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Wilson’s War

On July 3, 2010, the new president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Ted Wilson, gave a sermon entitled “Go Forward.” Reaction to the sermon has been varied. I believe that while the majority of Pastor Wilson’s sermon was good, solid, exposition of the Bible and Adventist doctrine, there were several instances when Pastor Wilson stated things that cannot necessarily be substantiated by either the Bible or Ellen G. White’s writings. At times he painted with too broad a brush. Consequently, I was left feeling offended. What follows is a partial list of the statements that stood out to me, and my reaction. (My page citations come from the version of the sermon posted here.)

Page 1, Paragraph 4: “. . .the pervasive and compromising activities of ecumenism. . .”

This quotation is part of a list describing the negative phenomena in our world that prove Christ’s soon return. This is the first of several instances where Wilson disparages something by painting with a broad brush. Ecumenism at its base is a call for unity. It is actually based on the Greek word oikoumene, and is often translated as “inhabited earth” or “world.” (The most famous reference is found in Matt 24:14.) By speaking generally Wilson makes all ecumenism sound bad. There is a bad form of ecumenism, which requires that we forsake all doctrine so that we can all be unified. But ecumenism takes place whenever people of different denominations come together to do something. Wilson gives the impression that all forms of ecumenism should be avoided and that isn’t biblically true (Consider John 17:20-22).

Ted Wilson presents his Sabbath sermon during the G.C. Session, Saturday, July 3. [photo: Josef Kissinger/ANN]

Page 3, 3rd Para. Revelation 19:10 tells us that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” The same spirit that moved the holy men of old has again, in these last days, raised up a messenger for the Lord. My brothers and sisters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Lord has given us one of the greatest gifts possible in the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy.

I’m glad that Wilson mentioned that the phrase “spirit of prophecy” is actually from the Bible. Because EGW was inspired to call some of her writings “The Spirit of Prophecy,” the title has come to mean all of EGW’s writings, instead of the biblical meaning. Wilson performs a turn of phrase here, replacing the biblical understanding of the term with the Adventist understanding. The “spirit of prophecy” in Revelation is more than the writings of EGW, but many SDAs will tell you that other churches don’t have the “spirit of prophecy” because they don’t believe in EGW, when the truth is they simply don’t have “The Spirit of Prophecy.”

Page 3, 3rd Para. – The Spirit of Prophecy is one of the identifying marks of God’s last-day people and is just as applicable today as ever before because it was given to us by heaven itself.

I agree with this statement in the general sense. I believe in EGW as an inspired writer and that her writings are applicable today. I don’t agree with Wilson’s logic about why they are applicable or even the level of their applicability. Like the Bible, we must consider what the words meant to those who first read them, and then what they mean to us today. Those things are usually not the same thing. Once again, Wilson conflates “The Spirit of Prophecy,” with the “spirit of prophecy” in Revelation.

Page 8, 3rd Para. – Look WITHIN the Seventh-day Adventist Church to humble pastors, evangelists, Biblical scholars, leaders, and departmental directors who can provide evangelistic methods and programs that are based on solid Biblical principles and “The Great Controversy Theme.”

The exclusivity that this quote represents is incredibly disturbing. It smacks of, “no one has anything true, but us.” Hence, there is no need to reflect upon any ideas regarding programs and evangelism that come from people outside of our faith. Wilson is taking the first steps here to creating a truly insular religion, where Adventism trusts nothing but Adventism, and shares with others only on its terms. In my opinion, that’s a good recipe for killing a religion and making it totally irrelevant.

Page 9, 1st full para. – Seventh-day Adventist Church members, hold your leaders, pastors, local churches, educators, institutions, and administrative organizations accountable to the highest standards of belief based on a literal understanding of Scripture.

This was the best quote to address the times in this sermon where Pastor Wilson espouses following a “literal” understanding of Scripture. No one, Adventists included, espouses a literal understanding of Scripture. For example, no Adventist supports slavery of any kind (at least not openly). And yet the Bible at the very least condones slavery, and in some places is downright supportive. Some sections of Scripture are literal, some are figurative and some are both. I know Pastor Wilson knows this, so why would he say something he knows isn’t biblical? I think it’s because he wants to discredit the group of people (and Adventists) who recognize the figurative beauty of the Bible. Now I don’t think everything in the Bible is figurative, but I recognize that we all should be honest and admit that we all believe in the not just the literal, but also the figurative elements of the Word.

On July 3, 2010, Pastor Wilson declared war on “progressive” Adventism. By attacking the buzzwords (liberal, secular, Historical Critical Method, allegorical, emergent church, etc.), he counseled the church to avoid anything related to moving beyond our current understanding of the Bible. One of my favorite verses is Prov. 4:18:

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.” (NASB)

This verse implies that the light we gain will increase. In support of this biblical concept I cite EGW:

We should not allow a day to pass without gaining an increase in knowledge in temporal and spiritual things. We are to plant no stakes that we are not willing to take up and plant farther on, nearer the heights we hope to ascend (Letter 164, 1903).

In order to go forward, we must be willing to increase in knowledge and replant stakes in the ground as we draw closer to God’s truth. Pastor Wilson’s sermon does not seem to support this position, advocating instead to leave the stakes in the ground right where they are. Wilson seems prepared to abolish the progress Adventism has made and move backwards to a time that makes him more comfortable. However, I count myself among those who believe that this church should actually be going forward, increasing our knowledge of God and His will for us.


Jason Hines is an attorney who is currently enrolled at the Seminary at Andrews University pursuing a Master’s of Religion in Theological Studies. This fall he will attend Baylor University to begin a Ph.D. in Church-State Studies. He blogs at HineSight where a version of this originally appeared.

Photo: Gerry Chudleigh/ANN

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