn’t exist or is uninvolved in the natural processes of life. Furthermore, science has rightly demonstrated that many phenomena once assumed to be actions of God can be explained in natural terms (e.g. lightning and rainbow).

The main difference between science and religion is the difference between truth and reality. Because they were raised in a scientific world, secular people see no difference between the two. And what is reality? To the secular person, reality is what the 5 senses can perceive: what we can see, hear, taste, smell and touch. But Christians believe that truth is bigger than sense reality i.e. there are other realities that transcends the 5 senses. Although we make use of science everyday, there is a fundamental clash between the scientific worldview and the Christian one. When a cosmonaut circles the earth and says, “I didn’t see God or angels up there,” he is denying truth on the basis of perceived reality.

The more people rely on science in their daily lives, the difficult it is to maintain a truth that transcends the 5 senses. That is why scientific reasoning leads to a decrease of faith in society as whole. This is not to suggest that Christians need to go back to pre-scientific world. That is neither possible nor practical. But we need to recognize the powerful impact on faith that scientific reason has had and have on our thinking.

2. Pluralism
Pluralism means that many religious persuasions are tolerated and no single one of them is dominant. It should be noted that constant interaction with conflicting ideas tends to erode faith.

Pluralism explains why higher education often destroys faith. It exposes believers to a wide variety of options for explaining most things in life. The positive side of education is that it broadens one’s horizons and make one better able to reach different classes of people. But the downside of education is that constant bombardment with different ideas will inevitably weaken faith unless drastic measures are instituted to maintain it. Education is not evil in itself, but it is certainly a two-edged sword. A pastor friend located near a great secular university once said that unless he gets into the dorms and contacts Adventists students within the first 3 weeks after they arrive, he can usually do little for them. In just 3 weeks they have been overwhelmed with a universe of ideas they had never been exposed to. In 3 weeks their faith has crumbled and gone.

Pluralism means that society as a whole provides little or no social support for your faith. This lack of support produces religious uncertainty. The more ideas a person is exposed to, the more difficult he finds it to be certain that his favourite idea is the right one-this explains why the people on the left side of the table above tend to be more secular (vulnerable to secularization) than those on the right.

3. Privatization
Privatization means that it is increasingly considered inappropriate to discuss religion in public. Religion is confined more and more to people’s private lives and experiences.
The church no longer dominates society. It is not a major player in the public sphere. Politics, education, and economics serve secular goals rather than religious ones. And this privatization, this moving faith into the closet, is a factor that makes faith seem increasingly irrelevant to everyday life.

N.B: Thus we leave in an age of “secular drift.” No one plans to become secular. It usually happens gradually in one’s experience. Scientific reason, pluralism, and privatization quietly take their toll. People continue to “believe” in some sense, but they have no strong convictions and no spiritual outlet in an organized group experience such as the local church.

N.B: One response to secularization-a response that destroys the relevance of the past and the hope of the future-is escape into the present. An “eat, drink, and be merry” lifestyle of sports and entertainment becomes religion of the self, which takes the place of church in a person’s life. Another response is to escape into a group that protects itself by separation from the world. Such groups range from fairly orthodox Christian “self-supporting” groups to dangerous cults that turn normal people into social and religious misfit.

N.B: Although secularism is not a denomination, the most persuasive evangelist that ever lived is preaching a secular message. And secular evangelistic meetings have been held in nearly every SDA home. This evangelist is no other than TV. Through the Television scientific reasoning, pluralism, and the privatization of religion bombard homes everywhere.

How Adventists becomes secular?
Secularization does not normally happen overnight. It is usually a lengthy process. SDAs rarely just wake up one day and walk out of the church. Most of those who leave drift out of the church gradually over a period of time (secular drift). They may continue to believe the basic teachings of the church, but they become less and less involved in religious matters on a day-to-day basis.

1. The first process in secular drift occurs in the private prayer life. In its very secrecy, private prayer is the ultimate personal barometer of spiritual commitment. Prayer is the first thing to go, and even pastors are not immune to secular drift. Few SDAs do not admit to at least some struggles in this area. Don’t think an uphill battle for a meaningful devotional life is unique to you. It is a consequence of being an SDA in a secular world. The most immediate impact of secularization is felt in the prayer life.

2. The next area affected is usually the study life, although for some, especially pastors, Bible study can continue for a long time in the absence of prayer. But while Bible study may continue in such cases, it tends to have less and less personal significance. It is simply something one does as a rituals or because it is a part of a job description.

3. The third step in secular drift occurs when personal standards of behaviour begin to erode. This step may be the first that anyone but your spouse will notice. It is virtually impossible to detect that someone else is struggling in the inward spiritually unless God chooses to reveal it to you. Spiritual distress sends up its first public signal when personal standards begin to slip. When a person has believed for a long time that a particular action is wrong and suddenly acts in a contrary, it tends to be a red flag that screams out, “ I’m in spiritual trouble.”

4.The fourth step tends to be a decrease in church attendance. You wake up one Sabbath and say, “ Oh it’s such a beautiful day; lets go to the mountains.” Now you may on occasion have a very good reason to skip church. But as part of the process of secular drift, slippage in church attendance becomes a very public indication that the earlier steps in the process have become quite advanced. Slippage in attendance is usually quite gradual. First you miss once a month, then twice a month, and then you start coming only every other month. Finally, church attendance just seems to be more trouble than it is worth. After a while you don’t even miss it.

5. The fifth step in becoming secular is to begin to doubt the Bible itself: to doubt the afterlife, to doubt whether there really is a God. You pick up the Bible, and it’s as if a voice in your head is saying, “What are you reading this for? It is just ink on a page. This is a book like any other book.” That is secularism. That is the result of the natural influence of our society, which leads us away from God and a believing relationship with His Word.

6. The sixth and the final step in the process of secular drift is an increasing distrust of institutions. This includes a lack of loyalty to religious institutions of any kind- e.g., the institutions and authority structures of the SDA church. “No one can tell me what to believe. Nobody can tell me what to do.” Disrespect for religious authority, whether one recognize it or not, is the natural outgrowth of contingency, autonomy, and relativity, the philosophical products of the secularization process.

N.B: Secular drift does not always take place in the exact order described above but that is the most typical order in which the process occurs, usually over a fairly lengthy period of time.

N.B: In the past SDAs saw themselves as a reform movement within the larger Christian church. Most people they worked with did not need an emphasis on Christian spirituality. So the early SDAs emphasis was on assembling logical and reasonable arguments that would persuade people intellectually that they needed to pursue their spirituality along different lines than they had done previously. In a world full of Christians, this worked out reasonably well for a generation. But by the year 1888 this approach resulted in an entire generation of SDAs who knew the arguments but were losing touch with a personal God. And in spite of the power of the message [of righteousness by faith in Jesus and not by works] that was born in Minneapolis in 1888, to this day SDAs distinctives tend to get more emphasis in most circles than does a living relationship with God. In a secular world an intellectual faith is no longer sufficient to guard against secular drift. SDAs, therefore are crying out more and more for a living walk with God, for a taste of His presence. A doctrinal construct by itself may not touch the heart.

N.B: The secular worldview has hurt SDAs in at least 3 distinct ways. First, it has made it more difficult for us to communicate what we believe to others. It has hurt our evangelical impact in the world. Second, it has, as we have noticed, been extremely damaging to individual faith. We ourselves feel that we are losing our way with God. And third, it has resulted in great frustration to the SDA organizational structure.

How do we keep faith in a secular world?
How can we maintain faith in a secular world-a faith that will result in successful outreach to secular-minded people? The place to start is with the devotional life, which provides the derived seclusion from the secular environment that allows our spiritual life to flourish. It involves coming apart from the world every day for some time with the Lord.
We tend to live noisy lives. We need desperately to slow down. We need desperately to reflect. We need desperately to take stock. If you don't have a living relationship with God, please don’t try to reach out to secular people. You cannot help a secular person to find God if you don’t know Him for yourself. It may be that in helping someone else to search for God, you might find Him for yourself. So don’t turn down opportunities to witness. But never try to develop a radical, secular-style ministry if you do not have a living relationship with God. It will not work. A living walk with Gods is certainly a basic asset in anyone seeking to reach secular people. Secular ministry must begin in the devotional room.

How do we share our faith in a secular world?
How can we communicate with secular people in an effective way? A good way to start is to deal with secular people in the same way Jesus dealt with people. He met them at the point of felt need-that place in their life where they were searching for something better.

Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and one their confidence. Then He bade them, “Follow Me” (The Ministry of Healing, 143)

Notice that in series of 5 steps, Jesus left the direct spiritual appeal till last. He spent time with people, “mingling” in conversation, showing sympathy, meeting their needs, and winning their confidence before He felt comfortable challenging them with His unique mission. His method is still the best method.

What are the basic needs of secular people?

1. A need for commitment
Secular people in high-tech world generally feel a need for commitment to an issue or a person that is clearly greater than themselves. Although secular people may lack a commitment to organized religion, they nevertheless sense the need to commit themselves to something that transcends the ordinary in their existence. People cannot be satisfied with an endless round of routine tasks. Meaning must come from outside the ordinary.

People may seek to meet that need by commitment to a sports team, a political cause or environment. The fate of a sports team may seem rather trivial as a center for one’s life, but such attachment function as symbols directed toward a far mores significant need-the need to commit to something that is bigger than oneself.

SDAs are positioned to make a difference her. We can present the greatest Person and the greatest issues that anyone could possibly commit themselves to. The environment of the entire universe for all eternity is at stake in the work of the gospel. This makes sharing our faith one of the most meaningful tasks anyone could undertake. We can meet this need as we learn how to communicate the difference that Jesus makes in real, contemporary terms that touch base with life as it really is experienced today. We can meet this need as we learn how to tie in the issues of the Great Controversy to the issues that most people are talking about on a day-to-day basis.

2. A need for release from guilt
While secular people may feel uncomfortable with the term ‘guilt’ in the context of biblical ‘dos and don’t,’ they recognize the need for release from the failure to live up to their own high expectations. Most persons, whether or not they know anything about the 10 Commandments, have a sense that they are not living up to what they expect from themselves, much less the standards that are held up to them from outside Even nonreligious people need release from the sense of failure-the failure to achieve their hopes, their dreams, and their best intentions.

And secular people often have a very strong sense of obligation, of where they want to be in life. The failure to achieve this leaves a sense of brokenness that cries out to be fixed. Many may deny the brokenness or drown it in alcohol, drugs, or promiscuity, but it can ultimately be fixed at the cross. As SDAs, we need to ask the hard questions of whether we really appreciate the cross. Until we do, we cannot meet this deep need, not only for secular people, but all human beings. As we ourselves become forgiven people, we are enabled to minister forgiveness to others. On other hand, it is impossible for an unforgiven person to be truly forgiving.

3. A need for genuine relationships
Secular people long for a real relationship with real people who care enough to be honest as well as loyal. Since we are living in 'rush hour,' relationships tend to be superficial and thus people need a caring touch, a genuine relationship. Many people deeply regret the loss of the extended family and the church has the potential to provide a sense of extended family to those who are far from their real family.

4. A need for a cosmic philosophy
Although they may not always be conscious of it, secular people have a need for a cosmic philosophy-they sense a need for social and cosmic interconnectedness, they sense a need to know that everything somehow fit together, that they belong to a meaningful and ordered universe. As SDAs we sometimes take our awareness of the Great Controversy for granted. But this is foreign to most people. Secular people need to know where they are coming from, where they are now and where they are going. They need to know whether there is design and purpose in the cosmos-the very thing SDAs are aware of in the light of the Great Controversy between good and evil, between Christ and Satan!

5. A need for unorganized religion
Each of the above 4 needs can be answered by means of resources found within our SDA faith. However, this 5th need is far more challenging. This is because secular people often tend to be opposed to what they call “organized religion.” They fear coercion and the manipulation of their lives. Thus, when secular people come to faith, they prefer to be involved in religious contexts where they are allowed considerable freedom and choice in the way their think and live. They like to be "involved" in the process they become converted. We need to be honest that the SDA church is tightly organized and controlled. Sometimes fresh and creative ideas are met with, " We never did it that way before" or "Ellen White says" (whether she in fact said it or not). It is not surprising that anti-organization secular people are often open to the nonsense of the New Age since New Age, is perhaps, the epitome of unorganized religion. We may need to create more caring structures and interactions. Helping former secular people discover and utilize their spiritual gifts is one way to demonstrate that there is plenty of room in God's house for individuality and creativity. We also need to help secular people find out that the Bible isn't anything like they have been told (e.g. the idea the Bible supports the notion of an everlasting burning hell and that of subjugation of women and minority). And when they discover this they often become open to instruction.

6. A need for a lifestyle direction
Secular people these days are earnestly seeking direction for their lifestyles. The number-one categories of books that are selling today are self-help books. Most young people would agree that their big concern today is that that they don't know what to do with their lives. The amazing openness of secular people to the bizarre absurdities of the New Age movement certainly indicates an openness to help from any direction, provided it touches base directly with felt needs and speaks a language that is familiar and meaningful. Frankly, there is no faith anywhere that offers more direction for people's lifestyle than does the SDA faith. We have suggestion for almost, if not all areas of life. What we need is to present this direction in a way that is effective, meaningful and interesting/attractive to the secular people. But if we are not careful, we may present these things in a way that will cause the secular person to see all the red flags of a rigid "organized religion."

What qualities equip a person to be effective in reaching secular people?
N.B: It should be noted that the Holy Spirit is essential for all effective outreach work. It is the Holy Spirit who aids Christians in sharing their faith. However, the Holy Spirit does not function as a substitute for the role that is supposed to be played by humans. (See Romans 10: 14 and 1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

1. Identifying with people
One needs the ability to identify with people, to sense where they are coming from. This quality enables one to get close to others in a hurry, to intuitively put him/herself in other people’s shoes and see the world through their eyes/horizon(s). We need not advocate the individualistic attitude that says, “If people see things differently than we do, it’s their problem.” Secular people don’t appreciate people who are ‘holier than thou,’ but their very forgiving of ‘relational mistakes’ if one is genuine and honest enough to admit his /her mistakes.

2. Creative witness
One also needs the ability to offer a fresh and creative witness when the circumstances demand it. This means you need to be able to say things that you have never said anywhere else but you can say them now because the situation requires it. Obviously, the only way we can do this is to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Remember Jesus was a creative witness while maintaining those limits that were necessary to His own spiritual experience.

3. Biblical knowledge
This is very critical because secular people ask questions that one has never dreamed of. They almost never ask the questions that are found in the typical set of Bible lessons e.g. when secular people see a bumper sticker that says, “Jesus is the Answer,” they say, “What was the question?” They are not asking Christian type of questions. We need to acquaint with our Bible so that the Holy Spirit may remind us what to answer when an off-the –wall question comes. We need also remember to be honest if we don’t know the answer(s).

4. Common language
We also need to use basic, everyday language when we reach out to secular people. Some of the terms we use and cherish in SDA contexts are foreign to the average secular person e.g. one may say, “I’ll never forget the day I saw the light.” Light? What light? The reality is that most of us SDA knows how to talk to secular people on a day to day basis but the problem is that we tend to switch to the SDA jargons when we want to express our spiritual needs or concern. We need to remember that even the Bible was written in common languages (e.g. the book of Revelation was written in a very simple Greek.)

N.B: One also needs the ability to listen creatively i.e. one need to ask these questions while listening (this applies for both individuals as well as the community in large): ‘What are the felt needs that motivate that person’s search for truth and self-betterment? Where is that person hurting? What problems stimulate a desire for something better? When approached from the point of their felt need, most secular people are wide open to instruction. And who knows but God, that this may lead to open up to the greatest need-that of knowing Christ, the source of living a fulfilled life. This method has worked in areas such as stress management, meals on wheels and other community services.

N.B: Remember that Patience is necessary when working with secular people.

Conclusion
With the aid of the Holy Spirit the above hints would prove to be of help for those who are willing to reach out to secular people. However, it should be stressed that this ministry is not for everyone because it’s dangerous to ones spiritual health (See 1 Corinthians 9:27). One who wants to seriously engage in this ministry needs a living walk/relationship with God in order to survive the forces of secularization while mingling with the secular people as illustrated by Jesus’ salt model (See Matthew 5:13). One need to always remember that this ministry involves conserving faith in a secular world as well as radically reaching out to people who find your world to be totally incomprehensible.
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*It should be noted that this book was published in 1993 (Pacific Press) and many changes in the secular world has occurred since then. It may be of interest to learn that the same author have recently released a new book that deal with the same issue. The book is entitled Knowing God in the Real World. You can find more information on his web page www.andrews.edu/~jonp or you can mail the author at

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