Traditional Sabbath worship services are held in the General Conference Chapel during Annual Council. Sabbath School began with Carol Barron, an enthusiastic chorister, leading the audience in clapping and saying hallelujah as they sang “If you’re happy and you know it.”
Perhaps the most memorable part of the Sabbath School service was Bonita Shields’ interactive introduction to the lesson study on the book of James, which is often characterized as emphasizing works over faith. Shields wanted to know whether the audience thought works or faith was more important. On a continuum of importance with faith being a 1 and works being a 5, she asked the audience to vote with their feet. Those who were at 1 in thinking faith was most important were asked to stand. A majority of the audience rose. A few stood for 2. About 20 people were in the middle at 3. No one stood for 4, and one person stood for 5. Then Shields asked for comments. One of those for number 1 said that without faith it is impossible to please him. From the middle, the comment was that if you are in a boat and you only use one paddle, you are going nowhere fast. The one person who stood for number 5 said that faith without works is dead.
Faith was further illuminated by a panel made up of Clinton Wahlen, the principal contributor to the lessons for this quarter, freelance writer Gina Wahlen, and General Conference Associate Youth Director Jiwan Moon. It was Moon who said that faith is an expression of love, adding that he would hate to say to someone that he loved them but was not willing to do anything for them.
During the church service, special prayer was offered for West Africa as it deals with ebola. The president of the West African Union Conference decided not to attend Annual Council because of the health crisis, General Conference President Ted Wilson told the audience. Wilson then interviewed Pastor James Golay via telecommunication. Inter America Division President Israel Leito offered a moving pastoral prayer for the people of Western Africa.
Another inspirational moment came when soprano Karla Rivera Bucklew sang “Not I, But Christ” just before the sermon.
“God’s Prophetic Movement, Message, and Mission and Their Attempted Neutralization by the Devil” was the title for President Wilson’s morning address. In this version of the sermon that he frequently preaches based on Ellen White's The Great Controversy, Elder Wilson said it was important for Christ’s followers to understand Satan. “As we pray for the converting power of the Holy Spirit and for a revival and reformation of genuine godliness, the devil opposes every one of us every step of the way.”
Wilson told the audience Satan’s methods to neutralize our efforts include:
“secular diversions such as competitive sports, the Internet, social media, television, entertainment and so many other distracting activities. He seeks to absorb people in financial deals and materialistic matters. He uses poor health habits and lack of respect for God’s natural laws to enfeeble the mind and benumb the senses. He uses skepticism about the veracity of the scriptural record of the origin of life and early history. He tries to bring in controversy and discord over Bible doctrine to sidetrack our evangelistic witness by getting us to distrust and fight each other.”
Warning that time on earth is short, Elder Wilson reminded the audience that probation is closing soon. “Preparation to see God face to face by repentance and forsaking of sin needs to be done now. The Great Controversy, page 425, explains that: ‘Those who are living upon the Earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above, are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort, they must be conquerors in the battle with evil.’”
He immediately clarified the quote saying, “do not think for a minute that you do not need Christ and that by your own works you will gain salvation. Seventh-day Adventists believe that only through the grace and righteousness of Christ do we have eternal life.”
Then he turned to the experience of his own family to illustrate how Satan tries to neutralize God’s people. He told of the health challenges of two of his young grandsons and how one of his daughters recently miscarried a child. “In the last year or so, the devil has attempted to neutralize every one of our three precious daughters, their families and us as parents. But he will not succeed. God is in control. He will be victorious. The faith of my daughters and their families and all of us is strong in the Lord!”
Wilson then warned that Satan is trying to neutralize the church even at Annual Council. He said he was thankful for the beautiful spirit that had been seen during the pre-meetings, and then read the appeal that was voted:
“We, General Conference and division officers, appeal to all Annual Council attendees to accept each other as brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of some differences of opinion that may be evident on certain subjects. We ask for Christ-likeness and humble respect for each other in our words and activities during this Annual Council and beyond. Our humble demeanor and attitudes, through God’s power, will speak volumes to those who are watching. We earnestly appeal that we do all in our power to strengthen the church and this precious Advent movement. We lean completely on Christ for the unifying spirit that we need in proclaiming the three angels’ messages in these last days of Earth’s history.”
You can read the complete 70-minute sermon here: ‘God’s Prophetic Movement, Message, and Mission and Their Attempted Neutralization by the Devil’
As Wilson closed, Karla Rivera Bucklew returned to the microphone to lead the congregation with her glorious voice in the closing hymn “My Hope is Built”.
Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum Magazine
Photo courtesy Ansel Oliver / ANN