November 1, 2019

Spirit-Woke Adventism

The Spirit-led church: what’s the secret?

Randy Maxwell

The other day I had one of those uncomfortable conversations we’d all rather avoid. A member had to be confronted about behavior unbecoming a Christian, and because I’m the pastor (and no one else volunteered!) it was me, me, me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Kind of like now.

Is the church still prophetic? The question is uncomfortable. And to be honest, I’m not sure that it’s even the right question. One hundred seventy-five years after the disappointment of 1844, is ours still a prophetic movement? (Any volunteers? No? Pray for me.)

Another Look at Prophecy

Yes, I believe the Seventh-day Adventist Church is still a prophetic movement. We were birthed in prophecy, given a prophetic message, and guided by the gift of prophecy.

On the other hand, the movement—at least in North America and in other developed nations—seems to be missing its move. Without movement you don’t go anywhere. Have we replaced “move” with “establish”? Can a prophetic establishment influence society the way a movement can?

Being prophetic is more than presenting Daniel and Revelation seminars. (Nobody does it better, but fewer ears are listening.)

Being prophetic is more than vegetarianism. (Now that Burger King and others have jumped on the plant-based meat substitute gravy train, we’re just not that special anymore.)

Being prophetic is more than going to church on Saturday. (The nondenominational church down the block probably has a parking lot that’s fuller than yours on Sabbath!)

Being prophetic means being “woke,” a colloquial term meaning “actively aware of systemic injustices and prejudices, especially those related to civil and human rights.” Because our God cares about social justice, being prophetic means that we speak into and against the injustices of our society. You can’t be a true Sabbathkeeper without offering rest, not merely from servile labor, but from the injustices described in Isaiah 58 (see verses 6-14).

Being woke, like being prophetic, is to be as the sons of Issachar, “men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron. 12:32). Do we know what time it is, and what we are to do?

I’m appealing for a Spirit-woke Adventism today. In light of the #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #BlackLivesMatter movements, can we recognize that #HolySpiritMatters? Do we realize that #Time’s(nearly)up on Planet Earth and we can’t play church anymore? Can we admit that it’s #MeToo, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer?

Our model for ministry is Acts 2. Our conviction is to stop coming to church and start being the church.

Our problem is not that we’re not “Adventist enough,” as some accuse. It’s that we’re not “Spirit-woke” enough. A. W. Tozer wrote: “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.” Excuse me, but I think our lack of Spirit-wokeness is showing.

Speaking with the voice of a prophet, Ellen White wrote: “Wherever the need of the Holy Spirit is a matter little thought of, there is seen spiritual drought, spiritual darkness, spiritual declension and death. Whenever minor matters occupy the attention, the divine power which is necessary for the growth and prosperity of the church, and which would bring all other blessings in its train, is lacking, though offered in infinite plenitude.1

Accountability and Action

Awareness and acknowledging the problem is a start, but it’s not enough. There must be accountability and action. The Adventist Church will not fulfill its prophetic role without being woke to the Holy Spirt and the urgent, unrivaled need for revival. “To seek this should be our first work.”2

A prophetic church is accountable for being filled with the Spirit of prophecy (see Rev. 19:10). Not the books, but the Author. Not only Ellen White, but the Holy Spirit who inspired her. The Holy Spirit was sent to bear testimony to Jesus (John 15:26). He brings the life of Jesus to us, and that life is the light of humanity. Without that life all we have is beasts without blessing; vegans without victory; programs without power; and commandments without the character of Christ.

The Lord and the world have the right to rebuke us saying, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god!” (Jonah 1:6). That’s the call to action!

A prophetic church must be a praying church, or it’s a pathetic church. If we are to use our collective (and prophetic) voice to influence society, we have to talk with God first before we say anything to anybody else. Again, the prophet wrote: “A revival need be expected only in answer to prayer.”3

That’s not news, right? It’s taken for granted that we pray. And that’s the problem: It’s taken for granted—assumed.

I sat through a presentation on church revitalization that featured four “must-haves.” Prayer wasn’t among the four. It was assumed. Of course we pray! But prefix and suffix praying at the beginning and ending of meetings won’t get us woke spiritually. I agree with Francis Chan: “If you can accomplish your church’s mission without daily passionate prayer, then your mission is insufficient, and your church is irrelevant.”4

Make It Real

In recent months I’ve been part of a growing united prayer movement among pastors that is marked by humility and an insatiable hunger for the Holy Spirit. I find myself on the phone nearly every night praying with colleagues from near and far, praying out of a desperate desire to break with the status quo and pursue an authentic walk with God. The praying is interchurch, anti-territorial, and united. The Holy Spirit is showing us that we are better together than in our individual silos. Our burden is revival. Our model for ministry is Acts 2. Our conviction is to stop coming to church and start being the church. Our method is united, corporate prayer.

Disappointed that there’s nothing new, clever, or high-tech here? “Let me tell you that the Lord will work in this last work in a manner very much out of the common order of things, and in a way that will be contrary to any human planning. . . . God will use ways and means by which it will be seen that He is taking the reins in His own hands. The workers will be surprised by the simple means that He will use to bring about and perfect His work of righteousness.”5

I love surprises. Jesus had a big one for His disciples on the day of Pentecost, and we surely need one now. It’s time for the Spirit to take the wheel and to reclaim the Spirit of prophecy.

  1. Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 50.
  2. Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958), book 1, p. 121.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Francis Chan, Letters to the Church (Colorado Springs, Colo.: David C. Cook, 2018), p. 62.
  5. Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1923), p. 300. (Italics supplied.)

Randy Maxwell, prayer ministries coordinator for the Washington Conference, pastors in Renton, Washington, and is the author of If My People Pray and Boot Camp for the Last Days.