September 22, 2018 | Seth Pierce

One of the internet’s greatest gifts to me is the recurring picture of two fighting siblings in an “I Love You” shirt — a single T-shirt, worn by both parties, that almost forces the kids to hug and be close to each other. Perhaps it works as a deterrent to the unnecessary noise and conflicts that operate extensively on a parent’s nerves (and hallelujah if it does, as these can be desperate times). But we all know forced affection, agreements and apologies fall short of the real thing. For example, if I take my wife on a date, there is a solid chance she will give me a kiss before the evening is over. However, if I make her sign a contract for a kiss, the whole mood of the evening and tone of the relationship shifts to something else.

Peace (and even quiet) are experiences longed for in contemporary life, and yet everything about life repels them. The speed of life causes us to judge faster. The manipulation and rapid dissemination of selective images skews our speedy judgments. Plus, we are tired of trying to keep up with all that is going on — these dynamics, and others, don’t help us produce the kind of lasting peace, love and respect that lasts.

Instead, we make moves to control and force outcomes we like. Scripture is full of stories of attempts at controlling others. Nebuchadnezzar’s threat of death in a fiery furnace demanded that everyone bow to his authority (Daniel 3), Saul’s fine-tuned theology led him to breathe (and execute) murderous threats against the nascent Christian community (Acts 9:1). The medieval Christian Church burned dissenters at the stake and launched crusades against other faiths — even misappropriating texts like Jesus’ call to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31) as justification. Protestants aren’t immune to these tendencies either.

Peter Horsfield highlights the struggle for control over biblical interpretations during the Protestant Reformation’s call for sola scriptura. Horsfield observes: “Although an emphasis in Protestant Bible reading was placed on the 'plain sense' of the text, it became apparent that it was possible for the people to gain a variety of plain senses from individual reading. This led to a number of hermeneutic aids being produced to assist readers in understanding the text the way Protestant church authorities wanted them to understand it.” [1]

Apparently, there were multiple sola scripturas and what has been called “vigilante interpretations beyond people’s control."

Protestants in early America burned convents in a spirit of nativism and even produced semi-pornographic fictional literature designed to undermine Catholic influence in America. At times they even banned Catholics from voting in local government. Even early Adventists fell victim to heated debates to the point where they lost sight of the gospel. Power plays, force and control, sadly, are a part of all histories. It led to Ellen White penning, “Force is the last resort of every false religion.”[2]

White has a lot to say on this subject. When it comes to education and deciding on people’s vocation, she writes, “No human mind should dare take the responsibility of his finite mind guiding or controlling the mind of the Lord’s servants and making them his servants."[3] Elsewhere she talks about how our expressions of faith and life differ, when she says, “We are not to feel that we must all speak the very same things, giving the same representation in the same words; and yet there is to be unity in the diversity.”[4] She goes on to note that on the ancient priest’s sacred breastplate were different stones, each with their own unique light.

Speaking of early Adventists embracing the Sabbath, she notes how churches kicked them out. She noted, “A deception is upon those who oppress their fellow men because they do not believe the same form of doctrine that their oppressors believe.”[5] Conflict and difference can be uncomfortable, and those in power often try to resolve issues swiftly and forcefully to restore the balance. However, Jesus’ words move us toward a more difficult path.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matt.5:9). Peacemakers is not the same as peacekeepers or peace enforcers. Making peace is slower and more painful, but ultimately lasts longer. It is also true that those who try to make peace create unrest among people who care more for power. Jesus brought peace to many, but also upset a lot of people by doing so — meaning, if you haven’t figured it out, you can’t make peace with everyone. Still, these thoughts encourage me to try — to move past being one of the Sons of Thunder (with whom I often empathize … very often) and to become a son of God.


[1] Peter Horsfield, From Jesus to the Internet: A History of Christianity and Media (UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2015), p. 199.

[2] Signs of the Times, May 6, 1897.

[3] Manuscript 169, 1897.

[4] Manuscript 105, 1900.

[5] Review and Herald, April 19, 1898.