Midweek Preaching: Evangelizing a Doomed World

Through the weekdays at the General Conference session, one preacher a day stands at the podium.  One of these sessions is like camp meeting—old friends, sweaty weather, crowds like rivers—yet it’s not camp meeting.  Church business is the main course; music and homily are side dishes.

If the preachers this week have shared a script, it is focus on the next world and the church’s evangelistic job in light of it.  The one exemption was the one woman who spoke, Mathilde Frey, a Romanian-born biblical scholar who has taught in the Philippines and is now joining the faculty of Walla Walla University.

On Tuesday morning, July 7, Frey dug into Jesus’ farewell message, as recorded in the Gospel of John.  Her focus was the assurance that in the “comma,” or “interlude,” between Jesus’ leaving and return, the disciples would not be “orphans.”  Citing Beatles’ singer Paul McCartney’s question about all the “lonely people,” she called ours an “age of loneliness.”  And to this age, she said, Jesus’ message is the promised presence of the Holy Spirit—the comforter, counselor, advocate and helper.  Through the Holy Spirit, the same presence as came to the aid of Nicodemus, of the woman at the well and of others whose story John tells can come to us.  The same presence as mirrored the very being of God can touch and heal human loneliness today.

Frey took loneliness to be a challenge inside the church as well as outside.  She had begun her remarks by invoking African wisdom to the effect that if you would go far, you must “go together,” and she returned to that idea at the end.  To experience the presence of God today, she said, we must walk together, “go into the deep inner need of one another.”  Only thus can members—she singled out pastors in particular—bring healing to the “lonely and the shamed-filled” in our society.  If we “walk far and walk together,” she declared, we can have communion with Christ during the time between his leaving and his coming back. 

At 8 a.m. as the week began on Sunday morning, the Alamo Dome—a covered football stadium—was practically empty, people entering in thin streams.  Half an hour later, after songs and scripture, Neale Schofield, CEO of Adventist Media Network in the South Pacific Division, began the morning sermon began with eye-popping video of New Year’s Fireworks in Sydney, Australia.
“Now imagine,” the speaker said, “the Second Coming of Christ.”

The sermon subject was the “manner” of Christ’s return.  Schofield’s said that knowing “how Jesus returns protects us against deception and shows us God’s love.”  He noted that other traditions—both world religions and varying expressions of Christianity—speak differently than we do of coming deliverance.  Many evangelicals, for example, advance the theory that a “secret rapture” precedes the final resolution of evil.  Citing Matthew 24, he said that according to Scripture Jesus will return “personally, visibly and globally.”  There will be no “secret” rapture, it turns out, nor, as he said a few minutes later, any “second” chances.

Schofield, who stood, sat and paced the stage as he spoke, now advanced toward a framed copy of Edvard Munch’s iconic painting, “The Scream,” with its alarming image of human desperation.  He put it forward as an evocation of “the terrible realization of the lost at the Second Coming.”  For the saved, however, the prospect, he said with the help a yet another painting, is joy and beaming faces.

The speaker finished with an account of his own childhood Second Coming nightmare, when he awoke in a “cold sweat” at the sudden grasping of his own un-readiness.  “That night,” he said as his sermon was ending, “I accepted Jesus.”

Monday morning Shian O’Connor, president of the Cayman Islands Conference in the Caribbean, began by saying that the “just elected” new General Conference officers “may very well be the last.”  He thus lent urgency to his theme, “Faithful End-Time Living: Preparation for His Return.”  As a story for “end-time people,” he spoke of the man in Matthew 19 who asked Jesus what “good thing” he should do in order to “have eternal life.”  Hearing mention of the commandments, the man declared that he had “kept them” all his life.  But he was still unsure about his salvation, so he asked, as the preacher put it, for “one more check” on himself: What, he said, “lack I yet?”

O’Connor then argued that the “last-day church” needs to focus on this question.  Referring to the Laodicea motif in Revelation 3, he said the church today has the same problem as the young man: it does see its own lack.  What we need is more faith, more “work” on our righteousness, more openness to the “Holy Ghost.”  A “false sense of security” threatens, and unless we do better we “cannot pass through the pearly gates.”  He allowed that “someone will enter the kingdom,” and asked: “Shall you?  Shall I?”

On Wednesday—the morning of the vote on divisional choice with regard to women’s ordination—Alain Coralie, the Associate Executive Secretary of the East-Central Africa Division, turned to Joshua 4.  The story involves a stone memorial erected after Israel’s crossing over into the Promised Land.  It was the same day of the year as the Passover, the tenth day of the first month.  After forty years of “fickleness” on the people’s part, God had been good, and twelve men shouldered large stones from the “middle of the Jordan” and set them up as a reminder to Israel and to all peoples that the Lord is “powerful.”

These stones invite reflection today, said Coralie.  “We are here,” he exclaimed.  “God has been good to us.”  The point for Israel and for us—he made the point twice—is that a church which “wants to move forward cannot remain locked in its past.”  Then he moved directly to the cities and villages Adventist evangelism has yet to reach.  Jesus lives, Jesus is coming again, and people need to know.  “Tell them,” he said repeatedly, “tell them.”  That is how we embrace our mission.  “I can hear the rustling of angel wings,” he confided at the end.  “Can you hear?”

A young evangelist, just 15 years or so out of high school, strode to the podium on Thursday morning.  Hawaiian by birth and now an evangelist in Central California, Taj Pacleb began with an “Aloha” greeting, then interpreted Paul’s charge, in 2 Timothy 4, to his young protégé, Timothy.  In fluid speech and a voice and manner and uncannily—and impressively—reminiscent of Joel Osteen, he concentrated on a single phrase: “Preach the word,” contrasting the true word with “smooth, feel-good” approaches to the Gospel message.  “Compromise,” he said, “leads to corruption, and corruption leads to damnation.”   Turning to Revelation 14, he described the Three Angels’ Messages as God’s “last warning to a perishing world.”  Although attention to others, even “social justice,” do matter, they must not get in the way of Adventism’s “distinctive” message.

There are many things that are important and deserve our time and attention. Standing up for social justice is important. Caring for the sick is important. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, & cheering the discouraged are all important. But let us never forget that as we do these things in the name of the Lord, that there is also a distinctive message that God is calling us to give to the world…We live in a world that is broken beyond repair. And so no matter how much we stand up against social injustice, there will still be injustices in the world. No matter how much food we give to the poor, people will continue to starve. No matter how many people we heal, disease and death will continue to take people’s lives. We live in a world that is broken beyond repair. No amount of practical ministry will bring us back to the perfection of Eden. And so while we continue to extend the healing ministry of Christ let us keep in mind that the only lasting and permanent solution to the problems of our broken and bleeding world is the second coming of Jesus! It is only when our Lord returns that all the injustices, poverty, diseases, and every other problem of our world will be finished. Our message is an evacuation message. So while we continue to move forward in meeting the felt needs of our communities and ministering to the suffereing, let us remember that that is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. It is a means of connecting with people that we might connect them with Christ. And so, no doube, we are to offer the world a practical present solution to the problems people face. But in doing so we are also to point people to the permanent prophetic solution promised in the coming of our Lord!”

Watch video: Taj Pacleb, "Preach the Word in all the World"

Pacleb told his own story of conversion—how he went from drug-addled youth to evangelism, first in his own high school and then in public meetings, all “without formal education.”  He also told stories of conversions that have come out of his own evangelistic work, including that of his own grandparents, who, though separated, returned to God by way of baptism and then resumed their marriage.  To appreciative chuckles, he remarked of his grandfather that “he held me when I was born, and I held him when he was born-again.”

Let us preach was his admonition, and the Second Coming was his message. “Thank God almighty,” he said as the sermon ended, “we will be home at last.”

 

Charles Scriven is Board Chair of Adventist Forum, the publisher of Spectrum Magazine, and a member of the General Conference reporting team in San Antonio, Texas.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6959

this is an interesting overview of our general conference week…there have obviously been good points, but i think san antonio 2015, like minneapolis 1888 and battle creek 1901, will eventually crystalize into a “what might have been” moment for our church…

the irony of an evangelism emphasis and a curtailing of evangelism tools, a presidential call for unity around a vote leading to disunity, but especially a renewal opening centered around a “what might have been” theme and a climax vote epitomizing just that, is the standout for the san antonio 2015 general conference…

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But before we can be home at last the church must be purified. And if that means that the Holy Spirit needs to rely on people who are hissing and booing the former GC president, then I suppose that the Adventist church will need to rely on the Holy Spirit, and the devil, working together.

I feel that the Adventist church lost the moral high ground on the no vote, when those with the spirit of the devil in them gave their support. From now on, TW will have to reflect that people a million miles from sanctification and grace were the ones who carried the day for him. (Inappropriate, judgmental. - webEd)

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[quote=“bill1, post:3, topic:8888, full:true”]
But before we can be home at last the church must be purified. [/quote]

Does anyone beside God have a clue as to how many of the 18 million SDA even want to go home?

I’ve had the privilege of hearing Taj Pacleb speak here in Honolulu. At home with his fellow Hawaiians, he eloquently addresses biblical topics with the enthusiasm of a young convert familiar with internet media and culture, even if not cautioned by in-depth study or time in seminary. As a speaker he was strongest and most authentic when speaking from his own experience and his conversion, and least when dealing with historical topics. His recent evangelistic series at Central church netted over 50 baptisms. God bless Taj!

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"Our “primary work,” he declared, “is not to make the world a better place but to prepare it for the coming of Christ.” This world is “beyond repair,” if we address current “brokenness,” it can only be as a “means of connecting with people so we can connect them with Christ.”

Not to make the World a better place explains a lot…

That explains why we do not see Adventists in the environment movements, neither active in Refugees Camp. Not interested in Social Justice…yet they accept the fruits of social justice such as social security, pensions, Universal Health care sickness benefits, pharmaceutical benefits , The eight hour workweek, Equal pay for women…People like myself fought for these…Adventist did not contribute one iota to these social improvement conditions., they criticised the world etc.and did not lift one finger.

This tweet received after the NO vote on WO …"Krystalynn Martin @Krystalynn3
The “world” could care less about the vote either way - they wonder why we don’t show up & feed the hungry, clothe the naked,

Another friend of mine sums up most Adventist when she wrote,
"Fundamentalists become warriors with a simple message of salvation that is found in a naïve and literal interpretation of ancient, sacred texts. Gone is the hopelessness and uncertainty of life. The path is straight; the goals are clear. However, to partake, one must relinquish one’s “self” – one’s individuality and “mind” – in order to render blind obedience to the collective ideology."
Dianna Theadora Kenny
Professor of Psychology University of Sydney article in The Conversation 4 July.

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Well, we’re busy discussing the proper foods to eat, congratulating ourselves on how special we are as we go to church on the correct day of the week on the Roman calendar (Saturn’s Day, and not Sun’s Day and certainly not Moon’s Day), who is in charge of who, how many horns the Pope has, calculating our tithe and filling our those little envelopes, and preparing for the end of the world. That stuff takes a lot of time and is tiring. Good think we have the Sabbath to rest up.

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I LOST my simplistic view of what church is and have FOUND a new understanding of what it needs to be in my life, as an unintended result of observing and listening to the San Antonio GC gathering these past nine days. The way the WO issue was dealt with, and the way that evangelism is prioritized over a personal relationship with God, may have been the spark that ignited further study on the question of what church means to me and how I do church from this point on. After observing all the self-congratulations and pageantry these last few days, a more effective definition of what church is and is not, has been LOST. “Evangelizing a Doomed World” seems like a distraction from the real job of “Evan GELI zing me”.

The key to how we do church is discovered in how we define church. We can define church many ways. We can define it by what we want to get by going to church. We can define it by how we have always done church. And we can define it by how it is done in our culture. But there is one a problem with defining church in any or all of these ways: it may not be how God wants us to be and do church.

The simplest way to define church is the way Jesus taught and modeled it. A question to ask in helping us arrive at a biblical definition of church is this: what are the minimum biblical essentials to be church? In the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:20, there are four ingredients that answer that question:
Two or three people: Jesus did not require a large group or a recognized leader to be church. There doesn’t have to be a building, and there doesn’t have to be a pastor. But there does have to be people, people who gather.
Gathered: To be gathered in His name is not just to attend a meeting. Church is not a meeting you attend or a building you meet in. Church is people who form a spiritual family. To gather is to be a community of friends who are dedicated to following Jesus. Just as Jesus gathered His disciples and invited them follow Him, the same thing is happening today, all over the world.
In His name: The focus of church is Jesus. The church is made up of those who seek to know Him and obey Him. The church exists first for God, not us. To be gathered in His name means we are committed to obeying His commands.
I am with you: Jesus promises to be in our midst when we obey him. Matthew 28:19-20 tells us that we are commanded to go, preach, baptize and make disciples, and that if we do those things he will be with us. Acts 5:32 says the Holy Spirit is given to them that obey him.

Church is God’s family living for God’s glory. Paul described a local church community as those who are being built together for a dwelling place of the Spirit and those who are joined together. He went on to say that this joining together of our lives causes growth of the body to edify itself in love. Paul said to the Roman Christians: we are individually members of one another. (Ephesians 3:14-15, 2:20, 4:16 Romans 12). I LOST what I thought was church and I FOUND what is really God wants for me to be and to do.

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Keith; I appreciate your advocacy for the church to be involved in environmental and social justice causes and humanitarian work. Some of us have been doing this, albeit in small ways, but everyone’s contribution counts.

To be fair, I think we need to include the worldwide humanitarian work of ADRA into the mission work of the SdA church. I know of many church members who are deeply committed and very involved in social justice issues (including you and me Keith!) Sadly, for many SdA church members, this important part of Jesus’ gospel commission has been delegated to the work of ADRA to accomplish. We have all been called to demonstrate Christ’s love in action as well as in words, in whatever location and sphere of influence we have in this world.

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I agree Bronwyn their are good Adventist Christians who do get themselves involved in Social justice issues I admired you when you stood for Government recently. But the Church collectively really doesn’t address issues of Social Justice or Environmental Issues none were on the GC agenda were there…but retrograde issues wether women should be equal etc…What does that tell one about collective Social Justice?

Of course ADRA does a great job! But it must be remembered that it is primarily funded from Government Agencies. For example the European Union allocated $10 million to ADRA for HIV/AIDS education in Africa, and they are doing a good job, even though I cannot imagine Ted Wilson talking about safe sex and needle exchange programs and demonstrating how to use condoms…does not fit into the three Angels messages does it ? Yes I support ADRA. ADRA does not involve itself in Social Justice issues it is primarily an Aid agency…although it used to provide seed money for poor women to star their own businesses , I suppose that is social justice. There is a light at the end of the tunnel!

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Not only that, but there are many lights even within the “tunnel”. Ted Wilson may try his hardest to conceal them or “blow them out”… but the Spirit cannot be quenched by such machinations of men!

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Perhaps true in Australia, but most of us in America aren’t goofing off quite that wantonly.

Actually Australia introduced the eight hour working day over 120 year ago it became law.
Eight hour sleep, eight hour work and eight hour family time.

But that only works for hirelings, right? Business owners, contractors, farmers are not constrained by that are they?

Trust The Process.

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I was a business owner for years as now I run two businesses. I work about eight hour per day it is all about working smarter not harder. Ken we do not use the term hireling here …employees is more appropriate. Remember most Australians are socialist…people concerned and working for the common good.Adventist do not work for the common good…they take all they can get from the world…gained through social justice. Iam still waiting for you to come over Ken…-:slight_smile:

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