British correspondent J. D. “Jim” Douglas last month traveled to Austria to cover a major international meeting of Seventh-day Adventists. The only non-Adventist journalist at the event, he shared a dormitory room with West Indians from London, interviewed SDA president R. H. Pierson (see box, next page), was himself interviewed by SDA media people (Douglas is an author and theological authority of wide repute), and engaged in some good-natured ribbing. At one point he impishly pointed out to officials that they had allowed the sixtieth anniversary of the death of SDA prophetess Ellen G. White to go unnoticed the previous day. In an equally impish touch, an SDA editor published the rebuke in the conclave’s daily bulletin. Jim’s report of the meeting follows:
The fifty-second World Congress of the Seventh-day Adventist Church came to Vienna last month, and in a thunder-storming welcome the Danube unprecedently burst its banks. In addition to 1,750 delegates from nearly all the 193 countries where Adventists work, many others came as visitors. Local people swelled attendance to about 10,000 at the first Sabbath (Saturday) meeting in the Stadthalle.
It was the first time the SDA congress, which is held every five years, had moved outside the United States. This was done to stress the church’s international nature and to encourage a wider representation of delegates and visitors. The policy paid off, for every eastern European country was represented except churchless Albania. A standing ovation was given seven delegates present “through the kindness and courtesy of the government of the U.S.S.R.”
All sessions were conducted in English and German, with translations in six other languages transmitted via headsets. The congress convened principally to elect administrators and to carry out constitutional business of the 112-year-old church. (Policy matters are generally dealt with in annual council meetings, which explains in part why there was little theological discussion throughout.)
Reported statistics were impressive: a membership increase over the past year of 131,305, to 2.5 million worldwide (all but 800,000 outside North America), with more than three million in Sunday school. Nearly one million of the SDA’s members were added to the rolls in the last ten years. An SDA executive said that in Central America one new church with an average membership of 125 is being formed every twenty-four hours. Total global giving last year reached $348 million.
SDA distinctives were easily detected. A pre-conference press release, making it clear that Adventists neither smoke nor drink, added: “Nowhere in the Stadthalle will be found cigaret ashes or refuse from either of these indulgences.” Even non-smoking teetotaler journalists, if they wanted to eat on congress premises, had an adjustment to make: the vegetarian body had banished all meat dishes from restaurants and food stalls. Catering and all other business activity disappeared with the onset of the Sabbath, which Adventists observe from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
There were other differences, other emphases. The Adventists came across as a people homesick for heaven. President R. H. Pierson, 64, of Washington, D. C., reelected to a third term, in his opening address said: “Our hearts are humbled by the thought that long ere this the work of God should have been finished, and his people should have inherited their heavenly home.… They do not wish their lives to delay that precious event longer.”
Terminology tended to be esoteric. When Adventists spoke of God calling us “to be truly one in Christ Jesus,” it meant unity among Adventists. “The remnant church” and “God’s people everywhere” referred to God’s Adventist people everywhere. “Lands untouched by the Gospel” were those which had not heard the Adventist message. Adventists spoke as though they were tackling world evangelization singlehandedly. Many other utterances echoed that of Vice-President W. Duncan Eva: “God has committed to the Seventh-day Adventist Church the last task to save the world. We have God’s package deal … the Gospel from beginning to end.”
Allusions to other Christian churches were few and usually critical. The congress did pay tribute to the Evangelical Churches of Germany, which gave $4 million toward relief work in South America and North Africa in cooperation with the Adventist relief program. And William Fagal, director of the Adventist telecast “Faith For Today,” read to the congress a letter from Billy Graham received last year in reply to congratulations on the evangelist’s twenty-fifth crusading anniversary. Fagal further declared that God had permitted the invention of television, not to entertain but to present God’s message of hope for a dying world.
Adventist enthusiasm and joi de vivre permeated everything. It was announced that a special offering to fund new work in medical, educational, and evangelistic outreach had brought in about $2.5 million so far, and was expected to reach $3 million. Especially noticeable was the vitality of SDA young people, many of whom told moving tales of their participation in the church’s missionary program in remote areas and difficult circumstances. The church now operates 4,296 schools and colleges, three universities, 362 hospitals and clinics, and fifty printing plants throughout the world.
Outside observers got the impression early in the congress that the SDA structures are well organized and oiled. There was a tendency at business sessions to delay open discussion until a few minutes before the session was due to end, then adjourn with a promise of continued discussion later, perhaps toward the close of another session. Occasionally a nervousness was sensed, a shying away from sensitive areas or, as one American delegate put it, from “going too far in an open session.”
Some disquiet was evident when in one of the few controversial subjects raised openly, delegates accepted an official recommendation that “any member who persists in taking legal action against the church shall be rightly subject to the discipline of the church.” (The measure evidently was prompted in part by a 1973 California court case in which a woman employed by an SDA publishing firm field a class action involving an issue of equal pay and benefits. The woman has been dismissed, and the court decision is still pending.)
A CALL TO JOIN THE REMNANT CHURCH
More laypersons, women, and non-Americans are finding their way into the leadership circles of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, said SDA president R. H. Pierson in an interview with CHRISTIANITY TODAY correspondent J. D. Douglas. But, he conceded, the top executive positions for the most part are still held by clergymen, and he did not offer any predictions regarding trends at that level of leadership.
He was non-committal on the question of ordaining women. “We do not wish to take this step until we are very sure,” he said, “but discussions are going on at present. Because this is a world church we want to move forward in unity, and not all parts of the earth are yet ready for this step.”
He regretted platform inferences that only Adventists preach the Gospel.
Question. One frequently hears expressions like “The Bible and Ellen G. White say …” Does this mean that Adventists put the writings of Mrs. White on a level with Scripture?
Answer. We believe God inspired Mrs. White to write what she did, but she always thought of herself as a lesser light calling attention to the greater light given in the Bible. Her writings help us to understand the Bible. They do not take the place of the Bible.
Q. What do you mean when you speak of “God’s remnant church”?
A. We believe, from our reading of the book of Revelation and other parts of Scripture, that today God has a remnant church, the last before the coming of Jesus. Seventh-day Adventists do not teach that only they will be saved. God’s people are in all the churches. We believe that before Jesus returns many will respond and join the remnant church.
Q. Does this mean they will join the Adventist church?
A. We believe that our message will call many of them to join us in preparation for the coming of Christ.
There is some uneasiness in Adventist circles about the sparse lay participation in the church’s higher councils. Circulating at Vienna was Spectrum, an American independent Adventist journal, which cited the ratio of laypersons to ministers in the church’s courts. At the congregational level it is ten laypersons to one ordained minister. At the next level, the conference, there may be six ministers to one layman conducting the church’s business. In the union conference, higher up, the ratio is ten ministers to one layperson. At the Vienna congress, said Spectrum, taking statistics from the 1973–74 Yearbook, there were roughly twenty ministers to one layman (official sources protested that lay participation was greater, but could not immediately give a figure).
The church’s 353-strong executive committee, continued Spectrum, comprises 311 ordained ministers, forty non-ordained but denominationally employed and licensed persons, and only two laypersons. Three other key committees have no laypersons at all. Said Vice-President Willis J. Hackett, a clergyman: “As long as we hold ministers responsible for the success of the church, they must have authority as well.” Nonetheless, in the platform proceedings at Vienna many tasks were assigned to laypersons. They gave reports, offered prayer in their own national languages, and announced hymns.
Another sensitive issue is the place of women in the church. Speaking about International Women’s Year, Vice-President Neal Wilson—also a clergyman—said: “An organization is strong to the extent that it utilizes the abilities of all its members.” On another occasion a British delegate drew applause in suggesting it was not enough to “pay lip service to the contribution of women,” and indicated his dissatisfaction that the church did not ordain women. (The non-attributable remarks of many loyal Adventist women interviewed reflected considerable dissatisfaction with their comparatively subordinate role.) The delegates did vote to make press officer M. Carol Hetzell head of the SDA department of communication. She is the first female department head since about 1917, when a woman ran the Sabbath-school department.
Expressing fiercer opposition was a small rival Adventist group that mounted a demonstration in the park opposite the Stadthalle, complaining that the main body had departed from Adventist principles. President Pierson, replying to a reporter’s query, said he was unaware of their presence or their grievances.
Some traditionalists in the SDA family feel that Adventists have grown slack in proclaiming and applying SDA distinctives, and that this has resulted in a delay of Christ’s return. A theological shift of sorts has indeed occurred over the past years, thanks mostly to a renewal movement that began among SDA young people and has been felt throughout the denomination. “There is more emphasis on the heart of Christianity—on knowing Christ personally and on living the Christian life—and less concern about the doctrines of the church,” explains an SDA official. More attention is being given now to personal study of the New Testament than in the past.
Considerable international good will was generated by the congress. For example, music groups from several lands included a high school chorus from Takoma Park, Maryland (world headquarters of the SDA), and a youth ensemble from New England. After the congress these two groups traveled to Poland, where they performed in a number of cathedrals and at the government palace in Warsaw. Among the dignitaries at the palace concert were Polish Communist leader Edward Gierek and President and Mrs. Gerald Ford, who greeted the 100 teen-agers with handshakes and commendations. In city after city the performers were told they had changed the image of American youth in the minds of many Polish people. “We are pleased to see a group with such a serious dedication to great music,” said a church leader.
No figures were available about the total cost of the congress in one of Europe’s most expensive capitals, where delegates staying at the Hilton paid a daily room rate of about $45 and the Stadthalle snack bar charged fifty-six cents for locally bottled Coca Cola. Many visitors maintained a good spirit through harrowing circumstances. One Greek pastor with his wife and four sons slept on the floor of a local Adventist church and existed on bread, butter, honey, and bananas—a rare, inexpensive commodity in Vienna.
(The 1980 congress will be held in Dallas.)
Scandal In Hungary
The tense situation of church-state relations in eastern Europe sometimes produces incidents serious enough to filter through the maze of threat and censorship and reach the West. Such is the case of Methodist minister Tibor Ivanyi, recently sacked for his part in revealing an alleged plot of bribery and corruption involving the president of the Free Churches of Hungary, Sandor Palotai.
Sources in Budapest told a CHRISTIANITY TODAY correspondent that Palotai attempted to divert to a Swiss bank account $5,000 of a $50,000 gift donated by American Methodists for the purpose of building a church in Hungary. The 10 per cent pay-off was allegedly his price for getting building permission from the authorities. According to Ivanyi, members of the secret police and the government Minister of Cults were involved with Palotai.
The protesting Ivanyi was brought before a church court on a minor charge of “ignoring rules which limit gospel preaching,” found guilty, and handed over to state authorities. This action divided Hungarian Methodist ministers, who voted their support for Ivanyi by 10 to 7.
The state replied by ousting the ten Ivanyi supporters from the ministry. This deprives them of salary, child allowance, driving license, and access to state medical facilities, which even convicted criminals are not usually denied.
When new ministers were appointed to replace Ivanyi and his backers, their church services were boycotted. Most of Ivanyi’s members showed up at the church to ensure that his successor could not enter, even when police arrived on the scene. Later, police returned to raid a church service at which the 160 members present were noted. When they appeared at their places of employment they found they had been dismissed. Since unemployment is an offense in Hungary, these people were later charged and jailed for three days, according to the sources.
Meanwhile, claim some Hungarian Christians, “misleading information” is being sent to church leaders in the West in an attempt to cover up the corruption disclosed by Ivanyi.
LOUD AND CLEAR
A Minsk, USSR, radio station replied to a listener who requested that future programs include broadcasts of church services, sermons by priests, and reviews of current religious journals. The listener had written: “At present we are compelled to listen to anti-religious propaganda which is of no interest to us.” The request, responded the station, concerns Soviet legislation on the separation of church from state and school from church. To broadcast the material requested, it said, “would be a gross violation of the law.”
KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Confrontation In Kenya
Separatist leader Carl McIntire billed the ninth congress of his International Council of Christian Churches as “the greatest confrontation in defense of the Word of God in ICCC history.” It turned out to be a highly publicized confrontation between the ICCC president and Kenyan immigration officers. They deported the New Jersey radio preacher two days before the scheduled adjournment of the meeting.
As the congress opened in Nairobi’s modern Kenyatta Conference Center July 16, McIntire hailed the country as one “which has been made a land of religious liberty by its president, Jomo Kenyatta.” His keynote address, however, was devoted mostly to a defense of the ICCC and to attacks on Communism and on the World Council of Churches and a plea for Africans to reject them. He specifically condemned the WCC’s program to combat racism and charged that its grants to African “guerrilla” groups were a means for encouraging communism in Africa. Some Kenyan politicians, journalists, and churchmen began immediately to take issue with him and suggested that he was taking religious liberty a bit too far.
The congress program continued in the same vein, and verbal counter attacks continued in the secular and religious press and in Parliament. The first official confrontation came the day after McIntire’s press office handed out a statement on the Northern Ireland situation. In the document, the British government’s attitudes toward Ulster and Rhodesia were compared. British leaders were blasted for opposing the white leadership of Rhodesia in its determination “to uphold Christian civilization” in the face of “great hostility from Black Africa.”
McIntire and two aides were summoned the next day to the Foreign Office in Nairobi and warned to tone down their political pronouncements. He was asked to apologize for the statement on Rhodesia. He refused personal responsibility for the document but apologized for the mistake made by his information officer in releasing it.
A parade permit that had been granted to the ICCC was canceled, and government officials told McIntire that he should cancel the invitation he had sent to exiled Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn to speak to the congress. From the platform McIntire then attacked Kenya’s restrictions on his freedom. He claimed that the WCC was working in unison with the government and that liaison was being handled by local Presbyterians.
Two Northern Ireland clergymen stepped into the pulpit of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church (Unitarian) in the Ulster town of Larne one Friday night last month and left fifty hours and twenty-five minutes later, claiming to have delivered the world’s longest sermon. A Reuter news story said Robin Williamson, 40, and Robert McKee, 25, beat the previous known record by more than two hours and raised $23,000 for charity. They stated it took them two and a half years to write the 500,000-word sermon.
The next morning immigration agents sent orders to the airport to delay a Rome-bound plane’s departure until they could get him on board. They first mistakenly went to the hotel room of his brother, retired Army colonel Forrest Mclntire, who was taking a bath. The brother, after he returned home to Oklahoma, was quoted, by an Oklahoma City newspaper as saying he gave the agents “the worst old-fashioned Army cussing in forty years” when he discovered they were looking for his brother instead of him.
The ICCC president was eating breakfast in another hotel when the government representatives found him. After some delaying tactics, he was hustled into a car without his baggage and with only a few shillings in his pocket. On the way to the airport he was served the deportation order. His wife followed him out of the country on another plane.
McIntire’s Christian Beacon report on the incident was headlined, “I Was Kidnapped.” He promised to write a book on his experiences.
Estimates of the number attending the Nairobi sessions varied from 3,000 to 5,000, and a congress resolution said delegates came from forty-eight nations. According to the Beacon, the council admitted twenty-eight denominations as new members, most of them from Africa and India. This brings the officially announced total of constituent bodies to 230, many of them small groups that have separated from other denominations over alleged liberalism. The ICCC also reelected McIntire as president and planned its next congress at his movement’s properties in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Not only did the East African country kick McIntire out before he finished his own meeting there, but immigration authorities prohibited his reentry later this year when the World Council of Churches holds its fifth General Assembly in Nairobi. In a letter to “ICCC Brethren” he reminded them that he has reported all previous WCC assemblies, and he declared that the WCC was using the Kenyan government to limit freedom of the press.
Wycliffe: Contracting Opposition
Anthropology professors from Colombia’s National University have charged the Wycliffe Bible Translators-run Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) with “proselytism” and “neo-colonialism.” The group does not want the government to renew its recently expired contract with SIL, which began work there in 1962.
The statement issued by the group says in part that Wycliffe serves “neocolonialism’s plans, politics, and conceptions,” and tries to make imperialism legitimate.
According to Wycliffe executive Clarence Church, such charges have been made before. “For the past seven or eight years,” he explains, “there has been a growing belief that any foreign group working in Colombia is exploitive.” Although Church doesn’t think these latest charges will jeopardize the long-term work of Wycliffe in Colombia, he says he “wouldn’t want to play down the opposition. Any time things like this make the wire services, it’s serious.”
Crusading In Ulster
For the first time in over six years, a major evangelistic campaign was conducted in troubled Northern Ireland. This summer John Haggai of Evangelism International preached for three weeks in the Belfast suburb of Balmoral, with an average attendance of 3,000. Support for the meetings was generated when the evangelist met a panel of hostile interviewers on a television channel. He also addressed some 300 influential business leaders at a mayor’s prayer breakfast and visited the Belfast prison. There were bomb scares at the team’s hotel, but none at the crusade site.
At a meeting of the executive committee of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), members repeated their call for African Christians to consider a moratorium on foreign missionaries and funds as an aid toward achieving an authentic African Christianity. But the group also voted to seek $500,000 in grants and loans from U. S. mission boards to help construct a new headquarters building.
Canon Burgess Carr, an Anglican, was reelected general secretary. In other action, the group reaffirmed its support for liberation movements opposing white minority governments in southern Africa, and it pledged to work at developing a theology that is both “universal” and relevant to Africans.
Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, has changed its admission policy to permit the enrollment of unmarried black students beginning this fall. The school, known for its fundamentalist and separatist heritage, has excluded single blacks “to safeguard our Bible convictions against interracial marriage,” explained BJU president Bob Jones III during public debate of the school’s policies last year. (Some married black students had been admitted in the past.)
Earlier this year the Internal Revenue Service announced that church-related schools refusing to admit students on racial or ethnic grounds would lose their federal tax exemptions, even if such policies are required by religious beliefs. BJU became involved in litigation with the IRS, but school officials said the IRS position did not prompt BJU’s change of policy.
Jones said that the school “as a Christian institution cannot be in violation of the law,” and that it was “forced by a tyrannical government to obey a law whether we like it or not.”
As for convictions, BJU intends to keep its guard up. Interracial dating will not be permitted.
While many other industries are struggling to keep their sales figures from dropping, the religious book trade continues to bound ahead. Leading the way, say observers in the religious book field, are the volumes with a conservative, evangelical viewpoint.
When members of the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) met in Anaheim, California, in July, they learned that their combined sales increased an average of 20 percent in each of the last two years. This represents “stronger growth than in almost any industry in the nation,” observed John Bass, CBA executive vice president.
In the general publishing field there has been an increase of just under 10 per cent in sales since 1967, according to the Association of American Publishers. In contrast, the volume of religious sales during that period has jumped over 16 per cent. Publishers Weekly in a special religious book issue in July noted that it is not only the stores which have done well. “Beyond this,” reported the trade journal, “are a half-dozen significant religious book clubs, numerous mail order houses, church stores, seminary book rooms, house party (like Tupperware) jobbers, discount operations, door-to-door agents, and perhaps a dozen major national rack distributors.”
CBA stores in 1974 sold more than $303 million worth of books, Bass said, and if sales of Christian books by non-members and through direct mail operations were taken into account the figure would exceed a half-billion dollars.
Why are people buying more Christian books? In a Los AngelesTimes report on the CBA meeting and the burgeoning market, Russell Chandler quoted Chuck Sauer of Concordia Publishing House: “People are trying to get back to basics—the Bible is one. Why? They’re searching for security.”
Chandler reported that at least thirty-six religious books had had sales in excess of one million copies within the past five years. Topping the list was Kenneth Taylor’s Living Bible with more than 18 million in print. Taylor’s paraphrase in other formats has sold an additional eight million copies.
“A few years ago,” reported the National Religious Bestsellers newsletter, “a religious best seller enjoyed an annual sale of 10,000 copies. Now, even the No. 10 title on the cloth list sells better than 75,000 copies.”
Women are faring especially well in the evangelical market. Whereas the average best seller listing in Publishers Weekly includes only 15 to 20 per cent women authors, female writers were responsible for 70 per cent of the cloth best sellers on the CBA list during the first half of 1975.
With 5,000 attending (and the event is not open to the public), the 1975 CBA convention was the largest yet.
Under pressure from the European Common Market, the Church of England will revise its Churchyard Handbook. Last published in 1962, the handbook specified that tombstones and graveyard monuments “shall be of English oak or natural stone quarried in Great Britain.” The forthcoming edition will merely recommend “teak or oak or natural stone” with no mention of country of origin.
“We had a visit from the EEC,” explained editor David Williams.
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