[At the close of the devotional message presented by J. R. Spangler to Annual Council delegates, General Conference staff, and Review and Herald employees, Monday morning, October 16, Robert H. Pierson announced that after prayerful consideration he had decided to accept the advice of physicians to give up his work as president of the General Conference. As might be expected, the audience was shocked. Few had known that during that past year Elder Pierson had been subject to transient ischemic attacks (TIA) when under extraordinary pres sure. During the attacks numbness developed on his left side. Doctors warned that unless he was relieved of his responsibilities, the risk of a stroke would be high.
After announcing his decision to retire, Elder Pierson made a solemn appeal to church leaders and members, urging that they do all in their power to maintain the distinctiveness of the Advent Movement and resist the trend toward worldliness in the church.
Elder Pierson''s statement, setting forth his plans to leave office, appears below.
In 1975 a constitutional provision was adopted at Vienna for electing a president in case the incumbent was unable to continue, but some aspects of the current situation were somewhat different from those set forth in the constitution. Fol lowing a vote by the Annual Council delegates to provide an additional provision to the 1975 action in order to bring the policy into line with the actual situation, a special nominating committee recommended Pastor Neal Wilson as Pastor Pierson's successor in the presidency of the General Conference. This nomination was passed unanimously October 17.—EDITORS.]
There come times in our experience when we have to make decisions that we would prefer not to make decisions that cut deep into one's heart and that have far-reaching effects. Sabbath morning, October 14, before we went to Sabbath school, after much prayer and agonizing, Mrs. Pierson and I made such a decision.
Eight years of service in emerging, exploding Africa with all of its pressures and perplexities and 12-and-one-half happy, but problem- and stress-filled, years in Washington have taken their toll. Our physicians tell us we must shift our burdens to younger shoulders. We had hoped we could complete our term of service in 1980 at Dallas, but apparently the Lord has other plans for us and for the church. In harmony with medical counsel we plan to leave Washington for a few weeks' rest and then retire January 3, 1979. We are sorry not to be able to fill some appointments we had looked forward to filling, but arrangements will be made to care for these.
As soon as we understood what the future held I spoke with Pastors Franz and Emmerson. Last evening I had the vice-presidents of the General Conference and the division presidents with me, and I conveyed to them the counsel of the doctors. This morning I spoke with our General Conference officers and conveyed to them our decision. I have asked Elders Nigri, Franz, and Emmerson to work out the constitutional issues involved in the election of a new president before this Annual Council ends. For a few weeks there will be a president and a president-elect, but my brethren see no problem in this. Today PREXAD and the division presidents will meet to work out final details in this transfer of office, and all of you will be kept informed. We know the Lord's hand will be over His work and the events of the next few days as plans are laid for a great surge forward in God's A final appeal work during 1979.
It's harvest time, brethren, and it's l,000[baptisms]-a-day time.
This has not been an easy decision for Mrs. Pierson and me to make. We love our work. We love the Advent workers and members around the world. Every one of you is precious to us. I want to express my deepest appreciation to all of you—world leaders and workers in every land, and General Conference office staff alike—for all that you have done to make 12-and-a-half wonderful years for Mrs. Pierson and me here in Washington and around the world where we have traveled. You have been an inspiration and an encouragement to both of us.
This is not goodbye this morning—not hasta manana, au revoir, dosvadonia, nor sayonara. We will be with you for a few more weeks. In the meantime, let us go right ahead with our work as usual. There is yet much to be done at this Annual Council. We have no time to lose. We have a work to finish, a work of preparation to be effected in every life in preparation for the return of our Lord—in our day! Yes, brethren and sisters, it must be in our day!
My pen, my voice, as long as God gives me strength, will be dedicated to this one all-consuming passion! We so licit an interest in your prayers, and may God bless and keep every one of you.
A Final Appeal
by R.H. Pierson
This will be the last time that in my present role I shall stand before the world leaders of my church, your church, our church, and I have a few words to leave with you.
I take some of my thoughts from material that Pastor and Mrs. Ralph Neall have written describing how typically a sect evolves into a church. They say a sect is often begun by a charismatic leader with tremendous drive and commitment and that it arises as a protest against worldliness and formalism in a church. It is generally embraced by the poor. The rich would lose too much by joining it, since it is unpopular, despised, and persecuted by society in general. It has definite beliefs firmly held by zealous members. Each member makes a personal decision to join it and knows what he believes. There is little organization or property, and there are few buildings. The group has strict standards and controls on behavior. Preachers, often without education, arise by inner compulsion. There is little concern about public relations.
And then it passes on to the second generation. With growth there comes a need for organization and buildings. As a result of industry and frugality, members become prosperous. As prosperity in creases, persecution begins to wane. Children born into the movement do not have to make personal decisions to join it. They do not necessarily know what they believe. They do not need to hammer out their own positions. These have been worked out for them. Preachers arise more by selection and by apprenticeship to older workers than by direct inner compulsion.
In the third generation, organization develops and institutions are established. The need is seen for schools to pass on the faith of the fathers. Colleges are established. Members have to be exhorted to live up to the standards, while at the same time the standards of membership are being lowered. The group becomes lax about disfellowshiping nonpracticing members. Missionary zeal cools off. There is more concern over public relations. Leaders study methods of propagating their faith, sometimes employing extrinsic rewards as motivation for service by the members. Youth question why they are different from others, and intermarry with those not of their faith.
In the fourth generation there is much machinery; the number of administrators increases while the number of workers at the grass-roots level becomes proportionately less. Great church councils are held to define doctrine. More schools, universities, and seminaries are established. These go to the world for accreditation and tend to become secularized. There is a reexamination of positions and modernizing of methods. Attention is given to contemporary culture, with an interest in the arts: music, architecture, literature. The movement seeks to become "relevant" to contemporary society by becoming involved with popular causes. Services become formal. The group enjoys complete acceptance by the world. The sect has become a church!
Brethren and sisters, this must never happen to the Seventh-day Adventist Church! This will not happen to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This is not just another church—it is God's church!
But you are the men and women sit ting in this sanctuary this morning on whom God is counting to assure that it does not happen.
Already, brethren and sisters, there are subtle forces that are beginning to stir. Regrettably there are a few in the church who belittle the inspiration of the total Bible, who question the first 11 chapters of Genesis, who challenge the Spirit of Prophecy's short chronology of the Bible and who subtly and not so subtly attack the Spirit of Prophecy. There are some who point to the re formers and contemporary theologians as a source and a norm for Seventh-day Adventist doctrine. There are those who allegedly are tired of the hackneyed phrases of Adventism. There are those who wish to forget the standards of the church we love. There are those who covet and would court the favor of Christian bodies around them; those who would throw off the mantle of a peculiar people; and those who would go the way of the secular, materialistic world.
Fellow leaders, beloved brethren and sisters—don't let it happen! I appeal to you as earnestly as I know how this morning don't let it happen! I appeal to Andrews University, to the Seminary, to Loma Linda University—don't let it happen! We are Seventh-day Adventists! Let us remain Seventh-day Adventists! This is God's last church with God's last message!
You are the men and women, the leaders, whom God is counting on to keep the Seventh-day Adventist Church God's remnant church, the church God has destined to triumph!
The servant of the Lord says, "Fearful perils are before those who bear responsibilities in the Lord's work—perils the thought of which makes me tremble." —Selected Messages, book 2, p. 391. And in Ezekiel 22:30 we read, "I looked for a man among them who could build up a barricade, who could stand before me in the breach to defend the land from ruin" (N.E.B.).
I believe this morning, fellow leaders, that God is looking for men and women, intrepid leaders, men and women who love God's church and God's truth more than they love their lives, to see that this church under God goes through to the kingdom. The task ahead of us is not going to be easy. If I understand the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy aright this morning, ahead lies a time of trouble, a time of challenge such as this church and this world have never before known.
The servant of the Lord tells us, "The enemy of souls has sought to bring in the supposition that a great reformation was to take place among Seventh-day Adventists, and that this reformation would consist in giving up the doctrines which stand as the pillars of our faith, and engaging in a process of reorganization. Were this reformation to take place, what would result? The principles of truth that God in His wisdom has given to the remnant church, would be dis carded. Our religion would be changed. The fundamental principles that have sustained the work for the last fifty years would be accounted as error. A new organization would be established. Books of a new order would be written.
A system of intellectual philosophy would be introduced. The founders of this system would go into the cities, and do a wonderful work. The Sabbath, of course, would be lightly regarded, as also the God who created it. Nothing would be allowed to stand in the way of the new movement. The leaders would teach that virtue is better than vice, but God being removed, they would place their dependence on human power, which, without God, is worthless." —Ibid., book 1, pp. 204, 205.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church had its alpha years ago. You and I are the leaders who may well face the omega that will be of the same subtle, devilish origin. Its effect will be more devastating than the alpha. Brethren, I beg of you, study, pray, be aware of what is ahead, then with God's help prepare yourselves and your people to meet it!
"God calls for men who are prepared to meet emergencies, men who in a crisis will not be found standing on the wrong side." —Ellen G. White, in Review and Herald, Nov. 5, 1903.
"We are pressing on to the final conflict, and this is no time to compromise. It is no time to hide your colors. When the battle wages sore, let no one turn traitor. It is no time to lay down or conceal our weapons, and give Satan the advantage in the warfare." —Ibid., Dec. 6, 1892.
And then I call attention to a vision the Lord's servant had, in which she saw a ship heading toward an iceberg. She said, "There, towering high above the ship, was a gigantic iceberg. An authoritative voice cried out, 'Meet it!' There was not a moment's hesitation. It was a time for instant action. The engineer put on full steam, and the man at the wheel steered the ship straight into the iceberg. With a crash she struck the ice. There was a fearful shock, and the iceberg broke into many pieces, falling with a noise like thunder to the deck. The passengers were violently shaken by the force of the collision, but no lives were lost. The vessel was injured, but not beyond repair. She rebounded from the contact, trembling from stem to stern, like a living creature. Then she moved forward on her way.
"Well I knew the meaning of this representation. I had my orders. I had heard the words, like a voice from our Captain, 'Meet it!' I knew what my duty was, and that there was not a moment to lose. The time for decided action had come. I must without delay obey the command, 'Meet it!' " —Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 205, 206.
Fellow leaders, it may be that in the not too distant future you will have to meet just such a challenge. I pray God' will give you grace and courage and wisdom.
Finally, "what a wonderful thought it is that the great controversy is nearing its end! In the closing work we shall meet with perils that we know not how to deal with; but let us not forget that the three great powers of heaven are working, that a divine hand is on the wheel, and that God will bring His purposes to pass. He will gather from the world a people who will serve Him in righteousness." —Ibid., book 2, p. 391.
What a wonderful assurance we have this morning, brethren and sisters, that you and I are in God's work. This work is not dependent on any man; it is dependent on our relationship with Him. There is only one way for us to face the future, and that is at the foot of the cross. A church with its eyes upon the Man of Calvary will never walk into apostasy.
Thank you, brethren and sisters, for giving me the privilege of serving you for the past 45 years, and may God bless every one of you.
A tribute to Elder Pierson
Tuesday morning, October 17, I spent about 30 minutes with Pastor Robert H. Pierson, president of the General Conference, discussing plans for MINISTRY-S President's Page. The president's announcement of retirement in January, 1979, had come as a shock to everyone the day before. Well do I remember when the heavy mantle of responsibility for leading God's people was laid on his shoulders twelve years ago. Through the years we have been together on numerous occasions, including travels over seas.
But something was different about our meeting on this beautiful October day. The knowledge that in a few weeks this man, who had given his life to the church, would be retiring, created an atmosphere of sadness. I don't know how many times I have sat in the same office and had the encouraging experience of hearing him pray for me and my work. Rarely, if ever, have I left his office without him asking me to kneel with him as we turned our hearts toward God. As I write these words I can still feel him reaching over to put his hand on mine or slip his arm around my shoulders as he earnestly asked God to lead me in my responsibilities.
I could say many things about Pastor Pierson's leadership, but he has left one inescapable, all-pervading impression, not only on my mind but on a host of others around the world. He is a man of deep spiritual commitment. He senses perhaps as no one else that "except the Lord build a house they labor in vain to that build it" (Ps. 127:1). He firmly believes that God expects a revival and reformation to sweep through our ranks before His Son Jesus returns again. Coupled with this conviction is a strong and constant concern for evangelism on a worldwide basis.
As we sat together for those few precious moments, I tried to think of some thing encouraging to share with him. "Brother Pierson," I stated, "the Lord has greatly blessed your leadership. The advance of the work during your tenure of service has been nothing short of remarkable." I sincerely meant what I said, for since 1966 church membership has doubled, until by the end of 1978 it stands at well over 3 million. There was a pause of silence. He looked at me, not with a smile, nor with the expected pleased expression of one who has just received a great compliment, but rather with a look of perplexity. His lips quivered, his eyes filled with tears, and his voice broke as he said, "But the Lord isn't here yet, Bob, and anything short of that is not success."
I must admit that I find it quite difficult to write these words, for I do not know how to verbalize my feelings at that moment. His words shocked me. May I repeat that. His words shocked me. I realized that I was sitting in the presence of one who firmly believed and expected the Lord to return during his administration. I too believe the Lord is returning soon. But the question pierced my mind, "Am I thinking about the Lord's return in such tangible, realistic terms as the president is?" I thought of my work as editor of MINISTRY, and as one of the secretaries of the Ministerial Association. With the greater portion of my work behind me, I am even beginning to think about a place to live after retirement. Consciously or unconsciously, many things that I am doing are influenced by the thought of retirement. But here the president of the General Conference indicated he fervently hoped the coming of the Lord would have taken place during his tenure of office. He is greatly disappointed that his health does not permit him to continue in his office until his term of service is completed in 1980 or until he should see his Lord in the clouds of heaven. He wants to be part of the redeemed throng who greet their Lord on the day of His second advent.
The president's reply tells me (and the rest of us) something else. In simple faith the church's world leader believes the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. He literally takes the Lord at His word. While courteously listening to the voices of counselors he has steadfastly tried to depend upon a "Thus saith the Lord." He has sought to follow not his own nor anyone else's judgment but the Lord's will. As an example, some years ago he made a presentation at a Spring Council when the denominational wage scale was under discussion. He confessed that he hadn't slept much the night before, but had earnestly sought the Lord's counsel through study and prayer. Some of our institutions were appealing for a different wage scale than the rest of the church. When Brother Pierson stood up he appealed to our men to hold the wage scale in line regardless of the influence of the world or the going rate of remuneration in other institutions. He earnestly pleaded for wage unity in our medical, educational, and ministerial areas of church service. It took courage for him to stand up and make this appeal. The scene of that experience still lives in my memory. Tragically, the church has faced the wage-scale problem again at the recent Annual Council. There seems to be little hope of maintaining a unified and equitable plan of remuneration.
As we talked in his office that October morning, we discussed a number of other problems the church faces. I quickly jotted down several statements that are worth thinking about. He mentioned that no person could fully appreciate the pressures, burdens, and perplexities that he has faced as president unless that person would sit where he sat. Then he added, "When you come to an almost insoluble problem it is so easy to rationalize and vote a plan or policy that does not truly harmonize with what the Lord has told us to do. I am afraid that I have been guilty of this myself on some occasions, but for twelve years I have tried to follow what I believe the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy would have the church do in these difficult closing days of this earth's history."
Somehow a new appreciation for our world leader was created in my heart as I listened to him give his testimony. It doesn't take much intelligence or courage to sit back and criticize, condemn, and question some of the decisions and statements our leaders make. If we all spent the same amount of time praying for one another as we do criticizing one another, perhaps the work would be finished!
I was impressed with Brother Pierson's attitude in seeking God's counsel.
It is so easy to rely upon the experts, the philosophers, the intellectually great, rather than upon the Lord. In operating our churches, do we make decisions and take actions in the light of popular opinion and pressure, or do we seek to know the will of the Lord in directing church affairs? A daily renewal of our commitment to our heavenly Father and His directives through prayer and study is an absolute necessity in order to keep a church, district, conference, union, or world movement on track. When we begin to place more confidence in our wisdom and in the wisdom of others on our boards and committees than in the revealed will of God, we are headed for disaster. What caused Israel to suffer terribly time and time again? Or why was Solomon's early reign so fantastically successful? Because of his vast knowledge, ability, and wisdom? Absolutely not! If the Lord can find a man who has brilliant intellectual qualities plus a spirit of submission to His will, all the better! But if the Lord has to choose between a brilliant, well-trained person who is dependent on his own judgment and one who with limited abilities and training constantly depends on Him, the latter person will always be chosen. He chose Moses, but put him through a forty-year retraining program. I have met precious few well-trained individuals with abundant abilities and tremendous intellectual capacities who trust God with simple faith and take Him at His word. I thank God for a man like R. H. Pierson, who has large abilities but depends on God's revealed will.
I urge you to read thoughtfully Brother Pierson's final appeal after he announced his resignation (see page 16). In our conversation he petitioned me in an urgent manner, "Bob, I appeal to you to uphold the truths that God has given this movement, and in no way to permit any philosophies or concepts to be ex pressed through the pages of MINISTRY that will undermine our special mes sage." Then he read again the statement quoted in his resignation message from Selected Messages, volume 1, pages 204, 205. He punctuated this statement with comments indicating his concern over certain current trends in the church. This statement comes from an article first published by Ellen White in 1904. The opening sentence is, "The Lord will put new, vital force into His work as human agencies obey the command to go forth and proclaim the truth." Then follows an appeal to stand firm on the platform of eternal truth. She clearly points out that the enemy will constantly try to substitute spurious theories for the truth, but time will in no way lessen its value. Thank God for the promise that "the Lord will raise up men of keen perception, who will give these truths their proper place in the plan of God" (page 201).
As I think back over my experience, I have seen articles and books that have puzzled me. Why did the author say what he did? Some things are so cleverly written it is difficult to give reasons why they are wrong. Yet the concepts are insidious and erroneous. The best answer I have found to some of these things is the one Ellen White gave to those who asked her about Kellogg's book, The Living Temple. When asked to explain the positions taken therein, she replied, "They are unexplainable." She further stated, "We need not the mysticism that is in this book."
In the midst of this 1904 article comes the statement Brother Pierson discussed with me. It is so important that I feel it would be beneficial to all of us to quote it again. It is a statement that needs to be read repeatedly, so that we may be aware of Satan's designs to destroy this movement. "The enemy of souls has sought to bring in the supposition that a great reformation was to take place among Seventh-day Adventists, and that this reformation would consist in giving up the doctrines which stand as the pillars of our faith, and engaging in a process of reorganization. Were this reformation to take place, what would result? The principles of truth that God in His wisdom has given to the remnant church, would be discarded. Our religion would be changed. The fundamental principles that have sustained the work for the last fifty years would be ac counted as error. A new organization would be established. Books of a new order would be written. A system of intellectual philosophy would be introduced. The founders of this system would go into the cities, and do a wonderful work. The Sabbath of course, would be lightly regarded, as also the God who created it. Nothing would be allowed to stand in the way of the new movement. The leaders would teach that virtue is better than vice, but God being removed, they would place their dependence on human power, which, without God, is worthless. Their foundation would be built on the sand, and storm and tempest would sweep away the structure." —Selected Messages, vol. 1, pp. 204, 205.
After a short discussion of this statement, Pastor Pierson asked me to pray for him! What a switch! I felt I needed his prayers more than he needed mine. As I left his office, I knew that God surely had given us a leader who is not only deeply concerned for the future of the church but well aware of those distracting elements that would try to bring in compromise and confusion. I thank God that for the past twelve years we have had a president who has done everything humanly possible to hold us together as a people. He has held high standards for the church. He has sup ported evangelism not only by talk but by action. During his term of office he has personally conducted four evangelistic campaigns. His long hours, his constant attention to the Lord's work, has taken its toll on him physically. With Paul, he has every right to say with confidence, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (2 Tim. 4:7, 8).