Adventists Reaffirm Mission Focus: Conversions to Christ
‘Roadmap to Mission’ document defines end goal of Church’s outreach
BY MARK A KELLNER, news editor, Adventist World
he goal of Seventh-day Adventist evangelistic and outreach work among adherents of world religions is to bring people to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, and not to simply enhance their current spiritual experience, world church leaders affirmed on April 6, 2009, the second and final day of the year’s Spring Meeting of world church leaders.
“God is constantly engaged in saving whomever He can lay His hands on,” noted Pastor Jan Paulsen, General Conference president, in introducing the draft document for discussion and vote by the leaders of world church regions and territories.
The draft document will be edited and presented to the Annual Council of the General Conference Executive Committee in October, 2009, where it will likely be adopted as part of the church’s Working Policy by the more than 300 delegates at that meeting.
“The spirit of the age encourages acceptance of all world religions as valid expressions of the human spirit and discourages efforts to persuade people from one religion to another,” the document’s “Rationale” section reads in part. But, Adventists “must find our roadmap for mission in the specific instructions and acts of Jesus and the apostles as recorded in Scripture.”
Another section of the document, titled “The Mission,” notes, “Although other Christians also preach the gospel, Adventists understand our special calling as proclaiming the good news of salvation and obedience to God’s commandments. This proclamation takes place during the time of God’s judgment and in the expectation of the soon return of Jesus, bringing to an end the cosmic conflict,” citing Revelation 14:6,7 and Revelation 20:9-10 in support.
“Adventist mission, therefore, involves a process of proclamation that builds up a community of believers ‘who keep the commandments of God and have the faith of Jesus’ (Revelation 14:12). The live lives of service to others and eagerly await the Second Coming of the Lord,” the document says.
The “Roadmap” document encourages Adventists to give the Bible primacy as the guide to Christian faith and practice. The scriptures of other world religions can be used to build bridges supported by common truths, but “the nurture and spiritual growth of new believers must be accomplished on the basis of the Bible and its exclusive authority.”
The document also called for “Openness and Identity” in mission, stating “we are to carry out our mission openly, not concealing our name and purpose unless they create formidable barriers. In many contexts, identifying ourselves as “Seventh-day Adventist” will be preferable to “Christian.”
The document’s writers suggested only a limited role for intermediary steps in bringing people to Christ. “In some situation, Adventist mission may include the formation of transitional groups (usually termed Special Affinity Groups) that lead people from a non-Christian religion into the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” the document notes. However, such groups must operate with a deliberate timeline “to lead the people into membership.”
Angel Rodriguez, director of the Biblical Research Institute at the GC, presents the document. [Photo: M Herzel/AR]
Moreover, “[any] ministry or group that is formed with the intention of representing the Seventh-day Adventist Church in any part of the world will endeavor to promote both the theological and organizational unity of the Church,” the document says.
And, church leaders are advised to remember outreach to all people in their planning: “in the allocation of human and financial resources, the needs of the mission to followers of other religions should be included as part of strategic mission planning,” the document advises.
Reaction from many delegates was positive. “It fills a great need in the church and we in the Trans-European Division will take it very seriously,” said Pastor Bertil Wiklander, division president.
The document “avoids the pitfalls of universalism and exclusivism,” said Ganoune Diop, director of the church’s Global Mission Study Centers, and an expert on Islam.
“I just wish we had this document years ago,” added Pastor Gerry Karst, a general vice president of the world church, suggesting the document’s clarity would have helped resolve tensions with which the church has wrestled in several world regions.