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He was sitting next to me in that British Airways flight from London. Soon I noticed that we had a lot in common—Jesus. He was a Nestlé executive and an elder of a non-denominational church. He was young, successful and absolutely in love with Jesus. However, when I told him I was a Seventh-day Adventist minister he didn’t get the same feeling of connection. In fact, there was a blank expression in his face followed by the question: ‘so are you Christian too?’ I was on my way to The One Project and I think my response really surprised him.
“Well, you know how there is a general trend in Christianity today to rediscover the Old Testament and ancient Judaism?”
“Yeah, like the Sabbath, eating habits, that sort of thing?”
“Exactly. The difference is that we’ve done that 150 years ago. At first we were rather obsessed with the law and while Jesus was still central, there was plenty of light for us to still grasp. But eventually we got it, especially this woman called Ellen White, one of our main founders. Jesus became everything to her and those around her. Saved by grace and not by works so no one can boast.”
At that moment his face lit up. He could resonate with that. He knew that. Then I told him the reason for my trip, describing how hundreds of Adventist leaders and members from around the world are gathering to simply worship Jesus. All. He thought it was beautiful. Not an event, or a conference or even a congress—a gathering. Exactly when I thought this gathering was unique he replied: “It is incredible when those that have been saved by Jesus come together to do nothing else but celebrate His life, death and resurrection—we do that on the first Friday night of every month.”
I understood then that the very need we have within us to travel thousands of miles to celebrate Jesus and nothing else was indicative of a deeper and darker reality within our Christian experience. We should be doing this naturally, at home and regularly at our own churches. Just gathering to worship Jesus. Not for training, preaching, teaching or anything else, just worshiping and celebrating what Jesus means to all of us.
Yesterday I felt Jesus' presence within me and this was evident in most of the other 700 people here. I can see how the celebration will change my perspective and daily ministry. It is all about Jesus. I see it clearly that it’s not Jesus and doctrine or Jesus and healthy living or even Jesus and the Sabbath. It’s Jesus, All. I get it and it’s beautiful.
A sobering thought came yesterday, however, as we discussed in our tables. I was describing how beautiful it would be to share the freedom of the Sabbath with those who already have Jesus centered in their lives—other Christians. Then it happened. A lovely woman across the table challenged that very strongly. I would paraphrase it in the following way: “I have other Christian friends who are wonderful people and might never need the Sabbath because they already have Jesus.” As the brief discussion continued, I noticed clearly that her body language screamed with the pain she must have had in years of an exclusive Adventism. A pain of her Christ-loving friends being constantly condemned from our pulpits. I don’t know her, but I suspect this was the source of the pain and I was so glad she was here because The One Project is perhaps the best way to heal those wounds.
This discussion happened in light of Alex Bryan’s talk where he proposed the most revolutionary question of our first day. He said: “Stop obsessing over the question: ‘who are we?’ because you will only end up with the differences to others. Instead, ask the real question: ‘who is He?’. Although it will take weeks to digest that, I think I’ve already grasped the main idea. I’m preaching a series in Ephesians this year in both of my churches. Over 30 sermons trying to grasp every single verse of the book. It’s fascinating because the book is clearly divided in two sessions. As Guiford Rhamie noted, Paul sets a solid foundation in the first three chapters of the churches identity in Jesus. It’s all about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and rulership over the universe. His name is above all others and as Bryan himself noted, to Paul Jesus was All. This first section is about being.
Paul doesn’t end there, however. The second section goes from chapter four to six and contains 43 imperatives in the original Greek. There are 43 commands that are extremely clear about guiding life and behavior. This second section is about doing. In other words, Paul 1) describes who Jesus is to then explain 2) who they should be and as a consequence 3) what they should do. The One Project is a yearly refocus on who Jesus is in order to inform our identity and define who we are and from here we would know what we should do. This is my understanding of it, but I am certain it is not everyone else’s.
I fear that some would gather to focus so much on the being that Jesus will remain a concept, somewhere up there, never breaking through to the daily life. In doing this the Sabbath becomes merely an Adventist tradition rather than a command and a gift from Jesus himself. The light that Jesus continues to give our movement is reduced to one interpretation among many valid ones. I fear that some are tearing the second part of Ephesians from their lives. There is not a shadow of doubt that Jesus was everything to Paul. It was because of this that he proclaims:
Paul is relentless in describing exactly how they should live their lives and it was completely counter cultural. To say that Jesus is all but to ignore that it has implications for the ethical lives of all Christian disciples is to tame Jesus and his revolutionary message. In his book Simply Jesus, N. T. Wright points out how the church has made Jesus into a non-confrontational passive concept rather than an active life-changing revolutionary King. If Jesus is to be all in our lives we will understand that all authority was given to Jesus and take seriously his command to go to all nations and baptize them proclaiming all things that Jesus taught.
I can sense that some maybe uncomfortable with my words here. Maybe I’m wrong and one day I’ll come to understand it differently as I’m certain that Jesus himself is guiding my journey. Perhaps your comments will help. After all, it is through conversation that we create community.
—Sam Neves is pastor of the Wimbledon International & South London Portuguese Seventh-day Adventist Churches.