Keep Pressing On… And On: A Response to Ted Wilson’s Adventist World Article

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March 4, 2019

Every follower of Jesus is called to “press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:14). Consequently, I was interested to read Ted Wilson’s article “Keep Pressing On” in the February 2019 edition of Adventist World and hear his thoughts on what this looks like in 2019.[1] I found the article thought-provoking, however it left me with a number of questions.

Wilson states: “Never has it been more important to work together as God’s remnant people than in these closing days of earth’s history.”

However my question is: has it never been more important for God’s remnant people to work together?

The Bible declares that God has always had a remnant (a remaining group) of followers on this earth. But was it less important for Noah and his family to work together than those living at the close of earth’s history? What about Elijah and the “7,000”? And what about the Babylonian exiles? I think it has always been equally important for God’s people in all ages to work together. To suggest that it’s more important for Adventists to work together than those before us belittles their dedication and commitment to God’s cause. It suggests, “Sure, they had a tough time. But what we’re facing now is much more difficult.” I’m not sure that Adam, Enoch, Noah, the prophets, the disciples, the Waldensians, or the millions of martyrs throughout history, would agree. It has always been important to work together as God’s remnant people. And in the closing days of earth’s history, we can gain courage and hope from how God has cared for His remnant people in the past.

Wilson states, “The true measure of the church’s success is found in its unwavering devotion to Jesus Christ and its unfaltering commitment to our God-given mission and message found in Revelation 14.”

My question is: who does the mission and message of the Three Angels belong to?

I’ve always found it interesting how Adventists claim exclusivity over Revelation 14:6-12. The Bible indicates that the Three Angels’ Messages are to be shared by “the people of God who keep His commands and remain faithful to Jesus.” We must remember that these three Messages can be found throughout the Old Testament, long before the apostle John wrote them in the New. And once recorded in Revelation 14, they did not become a sealed prophecy to be revealed exclusively to one denomination. A remnant people have always existed and shared these Messages; they didn’t just appear in the mid-1800s and call themselves Seventh-day Adventists. Perhaps Adventists are the only ones currently sharing these messages? But this doesn’t mean that they are our exclusive mission and message. They belong to “the people of God who keep His commands and remain faithful to Jesus” in every period of earth’s history, even if their membership is not in an Adventist church. God’s people are already a peculiar people; we don’t need to become an exclusive people.

Wilson states, “When Eve turned just slightly from God’s Word, she left herself open to the serpent’s deceptions.”

My question is: where’s Adam and Moses and Samson and David?

See, it wasn’t just Eve who sinned; Adam did too. In that moment, all of humanity sinned. It’s important we recognise this, and state it, especially as the Adventist Church vigorously debates the topic of Women’s Ordination, and in some parts of the world, debates if women are even fit for pastoral ministry. Lot’s wife is another example of a woman that disobeyed God and the disastrous consequences that followed. These are appropriate examples, notwithstanding the much longer list of men in the Bible who committed the same felonies. It’s always important to foster unity among God’s people, and so it’s important to reflect on how certain gender-limited examples will be perceived by members of our world church.

Wilson states, “As long as God’s people were unwavering in their devotion to the Lord and His Word their success was guaranteed. Yet repeatedly they exchanged moving ahead in faith with turning back in fear. On the very borders of the Promised Land they exclaimed, ‘Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?’ So they said to one another, ‘Let us select a new leader and return to Egypt.’”

My question is: are Adventists wanting to ‘turn back to Egypt’?

This would be a travesty for God’s people in any period of history. Consequently the mere mention of this occurring should result in a sense of great alarm in the Adventist Church. But no idea exists in isolation, and with the world church in view, especially the events of the last few years, let me share how I see this metaphor being used:

We must be committed to the Word of God. But we haven’t been, and we have lost our opportunity to move ahead with the General Conference’s agenda because we have turned back to alternative views. We are on the verge of entering the eternal Promised Land. But because of our refusal to devote ourselves to the Word of God as interpreted by the GC, our wives (think: women’s ordination) and children (think: the GC-endorsed compliance video) will become victims of our alternative understandings of how the Gospel can be advanced through all the world. Because of these disturbances to the GC’s agenda, some have been calling to select a new leader. But that new leader (irrespective of who they may be) will lead us back to Egypt (i.e. in a direction against the will of God).

As we look out on our global Church, are we calling for a new leader to take us back to Egypt? Or has Moses fulfilled his calling, and it’s time for Joshua to lead the charge?

Wilson states, “Centuries later Paul instructed Timothy to preach the Word. ‘For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.’ It is important to note that both in ancient Israel and the Christian church, God’s people had no problem submitting to leadership as long as their leaders capitulated to their desire to be led away from the Lord’s commandments and be turned back to the world from which they had been delivered. But this cannot be. We must never deviate from the direction the Lord leads us according to His Word.”

My question is: are we willingly being led away from God’s commandments?

There was a period in the 20th century when truths were true, and fables were fables. In the 21st century, everything is labelled as “fake news” and it is increasingly difficult to squint through the smog and see reality. To claim that another individual does not accept sound doctrine is a serious accusation. Perhaps because of their age, culture, education, position in society, political views, and religious experience, they communicate the same truths in a different manner. Jesus leads all His followers along the same narrow path, but they are all wearing different shoes and are walking at different speeds. Furthermore, this narrow path does not lead us away from planet earth, but around planet earth so that we can invite others to join us on this journey.

From Bible history we know that there will always be false teachers calling God’s people to leave the narrow path. But the Bible is filled with accounts of people who refused to listen to them, and instead followed the instructions of the prophets, kings, and apostles who pointed them towards their Saviour. Of course there were times when people left the narrow path. But I am reminded again of the 7,000 who did not worship Baal (1 Kings 19:18). The apostle Paul thought this was important too, because he recounted this holy defiance towards false leadership in Romans 11:2-4.

God’s true followers in every age (i.e. the “remnant”) have never submitted and capitulated to leaders who draw them away from God’s commandments. History declares that they would rather be martyred then compromise their allegiance to their heavenly Leader. Consequently, there is an increasing need for leaders in the church who foster unity and encourage us to support one another on the narrow path.

Wilson states, “As the stream of modern culture rushes headlong toward destruction, standing firm on the solid rock of Scripture will make it appear as though we are removing ourselves from society” (emphasis mine).

My question is: should we remove ourselves from modern culture?

“Modern culture,” “ancient culture,” and every culture in between are simply the culture of the time. None are better or worse than the other. How can it be said that the Babylonian culture was “better” than the proceeding Greek, Roman, British, German, or American cultures? They are all different, and they are all the “new normal” of that time.

The consistently repeated thought in Adventism that “modern culture” is all shock and horror, is not helpful in facilitating a loving and compassionate mindset towards those who don’t know Jesus yet. Every aspect of every culture can be used for good or for evil. Think: social media, or literature, or medicine, or music, or religion. Every individual chooses how they will engage with the culture of their time.

At this point I am reminded of Joseph, who used his place in arguably the most pagan nation on earth to do good and save the lives of many people, just as God had intended (Genesis 50:20). Consequently, negative portrayals of “modern culture” need to cease if we are to work together and see others as people that God created, loves, died for, and wants to spend eternity with.

Wilson states, “Request that at your local Adventist academy or college the time, energy, and money spent on varsity sports for one year be spent on evangelism training, programming, and direct outreach to the community instead.”

My question is: can we give a sporting chance to sports evangelism?

Adventist academies and colleges provide ample opportunities for evangelism through extracurricular activities such as performing arts tours, outdoor-rec activities, cultural excursions, and sport events. The apostle Paul reminds us that, “whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17).

Sport programs provide fantastic opportunities for athletes to share Jesus with other like-minded individuals engaged in activities that promote physical, social, emotional, and mental well-bring. Church pastors would rarely be involved in these events, which is why we need ministers of the Gospel (which includes every follower of Jesus) using their God-given skills and talents to share the Gospel within their unique spheres of influence. Sport programs don’t have to be a drain on the resources of our academies and colleges; instead when staffed and resourced appropriately, they can provide great evangelistic opportunities.

Wilson quotes Ellen White who states, “When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own. It is the privilege of every Christian not only to look for but to hasten the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (emphasis mine).

My question is: when will Jesus take us into eternity?

There are many profoundly misunderstood statements of Ellen White, especially her statements around Christ’s character being perfectly reproduced in His people. Some have twisted her comments to teach that there will be an exclusive remnant within the “remnant” who will reproduce Christ’s sinless character, and thereby usher in the Second Coming. This interpretation of White’s comments is fascinating, because it suggests that human beings can force God to act — that human beings can prevent Jesus’ return, or force Him to return even if He was preparing for another time. Supporters of this view suggest that a good proportion of those who claim Jesus as their Saviour are not doing much to share the Gospel, and that it’s essentially their fault that Jesus hasn’t returned yet.

It’s absurd to think that humanity can control God; that the creation can control the creator. This theology is not Adventist doctrine, neither is it a biblical teaching, and for the eternal sake of our church family, we need to forcefully refute this false teaching.[2] [3]

When accurately understood, Ellen White’s comments on this topic are beautiful and uplifting, but in isolation, they appear accusatory and inflammatory to those who are doing their best to follow Jesus on the narrow path. Any text without a context is a pretext for demoralising God’s people.

As I reflect on the Adventist Church I love, I am encouraged that what I see is so often the opposite of what is published. I see:

• Church members and institutions working together to foster unity and proclaim the Gospel in effective and creative ways.

• I see church members and leaders using their God-given freedom of conscience to question the status quo, and pursue new methods of ministry and evangelism to share the love of Jesus within their spheres of influence.

• I see Adventists of all different ages, cultures, educations, positions in society, political views, and religious experiences interpreting passages of Scripture in different ways, but still arriving at the same glorious truth that “God is love.”

• And finally, I see and believe that the Second Coming is imminent, because as Jesus declared, “The kingdom of Heaven is forcefully advancing” according to His will.

 

Notes & References:

[1] Adventist World, Volume 15, Number 2

[2] Recently, leading Adventist theologians have published two great books on this topic which are available from your local Adventist Book Centre, or online.

See: God's Character and the Last Generation, by Jirí Moskala, John C. Peckham, Woodrow Whidden, Martin Hanna, Richard M. Davidson, Denis Fortin, Ante Jeroncíc, Peter Swanson, Ranko Stefanovic, Darius W. Jankiewicz, and Felix Cortez.

See also: End-Time Events and The Last Generation, by George R. Knight.

[3] For a brief overview, consider reading a section of Ranko Stefanovic’s chapter which he shared online: https://www.facebook.com/ranko.stefanovic.3/posts/2194473597455357

 

Jared Martin holds degrees in Construction Management and Ministry & Theology. He currently works as an Associate Pastor at Mt Gravatt SDA Church and Brisbane Fijian SDA Church in the South Queensland Conference, Australia. In his spare time, Jared helps develop a Sabbath School app for Apple and Android which is available in 37 languages: https://sabbath-school.adventech.io/

Image credit: Adventist World

 

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