Almost daily the Seventh-day Adventist Church is accused of wrongdoing or objectionable practice. Admittedly, the church, which comprises of you and me, is not immune to missteps. In fact, it does err. However, I have learned from experience to apply the principle of “not rushing to judgment,” but instead “checking the credibility of the source of the accusation” and “researching the charge.” A case in point relates to a recent email widely circulated about the GC president writing to the pope, or one last year by Andrew Henriquez, via his Prophecy Again ministry, captioned: “First Open Transgender SDA Elder under Pastor Stoltz, Hollywood Church! Is this the First of Many?” Through the presentation on You Tube, it appears that Henriquez is indicting the Seventh-day Adventist Church generally with wrongdoing. There seems to be no attempt to isolate an issue associated with a local church. In fact, if one were to view some of Henriquez’ video clips on You Tube, one would see this trend of broad brushing. Accordingly, I thought to research this latest accusation. In doing so, I have applied the principles mentioned above.
Don’t Be Quick to Judge
For starts, yes, there is a Seventh-day Adventist Church by the name Hollywood SDA Church, and the pastor is Branden Stoltz. In my attempt to verify the information, I tried reaching the union president for California where the church is located, but I was unsuccessful. A pastoral colleague, Barrington Brennen, unknown to me, was researching the same issue and tried to reach Pastor Stoltz by both telephone and email without success as well. Upon further inquiry, I checked with another pastor who resides in the United States and was acquainted with the church. He informed me that while he knew the church, he did not have any information about the matter in question. However, he was aware that the church has a specific ministry, which reaches out to gays and lesbians with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Still not satisfied, I pursued a 21-page document purported by Henriquez to be the basis for the Hollywood’s decision to choose transgender/gay/lesbians as leaders, for he claims that the document reveals that the Seventh-day Adventist church accepts the LGBT lifestyle.
Do the Research
Therefore, I researched and located the 21-page document and examined it. Titled "An Understanding of the Biblical View on Homosexual Practice and Pastoral Care," it is a Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary Position Paper voted on October 9, 2015. Consider the following excerpt, "Scripture condemns heterosexual immorality no less than homosexual practice and warns against any harboring of lustful thoughts and desires for such practices. While homosexuality is a distortion of the Edenic ideal, ‘there is no condemnation’ for homosexually oriented persons as long as they ‘are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:1) and do not harbor or act upon their orientation and propensities. The same principle applies to those who struggle with heterosexual immorality (see Matt 5:27–28; Rom 6:1–23; 8:1–4; Col 3:1–10; James 1:14–15). Even as some individuals may experience a miraculous deliverance from sinful heterosexual and homosexual urges, others may have to wrestle with such tendencies all their lives (see Gal 5:16–25). One is not culpable for these involuntary tendencies, but for acting upon them either in imagination or actual practice."
However, on page 16, the following section has been misquoted to sanction placing homosexuals in leadership of the church, but observe the statement for your-self. It says, “All persons, including practicing homosexuals, should be made to feel welcome to attend our churches while non-practicing gay persons should be welcomed into membership and church office. All should receive spiritual care from the Church (Gal 6:1).” The keyword is “non-practicing” but unfortunately Henriquez and others apparently ignore this and seek to profit their ministries by sensationalizing parts of the article, albeit irresponsibly, to their advantage, but we must be persons who search and enquire always believing in God’s church. The focus here is reaching to all; after all, did not Christ say, “I came to seek and save that which was lost?” How can the church of Christ do any less for those in any sin be it adultery, stealing, dishonesty and the like? Reaching out to such persons affected is not the same as condoning.
Check the Source – Examine the One Bringing the Charge
Quite frankly, I do not know Henriquez and could not find a biography of him on line. One pastor told me that he is considered to be an off-shoot-like Adventist member. I could not confirm this, but I do view some of his teachings as extreme, irresponsible and sensational, which beg the question of his intention or objective. Nevertheless, I implore you to have confidence in the church and its leaders; and take the approach of not rushing to judgment, but research carefully the charge and the one bringing the accusation, as the truth stands on its own feet. Additionally, persons like Henriquez and their anti-church teaching should be avoided.
The Importance of a Spiritual Life
It is a bit presumptuous to ask pastors and elders to give attention to spirituality. After all, it is assumed that those involved in spiritual work will be spiritual. However, those of us who are pastors and elders know too well that spirituality is not automatic. It is a daily experience so much so that the Apostle Paul argues, “I die daily.” As for Jesus, Ellen White said that “while He dwelt among men, He was often in prayer.” He did this so “that He might come forth braced for duty and trial. He is our example in everything.” Additionally, she remarked, “And if the Savior of men, the Son of God, felt the need of prayer, how much more should feeble, sinful mortals feel the necessity of fervent, constant prayer” (STC p. 93). Accordingly, it is crucial that each servant of God gives priority to time with God, as this is absolutely critical for ministry and more so for life. By this I speak of a structured devotional life.
Take Nothing for Granted!
It is said that Songs of Solomon 1:6 is possibly the saddest verse in scripture as it says, “They made me the keeper of the vineyards. But my vineyard I have not kept.” Though the context speaks of a lady caring for her body, but in a spiritual sense I see a pastor caring for his spiritual life. Put another way, the Apostle Paul writes, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).
As pastors and elders, we need to pay attention to our own souls as well. It is necessary to give and minister to the needs of others, but to do so without addressing one’s soul could be risky, irresponsible and deadly. Recall the Apostle Peter who explained to the lame man at the Temple gate in Acts 3, “Such as I have give I unto thee.” Essentially one can deduce that a person can only impart what he or she has. Says Peter, “such as I have.” What is it that we have? It must be more than just ability; it must be a spirit-directed life, and that comes as a result of quality time spent with God each day in personal devotion.
The Minister’s Devotional Life
It is fundamental that we study the Sabbath School Lesson as a part of our devotion. It does not look good for pastors and elders not to raise their hand to the question, “All who studied –please indicate by raising your hand.” Also, the study of the Quarterly shows that it is important, as members tend to look to us. Another benefit is that it allows for pastors and elders to study and review church doctrines, positions, themes and various books. In fact, the quarterlies should be kept, as they constitute commentaries. Prayer is a must! I speak of prayer that involves praise and thanksgiving, penitence or confession for sin (yes, we are sinners but saved by grace) and intercession for our family, church members, community and government. Of course, the Bible will be used in the process. Also, personally, I find that reading some other book can be quite inspirational and supplying to the soul.
As we commence our annual fall week of prayer, which involves a set of prepared spirit-filled readings and a greater focus on prayer, I share the following article written a few years ago. However, I believe that you will still find it a blessing.
Most of us grew up in homes where we were taught to close our eyes when praying. However, today’s topic is “Praying with Your Eyes Open.” Such a caption is bound to stimulate some reaction sparking some of you to ask, “Is it possible to pray with one’s eyes open?” In many of the local religious settings, it is not something that is practiced. However, I hasten to explain that I am not referring to one’s literal eyes but instead the opening of the mind to God as one communes with Him. This is praying with one’s eyes open. The thought is one I came across some years ago when I purchased a book with the same caption written by Dr. Richard Pratt, a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary. Essentially, the book helps one to see what is involved in prayer, and hence this article as I focus on prayer.
What Is Prayer?
For starts, I note that prayer is not a gift of the Holy Spirit, as it is not listed among the spiritual gifts found in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4. I feel that it is for a good reason that God arranged it this way. It is no secret that there are some persons who believe that they cannot pray and should not pray, preferring to call upon others as such persons who are perceived to be gifted in the area. However, Ellen White, an inspired author, says, “Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend. Not that it is necessary in order to make known to God what we are, but in order to enable us to receive Him. Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him” ( --SC 93.) So simply put, prayer is communicating with God as to a friend, denoting a sense of intimacy that God desires with us. Is it any wonder that Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Our Father?” That speaks to a father-child relationship. An understanding of this lends to praying with one’s eyes open. So it is possible for anyone to come to God in prayer, for it is not our words that impress God but the contrite nature of our heart, and therefore any and everyone can get the attention of God.
Aspects of Prayer
In Psalm 54.2, we find three important points: the One to whom prayer ought to be directed, and that is God. Also, we find the one who ought to pray, and that is each human being; and what is involved in our prayers namely our words. Observe the passage, “Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth.” Praying with our eyes open involves knowing to whom we address our prayer. It is not as the Pharisee who prayed thus within himself (Luke 18:11). Instead, it is like that of the Publican who prayed to God (Luke 18:13). Also, David explains that it is us, and not special Prayer Warriors praying to God; and this we do by our words (no negative thoughts intended regarding Prayer Warriors. They serve a useful purpose). We do not need to impress God, for He already knows our hearts. Through this passage, David helps us to understand that we have a God who is eager to have us come to Him. John Scriven, the old Hymn Writer, captured this idea when he penned, “What a Friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear; What a privilege to carry everything to God in pray! O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”
When Last Did You Pray with Your Eyes Open?
Praying with one’s eyes open is praying with the understanding, knowledge and confidence that God is not only our Creator, but that He is also our Friend. He is One in whom we can trust with any and everything. I know that this may not seem so, as some time there may be those who feel that their sins are so heinous that not even God can forgive. So many are misled and mistaken regarding God’s nature! I need not tell you that this is the work of the devil in getting us to harbor such negative thoughts. Truth is –we may come just as we are, for God will not reject or ignore one of a contrite heart as already noted. We need God, because without Him we could not survive. And the good news is that He has made it possible through the means of prayer for all people to reach Him. So let us pray for our nation, as there seems no solution for crime and the fear of crime; let’s pray for those who lead our nation, for they need more than ordinary wisdom; let’s pray for our youth that they will make wise choices; let’s pray for abused spouses and children; let’s pray for the sick and afflicted; yes, let’s pray prayers of thanksgiving; for it is in praying that we begin to see God and understand His will and love for us.
“Faith in Christ”
Most Seventh-day Adventists are acquainted with the well-known text of Revelation 14:12 which speaks to “keeping the commandments of God and having the faith of Jesus” as two characteristics of Christians. However, what is less likely known are the different shades of meaning of the phrase “the faith of Jesus.” What exactly does that mean? Does it mean the faith in terms of a system of beliefs that Jesus embraced, or the faith that Jesus exercised, or faith in Jesus?
An Historical Look
I find the work of church historian George Knight in his work, A Search for Identity, most helpful in clarifying the evolution of Adventists’ understanding of this expression, “the faith of Jesus.” For some of the pioneers and early believers, they regarded the term “faith of Jesus” to mean “a body of beliefs” (The Search for Identity – Knight p. 107). One of the church leaders in 1850 indicated that Revelation 14:12 “had three major points of identification. It indicated (1) a people who were to be patient in waiting for the coming of Jesus; (2) a people who were keeping the commandments of God while waiting; and (3) a people who ‘kept the faith’ as a body of belief in such things as ‘baptism, Lord’s supper, washing the saints’ feet,” and so on (PT, April 1850, 67). Put another way, “the faith of Jesus” of Revelation 14:12 was obeying the commands of Jesus in addition to the commands of the Father” (knight, 107). The first Seventh-day Adventist Missionary, J. N. Andrews, subscribed to the same view.
At the General Conference of 1888 - Clarifying Revelation 14:12
At the 1888 General Conference Session, two young preachers, E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones, challenged the traditional view of Revelation 14:12. They connected “the faith of Jesus” to the righteousness of Christ. Ellen White held a similar position. In commenting on Revelation 14:12, she asserted, “The message given in Minneapolis was ‘not alone the commandments of God---a part of the third angel’s message—but the faith of Jesus, which comprehends more than is generally supposed.’” She added, “The third angel’s message needed ‘to be proclaimed in all its parts. . .. If we proclaim the commandments of God and leave out the other half [the faith of Jesus] scarcely touched the message is marred in our hands” (MS 30, 1889). Later, she would discuss the meaning of the faith of Jesus, which “is talked of, but not understood.” She would come to see “the faith of Jesus” as “Jesus becoming our sin bearer that He might become our sin-pardoning Savior. . .. He came to our world and took our sins that we might take His righteousness. And faith in the ability of Christ to save us amply and fully and entirely is the faith of Jesus” (ibid., p. 108). George Knight pointed out that this was no new light to her, as she was preaching this from 1844. “Thus she, along with Jones and Waggoner, had come to see the faith of Jesus as faith in Jesus” (ibid., p. 109). And may I add that the Greek language supports both translations, “faith of Jesus” and “faith in Jesus.” “With that understanding in place,” as noted by George Knight, “Adventism for the first time had a clear understanding of Revelation 14:12 in its combining of the law and gospel.”
Implication of This Understanding
Given the understanding provided of Revelation 14:12, Ellen White wrote that, “Of all professed Christians, Seventh-day Adventists should be foremost in uplifting Christ before the world” (A Search for Identity, p. 106). Additionally, she contended, “Adventists should preach both the law and the gospel.” She pointed out, “Too many Adventists had not seen that ‘Jesus Christ is the glory of the law.’” She further explained, “. . .one of the great lacks of Adventism was that too many Adventists had ‘a correct theory [doctrinal understanding] of the truth,’ but had not brought the loving attributes of Christ’s character into their hearts and practical life” (MS 21, 1891). Could the same be said of some today, that we could explain doctrines but do not reflect the love of Jesus towards one another, family and non-member? Christ in the heart ought to manifest a loving and tolerant disposition toward others. Five hundred years later since the Protestant Reformation protestants should be uplifting Christ and His righteousness. For Adventists, 129 years after the pivotal 1888 General Conference, we should be major proponents of a balanced gospel –uplifting Christ but not at the expense of downplaying the law or the righteousness of Christ. As noted by the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:31: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.”
Earlier this year, I visited one of the local fields in the union region and was most gratified to hear and witness the excitement with which the leadership talked about the ingathering program. They surpassed their goal by double digits as I recall. In fact, most of their churches not only reached their church goal but exceeded it. As a result, most of them, according to policy, would receive a percentage of the overflow for appropriate community programs. Coming out of that field I asked myself, “Is Ingathering Still Relevant?” The answer is “yes,” as the cries for assistance has grown, and we assist the marginalized and needy as mandated by Christ. Accordingly, I thought to share the following with the hope of inspiring a resurgence in ingathering. After all, the year is young and we have ample time to plan.
Consider the History and Philosophy
Since 1908 the Seventh-day Adventist Church has conducted an annual Ingathering crusade, endeavoring to reach nonmembers with a spiritual message. According to an official statement of the church, “They believe that Christ is the only hope for a world plagued with problems such as runaway crime, devastating wars, polluted environment, and other social ills. The Adventist objective of teaching all nations the everlasting gospel of our Lord and the commandments of God sums up their reason for a steady, consistent witness to the world.”
Furthermore, Seventh-day Adventists “believe in a wholistic concept of man and attempt to minister to his social, physical, mental, and spiritual dimensions.” Wherefore, they consider their duty as more than just “preaching the Word.” Instead, they regard “such activities as a healing ministry for the sick, the distribution of food and clothing, and the education of children and youth” as equally important as to reach the total person.
The Church’s Philosophy on Reaching the Total Person Is the Same
Given the fact that the philosophy of caring for humanity is the same, then one can rightly assume that the need for ingathering is still vital, necessary and relevant. So the million-dollar question is “How do we get our members motivated and excited about Ingathering?” Well, permit me to return to my opening story. The Cayman Islands Conference came up with a strategy to motivate its members so as to get involved as opposed to just giving the funds from their wallets or purses. Realistic goals were discussed and embraced. A time line was accepted and an effective and attractive brochure highlighting “labors of love” and ministries of care was published in color with clear photos and the right resolution. And as it is said, the rest is history, as the director and assistant director inspired the membership to get involved; and they did get involved!
Now, we, too, can get involved and realize a similar success. Again I note, “What a time to plan now with the year still young!” So later, when the time comes for the ingathering launch, we can reach and surpass our goal. Therefore, let’s get sharp photos of our good deeds and catalog them. Let us record some of our public and community activities. A brochure containing such information provides a good tool for members to go out and ingather. And with such preparation beginning now, the ingathering drive needs not linger on. The goal can be reached when more of our people are involved.
The Objectives of the Ingathering Ministry
According to the IAD Working Policy, the Ingathering Initiative carries the following objectives:
a. To bring the love and hope of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible.
b. To become acquainted with people who need spiritual and material assistance.
c. To bring to the attention of the public the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
d. To provide opportunity for people to enroll in free Bible and health courses.
e. To leave Christian literature with each person visited.
f. To give every individual an opportunity to contribute his time and monetary gifts to meet human needs, and in this way bring to the world the Biblical message of an unfailing hope in God. All are invited to join hands in this humanitarian and spiritual undertaking.
So contact your Personal Ministries Leader at the local church, and offer to become an active participant in this vital, necessary and relevant ministry, ever mindful that “The longest journey begins with that initial step.” You can make that initial but significant step today. Get involved and make a difference in the lives of others.