Hold fast what is good

When Ted Wilson delivered his inaugural sermon twelve years ago, after his election as president of the General Conference a few days earlier, I sat in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta listening to him with growing uneasiness. It was a through-and-through conservative speech in which he left no room for opinions that differed even slightly from his own. The title of his sermon was “Go Forward.” For many, however, it was the beginning of a trajectory of “going backward.” The sermon was a key moment in the polarization process that has increasingly held the church in its grip ever since.

Since then, Wilson’s sermons at the last GC in 2015 and at the annual councils of the GC executive committee consistently had the same focus: preserving the past and warning against change. The sermon at the last Autumn Council in October 2021 focused on the doctrinal dangers that, according to Wilson, threaten the Adventist church. The sermon of a few days ago was very similar. This time there was a list of 25 points—a catalogue of all the things we must hold on to and not let slip away. The sermon was based on 1 Thessalonians 5:21: “Test all things, hold fast what is good.” What followed was not a careful exegesis of this Bible passage. The text was used as a hook to hang everything on that, in Wilson’s opinion, we should hold on to. It was no surprise, by the way, that in doing so Wilson quoted more often from books by Ellen White than from the Bible.

Some church members want to jettison all traditional views. Others do not want to abolish or revise anything. Both extremes are deplorable. According to the text on which Wilson based his sermon, we must keep what is good after first thoroughly examining everything. Certainly, among the 25 points Wilson listed there are things we should preserve, because they are good. However, the tenor of the sermon is that everything that has become part of our Adventist tradition is “good.” Seventh-day Adventists are the only ones who have the full truth. They know how the Bible should be interpreted and they have a prophetess who keeps them on track in that regard. And if “testing” is needed at all, it is by employing the method laid down from on high, to which everyone in the church must adhere.

I was not in the audience when Wilson preached his sermon but read its text on the internet. I did not experience the content as a blessing. On the contrary, reading it made me depressed. Once again, the leader of the church did not try to foster reconciliation between the different segments of the church. Rather, it seems that he has no qualms about increasing the polarization in the church and promoting the “shaking” that he believes must inevitably come.

Does he then not worry about the large numbers of (younger, as well as older) Adventists who are dropping out because they want the space to “test” the theology and practice of their church, so they can examine “everything” and then keep what is “good”? It pains me greatly to see this, and it has bothered me quite a bit over the past few days. How can I keep my enthusiasm for a faith community in which I am increasingly told in great detail what to believe and how to read the Bible, in order to be a “good” Adventist? It’s a question I hear from many sides in the church. My answer is: I want to, once again, put this temporary depression behind me, realizing that many local congregations do provide the space that is denied to us from on high. I remain hopeful for changes in the future and, with the little influence I have, I will continue to work for them.

3 thoughts on “Hold fast what is good

  1. Ken Brummel

    The misuse of EGW is seen in the difference her testimonies to the Washington church, where 18 youth wanted to be baptized in winter where 12-24 inches of ice had to be cut from Millen Pond. Today’s use of EGW is resulting in youth leaving the church.

    One fundamental problem the SDA church has is EGW saw her writings as the “lesser light leading to the greater light.” I believe her words here about the Bible being the greater light. If we use her writings to interpret the Bible, the lesser light being place above, in her view, the greater light, we err.

    In addition, I observe the phenomena that Adventist use EGW as a way to vicariously experience the Holy Spirit. It seems we fear experiencing supernatural power that is either of God or the devil, but definitely not nuetral and safe.

    The problem also with using EGW today is she died in 1915. While her ministry was critical to her day, and blessed myself in reading the Great Controversy and Desire og Ages which brought myself and two siblings to Christ, she cannot lead us into “Present Truth” for today.

    I believe the Adventist church is stagnant on the Three Angels Message. It is my belief Jesus wants us to include Revelation 14:1-5 in our teaching of the Three Angels Message. This 3 part description of the 144,000 has 1) pure church=pure doctrine. This is the connection to the Three Angels message we currently teach. 2) they follow the Lamb (Jesus) wherever He goes. This implies you can be a member, in good and regular standing, of the Three Angels church and follow Jesus partially or not at all. 3) They do not use guile. Literally fish bait. Figuratively deception. Again this implies that you can be in the Three Angels’s Message and still use deception to get decisions you desire.

    Most pastors know the damage bad dictrine, only following Jesus partially, and the use of deception has on the church. Revelation 14:1-5 does not say to leave the Three Angels Message but to grow in this message into the 140,000.

    I have not found this in EGW writings. I find this goal of God for His people in the “Greater Light.” It is a journey I am committed to. I invite your readers to join this and make the church a movement again.

    K. Brummel, Site Director
    Washington NH SDA Church
    The Birthplace of the SDA Church

  2. Stefan Burton-Schnüll

    Just a small comment on the Bible text the sermon was based on. Yes, Ted Wilson mentioned 1 Thes 5:21, but only in a list of texts that contain the phrase “hold fast”. The sermon text was actually Rev. 3:11 (Hold fast what you have, lest anyone steal your crown.)

    But I felt the same unease as I watched the (archived) sermon on YouTube. And I am grateful for your conclusions which I wholeheartedly support.

  3. Phil van der Klift

    I share your concerns for the direction of the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I appreciate the tone in which you are able to write authentically and respectfully regarding what you agree and disagree about. I hope that spirit develops more broadly amongst the body of Christ that more may be thinkers and not mere reflectors of other’s thoughts (Acts 17:11).

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