General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
1973 and 1974 Annual Council Appeals
GreatControversy.org, watching present developments in God’s remnant church, rejoices at the new interest increasingly manifest among God’s people for revival and reformation. Hearts, it seems, are being moistened by a heavenly dew. A new recognition is touching believers across the globe with a sense of the intensification of the great controversy war. Yet there is danger. There is a reflexive approach we have, redoubling our evangelistic efforts, merely doing more vigorously that which we have already been doing, and which has filled-in most of another generation with activity. The hour demands a more decided grasp of exactly what it means to live the Third Angel’s Message. We linger in this world not because we missed evangelizing someone on the sidewalk, but because our lives have not been truly given over to the power of God.
Three decades have passed since the stirring appeals that follow were prepared, voted, and proclaimed by the General Conference Annual Councils of 1973 and 1974. Then, Seventh-day Adventists around the world heard a clarion call. Many were moved; others, alas, were not. Still we are here planetside. However, many things have changed in the world and in the church these past 30 years. It is time to hear the trumpet again. May God’s Holy Spirit move you as He has moved us by the messages that follow. It may not be too late to answer, and to walk out of this world alive.
An Earnest Appeal From the Annual Council
To the members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church throughout the world, the delegates assembled in the World Departmental Advisory Council and the Annual Council of the General Conference Committee, in Washington, D.C., address this appeal:
We believe that the return of Jesus has been long delayed, that the reasons for the delay are not wrapped in mysteries, and that the primary consideration before the Seventh-day Adventist Church is to reorder its priorities individually and corporately so that our Lord’s return may be hastened.
We are not the first leaders in Adventist history to feel the urgency of preparing the church for the fullness of the “latter rain” experience, the “loud cry of the third angel’s message,” and the triumphal return of the awaited Lord. Often God’s special messenger to the remnant people made this appeal. Especially specific were her words written in 1892:
“The Loud cry of the third angel has already begun in the revelation of the righteousness of Christ, the sin-pardoning Redeemer. This is the beginning of the light of the angel whose glory shall fill the whole earth” (Christ Our Righteousness, p. 56). This statement is an inspired declaration that the fulfilling of Revelation 18:1-4, in which “another angel” joins the three angels of Revelation 14:6-12 in lightening the whole earth with their glory, had begun. In the four years following the historic Minneapolis General Conference, the fresh, compelling emphasis on “righteousness by faith” had aroused the Adventist Church in such a way that Ellen White could say that the “loud cry” had begun!
One question therefore, has overshadowed all other subjects at this 1973 Annual Council: What has happened to the message and experience that by 1892 had brought the beginning of earth’s final message of warning and appeal?
Although in our earnest search for answers we have no disposition to blame those to whom the message first came, nor those who have led in the work from then until now, we have been determined to discover any pitfalls in our past history that may be avoided today and to profit by such lessons. But more than all else we are persuaded that it is the present experience that is of primary concern—the way from past inadequacy to rapid triumph. It has been “latter rain” time for many years!
We are not unaware of the fact that all through our ranks many of our members enjoy a rich, victorious experience. They have received the early rain experience and are rejoicing in the Lord. But this is no cause for complacency or exultation. As a body the church still is in the Laodicean condition as set forth by the True Witness in Revelation 3:14-19. Therefore, in attempting to find the specific present causes for failure and delay, the council has noted three main factors:
Response to the Laodicean Message
Because the latter rain experience has not yet come, delegates at this Annual Council have been driven to the conclusion that the message of Christ to the Laodiceans has not been clearly understood or adequately heeded. The climax of the sequence of events predicted in the following quotation has not been reached, indicating that there is yet need for a people to fulfill the requirements of the True Witness: “Those who come up to every point, and stand every test, and overcome, be the price what it may, have heeded the council of the True Witness, and they will receive the latter rain, and thus be fitted for translation” (Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 187).
The message to Laodicea involves a personal relationship to Jesus Christ that will produce a quality people, a conquering people, a people who, in Christ’s own words, will conquer “as I Myself conquered” (Revelation 3:21 RSV). This message will produce a people whom God can set forth without embarrassment as exhibits of those who “keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12 RSV), a people who have learned through experience that all goodness is a result of being sustained by divine power. Such people can be entrusted with special power because they will use it the way Jesus used power; indeed, in all aspects of life they will reflect the character of Jesus.
Becoming like Jesus in word and deed is the goal of the process called “righteousness by faith”: “The righteousness of Christ is not a cloak to cover unconfessed and unforsaken sin; it is a principle of life that transforms the character and controls the conduct. Holiness is wholeness for God; it is the entire surrender of heart and life to the indwelling principles of heaven” (The Desire of Ages, pp. 555, 556).
As delegates to this Annual Council we believe that this is the heart of the church’s need—understanding and experiencing all that is meant by the phrase, “righteousness by faith.” Such righteousness is God’s will lived out by continual faith in His power. God is waiting for a generation of Adventists who will demonstrate that His way of life can truly be lived on earth, that Jesus did not set an example beyond the reach of His followers, that His grace “is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish” (Jude 24 RSV).
Each member of the Laodicean church needs more than a theoretical knowledge or even a proof-text knowledge of the Word; he needs a genuine and complete surrender of the life and will to the divine authority of the Bible and of the Spirit of Prophecy—a surrender that may well call for revolutionary changes in personal life-styles and in denominational policies and practices. Every member must recognize that he has a part in either hastening or delaying the coming of Christ. Says God’s servant: “When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 69).
Disobedient to Divine Directives
As church leaders at this Annual Council we have faced honestly the fact that there are inconsistencies between the church’s preaching and its practices, and that to allow these inconsistencies to continue will automatically delay the completion of the church’s mission and the coming of Christ.
God has in love sent to the Seventh-day Adventist Church inspired councils that illuminate and apply the words of Scripture. These counsels cover almost every conceivable facet of Christian experience and witness. As Seventh-day Adventists we cannot plead ignorance of God’s will concerning His expectations, either for the individual or for the church. If we ignore or reject God’s counsels, this may well be defined as an act of insubordination, which will affect our relation to the coming of the Lord. In the words of God’s servant: “We may have to remain here in this world because of insubordination many more years, as did the children of Israel” (Evangelism, p. 696).
At this Annual Council small study groups of church leaders have earnestly examined areas of possible failure to follow divine counsel. They have pointed up the need for greater care in Sabbath observance, in stewardship of God’s gifts, in guarding the avenues of the soul, and in practicing the broad and specific principles of healthful living. On the latter question they have taken seriously the inspired statement: “This is a work that will have to be done before His [God’s] people can stand before Him a perfected people” (Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 154).
These study groups also have pointed to evidences of sagging morality, including a more casual attitude toward divorce and remarriage. Concern has been expressed over the increasing tendency to imitate the world in dress and ornamentation.
These study groups have examined the whole spectrum of Seventh-day Adventist institutional work and have pointed to evidences that some institutions in various respects are losing their distinctive character as instrumentalities for the furtherance of God’s work on earth. (See Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 351.) While earnest efforts have been made to reform, it is recognized that as institutions grow larger, the difficulty of reforming is greater.
It is recognized that in an age of growing social consciousness and change, Adventist institutions may become involved in worthy endeavors in which the world also participates, while neglecting that work which only the church of the remnant can do. (See Review and Herald, November 26, 1970.)
One of the greatest threats to our institutions of higher learning is seen in the counterfeit philosophies and theologies that may be unconsciously absorbed in worldly institutions by our future teachers and brought back as the “wine” of Babylon to Adventist schools (Revelation 14:8-10; 18:1-4).
It is recognized that a constant threat to spirituality grows out of increasing creature comforts, rising standards of living, and a desire for remuneration equal to that offered by the world. Wrote God’s servant: “The cause of present truth was founded in self-denial and self-sacrifice.... We need to take heed lest we outgrow the simple, self-sacrificing spirit that marked our work in its early years” (Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 197).
As the Annual Council has reviewed these and other aspects of the lives of God’s people and the institutions of the church, it has raised the question as to whether much of this represents insubordination to the authority and will of God so clearly expressed through His Word and the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy. Without attempting to pinpoint areas of insubordination, the council pleads with God’s people everywhere to respond to the appeal for revival and reformation—to make whatever changes may be necessary to enable the church to represent Christ adequately and fulfill its unique mission.
Danger of Neglecting Church’s Special Work
As delegates to this Annual Council we are much aware of one factor that delays the coming of Christ: the unfinished task of carrying the three angel’s messages to the entire world (Revelation 14 and 18). We believe that Mrs. White made clear that Christ cannot come until the entire world has had a fair opportunity to hear God’s saving message. For example, she wrote: “Had the purpose of God been carried out by His people in giving to the world the message of mercy, Christ would, ere this, have come” (Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 450).
God was willing to bring His work to a swift triumph following 1844, in 1888, and again in 1901 (among other times). Why then the delay? What can be done now?
In response to this question, the delegates at this 1973 Annual Council extend the following appeal to all workers and members throughout the world. The appeal is threefold and yet it is one:
We believe that all heaven is ready to do great exploits on behalf of the church that bears God’s last call of mercy. We believe that God has wonderful surprises in store for every church member who commits himself completely to heaven’s plan for a perfected people—a people that will reflect the image of Jesus fully.
That a genuine revival will come is clear from the following statement: “Before the final visitation of God’s judgments upon the earth there will be among the people of the Lord such a revival of primitive godliness as has not been witnessed since apostolic times. The Spirit and power of God will be poured out upon His children” (The Great Controversy, p. 464). That Satan will endeavor to prevent this revival is also clear. “The enemy of souls desires to hinder this work; and before the time for such a movement shall come, he will endeavor to prevent it by introducing a counterfeit. In those churches which he can bring under his deceptive power he will make it appear that God’s special blessing is poured out; there will be manifest what is thought to be great religious interest” (Ibid.). If the fast-spreading charismatic movement in the world today is the false revival forecast by God’s Spirit, clearly the time must be near for God to pour out the latter rain upon His remnant people.
Therefore, we appeal to our church members everywhere to join hands with conference workers and church officers in a great revival and reformation that will enable God to reveal His power and glory to a needy, desperate world. With all the solemnity that we can command we appeal to every member to study God’s Word earnestly, to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and to pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit for a finished task (see Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 506-512).
Time is short. “Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 24:44; see also Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 406; Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 67). © Review and Herald, December 6, 1973.
World Leaders in Annual Council Speak to the Church
At the 1973 Annual Council the Holy Spirit overshadowed the assembly, refreshing the hearts of the delegates and producing a deep longing for God. A spirit of revival was felt, and the need for reformation was seen. As a result of this solemn experience, the delegates issued “An Earnest Appeal” to the members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church throughout the world. The appeal acknowledged that the church is in the Laodicean condition (see Revelation 3:14-22), that the character of Christ has not been “perfectly reproduced in His people” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 69), “that the return of Jesus has been long delayed.... and that the primary consideration before the Seventh-day Adventist Church is to reorder its priorities individually and corporately so that our Lord’s return may be hastened.”
The response to this earnest appeal has been impressive in many parts of the world. Ministers have used the appeal as the basis for sermons; and in some areas workers’ meetings have been devoted to a study of the issues raised in this appeal. As a result, members everywhere have joined church leaders in the conviction that the Advent movement’s first priority must be spiritual and theological, not organizational. Even if we construct an ideal global enterprise, utilizing the finest of modern business principles, we may fail in our mission if we do not understand clearly how the church is to reach the world with its distinctive message. The church’s mission depends on correct theology.
Clear, simple truth will call forth a distinctive Christian experience and life-style. When people understand what God expects them to do they are more apt to cooperate and fulfill His desires.
As delegates to this Annual Council, we believe that the spirit of individual and corporate repentance that resulted in the call by the 1973 Annual Council for revival and reformation must continue to be felt around the world; also that the condition of the church described in the 1973 appeal is still accurate, and that the need for revival, repentance, and reformation remains.
But if the church is to advance in spirituality to fulfill its divine mission, Christ and His righteousness must be held up continually before our people, and the entire membership must understand clearly that God is seeking to prepare a people who “keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12). Such people will have accepted the message to the Laodiceans from the “faithful and true Witness.” “Those who come up to every point, and stand every test, and overcome, be the price what it may, have heeded the council of the True Witness, and they will receive the latter rain, and thus be fitted for translation” (Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 187).
Such people will have discovered joy and peace in knowing through experience that the Christian’s good works are a result of being sustained by divine power, that the “faith of Jesus” produces the character of Jesus.
Such people will have contributed to the vindication of the character of God and the final work of settling the great controversy: “The honor of God, the honor of Christ, is involved in the perfection of the character of His people” (The Desire of Ages, p. 671). “The Saviour was deeply anxious for His disciples to understand for what purpose His divinity was united to humanity. He came to the world to display the glory of God, that man might be uplifted by its restoring power. God was manifested in Him that He might be manifested in them. Jesus revealed no qualities, and exercised no powers, that men may not have through faith in Him. His perfect humanity is that which all His followers may possess, if they will be in subjection to God as He was” (Ibid., p. 664). To make this glorious promise a reality in the believer’s life, “Christ has given His Spirit as a divine power to overcome all hereditary and cultivated tendencies to evil, and to impress His own character upon His church” (Ibid., p. 671). The provision is complete. We are not left alone. “God’s ideal for His children is higher than the highest human thought can reach. ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ This command is a promise. The plan of redemption contemplates our complete recovery from the power of Satan. Christ always separates the contrite soul from sin. He came to destroy the works of the devil, and He has made provision that the Holy Spirit shall be imparted to every repentant soul, to keep Him from sinning” (Ibid., p. 311).
The manner of life of God’s people, seen in their home, neighborhood, and occupational circles, will demonstrate that God is all-wise, loving, and just in the way He governs the universe:
“The Lord desires through His people to answer Satan’s charges by showing the result of obedience to right principles....
“The purpose which God seeks to accomplish through His people today is the same that He desired to accomplish through Israel when He brought them forth out of Egypt. By beholding the goodness, the mercy, the justice, and the love of God revealed in the church, the world is to have a representation of His character. And when the law of God is thus exemplified in the life, even the world will recognize the superiority of those who love and fear and serve God above every other people upon the earth…. It is His purpose that those who practice His holy precepts shall be a distinguished people. To the people of God today as well as to ancient Israel belong the words written by Moses through the Spirit of inspiration: ‘Thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.’ Deuteronomy 7:6” (Testimonies, vol. 6, pp. 11, 12).
As church leaders we feel deeply that “the image of Jesus” must be reflected clearly not only in the personal lives of church members but in Adventist sermons, Adventist literature, and Adventist institutions—schools, hospitals, and publishing houses. The answer to the query What is different about the Adventist way? should be obvious to all who come into contact with any aspect of the remnant church. The Adventist goal is primarily quality rather than quantity. Such a goal is reached not by merely doing what other organizations can do equally well, whether such effort be in health care, education, welfare, or even sermons in evangelistic meetings or on Sabbath mornings. Whatever an Adventist does should be distinctively different: “God has ordained that His work shall be presented to the world in distinct, holy lines. He desires His people to show by their lives the advantage of Christianity over worldliness. By His grace every provision has been made for us in all our transaction of business to demonstrate the superiority of heaven’s principles over the principles of the world. We are to show that we are working upon a higher plane than that of worldlings” (Ibid., vol. 7, p. 142).
The only way by which denominational institutions, or individual professional services in whatever field, can produce such an impact upon the world is to first realize that nothing less than distinctive Christlikeness—apparent and inescapable to all—is their reason for existence, and then to employ only those people who can contribute to this primary reason for establishing Adventist institutions. In the final analysis, it is people who are to “reflect the image of Jesus fully” (Early Writings, p. 71).
Therefore we appeal to our members everywhere to consider carefully to what extent they are allowing the Holy Spirit to mold their lives, how committed they are to overcoming all sin by God’s grace, how seriously they are looking to Jesus as their example in all things. We are well aware that those represented by the five foolish virgins (see Matthew 25) include Seventh-day Adventists in good and regular standing, even church members who know well the Bible texts to support distinctive Adventist doctrines. These “foolish virgins” are not hypocrites. They know much about God but they know very little about Him as a personal Lord who came to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
The wise bridesmaids represent those who allow Biblical principles to shape their lives. Whether it be a better health program so that they can be more useful in God’s service, more clear-minded in separating truth from error; or a deeper commitment to Sabbath reverence and stewardship of God’s material blessings; or a closer examination of those influences that bombard the ear or eye and tend to contaminate the soul, the wise bridesmaids make a daily habit of allowing the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy to be the standard for all conduct. The question of Why not? is raised less and less as the wise bridesmaids face life’s decisions with a joyful Yes to whatever God asks.
We appeal to all to make serious Bible study, meditation, and prayer an integral part of every day’s program. We urge faithful study of the Sabbath school lessons and a systematic reading of the writings of Ellen G. White, especially The Desire of Ages, Christ’s Object Lessons, and Steps to Christ. Jesus spent much of His life studying the word and praying to His father for strength, and those who “keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” can do no less.
Furthermore, Christ-reflecting lives are essential to the gospel outreach. The more a church member becomes like Christ in character, the more gracious, winsome, and genuinely helpful he will be in his general soul-winning activities, especially in his relationships within his own home and neighborhood. When a generation of Seventh-day Adventists is truly serious about becoming exhibits of what God’s grace can do, the moment of final decision by the whole world for or against God will not be long delayed.
That moment of final decision for mankind the world over, often called the close of probation, is long overdue. God has wanted to complete His work on earth at several significant moments since 1844, but many of His people have failed to understand what He waits for; others have been unwilling to cooperate. In 1879 Ellen White wrote: “Because the time is apparently extended, many have become careless and indifferent in regard to their words and actions. They do not realize their danger and do not see and understand the mercy of our God in lengthening their probation, that they may have time to form characters for the future, immortal life. Every moment is of the highest value. Time is granted them, not to be employed in studying their own ease and becoming dwellers on the earth, but to be used in the work of overcoming every defect in their own characters and in helping others, by example and personal effort, to see the beauty of holiness. God has a people upon the earth who in faith and holy hope are tracing down the roll of fast-fulfilling prophecy and are seeking to purify their souls by obeying the truth, that they may not be found without the wedding garment when Christ shall appear” (Testimonies, vol. 4, pp. 306, 307).
We solemnly appeal to our church leaders and members everywhere, to think carefully as to whether they are hindering or hastening the return of Jesus. Our Lord is waiting to intervene in behalf of His church in ways beyond human comprehension, to open doors that will remain closed to human effort—both in the personal lives of dedicated church members and in the breakthrough of public evangelism that will one day startle the world with its clearness and power.
The question Why do we keep Him waiting? should hover over every Adventist home, over every church meeting, large or small. We believe that God is willing to do through this generation what He has wanted to do for many decades. We believe that He ought to be given the opportunity to show through His people today that His grace is sufficient to keep men from falling (See Jude 24), that men and women living amidst temptation and sin can conquer even as Jesus conquered (see Revelation 3:21), and that His way of life produces the happiest, kindest, most trustworthy people on earth.
The urgency of this very late hour, the distress of our world, the fact that many are “looking wistfully toward heaven,” and the dwindling days of each person’s own probation cry out for a people who will arise to its task and shine. The challenge of God, issued through the prophet Isaiah, is: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising” (Isaiah 60:1-3).
As delegates to this 1974 Annual Council, we believe that the Laodicean message is addressed in a special way to leaders of the church. Therefore, with all the earnestness that we can command, we appeal to all whom God has placed in positions of leadership in the General Conference, in the world divisions, unions, conferences, missions, institutions, and in our churches to lead workers and members into the kind of deep spiritual experience that will enable them “to reflect the image of Jesus fully.” This experience will make leadership truly effective in the proclamation of the “everlasting gospel to... every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Revelation 14:6). When the Lord’s servants thus bind themselves “to live as Christ Himself lived” (1 John 2:6 NEB), the day when the Holy Spirit shall be felt in total latter-rain power will be hastened, the earth will be lightened with the glory of the angel of Revelation 18, and Jesus will come according to His blessed promise. © Review and Herald, November 4, 1974. GCO