Like many Seventh-day Adventists, I’ve watched as church leaders and lay members have struggled with issues that threaten the unity of the church. I know Adventists who have researched these issues prayerfully and who have come to very different conclusions. How do people carefully comb the Scriptures and the Spirit of Prophecy yet come away facing so many different directions? What do we do when convictions become so strong that other points of view aren’t allowed?
Numerous books have been written defending different ideas. But when I read The King Is In Residence I realized that it was special. The author, Dr. Charles E. Bradford, has drawn on his decades of leadership experience at all church levels. Yes, he has expressed eloquently his own carefully considered ideas, but he also demonstrates patience with, and openness to, other points of view and a realistic, Scripture-inspired plan for how to reconcile differences in our feuding family. I recently talked with Dr. Bradford about his book and his many years of service.
Question: Dr. Bradford, your family has a long and storied history within the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Can you tell us a little about that?
Answer: My parents, Robert and Etta, attended the Oakwood School in the 1890s. Mother was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Dad was born in Athens, Alabama. Upon finishing the course at Oakwood, Etta enrolled at the sanitarium in Melrose, Massachusetts. She attended Ellen White as her chamber girl when Mrs. White paid a brief visit to the San. Mother remembered accompanying the prophet to Boston on a Sabbath. Robert and Etta married and moved to Arkansas where they opened a school for underprivileged children and cared for the small company of believers. This was their pattern for ministry for more than 40 years in some of the great cities of the nation — Dallas, San Antonio, Omaha, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.
I grew up in the parsonage and married a Florida girl, a perfect partner in ministry. My ministry began in the bayous of Louisiana. We learned from our parishioners and grew together. The brethren assigned me to departmental ministry, and then the people asked me to serve as conference president. All the time I was forced to say, “Who is sufficient for all these things?”
You’ve personally served your church for more than 70 years, including becoming the first president of the North American Division. How has this given you a unique perspective on the issues facing our church today?
My conviction is that the journey is not solo. Every member is a part of the team and must be recognized. The situation calls for leaders “who understand the times and know what Israel should do.” Jesus recognizes every disciple as His witnesses, “Well done, good and faithful servants.” We are watchmen on the walls.
We desperately need a renewed focus on the local church as God’s agency for salvation. We are now well into the 21stcentury — the time when the local church, the congregation, must come into its own, the time when the Word must get out of the seminaries, conference offices, pastors' studies, and committee rooms and into the pews and into the hearts and lives of the people who are, in fact, the church.
The vision is about the church — the centerpiece of God’s plan, His dream. Jesus is the guarantor. He is our sufficiency, able to pull it off, take care of business. The deed will be done. The Creator makes the church His primary instrument, enfeebled as it may be. The church has everything going for it. We must think church. Go beyond the arrangement of systems, structure, or even doctrines. All depends on the emergence of the people that John saw. There is no discharge in this war. The remnant will have to face trials, temptations, Satan’s final most brutal attack on God and His remnant people. We will need more than bumper sticker, sound-bite theology. The Great Physician prescribes a wholesome Bible diet. “The Word must be found and eaten.” Jeremiah 15:16, NIV.
In your book you speak of cultural wars, both between the secular and the sacred and between Bible truth and the light-weight, feel-good religion many seem to practice. What is our role, as individual Adventists, in these conflicts?
We must always keep in mind that we are one body. Ellen White says, “The secret of unity is the equality of all the believers.” The church must seek to be a model of the just society. Elitism has no place in the just society. All are respected and assured of their worth. “The work of God is retarded by criminal unbelief in His power to use the common people to carry forward His work successfully.”
You view Job’s story as a template for what is going on in our world today. What is the most important lesson we can learn from Job?
Job is the first written account of the Great Controversy. It is revealed to be the entire universe in scope. Satan had brought charges against the Creator that He was the cause of all suffering and pain. Satan’s charges had to be refuted and the real destroyer called out and eliminated. Job was not an Israelite or priest; he was a gentleman farmer. But God used him to deal with the deeper issues of life — good and evil, suffering and death. The first lesson we learn from the narrative is that God will have a human being, a child of Adam, as His surrogate, His representative in coming to grips with the human situation.
The 8th Psalm is almost an enthronement of His human assistants, “You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings.” It tells us what God thinks of the people that He has created. The restoration of the lost planet is always a joint operation. All through the developing story, God makes us His assistants. He counts on us to portray the true God. We are His witnesses. Job’s experience vindicates God: His character, His impartiality, His willingness to hear us even when we are ignorant of His ways.
You spend several chapters in your book looking closely at the ministry of Ezekiel, Malachi, and Isaiah. What can we learn from their messages?
They spoke for God to the people of God in varied situations.
Ezekiel spoke at the time when it seemed the godless nations were in ascendancy, their gods above the God of Israel. The prophet himself was in exile. The people could scarcely sing the Lord’s song in this strange land of tyrants when suddenly a storm was approaching, furious and devastating. As Ezekiel prepared to defend himself, a vision appeared that God was in control. The God of Heaven proved to be the ruler of all.
Malachi’s ministry was to exiled Israel who were settled in the homeland. They lost real worship for a worthless attachment to ritual. Like priest, like people. All was futile, even disgusting. Israel’s God threatened to close the temple door and shut off all communication with His self-centered people.
Isaiah, in a time of great peace and prosperity, lashed out with a gospel of inclusion. Eunuchs and strangers were to be brought to the temple and included in the power structure (priests), their names in the record alongside the fathers of Israel. This took great courage. This kind of preaching could be incendiary! It is a picture of the Spirit-filled church that is yet to be seen. And when it is, Messiah will come.
You make some very strong statements about the importance of women’s ordination. By what process do you feel this issue should be resolved?
Justice and fairness are the hallmarks of the saints. It must be admitted that women have been horribly treated, most of all in the name of the Lord and in the authority of His word. It takes a vision from God to tear down these walls. We have built a temple with its walls of separation. The growing, Spirit-filled church of the remnant will break every chain that impedes the progress and strength of the people of God as they go to every nation, kindred and tongue and people. It is an issue that sucks the oxygen out of the room.
How would the apostles have handled it? They would have sought the Holy Spirit in prayer and fasting and coming to consensus would say, “It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us.” This book purports to be a call to the church to study the apostolic approach to matters that affect the whole body of Christ. This one has been before us for more than a century.
In your book you compare local churches to rainforests. What makes this an accurate comparison of the importance of the local congregation?
Jesus spoke to the ages when He said, “Upon this Rock I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” These words were spoken to the twelve who constituted the church.
Rainforests are important for the health of the biosphere. The phrase fits the reality of the church. The local church is a rainforest. Accordingly, the local church is capable of making decisions that govern its members. Please keep in mind that no officer of the so-called higher bodies can act for the congregation with greater authority than any member.
The local congregation recognizes the gifts of the Spirit and under the guidance of that Spirit prepares the member for wider service. When the Lord says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom,” He is speaking to the consortium of local congregations.
In spite of our current challenges, do you still see the Seventh-day Adventist Church as the remnant in Bible prophecy?
Finally, there will be, in time, and history, a demonstration of the ideal community. The Spirit’s rule will be unchallenged. Every member of the community will be affirmed and participate in ministry. It cannot be a racial community, permitting racial discrimination and separation within its own fellowship. Class and caste will be unknown. It will not be a male church, tolerating male dominance, nor a national church, tolerating national arrogance. As it nears the end, the community will conform more and more to the liberating rule of Christ — freedom and justice will prevail. Understanding and acceptance will permeate the fellowship. Every potential maximized. The gifts of the Spirit will burst into flower. This is the challenge of Adventism — a pilgrim people “between the already and the not yet,” always in transition on their way to the Kingdom of God.
Finally, what is the number one thing you would like readers to take away from this book?
The need for humility. We all need it. Only the disciple who sees the purity of Jesus finds little to boast of. The apostle said, “In my flesh I see no good thing.” We are all a part of God’s plan. “We have met the enemy and they is us.” All are members of the “House of God and Sons.” Daniel, the model of the sanctified life, identified with the struggling church in prayer: “We have sinned.” And the perfect Son of God spoke as the son of man, “Suffer it to be so, for thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness.”
Yahweh is determined to settle the rebellion, “The fierce anger of the Lord shall not return, until he hath done it, and until he have performed the intents of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it.” Jeremiah 30:24, KJV.
Doug Church is Vice President for Sales and Marketing at Pacific Press. This interview and image were provided by Pacific Press.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8894