Scripture Reading & Thoughts

Recapturing the Pioneer's Vision

In Joel chapter 2 the prophet outlines what will happen in the "day of the Lord" and asks the people to return to God. The return will be worth it as Joel outlines God’s preferred future.

"And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy,

your old men will dream dreams,

your young men will see visions.

Even on my servants, both men and women,

I will pour out my Spirit in those days" (verses 28,29).

Through Joel, God predicts there will be a prophetic movement where everyone is filled with the Spirit of God—there will be no gender or age barrier to being used by Him. This was an incredible change because in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit was only given to certain people at certain times—usually leaders and men (Exodus 31:3, 35:31; Numbers 24:2; 1 Samuel 10:10, 11:6; 2 Chronicles 15:1, 24:20; Ezekiel 11:24). But sometime in history this would change.

The apostle Peter, after he and the disciples received the tongues of fire as evidence of the Holy Spirit, preached in the power of the Spirit to thousands of people in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. The only way he could make sense of the phenomena and incredible response of the people was that he believed that the prophecy of Joel was being fulfilled (Acts 2:17-21).

The early New Testament church was certainly a Holy Spirit empowered movement. Women, children and Gentiles, who had little status in traditional Judaism at the time, became a significant part of the early Christian church (Matthew 18:3, 19:13, 14; Mark 15:41; Luke 8:2; Acts 1:14, 13:50, 17:4, 21:5; Galatians 3:26; Ephesians 2:11-22). There was freedom for all to serve. Jesus had modelled this inclusive ministry. The Holy Spirit directed people in simple but powerful everyday witness (Acts 13:2, 4, 16:6).

There is no record that the Holy Spirit has been taken from all people. God will choose anyone who is willing to devote themselves to be a disciple of Jesus.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church was birthed out of a prophetic religious people movement in the first part of the 19th century. The early Adventists did not want to be just another church. They realised God had given them a special prophetic message and they wanted to be known as a movement.

Ellen White describes this historical Adventist movement in this way: "To William Miller and his co-labourers it was given to preach the warning in America. This country became the centre of the great advent movement. It was here that the prophecy of the first angel’s message had its most direct fulfilment. The writings of Miller and his associates were carried to distant lands. Wherever missionaries had penetrated in all the world, were sent the glad tidings of Christ’s speedy return. Far and wide spread the message of the everlasting gospel: 'Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgement is come.'

"The testimony of the prophecies which seemed to point to the coming of Christ in the spring of 1844 took deep hold of the minds of the people. As the message went from state to state, there was everywhere awakened widespread interest. Many were convinced that the arguments from the prophetic periods were correct, and, sacrificing their pride of opinion, they joyfully received the truth. Some ministers laid aside their sectarian views and feelings, left their salaries and their churches, and united in proclaiming the coming of Jesus. There were comparatively few ministers, however, who would accept this message; therefore it was largely committed to humble laymen. Farmers left their fields, mechanics their tools, traders their merchandise, professional men their positions; and yet the number of workers was small in comparison with the work to be accomplished. The condition of an ungodly church and a world lying in wickedness, burdened the souls of the true watchmen, and they willingly endured toil, privation and suffering, that they might call men to repentance unto salvation. Though opposed by Satan, the work went steadily forward, and the advent truth was accepted by many thousands" (The Great Controversy, 368).

Dr Graeme Bradford, who has researched Ellen White’s role in early Adventism, wrote, "The early Adventists see themselves as a movement rather than another church because they did not want to be locked into a set way of thinking as other churches. They wanted freedom to learn and grow . . .

"A movement was what they had experienced in their Sabbath Bible conferences. An openness and fairness towards new truth. A church was a place where people met and held to their traditions zealously. A movement was always growing in its understanding. They studied their Bibles and presented their new thinking in meetings and also the Review."

Seventh-day Adventists, from their heritage, always knew they were part of the movement of God in history. Although the concept of movement was based on their conviction to share their distinct prophetic message, the early Adventists also became an evangelistic movement.

Russell Burrill, the now retired Andrews University scholar, explains in the chapter, "The Rebirth of a Church Planting Movement: Early Adventism" (from his book Rekindling a Lost Passion), how the Seventh-day Adventist Church became a rapidly expanding geographical and numerically growing movement of people. The reasons for this growth were:

  1. They had a clear and distinct message proclaimed with prophetic urgency.
  2. The organisation in conferences collected tithe to support pastors who were travelling evangelists and church planters. Local churches did not pay the pastors so there was no expectation for them to just care for them.
  3. There were no settled pastors.

The Church grew rapidly. In North America between 1870 and 1900 a new church was planted every year for every four ordained pastors. They were a movement. In 1990 it took the North American Division 120 pastors to raise up a new church each year. They had become almost a monument. Sadly, in some parts of the world, even within the South Pacific Division (SPD), the Seventh-day Adventist Church is more of a monument than a movement.

Neither Burrill nor I suggest we go back to the way of the late 1800s but we must recapture the urgency and encourage pastors and churches to grow another church to reach the harvest. But can we recapture and reapply the prophetic movement concept to our time and place?

The world is a crazier place now and the signs of Jesus' return are evident everywhere. Global warming and the rise of the sea levels is already threatening life in the atolls of Kiribati and Tuvalu. Cyclone Pam was the fiercest cyclone ever in the Southern Hemisphere. The war in the Middle East is creating the biggest people movement in history as refugees flee for safety. Moral certainties upholding biblical marriage are being stripped away. Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the apocalyptic prophecies in Daniel and Revelation give an outline of the trouble ahead as well as the hope of a new world with Jesus.

Jesus gives value to people who lack self-esteem; He gives healing to those who are bruised; He gives forgiveness to those burdened with guilt; He gives wholeness to those who are broken; He gives comfort to those who are sad; He gives love to those who are lonely; and He gives rest to those who are weary. The Sabbath is a weekly rest where people can stop and celebrate the blessings that Jesus the Lord of the Sabbath gives.

There is an explosion of non-communicable diseases in the South Pacific. More people have diabetes here per capita than any other region in the world. Every week in Fiji, with a population of about 900,000, 11 people lose a limb because of poor health habits. We have a simple and scientifically proven health message that can change people’s lives. Eat more from the garden and less from packets bought from supermarkets; drink water, exercise and spend time with family, friends and God, and you will dramatically lessen your chance of dying from non-communicable diseases.

The great controversy is real. The media is full of programs with witches, ghosts and contact with the spirit world. In the Pacific, there is a resurgence of the traditional religions of the forefathers. Ancestor worship and contact with the spirits is recorded in newspapers. Seventh-day Adventists know there is a real enemy, that death is a sleep and the only victory is in Jesus.

We as Seventh-day Adventists can and must continue to be a prophetic movement with distinct beliefs. We also need to recapture movement thinking.

"The work of God in the earth presents, from age to age, a striking similarity in every great reformation or religious movement. The principles of God’s dealing with men are ever the same. The important movements of the present have their parallel in those of the past, and the experience of the church in former ages has lessons of great value for our own time.

"No truth is more clearly taught in the Bible than that God by His Holy Spirit especially directs His servants on earth in the great movements for the carrying forward of the work of salvation. Men are instruments in the hand of God, employed by Him to accomplish His purposes of grace and mercy. Each has his part to act; to each is granted a measure of light, adapted to the necessities of his time, and sufficient to enable him to perform the work which God has given him to do" (The Great Controversy, 343).

In his book Movements That Change the World, Steve Addison studies some of the rapidly expanding Christian movements in history and says they all have five characteristics:

  1. White hot faith is the foundation of any Christian movement. It develops when people experience the presence and power of God through the Word of God and prayer. The General Conference initiatives of Believe His Prophets and United in Prayer encourage every Seventh-day Adventist to have a real and growing connection with God.
  2. Commitment to a cause is a commitment to Jesus and sharing His message of salvation with others. However, the commitment is based on biblical and spiritual conviction. Associated causes in justice, creation, health and wellbeing, advocacy of all that is good and right, are a part of this commitment. Seventh-day Adventists have always highlighted mission and we are asking for a commitment to discipleship and our holistic health message.
  3. Contagious relationships occur when people cannot help but share their beliefs and faith in Jesus in stories with people in their network of influence—whether family, friends, workmates, sporting team members and the like. Another focus of the General Conference in the next five years is total lay involvement. Everyone is encouraged to know and use their spiritual gifts in connecting with the people around them.
  4. Rapid mobilisation is challenging people to take whatever they have learnt in a faith journey with Jesus and share it with others and be involved in church, community and mission immediately. We cannot wait for people to do their PhD or sit in church for three years before we as the Church encourage them to be involved. Learning on the job is a core element of Jesus' method of discipleship.
  5. Adaptive methods refers to the ability to take the one and same message but apply it to children, homeless, Chinese, refugees, university students and all the multiple people groups we have in our world today. The methods will be simple and reproducible—so that all can understand and use them. Church planting will be another focus of the world Church. As a Church we have many resources and methods to reach people—we may just need to use and adapt them.

The South Pacific Division (SPD) will focus on the world Church mission statement:

"The mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is to call all people to become disciples of Jesus Christ, to proclaim the everlasting gospel embraced by the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6-12, and to prepare the world for His soon return."

If we are to be successful in this mission we will become the end time discipleship movement Ellen White foresaw:

"The work will be similar to that of the Day of Pentecost. As the 'former rain' was given in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the opening of the gospel to cause the upspringing of the precious seed, so the 'latter rain' will be given at its close for the ripening of the harvest . . .

"The great work of the gospel is not to close with less manifestation of the power of God than marked its opening. The prophecies which were fulfilled in the outpouring of the former rain at the opening of the gospel are again to be fulfilled in the latter rain at its close.

"Servants of God, with their faces lighted up and shining with holy consecration, will hasten from place to place to proclaim the message from heaven. By thousands of voices, all over the earth, the warning will be given. Miracles will be wrought, the sick will be healed, and signs and wonders will follow the believers. Satan also works, with lying wonders, even bringing down fire from heaven in the sight of men (Revelation 13:13). Thus the inhabitants of the earth will be brought to take their stand.

"The message will be carried not so much by argument as by the deep conviction of the Spirit of God. The arguments have been presented. The seed has been sown, and now it will spring up and bear fruit. The publications distributed by missionary workers have exerted their influence, yet many whose minds were impressed have been prevented from fully comprehending the truth or from yielding obedience. Now the rays of light penetrate everywhere, the truth is seen in its clearness, and the honest children of God sever the bands which have held them. Family connections, church relations, are powerless to stay them now. Truth is more precious than all besides. Notwithstanding the agencies combined against the truth, a large number take their stand upon the Lord’s side" (The Great Controversy, 611, 612).

Over the next five years the SPD will focus on discipleship. Comprehensive health and media ministries will focus on making disciples for and with Jesus. Mission to the Cities will be a particular target area for disciple making to take place.

Movements have institutions. The SPD is blessed to have Sanitarium, the Sydney Adventist Hospital, Avondale College of Higher Education, Pacific Adventist University and Adventist Media Network. There is a difference between institutions and institutionalisation. Institutions, if focused on the mission, can fuel a movement with people, resources and ideas. Spiritual movements could happen among the people within the institution or those they serve.

I invite you to join me on a journey to recapture and reapply the early Adventist heritage of being a multiplying disciple movement with a distinct message. We do not have all the answers but as we go on the journey we can change our thinking to be movement oriented where freedom is given to people to follow the leading of the Spirit in connection with our Church. We can become all that God wants and be the last prophetic discipleship movement preparing the world for Jesus' return.

Pastor Glenn Townend is president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific.