October 13, 2013

Consistent, Expressive Faith Called For in Annual Council Messages

One hundred and twenty-five years after the Seventh-day Adventist Church began its focus on righteousness by faith, global leaders of the 17-million member movement gathered to hear calls for consistent, expressive faith in the merits of Jesus.

The weekend commenced October 11, 2013, with an evening program that celebrated the 1888 General Conference session and its focus on Christ’s righteousness.

“Jesus has become my sufficiency,” declared Ganoune Diop, an Adventist theologian and scholar who serves as the church’s liaison to the United Nations.  Raised in Senegal, West Africa, Diop contrasted the faith of his childhood with his adult Christian belief in a Lord who died to redeem broken and sinful humanity.

Shawn Brace, a young adult pastor from Maine gave a brief but powerful testimony of being raised in an Adventist home where parents consistently focused on the righteousness of Christ., “When we fall in love with Jesus, obedience becomes a delight,” Brace said.  “This is the message we are hungry for.”   He said young adults are not looking for “dancing bears” and other “trappings” to attract them to the church; rather, they want the “authentic message” of trusting in the salvation offered by Jesus.

Artur Stele, a general vice-president of the church and head of its Biblical Research Institute, focused on the Old Testament narrative of Mephibosheth, the son of King David’s friend, Jonathan, to draw parallels with the mercy and grace extended to broken human beings through Jesus.

And Lael Caesar, an associate editor of Adventist Review and Adventist World magazines, used the Luke 17 story of Jesus healing ten lepers to underline that it is God who does the work of salvation and healing in human lives: “Can you imagine a more powerful message on salvation than a story of cleansing from leprosy—by faith? What did these guys do to cleanse themselves? “As they went along, they were cleansed.” What can you do to cleanse yourself? Remember the lepers and let go of the burden and anxiety and stress. Take Jesus at His word: “As they went along, they were cleansed.”

The balance of the Friday evening meeting was devoted to reports of evangelism from the eastern United States and the NY13 effort covering New York City and neighboring areas in New Jersey and Connecticut. Church leaders reported a total of nearly 4,100 baptisms and 31 new congregations established as results of the year-long campaign.  Bible worker Heidi Santiago inspired the 400 audience members with her reports of direct personal work among the people of Manhattan.  She credits the work of the Holy Spirit for the dozens of Bible studies now underway in an urban area believed by many to be one of the most difficult in North America to penetrate with the Adventist message.

On Sabbath morning, October 12, the church leaders and delegates turned to worship, prayer and reflection. Following a Sabbath school lesson presented by Washington Adventist University professor Gaspar Colon and Personal Ministries department associate May-Ellen Colon, worshippers prayed for Southern Africa-Indian Ocean division president Paul Ratsara and his family as they mourn the passing of Paul’s wife, Denise Ratsara, who succumbed to cancer this week.  Inter-America Division president Israel Leito, whose son, Dudley, is hospitalized in Miami with a serious illness, is also absent from this year’s Annual Council of the Executive Committee.

Speaking to a capacity crowd of more than 450 in the General Conference auditorium, General Conference president Ted N.C. Wilson emphasized a call to “communicate God’s truth in love and illuminate the earth with God’s glory.”

He noted the pressures of the age that tempt Christians to abandon Bible teaching.

“There are those in the church and outside the church who wish to change the very beliefs we have held sacred and change the character of the Seventh-day Adventist Church itself – people who want to turn the grace of God into something vile thus denying Jesus Himself, even though they pretend to lift up His name,” Wilson warned. “As we communicate truth to those who do not know Christ, we must guard against the world entering the church, [and] neutralizing its mission.”

Wilson pointed to changing social attitudes toward homosexuality as an illustration of the abandonment of Biblical teaching:, “The acquiescence to homosexuality that is pervading so many societies today is nothing more than the old immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah that is in complete opposition to God’s Holy Word and, according to the Bible, will result in not receiving eternal life for those who reject God’s loving and saving efforts to turn them away from sinful behavior.”

Wilson also urged Adventists to examine the integrity of their witness: “Are we communicating to the world a different message than we intend by how we personally use the Internet, by what we watch on television, by what we wear, by how we use our time, by what kind of music we listen to or by our worship style?”

Wilson appealed to members and leaders to adopt thoughtful, reflective elements in worship: “Recognizing the world is full of various cultures, let’s worship in simplicity and in truth using the Word of God and aligning ourselves with the culture of heaven.”

As members and leaders of the world church paired off two-by-two for prayer, Wilson challenged his hearers to rededicate themselves to Christian service and proclamation: “As we come to the end of time, realizing the devil is making every effort to confuse our message and mission, let us rest firmly on God’s Word and promises to make us truly His messengers.”

The Friday evening and Sabbath morning worship services are initial events of the General Conference’s 2013 Annual Council.  Important items of church business will be discussed, including mission strategy, urban evangelism, health ministry, and financial priorities for the coming year.