Robert Pierson's Address to the General Conference
Introduction in blue by Stephen Bohr, comments in red by Ingrid Wijngaarde
On October 15, 1978 elder Robert Pierson, president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, gave his last address to the Annual Council of the General Conference.
Annual Council is the year end meeting when representatives of the Seventh-day Adventist Church assemble to do the business of the church. In his impassioned address he warned about some disturbing trends that he saw transpiring in the Seventh-day Adventist Church of the time.
The seeds of these trends can be traced back to the late 1950’s when the leaders of the General Conference Ministerial Association met with evangelical apologist Walter Martin and provided him with selective material for his research on Seventh-day Adventists.
Dr. Martin concluded that the Seventh Day Adventist Church is no sect at all, but also not different to any other group of evangelical Christians. Martin’s questions to the leaders, lead to the GC’s issue of the highly criticized book, Questions on Doctrine, a so-called public friendly treatise on the fundamental beliefs of our Church.
Critics in the Church condemned this book as giving an utter incomplete image of the Adventist beliefs, and more over the explanation of the meaning of the sanctuary and the nature of Christ caused much uproar. They saw the book as treason, to appease the world, not to be seen by other Christian groups as different. The book was taken out of circulation just two years after its prior release, but it has been reissued now, totally revised under the title Seventh-Day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine (2002), edited by the scholar George Knight.
In the days of elder Pierson, the seeds planted in the late 1950’s, had become plants, plants that in our day have become fruit bearing trees.
As one reads elder Pierson’s address one can’t help but be amazed at the profound perception that he had of the crisis that the Seventh-day Adventist Church was going through at the time. Yet he saw that even greater dangers awaited the church in the near future.
Needless to say, his words have been fulfilled. If you would like to know more about what is happening in the Seventh-day Adventist Church I recommend that you read the book “Here we Stand” available from www.secretsunsealed.org. If you want to understand a litlle what the current controversy and confusion about Women's Ordination, Emergent Church, Spiritual Formation, etc. in our SDA Church is about, I urge you to read about the alpha crisis in Battle Creek in 1850, in: Omega II – God’s Church at the Brink by Lewis R. Walton, from Hartland Publications and Media. And: The Omega Rebellion by Rick Howard, from www.remnantpublications.com. Also read the dossier Emergent Church, the policy of the Dutch UC, on the Members page of this website - after login. Real Eye Openers!
As you read this address, will you, beloved Seventh-day Adventist, uphold the special message, mission, hope and lifestyle of our beloved church though the heavens fall? I pray to God that you will!
An Earnest Appeal from the Retiring President of the General Conference presented to Annual Council on October 15, 1978:
“This will be the last time that in my present role I shall stand before the world leaders of my church, your church, our church, and I have a few words to leave with you.
I take my thoughts from something that Elder and Mrs. Ralph Neall have written describing how typically a sect evolves into a church. They say a sect is often begun by a charismatic leader with tremendous drive and commitment and that it arises as a protest against worldliness and formalism in a church. It is generally embraced by the poor. The rich would lose too much by joining it, since it is unpopular, despised, and persecuted by society in general. It has definite beliefs firmly held by zealous members. Each member makes a personal decision to join it and knows what he believes. There is little organization or property, and there are few buildings. The group has strict standards and controls on behavior. Preachers, often without education, arise by inner compulsion. There is little concern about public relations.
And then it passes on to the second generation. With growth there comes a need for organization and buildings. As a result of industry and frugality, members become prosperous. As prosperity increases, persecution begins to wane. Children born into the movement do not have to make personal decisions to join it. They do not necessarily know what they believe. They do not need to hammer out their own positions. These have been worked out for them. Preachers arise more by selection and by apprenticeship to older workers than by direct inner compulsion.
In the third generation, organization develops and institutions are established. The need is seen for schools to pass on the faith of the fathers. Colleges are established. Members have to be exhorted to live up to the standards, while at the same time the standards of membership are being lowered. The group becomes lax about disfellowshipping non-practicing members. Missionary zeal cools off. There is more concern over public relations. Leaders study methods of propagating their faith, sometimes employing extrinsic rewards as motivation for service by members. Youth question why they are different from others, and intermarry with those not of their faith.
In the fourth generation there is much machinery; the number of administrators increases while the number of workers at the grass-roots becomes proportionately less. Great church councils are held to define doctrine. More schools, universities and seminaries are established. These go to the world for accreditation and tend to become secularized. There is a re-examination of positions and modernizing of methods. Attention is given to contemporary culture, with an interest in the arts: music, architecture, literature. The movement seeks to become ‘relevant’ to contemporary society by becoming involved in popular causes. Services become formal. The group enjoys complete acceptance by the world. The sect has become a church!
Brethren and sisters, this must never happen to the Seventh-day Adventist Church! This will not happen to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This is not just another church—it is God’s church!
But you are the men and women sitting in this sanctuary this morning on whom God is counting to assure that it does not happen.
Already, brethren and sisters, there are subtle forces that are beginning to stir. Regrettably there are those in the church who belittle the inspiration of the Bible, who scorn the first 11 chapters of Genesis, who question the Spirit of Prophecy’s short chronology of the earth, and who subtly and not so subtly attack the Spirit of Prophecy. There are some who point to the reformers and contemporary theologians as a source and the norm for Seventh-day Adventist doctrine. There are those who allegedly are tired of the hackneyed phrases of Adventism. There are those who wish to forget the standards of the church we love. There are those who covet and would court the favour of the evangelicals; those who would throw off the mantle of a peculiar people; and those who would go the way of the secular, materialistic world.
Fellow leaders, beloved brethren and sisters—don’t let it happen! I appeal to you as earnestly as I know how this morning—don’t let it happen! I appeal to Andrews University, to the Seminary, to Loma Linda University—don’t let it happen! We are not Seventh-day Anglicans, not Seventh-day Lutherans—we are Seventh-day Adventists! This is God’s last church with God’s last message.
You are the men and women, the leaders, whom God is counting on to keep the Seventh-day Adventist Church God’s remnant church, the church God has destined to triumph!
The servant of the Lord says, ‘Fearful perils are before those who bear responsibilities in the Lord’s work—perils the thought of which makes me tremble.’ (Selected Messages, volume 2, p. 391) And in Ezekiel 22:30 we read, ‘I looked for a man among them who could build a barricade, who could stand before me in the breach to defend the land from ruin.’ (NEB)
I believe this morning, fellow leaders that God is looking for men and women, intrepid leaders, men and women who love God’s church and God’s truth more than they love their lives, to see that this church under God goes through to the kingdom. The task ahead of us is not going to be easy. If I understand the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy aright this morning, ahead lies a time of trouble, a time of challenge such as this church and this world have never before known.
The servant of the Lord tells us: ‘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.’ (Selected Messages, volume 1, pp. 204, 205)
The Seventh-day Adventist Church had its alpha years ago. You and I are the leaders who will face the omega that will be of the same subtle, devilish origin. Its effect will be more devastating than the alpha. Brethren, I beg of you, study, know what is ahead, then with God’s help prepare your people to meet it!
‘God calls for men who are prepared to meet emergencies, men who in a crisis will not be found standing on the wrong side.’ (Review and Herald, November 5, 1903)
‘We are pressing on to the final conflict, and this is no time for compromise. It is no time to hide your colours. When the battle wages sore, let no one turn traitor. It is no time to lay down or conceal our weapons, and give Satan the advantage in the warfare.’ (Review and Herald, December 6, 1892)
And then I call attention to a vision the Lord’s servant had, in which she saw a ship heading toward an iceberg. She said: ‘There, towering high above the ship, was a gigantic iceberg. An authoritative voice cried out, "Meet it!" There was not a moment's hesitation. It was a time for instant action. The engineer put on full steam, and the man at the wheel steered the ship straight into the iceberg. With a crash she struck the ice. There was a fearful shock, and the iceberg broke into many pieces, falling with a noise like thunder to the deck. The passengers were violently shaken by the force of the collisions, but no lives were lost. The vessel was injured, but not beyond repair. She rebounded from the contact, trembling from stem to stern, like a living creature. Then she moved forward on her way.
Well I knew the meaning of this representation. I had my orders. I had heard the words, like a voice from our Captain, "Meet it!" I knew what my duty was, and that there was not a moment to lose. The time for decided action had come. I must without delay obey the command, "Meet it!" (Selected Messages, volume 1, pp. 205, 206)
Fellow leaders, it may be that in the not too distant future you will have to meet it. I pray God will give you grace and courage and wisdom.
Finally, ‘What a wonderful thought it is that the great controversy is nearing its end! In the closing work we shall meet with perils that we know not how to deal with; but let us not forget that the three great powers of heaven are working, that a divine hand is on the wheel, and that God will bring His purposes to pass. He will gather from the world a people who will serve Him in righteousness.’ (Selected Messages, volume 2, p. 391)
What a wonderful assurance we have this morning, brethren and sisters that you and I are in God’s work. This work is not dependent on any man; it is dependent on our relationship with Him. There is only one way for us to face the future, and that is at the foot of the cross. A church with its eyes upon the Man of Calvary will never walk into apostasy.
Thank you, brethren and sisters, for giving me the privilege of serving you for the past 45 years, and may God bless every one of you.”
Robert Pierson had a very clear foresight into the future, into our time, and he foresaw how people in high places from within would tread upon the fundamental beliefs of our Church . And he was clearly not the only foreseer. Ellen White warned time and time again, even in her own time for charming men with false ideas, like Kellogh.
But we don’t have to rely on the insights of men, for the Lord Jesus himself warned us against false teachings within the Church: “Behold, I have told you before.”
We would be very naïf and dumb when we think that we are untouchable for apostasy, because “we are rich – in the truth – and in want for nothing.” We have the infallible exempt of ancient Israel, that went out of Egypt with more than 10 million souls, multiplied itself greatly in Canaan to have only 7001 faithful men only a near 600 years later – only 15 generations! As with them apostasy lays just around the corner in our time, due to unholy alliances. We can also go from temple restorer to prophet slayer, due to bad advisors, or due to kindness to the world rather than to be obedient (see the life story of king Joash in 2Ki 11,12; 2Chron 24:17-22).
We often elaborate on the unique Advent identity. An indeed, our unique contribution to the religious world is our unique explanation of the prophetic Bible books Daniel and Revelation, moreover Rev 14:6-13 and 18:1-4.
But our message is not alone about the Sabbath, because then we could be Seventh Day Evangelicals. The matter we are presenting ourselves nowadays one might think that we are.
The uniqueness of our Church is that we have a complete package. We used to call it “The Present Truth.” A message of hope and judgment (those two always go hand in hand!; a call to give glory to the one true God; an univocal sanctuary teaching that’s connected with the reconciliation to God through Christ, - a message that makes a difference! The four angel’s messages is the gospel of righteousness by faith in what Jesus Christ had done, does en shall do. Shall we take away from this?
I want to ask you a few pressing questions. I hope that you will think for yourself what the proper answers are.
- How can we be a light when we keep it under the bushel?
- How can we be the salt when we preach a message without pointing to the differences? It’s the salt that makes the difference!
- How do we feel ourselves more and more uncomfortable with the traditional explanation of our Church and let us be lead away from the sound doctrines to pour a water downed wine, when we are commissioned to bring Gods last call to millions who are perishing if we don’t tell them about the rightful claims of God, which are being cast aside in many fold ways by the religious world? We often say: “O, we do not change the content, only the methods.” But isn’t that God has settled both the content and the method?
- How can we proclaim “Fear God and give glory to Him that made the sea… and the fountains of water” if we are not allowed to pint to the false Sabbath?
- How can we proclaim “Babylon is fallen, fallen” if we don’t want to say who Babylon is? That she is the mother church and that she has daughters, that she preaches a contra-gospel that intoxicates the whole world?
- How can we warn “if any man worship the beast and his image and receive the mark … that shall drink of the undiluted wrath of God” if we are not allowed to tell Gods people who the power is that is represented by the beast and why God dislikes his horrible mark?
- How can we warn “get out of there My people” if we join them and therefore feel uncomfortable to preach a message of separation?
- How can we enlighten the world with the bright light of the everlasting gospel, if we cannot unmask the false gospel that roams the world with its false gospel message and false mediatrix and false sacrifice?I know that it would be a reasonable question for me to ask: “Seventh day Adventist, whàt do you mean, whò are you pointing to, whàt is the difference in your message compared to others and to whàt do you verify your claims?”
- Why are there so many excellent, theological words about “our precious Adventist identity” if we ought to be so happy with the fact that our message stay behind the curtains?
- What happened to our message in our services? Attending Sunday services on Saturdays?
- Why do they feel so uncomfortable with our Adventist identity that they insist on changing the message?
We ought to fly in the midst of heaven en light up the whole world with the everlasting gospel of Christ – with power, unsilenced, unveiled, with open vision, without blinking when the enemy confronts us, to be seen and heard and conspicuous for the whole world – and we must do it with a loud cry, scream to the world that the time had come. That’s our method!
God has made Himself dependable of human agents. He needs you and me, for His children are dying, but moreover, it’s a privilege so serve Him!
There is no time to loose, children of God and anyone who wants to join Him, the hour is come for God to judge the earth and them that live upon it, everyone!
There is hoop and reconciliation for Gods children, them that obey Him unconditionally; them that strive against Him awaits a terrible judgement, whereby the Flood and Sodom and Gomorrah will seem like nothing. Thàt is our mandate, our only mission!
- Is this a difficult message to a world that eased itself in a cultural religion? YES!
- Is this a difficult message when even fellow believers hush your efforts? YES!
- Is this a difficult message to a world that doesn’t believe in God or Satan and where the greater part of Christianity beliefs that God’s righteousness is a kind of cheap grace that will save them no matter what? YES!
- Is this a difficult message to a world that counts the authority of Christian leaders of more weight than that of our Creator God? That majority cannot be wrong, can they? YES!
- But should we then deny our duty? NO!
- Should we fearfully retreat and feel more and more uncomfortable? NO! But then, how would we see God straight in the eye? It would be like saying to Him: “You didn’t provide me with strength and courage.”
The prayer reading of Tuesday November 10th 2009 said it beautifully: “.. worshipping (the Creator God) is a life of radical obedience.
If we honour God in verity, then everything we do becomes a thanksgiving sacrifice of rejoicing and prayer.
Then we will not fall into the trap of unfruitful discussions about “the imposed low threshold of purpose driven contemporariness” because then everything that falls short to the radical obedience that God desires, idolatry, in spite of the judgement of the majority of the world.
God gives us now almost 6,000 years more than enough evidence that His plan will not fail, because He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, and even until eternity and His words never return to Him empty, but fulfil that what He has sent them out to do!
But shall He know me, know you when He comes?
Shall He declare, “well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord?”…
I’d rather be a foolish slave of Christ than a wise slave of Satan.