"Pray for our people." In comments to Southern California retirees, this was the refrain Adventist World Church president Ted N. C. Wilson repeated throughout.
Elder Wilson spoke at the newly renovated Redlands Adventist Church to a capacity crowd, most of them retired Adventists who had come to hear their new president speak in person for the first time. He rolled out his sweeping agenda for the Adventist denomination and fielded questions from audience members. The event coincided with President’s Day in the United States.
Wilson's prepared comments echoed many of the themes that marked his presidential address at the Atlanta General Conference Session following his inauguration. He spoke frequently of his belief in the nearness of the Lord's return. He quipped that he hopes he will not become part of the assembled retirees because he believes Jesus will return first.
Wilson wondered whether events in the Middle East are signs of the End. "Something unusual is taking place," he told the audience. He noted disasters in natural world, calling them "unusual” in “size and importance." He also suggested that social disintegration, moral decay and ecumenism can be seen as signs of the shortness of time.
Wilson lamented the recent loss of his father, former General Conference president Neal C. Wilson, remembering singing hymns with him during the final stages of the elder Wilson's illness. "It was a precious time," Ted Wilson said, calling him a "wonderful father and one of my best friends."
Then WIlson took time to report on some of the happenings he wants his administration to be known for. First, he highlighted an initiative to see Ellen White's "The Great Controversy" read widely. "I urge all of you to read Great Controversy this year," he told the audience. Wilson stated that this was the book that Ellen White wished most widely circulated of any of her books.
"I believe fully what she has written will happen," Wilson said to applause. He revealed that in 2012 and 2013, World Divisions will provide copies of The Great Controversy, at least 50 million copies, to people around the world.
A second initiative Wilson rolled out was the Revival/Reformation agenda that has quickly become the hallmark of his brief presidency. Wilson noted that while the General Conference Annual Council approved the Revival/Reformation project, it is not something that can be voted into existence. It is something that the Holy Spirit must accomplish, he said. The emphasis on revival and reformation encompasses many things, Wilson said, including a strong emphasis on reading the Bible and “Spirit of Prophecy”.
Referring to the shorthand for Ellen White’s literary corpus, Wilson said, “I believe with all my heart that Spirit of Prophecy among the greatest gift given to the Adventist Church.” To skeptics about the value of her writings he says, "just read it, and let the Holy Spirit convict you.”
The Revival/Reformation initiative includes a strong emphasis on mission outreach. “We want a strong renaissance in mission,” Wilson said, receiving scattered applause. Wilson mentioned the Misison Board at the General Cconference initiated by the secretariat...”I chair that,” he added.
The denomination is sending missionaries into “front line positions” in the so-called “unentered places” in this world, especially the 10/40 Window. Wilson also noted that a study committee has been appointed to consider Adventists’ missionary approach to the Middle East. Their report will come at the Spring Meeting.
“Our believers are safe in Egypt,” Wilson said, eliciting more applause. Those worshipping on Sabbath in that country have not been affected by regional and national upheaval. “Our people are OK, he exclaimed.
Noting that 50% of the world’s population currently lives in urban centers, a figure that is projected to change to 60% in the next decade, Wilson said that the Mission Board has taken on the task of investigating outreach to large population areas.
“Supporting ministries,” unofficial, Adventist-run organizations that buttress the church’s goals, will also receive strong support from the Wilson administration under the Revival/Reformation banner. Wilson named Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries (ASI) as one example of the many “legitimate, sincere supporting ministries” in the denomination.
Wilson touted China as both a success story and a place where the church has major objectives. “God’s Church is quite alive in China,” Wilson told the audience.
Wilson then noted the difficulties Adventists have faced in proselytizing Europe, Scandanavia, Australia and New Zealand, countries and regions the president characterized as largely secular and materialistic. “It’s a challenge for our people to work in Europe,” he said, adding “pray for our people.”
Before turning to the question and answer portion of the program, Wilson noted that the church leadership is addressing the question of faith and science, and affirmed the language of literal, consecutive, contiguous recent creation days.
Wilson Takes Questions
During the Q & A, Wilson’s first question came from Adventist Today contributor Erv Taylor, who wanted to clarify comments Wilson purportedly made during travels abroad. In response, Wilson categorically rejected the idea that he had said he wants to take the church back to the 1930’s, noting that he had merely called for a return to “primitive godliness.”
Another questioner asked for more detail on science and faith issue. Wilson replied that at Annual Council, church leaders affirmed a statement voted at the recent General Conference Session that called for harmonizing Adventists belief in a recent, literal creation of six consecutive, contiguous days (as we know them) with the Adventist fundamental belief on creation. Wilson called the process of revising the fundamental belief “a very careful process of aligning,” adding “We believe fully in what the church has voted.”
Scholars are to be involved, as well as leaders from all of the World Church’s divisions, Wilson said.
Wilson pointed to continuation of the Faith and Science Council, initiated by his predecessor Jan Paulsen. He mentioned the work of the Geoscience Research Institute on issues of faith and sicence, and promised that the church will continue to hold “Celebration of Creation” events around the world.
Among the many queries Wilson fielded, several touched on contentious or controversial subjects.
A man, referencing articles in the Washington Post about Adventists and abortions, inquired about the article’s veracity and called on the president to speak out against abortion. Wilson answered using “sanctity of life” nomenclature, and noted that while Adventists have officially stated that abortions are sometimes permissible in cases of incest, rape or abuse, Adventists do not perform abortions on demand.
A questioner, noting that many congregations now use titles like “Community Church” in lieu of “Seventh-day Adventist Church,” asked whether Wilson’s administration would do something to end this practice. Wilson noted that this is a predominantly North American phenomenon, and admitted he had not given it much thought. He seemed intrigued, however, and commented that he would speak with North American Division president Dan Jackson about the titles congregations use to describe themselves. Wilson also affirmed the name Seventh-day Adventist and said it should be used.
A woman asked about the Emerging Church movement, saying it concerned her and asking Wilson to comment. His response is below.
One of the more bizarre spectacles came at the end of the Q & A discussion when a young man citing what he called “apostasy” in Southern California spent several minutes decrying political activity, social justice, and women in ministry, among other things. He prefaced his comments by noting his happiness when Wilson was elected president, and he lamented the fact that church rank and file cannot control who uses the name Adventist. He called on Wilson to intervene and essentially prevent some “apostate” congregations from being called Adventist. Wilson responded by saying in part that he would be willing to talk with the man afterward, and to follow up if the man would provide specifics. The man was later escorted from the church after an altercation in which he punched an attendee in the face.
“Pray for our people,” Wilson might have said again.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2968