DR. PIPIM'S TWO NEW BOOK RELEASES These latest works are stimulating and inspirational. Hope Through the Dark (subtitled: "Inspirational Nuggets on Failure, Betrayal, and Hurt") and Africa Must Think (subtitled "Thought Nuggets on Africa") are nugget-style books that will challenge and warm yo...
|GC Session Report||| Print ||
Going Forward, Not Backwards
A Reflection on the 2010 Atlanta General Conference Session
Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, PhD
Director, Public Campus
Ministries, Michigan Conference
The 2010 General Conference Session
in Atlanta is now history. It concluded on Saturday night, July 3, 2010,
with a display of pageantry during the “Parade of Nations”—a colorful
tradition at GC Sessions to celebrate the church’s global outreach
and its unity amidst the diversity of cultures. Although many significant
decisions were taken at this Session, this particular GC Session event
may, perhaps, be remembered for the very courageous and stirring sermon
given by the newly-elected GC President to the 60,000-70,000 people
who filled the Georgia Dome. His clarion call to “Go Forward, Not
Backwards” will echo and re-echo in the church for years to come.
Even before the Session officially
ended, I started receiving emails and phone calls from friends around
the globe, asking for my take on this 59th Session of the General Conference.
Here’s my brief reflection. I say “brief” because I just don’t
have the time to do a comprehensive assessment. I’m still recuperating
from exhaustion at the GC Session. Besides, I’m also getting ready
for another equally important event which begins tomorrow—namely,
CAMPUS l.e.a.d.s., our annual 5-day training event for students
and those interested in ministry to public university students.
Two caveats for those who read this
report. First, because I’m writing to my friends, I take the liberty
to speak very casually, without the need to be as circumspect as I was
in my apologetic works like Receiving the Word, Must We Be Silent,
or Here We Stand. I want to get my thoughts out while they are
still fresh on my mind. Therefore, read my reflections with all the
flaws of grammar and expression.
Second, because the full impact and
implications of the actions taken at the 2010 Atlanta GC Session will
become evident in the coming years, I invite you to read this report
as only a partial assessment of what happened at the 59th
Session of the General Conference. God Himself is writing a more detailed
and accurate history. One day soon, we shall get to understand how,
despite our human limitations, He still accomplished His will at Atlanta.
Until then, let’s remain faithful.
I. Why Attend A
GC Sessions are presently conducted
every five years. The planning and execution of these events literally
cost millions of dollars. I know some people think that these
Sessions are a waste of time and resources. But I disagree. Although
we need to explore better ways to do certain things, I really feel that
it is healthy for the church to have these 5-year events. To question
holding GC Sessions is like questioning the legitimacy of holding business
meetings at a local church level. Among other things, General Conference
Sessions are occasions for the worldwide church to take stock of how
it is doing, elect new leaders, and set an agenda for the future.
It is a privilege to attend GC Sessions,
either as a delegate or as an observer. As I tell our students on public
university campuses, converging at GC Sessions is like Muslims attending
their Mecca. Though we don't have any holy ground, GC Sessions can be
spiritual high points for the SDA church. You get to meet old friends
and make new ones. You get to hear the exciting reports of church growth
in different parts of the world. You learn from the successes and failures
of others. And you get to see different expressions of modest Christian
dressing (or the lack thereof).
The fact is, when you live in your
own little Adventist ghetto in whatever region of the church you live
in, you think Adventism is only circumscribed to your narrow area. This
can breed myopic or inward-looking perspective on things--one cause
of the racial or cultural arrogance that is often expressed on certain
websites. However, at GC Sessions you get to see Adventism in all of
its diversity. And you get humbled by your parochial view of things.
Another reason why GC Sessions are
important is that it is a time to gauge the temperature of the church—the
theological and spiritual temperature of the church. For example, when
I attend GC Sessions,
--I visit the various exhibition
booths and get to see what items are being displayed. Some of these
have theological implications.
--I observe and participate in
the worship services and get a feel of the direction the church is headed
on such issues as worship, worship styles, mission strategies, and things
--I listen intently to the sermons
and workshops, read carefully the documents and brochures passed out,
not only for edification and inspiration, but also to ascertain the
nature and extent of the kinds of doctrines being peddled around.
--Through the election process
and the mission reports I get to see God's leading of His church.
--Finally, by evaluating the reasons
given for its actions, I get a sense of how the church arrives at its
theological decisions: Is it through opinion polls, referenda, political
action, subjective feelings, pragmatism, or through a sound reflection
on inspired writings?
What I mean is this: GC Sessions,
in my opinion, constitute one of the highest experiences for the Seventh-day
Adventist Church worldwide. And it is worth the effort, time, and money.
Yes, sitting through the GC business Sessions is at times boring and
frustrating. But it is worth all the investment by the Church and its
Thus, I have attended every single
one of the past six GC Sessions, serving as a delegate in all but the
most recent one. I was a delegate in 1985 (New Orleans, Louisiana),
in 1990 (Indianapolis, Indiana), in 1995 (Utrecht, the Netherlands),
in 2000 (Toronto, Canada), and in 2005 (St. Louis, Missouri).
As a delegate on these occasions, I was privileged to participate in
the actual decision making processes. That is, I made my voice heard
in the lively discussions and debates, and got to vote on issues. But
taking that privilege seriously also meant that I was essentially stuck
on the “delegates’ floor,” with very little time to do anything
else other than the business of the church. However, as an observer
at the 2010 GC Session (Atlanta, Georgia), my non-delegate status allowed
me greater freedom to move around, observe some things more closely,
and interact with key decision-makers, and connect with old and new
II. My Interests
At GC Sessions
Although several issues are discussed
at GC Sessions—church manual, constitution and bye-laws, auditors’
report, etc.—the issues that tend to interest me the most are theological
issues. I'm sure you will appreciate it because my training is in systematic
theology—a fancy phrase for the study of doctrines. My specialty is
in biblical authority and interpretation (hermeneutics), and the doctrine
of the church (ecclesiology).
My interest in theological issues
also has to do with my Ghanaian educational background and my previous
training in engineering. This background encourages serious thinking
and reflection on issues, instead of the annoyingly, shallow “sound-bite”
pop-theology that is pervasive in our “feelings-based,” poll-driven
society. So at GC Sessions, I try to comb through the agenda materials
that are passed out to delegates (or are freely available on the website),
with a keen interest on the theological issues recommended in Church
Manual revisions. Then when the occasion lends itself I try to speak
to the issues clearly, pointedly, and sometimes vigorously.
This year (2010 GC Session), because
I had the luxury of not being a delegate I was also able to attend a
few seminars, as well as observe trends and worship practices in youth
and prayer ministries—two major areas that are engaging my attention
in recent times because of the inroads within our ranks of emergent
philosophy and contemplative spirituality. I wanted to gauge the extent
to which these practices are subtly being purveyed to well-meaning members—all
in the name of church growth. (In the near future, I will be publishing
a book dealing with these issues).
Oh, I forgot to mention that I also
frequented our own CAMPUS exhibition booth to promote our unique approach
to secular campus ministry and to connect with a number of people who
have been impacted by our ministry. I got to autograph a few of
my books, pass out our brochures and my free sermon DVDs/MP3s (titled
“Be An Eagle”), and take photos which will be archived on some of
my friends’ Facebook pages. But more than anything else, I had the
distinct privilege of lavishly spreading around millions and millions
of germs, which is a new friend’s expression for the many handshakes
that took place.
III. Growth of the
Before talking about some of the significant
issues (at least to me) that came up at the Session, let me begin by
noting that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is alive and well. I always
leave GC Sessions with this feel. This year’s was no exception. Seeing
and hearing the reports of the commitment and sacrifice of Seventh-day
Adventists around the world was very thrilling and inspirational. The
report from the GC Secretariat was one of the best and most comprehensive
I can remember. It highlights the exciting growth of the church and
some unique challenges it faces.
For example, every 30 seconds, somebody
is baptized into the SDA church. This means that almost 3,000 baptisms
every day—almost similar to the number on the day of Pentecost. But
during the same 24-hour day, more than 51,000 babies are born in China
alone! Around the world each day 371,000 babies are born! When you add
the number of those who die every day and those who are buried in Christless
graves, the challenge to our missions should become very apparent.
Another observation that deserves
mention is that the Adventist church is truly an international church;
it is a worldwide church. The Advent movement began in the United States
and quickly spread to the industrialized countries of Europe and Australia.
Today, however, about 93% of Adventism is outside the industrialized
countries of North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Let
me give you just a few statistics:
Did you know that in the South Pacific
Division (Australia and the islands of the Pacific), some 90% of church
membership there lives outside Australia? So really, the majority of
them reside outside of Australia! Even in Western Europe, a majority
of the members are from the developing countries. On the continent of
Africa alone, there are over 6 million Adventists. Then think of Inter-America
(over 3 million), South America (over 2 million), Philippines (over
1 million), etc.
The point is, the Adventist movement
is now international, with an overwhelming majority living outside the
typical industrialized countries which gave birth to our overseas churches
and which have over the years supported the overseas fields with finances,
prayer and personnel. While some may be a little afraid or uncomfortable
when they see the growth of the church in developing countries (and
hence their large delegate presence and right to speak to issues at
GC Sessions), all God-fearing Adventists will rejoice that the church
is truly a worldwide movement.
I personally look forward to the day
when experts from the developing countries will also be asked to share
the reasons for their phenomenal success. Without doubt, these lopsided
growths may be attributed to the gracious blessings of the Lord. But
could it also be that our people in the developing countries are doing
things that we, in the Western world, need to take note of?
In my opinion, many of the outreach
and church plant strategies or methods often presented by specialists
in the industrialized countries simply don't work. They only look good
on paper, powerpoint, and glitzy videos. At the very most, these gimmicks
have only limited results. Worse still, we have managed to convince
ourselves that the simple proclamation of the Word of God cannot work
in the Western world, unless we jazz it up with some questionable gospel
gimmicks--clowns, puppets, drama, rock music, café worship centers,
and all the latest fads from Hollywood or megachurches. (Anyway, that
is another topic for a future discussion).
My point right now is that, on the
whole, I'm really delighted by the growth of the church worldwide. The
future is bright and full of promise—especially if we can mobilize
every baptized member as a true missionary. We shouldn’t be satisfied
with the mere 642 employed (Inter/Intradivision) missionaries sent out
by the church during the past five years. Neither should we be content
with the official 6684 part-time volunteer missionaries who went on
some mission trips during that same period of time. Think about it:
A total of only 7,326 total official missionaries sent out in five years.
Compare this figure with some 60,000 missionaries the Mormon Church
sends our every year.
And this is a church that doesn’t even have the biblical truth we
I don’t think it takes a neurosurgeon
to realize that we cannot fulfill our mission as a church if we rely
only on official church entities. The successful stories of organizations
like ASI and GYC show that grassroots, lay-led, and church-supporting
organizations are a tremendous asset, not a hindrance. I was personally
disappointed that in the Division reports there was hardly any mention
of the tremendous work being done by supporting organizations like 3ABN,
Amazing Facts, Gospel Ministries International, Remnant Publications,
ASAP, etc. Who can seriously doubt that these supporting ministries
have contributed to hundreds of thousands of baptisms, and that they
are often on the front lines of faithfulness and mission? I want to
believe that the oversight was a genuine mistake, and not borne from
petty spiritual jealousy on the part of the organized work.
At 2010 GC Session, the Church unveiled
its strategic plan for 2010-2015, aptly summed up as: “Reach Up, Reach
Out, Reach Across: Tell the World.” We are to “reach up”
to God through Bible study, prayer, Adventist Bible study guides, and
the Spirit of Prophecy, so as to experience revival and faithfulness.
We are urged to “reach out” to others in missionary service
and community responsibilities. And we’ve been challenged to “reach
across” the barriers that threaten to divide us as a family, by
endeavoring to disciple, nurture, and involve every individual in the
life and mission of the church. If we’re to succeed in meeting these
strategic objectives in the coming five years, we cannot afford to ignore,
marginalize, or even fight against supporting organizations.
IV. Major Issues
at the 2010 Atlanta GC Session
Every GC Session is defined by certain
significant events or issues. For example at the 1990 (Indianapolis)
and 1995 (Utrecht) GC Sessions, the issue of women’s ordination dominated
the scene, when the worldwide church overwhelming rejected the practice.
At the 2000 (Toronto) Session it was the questionable divorce and remarriage
that was passed through a parliamentary coup d’etat. And the 2005
(St. Louis) Session, it seems to me, was more noteworthy for the way
it voted to increase the power of pastors in local churches and also
for its reduction of lay-representation at GC Sessions in favor of church-employed
Arguably, the 2010 Atlanta GC Session
will be remembered by the stirring Seventh-day Adventist sermon delivered
by the newly elected GC President—a clear, unambiguous message that
re-asserts our unique identity and purpose for existence as God’s
Remnant Church. However, some issues also stood out at this Session.
These have to do with doctrinal issues that were addressed in the course
of revisions in the Church Manual.
The need for these changes and actions
arise from the fact that, in recent times, a certain segment of our
Church has been pushing the church step by step to embrace unbiblical
teachings and practices. We are told that the church must create a “big
tent” for all views. As a consequence, there is confusion in certain
quarters of the church about the actual position of the Church and the
biblical legitimacy of its position. Against this backdrop, I will cite
the following significant actions that were taken:
Given the recent discussions in the
church about the promotion of theistic evolution in some of our institutions,
it came as no surprise that the world church re-affirmed its belief
in the historicity of Genesis 1-11, a literal 6-day, 24-hour, contiguous,
creation. The delegates did so in two important actions--namely, (i)
approving a 2004 “Affirmation of Creation Statement,” and (ii) recommending
to the Church Manual committee to incorporate essential components
of that Statement into our Fundamental Belief #6.
The 2004 “Affirmation of Creation
Statement” is a significant document that summarized the views of
the church after a three-year discussion of the issue of creation and
evolution. In view of the fact that some within our ranks are claiming
that our present Fundamental Belief #6 (dealing with Creation) is ambiguous
or broad enough to allow for naturalistic evolution, the 2004 Affirmation
of Creation Statement makes very explicit what is implicit Fundamental
Belief #6—namely, God actually created the heavens and the earth in
six literal days, of 24-hours each.
In the deliberations on the floor
and in their vote for these two actions delegates essentially rejected
the new views on Creation, arguing that theistic evolution: (i) undermines
the authority and reliability of Scripture, (ii) attacks the character
of God, (iii) overturns key aspects of the doctrine of salvation, (iv)
overthrows the foundation for morality, and (v) seriously erodes distinctive
doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The 2004 Affirmation of Creation Statement
ensures that there will be no doubt in anyone’s mind about our church’s
position. It was very clear that the representatives of the world church
were very concerned that at a time when the Church needed resources
to preach the gospel, we are actually paying some people to stand in
our classrooms and pulpits to undermine our biblical teaching on Creation.
I believe that the 2004 Affirmation Statement will ensure that our members
and employees are held accountable.
By recommending to the Church Manual
Committee a rewording of our current Fundamental Belief #6 to incorporate
the essential components of the Affirmation of Creation Statement, the
delegates were seeking to bring a definitive closure to the claim by
some that theistic evolution is an option for Seventh-day Adventists.
2. Clarifying the Definition of
Marriage & Homosexuality
Another subject that came up for discussion
was the proposal to clarify the church’s definition of marriage by
adding the phrase “between one male and one female” to the existing
statement in the Church Manual
that said, “Marriage, thus instituted by God, is a monogamous, heterosexual
According to the new proposal, that
statement would now read: “Marriage, thus instituted by God, is a
monogamous, heterosexual relationship between one male and one female.”
This minor, but significant, addition did not pass easily. It generated
a heated discussion that lasted about an hour and half--with all kinds
of motions, amendments, and amendments to amendments.
The first amendment came from a delegate
from one European Division, who not only removed the new addition, but
also dropped the original “heterosexual relationship” words. This
individual suggested the following wording: “Marriage is a monogamous,
loving relationship between two mutually consenting adults.”
He offered two reasons for his amendment.
First, he explained that the current text could be interpreted to allow
forced marriages. By describing marriage as a “loving relationship
between two mutually consenting adults” he sought to avoid any “forced
marriages” in certain areas. He then added a second reason for
his amendment, saying that the Church should be “an open, not closed
church . . . a gracious, not a condemning church,” and that the proposed
amendment would further alienate gays and lesbians from the church.
This gay-friendly amendment was greeted
with obvious disapproval by an overwhelming majority of delegates.
Some delegates were quite surprised that some Adventist delegates even
entertained the thought of using this occasion to slip into our Church
Manual homosexuality as a legitimate form of marriage--all in the
name of inclusiveness and grace.
In the end, after a series of amendments
and motions to get back to the original proposal, and after a heated
discussion, the delegates voted the approval of the suggested recommendation
that was initially brought to the floor--namely, “Marriage, thus instituted
by God, is a monogamous, heterosexual relationship between one male
and one female.” I believe the proposal was supported by some
99.9% of the delegates.
By this unanimous vote, the Church
reaffirmed its position against homosexuality, making explicit what
we have always believed.
Ordination of Deaconesses
Although, in my opinion this was really
a non-issue, because of the ongoing agitation by a vocal and influential
segment of the church for the ordination of women as elders
or pastors, the proposal to ordain women as deaconesses
became a very contentious issue. Folks debated this proposal against
the backdrop of the calculated, step-by-step, efforts by proponents
of women’s ordination.
Up until the 2010 GC Session in Atlanta,
the Church Manual did not mention the ordination of deaconesses.
But in Atlanta, delegates were asked to vote on a recommendation to
allow women deacons “to be ordained in regions that favor it.” Some
felt that this recommendation “affirms women in ministry,” others
saw it as another subtle attempt towards laying foundation for ordaining
women as pastors.
In the ensuing discussion, the delegates,
(a) voted an amendment to the original motion that removed the line
that would have left ordination of women deacons to the discretion of
each region; (b) approved the ordination of deaconesses; (c) subsequently
(on a later day) recommended to the Church Manual committee to
set up a commission to set forth the church’s theology of ordination.
Because I have written extensively
on the questionable reinterpretations of the Bible and SDA history to
justify the ordination of women as elders/pastors, prior to and shortly
after the GC Session discussion on the “ordination of deaconesses,”
some of my friends asked me about what I thought about this proposal.
I responded thus to them:
(i) There is nothing wrong with ordination
of deaconesses as such. Ordination, is simply the act of the church
in choosing, appointing, and setting apart through the laying on of
hands certain individuals to perform specific functions on behalf of
the church. Rightly understood, both male and female, through an act
of dedication (the laying on of hands), can be commissioned to perform
certain specific functions.
(ii) Accordingly, both men and women
can be ordained to be teachers, literature evangelists, medical missionaries,
deacons, deaconneses, etc. The debate over women’s ordination is not
whether women can or cannot be ordained in this sense. The Bible, confirmed
by the Spirit of Prophecy, suggests that both men and women may be commissioned
to do certain assigned tasks on behalf of the church. (For a detailed
discussion on this, see my online article: http://www.womenministrytruth.
(iii) The key issue to be addressed
in the women’s ordination debate is whether, among the varied ministries
of the church, women may legitimately be commissioned through ordination
to perform the spiritual leadership functions of elders or pastors.
Addressing this question will require a careful study of the Scriptures
to understand what the Bible teaches about role relationships between
men and women in both the home and the church.
(iv) In short, the issue in the Adventist
debate over women's ordination is not about ordination per se,
but ordination to what function. Specifically, can the church
commission (ordain) a person (e.g. a woman) to the headship/leadership
office of husband or father (in the home) or elder or pastor (in the
church)? The issue is not about women in ministry, but rather women
in what kind of soul-winning ministry. The issue is not whether women
can perform the headship responsibilities of husbands or elders/pastors,
but rather whether the Bible permits them to do so. Underlying
the above question are some crucial theological and hermeneutical issues,
most of which have been addressed on my website (http://drpipim.org/womens-
(v) In light of the above considerations,
the proposal at the 2010 GC Session to ordain deaconesses is, frankly,
a non-issue. Women can be ordained as deaconesses. In my opinion, the
proposal was a calculated attempt (perhaps unintentionally) to further
confuse church members about the theological issues surrounding the
political campaign for ordaining women as elders or pastors.
(vi) Personally, I welcome the call
by the GC delegates for the Church to set up a Commission to study the
Church’s theology of ordination. I am fully convinced that, unlike
error, truth can stand the test of rigorous investigation. In the words
of E.G. White, “The more truth is spoken against, the brighter it
will shine. Thus the precious ore is polished. Every word of slander
spoken against it, every misrepresentation of its value, awakens attention
and is the means of leading to closer investigation as to what is saving
truth. The truth becomes more highly estimated. New beauty and greater
value are revealed from every point of view” (Evangelism, p.
(vii) I find it ironic, though, that
after over 150 years of practicing ordination in the church, we now
realize a need to study our theology of ordination. One would have thought
that those who have been pushing the new practice of ordaining/commissioning
women as elders/pastors during the past two or three decades would have
called for a serious study before upon embarking these recent practices
in certain quarters of our church. These questionable practices have
the potential of seriously undermining our belief in the Word of God
as the ultimate test for all beliefs and practice, and eroding confidence
in the Spirit of Prophecy to inform our decision.
I sincerely hope that the Commission
that will be set up will not be ideologically driven, as was the pro-ordination
Andrews University scholars who published the controversial book
Women in Ministry, a work that has been soundly refuted by other
scholars in Prove All Things (for more on this, see my online
article, titled “The Campaign for Women’s Ordination,” available
Perhaps it might even be wiser to
call for a moratorium on all ordinations/commissionings of women elders/pastors
until we do a more honest study of relevant biblical and Sprit of Prophecy
passages on the subject. We make a mockery of ourselves when we continue
in the path of biblical inconsistencies and trivialize biblical teaching
by our ideological stagecraft. Realistically, though, I honestly doubt
that we have the courage to heed any calls for a moratorium.
Whereas it is easy to legislate error,
it takes true repentance and revival to get back onto the path of truth.
Unconverted human nature would not surrender to truth. It would do anything
possible, including twisting Scriptures, the Spirit of Prophecy, and
our history to justify its darling ideologies. “Truth is straight,
plain, clear, and stands out boldly in its own defense; but it is not
so with error. It is so winding and twisting that it needs a multitude
of words to explain it in its crooked form” (Early Writings,
96, emphasis mine).
V. Other Notable
Besides the above major issues--Creation,
Marriage and Homosexuality, and the Ordination of Deaconesses--there
were other issues that I find worthy of mention:
(i) Transferring the Membership of Former Sexual Offenders.
Another heated discussion was a
Church Manual change, requiring that there be a written notification
of the past actions of a former sexual offender who is transferring
his/her membership to another church.
The debate begun with the fear by
some that the language was too strong and could lead to lawsuits if
a person was wrongly framed for abuse. The debate boiled down to a possibility
of character defamation versus the risk of exposing children to a former
child abuser. Theologically, the issue was whether the forgiveness of
sins necessarily removes consequences, and if not, how the church should
weigh these consequences in the light of restoration of a sinner, the
laws of nations, and the safety of children. Should the church allow
presumably repentant predators to attend church and church-related events?
What about former murderers, liars, thieves, adulterers, etc.?
In the end, the delegates approved
the Church Manual change that requires a church to notify another
congregation of a transferring member who has a record of sexual misconduct
with minors. The delegates also voted to include in several chapters
a statement requiring background checks and certifications for all church
employees and volunteers who work closely with minors.
(ii) Union of Churches
The delegates at the Atlanta GC Session
also approved for inclusion into the Church Manual a new level
of church governance structure called “Union of Churches.” This
refers to a group of local congregations in specific geographical areas,
which instead of being treated as local conferences or missions, are
now to be treated as “Unions”—at least as far as representation
at the GC level is concerned.
Whatever the presumed advantages of
these “union of churches,” in my opinion, this action may encourage
regions where the church is not growing to have undue advantage in representation
at General Conference levels (e.g., Executive Committees and GC Sessions).
I can imagine a scenario whereby a country or region with about 10,000
members would intentionally form a “union of churches, ” so that,
instead of being treated as a local conference/mission, it would now
be treated as a “Union” and thereby be granted the same number of
representatives as would be given another region which has a membership
of say 200,000.
(iii) Representation of Young Adults
On the last business meeting of the
GC Session, Delegates also voted unanimously an amendment to the General
Conference Constitution and Bylaws that states that the GC Executive
Committee's membership (currently about 300 members) shall include “not
less than 15 and not more than 20 members . . . from laity including
I believe this vote was long overdue.
Coming from a region of the world (Africa) where between 70-80% of the
church membership are young people, and currently working with public
university students in the USA, I was struck by the conspicuous scarcity
of young adults (i.e., youth under 30 years) as delegates at the GC
Session. It is my understanding that out of a total of more than 2,230
delegates, less than 45 young adult delegates were registered at the
I believe there are qualified young
adults who can effectively engage in the business of the church. I can
point to many young people from our ministry to secular university campuses,
GYC youth, and many other committed and capable young people around
the world. The church can do a lot more to involve them in every facet
of the church’s life.
But I hasten to add that we must resist
the egalitarian ideology that mistakenly believes that young people
should be given “a piece of the pie” simply because they are young.
GC Sessions and Executive Committees are not for just any kind of young
people. Because these are venues where we make important decisions
about the church, we need people who are demonstrably committed to the
Church and who are knowledgeable about the Church’s teachings. Even
in the United States, the Constitution places an age limit on who can
serve in the Senate and Congress. There must be reasons for this limitation.
I believe the reasons include maturity and knowledge. How much more
the Church--God’s church?
The Bible also makes spiritual maturity
a necessary requirement for church leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-7; cf.
Titus 1:5-9). Since some of the requirements to be an elder/pastor emphasize
ability to teach, the importance of not being a novice (new convert),
and a demonstration of an impeccable reputation to outsiders there seem
to be “spiritual age” limitations on those who can serve as elders
or pastors. If this is indeed the case, then the Bible seems to raise
some serious questions about the temptation to whisk young people to
positions of responsibility simply because they are young.
We must find a Biblically better way
to involve or mentor the youth to be spiritual leaders. The kinds of
young people we need are those like our Adventist pioneers. I always
remind young people that in 1844, James White was 23 years old.
Ellen G. White was 17. Hymn writer Annie R. Smith was 16. J.N. Andrews
was 15. And Uriah Smith was 12. What set these youthful pioneers
apart is that they were converted and studious Bible students. As such
God used them to launch a global movement.
What is the point of bringing the
youth into leadership when they cannot even give a simple Bible study
on their faith? Just because a person can play a guitar or is “talented”
does not qualify him/her to be entrusted with the serious responsibility
of making important decisions for the church. I am all for bringing
to GC Sessions and Executive Committee meetings young people who are
godly, Bible-believing, mission-driven, brilliant and talented. We must
bring converted young people who are solidly grounded in the Adventist
faith, and who have demonstrated they are effective soul-winners. In
some cases, if we want to make the youth aware of how the church operates,
they can come as guests and observers. But I will strongly caution against
entrusting important responsibilities to young people who are spiritually
immature and whose loyalty to the message and mission of the church
VI. The President’s
Without doubt, the most important
message coming out of the 2010 GC Session was the inaugural sermon delivered
by the newly elected GC President, Eld. Ted Wilson. It was a bold, clear,
unequivocal, and refreshingly Adventist sermon. A fitting message that
stands in marked contrast to the fuzzy, ecumenical, people-pleasing,
and non-convicting messages that often ooze from some of our pulpits.
Judging from the reaction by many
attendees—and the buzzing responses by those who listened to the message
via the TV and the Internet—the sermon could very well be the defining
characteristic of the Atlanta GC Session. It was, perhaps, the clearest
message any church leader can give to an Adventist audience.
Titled, “Go Forward,” the new
GC President began by highlighting the urgency of our times and the
ultimate destiny of the Advent movement. Employing the experience of
ancient Israel at the Red Sea (Exodus 14), he called upon church members
to follow the path marked by God, however dangerous it might seem. He
summed up the thrust of his message by pointing to the words of E.G.
White when she described the great lesson from Israel’s crossing of
the Red Sea:
“Often the Christian life is
beset by dangers, and duty seems hard to perform. The imagination pictures
impending ruin before and bondage or death behind. Yet the voice of
God speaks clearly, ‘Go forward.’ We should obey this command, even
though our eyes cannot penetrate the darkness and we feel the cold waves
about our feet. The obstacles that hinder our progress will never disappear
before a halting, doubting spirit” (Patriarchs & Prophets,
Speaking as a fellow pilgrim in our
journey to heaven, he spoke pastorally: “So, brothers and sisters,
look to the Almighty God who can take you through anything you will
face in the future. Never lose your full confidence and trust in Him.
Always obey His command to ‘Go Forward.’” Even when Satan tempts
us to step backwards towards Egypt, we must still “Go Forward.”
And borrowing the words of E. G. White, the GC President assured the
members of the church family: “The path where God leads the way
may lie through the desert or the sea, but it is a safe path”
(Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 290).
After applying the lessons of the
Exodus 14 passage to the personal lives of church members, the new GC
President turned his attention the corporate life of the Church. He
used the metaphor of “going forward” to mean faithfulness to our
distinctive message and mission, and “going backwards” as a symbol
of betraying the trust through the adoption of unscriptural fads.
Accordingly, he challenged the almost
70,0000 attendees to “be vigilant to test all things according to
the supreme authority of God's Word and the counsel with which we have
been blessed in the writings of Ellen G. White.” He was neither fuzzy
nor ambiguous about what fads he had in mind. He said:
“Don't reach out to movements
or megachurch centers outside the Seventh-day Adventist Church which
promise you spiritual success based on faulty theology. Stay away from
non-biblical spiritual disciplines or methods of spiritual formation
that are rooted in mysticism such as contemplative prayer, centering
prayer, and the emerging church movement in which they are promoted.”
Eld. Wilson also urged members to
adopt biblically legitimate worship styles:
“While we understand that worship
services and cultures vary throughout the world, don't go backwards
into confusing pagan settings where music and worship become so focused
on emotion and experience that you lose the central focus on the Word
of God. All worship, however simple or complex should do one thing and
one thing only: lift up Christ and put down self. Worship methods that
lift up performance and self should be replaced with a simple and sweet
reflection of a Christ-centered, Biblical approach. To define it too
closely is impossible but when you read in Scripture of the holiness
of God’s presence the Holy Spirit will help you to know what is right
and what is wrong.”
In this respect, the President set
a good example when, right at the beginning of his message, he requested
that there be no applause during the cause of his message: “I appreciate
the wonderful spirit and enthusiasm of our worldwide family of faith.
And while we are all proud of our respective nations and cultures, I
praise the Lord that there is a culture of Christ that binds us together
and supersedes all others. In that spirit, I humbly ask for your prayers
that the message I share today is heard clearly and that the messenger
not be lifted up. To that end, if there is a particular point with which
you agree, please respond with a heartfelt ‘Amen’ instead of applause.
Thank you for your help in keeping the message, not the messenger, the
center of our time together.”
Here, at last, was a leader who was
not afraid of going against a crowd. Tastefully discouraging applause
in a big sports stadium required courage and conviction. For applause
or clapping was never part of the worship service in the Old and New
Testaments. Until recently, it was unthinkable in Seventh-day Adventist
worship to have church members clapping during sermons, music, or prayers.
Its historic venue was the theater, the sports arena, the social gathering---not
in sacred worship service. This is why, until recently, Adventist churches
never encouraged the practice. But applause has become very popular
in evangelical televised religious services, and we have copied it from
them. Not so, however, with the GC President who was not afraid to go
against what was popular.
Very perceptively, he also cautioned
against another danger--namely, succumbing to “fanatical or loose
theology that wrests God's Word from the pillars of Biblical truth and
the landmark beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Don't be swayed
with every little whim of 'new' theology or complicated time chart purporting
to carefully explain unusual or obscure concepts that have little to
do with our overall theology and mission.”
He couldn’t have said it better
in a few words. This is because Bible-believing Adventists are in constant
danger of attracting, if not succumbing to, all kinds of bizarre, fanatical,
and sensational theology. Whenever the winds of revival and reformation
begin to blow in the church, folks advocating such views tend to incubate
among our ranks and use the platforms we possess to hatch their eggs
of date-setting, apocalyptic sensationalism, conspiracy theories, quaint
and quack practices of health, holier-than-thou methods of salvation,
and a return to some ancient Jewish feasts.
Turning his attention to a contemporary
challenge, he echoed the concerns of many delegates about the promotion
of theistic evolution. The new GC President stated:
“Don't go backwards to misinterpret
the first eleven chapters of Genesis or other areas of Scripture as
allegorical or merely symbolic. . . . [T]he Seventh-day Adventist Church
both teaches and believes in the biblical record of creation which took
place recently; in six literal, consecutive, contiguous 24 hour days.
. . . If God did not create this world in six literal days and then
blessed the Sabbath day, why are we worshipping Him today on this seventh-day
Sabbath as Seventh-day Adventists?”
He pleaded with us to “read
the Bible, live the Bible, teach the Bible, and preach
the Bible with all power from on high.” Against the dangers of higher
criticism (the so-called “historical critical method” of interpretation)
he employed the words of E.G. White:
“When men, in their finite judgment,
find it necessary to go into an examination of Scriptures to define
that which is inspired and that which is not, they have stepped before
Jesus to show Him a better way than He has led us. . . .[L]et not a
mind or hand be engaged in criticizing the Bible . . . cling to your
Bible, as it reads, and stop your criticisms in regard to its validity,
and obey the Word, and not one of you will be lost.” (1 Selected
And reiterating the Church’s belief
in the Spirit of Prophecy, he stated:
“While the Bible is paramount
in our estimation as the ultimate authority and final arbiter of truth,
the Spirit of Prophecy provides clear, inspired council to aid our application
of Bible truth. It is a heaven-sent guide to instruct the church in
how to carry out its mission. It is a reliable theological expositor
of the Scriptures. The Spirit of Prophecy is to be read, believed, applied
and promoted. It is not to be used as a “club” to beat people over
the head, but it is to be regarded and employed as a marvelous blessing
to direct God’s church in the last days of this earth’s history.”
There were many other themes covered
in his one-hour sermon, including: the Sabbath, the Ten Commandments,
the Three Angels’ Messages, Salvation (both justification and sanctification),
Christ-like humility, the Sanctuary, Christ as our Savior, High Priest,
and returning King. With passion and clarity he reminded the world
church of what we believed, what set us apart from our other Christian
brothers and sisters, what our mission is, and our ultimate destiny
in the great controversy.
It was now time for Eld. Ted Wilson
to conclude his message. He did so by inviting the almost 65,000 congregation
in the Georgia Dome to pray for revival and reformation:
“I invite you to accept Christ’s
marvelous grace in your life, to renew your commitment to Him and this
great Advent movement, to proclaim God’s grace, and to ask the Lord
to help this church ‘Go Forward.’ . . . I invite you to remain standing
and now turn to the person next to you or behind you and in heartfelt,
humble prayer plead with the Lord for revival and reformation so the
Holy Spirit can lead God’s remnant church as we “Go Forward” proclaiming
God’s grace and the three angels’ messages. Please pray together.”
I believe I speak for many people
when I say that the GC President’s message was the defining characteristic
of the 2010 GC Session in Atlanta, Georgia.
Going Forward or Backwards?
While the overwhelming majority of
the church greeted Eld. Wilson’s sermon with joy and hope, the reaction
of those who for decades have been pushing the church away from its
message and mission was predictably negative.
One writer on a particular “Progressive”
website described the message as a call to “Retrograde Adventism,”
a call “backwards” to the 1950s or 60s (to which I will respond:
If a call back to our Bible-based teachings and lifestyle practices
is a call “backwards,” then it is the best kind of going back. I
only wish the call would not end in the ’50s or ’60s, but would
go all the way back to the first century--some 2,000 years ago--when
Christ founded His Church).
Another “Progressive Adventist”
friend of mine caught up with me in one of the hallways of the GC Session
and remarked that the sermon was “a declaration of war” (to which
I quickly responded: “No, it is not a declaration of war; the
war had been raging for decades. The only thing that has changed is
that the Church has found a courageous captain, who is not afraid to
publicly state what our message and mission are.”).
The reaction of the critics are shrill
voices of an influential minority who have largely repudiated our distinctive
Adventist identity and mission, and who for years have been calling
for an “open tent” Church in which theological error should be embraced
as an option. I am encouraged that their views do not represent the
longstanding or present position of the Church. I’m equally heartened
by the fact that an overwhelming majority of young people today--the
real future of the church--do not share the views of backslidden Adventism
that masquerades today as “Progressive.” Cooped up in their parochial
orbit, they are totally out of touch with where the real Seventh-day
Adventist Church is.
Our Church leader’s sermon from
Georgia Dome has reassured me of the Church’s future. And I’m not
alone. In a post-GC Session reflection with some of my young public
university students and our CAMPUS missionary staff, they all unanimously
concluded that this message by the GC President was the kind they expect
from our leaders. They remarked that the message to “Go Forward”
has made them proud to be Seventh-day Adventists, has inspired confidence
in the leadership of the church, has motivated them to pray for more
godly and courageous leaders, has assured them that God is still in
control of His remnant Church, despite its many failures, and has given
them reason to go all the way in costly discipleship, sacrifice, and
No doubt, the enemy will do everything
in his power to mute the message and messenger of this inaugural sermon.
The coming years will witness some major challenges—new and old. The
new GC President, and his team of leaders at every level of church administration,
will need our prayers. They need biblical discernment, courage, and
humility as they lead our Church to “Reach Up, Reach Out, Reach Across”
in telling the world of the soon return of Christ.
Regardless of what will happen in
the coming years, let us take confidence in the fact that the cause
of God will ultimately prevail. Armed with this assurance, let us heed
the call from the Georgia Dome of Atlanta: “Go Forward, Not Backwards.”
For, in the words of E. G. White, “The path where God leads the way
may lie through the desert or the sea, but it is a safe path” (Patriarchs
and Prophets, p. 290).
By Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, PhD
Director, Public Campus Ministries, Michigan Conference
July 6, 2010
“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
--Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC)
"In an age of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."
--George Orwell (1903-1950)
"In a culture of theological pluralism, biblical teaching is controversial and divisive."
“Those who can be bribed or seduced, discouraged or terrified, will be of no service in the Christian warfare.”
--E. G. White (1827-1915)