A united, culturally sensitive church. What a blessing and privilege to be part of God’s mission, sharing the good news of Christ’s love and His soon return
The Great Task Before Us
Being a united, culturally sensitive church
By Ted N. C. Wilson
This article is adapted from a sermon given by Pastor Wilson on January 30, 2016, in Linthicum Heights, Maryland. Elements of oral style have been retained.—Editors.
What a blessing and privilege to be part of God’s mission, sharing the good news of Christ’s love and His soon return in these last days of earth’s history! But if we don’t go out of our way to come into contact with people, how will they know?
In Luke 15:1, 2 we read, “Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to [Jesus] to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them.’ ”
The rabbis were angry and shared their disgust. “This man associates with sinners and even eats with them.” Throughout history, whenever selfish, self-centered interests take control of the heart, various classes have developed: those who have and those who have not; those who are educated and those who didn’t have those advantages; those who are exclusive and those who have no one to speak for them; saints and sinners.
Certainly we are all sinners and need to come to the foot of the cross every day, accepting Christ’s robe of righteousness and His transforming power. We are to humble ourselves every day before the Lord. No one is immune from self-seeking and self-centered thinking.
As mission-minded Seventh-day Adventists, let’s learn through the Holy Spirit’s guidance how to use cross-cultural understanding in proclaiming the three angels’ messages of God’s love and Christ’s soon return. Let’s be more sensitive to differing cultures and settings, realizing that the Advent message is the same everywhere, but the method of sharing it can vary greatly. Let’s also be sensitive to local settings so that our behavior doesn’t stand in the way of our important work.
I remember arriving in Moscow to take up my work in the Euro-Asia Division, whistling down the division office hallway. A church official quietly cautioned me that whistling indicated that you were an uneducated person, and some people believed that whistling summoned evil spirits. For three years I had the hardest time not whistling. But I carefully complied, since that behavior could have hurt my ability to influence God’s work positively.
Another lesson I learned in avoiding a misunderstanding was to pray in the proper manner. I was praying one day with my hands behind my back. I was later instructed by the same leader that you always pray with your hands folded in front of you, otherwise you show disrespect to God. I quickly adapted, since it was not a moral issue.
It’s important to humble ourselves and do away with ethnocentric thinking, asking God to help us modify behavior that may inhibit our efforts to lift up Christ. Christocentric thinking must take the place of anything that brings friction and misunderstanding. Let our offices, homes, churches, and interactions be filled with the great themes of the Advent message, with Christ and His righteousness at the center. All our internal and external squabbles and jostling for prominence will sink away when Jesus in His fullness, with all His precious doctrines, ts lifted up.
Doctrine and Belief
In all cultures Christ’s teachings and doctrine are core to what we believe and share. Saying that all we need to do is focus on Jesus and not His doctrines is to accept a superficial manner of belief without the solid substance of Christ’s message. Doctrine and belief emanate from Christ. His fullness and rich breadth of love signifies the enormous field of truth that is Christ. Ellen White observed: “Christ is the center of all true doctrine.”1
Jesus is the rich embodiment of Christ-centered doctrine and belief. Never let anyone suggest that we need to eliminate doctrine to see Christ. Christ and His doctrines go together to produce the Advent message that we proclaim today as a unified, cross-cultural church.
In various places I see detrimental effects of the emerging church movement pushing its way even into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This movement focuses on experiential understanding, and much less on the cognitive, Bible-based beliefs that we hold dear and that are vital for our close relationship with Christ every day.
Be very aware of this subtle effort to diminish biblical, doctrinal belief thus crippling the Seventh-day Adventist message by neutralizing our distinctive message. Ask for the Holy Spirit’s leading in helping us to work cross-culturally in proclaiming the distinctive three angels’ messages and counteracting mystic and emerging church influences.
The Great Task Before Us
The great mission before us as a united, culturally sensitive church is to fully embrace the task God has entrusted to us for these last days. We must never veer away from the truth as it is in Jesus. Everywhere we look, the world seems to be disintegrating. Now is the time to rally in a culturally sensitive way to God’s unique call.
You and I are part of the last proclamation of hope for the world, the culmination of Revelation 14. We are not to hesitate in our final proclamation of this Advent message. Ellen White challenged us: “We are not to cringe and beg pardon of the world for telling them the truth: we should scorn concealment. Unfurl your colors to meet the cause of men and angels. Let it be understood that Seventh-day Adventists can make no compromise.”2
The unfortunate fact is that Seventh-day Adventists in various places are succumbing to “political correctness,” pressure, and conformity to unbiblical moral and social changes, in addition to a neutralizing of precious biblical truths. Let’s stand firm on all God’s truths and principles for personal and church life as we cross-culturally interact with people, pointing them to the One who brings everything into perspective.
The Lord’s coming is soon, and we all must follow Christ’s example, making cross-cultural connections with all who will listen. We must socialize with them for mission under the leading of the Holy Spirit. We can’t witness by proxy. We can’t give a personal testimony by remote control. We can’t socialize by using a drone. To make an impact, we must come into contact with people.
Research shows that personal contact, under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, is the greatest single factor in bringing people to Christ and our beliefs centered in Him. We need television, radio, Internet, publications, community services, health outreach, and many other ways to draw attention to truth, but it finally comes down to personal interaction and witness.
Seeking the Lost
Christ had a burning desire to see all people saved. He didn’t look with indifference at those who were sinners and outcasts. God asks us to follow His example in seeking the lost, reaching souls with cross-cultural sensitivity and love, and to be active participants in the last proclamation to this world.
As we become closer to our Savior, are we taking on His character of love for others? Are we willing to do anything necessary to seek out those who wander away from truth?
“Every soul whom Christ has rescued is called to work in His name for the saving of the lost,” wrote Ellen White. “When you turn from those who seem unpromising and unattractive, do you realize that you are neglecting the souls for whom Christ is seeking? . . . Angels pity these wandering ones. Angels weep, while human eyes are dry and hearts are closed to pity. . . . O for more of Christ’s spirit, and for less, far less, of self!”3
Our work is to follow Christ’s example in daily interfacing and proactively seeking those who need to hear of God’s grace and power that will change their lives. Whether by telephone, e-mail, letter, personal contact, public meetings, God wants us to socialize with others as Christ did, carefully and prayerfully pointing people to complete Bible truth and a knowledge of Christ’s plan for their redemption, culminating with His soon Second Coming. Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to help us socialize in the right way with the right approach, recognizing that we too are all sinners in need of Christ’s saving power.
In the Garden of Gethsemane Christ agonized for you and me. Ellen White described it: “He accepts His baptism of blood, that through Him perishing millions may gain everlasting life. He . . . left the courts of heaven, where all is purity, happiness, and glory, to save the one lost sheep, the one world that has fallen by transgression. And He will not turn from His mission.”4
Christ offers a cross-cultural mission to us today—Total Member Involvement in God’s remnant church, empowered to proclaim the last message of love and warning. Christ went to the cross, died for us, rose for us, is interceding in the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary now for us, and will soon return to take us home to heaven.
I can’t wait! Let’s prepare for His soon coming, and let’s prepare others by befriending them for mission.
Ted N. C. Wilson is president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
1 Ellen G. White, Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1913), p. 453.
2 Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), p. 179.
3 Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1900), pp. 191, 192.
4 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 693.