The convening of the 1993 Annual Council in Bangalore, India, coincided with the centennial celebration of Seventh-day Adventism in that country. Meeting in India for the first time invested the council with added meaning, with implications for the world church in the end-time setting in which it exists, hopes, and functions.
The Bangalore session affirmed that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is increasingly conscious of its status as a world family. The ingredients of a close-knit family were always there, so that a member from Moscow could sit with a member from Manila, a pastor from California commune with a local elder from Papua New Guinea. That mystique whereby redemptive living and eschatological hoping can be undergirded by one Lord, one faith, and one body has always marked Adventist churches all over the world. Structure and mission no less contributed to the building of this family, so that whether it is a Sabbath school in an African bush or a majestic call to worship in a university church in the United States, or a global outreach in a forgotten village in northern India, a common cord of commitment to Adventist essentials can easily be spot ted. Giving, even though burdened with the increasing costs of local operations, has never failed the needs of the mission in less-fortunate areas.
Which other body in the whole world would feel such a responsibility financially, spiritually, structurally so that the hurt of one is felt by all, and collectively they seek a solution in their Lord? Bangalore represented one such collective seeking of the Lord's will to get on with the work He has entrusted to His church.
100 years of Adventism
Bangalore also affirmed that the church is ever conscious of its saving mission. This was evident to all the delegates as the Southern Asia Division celebrated a century of Adventism. The history of the church in India is a checkered story of progress. The first official report available gives the figures for 1899: one organized church with 23 members. By 1912,10 churches with 216 members dotted British India. By 1943, after nearly 50 years of hard work, membership had risen to 7,500. Fifty years later membership exceeded 190,000.
The centennial year in India also saw the establishment of the first conference in the northeastern state of Mizoram. Why Mizoram? That part of the country has an Adventist history of only 43 years. It does not have any great medical or educational institution. It has no star evangelist. Then how did Mizoram become a conference? The answer is stewardship. From the time the first missionaries entered that land in 1949, they were determined to teach that grace is free but costly, and that baptism with out discipleship is meaningless. So baptisms came in only after months of teaching, and only after the members accepted the demands of discipleship, in terms of both living and giving. The strongest laity-led evangelism and nurture in the Southern Asia Division took over the church and set its path to maturity. Mizoram became one field in which auditors were seldom needed, in which politics were at a minimum, and in which the study of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy became the passionate preoccupation of every Adventist home and church. As a result the church in Mizoram experienced not only steady nurture and growth but also the highest percent age of per capita giving, enabling the mission to become a conference.
The test of stewardship
The Bangalore celebrations did not fail to point out that self-sustaining stewardship is the church in India's severest test, as is evident from its annual per capita giving, including tithe, of Rs112.91 ($3.66) in 1992. The test is not unique to Southern Asia; other divisions face similar problems. Soaring membership need not necessarily mean increased income. Indeed, the membership and giving patterns between developing and developed countries portray a stark contrast. Whereas developed countries in 1992 represented only 23 per cent of world church membership, they were responsible for a little over 80 percent of total world tithe and other contributions. The 1992 per capita giving for the developing countries was around $36, whereas for the developed world it was $513.
Southern Asia Division's centennial provided an opportunity to reflect on stories such figures tell. After 100 years, why have we not yet built a self-sustaining church in India? The question is not necessarily one of in creased income, but of better stewardship in both giving and administering. In the developing countries, where most of our members live, perhaps it's time to ask some difficult questions: Does self-support mean financing an infrastructure and an organization too burdensome for the constituency and too alien to be sup ported? Should not administrative and pastoral style and function stay within the context of the widow's mite, if that mite is all the income that can be generated within a field? Are baptismal and membership records maintained well enough to reflect reality so that per capita giving may also reflect the true status of stewardship? What should define our stewardship: structure or mission, bureaucracy or nurture, elitism or servanthood?
Stewardship was a major concern of the Annual Council. The delegates expressed confidence that growth and self-reliance are possible, voting a 13-page document on stewardship, self-reliance, and sacrifice. The document called for leaders to seize "the initiative in this commitment and lead their constituencies by the example of their own lifestyles and administrative decisions into a covenant relationship with God." Members will then "respond in positive affirmation." The document also calls for vigilant administration of church funds and a speedy move by entities hitherto dependent on higher organizations to ward self-reliance.
Bangalore also was a pointer in missiology. Delegates rejoiced that the city stadium was filled with nearly 10,000 Adventists. It was a wonderful sight. Most came from distant regions, some traveling for more than a week by foot, bus, and train. They represented 190,000 Adventists in the country---a remarkable number in the centennial year. But in a population of more than 900 million, the Adventist presence of one for every 4,730 is cause for concern. The challenge can be seen in another way as well. In 1992 the church added 11,076 to its membership---one of the highest achievements ever. But during the same year, the population of the division rose by 23,078,000. Each year another Australia and New Zealand are added to the challenge of evangelism in Southern Asia.
And yet the command of Matthew 24:14 and the prediction of Revelation 14:6-12 do include the masses of the unreached everywhere. Global Mission emphasis has captured that need like nothing else in recent times. Vast areas of hitherto-unentered areas in northern India now have an Adventist presence. In the most re cent years the global mission venture has helped establish more than 65 congregations.
Bangalore is thus an affirmation of hope: in one Lord, one family, one mission, and one task. The agenda may be staggering, but the power is there. The Spirit awaits to use those who come to Him to conclude the proclamation.