Rethinking Revelation Seminars in the Philippines


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La Sierra University professor Kendra Haloviak gave students in her “Seven churches of the Apocalypse” graduate seminar this assignment: Interview a pastor who conducted a non-traditional Revelation seminar in the last three years.

Ministerial student Lambert Trinidad spoke to Guillermo Gucilatar, a pastor, evangelist, and administrator from the Philippines who recently retired in Southern California.

During his career, Pastor Gucilatar served as a district pastor, a church pastor, ministerial secretary, conference evangelist, and Central Luzon Conference president. He was widely known for dynamic preaching and exceptional evangelism.

In the following exchange, Lambert Trinidad and Guillermo Gucilatar discuss methods of presenting the book of Revelation in public seminars, and Gucilatar reflects on how his approach to conducting Revelation seminars changed with time.

Question: From the time you entered the ministry until your retirement, can you give an idea of how many years you have been involved in conducting Revelation seminars?

Answer: I’d say about 25 years. I didn’t start conducting Revelation seminars until after about my first 16 years in the ministry. During the first 16 years, I focused on gospel and doctrinal presentations when I conducted public evangelistic meetings.

Question: What was it like to conduct your first a Revelation Seminar?

Answer: It was great. Just like when I conducted doctrinal meetings, I had a team working with me to bring listeners to our nightly meetings. We had different working committees such as program, sound system, ushering, visitation, refreshment, etc. I took care of the preaching aspect and I did visitations with my team members during the day. Question: How would you describe your approach or style for conducting a Revelation Seminar?

Answer: Well, you know how we do it in the Philippines. After all the other parts of the program, I’d stand at the pulpit and preach for a good 30 minutes or so and the audience listened. We did that every night for one or two weeks.

I used good illustrations and visual aids. Using the book of Revelation, I preached on different subjects such as the love of God, incarnation, salvation through the Lamb of God, true church, false church, second coming, day of judgment, and many others. I explained the symbols in the book.

I made it clear to the people — especially to our Catholic friends — that the beast in Revelation 13 is the papal system, and if they truly love the Lord, they had to come out of that system and follow God instead. You know that majority of the people from our country are Roman Catholics, so I found it interesting to use the book of Revelation to reach out to them. At the end of the seminar I always did an altar call asking the people to choose between truth and traditions, between God and Satan, and between good and evil. They’ve got to make a decision for Christ if they wanted to be saved.

Question: When I was still in the Philippines, I attended some of your seminars, and I know that the meetings were successful. There were always many baptisms after the meetings. During those Revelation seminars, what do you think made the people – especially non-Adventists – decide to be baptized and join our church?

Answer: I believe they were enlightened. The Holy Spirit convinced and converted them. Question: Have you thought of the possibility that perhaps they were just afraid of the judgment?

Answer: Oh yeah. Although I believe people should accept the Lord because they love Him, on the other hand I think it’s normal for people to be afraid and realize the consequences if they choose the side of evil. It’s not a good way to bring people to Christ, but it works. In the long run, they grow in their relationship with God anyway.

Question: Have you tried a different or new approach to a Revelation seminar?

Answer: Yes. During the last nine years of my ministry, I tried to change my presentation style, the tone of my voice, and the theme of the message. When I did public meetings, I began preaching the message to my listeners not in a beastly manner, and not trying to scare people. You know what I mean.

I learned to put more emphasis on God’s grace and forgiveness. I put more emphasis on the Lamb rather than the Beast. I put more emphasis on the sacrifice and the love of the Lamb and the victory we have won through him rather than the cruelty of the Beast and the terrible end he and his worshipers would meet. I focused more on the rewards for the saints rather than the punishment for the sinners.

Question: How was that different from your previous style or approach?

Answer: I found out that more non-Adventist people were coming to the meetings and Catholics were not as skeptical, prejudiced, and negative. People were not tense. People were happier. I learned also that as I gave more emphasis on the Lamb and his love, the listeners themselves considered the other side of the story. They themselves compared the Lamb and the Beast and all of the consequences of the decisions they’d make whether they chose the Lamb or the Beast.

Question: That is really interesting. I understand that the changes of your approach to a Revelation seminar are basically more on the tone and the theme of your preaching. What about a different format of Revelation seminar? Have you attempted a different approach other than preaching in front of a large audience?

Answer: I did a lot of small group meetings where those who attended had the opportunity to share their take on and understanding of the book of Revelation. There was open discussion and dialogue. In fact I did a lot of that when I was still a pastor at Adventist University of the Philippines where there were a lot of International students coming from different backgrounds and cultures.

Question: How was it? What did you learn from the experience?

Answer: It was a lot different compared to the format where I stood at the pulpit and preached or gave lectures while the people listened.

I must admit I was more comfortable with the preaching format. Not that I didn’t want the small group format. The small group or open dialogue or discussion format gave me new perspectives, though.

I found out that different people relate to the book of Revelation differently based on their personal experiences and circumstances. It’s interesting how people see and interpret some parts of the book of Revelation in light of their own struggles in life. I think it was good to hear from other people rather than me always talking. It felt good to journey with them. I learned a lot of things from them. I became more sympathetic and compassionate with people. With the small group format, I found out that there’s a whole lot more meaning and spiritual implications we can discover from the book of Revelation. It’s a very rich book, very spiritual, and very Christ-centered.

Question: Can you give an example of new meanings or spiritual implications you’re talking about?

Answer: For example, the persecution of Christians. We may not be aware, or we may be aware that we Christians sometimes become the persecutors of other people. We may be the ones giving other people a hard time or we torment them, so to speak, one way or another.

During the first century, Christians were viewed by Pagans, Romans, and the Jewish people as crazy or foolish group or sort of “the others” within society. Don’t we Seventh-day Adventist Christians sometimes consciously or unconsciously view non-believers as foolish and sort of “the others” although we may not always verbalize it?

We sometimes make a biased identification of people. We think that we, Adventists, are better than others. We think that we have the light and others don’t, so are the chosen ones to bring the light to them. By thinking and believing so, we miss the opportunity of learning from them and getting light from them as well.

Another thing is the beast in Revelation 13. We [say] that it’s the Papal System—Roman Catholicism. Then we try to reach out to Catholics, but the way we present the message is sometimes beastly in manner – we try to scare them and we point out to them that they are wrong and we [try to] prove very strongly that we are right.

It’s funny because that’s the way I used to do it during my early years in the ministry. In most cases we are successful in proving that they got it wrong and that we got it right. We win the arguments but we lose the people and we fail to bring them to the Lamb.

Question: That is powerful and very well said. I think we should come to people with a message of love, grace, and compassion instead, and present to them in a loving manner the heart of Revelation – none other than Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Answer: Exactly!


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1292