In our June issue, we published an appeal in the form of an open letter from our General Conference president, Neal Wilson. This appeal dealt with the current righteousness by faith dialogue and called for a representative consultation committee to convene in the future for the purpose of examining this topic prayerfully and preparing a statement that would represent in simple language the blessed promise and truth of righteousness by faith. Approximately 150 individuals—lay persons, pastors, evangelists, administrators, theologians, editors, and others—met October 3 and 4 in the General Conference chapel.
Prior to the session, each participant received for careful study a document entitled "The Plan of Redemption." This paper, prepared by W. Richard Lesher, combined concepts presented at Palmdale (April, 1976), Nosoca Pines (February, 1978) and the Potomac Conference branch office (August, 1978). It followed a very simple outline: (a) the great controversy, (b) justification, (c) sanctification, and (d) glorification.
The daily program was divided into plenary sessions, in which all who wished had an opportunity to express their convictions, and discussion groups moderated by six General Conference vice-presidents. An open and rather unstructured atmosphere prevailed. Each discussion group was assigned a specific question or questions. For example: What is the gospel? What place has the will in salvation? What does Christ's imputed and imparted righteousness accomplish for the believer? Obviously, brevity of time prevented in-depth work. Hence, in each group two members in addition to the chairman and secretary were appointed to refine their presentations.
As MINISTRY editors, we wish to share with our readers the following observations and concerns:
1. We feel it is significant that V. Norskov Olsen, president of Loma Linda University, gave the opening devotional. Not only is Dr. Olsen a scholar, but he also comes from Denmark, a country outside the United States, and was one not directly involved in the current discussions on the subject of righteousness by faith. His keynote devotional—as much a personal message as it was a theological statement—brought conviction to every heart and effectively aided in unifying the entire group. (His sermon, "The Christ Alone," will appear in the January, 1980, MINISTRY.)
2. We have a positive attitude concerning the overall tone of the meetings. A willingness to listen to others and a desire for unity and harmony were certainly in evidence. Perhaps one of the most outstanding features of the conference was precisely this willingness to listen, for out of it grew a greater spirit of unity based on a realization of the large number of points on which there is widespread agreement.
3. We came away from these meetings impressed with the need for more such sharing and learning experiences with one another. Although we may not all agree in every detail, these meetings gave us the opportunity to become more understanding and appreciative of others as individuals with minds of their own.
4. We were grateful for the Holy Spirit's presence in all the discussions and speeches. No one engaged in personality thrusts. We are confident that one result of these meetings will be a more loving, careful concern in the future when statements are made outlining positions on this grand theme of salvation. Perhaps it is not so much the subjects of our disagreements but the way we disagree that counts most. We believe that continued study of this inexhaustible subject will be increasingly helpful and should be encouraged. Meetings of this nature will greatly de crease the possibility of division within the church.
5. We believe that there is much to be learned, and that none of us has all knowledge. Ultimate truth does not rest with any individual or with any handful of individuals. God is not leading one here and one there, we are told; He is leading a body of people. As we listen to one another, as we share and pray with one another in our striving for unity, certainly a greater understanding of the various aspects of righteousness by faith will be inevitable.
We conclude with a few remarks of our chairman, who unburdened his heart by appealing to this group to allow carefulness, calmness, and a deep sense of spiritual responsibility to control when speaking on the theme of salvation. The Seventh-day Adventist pulpit is no place for the proclamation of pet theories or the riding of hobbyhorses, he emphasized, but added that the church has no monitoring system, no police force. Rather we must let the Holy Spirit control us to such an extent that He will guide us in our remarks and in our preaching on this subject.
No vote was taken on any document. The document under consideration at this meeting was simply a paper for study and a focal point for discussion. Undoubtedly, in the future, material in a more complete form will be published in our denominational papers for both ministry and laity. The ultimate objective of this committee is not to finalize on some creed, but rather to share with the church the results of convictions and study that have been examined carefully and agreed upon.
Above all, the chairman urged that we must not fall into the trap of the enemy, who would be delighted to have God's people endlessly attempting to define every minute detail of salvation in never-ending discussions, while the world is plummeting toward destruction. We dare not stop our evangelistic thrust, our reaching out to touch the lives of others with a message of hope and assurance.
A mythological Greek goddess is said to have satirically proposed an inventory of her fabled beauty. Her list began: two lips of an indifferent red color, two gray eyes with lids, one neck, one chin, et cetera. Just as beauty cannot be compartmentalized, so salvation is far more than the sum total of its individual parts. Physical beauty loses its appeal when divided and separated from the personality that gives it life. But far, far greater is the loss that occurs when the beautiful truth of salvation is dissected and separated from its matchless Source—the Lord Jesus. Such a loss is more than the mere loss of appeal; it is the loss of eternal life.