The One project: Why I'm Mad

Sometimes things get so bad in the church you just have to speak out. Right now there is a sickness in Adventism and no one seems to be dealing with it.

Noelene and I are happily retired in Loma Linda, where the sun shines every day. We live the good life—walking, gardening, writing, teaching classes for the School of Religion, spending lots of time with each other. Silver Spring, the Review and Adventist World are far away, out of mind, but not out of prayer. Recently we became aware of stuff going on in the Adventist Church that we find appalling. If I don't say something, I'll blow a fuse. More important, one day, perhaps very soon, I'll have to answer my Lord's question: " Why did you stay silent when you knew what you knew about the One project?"

Our acquaintance with the One project (TOP) is recent. I won't attempt to enter into discussion of what did or did not take place prior to the current year, 2016. During this year, however, we have gained abundant knowledge based on firsthand experience, not on hearsay. What we have seen and heard has crystallized into several distinct conclusions about TOP and the people who are involved with it.

The One project is from the Lord. It is something to encourage, not to vilify. Those who feel constrained to attack it should tread exceedingly carefully lest they be found fighting against God.

I'll tell you how we arrived at this point.

In late 2014 I was surprised to receive an invitation to be one of the speakers for the TOP gathering that would be held in Seattle in February 2016. Since I knew almost nothing about the One project, I checked out its website. What I found there—the goal of making Jesus the center of Adventist proclamation and life—led me to agree to the request. The theme of the gathering would be the events of the Passion Week. Speakers would trace the footsteps of Jesus from the Triumphal Entry through Calvary to the Resurrection. My topic was to correspond with the Sabbath when Jesus lay in the tomb; I was to speak on the meaning of Christ's Death. The organizers of the event obviously considered this topic of great importance. I was allotted 40 minutes, whereas the other presenters had only 16 minutes. All speakers were required to send scripts of their sermons three months ahead of the Seattle gathering in order that the messages could be checked—no criticism of the church or leaders—and so that discussion questions might be generated.

Noelene accompanied me to the Seattle gathering. It convened at the Westin hotel, a major facility in the center of the city, and ran Sunday morning through Monday noon. The organizers had planned for 700 attendees, but so great was the interest that they extended the number to 1,200. With that increase not another body could have been shoe-horned into the large ballroom. Everything was superbly organized: sound, visuals, coordination, keeping to allotted time. No introductions of speakers—the focus was Jesus. The audience was multi-generational, with Boomers and Millennials predominating. Speakers were evenly divided male and female. I was two to three times older than the other presenters, but it didn't seem to matter to the audience. Their focus was on Jesus, not on me. Everyone mingled freely, pleasantly, joyfully. Dress was business casual, with a few men wearing jackets and ties. We expected the music to be loud and not to our liking. We were wrong—it was beautifully worshipful, blending contemporary gospel with classics like Amazing Grace and Jesus Paid It All.

Only one aspect diluted the joy we felt: the group was overwhelmingly White. When it came my turn to address the gathering, I gently noted that concern and the audience broke out in applause. Later the organizers sought me out to recount the efforts they had made to include more diversity, but they had been largely unsuccessful.

Now, more than six months later, the spiritual exhilaration of Seattle is still with Noelene and me. But one thing bothers me: Will someone, anyone, please enlighten me as to what is the problem with the One Project? It seems as though most everyone has heard that there's something not quite right, but no one can inform me where the problem lies.

I've inquired of many people including some at church headquarters in Silver Spring, but all I get back get back is smoke—rumor, suspicion, hearsay, allegations of conspiracy, what others are saying, what they read in some book or viewed on a website, DVD, and so on. On the other hand, those who have actually been to a TOP gathering are glowingly positive in their evaluation.

So blest were Noelene and me by Seattle that when the organizers later asked us to join them for TOP gatherings in Sydney and in Perth, Australia, we immediately said Yes! As I write we are just back in the U.S. after the two-week trip. The meetings were like Seattle all over again, but on a smaller scale. Same Spirit. Same love. Same focus on Jesus. We came home weary but with cups overflowing. Different topics were presented in Australia, all built around the teachings and Passion of Jesus. We heard presentations on what Jesus taught about the Trinity, about the End, about Discipleship, about the Kingdom, etc. I was asked to present twice—on what Jesus taught about genuine religion, and on what Jesus taught about the Sabbath.

The trip afforded us opportunities to observe the organizers up close and personal. In Sydney we all stayed, not in a fancy hotel but in a rented Airbnb home in order to reduce expenses.Noelene and I couldn't help noticing the uplifting conversation, how easily and often it was about Jesus. And how hard the TOP people worked, up long before the light in order to care for their ministries back in the U.S. and the added responsibilities in Australia. The One project brings no material gain or benefit to these devoted men and women—only work, care . . . and, unfortunately, vitriol.

The final meeting in Australia, held in Perth late on Sabbath afternoon, opened for us a revealing window on their ministry. This meeting was an add on for those who wanted to ask questions about the One project. Although the meeting was calm and matter-of-fact, the material was powerful and disturbing. We learned that criticism of TOP started soon after its inception when a European with a checkered history in his relationship to the church, launched a full-scale attack and circulated it far and wide. His claims were blatantly in error: he based his work on material he found at the1project.com, a now-defunct website that is a totally different outfit from the Adventist the1project.org. The false allegations made in this initial attack continue to circulate. In recent years, as conspiracy theories have taken root, the allegations have grown more strident, more extreme. The One project has been linked to Satan: I saw a graphic that portrays a serpent labeled "The One Project" swallowing the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Opponents have shouted out "You're a witch!" to leaders as they drive away from gatherings. In one city two young men donned sackcloth and ashes and sat outside the venue of the TOP gathering.

It gets worse. Even the children of the organizers have been targeted and vilified on Facebook. That is despicable.

Could this be happening among Seventh-day Adventists? I am mad at such lies, such shameful behavior, and mad that no one is speaking out.

An attorney who works in a law office that deals in litigation was present at that late Sabbath evening session. She expressed the opinion that in Australia such egregious charges would not enjoy the protection of the law and she posed the possibility of recourse to the courts as the best way to bring the attacks to a halt.

Our visit to Australia was wonderfully inspirational, but we came away with a troubling question on our hearts. In Sydney the attendance was 170, in Perth about 100. But all those who came only heard about the event through private channels. By order from church headquarters in Silver Spring, no mention of the gatherings was permitted in official church media, From those who came we learned of people who had quit attending church but as a result of the TOP gathering were planning to give it another try, of others who had heard negative rumors and hesitated to attend but who received a wonderful blessing, and so on and on. I'm delighted with those accounts, but what about the hundreds of others who might have attended if church media channels hadn't been closed?

For more than a year the leaders of the One project have requested church leaders to tell them where they are out of line—if they are out of line—in order that they may make corrections. So far they have received no response

(Spectrum has learned that the One project has been subject to a secretive, General Conference-sanctioned theological inquiry by members of the Biblical Research Committee, who as it turned out found nothing objectionable in the theological message of the One project, according to several sources. -Ed.)

That is not right.

There's a sickness in my beloved church. We've permitted extreme views to take control, views that play on fear, that weave conspiracy scenarios around End-time events and unsettle the hearts of the saints, that are light-years away from the sane, thoughtful teachings about the End that we find in Scripture and in Ellen White's writings. Some of these wild views circulate widely by means of books, websites and DVDs prepared by independent ministries. Overall, I strongly support independent ministries, but only so long as they do not make their living by preying on trusting members' fears.

Where are we headed in this church? Is no one else mad like me?

The 13-hour flight from Sydney to LAX goes on forever. As the Boeing Dreamliner cut through the darkness over the trackless Pacific Ocean 40,000 feet below, I had lots of time for reflection. An overwhelming sense of grace rolled over me, of thanksgiving for the wonderful followers of Christ whom we met for the first time and for those with whom we had served. And most of all for Jesus, who is incomparable, whose love we can never exhaust.

But along with blessed reflections, a sense of incredible irony. What, vilified for proclaiming Jesus, just Jesus, with no ifs and buts? Vilified. Not by unbelievers, but by members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church? Incredible!

Maybe not so incredible. Whenever and wherever Jesus and His righteousness are proclaimed, ugly things happen along with the good. As among the churches of Galatia in Paul's day. As in Minneapolis in 1888.

As in 2016.

William G. Johnsson is the retired Editor of Adventist Review and Adventist World Magazine, and the author of numorous books including the recently-published, two-volume Jesus of Nazareth. He spoke with Spectrum about the publishing of that book in an exclusive interview.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7623
7 Likes

"But one thing bothers me: Will someone, anyone, please enlighten me as to what is the problem with the One Project?"

Simple:

"The organizers had planned for 700 attendees, but so great was the interest that they extended the number to 1,200. "

(1) It works.
(2) It is Christ-focused.
(3) No Adventist “Spokesperson” or Evangelist is being headlined with antiquated “messages”.

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Dear brother, unfortunately you are 100% correct. I myself experienced first hand how nasty Adventists are, attacking this ministry, local conference (Rocky Mountain) and local pastors. We had members in our church publicly attacking our pastor, because he belongs to the same conference. Totally messed up. I am very upset how some people call themselves Adventist, but because “you will know them by their fruit”, there is no Jesus in them. But when you are not a true disciple of Jesus Christ and you have time to troll on internet and find all kinds of conspiracy theories, which really show how much love you have for your fellow brothers and sisters as well as the community we are here for (as our current SS lessons talk about). Jesus please come soon!

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Bill - thank you so much for this well-articulated response to what is going on within the church against The One Project. I have also attended a TOP gathering (in Illinois) and came away extremely blessed. We will be attending TOP in San Diego in February, 2017 and hope to see you and Noelene there. My question is, what are some ways we (those of us who have experienced TOP firsthand) can get the “powers-that-be” to open themselves to the reality of the “Jesus First” concept the organizers have embraced and embody? How do we make our voices heard? It is so sad what’s been going on…especially because of the uplifting and Christ-centered experience we have all had at these events. Your description of the audience, the music, the focus on Jesus rather than the presenters, the messages…all spot-on!! And, I agree with you, that more ethnic diversity in the attendees would be fantastic! Much appreciation to Japhet and all the other TOP leaders who work tirelessly to make these events happen! Let’s keep the conversation going and hopefully come up with some ways to broaden the leaders’ minds and attitudes towards this truly holy ministry. Thanks again!

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Has anyone determined WHO in Silver Spring sent such a message?
It didn’t simply float on a cloud to Australia. Who ever sent such a word should be ferreted out rather than simply letting it continue. With such folk in high places it becomes the “Adventist Conspiracy Movement” generated from the top! How many from Silver Spring have attended the gatherings? Is it not all built on hearsay?

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I have found the assumptions (whether it is about TOP or even individual based ministries) that people really haven’t experienced/haven’t taken the time to get to know strikes a fear into the people who make the assumptions.

The Adventist church folk are brainwashed in the old methods/ways of evangelizing and there are fears of anything new happening to reach to people (groups/individuals).

The leaders of the church are at the beckon call of those who are afraid of anything new. They don’t want to lose the older generation/people who don’t want to take the time to understand (or their money).

It flabbergasts me that we want Jesus to come but aren’t willing to find ways to make it happen. “God never changes” doesn’t mean His methods don’t change. What happened 2000 years ago isn’t still happening is it? Oh, things changed. Times changed.

Fear. It’s what limits us (ministry and individually).

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The two German Union Conferences appear to be pretty mad. In a public statement sent to all churches in Germany they strongly denounce the vicious attacks against an all German youth congress - featuring the ONE project and TOP speakers.

What bothers me is that there appears to be a world wide, concerted effort to vilify … and there are indications in this report that the “music” can be located. What does a

mean for the well being of our church? Healthy this is not. Who ordered such an investigation? Why were the results not published? There is good reason to assume, because a different outcome of the investigation was hoped for. A scandal for many reasons.

Yes, we need to be outraged at such self-destructive trends … or simply resign and give up.

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Thank you for this enlightening article, Elder Johnsson. I always appreciated your editorials on the REVIEW, and now I’m taking this issue seriously.

Someone has mentioned a One Project meeting scheduled in San Diego in February 2017. I’m going to endeavor to attend. I have never signed on with the One Project so they don’t have me on their list. I intend to change that!

This is the type of thing all of us need!

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Which is to be expected as the church is to heal the sick. What is not expected is if the healers themselves were the sick as in:

As in psychotherapy, the therapist is hopefully mentally healthier than the patient. But not so with “my beloved church” I’m afraid.

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Death Throes of Adventism
+++++++++++++++++++
Dr Johnsson:

1.Why are you so surprised by the Silver Springs behavior? You were in Washington a long time. You know how the system works.

2.First world Adventism is in a death spiral. The forces of militant Adventist fundamentalism are battling it out with the tolerant Adventist liberal forces. The exchange between Clifford Goldstein and Reinder Bruinsma is just an example. The fundamentalists are angry because the One Project types have sold Adventism down the river. The ‘Advent Message’ is not about feeling good about Jesus, it is about the Sabbath. It is an eschatological message rooted in EGW where the Sabbath not Jesus determines eternal destiny.

3.We see in the wider world the forces of fundamentalism gone to the extreme with religious zealots killing people in the name of God to safeguard the purity of religion. Adventist fundamentalists appear willing to do anything short of killing.

4.So yes, you are mad. But so are the fundamentalists. Both sides feel the other side has stolen their Church.

5.I doubt the two sides can coexist. I doubt the two sides can find common ground. First world Adventism, as in the UK, may very well die out before it implodes. In the short term Adventist fundamentalism will win. In the long term it will fade due to its utter irrelevance in the 21st Century. Not a rosy picture. But then again I suggest salvation is OUTSIDE the Church.
Best wishes, Edgar

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I attended the gathering in Seattle in 2012. I was greatly blessed! I felt the Holy Spirit’s Presence there in a way that I have only come this close to feeling in an SDA meeting one time since–at the Maranatha church in Seattle earlier this year. (Thank you again, Japhet, for making that possible!)

C.S. Lewis described what might actually be happening (that this article about the One Project illustrates) in our culture—within and outside of Seventh-day Adventism—in a story published in 1946. In it a college professor, Dr. Dimble, and his wife are having a private conversation following a very important meeting of an organization they were both a part of.

“Have you ever noticed,” said Dimble, “that the universe, and every little bit of the universe, is always hardening and narrowing and coming to a point? … If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family—anything you like—at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren’t quite so sharp; and that there’s going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder.”

Now that I think about this further, what Lewis describes here makes me think of the SDA concept of “the shaking.”

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Bill,

You have reported well on the tone of these meetings. And the content of the meetings in Australia seems impressive indeed.

Several years ago I invited the Conference Officers from my Conference to consider the possibility of reorganizing what happens at our camp meeting. Every year camp meeting runs on a very predictable formula that seems very jug to mug, without any meaningful interaction between speakers and speakees and between speakees themselves. I actually submitted a proposal to the Conference for possible inclusion in the Conference Constituency meeting concerning same. And while pleasant noises came from the Officers when cornered, my proposal that a more attractive formula and structure of our camp meeting be nutted out and trialled was rejected as not being within the purview of the Constituency meeting. [No other proposals from the churches were on the official agenda. There seemed to be a wish to have the Constituency Meeting happen with the bare minimum of dialogue and discussion, and there was an almost corporate hush when matters of real concern were raised briefly on one or two points].

Our camp meeting in South Queensland is well attended (about 3,000 or more actually staying on the grounds, some 2/3’s staying in well made Conference supplied tents). The numbers for the Sabbath mornings rise to 7,000 plus. The evening meetings attract good crowds. The morning sessions of congregational Bible Study & Practical Application of the Word have attendees numbering only in the hundreds. The afternoon seminars are attended by people numbering only in scores. Obviously, most Camp meeting attendees are much more interested in off-campus activities such as shopping, visiting the big city, seeing family and friends both on-campus and off-campus than availing themselves of the meetings.

I applaud any attempt, therefore, to provide a meeting/ interaction format and atmosphere more appealing to believers. TOP may be an answer.

I’m glad that you are a fellow Australian. I glad that you can give such positive testimony about TOP. I respect the fact that you are a brother of some real experience.

Yet, what I would appreciate more than anything before I make my mind up completely is a no holes barred outline of the concerns expressed concerning TOP and a fulsome response to them. For all your good testimony you have not done this for us, Bill!

You have suggested that only 170 attended in Sydney, while 100 attended in Perth. As Sydney has almost three times the population of Sydney with several large Adventist institutions in its catchment area, it would seem to me that the relatively small attendance in Sydney was due to more than just the fact that there was minimal advertizing done through official channels. One more thing! I am reliably informed by those of a younger generation that millennials and Gen X and Y are much more likely to respond to advertizing on social media than anything else. Therefore an officially directed news and advertizing blackout, if true, may have had minimal effect on attendance.

Please understand that in Australia at least I have heard no official criticism of TOP and I do have well-placed moles in various places. I did see the TOP meetings advertised in the weekly online missive that comes from Avondale and I also note that a book about TOP written by Nathan Brown and published by Signs Publishing Company [the South Pacific Division official publisher] and widely promoted in Adventist circles.

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This is my first time to even hear One Project, sorry for my ignorance. It was enlightening. I always enjoy Dr. Johnson’s speech and also his writings.

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Amen! Sharing this far and wide. I have friends on both sides of the fence and I’ve tried to do my due diligence to confirm the negative attacks and I couldn’t find a single thing! But I’m a nobody so my findings didn’t carry much weight. You do! So I’m going to share this with my “concerned” friends.

God bless and maybe we’ll see you around Loma Linda or Azure Hills Church if you visit us there.

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Pastor Johnson thank you for speaking out and a big thank you for being mad! There are too many things to be mad about in our church lately and that is very sad.

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When I was a member I tried to rehab my belief system into something that presented practical restoration that was observable. My own Christian experience never resulted in any meaningful changes in my own life and I was forced to face this stark reality. I was fortunate enough to find a process that completely changed my life in ways that I was always promised if I was a good SDA Christian. Once I was able to look at my belief system from the outside I realized how judgmental and harsh the writings of Ellen White are. Simply read the mature Ellen White’s account of her own conversion and you will find a considerable amount of time spent on being critical of another Christian girls jewelry and fine clothing. In fact she states that this girls choice to dress fashionably, “My joy was dampened by this display of vanity in one who professed to be a follower of the meek and lowly Jesus.” The solution she suggests is expressed in her disappointment with the minister. “I expected that the minister would give some whispered reproof or advice to this sister; but he was apparently regardless of her showy apparel, and no rebuke was administered.” She goes on to present a parallel with her experience and that of Jesus as a child when she states, “This circumstance caused me no little perplexity and trial as I remembered the apostle’s words: ‘In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.’ The teaching of this scripture seemed to be openly disregarded by those whom I looked upon as devoted Christians, and who were much older in experience than myself.” Ellen White is the source of this immature attitude toward trivia and when people model their lives on her example we see this same immaturity play out in the dynamics of the SDA church. The conservative faction of the church is simply trying to emulate this and until Ellen White is no longer an authority within the SDA church nothing is going to change to allow the SDA church to transition into the modern world.

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Agreed. How can “insiders” seem so surprised by behavior that happens consistently. Eyes (and pens) seem to be more observant after retirement.[quote=“bbbazusa, post:11, topic:11545”]
2.First world Adventism is in a death spiral. The forces of militant Adventist fundamentalism are battling it out with the tolerant Adventist liberal forces. The exchange between Clifford Goldstein and Reinder Bruinsma is just an example. The fundamentalists are angry because the One Project types have sold Adventism down the river. The ‘Advent Message’ is not about feeling good about Jesus, it is about the Sabbath. It is an eschatological message rooted in EGW where the Sabbath not Jesus determines eternal destiny.
[/quote]

It certainly is. Real numbers in NAD would be a real shocker, if they were accurately computed.

A civil war is brewing. The fundies will win (if you can call it that) because Adventism is a fundamentalist religion with EGW and the Sabbath firmly at the helm. As you said, this is where it is rooted.[quote=“bbbazusa, post:11, topic:11545”]
3.We see in the wider world the forces of fundamentalism gone to the extreme with religious zealots killing people in the name of God to safeguard the purity of religion. Adventist fundamentalists appear willing to do anything short of killing.
[/quote]

No physical killings, but character assassinations. Isn’t this how EGW handled dissenters? A dream or vision placed the “enemy” in league with Satan. That should stop the conversation, right?[quote=“bbbazusa, post:11, topic:11545”]
5.I doubt the two sides can coexist. I doubt the two sides can find common ground. First world Adventism, as in the UK, may very well die out before it implodes. In the short term Adventist fundamentalism will win. In the long term it will fade due to its utter irrelevance in the 21st Century. Not a rosy picture. But then again I suggest salvation is OUTSIDE the Church.
[/quote]

No, not likely. It is dying out in the West. That is obvious for those with eyes to see. Adventism has nothing to do with salvation. And in fact, can be a roadblock to even understanding the Gospel.

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I work for the official Church paper in the South Pacific Division (based in Australia). We have received no such instruction from the GC. In previous years we have certainly run ads for One Project events and news reports after the fact.

And in regards to the “secretive” BRC inquiry, this really is loaded language. Surely it’s better to have a quiet examination of complaints first, rather than publicly trumpeting the fact, thereby tarnishing the reputation of The One Project by mere suggestion. If the BRC was to disendorse TOP then, yes, they should do this publicly.

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I didn’t have to go to the 2015 One project in San Diego; I didn’t WANT to go to the One project. I was clueless as to who our new pastor was, nor why he highly encouraged Boulder, Colorado church leadership to attend the One project…other than the fact that because of his connection with something called the project they may hear a lot of negative comments. Church leadership needed to see for themselves what the One project was about. I am not a church leader–my husband is an elder. He could be forced to attend the meetings, but I was free to do as I wished. I had no intention of staying past the first “lecture”, but instead packed two swimsuits–one for the beach and one for the hot tub; I never stepped foot in the water.

Instead, I found myself drawn to Jesus. By the end of the first evening, I was in love with my church–for the first time (this wouldn’t last–read on…). Rather than hitting me over the head with the fear-based end-of-time rantings of some of our well-known evangelists, I sat through two days of listening to only one thing: Jesus. I was thrilled by what I had heard in San Diego.

And then, the criticism started. The hateful comments from local churches and church members who saw nothing but “Satan” in the One project. My local conference leaders did little to abate the flow of misguided accusations and pointed comments that were downright hateful. When questioned at our town hall meeting about why comments and accusations were allowed to continue, the response was mediocre at best–“we can’t do anything to stop the comments.” Oh, contraire. The conference has done little to squelch the meanness and anger. Two local congregations, each looking for a new pastor, made their number one requirement: “Our new pastor can’t support the One project.”

The One project is not supported at the conference level, the national level, or by the General Conference (apparently, that is the entire world). I am not surprised to find that advertising is not allowed–but we certainly seem happy to push evangelistic series that involve little horns, big horns, prophecy, and fear. Perhaps next year the One project will be allowed to advertise, as it will deal with the Revelation of Jesus. Unfortunately, the advertisement for next year’s One project (2017, San Diego) does not have horns or claws, so it will not get top billing like a “real” evangelistic series. My guess is that it will focus on only one thing: Jesus.

Ellen White mentioned that if Christ’s life on earth only reached one person, His mission would have been successful. I am that one person. I am deeply grateful to my pastor and those involved in the One project, who, along with their families, continue to face criticism. Their only agenda is to introduce others to the One–Jesus. All.

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