“Jesus alone, / Cornerstone.” That phrase began the Tuesday session it had the one before, but with the song now starting to feel like a signature anthem. The One Project, with 700 voices rising, was already an inspiration. Due to the substance and delivery of the day’s talks, it was about to be, at least for many, amazing.
The first sermon, from Randy Roberts, pastor of the Loma Linda University Church, began with words from a Brad MacIntyre song, dating to the l970’s, called “Adventist Blues. “Now I don’t drink and I don’t swear,” Roberts intoned, “I don’t take dope or have long hair.” Soon he was skipping past the bits about what you eat and listen to and the lessons you “studied every day” to the song’s provocative ending. Some say “I need a closer walk / With Jesus,” although “I often wonder “Why?” / And ask myself—“Just where does He fit in?”
The morning’s premise was that Adventists have difficulty thinking that Jesus Christ is precisely the fundamental belief of the church. Roberts first invoked Mark’s account of Jesus’ healing of a blind man with his spit and touch. At first the blind man could see, but only indistinctly; people looked to him like trees. But with Jesus’ second touch, he saw clearly.
Just afterwards, according to Mark, Jesus asked the disciples who people believed him to be. Some, like the blind man at first, weren’t seeing clearing: Jesus was Elijah, or one of the prophets. But Peter did see clearly: “You are,” he said, “the Christ.” Pastor Roberts then spoke of Adventists today who misunderstand Jesus—who mistake jewelry for something crucial, or believe the “last generation” will achieve “perfection,” or attack the “disciplines of the Spirit.” Again linking the two stories, he said that in order to see clearly—in order to correct mistakes like the ones he’d mentioned—what we desperately need is Jesus’ “second touch.”
It was a marvel of exegetical preaching, and so was the sermon that followed it. Stephan Sigg, the youth ministries leader of the Euro-Africa Division, compared Mark 6 and Matthew 8. According to the first of these chapters, Jesus came home to Nazareth, where the people knew him well, and found that they were dismissive; too sure of the truth as they understood it, they could not acknowledge that he was the Son of God. At this, Mark says, Jesus was amazed.
The only other Gospel mention of Jesus’s own amazement occurs in Matthew’s story of the healing of the Centurion’s slave. Here was an officer of the hated Roman army. But to Jesus great surprise and puzzlement, he actually cared about his slave and was actually confident that Jesus could make him whole. The Centurion’s faith, Sigg declared, was “unspoiled by any self-righteousness or sense of religious superiority.”
Sigg assumed that to believe God works among those outside the inner circle is hard for many Adventists. But he does work outside of inner circles. So it turns out that like the people of Nazareth, we can be “familiar with Jesus and yet lose Christ.” As for the best corrective strategy, it consists, Sigg went on, in embracing Christ as the fundamental Adventist belief. All our teaching, as he said in the question-and-answer session, “should be seen through, and centered on, the truth of Jesus.”
Then came Brandy Kirstein, a young nurse who is expecting a child this spring and who entered Adventism through Amazing Facts and the Black Hills Mission College of Evangelism. Basing her remarks on John 17, she argued that biblical unity does not mean “intellectual or theological agreement.” Jesus never prayed that all his followers be the “same.” “Principled dissent” is entirely compatible with true unity; disagreements handled well, she went on, actually improve upon superficial niceness. The 1901 General Conference, when church leaders created unions in order to limit “kingly power” at the top, was an expression of the sense that unity is a “sharing of life,” not an imposed uniformity.
One Project sermons were always applauded. Brandy Kirstein’s led a substantial percentage of her hearers to rise to their feet.
Following lunch, Karl Haffner, pastor of the Kettering Adventist Church in Ohio, reflected, with fine humor, on the story of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18. The former was self-righteous and judgmental; the latter acknowledged his sin and asked for mercy. Jesus told the story to uphold the tax collector’s attitude. The “non-judgmental love of Jesus,” Haffner said, is the ideal the church should strive for. The self-exalted person, as Jesus himself put it, “will be humbled,” and the humble person “will be exalted.”
Moments for soul-searching followed. Then the worship team, as preparation for communion, drew participants into Christ-affirming song. “O come let us adore him,” they sang. Soon they had taken flat bread and grape juice, and were singing again: “Here in the light of Christ I stand. / ‘Til he returns and calls me home, / Here in the light of Christ I stand.”
Except for break-out sessions set for evening, the gathering of the One Project near Chicago was over. Similar gatherings in Europe and Australia will occur soon. Next spring still another, the fourth overall in the United States, will take place in Seattle, where there will be room for 800. The question many were pondering is whether all this will have long-term impact on the wider Adventist community. And some were still asking if all the talk about Jesus was fully adequate to the depth of Adventism.
Given the theme of humility—the idea came up again and again on Tuesday—it seemed likely that event organizers would themselves agree that nothing yet said was fully adequate. No one was claiming to have exhausted the topic.
—Chuck Scriven is president of Kettering College and chairs the Adventist Forum|Spectrum board. Here is his report on the first day of the One Project.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5079