KNOTT: Some evangelical Protestants have been critical of the World Council of Churches because they believe there is a greater focus in the WCC on promoting justice than on winning souls to Christ. Do you think that focusing on “justice” has obscured the WCC’s witness?
HSU: Absolutely. In fact, my impression is that the WCC’s witness is all about justice. They see their mission as social action. And that’s not so much mistaken as unbalanced. Yes, the gospel is about setting prisoners free and feeding the hungry: these are also concerns of the gospel. Sometimes we Adventists have been a bit weak in saying that. But on the other side, you must have a real plan to bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Social concerns must be balanced with mission, with witness. Of the many speakers I heard at this Assembly, only one--an Evangelical--talked directly about mission. More than almost anything else, the WCC seems intent on criticizing the West, the nations of the Northern Hemisphere, and capitalism in general.
There are certainly features of Western capitalism that are difficult to reconcile with the teachings of Jesus.
We’d all agree to that, but we can legitimately ask, “What can be done to correct this situation?” Many in the WCC seem to feel that we should overthrow capitalism altogether. They would say that it’s no use to put a Band-Aid on it. But those of us who live in the real world have to ask, “What do you have to replace it with?” Speakers here argue that other systems are viable, including barter systems still used in remote island civilizations. But globalization is clearly the trend: how many countries in the world today would be willing to go back to the barter system?
Adventists historically have said that we don’t believe the world will last long enough to fix problems on a worldwide scale.
We don’t believe that we can fix problems that big, and that putting all our efforts into doing so is not our mission. We work hard to bring relief, and development, and education, and the good news to help people lead better lives. But we don’t do it by attacking economic systems and governments and leaders.
What features of this Assembly most impressed you?
Their seriousness about listening to women, youth, and the disabled particularly impressed me. In their approach, persons normally have to take their turn to speak at a microphone. But if you are a woman or a young adult or physically challenged, you can jump the queue. They also appointed individuals to specially care for disabled delegates, and that was very impressive.
Another good thing about their system is that they don’t relate to each other as though English is the only appropriate language. Headsets in at least five languages are readily available. At the Assembly, you can fully participate whether your English is proficient or not. They put a lot of effort into their language access, and into translating their printed materials as well. Adventists might do well to look at that model for meetings such as our Annual Councils, at which we have delegates from all around the world.
You’ve been involved in one of the sponsored daily Bible study groups here at the Assembly. Has that been a good experience?
Meeting around the Word is always good. But let’s just say that we approach the Word of God differently than many at this Assembly do. Many in my group don’t really study the Bible passages much. They jump almost immediately into application of the Word to something they are concerned about. So every passage leads to the same outcome: How does this relate to the poor? How does this affect Latin America?
Bible study, then, has a very political overlay?
Yes, a social and political overlay. Adventists and other evangelicals usually reserve our application until the very end of our time in the Word. We study the Word first, put it in its context by asking what it meant when it was written, and only then get to how it can be applied to the here and now. The Bible study here skips and jumps right over to the application. The theme of this Assembly, “God, in Your grace, transform the world,” is an excellent thought, but transformation starts with individuals.
Has your time here given you a chance to make contacts with other faith groups?
I’ve just come from a workshop that was conducted by the China Christian Council, which is the Chinese government’s recognized umbrella organization to coordinate all the Christian organizations that have members in China, including Seventh-day Adventists. In China, Christianity has entered into the so-called era of “postdenominationalism.” The historic tensions between various Christian denominations operating in China have led some to seek an unspecified Christianity that lies between the various denominations.
Because the churches have been competitive, the government has in essence banned competition?
There’s a long and complex history behind the situation, but the result is that denominations as we know them in the West don’t really exist in the China of today. Only two “denominations”--Protestants and Catholics--are officially recognized. Any group that is strong on denominational identity is considered trouble. Adventists are not allowed any organization beyond the local church level in China--no structures, no leadership, no transfer of funds, no seminaries. Adventists have achieved a unique status among the Protestants, however, as one of three minority groups. Our beliefs and practices diverge enough from others that we can be accepted as “different” while not yet being accepted as a “denomination.”
How has meeting with the representatives of the China Christian Council here been useful?
Meeting with representatives of this group (the CCC) allows us to relieve tensions that sometimes emerge and to establish or improve relationships between the General Conference and the CCC. The CCC is the legal authority of the church in China. That is why we meet with them as frequently as possible, especially at international gatherings such as the WCC Assembly. They sent a high-level delegation to this Assembly, and this gives us a good opportunity to learn about how we can best work within the existing laws of the land to nurture faith.