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GENERAL CONFERENCE PRESIDENT SPEAKS

ABOUT INDEPENDENT MINISTRIES

Robert S. Folkenberg

Dear fellow believers: I want to share a concern with you that lies close to my heart. Many of you have written or called me asking about independent ministries, and I want you to know where I stand. Is it true that the General Conference is out to destroy independent ministries? The answer is no!

I have been told there are several hundred entities not integrally connected with the church. Almost all of these make a significant, positive contribution to the mission of the church. Many of these are affiliated with Adventist-Laymen's Services and Industries (ASI) and provide a wide variety of services to fellow Adventists and the public, including vegetarian restaurants, educational institutions, health care, publishing, religious radio and TV broadcasts and orphanages. These prefer to be known as supporting ministries of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

One ministry supports a cadre of evangelists who are made available to church organisations around the world. Another, Maranatha Volunteers International, having overseen the construction of hundreds if not thousands of buildings for the church around the world, recently completed its largest single project ever--in the Dominican Republic, where more than 1200 volunteers built 25 churches in 70 days!

By Their Fruits Ye Shall ...

Organisations demonstrating by their fruit a commitment to the mission of the church merit both the descriptives supporting and ministry as well as the appreciation and backing of church members and leaders. For these, "organisational independence" is only a matter of function and legal status, not mission. Their loyalty to the church and zeal for proclaiming present truth are indistinguishable from that of the church itself.

I recently read two compilations of Ellen White's writings dealing with "self-supporting" work and noted two characteristics: 1. "Self-supporting" is normally linked to the concept of "missionary." lndependence from the church was born of the financial necessity to send families to unentered areas as missionaries, not by a mission different from that of the church. 2. "Self-support" is presented in the context of unity with the church. 'The work of God in the earth can never be finished until the men and women comprising our church membership rally to the work, and unite their efforts with those of ministers and church officers" (Testimonies, Vol 9, page 117).

The concept of an active laity and supporting ministry of the church is not only encouraged by Ellen White, but found in the example of the apostle Paul, who, by his own labour, supported himself and others as they spread the good news.

While the vast majority of these ministries truly are supportive and declare their loyalty to the church, a few private organisations, calling themselves "independent ministries", do not meet this standard. These point out what they see as deficiencies in the church, its members, and its leaders. Tragically, while subtly attributing these failings of a few to the church in general, they set themselves up as the guardians of historic truth and as the only trustworthy expositors of God's Word.

On this foundation of distrust they build an organisation that is not accountable to any wide constituency; foments doubts, distrust and disunity (impediments to the latter rain); diverts millions of dollars that might better have been used for gospel proclamation among the vast populations of the world that have never heard the name of Jesus; and at times even drives members from the church! (See "Poison in the Mail,' Adventist Review; March 12, 1992.)

Are there problems in the church? If so, do these failures justify the attacks by private organisations against the church?

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To the first question the servant of the Lord answers, 'There are evils existing in the church, and will be until the end of the world" (Review and Herald, September 5, 1893). It's sad but true, for I am reminded every day that the evil one is hard at work within God's remnant church.

Continued Study Needed

To achieve personal spiritual growth and a deeper understanding of God's message to us, we must continually study the Word and the Spirit of Prophecy. But the exaggerated individualism that characterises today's culture must not fragment the unity needed in God's final movement. The vast majority of our teachers, pastors, editors, elders and other leaders are firmly committed to the messages of the three angels of Revelation 14 and the fundamental beliefs that we hold dear.

Sadly, there are a few who, following modern trends, doubt the accuracy and/or authority of Scripture, reject one or more of these fundamental beliefs (the sanctuary and related truths are among the most frequent casualties), yet insist they have "right" to remain in positions of responsibility. To these I appeal, fall on your knees and, with Scriptures in hand, search and pray until you have peace with God. If you find you are in harmony with the fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, we will rejoice with you. If not, simple honesty and ethics require that you resign any appointed, elected or employed position until you can embrace that which our church upholds as truth.

A more common weakness in the church, however, is not rejection of the truth, but rather neglect of prayer and study of the Word. In harmony with the Perth Declaration (see Adventist Review, November 7, 1991),
I plead with teachers, pastors, editors and other leaders to preach the Word and feed the flock. Enough of salvation by psychology! We need a deeper understanding of the sinfulness of the human heart leading to repentance. Let us uplift Jesus and the cross, thus providing the sinner peace of mind, assurance of salvation in Christ, and connection to Him who is able to "keep you from falling and to present you faultless" (Jude 24).

Let me assure you I am not calling for uniformity. There is ample room for diversity in searching the Scriptures for truth, even while demonstrating a firm faith in the fundamentals.

Attacks on the Church

Do the failures of the church justify the attacks by private organisations against the church?

No! While there are problems in the church that must be resolved, these must be settled by those loyal to the church who are entrusted with responsibility at every level of church administration, beginning at the local congregation. Self-appointed critics, whose fiscal survival depends on their ability to shift members' loyalties from the church to themselves, have conflicting interests and therefore are untrustworthy counsellors to the church. Their very survival appears to depend on the mix their leaders choose between piety and doctrine on the one hand and criticism of the church on the other.

The approaches of destructive critics vary widely. One group features the sensational, shrill, tabloid approach whose attacks simulate a sharklike feeding frenzy against the church, albeit among a narrow audience. One of these, for example, recently reported falsely that I visited the pope twice this past year! The author never even called to check the "facts." One cannot help wondering why such an erroneous report was printed. The truth is that I have never seen, met, or talked with the pope and have no reason or plan to do so. Neither has he asked for an appointment to see me!

A False Test of Orthodoxy

The mix of piety and criticism among others is more subtle. Their publications include a far higher proportion of that which is spiritual or doctrinal in nature, including reprinting of major segments of the Spirit of Prophecy. By proclaiming their convictions on a narrow list of topics, not accepted by the body as a whole as vital to our message, they,
in effect, turn acceptance of their position on these issues into a litmus test of orthodoxy. Thus they draw a pious line in the sand by leading their readers/listeners to choose whom they will trust, the church or their private organisation.

Some ministries in the name of piety and preaching the straight testimony present quotations of Ellen White that encourage independent, self-supporting missionaries. At the same time they ignore the quotations calling for unity and the yielding of individual wisdom to the body of believers (Historical Sketches, pages 122-125). Such behaviour misrepresents spiritual counsel and gives the appearance of intellectual dishonesty. Tragically, the gullible are their lawful prey.

About these private organisations the servant of the Lord wrote: "Those who start up to proclaim a message on their own individual responsibility, who, while claiming to be taught and led of God, still make it their special work to tear down that which God has been for years building up, are not doing the will of God. Be it known that these men are on the side of the great deceiver. Believe them not. They are allying themselves with the enemies of God and the truth. They will deride the order of the ministry as a system of priestcraft. From such turn away, have no fellowship with their message, however much they may quote the Testimonies and seek to entrench themselves behind them. Receive them not, for God has not given them this work to do. The result of such work will be unbelief in the Testimonies, and, as far as possible, they will make of none effect the work that I have for years been doing...

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Those who thus bring the work of God into disrepute will have to answer before God for the work they are doing" (Testimonies to Ministers, pages 51,51 [sic]).

The church is being attacked from within by people on two extremes. One extreme undermines the authority of Scripture, our fundamental beliefs and our distinctive end-time message. The other extreme, under the subtle guise of piety attacks the structure, authority and therefore the mission of the church. The church has, all too often, failed to address both attacks adequately.

Both extremes are destructive to God's expectations of His church. Both bring about disunity, an obstacle to the latter rain, and divert resources from our Lord's mission to His church. "There is a great work to be done in the world, a great work to be done in foreign lands... With all the responsibility upon us to go and preach the gospel to every creature there is a great need of men and means, and Satan is at work in every conceivable way to tie up means…. The money that should be used in doing the good work of building houses of worship, of establishing schools... is diverted from a channel of usefulness and blessing into a channel of evil and cursing" (ibid, page 43).

Jesus knew that the evil one would try to bring about disunity. Our Lord described the consequences of disunity when He said, "every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand" (Matthew 12:25, NKJV). The apostolic record confirms the early church’s struggle for unity.

Jesus' Plan For Unity

Jesus' divine plan to resolve differences as described in Matthew 18:15-I7, is too often ignored or forgotten. As your president, I ask your forgiveness for times when I may have skipped over any of the steps outlined in God's plan. Please pray that God will grant wisdom to those who must deal with those organisations whose activities tend to undermine either truth or mission. All church initiatives must be compassionate yet sustain the integrity of the church body.

I appeal to each pastor, Bible teacher, administrator, church board member and leader to uphold God's word and the teachings of God's remnant church and, following these biblical steps, under the guidance of the Spirit, work together to keep our church unified. To all, laity and employees alike, let us cease the derogatory remarks about others and follow Jesus' plan in dealing with wrong.

If the plan described in Matthew 18 doesn't seem to fit the problem you see, consider that it may not be a problem God has given you to resolve. Trust that God, who is in charge of all things, will use those He has delegated to "right the ship." On the other hand, if a problem is within your area of responsibility, pray that God will give you the wisdom and courage to carry out your responsibility.

Collective Selfishness or Sacrifice?

I wish each could share the burden of opportunities waiting for action. For example, the doors into one of the largest Muslim countries in the world have been flung open. Also, today we can send a large number of workers to China and the countries of the former USSR, yet sufficient resources are not available to respond to these opportunities.

There are many reasons for this, such as collective selfishness instead of collective sacrifice. Many of us expect the church to meet so many of our felt needs, without the balancing Macedonian call from the unentered areas of the world, that we do good things to an excess! Too often resources needed to reach others with the gospel are consumed by those who already have received the good news.

Another reason is diverted resources. The dollars diverted to the few private organisations whose activities lead to disunity and shifted loyalties are resources Mrs. White said would be better used for gospel proclamation.

It is indispensable that each of us, prayerfully guided by the Holy Spirit, evaluate each private organisation. Those whose loyalty to the message and mission of the church are above reproach, whose fruit gives evidence of new souls for the kingdom, deserve our prayers and support. On the other hand, those who cause the reader or viewer, whether subtly or directly, to choose between them and the church demonstrate that they are not inspired of God.

I admit to increasing frustration in dealing with this situation. Last summer, just before standing to preach a Sabbath sermon at a Canadian camp meeting, I was handed a sheaf of bulletins from another shrilly critical editor. I shared with the congregation my frustration with these destructive critics of the church. In retrospect, I wish I had shared my convictions with more tears in my voice and the pain in my heart rather than just the frustration. This is just evidence that God is not finished with me yet.

I love this church. I believe our fundamental beliefs with all my heart.
I believe the Lord's gospel commission was not a suggestion but a mandate. I believe Jesus is coming, and soon, sooner than most of us expect!

Are independent ministries of value? An organisation's independence does not make it bad or good, holy or unholy! All, members, leaders and organisations (church operated or independent) that contribute to hastening our Lord's return should be reinforced and supported, while those weakening the church and distracting from heaven's mission must be properly dealt with according to God's plan.

I appeal to all to "press together, press together, press together." I ask you to join hands with me in seeking the Lord and finishing the work.

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