From the Editor

Business as Usual? An open letter from the editor of MINISTRY to the president of the General Conference.

J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry.


Dear Brother Wilson:

I'm writing you while in the midst of an itinerary through the Trans-Africa Division. The challenge of such a vast continent as Africa has strongly aroused my conscience, and partially motivated the concerns expressed in this open letter to you. Getting away from the office and the large centers of Adventist population helps one to see not only the advances but also the tremendous needs of other parts of the Lord's vineyard. I praise Him for the progress of the Ad vent Movement in Africa in spite of massive difficulties in many areas.

We have long known that what we fail to accomplish under favorable circumstances will have to be done under the most severe trials and hardships. This prophetic saying is becoming a reality. For instance, I just came from a camp meeting where—from far and near— several thousand were in attendance. They sat through long hours in a sun drenched pavilion to hear the Word preached. They came from areas where war is taking place and the majority of our institutional churches are being closed. Yet, these members are still faithfully meeting in homes.

In another place we were holding a ministerial institute when one of our workers came in from an outlying region with burned hands and singed hair. That very day his home had been reduced to ashes. He and his family had been placed inside to become part of the consuming fire, but miraculously they escaped. I have listened to testimonies from the lips of ministers who have been delivered from the "lions' den" of destruction. Did fear cut off their work for the Lord? Never! Indeed, these tragic events seemed to inspire them to greater commitment to Christ and His cause. Along with you, I pray that the winds of strife will be held back for the continuance of the gospel proclamation.

This brings me to the main purpose of my letter. Most of my years of denominational work are behind me. If our Lord delays His coming much longer, and life still lasts, my name will be added to the long retirement list. My life of service in the SDA church organization spans more than thirty-six years. In a few weeks in Dallas, Texas, another General Conference session will be held. Do you re member that at our last such meeting in Vienna, Austria, the hope was expressed repeatedly that the Vienna GC session would be our last, for it was time for our Lord to return?

A little more than a year ago R. H. Pierson, former GC president, told me, following his announcement of coming retirement, that one of the greatest dis appointments of his life was the fact that the church did not cross over Jordan into heavenly Canaan during his days of leadership. There are more than a few of us with gray hair—or no hair—who ask ourselves the question, Will our bones, too, bleach in the desert sun like those of the Israelites who failed to enter the Promised Land? or will we experience the joy of meeting our Lord without the graveyard detour? This is a heart-piercing question. There are those of us who do not look with anticipation for ease in retirement, or the bliss that supposedly results from burdens being placed on younger shoulders. Our future hopes are not directed to building retirement homes on hillsides, planting gardens, polishing cars, reading reports of tithe and offering increases, while holding an occasional evangelistic effort here and there.

Brother President, some of us will never sense fulfillment, never have peace of mind, never lose the burden for souls, until we march into Zion in our future immortal bodies. Like Abraham, we look for a city, not in which to retire, but in which to live eternally!

Unfortunately our portrayals of the world work through pictures and reports contain virtually nothing but rosy pictures of advance. Thus the impression is left that all is well, and victory is just around the corner. Again, I praise God for the successes we are having and I believe we should be proclaiming them. But, should unwavering optimism and head-in-the-sand positiveness blind us to our failures, our-neglect, and our out right lack of commitment?

Consider the fantastic challenge we face in reaching multiplied millions in earth's largest cities. I wish our American members could see the city of Kinshasa, Zaire, the largest city in black Africa. I wish they could see the meager church facilities sponsored by a total membership of less than 400 persons, located mainly in the poorer section of this city populated by 3 million people. Fortunately, we hope to secure an evangelist and a prominent piece of property for an evangelistic center that will give a tremendous boost to our work there.

Or come with me to Songa, where once we had a thriving medical work. Two lovely unmarried nurses are doing their best to hold things together, hoping for the soon arrival of a doctor. How I wish every graduate and student of Loma Linda University could walk through the silent, furnished doctors' homes. No, they are not palatial with full-time electricity and swimming pools. There are no supermarkets, no department stores, no television, no resort areas, no paved roads, no telephone—in fact, very little medicine. But I believe there are doctors somewhere with the kind of leadership and dedication who could make this a viable institution again—doctors who ask not, "What will I get out of mission service?" but rather, "What can I do to alleviate suffering humanity?"

Carolyn Kandt, a lovely nurse from Canada, took us through the hospital, which was fairly well equipped for this part of the world. I saw a mother sitting on the floor beside a bed, bathing her tiny baby's brow with a wet cloth to assuage a high fever. Carolyn, a two-month novice in mission service, broke down when she described her feelings over the loss of six babies during her short stay. If only they had proper medicine and medical help, many could be saved. How I longed for the same power the early disciples received from Jesus—to speak healing words to the sick and the dying in this institution! The next best thing is for some dedicated doctors to come and help, not for a few months or a year or two, but for several terms of service—or better still, for a lifetime of service.

Consider the challenge of Soweto, the huge city of blacks in South Africa. Pas tor Al Long, division Ministerial secretary, and I began two evangelistic series for our brethren there in two churches. Our time allowed us to hold only six nights of meetings; others are carrying on. But we were able to see the progress of our work in this city of well over a million people. We have a few well-cared- for churches, and a school. But in one place we were shown the walls of a large, unfinished church edifice. These walls and glassless windows have stood unfinished four years due to a lack of funds. I know the union and local field have done their best to get together enough money to complete this building, but, because of inflation and other needs, the job has been delayed and as a result the work there suffers for a lack of proper facilities.

These are only a few examples of the challenges that we face. But, Brother President, you know better than I the needs of the world field. As I saw these challenges I thought of the "Annual Council Action on Evangelism and Finishing God's Work" that we took in 1976. This action stirred up quite a bit of interest at the time; now I wonder whether we have forgotten what we acknowledged then by a large majority vote. You will remember that this action was mainly the result of a committee that you chaired as vice-president of the General Conference for North America. Your concern for the finishing of the work in North America was most evident. As a committee we tried to come to grips with our problems and suggest certain specific solutions.

We declared in this document that "it is incumbent upon us as leaders to ex amine carefully the central objective of this church, the progress we are making in finishing God's work, and the degree to which we are keeping the church on course." When we really think about it, that is quite a statement.

Then we declared, "Our danger could well be that of proliferating secondary activities." In fact, we were bold enough to vote that "the church that misuses, wrongly defines, buries, or strangulates the vast and wonderful force called evangelism puts the knife to its own jugular vein, for it fails in the only object of its existence. If we can permit the concept of the primacy and centrality of evangelism to penetrate every action made by the church, we will always keep priorities where God wants them to be. Any activity within the church that threatens or replaces evangelism is surely a tool of Satan and is illegitimate. The church's health and well-being are synchronous with that of its evangelistic fervor and success."

To make certain that no one could misunderstand what we meant by the term evangelism we voted the following definition: "The communicating of the essential elements of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the setting of the three angels' messages in such a way as to make possible a response in the hearts of the hearers to accept God's provision of salvation from sin and His provision for victory over sin." My fear is, Pastor Wilson, that these and numerous other voted concepts have been largely forgotten, and business proceeds as usual. I firmly believe that if all our members and ministers thoroughly understood the true economic, political, and spiritual condition of the world, and the challenges our church faces in bringing the "everlasting gospel" to the masses, they would give you an overwhelming mandate to take what ever drastic steps are necessary to bring God's last message of warning and love to our planet. I realize the word drastic causes fear in the hearts of some. But, Brother President, many of us believe that it will take drastic action to change our direction.

What can be done to uncomplicate the organizational structure of our church? How can we simplify administrative and departmental structures so that we can place more men and means in the front lines of direct soul winning? (Our files are bulging with programs and ideas; what we need is more help to put these ideas into action. We need more "Indians" and fewer chiefs.) What can be done to develop a large army of church members and ministers who have the love of God in their own hearts and who will take the simple and beautiful story of God's salvation to the masses?

What can be done to reduce the enormous amount of travel, worker movement, conventions, committees, paper blizzard, and other expenses so more funds can be used directly for evangelism, establishing churches, and erecting church buildings? What can be done to practice rigid economy in the building of unpretentious, yet functional churches, offices, and institutional structures so more money can be funneled into evangelizing the world?

What can be done to elevate the status of our pastors, evangelists, and Bible instructors so that these direct soul-winning forces will be considered at least as necessary and important as the workers in other branches of our church? How can we better equip them for their work?

What can be done to fix in the mind of every ordained and licensed minister, regardless of position, the conviction that the primary purpose of his ministry and life is to be an effective soul winner and to train others for the same work? What can be done to develop a large group of evangelists whose special, God-given gifts can be used to reach the masses in the world's largest cities? What can be done to utilize the energies and talents of a large group of young women who believe God has called them to the work of soul winning?

These are only a few of the questions that need desperately to be considered. I know that attention has been given to these questions on various committees. But, is it not now time to advance beyond the discussion stage and vote tangible plans and policies that will dramatically, even drastically, change the course of this movement? As our earth writhes in "Gethsemane agony" prior to its "crucifixion" at the coming of the Lord, O how important it is to have quality leadership in every conference, church, and institution—leaders who will sense the emergency we are in and unite in giving priority to the spreading of the gospel.

I solemnly urge you, Brother President, as our world leader to use your office, authority, and influence to cut through the red tape—ignoring the op position that is certain to come—and lead God's church into a gigantic evangelistic thrust that will dismay the devil and bring joy to the heart of our Lord. This may mean the turning of our 1980 General Conference session into a modern Mount Carmel experience in which our world delegates hear a decisive call to step across the line and be counted among those who are willing to uphold and foster the primacy of evangelism by making the necessary sacrifices and changes.

Inherent in this appeal is the necessity of the Holy Spirit's presence in our lives, a return to the study of the Scriptures as never before, and the realization of a fervent prayer life. No evangelistic thrust will be successful without these elements.

If heaven rejoices over the salvation of one sinner, can you imagine how heaven will sound when this church goes on an all-out offensive to wrest souls from Satan's grasp? Can you imagine what will happen to our churches, many of which are on the brink of the grave for lack of new members? Imagine what the non-Christians will say: "You have turned the world upside down with your preaching."

Your leadership is appreciated, Pastor Wilson. God bless and guide you in this all-important matter.

Yours for the rapid finishing of the work.

J.R. Spangler


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J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry.

December 1979

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