Adventism's Latest Offshoot, Pt. 1:
In a Development Surprising to Some, Those Pressing a Certain Theology About “Grace,” Who Have Led in NAD Unions and Large Churches as Pastors and Church Growth Gurus, Form a New Organization, Turning Out to Be Ringleaders in Apostasy.
This article co-authored by Pr. Larry Kirkpatrick, Pr. Kevin D. Paulson, and Associate David Qualls on August 12 and 13 and published on August 13, 2004.
The Launch of Adventism's Latest Offshoot
First there was the Messenger Party, then the Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement. In short order came the Shepherd's Rod. Herbert W. Armstrong launched the Worldwide Church of God, then along came the Branch Davidians. Next, the Brinsmead group, the post-Glacier View “Gospel Fellowship” movement inspired by Desmond Ford's attack on the sanctuary doctrine, then the Steps to Life home church movement.
Now comes “Mission Catalyst Network.”
A group of (former) Seventh-day Adventist Church employees, who insist that the structure has lost its evangelistic potential, are in the process of forming a break-away organization of churches which will be separate from the denomination that has so long employed them. They insist that they are
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 (http://www.missioncatalyst.org/whatis.html, accessed 6:13 p.m. August 12, 2004 PDT).
However, their own published doctrinal mission statement belies this claim. Entirely absent from it is any mention of the investigative judgment, the remnant Church, the prophetic gift as manifest through Ellen G. White, or church standards. Claiming that as a Church they are the “Same cart” but with “new wheels,” the absence of these key features and the presence of others which we shall in this series mention, make clear that this is an altogether different “cart.”
Carefully endeavoring to cloak their true nature, this break-away group, Adventism's newest offshoot, claims it is not separate from us. Yet Scripture warns:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us (1 John 2:19).
The exact sequence in which events were shaped is not always readily traceable. Some now involved in the Offshoot were terminated in March. The domain name “missioncatalyst.org” was registered in May. Adventist leaders met with Gladden in August. Whatever we may say about what led to what, the separation is here.
Ringleaders in Apostasy
The new offshoot has, of course, its own set of leaders. As the Spirit of Prophecy says, “Those who have been regarded as worthy and righteous prove to be ring-leaders in apostasy...” (Ellen G. White, Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 212). These people, who by and large have been respected as leaders in church planting in the denomination, believe that God is leading them to form a new organization of churches. Their non-profit corporation, their website, their own structures and plans, did not spring up 24 hours ago. It has been a long and laborious pathway to separation. Who are these people?
The names of those associated with this project which follow include both ringleaders in this apostasy and also those who have provided resource papers that hang on the offshoot's website.
The offshoot includes Ron Gladden, until recently employed at North Pacific and Mid-America Unions as Director for Church Planting (As identified by the Adventist Review online at Ron Gladden, “Building Castles for the Kingdom,” accessed August 12, 2004, 7:40 p.m. PDT).
Other names found in connection with this group are Dennis Pumford (employed by Iowa-Missouri Conference in 2002: Google Cache listing), David Woods is apparently a layman, Liz Whitworth (associated with worship leader group 180 and the SEEDS Church Planting Conference (Google Cached accessed August 12, 200, 9:44 p.m. PDT), Lavelle Whitehouse (coming from a Walla Walla College background, accessed August 13, 2004, 7:38 a.m. PDT), served as Ron Gladden's administrative assistant at NPUC (NPUC Church Planting Department, accessed August 13, 2004, 9:26 p.m. PDT).
Another break-away name is Terry Pooler. Pooler was, until his removal from denominational employment last year, pastor of the Forest Lake Academy SDA Church in Apopka, Florida. Among Pooler's contributions are his philosophy that local churches need to retain a great deal more tithe for themselves, a topic concerning which he has been rattling for some time. Last year BRI met in the Loma Linda area and discussed this direction and the approaching tread of congregationalism.
Leo Schreven mentioned this in February. A domain name search shows that missioncatalyst.org was registered on May 13, 2004 (under the name of Lavelle Whitehouse). First word of the matter reached GCO however, in June. Nameservers were updated on July 13, 2004. On July 15, 2004 first word on the internet came from Pr. Richard O'Ffill on his website (New SDA Denominational Ministry Organized, accessed July 15, 2004). The Offshoot's leader met with three North American Division leaders for several hours on August 7 just after the 2004 ASI Convention had concluded in Cincinnati, OH, basically urging them to leave the new Offshoot alone. At that time already the missioncatalyst.org website was up and division leaders knew of it.
Failed Experiments by the Bushel
For many years, certain among us have bent their best energies to reproducing Babylon's apparent successes but within the remnant church. First it was attempted to change our churches through bringing in the concept of varied worship styles. This was meant to justify the acceptance of Celebration worship as one of the worship style “options.” It didn't work. It led only to turmoil and chaos. Eventually most realized that changing existing congregations was fighting an uphill battle. The emphasis shifted again, this time, to church planting.
At one point, William Johnsson waxed joyful in the Adventist Review how it was a miracle that although “Adventist worship varies from country to country, and within the countries,” “With all the differences, we are one people. When we get together we worship the one God—in many voices, many colors, many ways” (William Johnsson, “When We All Get Together,” Adventist Review, October 30, 1997, p. 12). But just one month later, even the Review would be compelled to present a different story.
Some of the break-aways no longer exist. Pastor Alex Bryan, a fellow graduate of Southern Adventist University in Tennessee, was repeatedly featured in the Adventist Review. His congregation, “The New Community,” broke away over tithe and doctrinal issues. For awhile its website hung on the net claiming it was a Protestant Church, although some of us had difficulty seeing what it might be protesting. But it is gone off the web, not even a Google-cache left to show it existed. So-called “Grace Place” in Colorado no longer even acknowledges its Seventh-day Adventist origin. The Damascus Road Community Church, another earlier break-away at least mentions its Adventist history if only in passing (On their website, click on “More About DRCC,” then on “History.”).
But a month later, Johnsson would make a series of interesting remarks. While indicating that he saw “no evidence for a trend” of break-away churches, he warned that we “need to remain alert if the Adventist body is to remain intact. Adventists may not face disintegration into disparate congregations right now, but the tenor of the times could bring us to that point ere long” (William Johnsson, “When the Family Splits,” Adventist Review, November 5, 1997, pp. 16-19). Even then Johnsson asked whether Adventist fascination with Willow Creek was not contributing to an influence in our midst toward congregationalism (Ibid., p. 17). Each time one of the “grace oriented” churches departs, we are told that the issue is not doctrinal. Yet we are often in the same articles told that there is some form of doctrinal problem, usually left unspecified.
In the following month's Review, Andy Nash listed several break-aways:
- Oregon's Sunnyside.
- Maryland's Damascus.
- Colorado's Christ Advent Fellowship.
It was most interesting that Nash closed his article urging us that while these churches had been influenced by Willow Creek, “Adventists Should Continue gleaning from Willow Creek” (Andy Nash, “On Willow Creek,” Adventist Review, December 18, 1997). His argument? The Mountain View Church eventually launched as a church plant the infamous Adventist Sunday Church experiment in Las Vegas, also known as the Mountain View Community church. In Atlanta, Georgia, The New Community was also presented as evidence of “other churches mature enough to incorporate Willow Creek principles without giving up their Adventist identity” (Ibid). However, the facts are that Alex Bryan's “New Community” church in Atlanta has since left the denomination and faded out of existence. The Adventist Sunday Church in Las Vegas, Nevada also failed, with no accessions to the Seventh-day Adventist Church to show and the pastor leaving the remnant church to lead worship in yet another obscure Sunday church. These are the examples of maturity?
Who can understand the blindness and even mental incoherence of such insistence? The facts are, that no matter how many times it has been tried, there is today on planet earth not one example of a successful Seventh-day Adventist copycat of Willow Creek, or Saddleback, or the like that has ever become a mega-church. For decades misguided ministers and workers have tried it. Administrators have stood by awaiting the promised positive results. They've thrown a stack of dollars at it, but today, all attempts to photocopy have returned nothing but failure.
Is the “Mission Catalyst Network” Seventh-day Adventist?
Looking back, we see this whole matter unfolding as if in a slow-motion train wreck. And still they keep trying. The experiments continue. Many of the faithful have struggled in attempting to sound the warning against the encroaching yet tantalizing message incessantly propounded by the contemporary church growth new-modelers. It was a difficult challenge to convince well-meaning pastors and church leaders who were intoxicated with the delicious words and concepts found in such books as The 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective Churches, by Ron Gladden. Books such as this, aggressively pushed upon the church, contained innocent-sounding good advice for “growing” a church. Alongside quotes from such authors as Rick Warren (Saddleback Church), Bill Hybels (Willow Creek) and other Babylonian church growth experts, Ellen White appears (selectively quoted) to legitimize their nefarious agenda.
These books dwell long on grace, love, and acceptance; upon worldly marketing techniques, and growth strategies. One thing that is conspicuously absent? A firm, unflinching commitment to unpopular truth. The ends seem to justify the means. The Mission Statement of the new organization insists:
[MCN plans to] do ‘whatever it takes’ to equip local churches to accomplish the Great Commission (http://www.missioncatalyst.org/whatis.html, accessed August 13, 2004, 10:51 a.m. CST, emphasis supplied).
Instead of “we will obey and follow God's ways, be faithful to His word and leave the results with Him,” they have opted for a results-oriented approach. This is classic of those who through history have thought to step in front of Jesus and show Him a better way.
Is this new movement part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church? No.
Q: Are you Seventh-day Adventists?
A: Because we are handling the tithe and other local church issues differently than the church manual proscribes [sic], we are not legally allowed to call our churches Seventh-day Adventist. As individuals, we consider ourselves to be Seventh-day Adventists (http://www.missioncatalyst.org/faqs.html, accessed August 13, 2004, 10:44 a.m., emphasis supplied).
Some of us have wondered when these encroaching movements would finally reveal themselves. In some ways we are surprised to see developments taking place with the rapidity that we are now seeing. God is taking the reins into His own hands. This is the time to be on His side, the side of truth.
We would like to be clear that what we are saying is that which the new Offshoot would not prefer to admit. According to them, they hold the same beliefs as we do. They even include a link to the Adventist website and the 27 Fundamental Beliefs, claiming them as their own doctrinal statement. But their actual doctrinal statement is conspicuous by the absence of any reference in it to the investigative judgment, the Seventh-day Adventist Church as God's remnant, and Ellen G. White as prophetic messenger.
The fact is, this is not the same cart with new wheels. It is not the same doctrinal message. It is, rather, Adventist-lite, the low-carb version.
When we consider this development, who is surprised that “church planting” has become a code word synonymous with apostasy from Seventh-day Adventism? Over and over again Adventism's contemporary “planted churches” have been planted as social webs of people left uninstructed in the prophetic heritage of our people.
We would not imply that all church planting projects are equally misguided. But we have learned that in many cases, these projects follow a pragmatic plan of using whatever marketing, whatever music, whatever cheap and unconscionable approach to Bible standards of dress and adornment they can get away with. Since the newer plants are populated mostly by newer members who have not been taught authentic Adventism, and often those taught by church planting leaders mostly to ignore such, this is what happens. The saints who otherwise might nurture a more sound approach in creating a Seventh-day Adventist church are out of the loop.
I sat in the classroom of the NADEI president and this was consistently his approach. Ideas and philosophies have consequences. Today the Church is reaping the SEEDS that have been sown. We fully expect the church-planters who have not defected to put forth a vigorous defense of what they have been doing. However, for our part, we must say, trust is earned. I will from this point trust only those whom I know to be serious, sound, fully-blossomed Seventh-day Adventists to do church planting! If you are not an authentic Seventh-day Adventist, you will not be able to plant an authentically Seventh-day Adventist Church. Doctrinal integrity today must be by demonstration. Assertions no longer cut it.
Troubling Doctrinal Questions
The Mission Catalyst doctrinal statement, while professing loyalty to the 27 Fundamental Beliefs of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist body, nevertheless raises troubling questions about its theological clarity and priorities.
For starters, the claim to be “grace oriented,” splashed conspicuously across the home page of the web site, evokes a variety of questions. Aside from the marginalized holiness and denial of Christian victory which too often has attended this phrase in contemporary Adventism, the question inevitably arises, Does this new movement believe the worldwide Adventist structure not to be grace oriented? If not, in what way is it not? And how does this new organization propose to remedy the problem?
Though claiming to adhere to the 27 Fundamentals, Mission Catalyst has nevertheless developed its own statement of doctrinal beliefs. In their own words, here is what they are saying: “There are a minimum number of beliefs that help bring a coherent voice to our message” (missioncatalyst.org/mission_catalyst_resources/Commitment_to_Mission.pdf), accessed August 13, 2004, 4:08 p.m. PDT). These are then listed as follows:
- The Bible is the source of knowledge about God and salvation. It is the ultimate rule of faith and practice.
- God is eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing and Creator of all things. That God is manifested in God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
- Jesus is our Savior. That His death was a complete atonement for our sins and that salvation is offered to us as a free gift to be received by faith alone.
- We seek to express our appreciation to God for His saving grace by walking in fellowship with Him and seeking to reflect His character. This character transformation is accomplished, in part, by our willing obedience to His law of love, divided into two great commandments, love to God and love to others. God's ten commands found in Exodus 20 specifically define these two great commandments. The ten includes the seventh-day Sabbath as holy time to be used for God's purposes and to bring joy to the believers. The Holy Spirit enables this transformation and obedience.
- Our great hope is the soon return of Christ in glory.
- The dead are in an unconscious sleep awaiting one of two resurrections referred to by Jesus in John 5. These resurrections are at both ends of the millennium: the saved at the beginning when Jesus comes to put an end to sin's consequences, and the lost at the final end when judgment is meted out by a short, consuming fire.
- Marriage is ordained by God to be a permanent union between a man and a woman and that any sexual activity outside of the marriage union is impurity.
- We are to care for our bodies and minds with the awareness that they are God's dwelling through His Spirit, and that we are His witnesses—ambassadors of heaven.
- God's will for every person goes beyond their own salvation. He designed the church to be a loving, non-judgmental community of Christ followers who worship together, minister to other believers, and seek to save the lost. In John 17, Jesus prayed for a community of oneness as a condition of evangelistic effectiveness: ‘I pray that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me’ (verse 21).
- Water baptism by immersion signifies the new life in Christ of all those who choose to follow Him (missioncatalyst.org/mission_catalyst_resources/Commitment_to_mission.pdf).
We will here resist the inclination to analyze this statement in depth; much indeed could be written about many things. But a number of pivotal questions cry out to be answered. For starters, if Mission Catalyst maintains loyalty to the 27 Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, why create another, very different statement of beliefs? If in fact an abbreviated statement is desirable, why not simply use the official Baptismal Vows in the current Church Manual, pp. 32-34, which refers the reader to a more elaborate exposition of these vows in a later portion of the Manual pp. 209-213?
One's curiosity is quickly aroused by which distinctive Adventist beliefs are deemed worthy of mention in the Offshoot's abbreviated statement, and which go without any mention at all. The only two distinctive SDA doctrines mentioned are the seventh-day Sabbath and the non-immortality of the soul. The investigative judgment beginning in 1844, the Spirit of Prophecy manifested through the prophetic ministry of Ellen G. White, and Seventh-day Adventism as the remnant church of Bible prophecy, are conspicuous by their absence.
Even the manner of Jesus' second coming, a major issue on account of the rapture doctrine and its recent widespread promotion through the popular “Left Behind” series, is left unclarified in this doctrinal statement. What is more, the statement merely mentions God as “the Creator of all things,” omitting any mention of the six literal days of creation—thus not only leaving ambiguous the Biblical foundation of the Sabbath they claim to revere, but also leaving open the door for theistic evolution. (Those holding to theistic evolution are not uncomfortable affirming God as Creator; they merely maintain He did His creating through the process of Darwinian evolution.)
And while the statement expresses the need for the Christian to care for both mind and body, no specific mention of how this is done, or not done, is included. Unclean meats, tobacco, alcohol, recreational drugs—all go without a mention. One could easily read this statement and conclude that “moderation in all things” (a favorite mantra of theological liberals) is the answer to all questions about potentially hurtful substances.
Why are only two distinctive Adventist doctrines included in this new statement? Why are the others entirely left out? But because they chose two distinctive Adventist beliefs to mention in this statement, and left all others unmentioned, one is constrained to ask, Why? Especially in view of the widespread discomfort among other recent “congregational” departures from Adventism with such doctrines as the investigative judgment, the remnant church theology, and Ellen White!
Thus, despite their claim to adhere to the official doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, this Offshoot is already making clear doctrinal priorities and writing doctrinal statements which differ significantly from those adopted by the worldwide body of Seventh-day Adventists in General Conference assembled. The careful observer is left with the grave concern that a gradual reduction in clarity on certain controverted points of SDA doctrine is being deliberately sought by those guiding this movement.
Conclusion: Feeding the Fire
While at the ABC today, what did I find? Seventy+ copies (Saving Blood and The Shaking) filled with the gospel of Keavin Hayden, a man who has left behind key teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, including the investigative judgment, the remnant, and the Spirit of Prophecy—the very same teachings left aside by Adventism's latest offshoot. In contrast, Real Grace for Real People, with a theology that is consistent with Adventism and keeps people in the Church, could not be found on the shelves of that store. The question must be asked, When will we learn? There is a theology that goes with contemporary apostasy from the Seventh-day Adventist Church, just as there is a theology that goes with remaining in the remnant. There is a real version of grace and there is a false one. By feeding the people the low-carb gospel we are preparing them to leave our own Church! Remember, the very doctrines shunned by Adventism's latest Offshoot are the ones that make us a distinct people.
The new Offshoot already is launching a congregation in Vancouver, Washington. Another group, the non-Seventh-day Adventist “Sabbath Grace Fellowship” in Apopka, Florida may join them. The Offshoot is at work in other states as well.
Over the weeks to come we will publish a series of articles analyzing the claims of this new offshoot group, and the theological foundations upon which its apostasy from the organized Church rests. For example, Adventism's Latest Offshoot claims that the denominational structure today is like a dead horse that must be replaced. Is this so? We at GCO stand squarely in favor of living and giving the third angel's message from within the Seventh-day Adventist Church organization. It is a positive turn of tide that those who have so long lain as insurgents for error within our ranks are departing. If they would have joined us in giving the third angel's message that points to Jesus and victory in the Christian life, we would have urged them to remain. But if they are not with us, they should go out from us. Now some are. May God be praised!
God is sifting His people. He will have a clean and holy church. We cannot read the heart of man. But the Lord has provided means to keep the church pure. A corrupt people has arisen who could not live with the people of God. They despised reproof, and would not be corrected. They had an opportunity to know that theirs was an unrighteous warfare. They had time to repent of their wrongs; but self was too dear to die. They nourished it, and it grew strong, and they separated from the trusting people of God, whom He is purifying unto Himself. We all have reason to thank God that a way has been opened to save the church; for the wrath of God must have come upon us if these corrupt pretenders had remained with us.
Every honest soul that may be deceived by these disaffected ones, will have the true light in regard to them, if every angel from heaven has to visit them, to enlighten their minds. We have nothing to fear in this matter. As we near the Judgment, all will manifest their true character, and it will be made plain to what company they belong. The sieve is moving. Let us not say, Stay Thy hand, O God. The church must be purged, and it will be (Ellen G. White, Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 99-100).
This series of articles is planned to continue for several weeks. “Adventism's Latest Offshoot, Pt. 2” will be published Tuesday. The truth is marching on.
First published Friday, August 13, 2004
Minor editing and added content, Sunday, August 15, 2004.
Corrections and minor content change, Tuesday, August 17.
Corrections and minor content change, Wednesday, August 18.