The Celebration Church



     The Plague Of Pentecostalism Has Finally Arrived

     The official announcement told a lot.  Yet behind it the really big story was not mentioned:

     “Morris Venden has accepted a call to become Pastor of Azure Hills SDA church.  He succeeds Dan Simpson, who pastors the Celebration Center Seventh-day Adventist Church, which recently swarmed from the Azure Hills congregation.  Venden has been working in the {Southeastern California } Conference as a revival speaker.”—“People on the Move,” In Pacific Union Recorder, June 5, 1989.

     And now it has arrived!  The church that will change Adventism in America.  Pentecostalism without the tongues!  Our people have been prepared for it.  The standards have been shelved, the doctrines treated as lesser consequences.  Now we are ready for the celebration church!

     The situation in Texas had been difficult enough that it was necessary to transfer Morris Venden somewhere else.  Elder Stephen Gifford, President of Southeastern California Conference extended a call to him, and created a position for him to fill:  He would be the revivalist for the entire conference.

     Yet a growing awareness of the Keene problem was causing increased controversy in Southeastern.  So Elder Gifford suddenly gave the church members of Southeastern California something new to think and talk about.  And are they talking about it!

     On a recent Sabbath morning, a faithful church member of many years decided to visit the new project.  Here is a report on what happened.

     Arriving at the immense auditorium, she entered the foyer and was there greeted by one of the hostesses.  After being handed a church bulletin, she was asked whether she was an Adventist.  Responding that she was, the hostess studied her a moment, then laughed and said, “Brace yourself.  You are going to experience something you have never encountered before.”

     Entering the auditorium, she found it already nearly packed, and it was with difficulty that she found a seat.

     A young man was leading the singing from up front.  On one side of him was a large screen onto which the words of old-time and modern choruses were being projected.  No need for hymnbooks anymore.  The hands need to be free.

     Amid all the singing, the visitor almost felt as if she were in a moving vehicle, for in front, in back, and on all sides, arms were raised and upper torsos were swaying back and forth with the sound of the music.  From time to time some would be lowered to rest them but other arms would be raised to take their place.  And then there was the clapping; vigorous clapping, as the audience did all they could to enter the feeling of the occasion.  They loved the band and the drums.

     “Band and drums!” Oh, I forgot to tell you, up front near the young man leading the music was a band that included two electric guitars and a drum set.  “This is wild, just the way I like it!” said one young man.

     Our visitor relates that she found herself looking around, fearful that one of her friends would see her in a place like this, and think that she had apostatized.  “I had the feeling that I was out of place; I didn’t belong there.  I just didn’t feel right about being there.  I knew what Sister White said and I knew our church beliefs, and I kept worrying that I’d be seen by someone I knew.

     Dividing them into groups of about a hundred, Sabbath School Classes began.  No need for Sabbath School quarterlies here.  They discussed various social issues and were having an enjoyable time.  Then back to the final singing—and Sabbath School was over.  Gone were the Spirit Of Prophecy quotations read from up front.  Gone alike were the mission reports.  She had just witnessed a new-modeled “Sabbath School.”  It was time for the second church service to begin.

     “Second church service?” Yes, in the less than three months that the Celebration Church had been in existence, they have already had so many Adventists transfer in that they have had to switch over to two services on Sabbath morning in order to accommodated the large crowds in the giant auditorium.

     After singing a while, somehow those up front managed to get all the commotion stopped long enough for a rousing welcome, accompanied by the distribution of blue cards to the audience.  Examining one of these blue cards, our visitor found that it asked whether or not the reader was an Adventist and the church where he held his membership.  Space was then given for him to write in his request to be transferred to Simpson’s strange, new congregation.

     And yet it is neither strange nor new; It is only new to Adventism in America.  We earlier wrote on some manifestations of it in Australia, but, outside of Adventism, it has been around for quite a while.

     Mentioning this new congregation to one of our workers here, it was explained that raising the hands and swaying with the music, or clapping with it, is a regular part of Pentecostal meetings.  I was told that the preacher will stand up at the end of a song and say, “It is time now for the holy laugh.  Everybody laugh with me!”  And then he will laugh and laugh, and everyone in the audience will laugh.  “And you sit there and you have to laugh too:  they all look so crazy,” I was told.  “And then the preacher will say, ‘Now it is time for the holy dance!’ and everybody stands up and begins to dance around a little, and then they sit down again for the next round of entertainment.”

     In the vernacular, people sometimes say, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”  Well, I guess you hadn’t.  But, now it’s here.  The only question is this: how fast will it spread?  And the answer is: just as rapidly as our people want it to.

     And in Southern California, they love it.

     After the cards were distributed and then some more swinging and swaying music, it was time for the message of the hour.  But it wasn’t an hour message.  Dan Simpson stood up and for about 10 or 15 minutes told them how much he loved them, and his plans to make them happier.

     God loves you, and we love you.  You are here and that’s all that counts.  Whatever you’re doing, whatever you’ve done, God understands and loves you just the way you are.  This is your home.”

     And then back to the music, the bodies waving back and forth, the rhythmic swing of the arms, and the measured beat of the clapping in time with the drums and the band.  And finally the service ended.  It had all been rousing, enthusiastic entertainment.  No message, no standards, no teachings: the purpose of it all simply was to make them happy; nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.

     While seated in the congregation, and as they were leaving, our visitor had an opportunity to look about her.  Everywhere were large rings, earrings, heavy makeup, jewelry, and lipstick.  A surface beauty to match the surface lightheartedness of men and women with a sin-sickness of heart that surface religion can never heal.

     Fortunately, our friend had an opportunity to speak with Dan Simpson for a time afterwards.

     “I’m tired of these rigid Sabbath Schools,” Simpson declared.  “I don’t think they have any place in the Adventist church any more.  We come here to praise God.”

     “They put me out of Azure Hills (church) because I was already bring this in over there, and now I’m here with full conference support!”  Simpson was very proud of the fact that the Southeastern California Conference headquarters was now fully behind him, and he frequently returned to that point in his conversation.

     “They gave me three months off to think about it because I was beginning to do this At Azure Hills.  When I left Azure Hills I didn’t know where I was going; I thought I was washed up.  Then I found this place.  I went and told Steve Gifford and he gave me his full approval!  They put me here and they put Venden in my former church.”

     Asked to tell more about “this place.”  He replied, “We rent this building from the Pentecostals.  They really like what we are doing.  ‘We are all one in the spirit,’ I tell them as I tell everyone, and they agree.  We pay $7,000 a month rent on this place—and in just a few weeks we’ve already had to go to two services on Sabbath because of the crowds.”

     Simpson was asked more about this matter of ”conference approval:”  “I meet with Elder Gifford every two to three weeks and bring him up to date on what we’re doing over here.  He’s with us all the way.  You don’t need to worry.  We have full conference approval.  This church is fully accredited by the conference as every other one.”

     Then, to emphasize his point, Dan Simpson said this:  “We’re here for backsliders.  We take anybody the way they are, win them over with love, and give God the praise.  I’m a born-dyed-in-the-wool Adventist.  If you had told me ten years ago I’d be doing this, I would have told you you were crazy. But here I am—here in this giant auditorium.  This is wonderful!  Praise the Lord!”

     Asked about the apparent Pentecostalism in the meetings, he said, “We’re not charismatic, but we love to show our feelings.  That’s all.  People come here because they’re sad; they want to be happy.  We’re here to make them happy!”

     Each Sabbath afternoon, they hold instructional classes; they call them ”Orientation Classes.” In some of those meetings some of our doctrines are taught.  Just which “doctrines” are taught we are not certain, for none of it was heard on Sabbath morning.  But from what we are learning, the underlying policy is this:

     Teach them some of the message, and then bring them in as they are, where they are.  They may change later.  Baptize them with everything they come with—their rings jewelry cigarettes, adulteries and all the rest:  there will be time later for them to keep growing.  “Just love ‘em, and they’ll come in” is the oft repeated slogan.

     In his sermon, Simpson said, “God loves you; you’re here and that’s what counts.  There’s room here for everyone, for God loves everyone.  No matter what your past or present, this is your home.”

     And then Dan Simpson briefly recounted his dream again to the audience.  They own some land over on Barton Road in Loma Linda, and Simpson wants to build a gigantic arena there.  A mammoth dome will enclose it all.  Entering it on the ground floor, one will walk into a jungle with animals and trees.  This will be a church to outdo even the talked-about Evangelical TV churches of Southern California!  From the first floor the crowds will descend down escalators to a lower level—and will find themselves in a gargantuan-sized semi-circle arena with spotlights on the band and speakers at the podium.  Seating themselves, they will look up—and through an enormous central hole in the ceiling—will view the dome—Simpson is considering having it of darkened glass—rising above them.

     “Many young people here; lots of young people.  This auditorium is filled with them,” Simpson continues.  “We must build this new arena—or we won’t have room for you older ones here anymore.”  And everyone laughed.  Simpson has wealthy friends in that audience and intends to make his dream come true.  He knows it and they know it.

     This is for fun Adventism, Adventists love it.  They are transferring to the new church in droves.  The other Adventist pastors in the area have mixed feelings.  Most of them view Simpson as a “sheep stealer.”  But Simpson cares not.  Whatever his reasons may be, Steve Gifford suddenly came over to his side at the same time that Venden was slipped into the Azure Hills pastorate.  And that’s all that really matters.  Southeastern California Conference has been swinging and swaying ever since.

     It is known that Simpson already has his men ready for a general raid this fall.  When the young people come back to school at Loma Linda University, its undergraduate division at La sierra, and at the nearby secondary academies, Simpson’s young recruiters will be on the ground—urging them.  “Come on over and see the new church.  It’s great.  You’ll like it.  It’s not boring like these other churches around here!”

     Simpson is hard at work indoctrinating not only the older folk in that section of America, but the younger ones as well.  “Indoctrinating?” you inquire.  “I thought you said his new church emphasized no doctrines?”  When you change Seventh-day Adventists into Pentecostals, you are indoctrinating them.  You are changing their lives, their beliefs, their outlook, their practice,--and their future.

     By the time of this writing (August 1,1989), Daniel Simpson has been pastor of this new congregation for only about three months.  Yet he will have the largest church congregation in Southern California.  And he intends that it be filled with your young people also, if they go anywhere in the Loma Linda area to further their education.

     Yet it all seems so good. Just as, so long ago, the snake-story in the tree sounded so good.  It all seems so great.  Feeling happy and light-hearted: that is what it is all about.

     “Enjoy yourself with cheerful acquaintances, and be sure and come back again next week for another emotional lift.  God loves you; everything is all right because you’re here.  No further progress to make, for it’s not necessary.  Just make yourself at home and swing and clap with the music.  You’ve come a long way since Edson White’s barn.  Now you can build your own crystal cathedral and live in style.  For this is the CELEBRATION Church.  It may seem like something new, but it is as old as the tree in the Garden.  And now it has come into North American Adventism.  It’s official and it’s accepted.  And now it can spread.”

     And you know why it will spread?—Because most folks who read this will do nothing about it,--except to complain that the person who gave this sheet to them is a trouble-maker—for having expressing concern about their beloved church and for having warned them!

vf  Pilgrim’s Rest

   “We are to hold fast every jot and tittle of the truth revealed to us in the living oracles; but we are not to think that we now have a knowledge of all the truth that there is for us. We may well ask whither we are drifting. Even the inspiration of the Scriptures has been under the judgment of finite man, and they have dealt with the oracles of God in the same manner as they have with the testimonies of the Spirit of God, cutting and carving them at will, as it pleased them, and in so doing, making them of none effect. Those who do this, know not what they are doing.

     Unless there is most earnest seeking of the Lord, unless there is zealous work of repentance, darkness will come upon minds, and the darkness will be in proportion to the light which has not been appreciated.”

1888 173.

     “Satan's purpose is, through his devices, to make of none effect the testimonies of the Spirit of God. If he can lead the minds of the people of God to see things in a perverted light, they will lose confidence in the messages God sends through His servants; then he can the more readily deceive, and not be detected.”

  12MR 201 

    We want to understand the time in which we live. We do not half understand it. We do not half take it in. My heart trembles in me when I think of what a foe we have to meet, and how poorly we are prepared to meet him. The trials of the children of Israel, and their attitude just before the first coming of Christ, have been presented before me again and again to illustrate the position of the people of God in their experience before the second coming of Christ. How the enemy sought every occasion to take control of the minds of the Jews, and today he is seeking to blind the minds of God’s servants, that they may not be able to discern the precious truth.

RH February 18, 1890,


" It is not God that blinds the eyes of men or hardens their hearts. He sends them light to correct their errors, and to lead them in safe paths; it is by the rejection of this light that the eyes are blinded and the heart hardened. Often the process is gradual, and almost imperceptible. Light comes to the soul through God's word, through His servants, or by the direct agency of His Spirit; but when one ray of light is disregarded, there is a partial benumbing of the spiritual perceptions, and the second revealing of light is less clearly discerned. So the darkness increases, until it is night in the soul. . . .  AG 215