18 August 2021 |
For most of the last decade, Seventh-day Adventist church leaders at the highest levels have hammered the necessity of revival and reformation. The height of this obsession was perhaps demonstrated most starkly in March 2021, when 10 pages in Adventist World magazine featured messages from General Conference presidents Charles H. Watson (1930-1936), James L. McElhany (1936-1950), Robert H. Pierson (1966-1979), and Ted N. C. Wilson (2010 to the present). Each urged rank-and-file Adventists to put away worldly interests and pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that Jesus can come.
This passion demonstrates a conceit that salvation history—indeed, the fate of the entire universe—depends on the faithfulness of Adventists proclaiming “the eternal gospel … to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people” (Rev. 14:6, NIV).
It also implies that only Seventh-day Adventists can be trusted with the Holy Spirit, as if the Holy Spirit can be bottled and marketed “for Adventist use only.”
One of the most instructive and descriptive conversations about the Holy Spirit happened during Jesus’ interview with Nicodemus (John 3).
First comes Jesus’ assertion: “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (verse 3). Then, after some back and forth, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” (verse 5).
Jesus affirms that we don’t control the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit controls us. “The wind blows wherever it pleases,” he says. “You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (verse 8). The idea is that manifestations of the Holy Spirit are as varied as the believers who are born of the Spirit.
This conversation takes us, a few verses later, to one of Jesus’ most unambiguous and memorable statements: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned” (verses 16-18).
Notice the progression. Belief and baptism—“of water and the Spirit”—lead to eternal life (verse 5). Freedom from condemnation leads to being born of the Spirit (verse 6). How many Adventists believe that baptism is the end-goal of being believers? How many know that living by the power of the Holy Spirit is where the action is—and that living by the Spirit is when the adventure begins?
I’ve spent most of my life being educated by and working for the Adventist Church. It breaks my heart to remember the doubts I had about my own salvation and how often the conversations I’ve had with friends and parishioners have expressed some form of doubt that we are worthy of salvation. We were so obsessed about our salvation that the adventure of living for Christ and being filled with the Spirit was lost on us. When we were encouraged to pray for the Holy Spirit, it was with the understanding that only our lukewarmness was preventing Jesus from returning. Or that if we prayed hard enough, the Holy Spirit would somehow energize our efforts, like a cup of Gatorade helps power a runner to the finish line.
Being led by the Spirit isn’t so much to have a particular effect (such as facilitating the second coming) as much as it is simply being faithful to the Spirit’s leading, no matter how significant—or insignificant—the result.
Not long before the pandemic closed the General Conference building, a friend of mine suffered an unexpected and catastrophic loss. I sent a condolence card to her home. A couple of weeks later, I decided to walk to her cubicle to see how she was doing. Her cubicle was empty when I got there, so I thought, Oh well, I tried. As I was heading back to my cubicle, I spotted her in the hallway, headed my way. “How are you doing?” I asked.
Without a word she wrapped me in a hug and started crying. We stepped into a nearby conference room, and I’ll never forget her tears that fell on the conference room table. We sat there for a few minutes without saying a word. When she stopped crying, I asked, “May I pray for you?” I prayed. Then she gave me a hug. I went back to my cubicle, and she went to hers.
Every day I try to make myself available to the Holy Spirit. I’m prepared to have my plans interrupted, because I don’t control the Holy Spirit. But when I’m available, the Holy Spirit controls me.
Stephen Chavez recently retired after serving 26 years as an editor for Adventist Review. Earlier this year he completed a two-year term as president of the Associated Church Press, North America’s oldest religious press association. Steve and his wife, Linda, live in Silver Spring, Maryland, and have two grown children.
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