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Ted Wilson’s Sermon: A Delegate Reflects

Ted Wilson’s hour-long sermon left me unsettled. Both the sermon itself and the cheers of obvious delight that filled the entire auditorium were at a level of enthusiasm and emotion rarely seen in Adventism. I was so unsettled, I wanted to rush right out and start writing, but I couldn’t quite figure out what I wanted to say. Today I am at the airport waiting to fly home and I have more clarity.
This was Elder Wilson’s inaugural sermon, his first and best opportunity to tell the whole world what he stands for and against. Since his election earlier in the week, he has hinted at the themes we heard on Sabbath morning so there were no real surprises. Yet, given the uniqueness of the opportunity, I hoped and kind of expected that his focus would be on Jesus and the centrality of the Cross. About how Jesus loved us so much that he died for us and is now using His grace to transform us, how that very grace can and should lead to repentance and reformation.
Elder Wilson spoke of the Red Sea experience and challenged us to move forward. When I read the early part of the Exodus story I find two remarkable lessons. The first is a God who says, “I am going to do it all”. He says “Do not be afraid, stand still” (Exodus 14:13,14). It is a “God thing” not a “people thing.”
Instead, I fear this was a sermon about us and not God. More remarkable in that story is that each rebellious act was greeted with unbelievable grace and tolerance. The Isrealites complained about having to hunt straw, God fixed it, no consequences. They complained about being trapped at the Red Sea and God opened the waters, grace without consequences. They complained about the bad water at Murah & Elim, God healed the water, grace without consequences. Food ran short and they complained, God sent quail then manna, grace without consequence. Water ran short yet again; God sliced open a rock to create a sweet flowing river, grace without consequences. This story could have been used to demonstrate the sweet grace of God. How God uses grace, mercy and forgiveness to draw us in. Instead, the sermon was really all about us. What we are supposed to do or not do. No doubt we are called to do and not do, but fundamentally it is God doing and us responding, not us doing and God responding.
Ted Wilson’s sermon takes me back to the struggle that took place in 1888. Butler and Smith on one side crying out, demanding, the focus be on prophesy, on historical positions, and on theology. Jones and Wagoner preached and fought as the underdogs, to lift up Jesus, to lift up the atoning nature of Christ. Ellen White came down firmly on the side of Jesus, on the side of the cross.
I was further unsettled by Elder Wilson’s cry to fight ecumenicalism. Later on Sabbath we saw world leaders from the Mennonite and Baptist churches present amazing, grace-filled statements of brotherly love affirming common commitment to salvation for all. I wonder if they heard the morning sermon and what they thought. I wonder if they comprehend that our very real goal is to play an ecclesiastical game of capture the flag, stealing their members and putting them in our camp.
Finally, Elder Wilson cries out against megachurches, new methods, emotional music, against contemplative, reflective, prayer. This received roars of applause and amens!
Is this a call to close Pioneer Memorial, Loma Linda University and other mega Adventist churches, or the huge churches in China that mimic other Christian megachurches. I thought that are fantastic evidence that God is working in mighty ways in the Adventist church? Ellen White recommends that we look for new ways of reaching the lost, what do I do with this? I wonder if we are going to banish “Amazing Grace“, “Turn your eyes on Jesus,” “Just as You Are”, all of which are highly emotional songs. I wonder at the desire to get rid of emotion when emotion is relational, and we are only saved because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. I wonder what I am supposed to do with Ellen White’s writings about prayer. I wonder what I am supposed to do with the Psalms that speak of meditation. I wonder what I am supposed to do with the well documented descriptions of prayer services participated in and embraced by our earliest pioneers. These looked much more like a Pentecostal prayer meeting than anything you would find in an Adventist Church today.
There is a sobering truth, though. This change in administration and emphasis is my fault and, if you agree with my assessment to this point, it is your fault, too. As we found victory over the legalism that was rampant in the late sixties and early seventies, we replaced it with permissiveness and self-indulgence rather than a passion for Jesus and a passion for the lost. We created a void that has been waiting to be filled for many, many years. It is now being filled with great passion by the new conservatives.
I issue a challenge, a call to each one of us to go live the lessons of Matthew 25 to win souls by following the command of Jesus to demonstrate compassionate love to the least of these.
Steve Moran works in Silicon Valley. He is the head elder of his church and a member of the Central California Conference Executive Committee.
Photo: Josef Kissinger/ANN

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