A woman born in Zimbabwe strode to the pulpit Friday morning. A man from Connecticut, perhaps the best-known of all currently practicing Adventist evangelists, did so on Friday night. And the General Conference session’s twin themes—both at the heart of President Wilson’s vision—came to expression again. From the standpoint of session leaders, San Antonio is about the Second Coming and it’s about evangelism.
Sikhu Hlatshwayo, who is completing a master’s degree at Andrews University, sees herself as a “missionary” to secular campuses, and her morning sermon suggested a close fit with the conservative Michigan Conference, where she will be pursuing her passion.
The morning’s worship started with engaging musical performances, including a rendition of “In a Little While We’re Going Home” from a King’s Heralds-style men’s quartet that included General Conference President Ted Wilson. Hlatshwayo began with passing references to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage and the coming visit to the United States of Pope Francis, who will, among other things, address the U.S. Congress. As for the latter, she remarked, alluding to Revelation 13, that “the first beast power is coming here to address the second beast power.”
She then turned from the “signs” of the last days that are “all around us” to her prepared remarks, which took the story of Simeon, in Luke 2, as their base. The Bible describes him as a man “just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel.” Hlatshwayo said that to “wait” is to “know about,” and she linked that idea with the familiar saying that Adventists “have a special message” for the world. We wait because we know about.
In an aside, she remarked that “the Bible is true,” and that if you preach the Bible on university campuses “they can’t say anything but that what you’ve said is true.” Her main point, however, was that knowledge must make a difference in life. With a nod to James 2, she said that faith must show itself by works. Even the Devil believes, and what good is such belief as that?
As Simeon awaited the first coming of Christ, Adventists today await the second. Waiting can only be authentic if the knowledge behind it is meant, not just to settle debates, but to enhance our capacity to see Jesus, and to serve him without prospect of wealth or recognition.
In the evening, Mark Finley, now an assistant to the General Conference President, offered a three-fold argument. He said that the love of Christ constrains us to share the Gospel so that people everywhere can enjoy God’s gifts. He said that when believers unite with Christ’s mission to “change the world,” they themselves are “changed” – the grace we share with others fills our own hearts. Then, citing Act 1:8, he said that the function of the Holy Spirit is to compel the church to bear an evangelistic witness: the church mission is evangelism.
Finley, with his pleasing voice and energetic presence, has spoken for evangelistic meetings in more than 80 countries, and he seemed to embody his message. At the end of the service 11 people, all from the San Antonio area, underwent baptism. The congregation sang heartily —throwback songs like “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” and “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder”— in the spaces between the baptism proper.
Finley remarked at the end: “This is what the church is all about: welcoming new members into the family of God.”
Charles Scriven is chair of the Adventist Forum board, and a member of the General Conference reporting team in San Antonio, Texas.
Photo Credit: North American Division / Rohann