We often speak of the Advent Movement as a world movement, but never is that more evident than at a General Conference session. It is inspiring to watch representatives gathering from the earth's far ends, all eager and enthusiastic. There are always some attending for the first time, but others will tell you that they have not missed a session for fifty years! But whether they are veteran or inexperienced, one great purpose fills their hearts. The delegates have come to do business for the Lord.
Although every General Conference session is important, this forthcoming convocation is perhaps the most important of all, not only in relation to our own work but in relation to the world itself. This will be the first time the session has been held in this city. Cleveland is a large modern metropolis, one of the most important centers in the nation. It is situated on the shores of beautiful Lake Erie and has many features of natural attraction. It is numbered among the "convention cities" of the United States, and consequently is accustomed to crowds. But the thousands of Adventists who will gather there for the 48th session of the General Conference will be different from the usual convention crowds. There will be an absence of fanfare, noise, and garishness, so often a part of large conventions.
Appointing men to the leadership of the great Advent cause throws a tremendous responsibility upon committees and delegates, and we are confident that our workers around the world will be upholding these responsible committees in prayer as they come to the heavy tasks assigned them. Not only during the days of the session but from now right through to the end of this great meeting, would it not be good if our workers and our people everywhere could be lifting up their hearts to God for the guidance of His Spirit? Only in the environment of deep spiritual fervor can the work of God be done in a way that will please Him.
While the session itself can rightly be called a business session, yet it is more, much more. And even the business transacted there must be done in God's way. Election to political office is usually carried out in an environment of pressure and party rivalry. But how different all that is from the beauty and dignity of divine appointments as revealed in the Word of God. The simple New Testament record reads: "When they had prayed, they laid their hands on them" (Acts 6:6). And again: "As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them" (ch. 13:2). Just how the will of God was made known in this instance is not revealed, but it is clear that the appointments were by the definite leading of the Spirit of God. The declaration concerning the first Christian council was, "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us" (ch. 15:28).
Not long ago we stood in the cave church in the hills back of the ancient city of Antioch. This is reputed to be perhaps the oldest Christian place of meeting outside of Jerusalem. The curator of the Antioch Museum, realizing our deep interest in the archeological remains in the old city, said to us, "Would you like to visit the oldest Christian church in the world?" You can imagine our reaction to such a suggestion. This man was a Moslem, but a real scholar. He mentioned in course of conversation that the great majority of visitors to Antioch usually come and go without any knowledge of that ancient Christian center, which he declared dates from about A.D. 40.
More than a hundred years ago the French who occupied Syria rebuilt the front of that old Christian meeting house, otherwise it is practically the same as it was in the days when these early believers met. At the time of the first persecution, A.D. 34, most Christians fled from Jerusalem. Some went to Cyprus and Cyrene, and later came to Antioch to give the good news. Among their converts were many Grecians. Concerning the witness of these lay preachers we read, "The hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord" (Acts 11:21). When tidings reached the church in Jerusalem, where the apostles were stationed, they sent Barnabas to Antioch to make investigation and to confirm these new believers in the faith. Under the labors of this Spirit-guided leader many others were added to the group, and so taxing did his work become that he departed for Tarsus to seek for Paul, who returned with him to Antioch. For a whole year they labored together teaching the people, and it was in this place that "the disciples were called Christians first."
As we stood in that rock-hewn place of meeting these thoughts came crowding into our minds. Could this be the place where the first Christian missionaries to the Gentile world were ordained? It was a sobering yet joyful thought. It seemed we were standing on hallowed ground, for it was in this ancient city that the first foreign mission appointments were made. And those were not merely the appointments of men, but in truth the appointments of the Spirit of God. Saul of Tarsus who later became known as "the great apostle to the Gentiles" was included in that first action of the "appointees committee," and so successful were their labors that in a few short years he was able to write that the good news of a crucified, risen, ministering, and returning Saviour had been given to "every creature which is under heaven" (Col. 1:23). Their divine appointment and their Spirit endowment enabled these first preachers to turn the world upside down. In a single generation the gospel had reached to the uttermost parts of the then-known world.
Today we face a world just as needy; but in a sense it is a bigger, more complex world than challenged those early mission-speed, interspace travel, have produced a sophisticated, self-satisfied civilization, drunk with its own achievements and threatening to usurp the place of God in His universe. But it is to this generation that we are sent, and to us has been committed the task of carrying the everlasting gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. This must be done in the most garish age of all time—a task overwhelming in its magnitude.
The forthcoming meeting in Cleveland will play a vital role in the carrying out of our commission. Plans and policies will be made that will affect every branch of God's work. Leaders will be elected to office who must carry the heavy burden of administration during what might well be the most difficult period in the history of mankind.
Sometimes General Conference sessions have convened while the world has been in the turmoil of war. We trust that this quadrennium may be spared such distracting conditions. But other issues almost as calamitous as war can be a tremendous hindrance to the cause of God. Subtle, subversive movements, destined to affect the whole international scene, are already at work, and we face a time when the enemy of souls is going to carry out his nefarious work "with all power and signs and lying wonders." If ever the church of God needed strong spiritual leadership it is now. Men of wisdom who are keen, consecrated, and courageous are needed to guide the cause of God in these turbulent times.
And so we appeal to all our workers, ministers, administrators, and heads of institutions, as well as the pastors of our churches, to gather the people of God together and be much in prayer for His guidance in the forthcoming conference. Remember: "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of."
The session opens Thursday evening, June 19. Fifteen days prior to this opening meeting the leaders of our work in the great world divisions will be gathered in administrative counsel. This will be held at the General Conference office in Washington, D.C. Then, beginning on the morning of June 16, other presession meetings convene in Cleveland. Practically every department of our General Conference organization has planned for a council with the leaders and representatives of these different departments. And these preliminary meetings are also very important, for they can and will engender that spiritual atmosphere so essential as a preparation for the large meetings of the full session. These smaller gatherings will deal not only with the development of more effective methods for the prosecution of God's work but will also emphasize the necessity for the deepening of the spiritual life.
The Ministerial Association Convention will commence Tuesday evening, June 17, and will continue through until the beginning of the session. This meeting with its intensive program, though not as large perhaps as the last presession council, will bring a wealth of inspiration, instruction, and counsel to our workers.
A number of panel discussions are planned covering such subjects as More Powerful Preaching, Reaching the Masses, Preserving the Spirit of Worship, City-Center Evangelism, and Television and Film Techniques. Some who have had recent firsthand experience with the subtlety and deception of modern Spiritualism and hypnosis will present a forthright analysis of this subject.
The high lights of these discussions, as well as the devotional appeals, will appear in subsequent issues of THE MINISTRY. No book is contemplated such as was published after the last presession council, so we would urge our workers to be sure to subscribe to THE MINISTRY.
The first Sabbath of the session, June 21, has been set aside as a day of fasting and prayer, and our churches, wherever they are located, in any part of the world, are being invited to enter into this experience and to pray for the Lord's special guidance on this important session and upon His work everywhere. The people of God, we know, are ready to respond to such an appeal, and so we would lay this on our workers' hearts.,
Some will be happy to go on a total fast that day. There may be others who, like Daniel of old, will take "no pleasant bread." The method of the fast is not the important thing. What is important is that our souls be drawn out to God. We are confident our workers, wherever they are, will on this day lead our faithful members into a real experience with God.
So while the eyes of our Adventist believers around the world are focused on Cleveland, we would urge our dear people to lift their hearts heavenward, seeking for the Lord's definite guidance upon this history-making session.