Followers of Christ are faithful to His Word. This is the real commitment we must have.
Because He Is Faithful.
By Ted N. C. Wilson
Last month in this column we looked at the foundation of our salvation—Christ our righteousness. This is one of three components of a healthy Christian life that we as a church will be focusing on during the next five years. The other two components are faithfulness and total member involvement.
You may have read my article “Called to Faithfulness: Now Is the Time,” in which we discussed how God is calling His remnant people everywhere to be faithful to Him through our connection and communion with Him each day (published July 2015; www.adventistworld.org/2015/july/called-to-faithfulness.html).
In this month’s article I would like to focus on one especially important aspect of faithfulness—being faithful to God’s Holy Word, the Bible.
Our Sacred Responsibility
One of the biggest battles we face is over the authority of the Word of God. The devil has always hated God’s Word and does everything to neutralize its effect. As Seventh-day Adventists, it is our sacred responsibility to protect, lift up, and promote the lifesaving power of the sure Word.
The world around us is falling apart. People are distraught about security and personal safety. They wonder what horrible event will next take place during normal daily activity. Millions of migrants are trying to escape the brutality and uncertainty of ruthlessness and total confusion. The unknown has become the enemy.
People don’t think the world around them is going in the right direction, and they are right. We’re living in the end of time according to Seventh-day Adventist prophetic interpretation and correct hermeneutical application of Scripture. What is needed isn’t a political, military, or social solution, but a return to a sure foundation—God’s sure Word.
Certainty of God’s Word
The apostle Peter shares tremendous encouragement about the certainty of God’s Word: “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. . . . And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:16-21).
People have always needed a sure foundation. The sure word of prophecy is something we can count on, and it’s needed today more than ever. The Bible provides the only hope for the future as it points to the gospel message of Christ, His righteousness, His salvation, His ministry in the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary, and His final redemption of His people at His second coming. It’s our enormous privilege to share this message through the power of the Holy Spirit.
People of the Book
Seventh-day Adventists have long treasured the Bible and have been known as “people of the Book.” However, in this age of relativism with no absolutes, are we still known as “people of the Book”? Of course, we don’t believe in “bibliolatry.” We don’t worship the Bible: we worship the “Word” that was made flesh—Jesus Christ, our Lord. He is the “Word,” and what’s in His book is important. What a privilege to hear the Word of God, to listen to its instruction, to understand its directives for living the victorious life through Christ’s justifying and sanctifying power.
How We Read God’s Word
The Word of God, however, is being ignored more and more. It’s becoming fashionable to misinterpret and misapply what is plainly indicated in Scripture. It’s being reinterpreted by those who participate in the higher criticism or historical-critical approach to Scripture—those who place themselves above Scripture as they interpret according to their own standards and approaches.
How we read God’s Word is important because how we read it helps us to know truth from error. The church will be deluged with apostasies and false doctrine. But the Word of God stands sure, and His church will be triumphant against the attacks of the devil.
As Seventh-day Adventists, we should carefully adhere to the Bible study methods outlined in this document. We’re to follow the historicist view of prophecy and biblical understanding. Don’t let anyone turn you from the historicist understanding and the historical-biblical interpretation of Scripture. Be faithful, and stand firm for God’s Word.
Note the following inspired instruction about accepting the Bible as it reads: “God requires more of His followers than many realize. If we would not build our hopes of heaven upon a false foundation we must accept the Bible as it reads and believe that the Lord means what He says.”*
Products of Heavenly Inspiration
As we face the last days of earth’s history, we know there will be a determined effort by Satan to destroy the effectiveness of the Bible—and the Spirit of Prophecy. We see the neutralization of God’s Word all around us. The historical-critical method applied to the Word of God reduces its effectiveness as authoritative. It’s Satan’s plan to undermine God’s plain “Thus saith the Lord.” We’ve seen determined efforts by some to attack the Spirit of Prophecy and make it “of none effect.”
The Word of God and the Spirit of Prophecy are both products of heavenly inspiration and are thus accurate accounts describing the great controversy between good and evil—between Christ and Satan. This is why the devil is determined to destroy the truth found in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. Thankfully, the devil will not succeed, but in the process many people will be deceived. God has given us a mandate from heaven to be faithful defenders of His Word because it’s been shown to be true and changes people’s lives. The dilemmas of this world tell us we are at the edge of eternity. God wants to work in and through us.
We are living in the Laodicean last-day period when Christianity is often very superficial. The devil will try everything to distract us from the Bible and the truth. Every possible means will be used: recreation, media, amusements, work, music, disagreements and internal fighting, false teachings, family discord, economic problems—anything that will take time away from God’s Word.
Responding in Faithfulness
Nevertheless, God is faithful to us. Through His power, let’s respond in faithfulness to Him. He calls us to be faithful in our personal relationship with Him, faithful to His Word, faithful in daily Bible study, faithful in the study of the Spirit of Prophecy, and faithful in our constant prayer life. In a world filled with ever-increasing violence, bombings, shootings, and tragic death all over the globe, let’s be faithful to God’s plan of restoration at His soon second coming. Jesus tells us: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).
By God’s grace, let’s champion the Word of God and lift up Christ, who is the Word. Let’s make the Bible come alive and make it the foundation of our belief. We are facing a battle, and we must know what we believe in. There are absolutes, and they are found in the Word of God. Now is the time for faithful adherence to His Word. Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Rev. 3:11). Let’s be faithful to God and His Word!
*Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif., Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 5, p. 171.
A few months ago two missionaries moved to my village. They told me that they were Christians who believed in Jesus. What is a Christian? Who is Jesus?
“I Knew of Thunder and Harvest Gods but Never Heard of Jesus”
Testimony: A newly baptized church member tells how she came to know about the Lord of the Sabbath in China.
By Sister M, via Audrey Folkenberg, development department director, Chinese Union Mission
A few months ago two missionaries moved to my village. They told me that they were Christians who believed in Jesus. What is a Christian? Who is Jesus? I had never heard these terms before.
The missionaries rented a house and set up a place for meetings. They called it a church, explaining that it is a place to worship the Lord of the universe. I knew of many gods, like the god of harvest and the god of thunder.
But the name of Jesus was new to me. The missionaries opened their Bible, sharing how the earth, the sun, the moon, and the rest of nature were created.
They also told me that Jesus is coming to this world very soon, and that He will bring us to heaven, where there is no more death, natural disaster, and sorrow.
After spending a few months with these missionaries, I came to know that they are good people. They loved and cared for our villagers.
After participating in their Bible study group for a few months, I understand the truth and decided to follow Jesus. He is the only God of the universe. We have worship in a house church every Sabbath. I guess it is common for you to attend a church on the last day of the week. However, this practice was strange to me.
I had to fight for the privilege of worshipping the Creator every Sabbath. My husband, a traditional Chinese farmer, believes in the god of the harvest. He disagreed with my religion, challenging the notion that Jesus could give him a good harvest. I did not want to argue with him, because I love him. The only thing I could do is to pray for him.
The missionaries told me that the Holy Spirit would lead my husband and me. When harvesttime came, it washard for me to worship on Sabbaths.
My husband needed me to reap his crops rather than to attend a church. But I really wanted to go to church on Sabbath! One Sabbath morning my church had a Communion service planned. This would be my first time to experience this special event. Before leaving home for church, I prepared myself and left quietly. I was worried that my husband would come to my church and bring me back to the farm.
When I left the house to get on my bike, my husband was standing there at the front door of our house. He hit and condemned me. He snatched my Bible and pushed over my bike. I cried because I could not go to church. I prayed silently that the Holy Spirit would soften my husband’s heart.
Suddenly a man called my husband to help him. His angry eyes stared at me as he went to lend a hand. I could go to church and worship after all. I was so thankful for the opportunity to worship that Sabbath. My husband is still very rooted in his traditional beliefs. I have explained to him that I am not superstitious, and that church is a good place for people to learn the truth.
I tell him that Jesus always loves him, begging him to accept the real God who protects him. He now allows me to go to church on Sabbath. During weekdays I work hard to help him with his farmwork.
I continue to pray that my husband will understand me and someday come to accept Jesus.
Leah (right) poses with friends at the language institute.“I love what I do,” says Leah Adams of Tampa, Florida, United States, about her volunteer service at the Incheon SDA Language Institute in South Korea. “The opportunity I have to plant the seeds of truth in the students and to be a living example of God’s power and faithfulness is awesome!”
Since April 2007, Leah has been serving at the language institute. Although her primary job is to teach English as a Second Language and religion classes, she and other volunteers do much more than that in order to help their students have the opportunity to develop a relationship with Christ. “We do vespers on Friday nights, and on Saturday mornings we hold clubs that help students improve their English by using Adventist Christian material,” says Leah. Leah feels truly blessed that God has led her to serve in South Korea, and she plans to stay there until April 2008.
If you would like to read stories about other Adventist volunteers around the world or learn about how you can participate in the volunteer program, go to www.adventistvolunteers.org.
WHERE IN THE WORLD IS THIS?
The students in my sixth- through eighth-grade class were studying the doctrine of salvation by faith. In the course of discussion we reviewed the beliefs of other major world religions, noting that they all had ways of saving themselves but didn’t have a Savior.
One eighth-grade boy wisely observed, “They do have a Savior. They just don’t know it yet.”
—Anita Whitney, Deltona, Florida, United States
QUOTE OF THE MONTH
“My tragedy was God’s strategy.”
—Bhaju Ram Shrestha, the first Nepali Seventh-day Adventist in Nepal, when sharing his testimony with other Adventists in 2007
Please pray for Cecilia. She was diagnosed with cancer and is in severe pain. She was given little hope for recovery. She has many things that she still wants to accomplish for the Lord, including teaching Bible and starting a church in a difficult area.
I have tried in so many ways to repent from my sins but no change in my life has occurred. It is not God, it is my weakness of faith. Please pray that the Lord helps me.
—Jantap, via e-mail
I need financial help with my education. Please pray for me.
I am 19 and have been suffering from heart disease since I was 6 months old. Please join me in my prayer to finish all my requirements so that I can have my free operation. I’ve been waiting for so long because the operation is too expensive for my family, but there is an organization that will help me. There are many requirements to process, however, so I need God’s help in getting them all taken care of.
My Internet business is struggling. The bills are piling up and loans remain unpaid. At times I am very depressed. Won’t you please pray earnestly that the Lord will remember me—with a steady permanent job, increased customer presence, and a big financial breakthrough?
I work in a large organization where, oftentimes, my colleagues’ work is slipped into mine. I am not expected to ask why I’ve gotten the work or seek training to handle it—I am expected to just figure out how to do it. Each time I have applied for a higher grade job I get a negative response, even though I’m qualified to do it. (These are only some of the problems I face.)
I have prayed that God will show me a positive way out but I need others to pray with me. I have asked Him to strengthen my faith and to show His hand in my workplace—please join me in this matter.
Please pray that I will be able to work full-time and through this job that God will use me to witness to others. I know God has many ways to answer prayers and that He will guide me so I will see His leadings.
The Joy Set Before Us I can’t thank you enough for reprinting the 100-year-old article by Ellen G. White, “The Joy Set Before Us” (see Adventist World, November 2007). Of all the articles I have read this year it is one of the most relevant for today’s Christian.
Melvin Christian Oregon, United States
Christianity’s Great Mystery I appreciated the careful extrapolation by Angel Manuel Rodríguez concerning Christ’s human nature (see “Christianity’s Great Mystery,” November 2007). As people of faith, we need to have a greater appreciation for mystery and paradoxical truth. The truth of Jesus’ divine and human nature is a mystery too deep to be explained by intellectual prowess. We should approach it with an attitude of sacred wonder.
We can spend all our energy debating one nature over the other when, in reality, the two natures are not so far from each other. God’s downward condescension meets humanity’s divine potential in the person of Jesus Christ. The epitome of the divine is to become a human and the epitome of being human is to reflect the divine.
Thanks for the emphasis on mystery. It helps to remind me of my small place in the universe!
Kris Bryant Oklahoma, United States
Window Into Colombia This is just a note to let you know how much we appreciate getting Adventist World. I read it and pass it on to my son, John. We are originally from the Bay Islands of Honduras, Central America. I was born and grew up at Oakridge, Ratan—my father was from Guanaja, and my first wife was from Utila—so I have connections to the areas mentioned in the feature “Into Colombia” on page 10 of the October 2007 issue.
My interest was caught by the mention of the men who went to Panama but died of yellow fever in Bocas del Toro. There is a book titled King of the Storm, by Jewel Parilla, which gives the total story of how the Advent message began in the Bay Islands.
Mitchell O. Tatum Texas, United States
Of Spiritual Help I’m one of the readers of Adventist World since it began in 2005. I am a member of Adopt a Minister International (AaMI), under the care of Ms. Reva Lachica Moore. Presently, I am working as a pastor in the Pato-o Seventh-day Adventist Church.
I want to extend my heartfelt thanks and gratitude to Adventist World. It encourages me to learn more and helps me to solve controversial issues regarding our beliefs. The magazine was especially helpful when I read the Bible Questions column “Images of the Holy Spirit,” written by Angel Manuel Rodríguez (p. 26, September 2007). My mind was lifted up—this magazine helps me to study more while pastoring and feeding the flock of God. More power to you!
Another Question A question came to mind after I read the July 2007 “Why Lucifer?” article by Angel Manuel Rodríguez. My question: Can God (being God) also choose or will if He so wishes, not to know the end result when He creates another being?
J. Bartel California, United States
Tell Me Again I am glad to find an article in Adventist World that speaks to parents like me. I am referring to Heather-Dawn Small’s “Mommy, Tell Me Again” of December 2006. This article has encouraged me so much. I have realized the importance of training our children about Jesus, in the way Heather used to do. Though her son is dead, the couple will surely meet him and rejoice together once again in that promised land where there will be no more tears.
We need more such articles for we are really blessed by the wonderful and inspiring message. May God bless Adventist World for the work it is doing in serving many souls worldwide.
Mukuka Mutale Mercy Katete, Lusaka, Zambia
A Wonderful Work I wish to thank you for the wonderful work you are doing with Adventist World magazine. May God bless you for this.
What will it cost me to receive enough copies of the magazine? It will be of help to me in my personal ministry evangelism.
Lawrence Ike Alozie Onitsha, Nigeria
Adventist World is distributed to church members for free. Our advice to this reader and others with similar concerns is to contact the Seventh-day Adventist Church union or division office in your region of the world. We are gratified that the magazine is filling this important need.—Editors.
I enjoy Adventist World very much. It is encouraging to see that young adults are given a voice in the church (see the October 2007 Church Works section of the magazine, for example). They volunteer abroad in building projects and learn to love the Lord through serving. That is how I started out, and now at 90 years old, I’ve been on more than 20 mission trips with Maranatha and SAGE.
Thank you for giving us such an informative periodical. God bless your efforts.
Marguerite K. Anderson Washington, United States
Correction In regard to the November 2007 page 7 Window feature: China is geographically the world’s fourth largest country.
Rest is part of God’s divine cycle of life. We were not created to work without ceasing. Our bodies do much better when we have opportunity to rest. But rest is not just for our bodies. Have you ever lain down to sleep with something troubling you? If you are unusually worried, sleep may not come; you will have no rest. In today’s lesson, we shall discover how to experience total rest for our minds, as well as for our bodies.
1. How did God illustrate the importance of rest at Creation? What did He do Himself? Read the text below and write your answer on the line. “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done” (Gen. 2:2).
At creation God revealed the importance of rest by ______________________________________
on the seventh day from all His_____________________________________________________
2. Did God intend the Sabbath rest be His alone? Read the text below and circle two words that indicate God’s purpose for His people on Sabbath. “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work, which God had created and made” (Gen. 2:3).
It was God’s intent for all His created beings to receive spiritual, mental, and physical strength each Sabbath. He sanctified the day—set it apart—by placing a special blessing on it. Just as God “was refreshed” when He rested on the Sabbath (Ex. 31:17), there is a special refreshing for each of us on Sabbath.
3. What two descriptions of the Sabbath did Moses give? Read the text below and fill in the blanks. “Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation.You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all of your dwellings” (Lev. 23:3).
a. The Sabbath is a day of ____________________________and a ______________________.
b. What is a holy convocation? ____________________________________________________.
Notice the relationship between a holy convocation and rest. Each Sabbath as we worship the Creator of the universe we seek His care and love. We honor the One who created us and find complete rest in Him.
4. Where does physical, mental, and spiritual strength originate? Who is its source? Read the verses below and fill in the blanks. “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (Isa. 30:15).
“Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” (Ps. 37:7).
Our strength comes as we _____________________and _____________________ in the Lord.
The Sabbath calls us to find rest in the One who made us. It invites us to return to our roots. Each Sabbath is an opportunity to find life’s true center in our Creator.
5. The fourth commandment commands us to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8). Why do you think God made this command? Read the text below and answer the questions. “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Ex. 20:11).
God gave the Sabbath command to_____________________________________________________
6. Why did many of God’s Old Testament people never experience His “true rest”? Read the text below and write your answer on the line. “So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Heb. 3:19).
It takes faith in Jesus as our Creator and Redeemer to truly keep the Sabbath. Just as we rest in a completed creation, we rest in a completed redemption. We also rest in anticipation of the new creation that will take place at Jesus’ second coming.
7. How does the Book of Hebrews describe God’s invitation to each one of us? Read the text below and fill in the blank. “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His” (Heb. 4:9, 10).
God invites us to ___________________________________________________in Him.
Next month’s Bible study, A Sign of True Worship,” will examine how loyalty to God is related to the Sabbath.
QUESTION: I cannot find a Bible passage that says Christ suffered the penalty for our sins. How can we support that claim?
This question, together with many others of a similar nature dealing with the work of Christ for us, suggests that the meaning of Christ’s death remains an important subject of discussion in the church, and in some cases can be divisive. A detailed answer to your question would require a careful study of the nature of sin, its consequences, and an examination of how Christdealt with the problem of sin. Here I will discuss only three main ideas to support the claim that Jesus suffered the penalty for our sin.
1. He Bore Our Sin: The phrase “to bear sin” is important in the Old Testament, particularly in passages dealing with the sanctuary services. For example, a person who cursed God “shall bear his sin” (Lev. 24:15); a person who witnesses a crime but does not come forward “will bear his guilt/iniquity” (see Lev. 5:1); a person who acts defiantly against the Lord will bear his sin (Num. 15:31). The phrase is a legal declaration that identifies the sinner as responsible for the sin they committed. In this case the sin is objectified and described as a heavy burden that will crush the individual unless something or someone delivers them from this mortal load. The phrase means to be responsible for the sin committed and liable for its results or penalty. In a good number of cases the penalty is death inflicted by a human or divine agency (e.g., Ex. 28:43; Lev. 22:9; 19:8).
There are cases in which a person bears the sin of the sinners, thus removing the load and freeing them from the penalty. The most important example of this is found in Isaiah 53, a prophecy about the experience and work of the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah. The Servant bore the sins of the people and they crushed Him (verses 4-6, 10-12). In other words, He assumed responsibility for the sin of the people and suffered its penalty. This same phrase is applied to Jesus in the New Testament. Hebrews clearly states that Christ was “offered once to bear the sins of many” (Heb. 9:28). The Old Testament background of the phrase allows us to understand it as meaning Christ assumed the full responsibility and penalty for our sins in order to free us from both.
2. He Was Made Sin: According to Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21, God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The first thing to notice is that Christ became sin for us vicariously; meaning that even though He was innocent—He knew no sin and did not deserve to die—He became sin for us. Second, in the Bible the words for sin designate not only the sin committed but also the consequence or penalty that follows the sin. After Cain killed Abel the Lord announced to him the penalty for his sin, and Cain exclaimed, “My punishment/sin is too great to bear!” (see Gen. 4:13). Thus when it is said that Christ became sin, the emphasis is not so much on the sinful acts themselves but on the guilt, the consequence, the punishment for our sins. This idea is even clearer if we translate the phrase “became sin” as “became a sin offering.” In the Old Testament the sin offering bore the sin of the Israelite and died in place of the sinner, i.e., experienced the penalty for the sin.
3.He Became a Curse: Paul also wrote: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). This passage contains several ideas that need brief comment: First, the violation of the law brings with it a specific penalty, called here “a curse.” Second, this is considered a valid claim that needed to be dealt with. Humans needed to be freed from that curse. Third, the legal demand of the law was met by Jesus, who took upon Himself the curse, the result, and penalty for our violation of the law, and thus redeemed us. Our punishment as sinners was appropriated by Christ, our substitute.
I hope this explanation is useful to you in your Christian experience.
Are there steps I can take to reduce my risk of cancer? Your question is very topical—and the answer is yes. At the end of October 2007, the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) released a very important report on this subject.* It is the most comprehensive ever published on the link between cancer and diet, physical activity (exercise), and body weight. Seven thousand studies were used as the basis for the analysis of the data. The panel that constructed the report was composed of 21 world-renowned scientists. Among the official observers of the report’s process and progress were UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Keeping your body weight at a healthy level is one of the most important things you can do to prevent cancer. There is convincing evidence that at least six different kinds of cancer are related to increased body fat. These include cancer of the large bowel (colorectal cancer) and breast cancer that occurs after menopause.
The recommendation from the WCRF is to be as lean as possible within the healthy range and to avoid gaining weight throughout adulthood. If one is overweight one should aim to reduce weight. This is a lifelong commitment and sometimes a struggle! We know that from our own personal experience.
Other important findings of the WCRF include the following:
Processed meats increase the risk of colorectal cancer.
The evidence that red meat is a cause of colorectal cancer is very strong. The WCRF recommends that people should not eat more than 500 grams, or approximately 1 pound (in cooked weight), of red meat per week.
Breastfeeding is strongly recommended. Mothers are advised to breastfeed exclusively for six months. Thereafter they are urged to continue breastfeeding as part of the feeding scheme (complementary breastfeeding). Breastfeeding helps to protect the mother against breast cancer. It is probable that breastfeeding also protects the child against obesity in later life.
Dietary supplements are not recommended for cancer prevention. We have shared studies previously that show that substances such as beta carotene, when taken as a supplement, can increase the incidence of cancer.
The evidence that alcohol causes cancer is stronger now than ever before. This emphasizes yet another already known health hazard of alcohol. It also gives perspective to the recommendation that some make that one should take a glass of wine daily to improve heart health; well, one glass of wine daily is sufficient to cause a significant increase in breast cancer in women in menopause! Exercise and weight control are able to improve heart health and protect against cancer. Why should one then take the risk of drinking alcohol when it can be addictive, is a proven carcinogen (agent in the causation of cancer), and impairs judgment and choices?
Other recommendations for cancer prevention:
Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day. Any type of activity counts. The more you do, the better.
Avoid sugary drinks and processed foods high in sugar and fat and low in fiber.
Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes.
Limit consumption of salty foods and food processed with salt.
After treatment for cancer, cancer patients should follow the guidelines for cancer prevention.
Never chew, smoke, or snuff tobacco.
These recommendations echo and reflect the counsel given by Ellen White starting with the 1863 health vision. These same principles have been confirmed by the Loma Linda University Adventist Health Studies and are now formulated as prevention guidelines throughout the world. It is important to note that cancer has many varied causes. Preventive measures delay and modify these other factors, but do not guarantee a cancer-free life this side of the kingdom.
Thailand is a nation with natural beauty, a rich culture, and a distinct religious heritage. Inhabiting “the Land of Smiles,” the people of Thailand are known for their warm hospitality and polite manner.
Thailand is the only nation in southeast Asia that was never colonized by a European power. It has been ruled by the Chakri dynasty since 1782, although in 1932 the nation became a constitutional monarchy. The year 2007 marked the sixtieth year of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s reign. Although the king does not preside over the day-to-day affairs of government, the people look to him with affection and respect.
While the majority of Thai are Buddhists, other people groups live throughout the nation. The southern part of Thailand is predominately Muslim. This region has experienced violence during the past few years as tension between various groups has erupted. The current government is negotiating with leaders of various groups in the south to bring peace to the region.
The largest ethnic minority group in Thailand is Thai-Chinese, and many Thai-Chinese play a large role in the businesses of the nation. An estimated 49 percent of the residents of Bangkok are of partial Chinese heritage.
Other groups include Hmong, Shan, Khmer, Karen, Mien, Akka, Lahu and other tribal groups that inhabit the northern reaches of the country. Missionary outreach has been most effective among these groups, while the ethnic Thai majority remain difficult to reach with the gospel, remaining loyal to their Buddhist heritage.
Adventists in Thailand The first Adventist pioneer, R. A. Caldwell, arrived in Thailand in 1906 to distribute Adventist literature. More than 10 years later other colporteurs arrived and discovered Sabbathkeeping groups in Bangkok. A Chinese businessman, Tan Thiam Tsua, settled in Bangkok and helped establish the first Adventist church in the country. The early work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church grew among Chinese living in Bangkok. The Thailand Adventist Mission was established in 1919 by missionary families, those of E. L. Longway and Forrest A. Pratt.
Thai, English, ethnic and regional dialects
Buddhist 94.6 percent, Muslim 4.6 percent, Christian 0.7 percent
ADVENTIST TO POPULATION RATIO
35 ordained, 34 licensed
CHURCHES AND COMPANIES
40 organized churches, 81 companies
The development of Adventist institutions has played a key role in the growth of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Thailand. Mission College offers four-year degrees in both Thai and English, and has added a master’s program. Several secondary and elementary schools operate in various parts of the country, with an active English language school in Bangkok. There are two hospitals: Bangkok Adventist Hospital and Mission Hospital Phuket. Mission Health Foods operates a factory that produces and distributes various health food products. Following the December 2004 tsunami, both ADRA/Thailand and Mission Hospital Phuket played key roles in the recovery efforts.
One of the biggest challenges to mission is in the Bangkok region, where only seven organized churches reach out to more than 10 million people. In 2006 several community outreach centers were opened to teach English to nearby residents. Each outreach center has a team made up of one foreign English language teacher and one Thai church planter.
Today more than 11,000 church members serve God in Thailand. The Thailand Mission, in partnership with Global Mission and other supporting ministries, has started 81 new congregations or companies throughout the nation. The new congregations, along with the outreach done by members, institutions, and churches, indicate that the future for the church in Thailand is bright with the hope of eternity.
Prepared by Rick McEdward, Adventist Mission director, Southern Asia-Pacific Division
Mission challenges around the world, the church’s organiza-tional structure, funding outreach in the 10/40 window, and attitudes toward cohabitation and same-sex partnerships—these were a few of the issues considered by some 300 church leaders from every part of the world church who gathered recently at the General Conference. In a conversation with Adventist World editor Bill Knott, General Conference president Jan Paulsen discusses some of the key decisions of the 2007 Annual Council, and reflects on the significance of this yearly event.
Bill Knott:Pastor Paulsen, what makes Annual Council an important event for the church? Jan Paulsen: This is a unique occasion in the life of our global church. It’s the time each year when church leadership comes together from around the world—from every country where we have a presence. We meet together to counsel, plan, agree on statements, and decide how to share our resources. It’s a process of consultation and of seeking consensus. There are times when we can’t find complete consensus. But the mission of the church never stops, and so we work toward decisions with a spirit of deference toward each other and with sensitivity to how our actions will impact the world field.
Most committee members are elected church leaders or administrators of church institutions. But there are always a number of church pastors as well, who are not there by virtue of elected position. As a church we are saying: “We need to hear directly from those who nurture our congregations.” We also include a significant number of lay people from each world division; we want their voice to be heard clearly.
So this isn’t just a “magisterial” event? It’s not. It’s not a show. We’re very deliberate about doing this with openness and transparency, and with the broadest possible spectrum of the church involved in decision-making.
I was struck by the fact that when a decision was almost evenly split, committee members seemed to be saying: “If we’re this divided then we’re not yet ready to make the decision.” There was agreement, among even the parties who differed, that we needed to stop, rethink, and reformulate and see if we could emerge with something better. Exactly. I thought there was a wonderful spirit. I was so pleased when one individual, who had great concerns about the wording of a proposed statement, was able to speak out and have adjustments made. He came back later to the microphone and said: “This is what I love about my church. We can be open, and supportive, and work together to find a way forward.” I thought this said something about the spirit in which we do our work.
The issues are not always easy. One item at this Annual Council touched on how we, as a church, relate to those who make lifestyle choices that run counter to our values. And for some, these issues are difficult to even talk about: cohabitation; what constitutes marriage; those who establish relationships with a same-sex partner. [See “Safeguarding Mission in Changing Social Environments” at www.adventist.org/beliefs/other_documents/safeguarding.html.]
We have to remember that the church exists in the world; we cannot step out of it. We’ll encounter many different points of view, many things we may not like. And so at this Annual Council we needed to find language that could carry the same standards back into every part of the world church, into every culture. And do it with sensitivity to the will of God and to the frailty of humanity. The process of voting this statement became a typical example of our global church, which encompasses huge cultural differences, looking at a sensitive issue and finding a way to express a shared understanding.
And that, in a way, is the church at its finest. It’s an example of moving past a strictly democratic process to one that reflects the nature of the church as a Spirit-led entity. You can win a vote but damage unity at the same moment. Yes. At Annual Council we do something that no other church does. When we make decisions about core issues—whether they are policies, position statements, or the sharing of resources—we come to agreement as a worldwide family. We pray together and we look at the authoritative documents—the Scriptures, the writings of Ellen White—and we search our own hearts. And then we affirm where we are as a global church.
A few years ago we made a decision to change the timing of Annual Council so we would always begin by celebrating the Sabbath together. This is not merely an “introduction” to Annual Council. Our first and most important item of “business” is to worship God. And then on Sunday we set aside the morning to look at the mission agenda of the church. Since 2005, we’ve focused on the “Tell the World” initiative. We spend time looking at how we’re doing: hearing reports and statistics, and considering challenges. By starting every Annual Council with Sabbath worship and with a mission focus we build a foundation for all that follows. It’s our intention that everything the Executive Committee does will be shaped and driven by the church’s spiritual mandate.
Perhaps, in times past, some have felt Annual Council has been primarily driven by financial issues. But are you saying this new agenda reflects our most basic concern—mission—and that church finances take their place merely to support this? Yes, both during Annual Council and in our premeetings with division leadership, we constantly ask: How do we make sure that our use of resources reflects our mission priority?
This year we were presented with an unusual situation. The church received a large amount of money—funds that were given very specifically for the mission work of the church. How should these resources be used? We’re now in the process of consulting with each of the world church divisions to develop a list of core mission activities. I use the word “core” because we are not thinking of “novelties”—plans we might try out for a while, but then discontinue.
We are talking instead about what, for lack of a better expression, is the “bread and butter” of the church’s mission; things we have been called to do. We must be more effective in reaching into the “10/40 window” [a geographical region that stretches from West Africa, through the Middle East, and into Asia]. We must develop the resources that will allow us to go into these regions where so few people have heard about Christ. And there are other places outside the 10/40 window where we’re also very thin on the ground. I would include in this the large cities of the world, where more than 50 percent of the world’s population lives, and where the church does not have a strong presence.
There was an expression that Elder Bob Lemon [General Conference treasurer] used in regard to these funds: “It will move the mission of the church ahead by half a generation.” I asked him to unpack that, and he said: “There are plans we’ve had on the drawing board, which we saw happening perhaps in 7 to 10 years from now. But these have become possible much sooner.” As you listened to various leaders at Annual Council, did you hear a sense of hope because of this possibility? Yes, very much so, from every part of the world field. These funds will be focused on the church’s global mission, and I expect in the next few years we’ll move forward with a number of core activities that will widen and advance the mission impact of the church around the world. These tithes have come to us as the expression of someone’s faithfulness to God, and in our use of these resources, we will demonstrate that same faithfulness to God.
Annual Council also voted—by an overwhelming majority—some recommendations that would seem to have far-reaching consequences for church structure. What was the significance of this? This marks an important change in our mindset. Historically, we’ve defined church structure in a somewhat wooden, inflexible manner. The walls have been fixed and very specific: the local church, the local conference, the union, and then the divisions and the General Conference. Wherever you are, you fit into one of these “predefined slots.”
While we haven’t done away with these slots, we’re now saying to church leadership: Examine your needs, your resources, your capacity, the mission before you, and what makes sense within your boundaries—whether they are national, language, or cultural boundaries. And then ask yourself: “How can we best do mission? What structures will best serve the church where we are?” This is a significant paradigm shift—the needs of the church will drive its structure.
But it’s important to remember that there are two structural anchor points that will remain: on one end is the local, constituency-based congregation, and on the other end is the link with the global church family—through the divisions and General Conference. Regardless of how the church defines itself locally, it must never forget that it belongs to something that is larger—something global.
It seems that these new guidelines allow greater flexibility at the constituent level to determine the use of resources. I suspect one of the driving forces for this is the desire to reserve more funds for mission. Yes, very much so. Lay people in many different countries have said: “We have to ease the burden of so much administrative structure. We’re short of pastors. Our resources are not sufficient. Our membership is small and seems not to grow. Can we find a better way?” Unions of churches are an alternative that may serve the church well in these areas. At Annual Council we affirmed that alternative and made clearer provision for unions of churches in policy.
But the new principle of flexibility goes beyond this: divisions now have the ability to make structural arrangements that meet other unique local needs. In areas where there’s rapid church growth—such as in some parts of Latin America or Africa—church leaders may want to have some local supervision in place before the territory is ready to be defined according to one of the preexisting slots. Once the area is settled and matured, and there is infrastructure in place, then one of the regular categories of structure can be used.
What the church is saying is: Consider the needs of the church—with a constant eye to mission and unity; consider its capacity in terms of resources. And let these be the defining criteria in the administrative structure that is set up.
A final question: What would happen to the church if we didn’t have an Annual Council? It’s inconceivable to me that this church could function as a global family if we did not constantly come together around the table. If we didn’t, the church would very quickly start to come apart as a worldwide community. Annual Council represents a sharing of our resources, our plans, and our policies. It’s the moment each year when we reconnect as a global church, when we recommit ourselves to a shared vision and to the mission God has entrusted to us.