William Johnsson, former editor of the Adventist Review, recently wrote “A Troubling Disconnect.” In his article Johnsson bares his soul about things he finds very troubling. (His article is located at https://spectrummagazine.org/article/2018/08/02/troubling-disconnect.)
We desire neither to judge his heart nor condemn him; nevertheless, a number of things he says are very troubling.
Johnsson says: “Throughout my many years of service in our church, I cannot recall any instance when official actions appeared to me to be at odds with what I deemed the Spirit to be saying. Until now. In two matters I find a glaring disconnect between official position and what I personally witness of the Spirit’s activity.”
The bottom line in Johnsson’s expressed frustration is the disconnect he believes exists between how the General Conference and the rest of the church is reacting to and addressing “The One Project” and women’s ordination.
He is troubled that the obvious leading of the Holy Spirit, which he feels is leading him and others in the church to support and endorse these two issues, is met with resistance by the General Conference. To him the troubling question is, Why would not the church’s official actions and positions be the same as how he and others feel the Holy Spirit is leading?
But here is a crucial question to consider. Does the Holy Spirit ever lead us differently than what He has already told us in the Word of God?
The Bible says, No. We read: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:20-21). “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
It is interesting that Jesus did not say: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by everything he feels the Spirit is leading him to do,” but rather, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
I would like to respectfully respond to three different issues.
1. Elder Johnsson’s article implies that the gathering of church leaders in Acts 15 and the decision they reached was based, not so much on a “thus saith the Lord,” but on how the Holy Spirit was leading and impressing them.
Johnsson feels that the Holy Spirit is leading again, and it is leading the church in favor of The One Project and women’s ordination. But He feels the General Conference has not responded favorably, and is not following the leading of the Holy Spirit.
This is a very serious and unfortunate implication and conclusion. But Johnsson misunderstands what really happened at the Jerusalem counsel in Acts 15 and his error leads in a dangerous direction.
The Issue in Acts 15 was to clarify two different concepts–Salvation and Covenant. The Judaizers insisted that the Gentiles who were saved should also be circumcised as had been the covenant people. But the apostles who knew Scripture and the history of God’s intervention and leading, said No. After all, Abraham was justified and saved before circumcision and not because he was later circumcised (Genesis 15:6).
So the problem dealt with in Acts 15: “was that by too closely associating covenant and salvation, these believers came to view circumcision as meritorious. God’s saving grace, however, does not operate where human works operate. So, to impose circumcision on believing Gentiles as a means of salvation was to distort the gospel’s truth (Galatians 1:7, 2:3-5), nullify God’s grace, (Galatians 2:21), and make Jesus of no benefit (Galatians 5:2). Furthermore, it was a denial of the universal character of salvation (Colossians 3:11, Titus 2:11). Paul could never agree to this type of thinking” (Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide, July/Aug/Sept. 2018, The Book of Acts, p. 66).
Peter echoes what Paul had already said in Acts 13:38-39 when he says in Acts 15:11: “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved even as they.” Peter also reminded them of how the Lord had made known to him how he was to take the gospel to the gentiles. How did that happen? He heard God’s voice (His Word) telling him to do it. (Acts 10:13-16, 28).
James reminds the delegates that what Peter has said is in harmony with “the words of the prophets: as it is written” (v. 15). He then quotes Amos 9:16 to show the authority of Scripture for what they were doing.
Far from a group of men not knowing what to do because they felt it was a gray area and that the Scriptures were just not that clear on the subject, early church leaders made a decision, not based on what seemed reasonable and the best thing to do but because it was consistent with and in harmony with other Scripture (See Leviticus 17-18; Acts 15:20).
In fact, this was the case with all the counsel they sent out to the early church.
Of course “it seemed good to the Holy Ghost” because He had orchestrated and given the Scriptures in the first place.
If the reader would like to consider a clear, in-depth study and presentation of what really happened at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, watch Dr. Phil Mills presentation at: http://ordinationtruth.com/2018/08/14/the-jerusalem-council-and-acts-15/
So one of our major concerns is Johnsson’s notion that the Holy Spirit will lead us at times to do something regardless of what the Scriptures say.
Here is why this is so dangerous. Suppose you present the Sabbath truth from Scripture in a very clear and detailed manner to an individual for a number of weeks. He actually admits that what you have presented is what the Bible says. You ask him if he is willing to follow and keep the seventh-day Sabbath because of his love for Jesus. He answers: “I don’t feel the Holy Spirit leading me to do that. When I feel the Holy Spirit moves me to do that, I will.” Question: Will the Holy Spirit ever lead him differently than what He the Holy Spirit has already put in the Bible?
From what Johnsson has said; it seems he feels that in three different General Conferences, when the vote for women’s ordination was taken, the Holy Spirit was not leading.
But we are told: “When, in a General Conference, the judgment of the brethren assembled from all parts of the field, is exercised, private independence and private judgment must not be stubbornly maintained, but surrendered. Never should a laborer regard as a virtue the persistent maintenance of his position of independence, contrary to the decision of the general body. . . . God has ordained that the representatives of His church from all parts of the earth, when assembled in a General Conference, shall have authority” (Testimonies, vol. 9, pp. 260-261).
2. Johnsson is very troubled about the way The One Project was received by many in the church and also some General Conference leaders. He was also very troubled by the way pastors involved were vilified and even their kids were attacked through social media.
Here is where we and Elder Johnsson can agree. If persons disagree or have concerns with other’s activities or teachings, they should disagree in a Christlike manor and not stoop to attacking children.
But what about concerns over The One Project now modified and renamed the Global Resource Collection? You can read about General Conference concern about The One Project and others at this address:
The General Conference gave a kind yet direct warning addressing any group, including The One Project, that would claim to be exalting Jesus alone, and yet actually belittle His truth and the teachings that have called us into existence as a Church with the Christ-centered message and mission He has given us.
Johnsson relates how he has spoken at The One Project six times in the U.S. and Australia. He felt there was nothing wrong with their preaching or music. He felt that it was an answer to prayer for revival. So we can understand how frustrated he must feel because of General Conference concerns.
The One Project came about as the result of a group of young men getting together; some from the “Big Face Grace” musical group, some pastors or chaplains at Adventist Universities, all wanting to bring change to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
There is nothing wrong with change, especially if it moves the church out of Laodicea, and leads it to be more grounded in His Word, so that it brings in a true revival. But we must remember that the Spirit of Prophecy foretells the rise of a false revival before the true. In The Great Controversy we are told:
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, Multitudes will exult that God is working marvelously for them, when the work is that of another spirit. . . . There is an emotional excitement, a mingling of the true with the false that is well adapted to mislead. Yet none need be deceived. In the light of God’s word it is not difficult to determine the nature of these movements. Wherever men neglect the testimony of the Bible, turning away from those plain, soul-testing truths which require self-denial and renunciation of the world, there we may be sure that God’s blessing is not bestowed (The Great Controversy, p.464).
A number of The One Project leaders received education at George Fox University. What is the educational thrust and emphasis of this university? It emphasizes “experience” over the importance of Scripture and stresses the “oneness” of everyone and all beliefs. One of the important mentors at the university, who has also been invited to speak at Adventist universities, is Leonard Sweet. His books are made available at The One Project gatherings.
But his books raise serious questions. For instance, in I am a Follower, he says, “Lectio divina is one example of a spiritual discipline that allows us to tune in to the reverberations and wave of the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of love and life” (p. 149). Sweet proceeds to offer instructions for how to engage in this practice which he has gleaned from Catholic Monks.
The influence of the Catholic Fathers of ages past has definitely been part of the teaching of George Fox University. But why would religious leaders at Seventh-day Adventist universities choose to attend this university, and be saturated in the wine of Babylon, in order to acquire degrees?
One of The One Project founders once wrote: “Scripture is not truth. Jesus is truth and the scripture merely speaks of Him. There is a difference. And He shall be revealed in many odd and interesting places. Are there greater revelations than Scripture? Yes. Jesus, for one. And the Holy Spirit, now for another. Scripture is our ‘guide’ to the Spirit” (reinventingsdawheel.blogspot.ca/2007/07/thoughts-from-harry-potter-agnostic.html).
Here is a mixture of truth and error. We do not need to separate Jesus from His Word. Jesus is so much identified with the Word that it is one of His names (John 1:1, 14; Revelation 19:13).
How different the following inspired counsel sounds compared to the statement of The One Project founder. Jesus said, “Sanctify them through thy truth: Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). “The Spirit was not given—nor can it ever be bestowed—to supersede the Bible; for the Scriptures explicitly state that the word of God is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested” (The Great Controversy, 1911 ed., pp. Vii-viii).
Here are some questions for Johnsson to consider concerning the One Project: Are you aware that this organization’s goal is to redefine Adventism? Are you sure that there is no connection with the following statement and the One Project with its inappropriate music, emphasis, and its hesitant relationship to the Seventh-day Adventist church?
The enemy of souls has sought to bring in the supposition that a great reformation was to take place among seventh-day Adventists, and that this reformation would consist in giving up the doctrines which stand as the pillars of our faith and engaging in a process of reorganization. Were this reformation to take place, what would result? The principles of truth that God in His wisdom has given to the remnant church, would be discarded. Our religion would be changed. The fundamental principles that have sustained the work for the last fifty years would be accounted as error. A new organization would be established. Books of a new order would be written. A system of intellectual philosophy would be introduced. The founders of this system would go into the cities, and do a wonderful work. The Sabbath of course, would be lightly regarded, as also the God who created it. Nothing would be allowed to stand in the way of the new movement. The leaders would teach that virtue is better than vice, but God being removed, they would place their dependence on human power, which, without God, is worthless. Their foundation would be built on the sand, and storm and tempest would sweep away the structure” (Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 204).
I am grateful that the General Conference raised a concern about The One Project. I am also grateful that the General Conference supports GYC and its strong young adult program. GYC has uplifting music, embraces our church’s doctrines, and fully supports the Seventh-day Adventist church and its mission.
3. Johnson is also quite upset that the church has not voted to approve the ordination of women to the gospel ministry. He is troubled and feels the leaders of the General Conference have shut down women for ministry and that the ordained women pastors of China were not recognized or heard from at the last GC. Session in San Antonio.
This is not the time or place to repeat again all the reasons why three different General Conference Sessions have rejected the practice of women’s ordination. But we can say that it is only by the grace of God that this church is still trying to hold to Scripture.
If the reader wishes to consider Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy-based material giving reasons for not ordaining women to the headship (leadership) position of ministry, you may peruse OrdinationTruth.com. There you will find a wealth of written material and video presentations illuminating the subject. Regarding what is happening in China and its unique situation please consider:
I do not believe that the General Conference is working to shut down women from the ministry that God intended and reveals in his Word. Neither do I believe that this issue is unclear in the Bible so that we are just left to be “led by the Spirit.”
The Bible is very clear on this just as it reads. This seems to be one of the reasons why the North American Division has created a new hermeneutic approach to Bible interpretation (during the TOSC study sessions), different from what we have employed for years, in order to accommodate the arguments for women’s ordination.
I do not believe there is a disconnect between the General Conference and its position on Women’s Ordination and The One Project. Rather, I am grateful for the efforts of our world church leadership to stay by the Bible and its principles.
What is troubling is the insubordination, fragmentation, and activities of leaders who should be supporting General Conference voted decisions, and its efforts to stay by the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy? By their example, their leadership, their books and articles, those who oppose the duly voted decision of the world church in San Antonio in 2015 are doing the opposite. This is causing division and harm. May God help each of us be faithful to His Word and to the counsel we have been given to guide us in these last days.