By AT News Team, Feb. 19, 2015: More than 1,100 Adventist pastors, lay leaders and young adults gathered in San Diego, California, for this year’s annual North American gathering of The One Project on February 8 and 9. Among the speakers were the senior pastors of some of the largest local churches in the denomination, chaplains and faculty from Adventist universities, and Pastor Ivan Williams, the ministerial director of the denomination’s North American Division.
They focused on a study of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount from the gospels. “Unity is mandated by God,” said Tim Gillespie from Loma Linda University. “Can we support someone’s intent even if we disagree with their action? … Love is required.”
Every speaker picked up the theme of unity in diversity as crucial for the Adventist denomination if it is to be centered on Christ. “God has called us to love every person … not to say to some, ‘You don’t fit.” stated Pastor Japhet
“Disagreement is not equal to rejection,” said Michaela Lawrence Jeffery. “We don’t show our integrity by assassinating the character of those who disagree with us,” stated Dr. Laurence Turner, an Old Testament scholar from Newbold College in England. He read to the group some of the criticisms of The One Project that he had found online and urged his listeners not to respond in the same manner.
Why is focusing on a Christ-centered Adventist faith so controversial, Adventist Today asked one of the planning committee later. “I don’t know. They haven’t talked to me. I just get letters saying, ‘Read this book. Watch this DVD. Then you’ll know.’ I don’t know why they are doing this. People go up to our children and say things that are really offensive and tell them their fathers or mothers are heretics.”
Evidently someone has caught the ear of someone among the General Conference officers. A number of sources have told Adventist Today that an investigation by the Biblical Research Institute (BRI) has been officially requested. Spectrum, the largest journal for Adventist academics, recently reported something similar. When AT contacted the BRI to ask about this, the reporter was told that “they don’t have a report yet. It’s too early in the research process.”
Later, Dr. Ekkehardt Mueller, deputy director of BRI, sent Adventist Today the following statement: “At the request of administration and according to BRI’s work description, the institute is always involved in reviewing documents as well as movements, ministries, and organizations. In most cases a public report is not available.”
Adventist Today asked several members of The One Project steering committee what was the goal of their gatherings. “To revitalize the church, the local churches need to be dowsed afresh every single day with who Jesus Christ is,” said Japhet de Oliveira, senior pastor of the Boulder (Colorado) Adventist church. “The church needs to encourage a vision for the local congregation. We get comfortable with just following a structure that just ticks along. What is Jesus calling us to do?”
“I hope that local congregations will have a healthier experience centered on the priorities of Jesus,” said Pastor Alex Bryan, senior pastor of the Walla Walla University Church. “I hope churches will care more for the poor and worshipping with great vibrancy; that people will go back saying, I want my local community to be filled with the life and teachings and Spirit of Jesus.”
An Adventist Today reporter talked to some of the lay leaders and young adults in the crowd. “This is my fifth year,” said James Ho. Why does he keep coming back? “To make sure we’re not doing Adventist culture just to be Adventist; let’s focus on Jesus.” It was “the discussions at the tables” that have attracted Kyle Kuehmichel, an emergency medical technician and the son of an Adventist pastor. “We need to grow … we need to be looking to serve those around us, so that our focus is all on Jesus.” In each One Project event the participants sit at round tables with about a dozen people each and following each sermon there is a time for discussion. This makes the impact more personal than most preaching events.
Is the upcoming decision about ordination at the next GC Session in July creating an atmosphere of division? Turner told Adventist Today, “You have to assume the good will of the people with whom you disagree. If you see them as the enemy … you just get warfare. You’ve got to assume this is your brother or sister in Christ. … If we had a better way of discussing these matters, we’d have [greater] integrity.”
More than 100 pastors participated in a full day at the end of the session which was specifically for ministers. The agenda included sessions on preaching, how to deal with the secular culture that is pervasive in both Europe and North America and the future of The One Project.
“It is disturbing to hear that BRI is being used to investigate initiatives of local churches, institutions and conferences,” a retired GC staff member told Adventist Today. “That is really not their role. They are not an Adventist inquisition. If things are moving that direction it is really beyond the authority of GC officers to mandate it.”
When Adventist Today asked the members of The One Project steering committee about contacts from the BRI, they responded by saying “No comment.” They were all puzzled as to why anyone would question their loyalty to the Adventist denomination or the 28 Fundamental Beliefs. None of them have any record of dissent. “I am sure you are wrong or this is just a big misunderstanding,” one pastor stated.