Mission and Message


Mission drift is the natural course for industries and organizations. Having a clear founding identity and purpose, having zeal for the cause, and even having prophetic writings at your disposal are insufficient safeguards to prevent mission drift. It takes focused attention to sustain your mission.

Mission will naturally inform an organization’s message. So if the mission has drifted, so has the message.


Given the reality of spiritual warfare (see Ephesians 6:10-17), we know that the devil and his minions are doing everything possible to thwart the spiritual success of God’s people, so we can expect our mission and message to be challenged. In fact, keeping them intact is downright difficult.


We no longer live in the modern society in which our Church was founded. We’re now in a postmodern one. Propositional truth—the fact that there is a truth that can be discovered—is at the foundation of our Church’s existence and its outreach methods. This idea is being questioned, and often outright dismissed, by postmodernists in an eclectically religious age. Several years ago, when I worked closely with a hospital chaplain, I inquired about her beliefs. She answered that she was technically Methodist, but practiced some Native American faith, some Catholicism, and a little Eastern faith, and she also liked some of what our Mormon head-chaplain was saying about his religion. Increasingly, the search for Truth has been supplanted by “the truth that works for me.”

Because of the de-emphasis on objective truth, a number of our Church’s successful outreach methods no longer work. A number of outreach methods used 50-100 years ago that found great success, like literature evangelism and the six-month evangelistic campaign, are increasingly feeling like an Amish family in the New York fashion district—quaint and out of touch. Before the age of internet, door-to-door salesmen were a staple of the American economy. Now we groan when a salesman is at our door. And who can attend religious meetings five nights a week?

Although the Bible Belt still exists in some parts of the South, other parts of the United States have morphed into a post-Christian environment—something that our European brothers and sisters have been facing for years. In some mid-American towns, the community pastors take turns speaking for the local high school graduation, and nobody thinks much about it. But this would be absolutely unthinkable in the post-Christian Bay Area, where I live. In my community there is occasional hostility to Christians, but it’s usually worse than that—it’s apathy.

The Reaction:

In some quarters of our Church, the response to this complexity has been to double down. “We just need to put more effort and money into our methods.” Faithfulness to Adventist lifestyle and behavioralism gets emphasized. Another response recognizes that times have changed and that traditional evangelism methods are not working, so they have shifted to a more social-oriented evangelism where Adventist distinctiveness is minimized—“the Sunday church that meets on Saturday.” For another group of church members, the response has been resignation and finding contentment in declining numbers as a sign of God winnowing down to the remnant.

Illustrative of mission drift has been the rise of GYC (Generation of Youth for Christ) and The One Project. While one might argue that they are approaching the same problem from different angles, their divergent approaches suggest that there is no clear agreement in our Church about our Church’s mission and message. If you paid any attention to the lead-up to the recent General Conference Session, you could reasonably believe that not ordaining women is a core doctrinal position of our Church—especially now that our Church is polarized over it—wonderfully illustrative of a Church in mission drift.

We would do well to remember that differences in approach and message are not new. Paul and Barnabas “...had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company…” (Acts 15:39). And at the first “General Conference” in Jerusalem, there was an important argument over fundamentals: “…Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). How can we apply these examples to the Church of today?

So What Is Our Mission and Message?

In the hour-long span of a Sabbath school class, it is impossible to digest, discuss, and resolve this issue. But if we can agree that at least certain parts of our Church have drifted in mission, we can focus on the questions: What is our mission as a Church? What message do we want to send to the world?

Here are some key phrases for thought:

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

“But we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23a).

“ Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Tim. 6:16).

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17).

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19).

What was key for the apostles? What was key for the early Adventist Church? What is core and what is accommodation to the times? How do you define principles in our mission and message?

Some Things to grapple with:

Church leaders often encourage people with the idea that the message never changes, but methods do. To this end, how do we approach Ellen White’s writings about methods? Because here again, there are widely divergent approaches: on one side, “whatever Ellen White said is set in stone,” and on the other, “Ellen White has no relevancy to our day.”

For years, literature evangelism programs have been on life support, but stalwarts point to Ellen White’s statements on literature evangelism as being key to the end-time work; therefore we cannot change course here. Or did Ellen White mean for her words to be more principled-based? Would she have gladly welcomed something like the eBook revolution as a modern adaption of her words—something that, unlike colporteurs, can get into gated communities?

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7081

five events started the great debate within Adventism. 1. the Answers to Questions on Doctrine: 2. The formulation of the set of Fundamental Brliefs, 3. Glacier View, 4. The Shaking of Adventism, And 5. why Jesus Waits. One could add a sixth The Davenport Affair. leadership propelled by greed. The recent history demands a closer look at 1844 sequela. It ain’t good. Tom Z


Conversations about Postmodernism always bring to my mind a haunting prophecy from 2 Timothy 3:

“Mark this: In the last days a terrible time will come…people will be lovers of themselves…ever learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth…”

Thanks, Jim, for this thoughtful introduction to the lesson theme. We do live in challenging times. What hasn’t changed, though is Paul’s idea that the “truth” of our faith is best communicated by our demonstrations of love through our interactions with others (1 Cor. 13). This is the foundation upon which any “teaching” might be considered by others as relevant.

Another idea of current relevance from Paul is an extension of the “incarnation” of Jesus’ own mission. " I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some" (1 Cor. 9). What does Paul mean when he says, “to the weak I became weak that I might win the weak”? Should we actually “incarnate” or become like people who we perceive to be less enlightened than ourselves - so that we might share the gospel with them? I think this is exactly what Paul is saying, but it seems to be a venture into dangerous territory for those who fear the status of their own salvation. As dangerous as it was for Jesus to become flesh in order to pull us out of the flesh.


A man who knows his Adventist church history. Nicely done. To expand your ideas a bit:

1. Questions on Doctrine (QOD) introduced the evangelical theology of Martin and Barnhouse; 2. After Ford’s 1979 IJ-denouncing presentation at PUC, the church reasserted its historical position on the “prophetic authority” of Ellen White (FB 18), the everlasting gospel, whose message includes being “justified” and “sanctified” in order to be saved (FB 10), and the sanctuary doctrine, identified as “a work of investigative judgment which is part of the ultimate disposition of all sin” (FB 24); 3. Dr. Ford’s view of the investigative judgment, informed by his evangelical view of the everlasting gospel (Rev. 14:6-7), was denounced after Glacier View; 4. Geoffrey Paxton, Dr. Ford’s theological ally, perhaps anticipating a Glacier View-like fallout (or not), summarized the “Evangelical Adventism” (Samples), QOD-inspired agenda in 1977’s The Shaking of Adventism; and 5. Dr. Douglass in Why Jesus Waits reminded the denomination of the “central truths” undergirding our sanctuary doctrine, as outlined in The Great Controversy, “(1) the “atoning sacrifice” and (2) the “all-powerful mediator.” In these are linked indissolubly what Jesus has done for us and what He wants to do in us” (p. 36, author’s emphasis).

As you may also recall, historians Bull and Lockhart captured the drama in Seeking a Sanctuary: Seventh-day Adventism and the American Dream:

“Although the various twists in this debate could hardly have been predicted, the latter developments can all be seen to have stemmed from the [1980] Twenty-Seven Fundamental Beliefs. Once this declaration reaffirmed the Sanctuary doctrine, the other components that went with it, the sinful nature of Christ and the perfectibility of humans, started to fit back into place. The events between the adoption of the new statement of beliefs in 1980 and the publication of the Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology in 2000 can also be viewed as the mirror image of those that took place between the publication of Questions on Doctrine and the rejection of Christ’s heavenly ministry by Desmond Ford. Just as Questions on Doctrine eventually unraveled the Sanctuary doctrine, so the reaffirmation of the Sanctuary doctrine gradually undermined Questions on Doctrine” (p. 97).

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An apt and precient summary of what faces us as Christians. There are so many ways to be distracted from ’ the one needful’ thing. Our church faces more challenges from within its structure than from outside. Tom is correct in his summary of our recent history. We disregard it at our peril. Jim Bussau


I encourage everyone to read Kevin Paulson’s article (and the comments!) on “What San Antonio Accomplished,” specifically the stance on Ellen White:

Ellen White is now officially the arbiter of doctrine, according to Kevin. Any mission drift is taking place outside the GC, it appears.

I suggest that mission drift is the only way to save the Advent Movement, but it will necessarily destroy the institution.

The current SDA MISSION is to make themselves debtors to the whole Law, and thereby perfect themselves, so, in reality, they will effectively destroy themselves. They can’t be warned.

Something Quane recently said on a public forum:

This is what happens when Adventists jettisoned 5,000 years of Jewish legal rulings on the Mosaic Law. Those Jewish courts were given exclusive jurisdiction over interpretation and enforcement of the Mosaic Law in Deuteronomy 17 and Matthew 23:1-3.

Their rulings were to be obeyed without question. They have written voluminous rulings on these very issues. They were God’s-ordained instruments for carrying out His will in regards for His Laws.

Those rulings are found in the Talmud and the Mishnah Torah. If you are going to keep the Sabbath and/or be subject to the Mosaic Law it is very clear that you are under the rulings of the Jewish Courts.

Adventist tradition has - without any jurisdictional grant analogous to the jurisdiction of the Jewish Courts - adopted numerous rulings on proper Sabbath conduct.

They are published on the General Conference website. It has never had the authority to do this.

A precondition of being a Judge on the Jewish Court was to BE Jewish. This is one of the big reasons the Apostles summarily jettisoned the Mosaic Law in Acts 15 (including the Sabbath). It was unworkable. The Sanhedrin was not portable. Most of the early Christians were Greek Gentile converts.

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
–Galatians 5

Edit: I didn’t say that right.

Nobody and no group is going to “save” the Advent Movement.

It’s going on, with or without us, I believe.


But the harvest of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control.
There is no law dealing with such things as those - - - .

Gal 5 : 22 ff - - - -

here is no condemnation for those who are united with ChrisJesus, because in Christ Jesus th life - giving law o the Spirit has set you free from the law of sin and death - - -

Romans 8 : 1 ff.


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There’s good, thought-provoking stuff here, thanks to James Lorenz. Perhaps the most important point: doubling down on old-fashioned Adventism is not enough. How, though, do we keep the things that made Adventism distinctive and attract people to it, while at the same time accepting this ain’t the 50s - we’re “not in Kansas anymore”, although 3ABN seems to be trying with its programming to lull people into thinking they’re in the 50s - but it’s a false reality. How do we deal with this postmodern society in America, but without losing what makes us “us”?

I wonder, Dudley, if we would be better served by focusing on what makes us Christian, and how to share that in a post modern society, rather than on trying to figure out how to be distinctly Adventist. The Christian message that contains the power of God to change lives is the gospel…Christ, him crucified, risen, and alive and active in this world, to transform people’s lives, and create genuine community, as well. It’s not food laws, it’s not the Sabbath, it’s not time lines or eschatological musings, it’s not the so called remnant church doctrine, or a host of other distinctives that we have traditionally emphasized.

In fact, some of these things, such as distinctions based on food and diet, actually seem to bring about divisions and judgmentalism among Christians. I’ve seen it in Adventism, and it can be encountered in Galatians, in a bit of a different form in the early church.

What seems clearer to me than ever, is that none of these things transform people from the inside out. In fact, focusing people’s attention on these ancillaries can blunt their, and our, sense of need, and thus blunt the gospel’s power.

Adventism will obviously never step outside of its distinctives in this way. But I wonder if such a step to the simple gospel, regardless of what makes us Adventist, is what is really needed if we want to see the power of God at work more vibrantly in our midst.




Of which you are a part!


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What is the specific message to those outside the SDA church?
Get a dozen SDA pastors/seminary professors in a public forum.
Ask each of them to present in a succinct way, to an audience…what Gospel is, what grace is and what saved/salvation is. Who thinks that the responses will be very similar?

If this gospel message is to transform lives, then why after programs of revival and reformation and scores of sermons do pastors still continually tell their audiences that they are lukewarm Laodiceans?

The SDA institution has replaced competent scripture exposition/exposure with institutional churchian clichés, ambiguous religious expressions and superficial, superstitious soteriology.

Result… obstacles to sanctification…and loss of hope for eternal life.

So much attention on eschatology and paranoia regarding contemporary events and yet who is fit to go to heaven?

Time for the pastors and leaders to focus on Matt 23 instead of 24.

It is a sad note that the denomination has repeatedly, loudly rejected the Gospel of God’s Grace, the 1888 GC rejection of Salvation By Faith, and the 1982 Glacier View rejection of ‘present truth’ as presented by Pastors Venden, et al. An eschatological obsession can never present the Love of God. Fear becomes the prime motivator, and devolves to feed upon itself.

Trust God.