Collonges, September 5, 2012. [CD-EUDnews].
At this very moment, the world-wide Seventh-day Adventist Church organizes some fifteen ‘Bible Conferences’ in various parts of the world on the topic of ecclesiology. One such conference was held August 27-29 in the church of the Adventist University ‘Collonges’ in France situated just across the Swiss border and in view of the city of Geneva. About 130 French-speaking pastors assembled to attend the conference organized by the Ministerial Association and Biblical Research Committee of the Euro-Africa Region Adventist Church. The Bible Conference under the name “The SDA Church in Europe: Its Identity and Mission,” included 15 lectures focusing mainly on these subjects.
“The lectures partly covered Bible and theology, and partly focused on the mission of the church and the relationship with other religious entities. A number of lectures dealt with the so-called notae (main characteristics) of the church,” said Reinder Bruinsma, president of the Belge-Luxembourg Conference. One of the main concerns was how the various findings could be applied to the Adventist Church and the aspect of its identity as the end-time remnant.
Participants of the Conference
All pastors present at the Conference were challenged to consider the evidence of the Adventist identity and the relevance in the context in which we live. How to combine these approaches? J. Kovács-Bíró, Evangelism director at the Seventh-day Adventist Trans-European Region, urged the pastors to take into serious consideration “The future of the church in Europe.” QuotingCharles Franklin Kettering, he said: We should all be concerned about the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there. He continued: “What the church should avoid in the future is: Losing the sense of God’s calling and identity, becoming a “museum”, narrow-minded and exclusive, becoming old and forgetful.” Going deeper, Kovács-Bíró highlighted some factors that will make a difference because of the identity of the church. But the church needs to be ready to face the challenge. He added: “Adventism can produce a change agent within the society because of its positive impact on people's wellbeing. Adventist response to universal hunger, is proof that God is alive in our prophetic movement which is the lighthouse of hope to people in Europe.” But we are living in a world that is questioning the value of religion (as presented by the different denominations, ntr). Could Adventism help with the needs of the world? What does it mean to believe today? What benefit can religion give? “If we focus on our given values ,” said R. Lehmann, Doctor in Theology of New Testament, “we can say that the Adventist message gives meaning to life, to reform society, the church, as well as believers and unbelievers.”
The identity of the church is not a question of people keeping standards, but people promoting values for the benefit of those around them. “Considering ministry as a ‘mission’ implies that instead of attracting people, we should first meet the people where they are, go out of our comfort zones, like Jesus did, in order to live and share the Gospel with those in need,” echoed G. Monet, Systematic Theology professor at Collonges Adventist University.
G. Diop, Director of UN Relations for the Adventist Church and Associate Director PARL (Pubblic Affair and Religious Liberty), invited the audience to think about Jesus, the real model and inspiration of evangelism. He said: “We can have a clear idea of the church mission when looking at Jesus and His mission.” Carefully studying the Gospel and Jesus’ life, we can discover the meaning of the mission and how to accomplish it as Jesus did in His time! Building relationships, identifying needs, storytelling, consistent in preaching, presenting God as the Father, spreading words of hope, etc., these were Jesus’ approaches, a model of evangelism unparalleled even in today’s standards. This model should be applied by every church member that is passionate in sharing the gospel. In fact, P. Benini, Personal Ministry director at the Euro-Africa Region, invited the attendees to consider the pastors’ position in their churches, focusing on membership. He proposed five steps to motivate the members to mission: 1. have a vision based on Christian vocation; 2. choose leaders and give them authority; 3. coach disciples; 4. establish a supportive structure of systematic Bible study (like the Sabbath School lesson) and 5. be equipped for the mission. “Motivate our members, this is the way to see church growth,” said Benini “the pastor cannot accomplish Jesus’ mandate alone.”
Concerning identity, the church has to face challenges and threats, reported G. Pfandl, Associate Director Biblical Research Institute. He highlighted some of these threats urging the pastors to consider the danger of losing not only identity, but also the task given by God. Pfandl insisted on keeping unity in the church. He said: “Theological disunity is threatening the Adventist Church today as never before in our history. Independent critical ministries, congregational and ecumenical tendencies in various places add to the pluralism and confusion in our church today. The unity of the church is of vital importance for successful evangelism.”
Finally, a word on the nature and role of Adventist ministry. “The biblical data and the historical testimony show the utility and importance of pastoral ministry but also its limits when not balanced,” said G. Monet. “Pastors should concentrate their ministry on core functions such as equipping and training church members, representing God and his church, strengthening theology and letting the Scriptures speak, accompanying fellow Christians in discipleship, and leading as God wishes. If everyone participates in the ministry of reconciliation initiated by God in Christ, pastors receive the call to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ and of his love for all,” concluded G. Monet.
Participants of the Conference
Interviewing some pastors on the challenges to be faced after this Conference, O. Maire, pastor at Le Havre Adventist church, said: “The two challenges we face are: firstly, to be clear about our Adventist identity, which contributes to the unity of the Church locally and globally; and secondly relate these to the postmodern people, by being at their service as disciples of Christ and witness the love that God has for them.” These challenges summarize the feelings of many others colleague pastors, called to go back home and continue the struggles with daily life.
“The lectures were partly ‘ biblical’ and theological in their orientation, and partly focused on the mission of the church and the relationship of the Adventist Church with other religious entities,” said Bruinsma. “A number of lectures dealt with the so-called notae (main characteristics) of the church. One of the main concerns was the question of how the various findings could be applied to the Adventist Church. The subject of Adventist identity kept resurfacing especially in the light of being the end-time remnant.”
No doubt, the church’s administrators chose a topic that deserves more attention. Ecclesiology has long been a rather neglected in Adventist theology. “It seemed to me,” continues Bruinsma, “that the choice of the presenters was too heavily slanted towards the Biblical Research Institute. Some other theologians from the unions could have been included. The program schedule suggested that it carefully excluded the risk of introducing new ideas or that the current theological concerns of the world church would be insufficiently emphasized. In some cases this leads to a rather defensive approach.”
While the conference offered much to appreciate and to enjoy, the overall impact might have been strengthened if there had been less insistence on a pre-set, and quite predictable pattern, and if there had been a wider variety of speakers.
“It is time to see Jesus coming again” echoed the words of Bruno Vertallier, Seventh-day Adventist Euro-Africa Region President. Called to proclaim Jesus’ Second Coming, all the pastors have been invited to continue sharing the good news and supporting the church to accomplish the mission.
The program offered a question and answer time. One such question was almost predicted seeing the global debates in progress: women ordination. “Why can we not be ordained?” gently said two women pastors. The answer was concise: “We are studying this topic intensively.” Hopefully, we will get an answer soon.