It pops up each year around this time-at least, for the past several years. The Pastors Evangelists and Leadership Conference (PELC) has a long-standing tradition of inviting non-Adventist Pastors to speak at one of the evening worship services. Of late, this seems to be a problem for some.
Everyone has the right to their own opinion and their own comfort level. If you are not comfortable having a non-Adventist at one of the signature events on the Regional Conference calendar, you certainly have the right to feel that way. This blog is intended only to explain why I am not uncomfortable with that idea.
Earlier, my friend, former classmate and the Director of PELC, Dr. Jessie Wilson, went on Facebook and in his usual concise, easy-to-read, easy-to-understand writing style, explained why he favors continuing the tradition of inviting non-Adventist Pastors to preach. I would recommend going to his Facebook page and reading it-he is a very good writer.
I won’t duplicate what he said (I wouldn’t be able to say it as well as he said it anyway). What I shall do in this space is to give my reasons. They are really rather simple; I’ll give two:
- The Issue for Me Is Not Adventist Versus Non-Adventist Pastors-It’s Truth Versus Error. I am trying to say this carefully-especially as a life-long, traditional (and proud of it) Seventh-day Adventist Pastor, who does not wish to be misunderstood.
I believe with all of my heart that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is God’s remnant church, according to the Bible. If I didn’t believe that, I would not be a member of this church.
I also believe that this church has been entrusted by God with a special message for these last days that no other church has. That does not make us better than any other church-it makes us a debtor to every other church. We have a responsibility to our non-Adventist brothers and sisters that no other church has.
I believe that the vast, overwhelmingly majority of my fellow Seventh-day Adventist Pastors believe the Seventh-day Adventist message as much as I do. But there are almost 20,000 Pastors in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. To make the assumption that every single one of them should be listened to unquestioningly-just because they are Adventist Pastors-and that no non-Adventist Pastor ever has anything to say out of the Word of God that would be a blessing to the people of God, is simply not correct-and potentially, kind of dangerous.
No matter who is preaching, we need to, in the words of that scripture that I learned years ago in my Kindergarten Sabbath School Class about the believers in Berea “they searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so”.
The New International Version says, “They searched the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true”. You shouldn’t automatically and unquestioningly accept what any preacher says; the Bereans were checking up on Paul. And Paul was one of the greatest and most Biblical preacher ever; wrote most of the New Testament. You can’t get more Biblical than that.
We need to know the Word of God for ourselves. I personally am prepared to accept anything that comes from any preacher-including non-Adventist ones-that comes from the Word of God and I am prepared to reject anything that comes from any preacher-including Adventist ones-that contradicts the Word of God.
The sad truth is that Adventist preachers occasionally fall. It does not happen very often -and when it does, it is more often, a moral fall.
But Adventist Pastors occasionally fall theologically as well. And if you are following them, without making sure that what they are preaching and asking you to do is coming from the Word of God, you run the grave risk of falling, too.
On the other hand, just as everything that every Adventist Pastor says for all time should not automatically be assumed to be true just because they are Adventist, everything that non-Adventist Pastors say should not be assumed to be false just because they are not Adventist.
While there are some distinctive teachings from the Word of God that only Adventists seem to be teaching, there are many other doctrines in the Bible that we hold in common with much of the rest of the Christian world.
I cannot speak for anyone else, but I am open to hearing from our non-Adventist Pastors on the things in the Bible that we hold in common. And-the truth of the matter is that some of our non-Adventist Pastors can expound on the beliefs in the Bible that we have in common on a high level. In other words, some of those brothers and sisters are gifted preachers of the word of God. They just are.
And though proudly traditional, conservative, life-long Seventh-day Adventist that I am- and will always be by the grace of God-there have been many times where gifted non-Adventist preachers have declared the Word of God in a manner that has been a blessing to me.
And didn’t those gifts come from God? God gifted non-Adventist Pastors-just as He has gifted Adventist ones. He gifted non-Adventist musicians-just as He has gifted Adventist musicians. We seem to have far less of a problem inviting non-Adventist musicians to do music ministry in our churches. We sing their music and hymns every week (well-we used to sing them in our churches every week before Covid 19-boy, I sure miss in-person worship-but that is another topic).
Somehow, music ministry by non-Adventists is non-controversial, while preaching ministry from non-Adventist is very controversial.
I am not trying to change anyone’s mind on this issue; I am just trying to share what’s on mine.
- Inviting Non-Adventist Pastors Can Build Relationships: Now-it is very true that we are influenced by who and what we are around. The children of Israel intermixed with and intermarried the nations of the world and it sunk them as a nation. That can certainly happen to us; some would argue that there is already a great deal of “the world” in the church.
And while it is certainly too easy to assume that everything bad about the church came from someone else other than ourselves (if “the world” got into the church, how else could that have happened unless the church members, i.e., us, brought it there?), I don’t think I could make the argument that the ways of the world have made no inroads at all into God’s church. So-we have to be careful with our associations.
But it is also true that the children of Israel, or the Jews, went the other way during the time of Christ and went to great lengths to avoid associating with the world. They had a whole lot of rituals to avoid being “defiled” and “”ceremonially unclean”; that didn’t work out, either. They wound up crucifying the Son of God-and thinking that was a good idea that came from God.
Somewhere, there is a balance-one that allows us to have relationships with people who are not like us so that they become close enough to us to see Jesus in us and want to become one of us. I want non-Adventist preachers at PELC to come around us and see what God is doing through us; in fact, I want a bunch of non-Adventist Pastors in an Adventist environment.
Years ago, when I was a young Pastor, there was a policy limiting the number of non-Adventists in our church schools to 15% of the total enrollment. I always thought that was a bad policy; I want non-Adventists in an Adventist environment-all I ask is that we uphold our standards and that our non-Adventist parents respect those standards (which they almost always did).
When my daughter was a little girl, her best friend was a non-Adventist girl who attended our church school. . I was Youth Director in those days and we took my daughter’s friend with us everywhere-Youth Federation, Youth Congress, Camp-she was even on the church’s Bible Bowl team.
We weren’t doing that as a witness (I wish we had thought of that!); the fact of the matter was, we had not long moved from where we used to live and my daughter missed her friends in our former city. So, we took her new friend everywhere.
After a few years of that, that little girl joined the Adventist church-along with her entire family. To quote my friend, Dr. Wilson “There is no impact, without contact”. For a Pastor, there are few better ways of contact than the sharing of pulpits.
Now with that, comes the responsibility of making sure that the person brought in does not lead the congregation astray. But-there is the same responsibility when a Pastor brings in an Adventist Pastor to preach in his/her pulpit. And while I do not recall ever hearing of a non-Adventist Pastor coming into an Adventist Church as a guest speaker and leading the congregation astray, I can absolutely tell you some stories where an Adventist Pastor came in and caused mega-problems. It does not happen often-but it does happen. In fact, when I was in South Central, there were a few Adventist preachers who could not be invited to our churches.
For me as a Pastor, ultimately the central question for inviting any one to share an Adventist pulpit is: Will what is shared by the person that I am bringing in to preach in my church be a blessing to my members, contribute to their spiritual growth and advance the mission of the church?
Every Pastor and church member has to answer that question for themselves. And that important question needs to be asked about everyone who occupies the sacred space where the Word of God is being preached.