A Snapshot of Adventism Abroad

Two opportunities presented themselves to me recently to visit friends in the Philippines and China, for the very first time, as a British citizen.

My first destination was Davao city, the Philippines. Sabbath morning, as is my custom when I am abroad, I visited a nearby church. After Sabbath School, I was taken aback when it was announced that I was to preach. I hastily sent a prayer heavenward pleading for the Holy Spirit to step in, and take control. He did. My total reliance on Him paid off. With Bible in hand, no notes and no preparation, He helped me deliver a sermon on what it means to be a Seventh-day Adventist in an age where there is much confusion about our identity as a people, and we are losing a high percentage of our members. It was well received.

During the week, I had an hour’s long conversation with the Mission President of the Southern Philippines. He told me they are a rapidly growing Mission of 80,000 members. All pastors hold two evangelistic series annually. They are in charge of large districts with as many as 30 churches for one pastor. The Philippines is currently gearing itself up for the largest baptism in the history of Adventism. Numbers are expected to exceed 120,000.

Adventism in China is unique in that there is no official church organization in mainland PRC (People’s Republic of China). The work is facilitated, to a limited extent, from Hong Kong under Pastor Robert Folkenberg, Jr.’s leadership. Despite the lack of infrastructure, institutions, and organizational layers we are so accustomed to in other parts of the world, as if the whole church would fall apart if we didn’t have them, church growth in China is first and foremost the work of the Holy Spirit with the full participation of the priesthood of all believers. Women play a major role, in full equality with men, in every aspect and facet of local leadership church life.

As a Church, we are known to shun congregationalism since our organizational structure has served us well over the years. Adventist congregationalism is, however, a fait accompli in China. Case in point is the nine million plus population of the city of Hangzhou where I spent most of July and the first part of August this year (2017). I stayed in an Adventist home, I gave Bible studies, and I did much counselling and preached on two occasions in one of the three Adventist churches. They have no pastors. It’s all done and run by ordinary church members, including sermons that last one hour and twenty minutes. They have their own “elder” or leader. There is a vibrancy and buzz rarely seen in churches elsewhere. Members spend all day in church.

There are more children, youth, and young adults than there are older people. They have choirs. Tithes and offerings collected are spent locally. Church boards take care of all aspects of church life. Despite not following the official Church Manual they seem to be well-organized and growing. They buy or build their own church buildings.

Total membership will soon hit the half a million mark in the PRC. Refreshingly, Adventism in China knows nothing of the struggles faced by the world church over hot potato issues such as women’s ordination to pastoral work, authority wars, and tensions over LGBTQ members, etc. It is estimated there are about 2,000 ordained women pastors in the PRC. They don’t function according to General Conference policies, but rather as they believe the Holy Spirit is leading and moving in their midst. They operate outside the jurisdiction of the General Conference Working Policy. However, as is the case with Chinese culture, they are very respectful of church leadership. This is seen when the GC president and his entourage visit and are given the VIP treatment.

I continue contacts with one of the local leaders who preaches regularly. I send sermon materials with PowerPoints. I am also advising a young Adventist student who attends the local university. He plays a leading role among his peers and is eager to spread the Gospel where he is.

Claude Lombart writes from the village of Binfield, UK, where he is in active retirement. He holds emeritus credential from the BUC. Lombart has served in several countries in francophone West Africa, the Middle East, New Zealand, Scotland and England in leadership, departmental, teaching, pastoral, and counsellor roles. He is a regular contributor to several church papers and has recently published a book on successful relationships.

Image: Claude Lombart (center right) stands with young Adventist Church in Hangzhou, China. Photo courtesy of the author.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8393
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i really wonder whether our GC has, unwittingly, become over-regulated, and whether too many people are spending too much time developing policies for every microscopic conceivability…maybe too much policy that ends up needing enforcement causes us to feel stuck, and unhappy…

maybe what’s happening in china, at least as portrayed in this article, but also in what i’ve seen elsewhere, isn’t just a model for WO, but basic governing structure…maybe we should be a worldwide confederacy of regional adventisms, rather than a uniformity driven superstructure…

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Not as well as we’d like to believe. The Chinese model was invented in the New Testament. Our model was invented in Rome.

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Since CONGREGATIONALISM is working so WELL in China.
Perhaps The United States NEEDS this Implemented in ALL the American Churche.
Congregationalism would Certainly NEED for the Local Churches to develop MATURITY.
Grow Up out of this Adolescent DEPENDENCY [on Daddy] we have now at the Local Church level.

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Probably. To my way of thinking, the need to codify God stems from a lack of understanding of him combined with a lack of relationship with him.

I’d had this same thought as I read the article but then I wondered how the same question would be perceived from their (the Chinese faithful) side of the SDA mission.

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Impressive, no upper level management to send their tithes to preside over their activities. How could they spiritually grow without building a $31 Million NAD headquarters and a multi-million dollar annual budget?

I wonder what the content of their sermons are? Is it close to NA theology or is it unique and different among their vast congregations? Do they keep the Sabbath strict, and would lost their jobs rather then work on the Sabbath? Do they read EGW or follow her health mandates? Are they mostly vegetarians? Which weighs larger in their theology–works or faith? Are they concerned about a National Sunday Law that signals the end of the world? Do they see the RC church as the “beast” of Revelation.

It appears that the SDA church is growing and alive, can the same growth be seen across other faith based groups? Are we ridding a national religious wave along with thousands of other church groups? Are Adventist experiencing special Spirit driven blessings while other religious groups are languishing?

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I was inspired by this article. The author, Claude Lombart, is “retired” yet continues to have a major impact on the progress of the church in a variety of ways. Claude Lombart says:
"I continue contacts with one of the local leaders who preaches regularly. I send sermon materials with PowerPoints. I am also advising a young Adventist student who attends the local university. He plays a leading role among his peers and is eager to spread the Gospel where he is."
Claude, may your number increase, and may we as a church have the courage and vision to implement the reforms in our church that your article highlights.

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Back in their homeland, deployment in the Advent Movement means Filipino pastor-evangelists are trained and oriented to serve as itinerant shepherds (church planters) whose primary function is to lead by example: “Follow me!” Their flocks consist of multiple companies of believers or small groups. Pastors assist in the birthing process following which under-shepherds, aka elders or lay pastors, take over the responsibility of nursing and caring for the flock week after week. There is no designated church office or office hours for pastor-evangelists until they’re invited and promoted to move up to headquarters!

On one hand, the number of companies or small groups spawned may have a direct correlation to congregational growth. On the other hand, it would seem that the number of credentialed ordained and commissioned ministers is not so directly correlated to net increase in membership but may even have the opposite effect.

Immigration or transfer growth may in part explain the seeming increase of membership in North America. As was pointed out in one of the Annual Council reports, by David Trim of ASTR, we’re inclined by habit and tradition to count baptisms while not nearly enough attention is given our losses, neither in the Philippines nor elsewhere. When shall we ever learn from our past mistakes!

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