Pastor Mark Finley discusses his new book, The Church Triumphant: Called to a Prophetic Destiny with Dale Galusha, president of Pacific Press Publishing Association.
Question: Pastor Finley, over the years you have had the privilege of seeing the Seventh-day Adventist Church from many different positions and in locations all around the world — as a public evangelist, director/speaker of It Is Written for a number of years, as a Vice President of the General Conference, and now as Assistant to the General Conference President. You have a unique perspective on God’s church.
You’ve seen the church “at its best,” and you’ve seen it face challenges. In today’s world, do you believe that God’s people, coming as they do from various cultures and perspectives, can come together and find solutions to some of the pressing issues facing the church today? If so, how do you envision that happening most effectively?
Answer: Dale, I have great confidence in the ultimate triumph of God’s church. I believe in the church because Christ believes in the church. He has declared, “The gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The church has always faced issues that have had the potential to divide it, and it has come through every crisis. The question that needs to be asked is not, “What divides us?” but “What unites us?” We are united as a worldwide body through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in a common commitment to Christ, the teachings of scripture, a passion for mission, and church organization.
Question: Given that we can't expect that church entities or church members are always going to agree on all topics, how should the church best handle disagreements on certain issues? Should differences between church entities be handled in a different way than differences between individual members?
It really depends on what those issues are. If the issues are biblical in nature or serious doctrinal departures, church leadership on all levels is responsible for preserving the biblical foundations of Adventism. To erode these foundations is to erode our identity. As a denomination, we will always be growing and discovering new ways to express truth, but truth is truth and spans the ages. So-called new truth never does away with old truth.
If the issue is organizational, voted by the General Conference in session, and is an integral part of church policy, leaders have the responsibility to abide by that policy. Policies are not doctrines. They can be changed. Policies are mutual agreements between responsible leaders. They do not dictate our conscience, but they do guide our actions as administrators.
Question: How can we determine which issues are “non-negotiable” and which issues may allow for those holding differing views to “agree to disagree”?
Each one of us has our own personal opinions and are personally accountable to God. Here are a few areas in my mind that are “non-negotiable.” Our commitment to Christ. Our belief that salvation is by grace and grace alone. The beliefs that have identified us and distinguished this movement as outlined in the three angels’ messages and our Fundamental Beliefs. The mission of the church to proclaim the everlasting gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. If we downplay our mission or lose our sense of identity as a prophetic movement, Adventism will rapidly become a movement with little or no purpose to exist. The last thing that comes to mind is the unity of the church or church organization. Anything that undercuts church organization will ultimately lead to fragmentation and congregationalism.
There is plenty of room in the church for latitude and expression of our individuality, but the areas I have mentioned are non-negotiables to preserve, through the ministry of the Spirit, God’s last day movement.
Question: Should we handle policy disagreements differently than theological ones? What happens when some members see the two collide — i.e., when they believe a policy involves a doctrinal or theological issue?
As I previously mentioned, policy is not doctrine. It is an expression of a group of responsible leaders, their best judgment on a given issue. Here is the problem. If the General Conference, Union, or local Conference votes a particular action and individuals go contrary to that action because of individual convictions, it will lead to organizational chaos. Every organization has policies. Educational institutions, hospitals, publishing houses, and denominational entities of all sorts have policies. Once these policies are openly disregarded, the unity of the whole institution is threatened. If a policy needs changing, it can be changed by bringing it back to the body that voted it.
In the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the General Conference in session with its international representatives meets every five years to review some of our core policies. These policies are not determined by a small group in Silver Spring, Maryland, but by representative leaders from around the globe.
Although policies are not doctrine, church unity and organization are a fundamental teaching of the New Testament. It is possible for honest people to believe their position is theologically sound and be on opposite sides of the issue. When that happens the only safe alternative is to dialogue, counsel together, and work through the issue together. Sometimes issues require more study, and other times more patience, to resolve. There are also times that God calls us to surrender cherished positions for the good of the entire body of Christ.
Question: What suggestions does your book give to help church members with firm, differing convictions regarding the issues our church is facing?
In my book, I constantly point the reader to Christ as the Lord of the church. Jesus holds this church in His hands and will see it through any crisis. I also emphasize that it is the three angels’ messages that focus us away from our problems and debates to reach a lost world for Christ.
Question: Pastor Finley, you mention in your book that you are optimistic about the future of the church in spite of the many difficult issues it faces today? Why is that so? What fuels your optimism?
I am optimistic about the church because Christ is optimistic about the church. I am optimistic about the church because as I travel the world I have met thousands of Adventists who are committed to Christ, the biblical beliefs of this worldwide movement, and our mission to the world. Their enthusiasm and commitment encourages me to know God will see His church through. I am optimistic because I have read the final chapters of Revelation and know that one day soon, “The earth will be filled with the glory of God” (Revelation 18:1).
Question: What is your greatest concern about the future of the Seventh-day Adventist Church?
My greatest concerns are spiritual complacency, apathy, a loss of identity, and a lethargic response to the mission of the church.
Question: What can the average church member in the pew do to advance God’s mission?
The average church member has been called by God to share His love with a lonely, lost planet longing for hope. What an opportunity we have to use the gifts God has given us in service for Christ, lovingly meeting the needs of those around us! What a great opportunity we have to do something as simple as distributing Christ-centered literature by the tens of thousands to the people in our communities.
Question: What can be done to restore trust and respect among church members — as they relate with each other, and as they relate with the various levels of church organization?
The church is in God’s hands. Trust is restored when we take our eyes off the problems and focus them on Jesus and His mission to this lost world. The world is longing to see a body of believers who in spite of their differences embrace one another and touch the world with the grace of God. The disciples were brought together when they united to reach a lost world with the message of the resurrected Christ.
Question: What is your hope and prayer for your new book, The Church Triumphant: Called to a Prophetic Destiny?
My prayer for my book is that it will accomplish three objectives. First, I pray that it will restore confidence that Christ is the Lord of the church and He will take it through the coming days triumphantly. Second, I pray that it will re-enforce our understanding of the uniqueness of Adventism as a prophetic end-time movement. Thirdly, I pray that this volume will reignite a passion for mission and inspire our members to use their gifts to witness for Jesus. If the book moves the church forward in this direction my prayers will be answered.
CLICK HERE to read the first chapter online!
The Church Triumphant: Called to a Prophetic Destiny is available from the Adventist Book Center and Amazon.com in paperback. Call the ABC (1-800-765-6955) or visit their website to order. The ebook is available from Amazon.com for Kindle, Barnes & Noble for Nook, and Apple for iBook.
Dale E. Galusha is president of the Pacific Press Publishing Association. This interview was provided by Pacific Press.
Image courtesy of Pacific Press Publishing Association.
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