Ted Wilson's Theology of Power


(system) #1

In a recent comment Seventh-day Adventist church president Ted Wilson argues that the blessing of the Almighty is contingent on a unified corporate identity. Literally. It is titled: Corporate identity and God's blessing.

God deals with us individually when it comes to our own salvation. But God deals with His people as a corporate group when it comes to carrying out His instructions for the advancement of His work.

What is the lesson to be learned?

God deals with His church today as a corporate body. If we are to receive the latter rain power of the Holy Spirit today, the body and the leadership must be on the same page.

So, the lesson is apparently that corporations are a remnant people too. To follow the logic, the stronger the corporate identity, the more everyone gets God's blessing. Naturally a president would say that, as all earthly leaders have more power the more united a people are. Those who pay attention know that the history of the world is filled with religious and political leaders who dangle our constant crave for community and a greater cause, but then catch us with their hooks of hierarchical power.

But following his logic reveals even deeper theological problems. The bifurcation between the individual and the corporate is significant. Our church president argues that we are saved individually, but the work of God in the world only happens through the corporate body. Sure, working together is essential. But, Ted Wilson argues that the "latter rain" is dependent on the church body and the leadership being "on the same page." Clearly the body should follow the leadership, since it is the leader of the body by definition. Is this good ecclesiology?

Our church needs new models of Adventist identity and community. Currently we seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place, incessantly fighting between definitions of conformity and diversity. We can't all believe the exact same thing and behave in the same way; on the other hand we must have some things in common to be a community. Unfortunately our leadership seems more interested in using earthly power to get us "on the same page." And as anyone can see—from La Sierra University to ADRA—they aren't bringing our church into accord, only exacerbating the discord.

You can tell a lot about someone by what verses they select for their theology and Ted Wilson completely missed a central text in the Christian theology of the corporate identity of the church. Acts 4:32 (NIV) states:

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.

I have been meditating on this text, and I recently realized that it might mean more than what I always assumed. Usually I hear commentary on this passage focus a challenge to share more things, but what if it goes beyond that. Perhaps Christianity unity—true community—is dependent on sharing everything. The physical, the mental, and the spiritual. The vision pushed all into new understandings of what defined God's body on earth. All was shared because including was the point. This means that radical sharing and active diversity are not new ideas, but are really rooted in the fabric of the early Christian community. Of course it wasn't just about sharing the material—they spoke many languages but understood each other. A true theology of the Holy Spirit taps into some very deep—de profundis—spirituality. True power for a community doesn't come from leaders—it springs from including everything and everyone. Compare that to Ted Wilson flat, self-serving theology of corporate identity.

One doesn't have to go very far into the Adventist conversation made more public thanks to the world wide web to see that Adventists are having a hard time understanding each other. A good leader in the tradition of the early Christian community would seek to use power to help us find common ground in our diversity—not divide us further. As several past Adventist church presidents have preached—true unity comes through diversity. A 1990 article in the Christian Century states:

This agenda, which has emphasized a rigid reading of "unity," was set by the outgoing administration. In his sermon on the final day of the session, Folkenberg replaced [Neal] Wilson’s equation of unity and uniformity with "unity in diversity" and "unity is not uniformity."

Ted Wilson seems to have chosen texts that predicated unity on following leaders. But the model of Jesus, and the power of the early Christ-following church was predicated on equality and looking for common ground.

The religious leaders of Jesus' day used their power to define who was a follower of YHWH, who was righteousness, who could be healed. And they received power from people following their rules. Acceptance in God's community was predicated on being on the same page—literally—as the leaders. That is what a test of fellowship means. Jesus disrupted their system and opened up their corporate identity beyond obedience to earthly leaders. When Jesus forgave sins, healed on the Sabbath, and turned over money tables in the temple, He was not on the same page as the religious leaders. And they killed him for it.

Jesus redefined following God from obedience to tests of fellowship to actual fellowship. That's what radical Love is. According to Jesus, the new rule of community is: Loving. Being. A. Community. Having everything in common.

Significantly, the word "love," and certainly the idea, does not appear once in Ted Wilson's articulation of what releases God's blessing or what defines Adventist corporate identity. But the most troubling part of Ted Wilson's power theology is how he subtly seeks to make the work of the Holy Spirit dependent on the laity being obedient to leadership.

Ted Wilson says:

If we are to receive the latter rain power of the Holy Spirit today, the body and the leadership must be on the same page.

But Christ says:

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (John 14:26).

The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit rains freely under Jesus' name, and not via those who control the reins. Connecting the spiritual to an earthly leadership reign appears to be anti-Christ's power.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3358