Dear Brother Spangler:
Your open letter to me appearing in the December MINISTRY struck a very responsive note in my heart. As you know, the burdens you expressed have been burdens that I, too, have had for years. It is true that at Vienna in 1975 we repeatedly echoed the hope that the work would be finished and we would be "home" prior to the 1980 General Conference session. In 1976, I well re member chairing the committee that eventually produced the document on evangelism and finishing God's work. Now the 1980 General Conference session is upon us and we are still here.
As you point out, our church faces a multitude of problems around the world—problems of a very serious nature. Humanly speaking, those of us who struggle with these situations, both locally and internationally, often see little hope that our resources of manpower, finances, or spiritual energy will be adequate to meet the tremendous challenges. We need to face these problems squarely, without minimizing them, and great care should be taken not to give the impression that the church never experiences reverses. On the other hand, we dare not overlook the miraculous advances nor disregard the unlimited re sources of heaven that have been promised this church in order to meet every challenge. The inadequacy is not with God but with us and our faith. There fore, we need to ask ourselves, "What can we do to allow God access to our inmost souls so that His work can be finished through us?" For that reason, I appreciate the thrust of your letter to me. We must not, cannot, continue "business as usual" and expect to go home with our Lord any time soon.
Your faith in the membership of this church is well placed. I, too, believe that members and ministers alike would approve "drastic" measures by the General Conference president, and leader ship in general, if they could be confident that such measures would in deed help to finish God's work on earth and bring about the return of our Lord. I appreciate your appeal for me to use the influence of my office to "cut through the red tape" that hinders this church from mounting a great evangelistic out reach. It would be most gratifying to me personally if as a result of my efforts I could hasten the return of my Lord.
It is true that the office of General Conference president carries with it a liberal amount of influence; the president can expedite, guide, emphasize, and to some degree establish priorities. How ever, each day provides evidence that the Seventh-day Adventist system of church government is a shared responsibility among a wide spectrum of individuals. This, I believe, is as it should be. There are no dictators at 6840 Eastern Avenue, Takoma Park, nor should there be. There is a broad base of individual creativity and responsibility from the local church to the General Conference.
So, while you have placed the challenge before me, I in turn must place it before my fellow leaders and fellow members of the body of Christ. I say this not to avoid in any measure my own involvement and responsibility. I freely admit that the position I occupy places me under a sacred mandate to provide the kind of leadership for this church that, under the Holy Spirit, will result in producing unity of faith and action. This will prevent the sad and demoralizing experience of wandering in the desert sands and coming back to Kadesh-barnea, but never entering the Promised Land. By God's grace I am determined not to disappoint Him or my brothers and sisters in the church. However, for the church to experience what the Lord designs in order for His coming to take place, the burden of evangelism and finishing His work must fall on every individual heart within the church. Pentecost was not the result merely of more activity, nor will its last-day sequel come as the result of determination by leaders or by an Annual Council action. The latter-rain experience and its attendant power for finishing God's work will come when individuals have an experience with God in which their wills become one with His. Such an experience cannot be legislated.
It is true, of course, that a climate can be provided that will encourage and nurture such an experience. You ask, Brother Spangler, "What can be done to uncomplicate the organizational structure of our church? How can we ... place more men and women in the front lines of direct soul winning?"
You are aware, I know, that careful consideration is being given to stream lining the "bureaucracy" of the church and to trimming back on unnecessary positions and administrative personnel. It appears to many that in some respects the church has become unwieldy and there is an imbalance in the distribution of its workers. Every SDA worker is a valuable resource; not one is unneeded. What is needed, however, is to deploy each worker, beginning in the General Conference office, in the most advantageous manner so that each one has a specific assignment for which account ability can be required. This is no easy task, but we will carefully experiment with some new approaches.
You ask, "What can be done to reduce the enormous amount of travel, worker movement, conventions, committees," et cetera, in order to free more money for evangelism?
Here again we are doing some brutal analysis and evaluation in an endeavor to assure that every dollar spent, every visit made, every mile traveled, every hour worked, every letter written, every bulletin sent out, every trip taken, will result in a measurable impact on the progress of God's work.
You mention the need to establish soul winning as the priority function of each ordained and licensed minister. The document on finishing God's work spoke specifically to this point: "The pastor-evangelist's first work and that for which he [shall] be held accountable is the giving of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the setting of the three angels' messages. .. . The large body of ministers in the General Conference and its divisions, the union and local fields, the institutions and other types of work, shall be expected to give priority of their time, talent, energy, and planning to evangelistic work, according to their gifts, in speaking, personal witness, and teaching."
You are absolutely right, Brother Spangler, when you say that far too much of the work of the church is merely "business as usual." We desperately need to realize that to a large degree we have failed, as did Israel of old, to allow Christ to bring His work to a speedy conclusion in our lives, in our church, and in our world. While we are sorry to disappoint our Lord in this respect, we need have no fears regarding the ultimate victory of God's purposes nor of the success of His message.
Recently we received a suggestion from a faithful member. He pointed out the cohesiveness and strength that could come from ministers and church members everywhere pausing wherever they find themselves at noon for a season of earnest prayer that God will empower His church and enable it to finish His work. We need much more prayer and study of the Scriptures, much more opening of the heart and life to the Lord Jesus. Such a concerted noontime prayer could become only a mechanical matter with little real meaning, or it could be come the means of binding the hearts of God's people everywhere with one an other and with their Lord.
I call upon you, my fellow church members and leaders around the circle of the earth, to join me in renewed surrender to Christ.
In the words of the 1976 document on finishing the work, "With deep heart-sorrow we acknowledge the delay of our Lord's return. Long ere this God's people should have been in the kingdom. Our insubordination, our spiritual apathy, our indifference to the urgency of soul winning in our personal lives as leaders and members, our failure to make first things first, delay our Lord's return. Today's Adventist generation can with God's blessing be the generation that will arise and finish God's work and put an end to the tragedy of our Lord's delay."
Neal C. Wilson