The following presentation is abridged from one given by Ted N.C. Wilson on July 15, 2006 at a Bible Conference of Adventist scholars and administrators in Izmir, Turkey.—Editors
After his conversion on the way to Damascus, Paul knew nothing except Christ crucified, risen, interceding in the heavenly sanctuary for each of us, and coming again. It animated everything he did. He could not stop pointing people to Jesus and His righteousness, His justification, His sanctifying power, and ultimately, His glorifying power.
Paul’s theme was to preach Christ, crucified, risen, and coming again. And wherever we go, we are to proclaim that same precious Advent message—the message of hope.
Bible scholars, pastors, teachers, administrators—all are nurturers of the Advent hope. There’s nothing that so unifies this church worldwide as the power of the Holy Spirit working through the consecrated Pauls of today, preaching salvation and hope in Jesus Christ. Yes, our structure, finances, policies, Sabbath school lessons, institutions, mission program—all of them help—but that which unifies us in the most powerful way is the Holy Spirit keeping the church together as we share, preach, and witness the power of the Word of God. The great truths that we hold dear as Seventh-day Adventists—these are what unify us in Jesus Christ.
Yes, we need to share these truths in careful ways, sensitive to and respecting the various cultures around the world in appropriate ways. But remember, brothers and sisters, there is only one name given among men whereby we might be saved, and that is the name of Jesus Christ.
We do well to take Paul as our example. Paul left the shores of Asia Minor from Troas and journeyed towards Greece. He ended up in Athens, about 325 kilometers west from these beautiful waters across the Aegean Sea. As we look at Acts 17:1-15, we learn that Paul preached the word of Christ in Thessalonica, but because of unrest he had to go to Berea. When he arrived in Berea, some of those troublesome Thessalonians followed him, and because of additional difficulty, the “brethren” arranged to have him go to Athens.
Driven from several locales for preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified, Paul found himself in Athens alone. Ellen White tells us in Acts of the Apostles that he was “oppressed by the feeling of solitude.”1 (p. 233).
But while waiting for Silas and Timothy to come join him in Athens, we discover in Acts 17: 16-17 that Paul had his heart stirred by the idolatry he saw. The Athenians were absorbed in idolatry. Truthfully, very little has changed in today’s culture. Wherever we turn, we see idolatry in full swing, though perhaps not in the more blatant and obvious forms in which Paul observed it. When he saw the profound errors multiplying in Athens, he couldn’t help himself: he wanted to share with them the beautiful message of the one true God—of Jesus Christ crucified, risen, interceding, and coming back again. We learn in Acts 17 that he talked to the Jews in the synagogue, that he understood the challenge they felt of living in a polytheistic culture. The leading philosophers and thinkers of that city soon heard about his presence, and also about his presentation of what they deemed strange doctrines. They thought of making fun of him, but his presence, his manner of delivery, and his logical thinking held them back.
You in this room are following Paul’s footsteps, both literally on this trip and in your professions. The intellectual capacities and skills represented in this room today are astounding. I thank God for what He has done, for giving this small group, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, so many fine, solid, academically trained scholars who give credit not only to their profession but to God. In Acts of Apostles we read of Paul, “They, (the philosophers) and all others who came in contact with him, soon saw that he had a store of knowledge even greater than their own. His intellectual power commanded the respect of the learned while his earnest, logical reasoning, and the power of his oratory, held the attention of all in the audience.”2
Paul was taken to Mars Hill, the seat of polytheism and paganism, which would today be the equivalents of pluralism and relativism. And in the quietness of that Mars Hill environment, Paul shared the message of the Advent hope. The Advent hope was shared with artists, poets, philosophers, scholars, the educated—Athens’ academic elite. As recorded in Acts 17:22, Paul pointed out the great missing truth: a firm belief in the one true, unknown God, whom Paul knew—Jesus Christ.
Mars Hill is represented today by all the false theories and the twisted truths that Satan has fabricated in opposition to the ennobling truths of the unknown God, the ruler of the Universe. Mars Hill is a metaphor, in my opinion, for the efforts of Satan to bring confusion into society in general, into every culture, and into the Seventh-day Adventist Church in particular.
The confrontation is truly unavoidable. We are all in Athens, on Mars Hill, and all of us are in the midst of a great battle, a great controversy between Christ and Satan. Nothing much has changed since the beginning of sin. The Mars Hill mentality has invaded society in general and to some degree our church itself. We have all in some sense been affected by it: in lifestyle, music, outreach approaches, views of the future, understanding of the Great Controversy theme, interpretation and acceptance of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. It has affected the purity and the simplicity of God’s church and the genuineness of personal religious experience.
As was Paul, the apostle, the theologian, the evangelist, we are called to speak for truth with clarity and simplicity. We are called to oppose the Mars Hill mentality by pointing to the Solid Rock, the Solid Anchor, Jesus Christ our Lord. You as leaders, theologians, Bible teachers, and scholars, are called to nurture the great Advent hope in this heaven-initiated Advent movement—this remnant people, this remnant church of people who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus.
That’s just what Paul did on Mars Hill in his eloquent and masterful defense of the only true God. He preached what we can fairly call the “Adventist message.” Verses 24-26 of Acts 17 record that Paul told them about the unknown God who made the world. Paul understood and endorsed the Biblical account of creation, and that he was explaining a creation of recent origin that occurred in six, literal, consecutive, 24-hour days. “The Lord of heaven and earth, who dwells in the heavenly sanctuary, didn’t need sanctuaries made or idols made,” Paul said, “to visually substitute [for] him in worship.” Paul explained that this God created all men equal, smashing elitism, and that God allows the rise and fall of people groups in the outworking of His will.
Acts 17:27 shows us Paul appealing to the great thinkers gathered on Mars Hill by telling them that this great God Whom he knew has made it completely possible to seek Him—to feel after Him, and to find Him, because He is never far from us. Perhaps Paul quoted Jesus: “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Perhaps he anticipated what Jesus would say to the Laodicean Church: “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” In verse 28, Paul underscores the crucial task, the preaching of Jesus Christ crucified, risen, interceding, and soon to return: “For in him we live and move and have our being.”
While standing in opposition to their belief systems, Paul illustrates his contextualization to their society by quoting one of their poets. That contextualization doesn’t prevent him from doing what he came to do. However: he speaks against polytheism and paganism—the pluralism of that time—and calls for repentance.
As theologians, Bible scholars, pastors, and leaders, you are called to proclaim the need for repentance and reformation. As Angel [Rodriguez] pointed out in his opening address to this conference, “With respect to the Christian world, the remnant exists in tension between a reaffirmation of it and a call to repentance and reformation.” As nurturers of the Advent hope, you are appointed to call God’s people to repentance, to revival, and to reformation.
We are continually and personally in need of these same experiences. We need a strong influence of simplicity regarding heaven-guided theology, teaching methods, and church growth practices. There can be no denying it: we have grown Laodicean. We’ve become smug in our sophistication and in our evaluation of ourselves. We’ve become fascinated with our own understanding of how we think things should happen. Whether we like the thought or not, we are Laodicea. We are the embodiment of the church identified in Revelation.3
Through God’s grace, Christ’s righteousness, and the power of the Holy Spirit, we need to humble ourselves in submission to God. I’m not only speaking to you: I’m speaking to myself as well . We need a clarity of purpose and mission, a fuller understanding of who we are as Seventh-day Adventists—the end-time Advent movement, God’s remnant people.
Listen to Ellen White’s beautiful statement: “Seventh-day Adventists have been chosen by God as a peculiar people, separate from the world. By the great cleaver of truth He has cut them out from the quarry of the world, and brought them into connection with Himself. He has made them His representatives, and has called them to be ambassadors for Him in the last work of salvation. The greatest wealth of truth ever entrusted to mortals, the most solemn and fearful warnings ever sent by God to man, have been committed to them to be given to the world.”3
We, as individuals and as a church, need to return to an experience of humble, primitive godliness, and this is only possible through submission to Christ, and by realizing that it is He who provides the power for this great Advent movement. There is to be no pluralism and loss of mission focus in God’s ranks. We will be united in theology and mission as we are personally and corporately connected to Jesus Christ. The great sin of Israel was to be so often disconnected from God, allowing the gods around them to absorb their attention. The same sin is our temptation today as Laodiceans—to allow other things to divert our attention from Christ and His mission for us as a people.
Hear Ellen White again: “In a special sense, Seventh-day Adventists have been set in the world as watchmen and light bearers. To them has been entrusted the last warning for a perishing world. On them is shining wonderful light from the word of God.”
Do you feel light shining on you at this very moment? Ellen White continued: “They have been given a work of the most solemn import—the proclamation of the first, second, and third angels’ messages. There is no other work of so great importance. They are to allow nothing else to absorb their attention.” 4
It is Christ alone Who gives meaning to this message that we are to present—the message that is entrusted into your hands.
1 Ellen G. White, Acts of the Apostles, p. 233.
2Ibid., p. 235.
3 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 7, p. 138.
4 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 9, p. 19