On October 11, 2010, the General Conference Executive Committee voted a document titled “An Urgent Appeal for Revival, Reformation, Discipleship and Evangelism." This document begins with a reminder of the mission of the Adventist Church to proclaim God’s last day message of love and truth to the world. It goes on to admit that we are losing ground and, without change, we will not be able to complete this mission in our lifetime. The document concludes with a challenge to each leader and member to make the following commitments:
One writer at SDAnet responded this way: "This has an air of the old joke: ‘The preacher's sermon was about sin. He's against it.’" I was reminded of the Orthodox Jewish tradition which holds that, when all the Jews in the world perfectly keep two Sabbaths in a row, the Messiah will come. There is an Adventist corollary to this story, based on a vision by Ellen White. According to Mrs. White, if, during the 1901 General Conference, church leaders had been sufficiently humble, the latter rain would have poured out on the church, amazing power would have been manifest and, today, rather than being on earth, we would be in heaven with our Savior.
As I contemplate the promulgation of this document by church leadership, I wonder if the Adventist Church will be a radically different church one year from today. I wonder if this call to action is really consistent with the priorities set by Jesus and practiced by the Apostles. While I have no doubt that those who voted for this document sincerely hope and desire this action will be effective, I wonder if they truly believe it will make a difference.
Studying the Pentecost story in the book of Acts, we find Jesus telling the disciples, just before his ascension, that they are to go into Jerusalem and wait to be baptized by the Holy Spirit. During the time of waiting, the disciples and a handful of other believers gathered together in prayer and fellowship. After 40 days, on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon this fledgling group of believers with amazing power. However, it is difficult, based on Scripture, to make a case that this outpouring happened because those believers convinced God, by their acts of contrition and devotion, that the time was right. Rather, Luke makes clear that it happened because it had been foretold, because the time was ripe for the harvest and because it was the next phase in Salvation history.
It's now 2010 and we believe in the promise of the latter rain, we desire it with all our hearts. The question really is this: Can we manipulate, coerce or convince the Holy Spirit to come sooner rather than later? Do we have that much control over how God interacts with this world, with the salvation of the lost? Has God really left the salvation of the world in the hands of Christians in general or the Seventh-day Adventist Church in particular?
I do not find a single part of the seven points with which I disagree. Who can argue with desiring the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, or making a priority of seeking God’s power in our own lives, or setting aside significant time for daily Bible study and prayer, or examining our own hearts for sin, or encouraging others to engage in these same activities? Yet, for all of that, I am fearful that we are ignoring the most transformative and challenging part of the early church story in favor of the easier part. This “Urgent Call” seems to be just one more in a never-ending series of calls to “get ready to get ready.” Perhaps asking our young people to “get ready to get ready” year after year and decade after decade is the single biggest reason we have lost, and are continuing to lose, so many of them from the church. They continue to wait for us, their leaders, to cease getting ready to get ready and to actually go out and do something. They want to go do something with us. They want to see the church transform lives.
I would like to propose that, without proactive action on behalf of the least of these, on behalf of those who do not know Jesus, a year from now, five years from now, fifty years from now, the Seventh-day Adventist Church will not look much different than it does today. Meanwhile, churches with less “truth”, like Willow Creek, Saddleback, Gateway, the Vineyard Churches, the Assembly of God churches and the Calvary Chapel family of churches will gather hundreds of thousands for the Kingdom while we continue to get ready to get ready.
At the General Conference Session in Atlanta we heard a report from the Inter-America Division that included a story about how, in a division-wide effort, they served one million meals to the homeless on a single day. his division has about three million members, or three times as many as the North American Division. Could we in North America, where we have much greater financial resources, band together to serve 300,000 meals to the homeless on a single day? Could we, on a single day, take 100,000 people to help build Habitat for Humanity homes, or tutor kids who are struggling in school?
I have seen revival in Adventist young people and it shook me to my core. We were on a mission trip to build a church in Mexico. On Tuesday evening, after worship, I sent the teens off to get ready for bed and gathered the leaders for our daily debrief and prayer. After twenty minutes we closed and I stepped outside to a scene that will stay with me the rest of my life. Twenty teens were gathered in an impromptu circle, praying and singing. Sitting on a pile of sand and gravel nearby were another ten teens, holding their flashlights in one hand and Bibles in the other, digging deep into Scripture. Other, smaller groups were praying and rejoicing. This went on for hours until, finally, at 2:00 am I had to tell them it was time to stop praying, singing and studying the Word so that they could get some sleep. This phenomenon continued the rest of the week.
This did not come about because of a process of self-abasement and begging God. These young people were ripe for this early rain experience because they gave up their spring break to go to Mexico and build a church. They quit getting ready to get ready and instead, they went out and changed lives. They sensed that they were not just mixing and pouring cement but were building a house for God; a place where others could meet Jesus. They knew they were being called to be the hands and feet of God and they answered the call, not with reluctance, but with exuberance and joy.
Taking the risk of being overly bold, I would like to add to this resolution from our leaders a challenge that each church leader, each institutional worker, each pastor, each lay leader and each member find a way to engage with their local community. I challenge them connect in a way that leads people observing them to demand to know why they are so different, why they care, why they glow with the power of the Holy Spirit. This will not be easy. It will be much more difficult than the seven challenges coming from the Executive Committee. It will require pastors and leaders to develop these opportunities for their members. It will require them to engage with those members. It will be difficult because we will have to get our hands dirty. We will have to be willing to get paint on our hands, dirt on our knees and to touch dirty, stinking homeless people. We will have to become friends with atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus and Muslims.
If we are willing to step out boldly and do something concrete and risky, we will see the power of the Holy Spirit reviving and reforming our church. But it might not be as we expect.
Steve Moran works in Silicon Valley. He is the head elder of his church and a member of the Central California Conference Executive Committee.