One question I continually ask myself is “If I were 25 years old today, why would I want to be a Seventh-Day Adventist?” I ask that question because my children are and recently have been that age, and I want to have answers for them. And when I look around at the Adventist church in North America, the 18-30 year-olds have left en masse. This movement, which began (in 1844) with a 17-year-old Ellen Harmon and a 22-year-old James White, has, in North America, increasingly become an institution filled with people over 50. In our early years, we were a young people’s movement.
Now, it’s easy to place the blame for this on today’s young adults. After all, they’re the ones who are leaving. But it strikes me as at least a little odd that a movement which attracted young people in the beginning, and which does so in other parts of the world, is effetively repelling them in North America today.
As I look at the early days of our church, and at what’s happening elsewhere, it appears to me that one great difference is the sense of being on the cutting edge vs. being old and stale. In our early days, young people in the Millerite and Advent movments felt they were involved in something important and earth-shaking. And it strikes me that much the same can be said of many places where the church is growing.
But here in North America, there’s a sense that everything is settled, that little new can be learned. “New light” is looked on with suspicion, and we often say “we have the truth.” We tend to see “the TRUTH”– for that’s how we think of it– as something solid and clearly defined.
There’s a characteristically Adventist term, “Present truth.” In fact, the periodical we call the Adventist Review began under the titel “Present Truth.” And that term “present truth,” is the antithesis of “old and stale.” Indeed, “present truth” was and is “new light,” or at the very least “light newly understood,” or, even more accurate, “light newly relevant!” Now, for a lot of older Adventists, “relevant” has become a dirty word. And many would view the question “Can Adventism be relevant?” with dark imaginings. But when I look at our history, the real question is, “Can real Adventism– with our heritage of ‘present truth’– be anything else?”
And that’s the main answer to the question I began this with: “If I were 25-years-0ld today, why would I want to be an Adventist?” Because I find, again and again, it’s relevant to my every day life. I want to be where the action is. I want to be on the cutting edge. I want to be where the power of God confronts the world I live in. That’s present truth, and that’s a big part of what it means to be an Adventist– in 1844, or in 2009.