The Annual Council resolution published in the December, 1976, issue of MINISTRY clearly states, "At stake is the mission of the church and whether or not the powerful calls given by our General Conference president for revival and reformation, in which we have all shared, will be realized in a context of the greatest redemptive thrust in our history! . . . We, as leaders, have permitted the pressures of our church and the influence of people and programs to distract us from our central work. It could well be that we are standing under a certain indictment of Heaven for not courageously and faithfully pursuing the finishing of God's work through direct evangelism, and that because of a 'business as usual' attitude the calls for revival have not been followed with desired results as God has promised."
It was recognized at the Annual Council that the term "finishing the work" includes both an inward and outward work, "a people saved by grace, working to save others." Both of these thrusts were evident in the programming of the North American Evangelism Council, conducted under the joint sponsorship of the General Conference Ministerial Association and the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Semi nary. Two meetings each day were specifically devoted to the inward work of grace that needs to be given priority among both ministers and lay people in the Adventist Church today. In his morning devotionals Paul C. Heubach zeroed in on the minister's home and family life, and Hans K. LaRondelle presented a four-night series on righteousness by faith, covering the topics of (1) reconciliation, (2) justification, (3) sanctification, and (4) glorification.
In connection with this same emphasis on the inward work of grace that needs to be accomplished in the experience of both pastor and people before we can be used to finish the work, Neal C. Wilson, General Conference vice-president for North America, presented the initial challenge on "Evangelism and Finishing God's Work." Pastor Wilson also led those present step by step through the "divorce, remarriage, and church membership" statement of philosophy that was adopted at the last Annual Council.
Another running theme of the evangelism council was the uniqueness of our Seventh-day Adventist message, movement, and ministry. N. R. Dower led out in a panel discussion of this theme on Wednesday morning, January 5, and Ben Reaves, associate professor of preaching and urban ministry, Andrews University, in a later presentation focused on the topic of our unique ministry.
C. E. Bradford, General Conference secretary for the North American Division, wrapped up this emphasis in his usual powerful style by preaching on the topic "Our Unique Model" at the Sabbath morning service, which was held in Johnson Auditorium.
Two other special areas of emphasis were of great interest to those attending. Lowell Bock, president of the Lake Union, discussed what it takes to make loyal, permanent Seventh-day Adventists, and G. Ralph Thompson, a general vice-president of the General Conference, led out in a discussion on guide lines for baptism and church member ship, in which he made it clear that "no minister is authorized by the Seventh-day Adventist Church to baptize people who are not committed to church membership and voted into it."
Practical how-to methodology was not neglected. Brief twenty-minute presentations on such topics were followed by twenty-minute group discussions, with those attending meeting in about twenty Sabbath-school-style discussion groups. General Conference and North American Division Ministerial Association secretaries present guided these discussions.
Speakers and topics for these practical methodology discussions included Don Gray and Myron Voegele, "Lay Training for Evangelism"; Ron Halvorsen and John Smith, "Pre-evangelism"; Arturo Schmidt, "Securing and Holding an Audience"; Don Neufeld, associate editor of the Review and Herald, "Meeting Dispensationalism"; Don Jacobsen, "Meeting the Cults"; Mark Finley, "Work in Unentered Territory"; E. E. Cleveland and panel, "Urban Evangelism"; John Fowler and J. M. Phipps, "Calls and Decisions"; and H. R. Feyerabend, "Follow-up Evangelism."
Each discussion group appointed its own secretary, and their reports were gathered following the discussions and succinctly summarized each evening in two ten-minute reports presented by several of the union Ministerial Association secretaries from the North American Division.
In addition to his group-discussion topic, Don Jacobsen, professor of evangelism and pastoral nurture at Andrews Theological Seminary, who had been given the responsibility for making the physical arrangements for the council, was kept busy making necessary announcements before each meeting, and sometimes afterward as well.
Each evening following the meetings a recreation period was provided in the physical-education facilities under the auspices of the Physical Education Department of the university. Since there was approximately a foot of snow covering the grounds and the temperature often dropped to around the zero point, those attending really appreciated these arrangements as a means of obtaining exercise.
In addition to his presentations mentioned above, Neal Wilson also led out in a discussion of Christian standards and dress, particularly zeroing in on the question of the use of the wedding ring in the North American Division. He stated that we are to do all we can to discourage its use. This is the policy in North America.
Ministers and Bible instructors are to share with candidates for baptism the teachings of the Scriptures and the Spirit of Prophecy regarding the use of jewelry and the wedding ring, and are to strongly encourage that the wedding ring be laid aside. He stated, however, that provision is made that if the candidate still conscientiously wears the wedding band in spite of all the counsel that has been given, he should not be denied baptism.
He referred to the General Conference officers' appeal that church officers, ministers and their wives, teachers, and other Seventh-day Adventist workers give strong support through personal witness to the church's policy, and ex pressed concern that in this final hour of earth's history the church must not lower its standards or muffle its witness.
Participants in the council were given the opportunity of attending a selection of eleven one-and-one-half-hour work shops held in seminary classrooms. Many expressed some frustration at not being able to attend more than two, but it was explained that some of these would be duplicated at future evangelism councils and thus they would have opportunity later to attend those that they had missed at this council.
All of these contributed to the under standing of how to accomplish, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the out ward task of evangelism, as well as the inward work of grace essential to prepare us for the accomplishment of the evangelistic mission and to make it most effective.
Orley Berg led out in the Sabbath school service on Sabbath morning. A most interesting mission emphasis was presented by Oscar Heinrich of the Southern Union, who explained some of the background of Mission Spotlight and presented human-interest stories that he became acquainted with during the production of these programs, which are currently being used in two thou sand North American Division churches. A most enlightening Sabbath school lesson was conducted by L. J. Milliken, pastor of the Willowdale church in Toronto.
C. Mervyn Maxwell of the Seminary's Church History Department reported on the history of Adventist evangelism. His presentation was illustrated by multimedia. Maxwell has subsequently been asked to rework this presentation into a format that will be suitable for use in workers' meetings, demonstrating what the regular pastor-evangelist can do. This is in accordance with the evangelism council emphasis that every pastor should become an evangelist, and is part of the new philosophy coming from the Annual Council finish-the-work document.
Following a tour of the Heritage Room and the Archeological Museum, the rest of Sabbath afternoon was devoted to a presentation of new concepts in evangelism, with Lyle Albrecht presenting "Cassette Evangelism"; Ed Brown, the "Book Loan Plan"; Larry Milliken, the "Bread Basket"; and Royce Williams, "Revelation Seminars." Neal Wilson was speaker at the evening commitment service, which was fol lowed by a beautiful communion service conducted by the pastoral staff of the Pioneer Memorial church.
The general consensus that the evangelism council was most valuable and helpful was summarized in a statement made by one of our local conference Ministerial Association secretaries, who told us, "This has been a far better council than I ever thought it would be. We must do this again soon so that more of our ministers can have the advantage of this kind of inspiration and learning. It has been tremendously helpful."
One advantage of conducting this evangelism council at the Seminary was that both Seminary faculty and students could be present and take part. No classes were held at the Seminary during the week of the council in order to give the students opportunity to attend, and their participation in the daily discussion groups was quite lively and helpful to those attending.
This North American Evangelism Council, along with the division-wide year-end workers' meetings, not only re-emphasized the need for finishing the work but gave a practical thrust to the implementation of the Annual Council challenge to do so. All present united in the prayer that this might be the beginning of a revolution rather than just another Annual Council resolution.