Ted Wilson's General Conference Sermon

On June 11, 2022, the final day of the 61st Adventist General Conference (GC) Session, newly reelected President Ted Wilson, per custom, delivered the Sabbath morning sermon. It was titled “Hold Fast What You Have.” The transcript is here, but Wilson added numerous extemporaneous remarks, so you can watch the fuller version here. His focus in the 70+ minute sermon was unsurprising, first because of the context—closing the GC Session with a call to rededication. But more centrally because he has preached versions of this message for years. It seems to dominate both his sermonic and administrative priorities.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11869
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Wilson appeals to an audience that wants to hear a clear, simple message. I think that his audience loves his certainty, and clear commitment to the 25 points. From that standpoint, Wilson has done a masterful job.

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Every General Conference President (and many vice-Presidents I have come to know well personally, are burdened by the sense that any change in thinking is a betrayal of the Adventism they are now elected to protect. Elder Neal Wilson once said, after he took “flak” for supporting the ordination of women Elders: “They (other leaders) know I would never do anything to ‘hurt’ this church.” In other words, even being open to an alternative vision while they are in office, is impossible. AND, they surround themselves with counselors who not only think as they do, but will educate them to not believe any evidence that will change–in the slightest–what the larger church has come to accept (even if it is the GC which has lied to them Ala 1919). It is “cultish” and will split this church in due course.

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i agree…take me, for instance…i’d don’t think i’d appreciate a GC president who was constantly suggesting that maybe Christ wasn’t in the heavenly sanctuary because we can’t know whether there is a heavenly sanctuary, or that he may not be returning to earth because, well, he probably wasn’t here to begin with, or that he likely didn’t create the earth in six days because the scientific evidence is so clear…

TW’s certainty and clear commitment, 24/7, are his main strengths in my view, and i can put up with a lot of flaws and mistakes, given these strengths…

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This is a heartbreakingly common view among Adventists. I have heard the same kinds of comments from parents, family and friends much of my life. Certainty is seen as desirable. And that is horrific.

At bottom, this attitude betrays the common Adventist claim to care about “truth.” Anyone who cares about truth must realize that humans are imperfect. We make mistakes and, at best, can only know things partially and incompletely. So if we want to find more true and less false things, we must have some method of discovering when we make mistakes. As soon as we give in to the sin of certainty (hat tip to Pete Enns) we lose this ability. If we are certain in our beliefs, or are striving to be, then we will not even allow for the possibility of growth, learning, or change.

In my opinion, this desire for certainty and the egotistical “remnant” theology that comes with it are some of the most harmful aspects of Seventh-day Adventism. It prevents change and growth in just about every facet of the church, from theology and administration to basic human rights. The church with “The Truth” can’t be wrong.

One of the saddest days of my life was when I asked my mother straight up if she wanted to know things that might erode her certainty. She said no. She cared more about holding onto the feeling of being certain in her beliefs than she did about truth. It seems to me that this is a tragically common view among Adventists. Even from a Christian worldview, this seems bizarre. Certainty isn’t the opposite of doubt, it’s the opposite of faith.

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I reviewed the transcript for this sermon.

If I cared enough, I’d be saddened by the shallow and actually uninformed thinking that must have built the list Ted came up with. Not impressive. For what it’s worth, some comments:

1. Hold fast the biblical truth that the Godhead is constituted by three divine and equal Persons
The doctrine of the Trinity cannot be found in the bible, which is a contributing factor in why it took the Roman church over 600 years to adopt it and then to stamp out dissent within its leadership. Many church theologians held differing views well into the 500’s.

2. Hold fast to simplicity in Christian lifestyle, personal dress, conduct in church life…
Not only is this completely subjective, but I know of no biblical teaching that equates simplicity with Christian lifestyle. I suspect there is nothing in the bible about “Christian” lifestyles since there weren’t any “Christians”, actually. There were Jesus followers.

3. Hold fast to biblical truths and their relevancy for today, despite persecution.
What persecution? And again, their relevancy is completely subjective and open to interpretation. What is the relevancy of advice regarding when and how I can sell my daughter into slavery, and who I can purchase as a slave?

4. Hold fast your careful observance of the seventh-day Sabbath commemorating biblical creation.
Ted conveniently leaves out that the biblical instruction for observing, for keeping the Sabbath holy, is always given as rest and never given as worship. And also that, there is another reason given for the Sabbath, which is that God delivered the Israelites from slavery - where they presumably had no Sabbath. At least, the Sabbath was never mentioned in the bible before the Exodus story.

5. Hold fast a simple, healthy lifestyle including a plant-based diet according to biblical and Spirit of Prophecy counsel
Well, other than the fact that few Adventists seem to be vegetarian these days, much less vegan (which is what a plant-based diet is), so they can’t “hold on” in the first place, I’ve never heard of biblical council that promotes a vegan diet. I have read this: “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” - spoken by God at the end of the biblical Flood story, as part the second Covenant - the Covenant God made with Noah. (Bacon-wrapped shrimp cocktail, here I come!)

7. Hold fast to God’s biblical institution of marriage between one man and one woman.
This one always makes me laugh. Has he ever read his bible? How many wives did Solomon have? How many concubines? How many wives did David have? Polygamy was standard in bible times, and most all of the biblical heroes are recorded as participating in the practice. And it is never portrayed as an issue, as a sin. Abraham had a baby with his wife’s slave. The only issue with that, as presented in the story, is that Abraham and Sarai didn’t believe God - that Sarai would become pregnant in her old age. And also, note that Adam and Eve were never married. If you think they were, please find it in the bible and let me know where the marriage is located.

13. Hold fast to all the wonderful 28 Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church
Oh, now they’re wonderful! I wonder how many of those in attendance at the GC could tell you off the cuff what they all are. And explain them to you and note in what ways each is wonderful? In general, how many Adventists could do it? Maybe 1%?

16. Hold fast to proactive and wide-scale circulation of heaven-inspired Spirit of Prophecy books.
So self-serving.

17. Hold fast your firm belief, as our 2022 General Conference Session theme emphasizes, that Jesus is coming soon and that you are to get involved!
Well, I’d have to actually believe that in order to hold on to it. The church has been saying Jesus is coming soon since before Paul. They have all been wrong. Jesus taught that we shouldn’t predict when the Son of Man would return, that no one can know - that only God knows. Maybe, Ted, you ought to follow the teachings of Jesus and stop predicting.

18. Hold fast to biblical inspiration, rejecting humanism and popular social culture that attempt to destroy God’s revelation.
Wow! I didn’t know that popular social culture, in particular (whatever that is) was trying to destroy God’s “revelation”. I wonder how? I wonder what revelation Ted is referring to?

20. Hold fast to the biblical day/year principle of interpreting biblical prophecy allowing the Bible to interpret itself.
If I ascribe to the day/year principle then the whole bible then interprets itself? Seems like a reach. In any case, which bible? Given that every translation is different and says different things, do they all interpret themselves to the same degree?

24. Hold fast to the wonderful foundation of God’s government based on love—His eternal law including His Ten Commandments.
OK, His eternal law includes the Ten Commandments. So then there must be more. Is Ted referring to the other 601 or so commandments of The Law, as given to Moses? Note that the only place any list of commandments is is identified as “The Ten Commandments” in the biblical text is in Exodus 34. Ted must know this, and so I expect that’s what he’s referring to. Except that we don’t follow those Ten Commandments. (We don’t fully follow any of the three lists labeled the commandments in the bible, which you will note if you read them carefully.)

Beyond that, the bible itself records Gods Law - His Covenants - changing on a regular basis. God made a Covenant with Adam, then another with Noah, then another with Abraham. And then with Moses. (Did I miss any?) Exodus and Deuteronomy make this clear when Moses points out in no uncertain terms that the Covenant he is teaching is a new Covenant, a new Law, that God made with the people - the people there alive in the day, and not their ancestors.

25. Hold fast to God’s special plan of health reform and comprehensive health ministry as you advocate a healthy lifestyle of God’s eight natural remedies…
After which - in the official transcript - are listed seven remedies. Which is amusing.

…God’s health plan rejects alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, and improper lifestyles incompatible with biblical and Spirit of Prophecy principles.
Well…I don’t think so. Jesus seemed to like his wine just fine. He turned water into wine. He drank wine at the last supper. He instituted drinking wine and eating bread as a way to remember him.

Tobacco and “illicit drugs” aren’t mentioned in the bible. I don’t think Ted knows what the word “illicit” actually means, but based his assertion Cannabis is just fine here in California, since it is not “forbidden by law, rules, or custom.” Similarly, he doesn’t appear to know what “temperance” means; he thinks it means “abstinence” for some unexplained reason.

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Present: existing or occurring now

Truth: the quality or state of being true

Question: If holding on to the ‘past’ as if nothing changes, ie, a better understanding or a gain in knowledge, how can that be considered “Present Truth”?

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It can’t be. Saying we should “hold fast” to “present truth” is a contradiction in terms. This is exactly the kind of epistemic BS that the church has been selling its members for at least 100 years now. It’s as incoherent as it is harmful.

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Pastor Ted Wilson preaches the truth as it is in the bible and nothing else. Studious Seventh Day Adventists believe that our world is young based on genealogy and the years of the patriarchs and so that number is not entirely adopted from EGW. She just confirms it. There is also no question that the bible states the world was created in six literal days. We know that the world is round because God’s word says so, Isaiah 40 v 22. Scientists discovered this fact much much later. We also know that the earth hangs on nothing because the bible says so (Job 26 v 7. This is another biblical fact that scientists discovered much later. That is part of the reason why Adventists believe in the bible because it is God’s word. Science exists because God is the Lord of science. We love Pastor Wilson because he is passionate about the truth. If there is a church that preaches more truth, I would like to join it. But the fact is that there is none. It is hard to believe that a living God can burn people forever. Right now, according to a lot of denominations, sinners who have died are burning in hell and yet the bible does not teach that. I am thankful because within Adventism there is a group that believes all our fundamental beliefs. Nothing will move us. We also believe that EGW was inspired by God

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It can’t. The SDA Church stopped looking for the present truth when it started to challenge their stale truth.

Not only that, but their current stale truth is even older and staler then the present truth the church started out with, as they’ve felt the need to make it that way to defend it against the actual present truth.

The actual present truth includes sciences that hardly existed in the 1850’s, most all of which include knowledge what says the church’s stale truth has been falsified. As examples: The world is far older than 6,000 years. There was no world-wide flood. There were dinosaurs. The genetic variance within humans could not have come from one couple. We are closely related to other primates and we share an ancestor with them.

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If an organisation is meant to exist only (or mostly) because of its rules or set up beliefs then Wilson’s 25 “hold fast to’s” are explicatory. In this case the leader speaks like a politician. And we all know that to a politician the truth doesn’t mean very much.

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Of course, there are plenty of Biblical scholars who disagree with this. So in a literal sense, there are questions and disagreement about Genesis 1 and 2. You seem very certain about your view. What, if anything, would change your mind about the age of the earth? What kind of evidence or information do you think you would find convincing?

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Provide the evidence. So then you don’t believe the bible and God. You must be an atheist. I believe in the Sabbath because God made the world and rested on the Sabbath day. I am thankful because I take God’s word seriously. Daniel chapter 2 is evidence that the bible is trustworthy. God states in His word the wisdom of men is foolishness in His eyes. I believe in the worldwide flood and don’t want to end up like all those who perished because of their unbelief. I am sure some of them relied on the intelligent people of their day who convinced them Noah was being delusional when he preached for 120 years a flood was coming.

Ah yes, the “anyone who disagrees with me isn’t a Christian” view. I hope you realize you are providing a live example of exactly the kind of black and white thinking and opposition to learning or growth that some of us are highlighting.

What kind of evidence do you think would be convincing? I can provide plenty of examples of arguments from Biblical scholars and theologians on Genesis 1 and 2 that point out the many problems with a literal six-day view. We could also look at hundreds of years of data from geology (including the data from flood geologists!) that systematically falsifies the idea that a global flood could have spanned any of the strata we see. But I expect that you would dismiss any such evidence out of hand, likely with attacks on the trustworthiness of experts on everything from ancient languages to paleontology. I hope I’m wrong and you are genuinely open to new data. If so, I would be happy to provide some of the strongest evidence that helped me personally change my mind on some of these issues.

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This seems like a great time to quote an early church theologian who saw that biblical interpretations that fly in the face of reality can cause real issues for the church, a problem he saw 1,800 years ago which is only made worse by the increase in knowledge of the natural world (“Gods creation” if you will) we have now compared to then.

These are from the work titled The Literal Meaning of Genesis, by which Augustine means “What could it really mean, given what we know?”, and not that we should take it literally as stated.


In matters that are obscure and far beyond our vision, even in such as we may find treated in Holy Scripture, different interpretations are sometimes possible without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such a case we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. That would be to battle not for the teaching of Holy Scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of Sacred Scripture.
- St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book 1:37, AD 401-415.


Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel [non-Christian] to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics [creation and natural history]; and we should all take means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books [the bible], how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon the Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.
- St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book 1:39, AD 401-415.

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If anyone has a problem making the case that God will not burn people forever…it is very simple to prove. Jesus died for our sin…He paid the price. The price he paid was less than 3 actual days in (death or hell). So, if God burned people forever if they are lost, then we are all lost because Jesus did not pay the full price. I can’t imagine anyone arguing that I am wrong on this point.

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I respectfully disagree with you when you state “the SDA Church stopped looking for the present truth when it started to challenge their stale truth”. This is a generalized statement. There were and are still SDAs who are faithful to the truths we hold dearly and are convinced we will be vindicated at Christ’s second coming. Peter and Paul preached there would be false doctrines that would be introduced into the Church and that has been going on by people like Des Ford and those who came before him and after him. God’s word does not change. More light is shed and added but the fundamentals remain unchanged.

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Perhaps you are right, but even then, human understanding of God’s word absolutely does and should change. Why do so many people insist on confusing themselves with God? A little humility gets us a long way toward wisdom, in my opinion. But you know, I could be wrong. :slight_smile:

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But human circumstances do change. The simple fact that the amount of information doubles every two years, which was determined over 25 years ago, it may even be greater now, means that we are not in the same place, with the same situations that people in the 1850’s were dealing with. We also have a great deal more information about the natural world (also God’s creation) than what was available 180 years ago. God’s natural laws are just as relevant as his scriptural laws, and sometimes, they are in conflict.

In the meantime, we are watching the supreme court utterly destroy the separation of church and state. That is what we should be most alarmed about.

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Almost every scientific discipline can be used to prove that the world is older than 6,000 years. It’s settled science that every college kid learns in first-year studies.

Here’s a small glimpse into the science:

That’s a false dichotomy, which can be easily demonstrated by noting that many people who believe in God do not believe in a recent creation event. Notably, the bible actually makes no claim as to when creation happened. That’s a human invention.

Christians were called atheists by the Romans because they only believed in one god (despite the bible’s teachings that there are multiple gods, but that Yahweh must be held in highest esteem above the other gods - by the Israelites). I might be that kind of atheist. Maybe.

No, he rested on the seventh day after creating for six days. There is no mention of the Sabbath in the first creation account, and there is no mention of god resting at all in the second one. In fact, there is no mention of the Sabbath in the entire book of Genesis. There is no record of any of the Genesis patriarchs keeping a Sabbath.

It is interesting to note that many modern Jews, to which the Sabbath was given and who hold it dearly, have no problem knowing that the stories in Genesis are myth. They more strongly associate the Sabbath with the Mosaic Law, the Covenant with God given to them at Horeb - part of which what we call the Ten Commandments.

Based on the biblical text, the reason the Sabbath was given was because the Israelites were delivered from slavery, and so they could have a day of rest after working for six days. The Sabbath is all about resting - not working - and also not employing anyone or making your slaves work. Everyone gets a day off.

Using an assertion from one of the books of the bible - notably from before the bible as we know it was even formed - as proof that the bible is trustworthy, is a logical fallacy. By that measure I could write a novel, include in it the claim that it is not fiction, and then reference that claim as proof that the book I just made up represents actual events - is non-fiction.

Also, I just reread Daniel 2 and I don’t see any words attributed to God in it. God makes no statements there.

So, if I understand your point, you believe in a literal reading of Genesis.

You do realize that it’s a story of a family populating the world through incest - twice. Right?

And that it’s a story that includes demi-gods coming down from heaven and having sex with human women, creating the legendary warriors of old? (Why would God let let his heavenly beings do that?)

And the talking serpent with was, literally, more cunning than any of the animals God had created. Meaning, I guess, that God didn’t create him?

For me, these any many other difficulties disappear when I understand Genesis to be the origin story that it is. Stories are not subject to the same logical scrutiny as history.

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