One Year Closer to the Kingdom
Adventist World editor Bill Knott recently talked with General Conference president Elder Ted Wilson about the church’s historic decision in late 2010 to issue a public appeal for change.
Fifteen months ago General Conference leadership committed itself, in a very public way, to a personal experience of revival and reformation. They issued a call to the church, which we published in the January 2011 Adventist World, urging church members everywhere to look seriously into their own lives as well as our life together. You have traveled to every continent (except Antarctica) this last year, and you’ve been sampling the church’s s engagement with this idea. What have you heard?
The response has been phenomenal, and I believe it’s due to the power of the Holy Spirit, in addition to the work and prayers of many dedicated people. This illustrates what revival and reformation is about, as outlined so beautifully in 2 Chron. 7:14: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (NKJV).
This call from church leadership has struck a resonating chord in the hearts of church members because committed believers recognize that this church is more than just another denomination. It has a destiny and a real purpose – a heaven-born mission. The reason a person became a Seventh-day Adventist may have become a little bit dusty in his or her life, but when they take the time to reflect, they remember why they joined this movement, or why they chose to stay. Then comes the recognition that we need to prepare ourselves and others for Christ’s coming, and we do that through our submission to Him. We don’t work our way to heaven and engage in salvation by works. We come to the Lord and ask Him to fully control us, realizing that we are completely dependent on Christ for our salvation.
Do you think the emphasis on revival and reformation has changed the leadership culture of the church, and if so, in what ways?
Yes, I do. In many cases it seems to have created a much sharper picture of urgency on the part of many leaders. They recognize why we are in administration—not to perpetuate a complicated organization, but to proclaim a message, to prepare a people. That recognition seems to have changed a number of leaders.
Even in this building [the world headquarters]?
The impact is especially visible here. We don’t want to major in the minors. We want to focus on the important things. We want to be Christ-like in our relationship with others, within our work, realizing that our ultimate objectives are larger than job security and self-preservation. Our objectives become heavenly objectives as we see a much bigger picture than ourselves, and the Great Controversy theme becomes more vivid in our thinking.
You’ve implied that revival and reformation is not a program, and there seems to be a lot of evidence for that. I’ve followed this from the beginning and have never seen a particular methodology enacted as part of this initiative. And yet it’s everywhere around the world already. That suggests believers are appropriating revival and reformation in very personal ways.
Absolutely. I also think it has increased our awareness as administrators and leaders for the need of simple, humble prayer. Just this morning in the GC Administrative Committee we had a substantial prayer session. There‘s something about praying together—asking for God’s wisdom, and not simply offering an introductory prayer.
Most of the emphasis I’ve heard in the last year has focused on the revival part of Revival and Reformation. But there’s clearly a sequence here. What do you see reformation coming to mean? It will take a while, undoubtedly, to unfold in the life of the church. How does a Seventh-day Adventist Church that has been reformed look different than the one we see now?
I think it will appear in a more simplified manner. Life will become starker in its comparisons. Decisions will be made because of strong Biblical principles, not for expediency. Reformation will take place in the way that we deal with matters of eternal consequence. It will change the way we use our money in the church, and personally. It will change our use of time and talents. Reforming means to change something: if nothing ever changes, then we’ve just gone through a meaningless exercise.
In my own personal life, it means addressing issues such as how do I make the time for spiritual growth in spending time with the Lord in my busy program? Am I spending the necessary time to walk two miles (3.5 km) a day? Am I organizing my time so I will get adequate sleep?
As leaders, it causes us to ask how we will look at large issues that affect the entire church. With our educational system, how will we make our schools as redemptive as possible and as Seventh-day Adventist as possible? How will we organize our local churches so they aren’t simply performing a routine Sabbath exercise, but will truly feed us from the Word of God and motivate us to do practical missionary work? How will it change our view on what we eat and how we share our precious health message with our neighbors? How will godly reformation change our entertainment habits and all kinds of lifestyle choices? What will it do for our evangelistic outreach—personally, and as a worldwide church?
You believe that the momentum which began with this initiative has a long trajectory?
Revival and reformation is the foundation of everything we are building on until the Lord comes. It’s not just a declaration: “In five years we will all be reformed.” It has to be a daily experience, and it has to focus on the relationship each one of us has with Jesus.
You suggested some corporate reforms as well as personal ones, and you used the term, “simplified.” Can you elaborate?
The world is far too busy and complex, and some simple order has to emerge sometime or we’ll all be overwhelmed by the complexity of life. I think the Seventh-day Adventist message brings a simpler approach to how we order our personal lives and our common life together.
We need to live with a sense of balance that only comes as the Holy Spirit leads in our lives. We can’t do these things on our own. The “simple” aspect of life doesn’t guarantee that your life necessarily becomes less complicated, but perhaps it will become less frenetic. With the leading of the Holy Spirit, you’ll learn to put things into proper perspective and priority.
We don’t have to do everything as a last-day movement: we can’t do everything. So we have to prioritize. One of the biggest hazards of being a Seventh-day Adventist Christian in these last days is that the devil tries to distract us in every possible way from the mission objectives of the church. He wants our lives to become so complicated that we are simply running around, not focusing on priorities. The Holy Spirit helps us to get our personal and corporate priorities straight. It’s like the re-set button on a computer. The computer jams up and we get frustrated. Just re-set it or pull the battery out, and start over.
Out of that change comes a new path, a clearer, simpler structure that lets you again see your way toward an objective. For many church members who are living the daily life of faith in very challenging situations, where there is no institutional culture around them, what does it mean to talk about revival and reformation?
I think it gives them an anchor, not only in the present, but also in the future. It’s something that helps guide them toward an ultimate restoration of what it means to be a son or daughter of God. For many who don’t have a lot of material goods in this life, it’s much easier to comprehend the value of eternal life.
For those of us who seem to have been blessed by living in cultures where we have considerable material gain, our lives are actually more cluttered. The ones who have less can often see more clearly the ultimate picture of restoration. Those of us who are distracted with the comforts with which we surround ourselves aren’t quite sure whether we need to have that future immediately or want stay around here a little longer.
It’s no secret that the church in the southern hemisphere is growing more rapidly, more dynamically, than in the northern hemisphere. That’s a big generalization, but are we being taught something by the way the Lord is working in what we used to call developing nations? Are we learning from them?
I’m not sure we are learning from them as much as we should, but they are certainly teaching us something. I hope we are learning that life is more than just achieving. It is submission to the Lord and to values that far exceed anything we could gain on this earth. We’re all being taught lessons by believers in developing regions who are modeling what it means to give everything we have and everything we are to the Lord and His cause.