Contribution to the ongoing conversation about the ignored contribution of the late Desmond Ford to the theology of the Seventh-day Adventist Church: Ministry Magazine, May 2001, under the editorial leadership of Willmore D. Eva, published a part of my article “Gospel Without Strings Attached”.
As Hans La Rondelle, Raoul Dederen, Hans Heinz, Roger Evans, and Will Eva questioned the assumptions of the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, they spoke with clarity, unseen for a considerable time in our official publications, about the forensic, objective, and legal nature of justification, distinguished from sanctification, as thought by Paul and the Reformers.
Those articles raised several questions: Has the Adventist Church, twenty years after Glacier View, finally matured enough to face the challenges of the gospel without preconceived prejudice? After providing an objective assessment of the current Catholic-Lutheran crisis over justification by faith, dare we now proceed by sweeping our own backyard, to provide a breath of fresh air so that the gospel, too often disfigured beyond recognition, may finally begin to shine in its intended beauty?
Consequently, we should ask again, how could the Church still maintain that our denominational views about the phased or stretched atonement, character-dependent investigative judgment, and the final justification of God’s character through the sufficiently perfect obedience of God’s people, all of which make salvation dependent on the believers’ performance, complement the truth of the objective gospel?
Just as much as the “gospel had been lost in an increasingly complicated systems of merits, good works, sacraments and penances” in the teachings of the Catholic Church, so it is compromised by the increasingly confusing systems of Adventist theology of salvation where individual sanctification frequently merges with the divine act of justification and where our eternal destiny was not decided on the cross as much as in the characters of believers, so that at the end of the day our honoring of Christ’s finished work of salvation appears more like a lip service than a genuine belief.
Whether the gospel is infused into indulgences, sacraments, merits of the saints, or into the character shaping doctrines of investigative judgment, vindication of God’s character through the lives of the believers and almost immaculate law keeping, it makes no difference. Both approaches are responsible for confusing the believer as to the method and place where salvation takes place, and as such they are an offense to the gospel—a serious deviation that undermines the fullness of salvation in the person of Jesus Christ.
The integrity of the Church and its mission in the days to come does not depend on how skilled it becomes in maneuvering through the challenges our distinctive beliefs will continue to face. Ultimately, the Church will be tested by its honesty toward the integrity of the gospel, for no church or a movement has ever been given commission other than to preach the gospel without strings attached. And how far will the gospel go in the Adventist Church this time depends on those ministers, evangelists, teachers, scholars, writers, editors, and lay members who treasure the gospel above the loyalty to any ideological concept.
For all of us the first step should be to stop hinting at the gospel and start preaching it deliberately and without apology.
Post Scriptum April 6, 2019: Although in this article, written and published 18 years ago, I was challenging the populist Adventist theology of salvation, by comparing it with the Roman Catholic theology of salvation, suggesting that none of them are in tune with the Pauline and Reformer’s understanding of salvation, justification, atonement because both tend to infuse our works into Justification, the truth is that the story of misunderstanding of the Gospel does not rest solely within the boundaries of these two denominations. Across large sections of the Protestant/evangelical spectrum prevails a widespread confusion as to the roles of justification versus sanctification in our salvation. Consider the following paragraph: “Just as much as the ‘gospel had been lost’ in an increasingly complicated systems of merits, good works, sacraments and penances” in the teachings of the Catholic Church, so it is compromised by the increasingly confusing systems of Adventist theology of salvation where individual sanctification frequently merges with the divine act of justification, and where our eternal destiny was not decided on the cross as much as in the characters of believers, so that at the end of the day our honoring of Christ’s finished work of salvation appears more like a lip service than a genuine belief.” If you belong to any other Christian circle, not mentioned in the article, ask yourself a question: In what ways it becomes obvious that I or my church believe and act as if our eternal salvation depends very much on our performance, despite that fact that we all love to talk constantly about the grace of God?
It is very sad and shameful that the South Pacific Division (SPD) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has succumbed to pressure from within and without (most likely from the General Conference too), and has placed Avondale College in the awkward situation of having to move the already scheduled commemoration of the life and work of Desmond Ford from its premises to a “neutral location”. Instead of being held at Avondale College, as previously planned and initiated by the college, the commemoration took place at the University of Newcastle’s Griffith Duncan Theatre, on Saturday, 30thMarch, 2019. Close to 1000 people attended.
Whatever the motives of the SPD leadership, pressuring Avondale College leadership to move the commemoration away from the denominational property was a disgraceful act of disrespect for the life and ministry of Desmond Ford. It seems that Ford continues to offend, even in his death, some “concerned brethren” among Australian SDA leaders and lay members. A man who has indebted the Adventist denomination worldwide with a clear teaching of the Gospel, and has served as a beloved lecturer at Avondale for a number of years, has to remain an outcast even in his death.
His unpardonable sin was that he never recanted. Once having declared forty years ago that 1844 was not a biblical date, he never changed his mind about the controversial nature of the Investigative Judgment, a cherished and the most distinctive Adventist doctrine. So, the official SPD correspondence sent to the Avondale staff and leaders of the church in Australia stated a few days ago: “Many people are still suffering pain and distress from the past events involving Dr Ford, whose views remained inconsistent with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Because of this I want to inform you that the memorial service has been moved to a venue outside the Avondale campus.”
But the way the SPD has behaved towards the deceased Desmond Ford is very hypocritical, to say the least, at a time when all kinds of controversial, fundamentalist, and legalistic individuals and ministries, that are preaching to the Adventist audiences “the other gospel” (Galatians 1:8.9.), are flourishing and growing under the protective canvas of the global Church.
More so than in other parts of the world, the Australian kind of Adventism has been for many years contributing to the world church the other brand of controversial leaders; those who preached the gospel of radical perfectionism, and literal necessity of attaining unquestionable super humanism, alias sinlessness unique only to Adventism. For decades Australia was a greenhouse that supplied the entire Adventist world with the revivalists of sinlessness, and none of those people have been treated with the kind of contempt the church has shown for the late Desmond Ford ever since 1980.
Moreover, many modern-day Adventist evangelists of perfectionism are nowadays welcomed to use denominational infrastructure and facilities, including denominational media and denominational financial resources, to advance their reformation, with no expression of denominational concern if their views are “consistent with the Seventh-Day Adventist Church”. Quite contrary, it seems as if the “remnant LGT (Last Generation Theology) ministries” of “historic Adventism” are being treated as if they were the spiritual elite within Adventism. For example, who dares call Doug Batcehlor’s views “inconsistent with the Seventh-day Adventist Church?”
So, in the light in the denominational tacit endorsement of its popular teachers of legalism, it is downright dishonest and hypocritical that the official South Pacific Division communication, released only a day or two ago, would be bold enough to say the following:
“Recent communications from Avondale following the death of Dr Ford have been perceived as Avondale supporting his theological views. Sadly, this has reignited the pain and distress that many people experienced in the past. It has also been perceived that because the memorial/celebration was to be held on the campus of a Seventh-day Adventist institution, that the South Pacific Division was affirming someone whose views were inconsistent with the Church. This has led to an outpouring of concern and confusion from churches and members and most Conference leaders around Australia.”
One would have thought that the Seventh-day Adventist Church, especially in Australia, has moved away from its 40-year-old antagonism towards Desmond Ford. At least this was my feeling in the years of my pastoral service in Australia in the late 1990s. It seemed, at least in the church milieu where I served as pastor, that a more reconciliatory and embracing spirit had been winning towards Desmond Ford. What has happened since? Was I somewhat naive in believing that Desmond Ford was gaining friends in the Church again at that time? Or, could it be that legalism is becoming mainstream again in the Adventist Church?
Sadly, the decision of the SPD to evict the commemoration of the life and work of Desmond Ford from Avondale, speaks forcefully that the denomination’s reconciliation with Desmond Ford and his legacy is still far-off, and that the Gospel of Christ is still not so welcome in the church. It seems that today in Australia no one remembers or knows about the insights and recommendations of the late Arthur Patrick, Australian Adventist theologian and historian, who was on his death bed, in March 2013, completing a document “Toward a Historical Perspective and the Normalization of Relationship” to encourage denominational reconciliation with Desmond Ford (See Post Scriptum April 6, 2019). The golden opportunity for at least a symbolic act of reconciliation has been wasted. Meanwhile, the elitists of perfectionism will, most likely, continue to enjoy favored status, and remain to flourish as the celebrity leaders in the eyes of many Adventists.
Post Scriptum, April 4, 2019: Whoever might have suggested or spread the idea that moving the Ford’s memorial service out of the premises of the Avondale College was done due to some “security concerns” was either uninformed, or dishonest. The official letter says it all: “We understand that many people are still suffering pain and distress from the past events involving Dr Ford, whose views remained inconsistent with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Because of this I want to inform you that the memorial service has been moved to a venue outside the Avondale campus.” Avondale did what it could under the circumstances, and it did a great job. It was a very encouraging thing to see that the idea about the memorial service came out of its circles. The orders to evict the service from the college premisses did not come from within the college, but the denominational headquarters in Australia. A wrong message was sent to the world by what happened last Saturday. It looks as if the SPD acted vengefully, wanting to punish Ford even in his death. Some grace would have not hurt anyone. I initially thought the directive came from GC, but I am now hearing that the initiative came solely from the Australian conferences (???). The whole thing is even more concerning if this is true. During the years when I worked as a pastor under Victorian Conference in Melbourne 1995-2000 I remember a favorable spirit manifest among the pastors and some leaders toward Desmond Ford; at least in the circle of a significant number of pastors and some leaders if not among all of us. Among ourselves (pastors) we were almost quietly divided between “evangelically minded” pastors and traditional, “historic” pastors who were flirting with CBs, or quietly (or not so quietly) affirmative of them. It looked to me at that time that the most hurting years following the Glacier View were almost behind us, and that we were gradually advancing towards reconciliation. What has happened since? Had SPD acted more generously this could have been justified in more than one way. Instead it has contributed potentially towards deepening the crisis, unnecessarily I believe. The whole thing looked as if the Church was punishing Ford even in his death and this is not fair, nor it projects well.
Post Scriptum April 4, 2019: This is something every Adventist today should read and think about. John Rosier writes in his latest letter: “We are witnessing the rise and encouragement of heretical perfectionist Adventism. It’s in the SS books. It’s being propagated in sermons. Last Generation Theology and the false views of M. L. Andreasen are coming into vogue again…. As for the gospel its definition of justification is confused with sanctification. It’s allowed people to call the understanding of justification by faith as taught in Romans and Galatians ‘legal fiction’. Thus it encourages the undermining and compromising of the very gospel it claims to be taking to the world. It has allowed and encouraged without correction the propagation of the heresy that we are saved by a mixture of faith and works based on a law keeping lifestyle performance. As such grace is in completion with human works and spiritual humanism as the basis for salvation. It also undermines the appreciation of the full force of the Fall and Sin, which is a form of Pelagianism.” Read the whole letter …
Post Scriptum April 6, 2019:Arthur Patrick was “a Seventh-day Adventist theologian and historian. At the time of death, he was an honorary senior research fellow at Avondale College in New South Wales, Australia”. In 2002 Arthur Patrick put together a document “Toward a Historical Perspective and the Normalisation of Relationships” with the guidelines for the leaders of the Adventist Church in Australia how to pursue reconciliation. On the side of the church administration the document was kept very private, so much so to that Arthur Patrick decided to upgrade the document and share it publicly. To him it was so important that his document becomes public that he finished the publicly released edition of the document only a few days before his death on 13th March, 2013. Anyone who wants to learn more about the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of Desmond Ford, and the role SPD played in it at the time, and much more that is not widely known, must read this document. “This story has never before been told in this detail to a group of Australian Adventists. Why tell it now? Simply to facilitate an understanding of the level at which information was controlled in the 1970s and early 1980s; to illustrate the evident fear amongst church leaders that ordinary members might become aware of facts now recognized as basic for all Adventists; to highlight the need of mature pastoral care for workers and members in a situation of turmoil. The lack of information amongst church members meant that scores of ministers faced dismissal if they attempted to understand and interpret the waves of data flowing over them.” Read the entire document here.
In October last year the organizers of the ROM (Renewing Our Minds) Integration Forum released the Croatian edition of the Memorandum on the ROM Integration Forum, with conclusions and recommendations for Croatian government and non-government organizations and institutions, as well as for EU and international organizations that could benefit from the findings of this document.
Today we are honored to share with you the English edition of the Memorandum. Although the focus of the document is on Croatia we are aware that many of the findings also reflect similar, often identical experiences around Europe, and as such our recommendations, especially around the questions of integration, can be adapted to suit many national and international context.
In September 2018 a unique integration conference took place in Fuzine, Croatia. The event brought together 54 asylum seekers, lecturers, workshop facilitators, counselors, mentors, humanitarian activists, and religious and political leaders under the banner of “ROM Integration Forum: Moving Forward in Truth, with Courage and Hope.” The conference was attended by participants from 14 countries, including Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, and Iran.
This document comes as the result of a promise given by the organizers to the participants, especially the asylum seekers attending the conference, that we would make the findings of the conference available nationally and internationally as a tool by which we would like to raise public awareness about the plight of the refugees who are seeking international protection in Croatia and Europe. Our desire is to help contribute to the making of a healthy and constructive climate that would be supportive of a more dignifying treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Croatia, Europe and elsewhere..
Thank you for giving us your attention at this time.
MEMORANDUM ON THE ROM INTEGRATION FORUM
Conclusions and recommendations for Croatian government institutions and organizations, religious communities, charities, and civic initiatives in the Republic of Croatia; as well as for EU and other international government and non-government organizations that could benefit from the findings of this document.
From Wednesday, September 19thuntil Monday, September 24th, 2018 a unique five-day integration conference took place in Fuzine, Croatia. The event brought together 54 asylum seekers, lecturers, workshop facilitators, counselors, mentors, humanitarian activists, and religious and political leaders under the banner of “ROM Integration Forum: Moving Forward in Truth, with Courage and Hope.”
The conference was attended by participants from 14 countries, including Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, and Iran. The conference was organized by the Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation, an international nongovernmental organization based in Seattle, USA, and Work as Calling, a Croatian nongovernmental organization based in Zagreb, as well as the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM), based in Brussels, Belgium. The conference was a project that grew out of Renewing Our Minds (ROM) a project that has been held in Fuzine, Croatia every summer since 1999. The conference sessions were conducted in English, with translation into Farsi and Arabic.
The goals of the Integration Forum
The goals of the integration forum (hereafter referred to as the ROM Forum) were to assist international asylum seekers in Croatia, as well as some who have been recently granted asylum in Croatia (hereafter referred to as asylees)and are planning their new life in Croatia. The forum sought to assist them in gaining a balanced understanding of the integration process in the Republic of Croatia and the European Union. Conference organizers wished to communicate openly with asylum seekers about the challenges they face during the lengthy, uncertain, and draining process of awaiting a final decision from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) regarding their status in the Republic of Croatia.
The conference organizers wanted to offer a platform for the voices of asylum seekers and asylees in Croatia. As well as for the Croatian government, non-governmental, religious organizations, institutions and European organizations that offer various social, psychological, humanitarian, and spiritual assistance to asylum seekers and asylees in Croatia. A high-quality range of lectures and workshops, and small and large group discussions helped achieve these goals. The topics were approached with the goal of acquainting the asylum seekers and asylees with Croatian and European legislation and analysis of the cultural and religious milieu of Croatia and the European Union.
Conference participants included both Christian and Muslim asylum seekers and asylees, and their interactions were warm and mutually respectful. It is also worth noting that a majority of the participants (24 people) were asylum seekers still living in the Porin refugee center in Zagreb, and seven participants have already been granted asylum in Croatia. A few asylum seekers and asylees were also included in the team that organized and ran the conference.
Challenges faced by asylum seekers in Croatia
The organizers of the ROM Forum ensured that there would be enough time for participants’ questions, and for discussion sparked by their questions. Although the conference was marked by a warm tone and grew daily in mutual acceptance, understanding, and unity, it was also marked by intense and challenging discussions. The afternoon discussions repeatedly touched on a handful of relevant, painful, and previously suppressed questions that brought to the surface the challenges that asylum seekers face daily.
Multiple conversations with conference participants communicated the following:
A large number of asylum seekers have spent two, or even three years living in Porin, a center for asylum seekers in Zagreb, where they, along with their families, are in a state of long-term uncertainty while they await a decision from the Croatian MIA regarding their request for residence in Croatia. All of them are seeking asylum based on threats to their lives due to war, or because of political or religious persecution. A few participants have received two or three negative responses, and a fourth negative response would be final, forcing them to leave Croatia no more than one month after the decision. Invitations to interviews with MIA representatives are rare, and six to nine months can pass in between interviews. In the meanwhile, the asylum seekers live in a state of radio silence, unsure of the result of their request, unable to find employment during their first nine months in Croatia, with insufficient healthcare, and with no legal means of receiving financial assistance from family and friends living outside of Croatia. They wait for months or years in Porin, and are expected to live off the 100 Croatian Kuna (US$15 or 13.5 Euros) a month per person from the government, which is insufficient to cover even the most basic necessities.
This uncertainty leaves most of these asylum seekers in a state of emotional and psychological exhaustion, deeper feelings of insecurity, irritability, helplessness, and apathy, demonstrated by a lack of desire to get involved in activities such as language study and volunteering, and a lack of belief in the possibility of a positive outcome. A significant number of asylum seekers in Croatia gradually lose faith in the Croatian government and social institutions, because they believe that the challenges, they face during their long-term wait, are the result of a deliberate attempt by the Croatian government to discourage them and force them to give up and leave Croatia of their own will.
Challenges faced by asylees in Croatia
A majority of those who receive asylum in Croatia are faced with a new set of challenges upon receiving a positive response from the MIA. The funds that they receive during the first two years after the decision are intended to cover their basic needs and living expenses. They are expected to get on their feet during these first two years, including finding accommodation, learning the Croatian language, and finding a job.
Because a majority of asylum asylees are just beginning to learn Croatian, finding accommodation is automatically more difficult. The fact that they are “refugees” and unable to communicate closes many doors of potential landlords from the beginning. And while the Croatian government is willing to pay their rent for the first two years, a majority of Croatian landlords ask for payment in cash in order to avoid paying tax, which limits their options, making it more difficult for Croatian asylum asylees to find an apartment. It is common for them to be forced to remain in Porin for weeks or even months after receiving asylum before they are able to move into their first apartment.
Asylees in Croatia are also easy targets for labor exploiters, who offer them quick earnings by giving them the most difficult and thankless jobs, only to later threaten or blackmail them with diminished or no wages. Despite the fact that these asylees enjoy almost all the same rights as Croatian citizens, they can easily find themselves in situations of long-term enslavement or exploitation.
New asylees are most discouraged by the inefficiency of state institutions and systems. They testify that even in cases where the laws are in their favor, application of the laws is inefficient or even nonexistent, especially in the case of their right to education, medical care, and assistance in finding employment in keeping with their qualifications.
The most frequent questions asked by participants of the ROM Forum clearly demonstrate the traumatized condition of many of the asylum seekers and asylees: “Why is the process of awaiting a final decision by Croatian authorities so slow and filled with uncertainty? Why are the conditions the asylum seekers live in for months and years of waiting so inadequate? Why is it that some asylum seekers, who submitted their requests for asylum only recently received a quick response, while others who have been in Croatia for two or three years are still waiting? Why are only some asylum seekers able to find legal work after waiting the prescribed nine months, while most are denied this right? Why is it that services which are guaranteed by law are ineffective, for instance the right to organized study of the Croatian language and healthcare? Why does the Croatian MIA not assist in reuniting family members who have been separated during their refugee journey and now reside in different countries? Why do religious and humanitarian organizations not coordinate more efficiently in offering psychological and social help to asylum seekers and asylees?
Our desire is that through this memorandum we help the voices of asylum seekers and asylees in Croatia be heard, and we also wish to offer the conclusions of the organizers of the recent ROM Forum. We recognize that the path to successful integration is a two-way streetand that responsibility to integrate is matched with the support to do so. Therefore, we want to share the conclusions of this memorandum and the following recommendations with Croatian government institutions, including the MIA of the Republic of Croatia, as well as with religious organizations, and finally with asylum seekers and asylees in the Republic of Croatia. Also, we want to share this document with EU and other international government and non-government organizations that could benefit from the findings of this document.
Recommendations for the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Croatia, and Croatian government institutions and organizations:
Newly arrived asylum seekers, who came to Croatia from neighboring countries, should be allowed to register at the nearest MIA representative in Croatia, and request asylum in Croatia without fear that they will be forcibly returned to the neighboring country from which they came.Representatives of the Croatian MIA must carefully follow Croatian law and binding declarations and conventions of the United Nations and the European Union on the rights of refugees and migrants, which state that they cannot be returned to neighboring countries (straight away without due process) after they have expressed a desire to seek asylum in Croatia, but should be provided a legally guaranteed procedure.
The conditions under which refugees, whether or not they have possession of their personal documents, may enter Croatia, and, under the protection of the law, seek international asylum should be clearly and publicly explained, and the explanation should be made easily accessible.
The process of making decisions about asylum should be speeded up in order to reduce the wait time. Early decision-making for all will facilitate integration, and resources must be available to process all cases quickly, accurately and efficiently. Those who’ve been waiting longest must have immediate and speedy decisions, and credit should be given in the questioning and evaluation process to candidates who are making visible efforts to successfully integrate into Croatian society. To evaluate this, those conducting the evaluations should seek the input of mentors, Croatian language instructors, leaders of volunteer or sports organizations, employers, clergy or leaders of religious organizations, and other professionals whom the candidate has a regular working or mentor relationship with.
It is necessary to create a model of integration with a detailed plan of integration for asylees which can be easily followed. New asylees in Croatia should be allowed access to mentors and counselors who can help them take the first steps towards integration in Croatia.
The Croatian government should work on finding and reuniting families of asylum
seekers, whose members have, through various circumstances, been separated during their journey toward or across Europe.
Inefficient practices on the ground should be brought into line with Croatian law, which guarantees various forms of support for asylum seekers, and in situations where asylum seekers are unable to receive residence in Croatia, they should be pointed to other means of gaining Croatian residence, such as for humanitarian reasons.
While waiting, asylum seekers should be given the right to basic protection of their human dignity, including their right to healthcare, right to work, right to basic income even before nine months have passed, and a right to free Croatian language classes.
In order to achieve a high-quality integration process, asylum seekers should be encouraged to study the Croatian language, which could be achieved by making their receipt of social aid and protection conditional on their study of the Croatian language, and making their language study an additional factor in making a decision about their status in the Republic of Croatia. Also, the required amount of language study should be increased to 160 hours. (Assistance and help maybe required in order for seekers to gain access to these classes)
Asylum seekers should be given temporary documents issued by the Republic of Croatia as a legitimate proof of identity for use in monetary transactions.
It is imperative to protect the dignity, integrity, and security of asylum seekers and asylees residing in Croatia as much as possible, especially in public communication. There has been a recent trend of dehumanizing refugees and asylum seekers in the media, which can easily lead to the radicalization of segments of society with nationalistic and racist proclivities. Therefore, it is also important to protect the dignity, integrity, and security of nongovernmental and humanitarian organizations and citizen initiatives which are making an effort to help asylum seekers and asylees in their successful integration into Croatian society.
It is important to develop access to evaluation and verification of accrued knowledge, degrees, and competence, which would allow asylum seekers who do not have access to their original diplomas and certifications to more easily continue to grow their education and professional skills and titles and find corresponding work.
It is important to protect the dignity of asylum seekers who are seeking protection due to religious persecution, threats, or abuse they faced in their countries of origin. This is especially true in cases where the asylum seekers are Christians or recent converts to Christianity. In order to achieve this, it is important that: 1) the investigators questioning the asylum seekers, and those making the final decisions be aware of the differences and nuances of the religious experience of the asylum seekers, and have an understanding of various religious movements (for instance, Roman Catholics and Protestants do not share identical beliefs even though both belong to the Christian faith); 2) candidates have access to non-ideological translators (there have been accusations that some Arabic and Farsi translators purposeful mistranslate the words of Christians); and 3) asylum seekers be allowed access to a spiritual mentor during their interviews, who can help explain the faith of the interviewee to MIA employees (who can step in and provide clarity if, for instance, a Protestant from Iran is asked questions about the Roman Catholic faith tradition in an effort to confirm the legitimacy of their Christian faith).
Recommendations to religious, church, and nongovernmental organizations
13. Religious communities should be ready to offer religious teaching and pastoral care and open their doors to spiritual integration into the church community for asylum seekers who have accepted the Christian faith either before their arrival in Croatia or while living in Croatia.
14. There needs to be better cooperation between religious organizations, churches, and religiously affiliated humanitarian organizations in offering various social and psychological services to asylees and asylum seekers.
15. Because churches and faith communities have access to the human resources needed for using their humanitarian ministries to meet the needs of asylum seekers and asylees as efficiently and thoroughly as possible, we recommend that they create a unified list of professionals, including lawyers, doctors and health professionals, Croatian and English language teachers, and Farsi and Arabic translators who are willing to offer free professional assistance to asylum seekers.
16. We also recommend coordinating efforts to provide concrete assistance to new asylees, including assistance in finding an apartment, employment, childcare, shopping, and other practical types of help in the first days and weeks of their independent life in Croatia.
17. We call on churches to become shelters where asylum seekers and asylees will feel welcome, secure, protected, and able to receive psychological and spiritual support, thereby diminishing the traumatic consequences of long-term uncertainty and other difficult aspects of refugee life.
Recommendations for asylum seekers and asylees
18. When making statements and giving interviews, always tell the truth about the details of your life, your origin, the country you left, your personal documents, your education, and the reasons why you are seeking asylum in Croatia.
19. Despite the many limitations and barriers created by the inefficient application of existing legal rights and protections of asylum seekers in Croatia, show initiative in proactively approaching the process of integrating into Croatian society. Make learning the Croatian language your top priority. Also, get involved in volunteer activities, which can help you integrate, understand, and accept Croatian and European culture and traditions.
20. Use every opportunity to confirm that you wish to stay in the Republic of Croatia and make it your new home. When invited to interviews with representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, make it clear through your appearance and behavior that you desire to stay in Croatia, contribute to Croatian society, and respect its culture, traditions, and laws.
21. Be patient. Even if the process is long and difficult, do not give up and leave Croatia until the last possibility of receiving a positive response from the Croatian authorities has been exhausted. Your follow through and patience, accompanied by taking initiative and demonstrating an understanding of the complexity of the situation will, in most cases, help you receive asylum status and residence in Croatia. Patience pays off in the majority of cases.
We are sending you this document hoping that it will help expedite the integration process for asylum seekers and asylees in the Republic of Croatia and increase the understanding of Croatian authorities and government organizations, as well as church organizations and humanitarian organizations of the difficult and uncertain path which asylum seekers and asylees must travel in Croatia.
On behalf of the organization team of the ROM forum, “Moving forward in truth, with courage and hope.”
Tihomir Kukolja, Director, Renewing Our Minds, Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation
Mihal Kreko, Pastor, Malesnica Baptist Church, Zagreb; Community Activist and Work as Calling, Director
Heather N. Staff, Core team member, Renewing Our Minds, Policy Adviser – Kate Green MP (UK), for Resettlement, Asylum, Migration Policy (RAMP) project
Zagreb, Croatia, 27thMarch, 2019.
It is noted that terminology for those granted asylum can differ between countries. For our purposes asylees refers to those granted political asylum
We also recommend greater work on training and sensitivity of border officials and police with regard to asylum applications and understanding that not everyone knows they need to officially ask for asylum.
I met Dr. Desmond Ford, a leading and unusual Adventist theologian from Australia, through the word of mouth and vibrant discussions with friends at Newbold College, England in the late seventies. Those encounters led me to seek, photocopy and read his writings and articles available in the college library.
Those were the days of my personal and desperate search for a kind and forgiving God, who I knew existed but was unable to grasp emotionally. I reached a point in my young life when a distant God would not do any more. Several articles written by Desmond Ford, published by the Ministry magazine, a leading Adventist magazine for clergy, and Spectrum, the journal of the Association of Adventist Forums, started working a miracle in my heart. They led me to dig diligently into the writings of the Apostle Paul, especially into his letters to the Romans and the Galatians, as well as the Letter to the Hebrews. All of those led me further, to other authors who majored in the questions of grace, complete Atonement in Christ, and justification by faith.
One of them was Robert Brinsmead and his magazine Present Truth, which later in the seventies became Verdict. Throughout the seventies and in the early eighties Brinsmead was publishing by many welcomed articles on the forensic justification. Robert Brinsmead and Desmond Ford, both Australians, for a while were very much complementing each other in their expositions of the grace of Christ. Then Brinsmead (around 1983) disappeared completely in the waters of deism. Ultimately, he completely dismissed the need for Jesus in his faith.
The other book which made a huge impact on me at that time, as hungry as I was for the grace of Christ, was Roland Bainton’s classic biography on the life of Martin Luther, “Here I Stand”. In the words of the German Reformer I too felt that “I had been born anew and that the gates of heaven had been opened. The whole of Scripture gained a new meaning. And from that point on the phrase, ‘the justice of God’ no longer filled me with hatred, but rather became unspeakable sweet by virtue of a great love.” All of this started as the writings of Desmond Ford on the grace of Christ and the “once-and-for-all” completed Atonement in Jesus were introduced to me, and led me further in my search for peace in Christ.
Then came Desmond Ford’s historical presentation, on October 27, 1979 to the audience of 1000 delivered at the Pacific Union College (PUC) Forum in Angwin, California. Ford challenged the SDA (Seventh-day Adventist) denomination with a message “The Investigative Judgment: Theological Milestone or Historical Necessity.” In the words of Mark A. Kellner Ford’s milestone presentation “signaled a major break with two of the church’s distinctive beliefs: the ‘investigative judgment’ of every person, living and dead, which Adventists believe God has undertaken since October of 1844, as well as the prophetic timing of the sanctuary cleansing described in Daniel 8:14, which led the pioneers to that 1844 time-frame.”
In other words, Desmond Ford argued that the cherished and distinct Adventist doctrine of the investigative judgment stood affront to the firm Biblical understanding that the Atonement was completed once and for all in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on behalf of a sinner, without any contribution required from the saved sinner. He argued that the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment was an offense to the cross of Christ because it presupposed the necessity for human perfection in order to justify God’s own character.
Somehow, while Adventists have always believed in justification by faith of a repentant sinner, they have also believed that somehow a true believer needed to justify God’s character and His requirements by attaining complete perfection of one’s own character through perfect and complete commandment keeping. Adventists were taught that such perfection comes by grace too, through one’s continuing obedience to the Law of God, and especially by keeping the fourth commandment. And if such a high objective had never been achieved by anyone else throughout the entire history of human race except Jesus, the last generation of faithful Adventists will have to attain this goal fully in order for Jesus Christ to come again, and for his faithful ones to pass the scrutiny of the Investigative Judgment. Those “heroes of faith” of the last generation would then prove that, with God’s help, men and women of God can too, just like Jesus, keep all the commandments of God perfectly.
Desmond Ford’s message declared both, the Investigative Judgment doctrine and the doctrine of 1844 heretical and offensive to the Gospel of Christ, since both denied the complete atonement achieved in Christ on the cross, and made the eternal salvation of human race dependent on human performance. I still have a copy of the audio cassette with the recording of the Ford’s 1979 milestone presentation.
The recordings of the presentation went viral and created a spirit of anticipation unseen in the Adventist circles since the birth of denomination. Only another event in the denominational history, the release of the book “Questions on Doctrine” in 1957, which made Adventists more acceptable to the mainstream Evangelicals, created a similar kind of anticipation and angst in the Adventist circles. Some hated it, while others loved it. Within the denomination the church was divided between the scholars, pastors, students of theology, and lay people who downright rejected the presentation of Desmond Ford as heretical and damaging, and others who rejoiced anticipating a long needed and awaited reformation of the denomination that would bring it completely in tune with the Biblical understanding of salvation, rooted in Christ alone, and not in the subjective, always drifting feelings of our sanctification.
I identified with the latter group. I truly believed that very little of fine-tuning was needed for the SDA Church to become a pride of Protestantism. I wanted to believe that the day of Adventist Reformation was fast approaching through the bold ministry of Desmond Ford and a small band of his friends. Many young Adventists, ministers and scholars expected likewise. I was not the only one.
But the Adventist Reformation was not meant to take place then, or any time later.
Almost a year later following Desmond Ford’s historic presentation at PUC, Ford appeared at what was promised by the church administration a fair and discerning hearing to evaluate his elaborate document and presentation by which he would explain in detail his position on the doctrine of Investigative Judgment. “The meeting of the Glacier View Sanctuary Review Committee Aug. 10-15, 1980, was the most important event of this nature in Adventist history since the 1888 General Conference in Minneapolis,” wrote Raymond F. Cottrell, a prominent Adventist theologian. But what was promised by the church administration to be a fair discussion and evaluation, to which 100 Adventist scholars were invited, turned into a trial with the preplanned outcome. Denominational administrators outwitted the scholars and turned the proceedings into the final judgment for Desmond Ford. Hurriedly and in a humiliating way Ford’s employment with the Adventist church was terminated, and his ministerial credentials revoked. Ford could no longer preach nor teach in the SDA churches or educational institutions. In short, “the leadership of the denomination had deliberately misled the entire membership”, and especially the millions of its uninformed lay members.
Desmond Ford’s wife Gill Ford, a very eloquent Ford’s life companion, explained further the manipulative character of the Glacier View hearing in her recent Facebook post: “Des’s fate was decided before Glacier View. If you go careful through the witness statements, leaders from GC (General Conference) were saying this clearly ahead of time. Glen Parmenter told a group here in Australia a week before Glacier View that his father was going over to fire Des. In 1983 in the meetings you attended, Bob Spangler and Duncan Eva said the same. Parmenter insisted that Des must be dealt with that week.” In short, it seemed that the administration was not interested at all if the merits of Desmond Ford’s findings. They could not or they did not want to see that what Ford was teaching would have brought the Gospel of Christ to stand more prominent in the Adventist Church. Keeping the church unity at the expense of the truth of the Gospel mattered much more.
What followed was a sequence of sad events. From the denominational pulpits Desmond Ford was demonized, patronized and his views caricatured. The weekly Sabbath School lessons, advanced with a sense of renewed urgency the “historic”, traditional and distinctive Adventist beliefs in somewhat refined but still fundamentally unchanged ways.
It is not true, however, that after the Glacier View trial all who remained in the church were in agreement with the administration of the church. Many Adventists who in their hearts of hearts hoped to see their church reformed in tune with the Gospel were profoundly disappointed and mourned the injustice done to Desmond Ford, but have nevertheless decided to stay in the denomination. Over a number of years of my denominational and pastoral ministry I’ve had numerous opportunities to meet and talk with many who like me were affirmative of Desmond Ford but have nevertheless stayed in the church.
I remember very well the years of my theology studies at Newbold college, England (1984-1989). We, students of theology and religion, knew among ourselves very well those who aligned themselves with the traditional, fundamentalist, overly distinctive Adventism, and those who majored in the Gospel, grace and salvation without strings attached. When Desmond Ford spoke once or twice at the locations near Newbold College, there was quite a sizable representation of Newbold students attending his presentation, unofficially. Likewise, the post Glacier View audio tapes featuring debates on Sanctuary and Investigative Judgement between Desmond Ford and Smuts van Rooyen in one team, and William Shea and Alex Ortega in the other, were in wide circulation among the Newbold students of theology and religion at the time.
Later, when I assumed the pastoral work in Croatia and in Australia my sermons resonated with the messages of the Gospel about the finished work of salvation in Jesus, judgment with the gospel in its center, Atonement completed on the cross, justification by faith alone, and objective perfection of Christ. I never preached a sermon advocating the Investigative Judgment doctrine, or affirming the prophetic meaning of 1844. And when I served as pastor in Melbourne, Australia (1995-2000) I aligned myself with those Adventist pastors who were of the “evangelical” mind. We knew each other very well, and affirmed the work of each other. And, when Desmond Ford visited Melbourne on a couple of occasions at that time, some of us, evangelical Adventist pastors would come to his preaching venue to listen and share in the fellowship. Personally, it was his clear affirmation of the Gospel of Jesus that had attracted my attention and respect for Desmond Ford 40 years ago, and has continued to do so for so many years.
The most tragic and lasting outcome of the denomination’s handling of Desmond Ford almost forty years ago was that it actually managed to create a new generation of Adventists ignorant of the Reformation that was almost achieved but failed through a foul play in 1980. Ask any Adventist younger than 40 today if they knew who Desmond Ford was, and most of them would not know, or would have a very vague, caricatured knowledge of him.
Even more tragic outcome was that the kind of dishonesty by which the denominational administration treated the Glacier View findings 40 years ago continues to be practiced today. One only has to observe how the General Conference continues to treat unfairly the question of the women’s ordination. Similar kind of dishonesty has been applied also with the content-manipulation of the more recent Sabbath School lessons. The unnamed General Conference editors are taking the liberty to manipulate with the original and already approved texts, without the approval of the authors, even to the extent that their message often becomes the very opposite of what the authors intended to say. All of this is done so that the main teaching tools of the church would fit the ever increasing conservative, fundamentalist agenda of the current denominational leadership, who desires to emphasize again human perfection as the standard for our salvation. In short, the same dishonesty that led the administration of the Adventist church in the early eighties to use the Glacier View against Desmond Ford, seems to be leading the latest errants of the church.
Meanwhile, in all of those years Desmond Ford remained a gentleman, unfairly disgraced but never bitter, striped of his denominational credentials but always responsive to his God-given calling to teach, preach, write and serve whosoever would listen. Sadly, for the past forty years, his own denomination treated Desmond Ford as “a prophet and reformer without honor.” A true man of God, Desmond Ford lived and died with dignity borne out of his firm trust in the finished, saving work of Christ. His wife Gill wrote a short time ago: “He was a man always in a hurry, driven by a mission to serve God and proclaim Christ. He would urge you to take up the work he has laid down. As many of you know, he would say, Meet you here, there or in the air. He has gone ahead of us. And the world is a far colder place.”
I am not embarrassed to admit that the teachings of the Gospel, as delivered by Desmond Ford in the late seventies and early eighties, and later significantly shaped my faith, and directed it on Christ alone. What I really loved about Desmond Ford was his greatness manifest through genuine humility, his leadership of integrity despite humiliation and challenges, and his love for the truth of the Gospel of Christ which mattered to him more than his own status or advancement. Ford taught me that the truth matters.
In the end, one has to say this too: the Adventist denomination did make a visible shift towards a healthier, more balanced understanding of the Gospel of Christ, despite the fact that there have always been forces within that have been and are still trying to bring Adventism back to the more sectarian, almost cultic days of its infancy of almost two hundred years ago. Whatever advancement the church has made towards upholding a more Biblical view of the Gospel, this has taken place because of the major impact Desmond Ford’s work had on the church forty years ago, regardless of whether one gives a credit for this to Ford or not. Even the official Adventist paper “Adventist Review” agrees. Gerhard Pfandl wrote only a few days ago: “Most Adventist scholars and pastors today have accepted Ford’s definition of righteousness by faith.” After all, maybe there is a hope that Adventist Reformation is still in coming?
“Well done, good and faithful servant!” Matthew 25:23.
Sermon Highlights: Lessons from the Early Church. Tihomir Kukolja preaches at the International Christian Fellowship Church, Belgrade, Serbia, June 2018.
How much does the Christianity today reflect the Christianity of its early days? How much are we like or unalike this movement that was born two thousand years ago? How come Jesus Christ did not create a religious order, something like in the Old Testament days, with 10 or 600 new laws and regulations, orderly structured to govern the movement of his followers?
Instead Jesus just said: “Follow me!” He said: “Look at me! Look at what I was doing when I was with you. Listen to what I was saying when I was with you, and follow me!” At the end of the second and fourth chapters of the Book of Acts we find descriptions of what this movement looked like at the beginning.
Firstly, there was a clear awareness among the early believers of the importance of community. The conversion of people was not only an individual matter. Tragically today the Christian church is either too institutionalized, individualized, secularized or ridden by nationalism. I do not believe Jesus had ever intended that His church should look like that. Church is meant to be much more than just a holy place to visit at given times. It is a family of support. It is very hard to be a follower of Jesus in isolation.
At the very beginning the Church of Christ was not a fancy building to go to. It was there with the believers in their fields, in their homes and houses. I can see them every night, after their daily work was done, going to different homes to share meal, to read the Word of God, to pray, to talk about Jesus, to encourage each other. Those meals they shared had much more profound meaning than the way we eat our meals today.
Then, their lives were centered in the person of Jesus, and not on some shallow spirituality that was based only on emotions without content. Today, unfortunately there exists a Christian culture that teaches many to believe that they are saved by default, with no need for repentance and clear understanding of sin; where people do not believe that Jesus had to die for our sins. Historical Christianity is in the process of becoming lost.
I’ve heard pastors and preachers whose sermons sound like a beautiful flower arrangement. Roses, everything is there, even a shakespearean way of crafting the words, but 10 minutes after the sermon was over one couldn’t remember what was said in the sermon any more. This is because everything was there, except Jesus and the challenge of the Gospel.
Finally, the early Church teaches us that suffering for Jesus was not an option. It always comes one way or another. The Bible says that “whoever wants to live a godly life will be persecuted.” 2. Timothy 3:12. Those early believers did not consider suffering as an unfortunate thing. Today we are reaching the point when all areas of apparent safety from persecution for Christ are gradually diminishing. The days are coming soon when your and my faith will be tested; when we will either be or not to be.
Already the number of people who are hated for the sake of Christ has gone beyond the total number of all persecutions of the previous centuries. The older I am getting the more I understand that I need to stand for my Jesus.
A group of friends are discussing the prospective origin of a beautifully designed chair in the room. It was a solid, antique Victorian wooden armchair, almost royal in appearance covered with red leather upholstery. Although they knew very little about the origins of this chair all of them instantly concluded that it had to be designed and crafted by a skilled craftsman-designer. Having established with ease the basic fact that the object they witnessed in the room was indeed a Victorian chair, they now tried to figure out who could have been its designer, and how did it come to be in that room.
Let’s imagine now that from the outset these friends disagreed about the most obvious fact; that the chair was the result of the creative work of at least one craftsman. Imagine that one or two of them started to argue adamantly that the chair was not a product of the intelligent design, but of a brainless and impersonal set of coincidences, pushed forward without anyone’s assistance, over a period of countless millions of years? I am sure that the rest of the group would have been seriously concerned about the mental state and sanity of their friends given to an insane fantasy. Who would have in his or her right mind ever suggested that an object wonderfully crafted could have ever come into existence in any other way than by being deliberately and thoughtfully created and modeled by someone who knew what he was doing?
So is the case with everything else that surrounds us: tables, pianos, cars, houses, rockets, the most sophisticated computers, artificial intelligence – they came into existence because someone intelligent enough designed and created them. None of those just happened to be by themselves. One does not need any kind of scientific sophistication to understand that.
But, wait! As soon as one applies this kind of reasoning to more complex and sophisticated creations – such as the huge universe with its countless celestial systems and bodies, or to our own earth with its ecosystem, including all living organisms and spices, animals and human life, and much more – the ‘educated’ reasoning suddenly changes in favor of those who argue that none of those needed a designer, and that literally everything that exists and supports life came into existence, and continued to develop beyond our wildest imagination, purely by chance, with no outside help.
In fact, it is this kind of belief that is embraced today as the official science of our civilization, taught in schools, and advocated by the media as a demonstrable fact, and embraced by a growing number of churches and spiritual gurus who have added only a gentle theistic injection into it. It is known as the Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Today, those of us who continue to believe that the spacious universe needed its own designer-creator just as much as the most ordinary chair needs its own creator, are being scorned, laughed at and humiliated, and called primitive lunatics.
Why is that so? The answer is very straightforward and scientifically simple.
The origins of everything and anything can be argued only one of the two ways: either someone big, smart, supper intelligent created the universe and all life, including human life; or no one created anything, suggesting that literally everything must have originated out of nothing, and moved along by the invisible train of mindless coincidences. There exists no third choice, even if one were to introduce the cosmic aliens into the equation.
Since responding affirmatively to the question of creation and intentional design would lead by necessity to the questions of our accountability to the Creator, the world that does not want to be accountable to anyone, has a-priory chosen to reject any involvement of the Creator God in our origins. Instead, it has wholeheartedly and unquestionably embraced an ear-tickling theory of blind chance.
The theory of evolution is not a science. It is a story of a mafia stealing an airplane and changing its manufacturing and ownership documents, and selling it as a new product to unsuspected customer. It is a story of a spoiled child stealing a toy from another child and claiming it as his own property. It is a story of counterfeiting, ideological manipulations, and crippled truths. It is a fiction that has got only a few minor elements of its theory right. But even those are not capable of proving the factuality of the weakest links of the theory – those about spontaneous transitions from one living kind to another. The very much needed fossil record of the multitudes of transitional spices, which should be scattered everywhere in plain sight for everyone to see if the theory was right, does not exist.
Science is a big word today, most often used for misleading purposes. Science that is genuine does exist indeed. It is empirically observable and demonstrable. Its results are easily proven and repeated. The same scientific principles that operate in the most sophisticated laboratories of the world are observable in the kitchen of anyone’s favorite restaurant. When you order your favorite meal, you know what the outcome of your order would look like because the restaurant cook would work on your meal by scientifically mixing together all required ingredients in the ways that would with certainty create your delicious dish.
But then there exists a wistful thinking, ideologically dangerous ‘science’ with properties of a cult, known as the theory of evolution. It is driven by atheism that has predetermined in advance that it did not need God. It is a morally corrupt theory lacking all the ingredients needed to qualify as science. It cannot be demonstrated, observed, subjected to repeated examination. It is a smokescreen ideology advanced by the superstitious civilization, desperate to do away with any sense of accountability to God, and in its place a superman eager to master a new age of “guided evolution”. It is a hallmark of the age of fake facts and dangerous ambitions persued by the high priests of human self-worship, dreaming of completing the unfinished Tower of Babel.
OS Guinness, a well-known author and social critic is more than hinting at the moral decadence of this kind of science in his book “Impossible People, Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization” as he writes: “Belief in God as Creator has been replaced by confidence in Man as Creator. ‘We can now engineer the human race,’ the MIT Technology Review tells us modestly. We can be certain that ‘if it can be done, it will be done’. Our scientist-kings and our brave new age of biotechnology (and then astrotechnology: the engineering of space) are the latest in giant steps that will take this Babel drive to a new level. At the spiritual level it carries with it the greatest boost to the pretensions of human autonomy and idolatry since Babel and takes it far beyond such disastrous stumbles as the fiasco of Stalin’s ‘new man’ and Hitler’s ‘new race’. It will also resurrect the specter of new and refined forms of eugenics that could make the appalling Nazi experiments and China’s horrendous gendercide policy look primitive.”
All of this comes under the inspiration of a dangerous vision of “guided evolution”. There where God is considered dead, humanity created in God’s image is being killed too, and replaced by the civilization of beasts. In other words, if the preachers of ‘science’ built out of smoke succeed in convincing us that we have come so far riding a train of countless coincidences, without the need for the engine or the driver, then what is there to stop some bold souls of this “brave new world” to give the theory of the survival of the fittest a sinister helping hand? For the generation that is increasingly short of any sense of accountability towards the Creator, will be even less accountable to its fellow human family.
It remains, at the end, that advancing the theory of spontaneous evolution through natural selection is like advancing a cult. It is the ambitiously dishonest, immoral and idolatrous theory. It is a cry of defiance of a foolish and rebellious civilization, blindfolded by choice, with its angry fist raised high against God, and shouting: “We don’t need you God. We will continue to create the gods in our own image, to lead us.”
Indeed, the words of the wise man ought not to escape us at this time: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’.” Psalm 14:1.
Three years ago the Renewing Our Minds volunteers witnessed the incoming waves of refugees entering Europe via the Balkan route, and crossing Serbia and Croatia.
We were only a small part of a much bigger effort that engaged churches, faith based organization, non-profits and individuals who dedicated days, weeks and months, and some of them years to diligent and passionate service to refugees, in order to make the lives of the refugees moving along the Balkan route more bearable. We were inspired by the words of Jesus: “Whatever you did for the list of these you did for me!” Matthew 25:40.
With the featured video we are going back in time intent at not letting this precious experience vanish. Even more importantly, three years later we want to ask a question that not many dare ask nowadays: “Where are they now? Are they still wondering from one country to another, unwelcome, shifted and tossed around? Are they alive? Are their families together? Are their children safe?”
Listen to the genuine reports made at borders, in cornfields and refugee camps by those who volunteered on the refugee trail in Serbia and Croatia three years ago. This is a must-watch video feature. Share it with your friends.
Crossroads Bible Study Class, MDPC, Houston, Sunday, December 9, 2018. A supplement to the bible study.
Jesus is in the business of saving people. Paul says: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9.),and adds: “Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ” (Romans 8:38.39.).Could it be that simple? But rather than being a source of great joy, radical simplicity of the Gospel offends most people. The saving prescription is so simple that even a child will embrace it, and an elderly person whose mental faculties are already weak will find in it his or her ultimate comfort. It states: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13.)
My late father even on his death bed, whenever asked to pray, would pray the most beautiful prayer of assurance, reliance and dependence on Christ. This radically simple, almost childish truth, which he cherished in his heart and mind by faith for many years, proved to be the most important statement of his life even when the memories of everyone and everything else faded away.
Although the beauty of God’s revelation in Christ remains profoundly deep and beyond our rational grasp, at the same time it remains so radically simple that no excuse will do on the day of reckoning, when Jesus asks, “What have you done with me?”
It is this radical simplicity of the Gospel that says, “Trust in Jesus, and you will be saved,” that is so offensive to so many human hearts who desperately, deceitfully and foolishly want to believe that they are somehow in charge of their lives. It is due to the arrogant rejection of this profound simplicity of God’s gift in Jesus that the unsaved will have to blame no one else but themselves on the judgment day, because by their rejection of Christ they will say: “Sorry Jesus, you were not good enough for me!”
I especially like this part of the same Bible study. This is only a 4.30 minute highlight of the 40 minute long Bible study on the Paul’s Letter to Romans, chapters 9 and 10, which I had a privilage to delivere, at the Crossroads Bible Study Class at the Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Houston, Sunday, Dec 9, 2018.
“The whole creation has been groaningas in the pains of childbirth up to the present time…” Romans 8:22-24
“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,” Revelation 21:5.1.
Human beings and their most immediate living environment are not the only ones in the state of groaning in the anticipation of redemption reaching its climax. The entire universe, including its most distant parts, are groaning just as much.
The moment Adam and Eve made a fatal decision to distrust God something drastically altering happened to the design and the inner workings of the entire creation, entire world, entire universe. Sin, death and decay shook the universe, and altered its character just as dearly as they impacted our human character. So, when we are today wistfully looking at the distant stars and planets, hoping that one day our human salvation will come from one of those alienated places, we are forgetting that we are seeking to find our rescue in the realms of sin and decay no different than our own.
Since the day of the Fall we have been living quarantined within the boundaries of drastically altered universe. With the help of our physical and mental faculties alone we are capable of perceiving the truth of God’s creation only as far as the affected alternations would allow. Thus, when we try to look within ourselves, or as far as the most powerful electronic telescopes would guide us, we always see caricatured and misleading shadows and shapes of the originally intended design. We see only what the flickering lights are projecting on the walls of the Plato’s cave. The transgression of the first couple (Adam and Eve) has infected us all profoundly. Everything integrated into the realms of God’s creation shares in the painful consequences of rebellion, sin, death and decay.
When God closed the gates of the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:23), that meant much more than only an inconvenient separation from the conveniences of a beautiful and comfortable home. It meant that they were locked out of, and veiled from enjoying the wholeness and the wellness of God’s creation, and thus from the proper understanding of how it operates. We, human beings, together with our earthly world, and the entire universe with its most beautiful galaxies have been ever since on lockdown.
This simply means that we who used to live in the golden age of a three-dimensional world (or more), metaphorically speaking, have been demoted to living in the flatness of a two-dimensional shadow. The bottom line is this: the entire universe contained within its space and time limitations has got the expiration date, the same way as our human death marks the expiration date of our human lives. There is no evolution available to save us through the mechanism of endless improvements leading towards perfection. All the fascination with grabbing the evolution fantasy and turning it into our own savior through genetic manipulations, or merging with artificial intelligence advancements are a big delusion that by each new step of preceived advancement only further reveal how crippled we are.
No wonder Paul talks about the whole nature (people, animals, whole natural world, universe) “groaning as in the pains of childbirth up to the present time.” Romans 8:22-24. In other words, in its own way the entire universe moans, groans and cries: “How long, Lord? How long?”
But the good news is here: “In Christ, and only in Christ (the second Adam) the veil is taken away.” 2. Cor. 3:16. Because God decided to reveal Himself in a radical way through Jesus we are not going to stay forever in the Plato’s cave of flickering lights, spiritually and empirically blind, and with only a shadowy and sketchy access to the ever-evading truth, always delusional and always substituting a shadow for the truth.
The promise is ours. “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,” Revelation 21:5.1.
Until then we will continue to see the reality of God’s creation only “through a glass, darkly.” 1. Corinthians 13:12.
The newly elected Brazilian president Jair Messias Bolsonaro promised: “God above everything. There is no such thing as this secular state. The state is Christian and the minority will have to change, if they can. The minorities will have to adapt to the position of the majority.”
The statement of the far-right Brazilian president sounds sweet to the ears of Christian supremacists and dominionists in the US, who are rejoicing in what they see as the important international fruit of the leadership of the American president Donald Trump. In their view America and Brazil are being conquered for Christ. Like the recently resigned Attorney General Jeff Sessions they would like to see the separation of church and state dismantled first; this archaic obstacle in their path to the ushering in of the Kingdom of God in the US, Brazil, and elsewhere soon. So, the emerging of the Brazilian president, barely elected and already declaring that the non-Christians of Brazil will have to submit to the rule of Christians, comes as a glad tiding to the ears of American Christian supremacists.
In their view Jair Bolsonaro is a God’s choice, divinely appointed and anointed at this time to lead Brazil the same way the current US President was “divinely” elected two years ago. This should not come as surprise when one considers that Brazilian “evangelical leaders have used their pulpits, church rolls and massive media outlets to unabashedly push Mr Bolsonaro’s upstartcandidacy,” despite the fact that president’s pre-presidential record has for years been anything by godly. The same man was reported as having said that Afro-Brazilians are “lazy and fat”, in the same breath calling refugees from Haiti, Africa, and the Middle East as the “scum of humanity”. About the use of torture, the love of all dictators, he said: “The dictatorship’s mistake was to torture but not kill.” He was also reported saying about a fellow female Brazilian politician: “I would never rape you because you don’t deserve it”.
Should anyone think that the religious radicalism of the newly elected Brazilian president is just a coincidence with no serious consequences, consider that in the US, which still holds the banner as the world’s leader in the advancement of religious freedom, a far-right Washington Republican winner of the reelection bid Matt Shea, apparently holds and promotes even more radical views for which he is investigated by FBI at this time. He believes that in “Christian America” all ‘unbelievers’ will eventually have to yield to armed Christians. Matt Shea recently constructed “Biblical Base for War”, a four page “Bible study” document intended to guide ‘the church militant” in how and whom to kill in the “holy war”, led by a “holy leader” and executed by “born again” warriors, under the direct guidance of the “warrior God”.
Apparently Matt’s ‘holy war’ outline explains “how to establish Christian law through armed struggle, calls for the end of same-sex marriage, abortion, and the death of all non-Christian males in the US if religious law is not upheld”. The document is actually an elaboration of the Old Testament theocratic rules for war applied in the days of Moses. They look very much like what a jihadist rule book might look like that describes how to treat ‘the infidels’ who would not “yield” to their particular interpretation of Islam.
Matt Shea is a Christian Dominionist. He is a part of a small but vocal branch of Evangelical supremacists who believe that Jesus gave Christians the authority to rule over the world in his name, in the most literal sense, with guns and full assistance of the law. He and many other Evangelicals believe that their day has come to “reclaim America for God”, by all means necessary. Over the past two years we have been witnessing the increase of people from the religious fringes coming out of their ideological closets of political insignificance, united in the belief that the current US President is God’s gift to them to finally bring about “the reign of God” in America.
Their intentions are not a secret. They are using Google, Facebook, YouTube and many other social media platforms generously to promote their radical worldviews. You will see them featured in videos, praying for God’s favor, with their guns and Bibles proudly in their hands. Their self-styled prophets are mass-producing “the word of the Lord” in support of President Trump as their champion, while their heavenly dreams and revelations are warning their audiences of former President Barack Obama’s plot to return, this time as the Antichrist, and declaring the judgments of God upon America for all “the sins of Democrats”. They appear convinced that their fight is for Christ, His kingdom, and the rebirth of America as an undiluted Christian nation. And when that day comes, their versions of “Christian nation” will not tolerate homosexuals, Muslims, communists, immigrants, and – rest assured – Christians who do not fit their ideological paradigm.
It would not be fair to present Donald Trump as a Christian Dominionist. Certainly not yet. Neither are most Evangelicals there yet. But all kinds of Christian supremacists and reconstructionistslove love to be around the president, serve in some capacity close to him, be his spiritual advisers, take photographs with him as they lay their hands on him while prophesying over and about him. They all believe that Trump is their man, God’s anointed, the Cyrus of our days who will make the work of their radical evangelism flourish.
And Donald Trump loves them too.
Earlier this year I wroteabout a somewhat unsettling gathering of prophetic minds called “The Turnaround: An Appeal to Heaven National Gathering”, that took place, with the blessing of the President, in the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC last March. Over one thousand Dominionists in attendance prayed in earnest for the “unleashing [of] angel armies against Trump’s enemies.” The organizers claimed claimed that the gathering will launch a worldwide spiritual revival, and spiritual breakthrough at home. All who dare stand in opposition to the current president were portrayed as “the Antichrist forces”. They declared that “now that the church woke up” it needed to “move from pleading with God to ruling with him and Trump”. They decreed also that God is now “authorizing the church to destroy all God’s enemies and all the enemies of America, in the name of Jesus Christ”.
Dutch Sheet, the self-proclaimed prophet and driving force behind the event, “decreed” that Donald Trump “will accomplish everything Almighty God sent him into that House to do, regardless of who likes it or who doesn’t”. He prayed defiantly against everyone who dared oppose the president: “You will fail! The (Church) will take you out. The outpouring of Holy spirit will take you out. Angels will take you out. You are no match for any of the above. You are no match for his prophetic decrees. So, we push you back. Your finest hour has come and gone. And the church now raises to the place that he has called us to walk in. We now rise up and I call that new order into the earth.”
When one considers the threatening arrogance and raw boldness of such ‘prophetic’ utterances, it does not take much to imagine what groups of fanatics, biblically illiterate militants eager to “do the bidding of the Lord” could be capable of doing “in the name of the Lord”, provided the circumstances are favorable. Imagine what the rallies of “God’s warriors”, caught up in a holy frenzy, could literally do to former president Barack Obama, if only “the affirming word of the Lord” comes to some of them? Imagine, under such circumstances, what an ugly scene it would be if former Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton were to be delivered into the hands of a mesmerized crowd of ‘holy warriors’ yelling “Lock her up! Lock he up!”?“People are never so completely and enthusiastically evil as when they act out of religious conviction”, wrote Italian novelist Umberto Eco.
Freedom of religion has become a fashionable promise under the current US leadership. However, the best safeguard against finding ourselves one day ruled by any form of Christian dictatorship, fascism or tyranny is to guard jealously a state of clear separation between church and state, whether we speak of the US, Brazil, or the countries of secular European Union that are increasingly becoming vocal about the need to protect their millennial Christian heritage; and there are more of those in Europe today than Hungary, Italy and Poland only. Tragically human history has amply demonstrated that when Christianity and earthly power blend into a single entity instead of staying apart, a beautiful promise always turns into a beast that devours not only non-Christians but Christians who are not of the desired brand too.
Are we heading that way?
Only a few days prior to the midterm elections I was driving along a major Houston highway when I saw a domineering billboard (two weeks later it is still there) displaying the image the American President, posing seemingly as an emerging American evangelist, overlaid with the Biblical quote “The Word Became Flesh”, and undersigned with “Make the Gospel Great Again”. It is dubious who is behind this highly visible and costly piece of advertising displayed along important highways in at least several US cities, although Facebook hosted a group that claimed to be responsible for its placement. The group that is calling itself MGGA, or “Make the Gospel Great Again” explained on their Facebook page (the Facebook page has been taken down a few days ago): “God does send his messengers to us, and just as King David liberated the faithful in his day, President Trump is doing this today through his protection of the unborn, defense of our land against foreign invaders and standing up for Israel. Compared to the disaster of a president we had in Obama, how is this not the “word become flesh” for Americans”?
Was someone joking, intending to insult, having a good laugh in the pre-midterm election days of hyphened anxiety, or trying to evangelize America in a highly provocative way? Or, could it be that the whole visual and verbal billboard design penetrates much deeper into the hidden parts of the soul of average white American Evangelicals who, unlike Jesus, are not willing to resist the addictive temptation to get hold of “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” if only they bowed down to the Deceiver? Whatever the case the billboard left me with a feeling of disgust, because its display has become a metaphor for the hijacked Christianity in the US, in which many white, right-wing American Christians are in so many ways placing a divisive, deceitful, vane, narcissistic, self-serving, discernment-lacking and hate-filled Donald Trump on par with the loving, serving, truthful and saving mission of Jesus Christ.
In other words, the billboard depicting a preaching Donald Trump as “the word becoming flesh” is a painful reminder that over the past two years the outlook of American Christianity has become morally degenerated. The outcome of the 2018 midterm elections has demonstrated that deliberate cognitive dissonance still governs the minds and hearts of the 80% of white American Evangelicals, whose zealotry made the election of Donald Trump possible two years ago. It seems obvious now that no repentance or sobering-up has ever taken place in their hearts and minds. Instead they are continuing quite comfortably to sell the historical Christianity, and the Gospel of Christ for a bowl of plausible and fictional national greatness.
And what does the bowl of American national exclusivism, that tastes sweeter than the Gospel of Christ, consist of?
Historian John Fea describes it well in his sobering and recently published book “Believe Me – The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump”: “Trump promised to place a conservative on the Supreme Court, to build a wall along the southern border, to protect white America from all the ‘rapists’ who were illegally streaming across the border; to round up undocumented immigrants and kick them out of the country – even if it meant dividing families; (to) prevent Muslims from entering the United States; to bring an end to the Affordable Care Act; to defend ‘religious freedom’ by repealing the part of the IRS code that prevents churches from endorsing political candidates; (and) to move the location of the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem;” – all of which would only boost white nationalism, racism, pride, control, injustice, militancy and wrong theology; none of which would ever advance Christlike empathy and compassion for the poor, homeless and immigrants. Meanwhile the love for human life in its holistic entirety (and not only from the conception to birth) has been completely forgotten.
So, when ahead of the midterm elections Franklin Graham, son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, urged Christians to “vote for the candidates who most closely align with the Biblical values”, one should have had every reason to ask what candidates and principles did Mr. Graham have in mind, considering that his entire faith-based and political constituency continues to prefer loyalty to Trump’s promises of the new American supremacy, to the clear counsel of the Lord that “whatever we do to the least of those – immigrants, refugees, homeless, beggars, the poor, and the racially, ethnically, religiously ostracized – we do it for the Lord!”
What kind of Biblical principles are the 80% of white Evangelicals really adhering to if by their choice and continuing support they have become an accomplice in the creation and sustenance of the national and international nightmare? What kind of leader are we recommending our fellow Christians too when, according to the words of Michael Gerson, The Washington Post columnist and former top aide to George W. Bush, Trump’s “unapologetic materialism, his tribalism and hatred for ‘the other’, his strength-worship and contempt for ‘losers’, smacks more of Nietzsche than of Christ”? Moreover, what principles of Jesus are we talking about when the white Evangelicals, with their willing submission to Trump, are holding the rest of Christendom hostage?
Finally, lest we missed the main point, the Trump evangelism billboard implies that Donald Trump has become just as sacrificial, effective and living “Word of God” in his work of “making America great again”, as Jesus Christ was effective in the work of salvation of the world from our sins. Apparently, God sent both of them for our salvation: one for our spiritual salvation, while the other for our national salvation. In this way this billboard broadcasts a blasphemous message that confuses the kingdom of God with the kingdom of the United States of America.
We are living in the days of humiliating transition for the Christian church. To quote again the words of a well-known columnist Michael Gerson, followers of Jesus, like myself, are finding it “difficult to see something (we) so deeply value discredited so comprehensively.” 80% of white Evangelicals in the US have kidnaped Christianity, stripped it of its clothes, and given it the character that is offensive to the character of Jesus. Many have gullibly fallen for a deepening deception that the Kingdom of God looks like a wistful “kingdom” of America. Together with Christian dominionists, nationalists, supremacists, racists, lovers of the prosperity gospel or “health and wealth gospel,” and the leftovers of Christian Right – they all see it as the golden opportunity to “reign” with Trump in the re-emerging American Christian nation.
Gregory A. Boyd, a Christian writer with a clear grasp of the Gospel, warned us in his book “The Myth of a Christian Nation”: “A Kingdom of God citizen could (and should) argue that the Christian version of the kingdom of the world was actually the worst version the world has ever seen. For this was the version of the kingdom of the world that did the most harm to the Kingdom of God. Not only did it torture and kill, as versions of the kingdom of the world frequently do – it did this under the banner of Christ”. He wrote, ”If violence and oppression are demonic, violence and oppression ‘in the name of Jesus’ is far more so. The church of Christendom thereby brought disrepute to the name of Christ, associating his kingdom with the atrocities it carried out for centuries. Hence, in the name of winning the world for Jesus Christ, the church often became the main obstacle to believing in Jesus Christ.”
Someone warned and it has been repeated millions of times: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” How much have we learned? Have we learned anything at all?
PS: Nov 14, 2018: A few thoughts from the John Fea’s book “Believe Me” would strengthen the argument of this article that flirting between the President and militant elements of the Evangelical America is a much more serious issue that what we would often like to admit: “Trump was appealing to a different kind of evangelical voter. His business success and wealth made him attractive to those Christians sympathetic to the gospel of prosperity, or the ‘health and wealth gospel’ movement. Some of the powerful leaders of the Independent Network Charismatic (INC) Movement, an oft-overlooked segment of American evangelicalism, prophesied a Trump victory. In September 2015, when Trump met with nearly three dozen evangelical leaders at Trump Tower, the room was filled with Pentecostal, prosperity gospel, and INC leaders, such as Gloria and Kenneth Copeland, Jan Crouch, Paula White, and Mark Burns. By January 2016, Trump had also secured endorsements from Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, and Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world.”
PS: November 15, 2018: Another few eye-opening thoughts from the book “Believe Me – The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump by John Fea that complement the subject of this article, which I came across after the completion of my article. This time they are about Ted Cruz: “Ted Cruz’s grassroots campaign among evangelicals led to his eventual victory in the Iowa caucuses. Endorsements rolled in from James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family ministries and one of the architects of the Christian Right’s ‘family values’ campaign, and Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Council. Ted Cruz turned fear-mongering into an art form. The Cruz campaign mirrored the old days of the Moral Majority. Anyone who attended one of Cruz’s rallies or watched him on television came away from the experience with a sense that he and his followers were on God’s side and that everyone else was working with the forces of evil to destroy America. Cruz talked about the need to ‘reclaim’ or ‘restore’ America. His father, traveling evangelist Rafael Cruz described his son’s campaign for a Senate seat as a direct fulfillment of biblical prophecy. The elder Cruztold the congregation that God would anoint Christian ‘kings’ to preside over an ‘end-time transfer of wealth’ from the wicked to the righteous. This ‘end-time transfer of wealth’ would relieve Christians of all financial woes, allowing true believers to ascend to a position of political and cultural power so that they could build a Christian civilization. When this Christian nation would be set in place (or back in place), Jesus would return.
Jesus is in the business of saving people. Paul says: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”, and adds: “Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ” Romans 8:38.39. Could it be that simple? But rather than being a source of great joy, radical simplicity of the Gospel offends most people. The saving prescription is so simple that even a child will embrace it, and an elderly person whose mental faculties are already weak will find in it his or her ultimate comfort. It states: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:9.13.
Tihomir Kukolja, born in Slavonska Pozega, Croatia. Studied, lived and worked in Yugoslavia, Croatia, United Kingdom, Australia and the US. Educated in theology, communications, and radio journalism. Worked as a church pastor, radio producer and presenter, journalist, religious liberty activist, humanitarian activist, and reconciliation and leadership development activist. Lives in Baytown TX, USA. Currently serves as the Executive Director, Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation (Forum), and Director of Renewing Our Minds (ROM) initiative.