July 27, 2006

Bible Conference Update 2

capHave any of you here ever read the book of Revelation?” the guide asked as he surveyed the group of middle-aged tourists in front of him. In the darkness of the ornately decorated Patmos cave said to be the site where the apostle John received his vision of Jesus Christ, the guide couldn’t see the gentle smiles of all the Bible scholars standing in the shadows.

PONDER ANEW: General Conference vice president Ted Wilson considers a point during one of the Bible Conference plenary sessions. 

“You,” he said, turning to the man immediately on his right, “have you ever read the book of Revelation?”

By now the laughter was impossible to suppress, for the tourist whom the guide had addressed was Dr. Ranko Stefanovic, one of Adventism’s foremost authorities on the book of Revelation, and the author of a major commentary. In the general merriment that followed, explanations were made: the group of 40 tourists in front of the tour guide was part of a larger gathering of 250 Adventist scholars and administrators from around the globe who had gathered for a major academic conference and tours of the sites described in Revelation 1-3.
The Second International Bible Conference, held July 7-17 just three miles from the site of ancient Ephesus in modern Turkey, drew one of the largest assemblies of Adventist theology and religion teachers ever for a 10-day focus on understanding the biblical doctrine of the church. Cosponsored by the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference and the Adventist Theological Society, the event included scholars and church leaders from six continents, and more than 55 Adventist colleges, universities and seminaries worldwide. Financial support for the event was provided by several of the church’s world divisions, union conferences, and educational institutions, as well as private donors.        

“I STAND AT THE DOOR”: An excavated doorway in ancient Laodicea gives new context to Jesus’ appeal to His lukewarm church. 

World church president Jan Paulsen, six of the church’s general vice presidents, and North American Division president Don Schneider were joined at the conference by representatives of the Biblical Research Institute, Ministry magazine, the General Conference Ministerial Association, the Ellen G. White Estate, and the Adventist Review/Adventist World journals. Division leaders from the Trans-European and Euro-Africa divisions also participated in the conference.

Conference attendees combined intensive academic presentations and seminars with field trips around the region. In the academic sessions, scholars and administrators chose from more than 65 seminars on topics as diverse as “The Ecclesiological Role of Ellen G. White,” “Leadership in the Church During Its First Hundred Years,” and “The Gift of ‘Followership,’” and gathered for an additional nine plenary sessions by Adventist theologians and thinkers. Daily devotional messages by evangelist and GC vice president Mark Finley and Sabbath sermons by Paulsen and GC vice president Ted Wilson challenged participants to place their new insights in the context of the mission challenges of a rapidly expanding church. (Read Paulsen's complete sermon.)
Five of the conference’s 10 days were reserved for field trips that visited the sites of the biblical cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Thyatira, Sardis, Pergamos, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, several Hellenistic cities of the same era, and the apostle John’s exile island of Patmos. Professional tour guides led Bible Conference participants through sites that included the massive amphitheater at Ephesus (where the riot against Paul and his companions described in Acts 19 and 20 occurred), the recently excavated hilltop of ancient Laodicea, and the dramatic acropolis of Pergamos.

IN THIS VERY PLACE: Adventist Theological Society president Larry Lichtenwalter greets the assembled Bible Conference participants in the great theater of Ephesus described in Acts 19, 20. 

“This isn’t a journey you make casually,” said one American participant resting in the scant shade of a ruined Roman gymnasium at Sardis. “You find yourself looking over an excavated site such as this and imagining the apostle Paul’s passion to witness to the people who once lived here. When I look at the distances and difficulties the apostles faced in planting and visiting these congregations, I have a new determination to work my corner of the vineyard more diligently.”

One of the final meetings of the conference focused on preparing a consensus statement from the Bible Conference participants addressed to church leaders, professional colleagues, and members worldwide. The statement calls on each of these groups to join in the affirmation of the primacy of Scripture in the life of the church, to recognize the ongoing importance of the gift of prophecy to the Advent movement, and to work together with Adventist scholars to fulfill the mission of the remnant church.