In the Regional Church Context and Beyond
Regarding Fall Annual Council 2018
I am thankful for recent dialogue between G.C. President Ted Wilson and several of our Regional Conference Presidents.
Instead of taking to social media with insults and condemnations, as I have witnessed by some leaders and lay people in our Adventist community, they sought clarification. This Christian approach, which is backed by Scripture, we too often forget "If thy brother offend thee go to him..." In this dialogue they heard what Ted meant and Ted heard what was on the heart of the R.C.P. and that's a good thing, whether it happens between husband and wife or between members of the same church who are not speaking. It is the first step towards unity.
But, I think many of us overreacted on an emotional level to Ted’s opening sermon on Sabbath at Annual Council 2018. Somehow we have made his comments to be anti-black worship and anti-social justice ever since his tenure as presidency began.
Champions of Biblical Standards
To be fair, he was actually dealing with things that the black church has always dealt with and tried to preserve; such as distinguishing between the sacred and the common, and reverence in things related to God. We have always been concerned about the Theology of our music, and guarded against things like jazz, Rhythm and Blues, and dancing creeping into our worship services.
We were vigilant not to allow practicing homosexuals to lead our choirs and play the instruments. Preachers, lay leaders and church officers were not allowed to remain in positions of influence who fornicated, committed adultery, or mismanaged church finances. Lifting up Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we preached against these things; including the influence of Spiritualism.
Whether in the media, music, hip hop, rhythm and blues, or jazz, it was declared that they had no business in the church. We were vigilant to preserve balance between the emotional and the intellectual, not drifting into either extremes. We taught the separation of Church and State and did not embrace a secular religio-political agenda that had no redeeming value.
We, as black Seventh-day Adventists taught that the Christian had no business in nightclubs, taverns, and even movie theaters. We taught that the body is God’s temple and encouraged our members that a meat-free diet was best. We did not poke fun at the Health Message, but rather promoted it as a witness and maintained our churches as meat-free zones. In short, we were vigilant to be guarded against worldliness creeping into our churches. These concerns are not exclusive to the black church.
Ted Wilson, in his last Annual Council sermon was addressing issues that all SDAs should be concerned about. The problem is that in many cases, we have a generation that does not remember, nor was it passed down to them that even in the black church there were boundaries, balance, and a measure of restraint. C.D. Brooks spent a lifetime of ministry preserving SDA identity and balance. E.E. Cleveland also preached that there should be a difference between Adventist Worship and typical first Day Worship styles. And consequently the black church thrived in terms of net growth, evangelism and spirituality.
The last living preacher of the Bradford/Cleveland/Brooks triple threat alliance, Charles Bradford, often throughout his ministry with thunderous tones never failed to remind us of the importance maintaining the unique Seventh-day Adventist message. Recently after a PELC preaching exercise Charles Bradford stood up and voiced this concern…
”Now brethren we’ve got to let the Trumpet give a certain sound.” We cannot lose our message.”
A Subtle Shift
But today, who are most Black SDA preachers (especially those who are in demand for special events) patterning themselves after?
In style, manner, complete with gesticulations and whooping accompanied by organ riffs, where the goal of such demonstrations seems to be to be to whip the people up into an emotional frenzy at the end of the preaching enterprise so it could be said “He Preached!
Many times this is done with little substantive content and makes little lasting impact. Somehow along the way, we have been groomed and trained to become imitators of Sunday preachers only because perhaps those of us in leadership, who have the responsibility to preserve and pass on the mantle, have not rightly appreciated our own legacy.
Let’s face it we can never be as polished as they are at what they do. Why should we be overly enamored by what someone else has when we’ve got the real McCoy? So can we have at least some balance?
At our large gatherings, such as PELC, camp meetings, symposiums, summits and conventions, can we have alongside the Sunday-like Adventist preachers, some back to the basics Adventist preaching? Can we have workshops, and plenary sessions that are geared towards reminding us of our rich heritage, and our unique mission that will inspire us to evangelize our communities by proclaiming the everlasting Gospel and the Three Angels Messages? This return to our basics need not negate the social concerns that we face but it should never exclude preaching and inspiring young preachers to preach distinctive Adventism. As one Regional Conference President said at PELC last year, “It may be time to get back in the box.”
It used to be said that the Adventist church does not have great preachers, it has a great message. But it seems that today, everybody wants to become great preachers. And the members of the pew are saying “We don’t need a great preacher, we just need a good Pastor.”
One who will visit the flock, nurture the sheep and the lambs and care for the sick and dying. The flock is saying “Preach to us not just from some of the Bible but from all of it. We need a preacher who will not just make us feel good and shout on Sabbath, but who will rather preach repentance from sin and faith in Christ.” They’re saying we need preachers who will tell us who we are and what we need to be, to prepared for Christ’s second coming. Even if they don’t say it or want it, it is what they need.
Both Black & White Need Revival & Reformation
Surprisingly, this infatuation with Sunday worship styles and preaching has not only become fashionable among the younger generation, but also with my own generation. It is not limited to the black church, but also and predominately within the Anglo sector of our Church. In fact, we may have learned from our more liberalized white brethren who brought us Willow Creek, and other popular church growth concepts from our First-day brethren, who now admit that their stuff really doesn’t work at all. So again, why would we study and emulate First day preachers and not study the rich treasure-house of preachers in our history?
Perhaps our centers of training such as Oakwood, PUC, La Sierra, WAU, Walla Walla—to name a few—need to realize the importance of preserving the rich legacy of maintaining the distinctiveness of our message. If you think there is no appetite for it, or that it’s too old-fashioned and not up to date with the times, all one has to do is find the link to the 2018 Northeastern Conference Camp Meeting with John Lomacang. It was amazing to witness how well his message was received by all, especially at the grass roots membership level. It was if they were hungering and thirsting for truth.
Up until 2011, Elder Henry Wright, another legendary preacher, vigorously promoted Adventist Identity. But I suspect that he was so severely stung by the T.D. Jakes Controversy at PELC, that he has not been as vocal on these matters as he once was. On the same night that he preached the sermon "Preach the Word" as he did at PELC in 2006, and 2009 (pretty much dealing with same issues), he was upstaged by the interview with Barry Black and Wintley Phipps with Jessie Wilson.
In that interview both men said things that were true. It’s true we should not think we are better than others and that we can learn somethings from ministers outside of Adventism. But the problem was that we valued what they said a whole lot more than what Henry Wright preached. The romance and infatuation between Sunday preaching styles then rose to a whole new level.
What began at what was then called “Evangelism Council” (which historically featured, for the professional development of seasoned Pastors, a Sunday preacher who would open the first night of the council), was sometimes expanded to include a second night. So you could hear two popular preachers from outside Adventism, and another one or two Adventist preachers who sounded just like them. Once it included a Friday night service where impressionable students who most likely were not grounded in the tenants of Adventism, found that their AY service became a PELC Sunday Preacher service.
After that interview, the popular appetite for Sunday Worship styles was unintentionally given an endorsement, and it now surpassed the even the desire to hear the best black preacher the SDA church had to offer. And I believe Henry Wright felt that. He really shouldn't have been surprised or dismayed. Even the message of powerful prophets were rejected in the Bible.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is this; Black leadership in these final days has to lead and not be led by the sheep on many issues. Sheep may feel deeply about issues, but God’s leaders must act from Biblical principles.
We must be acquainted with and value the prophetic gift God has given this church and must always act with reference to what is best for God's people and not on what will make us popular with the people. God’s leaders are not beholden to the people they serve; but rather to the God they serve.
If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit we have gone too far in certain things. We can no longer plead culture as an excuse.
Each of Us Benefit From Church Order
We cannot afford to abandon support for our world church on the basis of popular sentiment. What Regional Conference president would be against order, guidelines, and compliance?
Would he want churches in his field to go against a constituency session vote? This would have been the effect if the vote regarding the Compliance Document had not passed at Annual Council 2018. Every entity could do what is right in its own eyes because the precedent had been set against the G.C. with lower entities.
So the thing that we are protesting against is the very thing that would help us on the local Conference level and even at the local church level. Who wants to be a member of a church where the voted actions of the church are not respected? What we truly need is in these last days is spiritual discernment; because the last great attack on the church will be deception.
The Alpha of heresy was a great leadership challenge, but the Omega will present an even greater one…a massive challenge of leadership. So what we need is not emotional vitriol and impulsive reactions to perceived wrongs; but rather crystal clear discernment that we may hear the voice of God and detect the deceptions of the enemy. We cannot do this if we ourselves are drunk with wine of Babylon and entranced and enchanted by her delicacies.
Let us keep pressing on in faith. Jesus is the Captain of this ship. It will reach its destination. Not half a ship. Not a divided ship. Any ship that’s cut in two will sink.
I’ve been through many storms as a young sailor aboard the USS Dahlgren in the Great North Atlantic Ocean. On several deployments at sea, I have experienced turbulent storms, with gale force winds and 25 foot waves that battered and tossed the ship violently from side to side, from port to starboard, up and down, forward and aft. Whatever was not tied down, bolted, and secured was doomed to destruction, ruin or harm. Even sailors in their bunks had to be tied down with not seat belts but bunk belts. And sometimes men who were not grounded topside were tossed overboard during the most violent storms.
My colleagues, our ship, whether you know it or not, is entering a violent storm. It is now time to be grounded, secured and anchored. Grounded in the faith that was handed down to us through the prophets, the Word of God, and the testimony of Jesus which is the Spirit of Prophecy.
Let us not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine! I believe the biggest threat to our church is the stormy winds of polarizing, mesmerizing, tantalizing, doctrine. Whether deceptive doctrine, popular doctrine, slick doctrine, doctrine that looks good, sounds good, smells good, doctrine that’s too good to be true, cultural or secular doctrine.
What the folk need now is sound doctrine. As Paul says;
Speak thou the things which become sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). Why?
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. And shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables (2 Timothy 4:3).
Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers (Titus 1:9).
“Will your anchor hold in the storm of life when the clouds unfold their winds of strife? When the strong tide lifts, and the cables strain, will your anchor drift or firm remain.
We have an anchor that keeps the soul steadfast and sure while the billows roll; Fastened to the Rock which cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.
My prayer for all of us is that we will stay grounded in the Savior’s love and message as leaders of God’s people.
Stanley K. Dixon
Stanley Dixon is Assistant to the President for Western New York, Northeastern Conference, and Pastor of Mount Carmel SDA Church.