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Growing Together in Fellowship

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                          Growing Together in Fellowship
                                       Keynote Address,
                                    TED Winter Meeting,
                           Rogaska, Slovenia, 17th November, 2003,
                             by Bertil Wiklander, TED President


I am delighted to welcome you to the 2003 Winter Meeting of the Trans-European Division
Executive Committee! Another year has passed. The world is not the same. We are not the same.
But our mission is the same: finding lost people and growing together.

And, again, we meet in Rogaska in Slovenia, one of the many beautiful places in TED that God
has given us. For a Northern European like myself, going south of the Alps is like fulfilling a
dream. I‟ve often felt that I should have been born here. But we are not just Europeans in this
committee, from north and south of the Alps. We come from Africa and Asia, from the Middle
East and Pakistan. And I have thought many times what a wonderful privilege it is to work in this
fascinating division! Such a blend of culture and history, and of opportunities for mission. I am
grateful to God for the people of this division, and I am grateful for you.

We have gathered here to do the Lord‟s work. In the next four days, over 20 organisations will
bring reports, and we will look at evangelistic initiatives, services, events, material productions,
staffing and financial items, policies, and some items of important information where we need
your feedback. Our purpose in all this is to help our fields achieve substantial, long-term growth.

Now, I want to speak to you about matters that give me concern. They are embedded in the theme
of this meeting: “Growing Together in Fellowship”. We will hear from our 16 fields about
baptisms, new churches and groups. But my focus is a concept that is implied in the words
“together” and “in fellowship”. It is the concept of “unity”.

Rick Warren says in his recent book The Purpose Driven Life that one of our purposes in life is
that “we were formed for God‟s family”. And one of the important tasks that come with that
purpose is to “protect your church”. He says: “It is your job to protect the church. Unity in the
church is so important that the New Testament gives more attention to it than either heaven or
hell. God deeply desires that we experience oneness and harmony with each other.” He
continues: “Unity is the soul of fellowship...It is the essence, the core, of how God intends for us
to experience life together in his church.” and he quotes the familiar words in Ephesians 4:3:
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” His book continues
to indicate how to do that.

Because unity is so essential, I am concerned over the signs of fragmentation that I see today in
my church. There are processes at work in the church today that take us away from what God
wants us to be: his will for us is unity, togetherness, and fellowship. We need to be aware of this,
and you will therefore find a group discussion of church unity on our agenda.

Several years ago, in 1994, the editor of Adventist Review, Dr William Johnsson, wrote a book
with the title: The Fragmenting of Adventism. He outlined ten threats to the unity of the Seventh-
day Adventist Church. Today, some of these threats are more real than before.
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(1) One of them is the spirit of the age. Johnsson says that “it is so strong that it will sweep us
away if we do nothing. It will plunge us into division and congregationalism. It will rip apart the
church as one body. It will destroy our worldwide, unified fellowship. It will make the work of
our leaders impossible.” Note what he says: “we will be swept away, if we do nothing” (emphasis
supplied). What then, are we to do? Well, what is “the spirit of the age”?

We heard about it last year, when Miroslav Pujic introduced us to the so-called post-modernist
spirit. He showed us how, through the Life Development project, we can share our faith with lost
people who are driven by the spirit of the age. But the issue that Johnsson raises is what this spirit
is doing to the unity of the church. He mentions especially two aspects:

(a) A new rampant individualism, which leads to pluralism, which leads to relativism and fosters
tribalism. Many Adventists are now unable to think collectively, to care about what is good for
the whole church, because they see only what is good for them and their group. Relativism
disregards rules, policies, and leadership, not to mention Scripture. It sneers at anything coming
from “the others”, including so-called higher organisations. Tribalism disregards and shows
hostility to other ethnic or racial groups, even within the church, saying: “We don‟t want to have
anything to do with them!” Johnsson says: “The spirit of the age fractures the church, breaking it
up into groups separated and divided along caste, colour, gender, and social lines; God wants to
bring together all people under the banner of the everlasting gospel.”

So, how do we respond to this? Experience shows that for God‟s people there is ultimately only
one way: becoming united in working together for the mission of finding the lost. When we are
absorbed by one, common goal we discover that our differences are not important. When we have
Christ‟s compassion for lost souls, regardless of race, colour, gender, and status, we give them
more importance than ourselves. A focus on mission builds unity. We need to make the whole
church in TED involved with Church planting, Life Development, Go 3 Million, Sow 1 Billion,
the Big 13, or whatever other project you may have, as long as God‟s mission is carried out, by
people that work together in fellowship. In unity.

(b) Another element in the spirit of the age is an attitude that undermines leadership. Johnsson
draws on the Scandinavian author Aksel Sandemose‟s concept of the “Jante law”, set forth
especially in his book En flykting korsar sitt spår (“A refugee crosses his path”). It is a menacing
attitude that says to you: “Don‟t think that you are somebody. You are no better than the rest of
us. You are no wiser, and you don‟t know any more than we do, nor can you do anything that the
rest of us can‟t do. Just don‟t think that you have anything to teach us.” Johnsson gives many
examples of how this attitude is operating in the church. And he concludes: “It‟s a terrible time to
try to lead anything...It‟s a terrible time to lead the church.”

Obviously, we must support and develop church leadership. TED has gone in the forefront in
providing an MA in leadership with generous scholarships for potential leaders. The second
cohort will graduate next year. In 2002, we began a sponsorship programme for a Doctor of
Ministry at Newbold which will continue until 2006. And next year, we are proposing to arrange
a special leadership seminar connected with a ministerial advisory over 12 days. And we will
hear about plans made by the General Conference to create a new leadership culture in our
church. As we continue emphasising leadership, we must cooperate with skilled lay people who
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have an expertise in this area. Whatever we do, we must bear in mind that leadership in the
church is not simply a smart technique. The Bible describes leaders as “servants of Christ and
those entrusted with the secret things of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1). It is a spiritual leadership. It
means bending our knees to God, but standing up and boldly showing God=s way to the people.

(2) Other factors that Johnsson mentions that fragment the church are the independent ministries
or para-church organisations. Individualism stimulates this trend. But in particular, it comes to us
as an influence from North American culture, facilitated by enormous financial resources that we
do not have. TED has produced a review of this issue (1999) which provides guidance.

Yes, some para-church organisations are “supportive ministries” in the sense that they make a
decided effort to co-operate with the church. But, based on reports from our fields, I remain
concerned about some North-American organisations (a) who have a global strategy, but do not
want to, or are unable to, contextualise their mission to the culture in our fields; (b) who, in order
to survive, must raise funds from our church members and, by doing so, they mingle their
spiritual message with requests for funds in a way which Adventists in TED find unsavoury; they
also receive funds from donors that should rather be encouraged to support the church; (c) they
open up a separate track of administration which our church offices are unable to manage; (d)
they entice some economically challenged fields in the TED by promising equipment and funds,
but their purpose is often to influence and control the church and boost their own programmes, in
order to raise more funds at home; (e) they apply the strategy of “divide and rule”, contacting
local churches or pastors, whom they set up to put pressure on the elected church leaders in order
to achieve their objectives. Do we really want to be part of this sort of thing?

We are thankful that we now can bring a proposal that will enable the church in TED to view the
“Hope Channel” of the Adventist Television Network (ATN), the voice of the Seventh-day
Adventist Church. This is a step towards Adventist home TV on a broad scale. A deal has been
made between the ATN and TED/BUC that will guarantee the Hot Bird signal to Europe and the
Middle East. There is great evangelistic and nurturing potential in this initiative.

We are also thankful to the General Conference for establishing a Centre for Global Evangelism,
with Mark Finley as Director, to coordinate and foster global evangelistic campaigns in which lay
people and young pastors may be involved and experience active evangelism.

(3) Another issue that threatens our unity is the generational differences. It is not new, and we
talk about it often, but the key point still remains: the church must make its life and mission
attractive to the new generations, because without the youth, the church will die. What does your
field have in place to integrate young people between 15 and 35 into the centre of church life?
Involving them in mission is the best way to go.

Our meeting this week brings some good news. We are presenting a budget that allows TED to
continue supporting the bi-divisional Youth Centre at Colongues for research into youth issues;
we have started offering an MA in Youth Ministry this year and in 2004 we will co-arrange (with
EUD) a European Youth Congress in Wrocaw, Poland. And we rejoice that so many young,
well-educated young people are involved in the church planting X-change, which Peter
Roennfeldt will tell us more about. But no efforts of the Division are enough. The whole church
must do something to build unity between generations that seem to drift apart more and more.
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We may end up with different styles of worship, we may dress differently, we may talk and sing
differently, but let us still be united as a family.

(4) Johnsson also mentions “many voices, many gurus” as a divisive factor. He is referring to the
many speakers that tour the world church today. He says: “People in the publishing business will
be told: „I read everything you write.‟ And if you do a lot of public speaking they‟ll want to get
audio and video tapes of your messages and send them far and wide to their friends. They will
want your autograph and treat you like a celebrity. All this attention and adulation can flatter you.
It can turn your head. Even while murmuring disclaimers, you begin to like the shoes of a guru.
But the whole development is unhealthy spirituallyBfor both teacher/guru and
members/devotees.” Adventists used to be the people of the Book which we used to study for
ourselves to test everything and we were careful not to follow the teachings of men, be it the
Pope or a theologian, or a famous speaker. But what is going on now?

Such gurus are sometimes invited to our division these days. Are you shure this is a good thing?
Does it build unity in the church? Or is it a form of religious entertainment? Is it a profit-making
business? Do you really know what these speakers teach your church? We have procedures for
clearing speakers from outside TED. Why not follow them and benefit from sound advise in due
time before the event? Why not use speakers closer to home?

(5) Johnsson gives other examples which I cannot deal with here, such as (a) theological
controversies over forgiveness of sins and sanctification, (b) the massive church growth in poor
countries while the richer church membership is shrinking, and (c) other rapid changes in the
church (a group discussion of the frightening drop in mission offerings is on our agenda). Let me
just mention the Adventist education system, which is a blessing in so many ways: it helps
Adventists to grow, to appreciate professional training, and to prepare for service. We are
probably the most educated church in the world. But there are dangers. Some dangers have now
been highlighted by the General Conference Commission on Higher Education, which outlines
the dangers of secularisation in the life of colleges and universities. This is on our agenda.

Despite all this, I am an optimist for the church. And this optimism is strengthened every time I
face an Adventist congregation hungry for the Word of God. And that happens often.

I feel the same when I look at all of you. You look wonderful! Just think that we are gathered
here as a representative body of God‟s people; God‟s church in the TED.

By describing the church as a “body”, the Bible defines our most essential quality as something
which lies in our unity. And the world church has recognised this and seeks to remind us of this
by setting before us annual themes that underline unity. It has also included “Unity of the
Church” as one of three core values in its strategic plan. The Spirit of God speaks to us through
this, and I believe I hear him saying: It is time to rediscover our “Unity in the Body of Christ”
(Fundamental Belief number 13).

Why is unity essential?

Because of God. Because our unity speaks about him. Because our unity confirms that God is the
one he claims to be God. Our unity tells the universe that God is one, because we are one in
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worshipping him. Our unity says that God is able to unify that which is different, disparate and
separate. Our unity says that God is the God of Shalom, salam, “peace”, where all parts interact
in a harmonious and fruitful way. So, by our unity, by Growing Together in Fellowship, we give
God glory. And that is what a Seventh-day Adventist is called to do.

Our unity is a unity in God and in worshipping God. Who, then, is God? We believe that “in
Christ all the fullness of God lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). In particular, the cross, that
symbol of shame, dishonour and death, defines God. It defines him, not merely as “love”, but as
self-giving, redeeming love.

The unity of the church is God‟s love in Christ, our Lord and Saviour. This love is not simply a
doctrine. It is not just existing in heaven. No, “God‟s love has been poured out into our hearts by
the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:5). And this has great consequences. It
enables us to grow, together, in fellowship. Hear what Scripture says in Colossians 3:11-14:

        Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian,
        slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God‟s chosen people, holy
        and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness
        and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have
        against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put
        on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Being God‟s people is to materialise that which is in the mind of God. God‟s people are in the
world what he has thought them to be. We are part of the inner being of God. Our life and
witness, individually and together, proves that God‟s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. It
proves that God‟s kingdom is near, that it is upon us, that it has come into our hearts, and,
therefore, it is about to break into the world!

Therefore, God‟s people are the announcement of the coming of God. God‟s people, we who are
gathered here, are an Advent people.

The unity of God‟s people is a language. It declares to the world that God is a powerful Saviour
who has defeated the sin of separation and hostility, who has gathered a people together out of
lost souls, and formed them into a growing fellowship. This is why Jesus said to his disciples:

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my
disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Growing together in unity and fellowship will be possible only if we pour this love (a) into our
faith in the biblical doctrines, (b) into the togetherness of believers, and (c) into the structure and
organisation that we follow. We can only do this by surrendering all to Jesus our Saviour, by
making his humble, serving spirit our guide, and grow together in him.

In him, the crucified, broken, but redeeming Saviour. Let us remain in him, and he will remain in
us.

				
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