Monthly Archives: July 2018

The eternal gospel

Matthew 24:14 is perhaps one of the best known Bible texts for Seventh-day Adventists: ‘And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come’ (NIV). It is a texts that seems to give us a clear direction. Just persevere a little longer and remain active! Then, when people everywhere have heard the message of Christ, He will return!

Yes, it seems straightforward, and yet it raises a number of questions. I will mention just a few of them:

  1. What is the gospel (the good news) that is to be preached everywhere? Is the ‘eternal gospel’ to be identified with the messages of the three angels that fly towards us in Revelation 14? And are those of my fellow-Adventists right who maintain that ‘the gospel’ must be defined as the specific Adventist interpretation of the biblical message?
  2. The question that follows directly from the previous one is: Is the task to preach the gospel to the world the exclusive assignment of Seventh-day Adventists? Or is it a common project for all Christians? I am glad that already almost a century ago my church stated its position in this regard. In the thick tome with all the policies of the worldwide Adventist Church (Working Pollicy) it is said quite clearly:  ‘We recognize those agencies that lift up Christ before men as a part of the divine plan for evangelization of the world, and we hold in high esteem Christian men and women in other communions who are engaged in winning souls to Christ. (Policy O 75). This is the official position of the Adventist Church. Unfortunately, many Adventist church members seem not to be aware of this.
  3. How far have we progressed with preaching the gospel? The strong growth of the membership of the Adventist Church (now almost twenty million baptized members) seems to indicate that things are going quite well. But other statistics give much reason for concern. The world’s population is increasing at an alarming rate. This is also true of the number of men and women who take leave of the Christian faith. Missiologists tell us that a century ago about thirty percent of the people in the world had in some way or another been ‘reached’ with the gospel. They also tell us that, one century later, the total population of the world has dramatically increased, and so has the number of Christians. But the percentage of people that have been ‘reached’ in a meaningful way in today’s world has static at the level of about thirty percent.
  4. The mission mandate is: ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19). ‘All nations’—this phrase is not to be interpreted as referring to the just over 220 nation states that the United Nations recognize, but it refers to the many thousands of ethnic groups that are spread over the globe. God’s people consists of men and women ‘from every nation, tribe, people, and language’ (Rev. 7:9). This means that all barriers of culture and languages must be superseded. How well are we doing in this regard? Just look nearby. Dot we effectively communicate the gospel in the language of asylum seekers and refugees? And in the language of the millennials, for the matter?
  5. Will the job ever be completed? Even if the proclamation of the gospel would suddenly accelerate in a miraculous manner, we are still faced with the problem that on every single day some 300.000 children are born into this world. This amounts to some 110 million annually. How will we ever reach the point that all people on earth have heard the gospel?

It is not difficult to add a few more questions. To most questions I do not know the answers. But I try to simply hang on to the firm promise of the Lord that He will return! There is no question about that. And I am convinced that we must continue with telling others about what Christ can do for them.

And then? It is a matter of living the gospel. And trusting that God will somehow solve the problems that we struggle with. And who knows: He may have some interesting surprises for us.

Black and White

On September 22, 1943 the 66-year old Lucille Byard was brought by her husband to Washington, DC. She was suffering from liver cancer in a terminal phase. Through her pastor contact had been made with the Washington Adventist Hospital. The response had been positive: Lucille could be admitted. However, the request that Lucille would be admitted to the hospital had not indicated that she was black, and the rules of the (Adventist) hospital did not allow for admittance of black patients. When James Byard and his wife Lucille arrived at the doors of the hospital, after a long and tiring journey by train, the color of Lucille’s skin proved to be a insurmountable barrier and they had to find another hospital where Lucille would be welcome.

In his recent book about the history of racial issues in the Adventist Church[1]. Dr. Calvin B. Rock mentions this sad occurrence as one of the incidents that stirred the emotions among the steadily growing number of black Adventists in the United States. Dr. Rock (now retired) was a prominent black church leader, who served from 1985 to 2002 as a General Conference vice-president. As no one else Rock was able to acquaint us with the equally fascinating as tragic black (in a double sense) pages of Adventist History—the record of the struggle for equal treatment in and by the church and to have a fair share in the governance of the church.

I feel deeply ashamed to know that my church was much slower than most other Christian denominations in correcting the flagrant injustices Black members were subjected to, just because they were not White. Several of the earliest leaders of the church were ahead of their times regarding the issue of racial equality, but later generations of leaders tended to walk to a very different tune. Unfortunately, we discover time and again that all forms of racial inequality in the Adventist Church do not yet belong to the past.

Did we learn our lessons from this sad state of affairs in the past? In answering this question we much be careful not to fall into generalizations. However, sadly enough, once again the Adventist Church is slower than most other Christian faith communities with regard to discrimination. Today we still see discrimination in particular on the basis of gender. Even today men and women are not treated as fully equal in many parts of our church. The issue whether women, just like men, can be ordained as pastors hides the underlying refusal to fully emancipate women. As a member of the Adventist Church and as a (male) pastor this fills me with shame. The Bible texts that are usually cited fail to impress me. They were written in a very different social context. And those who refused to admit Lucille Byard and those who were against black leadership were also able to quote their Bible texts.

I have long ago concluded that such a use (or abuse) of the Bible is squarely condemned by the third of the Ten Commandments. It is a ‘taking of the name of the Lord in vain’ or: a scandalous misuse of the Word of God!  This commandment is not just about swearing but about linking the name of God to things that are utterly wrong and indefensible.

[1] Protest and Progress: Black Seventh-day Adventist Leadership and the Push for Parity(Berrien Springs, ML: Andrews University Press, 2018).