by Monte Sahlin

By AT News Team, April 30, 2014
 
A video is being circulated on YouTube by an independent ministry that accuses a Seventh-day Adventist church in California of joining the ecumenical agenda of Pope Francis because a Catholic priest preached in the church. To discover the facts behind this sensational story, Adventist Today contacted Pastor Dan Appel at the Auburn Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Northern California Conference.
 
Auburn, like most communities in the United States, has an interdenominational group of pastors from local congregations that meets from time to time. Appel attends the meetings as recommended by the denomination’s General Conference (GC) Ministerial Association. Participation in such groups by Adventist ministers serves to deal with misinformation that is widely known to other faiths, as well as have opportunities to share Adventist beliefs.
 
A survey in 2010 showed that 24 percent of Adventist churches in the United States had participated in inter-faith events during the prior year. The survey was conducted for the denomination’s North American Division by the Institute of Church Ministry at Andrews University.
 
“I am trying to place the Adventist Church in the best light possible and build friendships for eternity,” Appel told Adventist Today. In recent years he has been invited to preach at a Methodist church and a Lutheran church as a result of his participation in the group.
 
For many years the pastors have organized a Lenten Series of mid-week meetings for about six weeks on Wednesday evening, rotating among the various churches. The rule is that no minister preaches in his or her own church during the series, so when Appel was asked to be part of the series this year, he was assigned to preach on the evening the group was at Saint Teresa’s Catholic Church and the associate pastor from Saint Teresa’s was asked to preach on the evening that the group was hosted by the Adventist Church.
 
Appel took the request to his elders and the church board. Both groups unanimously voted to go ahead with the opportunity. On the night that the Adventist Church hosted the series, the church was full and three out of four of the people present were from other denominations.
 
An unidentified Adventist from an independent ministry came from out of town and made a video recording of the event. A few sound bytes have been edited out of context and mixed with an unconfirmed statement attributed by the producer to the “Church Manual.”
 
The attack videos and rumors have stirred up a negative reaction around the world. “I’ve received hate mail from South Africa, New Zealand and all over the place,” Appel told Adventist Today. “I’ve been ripped to shreds for two or three weeks. Some of these people are rabid.”
 
To make matters worse, his conference officers just happen to face a routine constituency session in two weeks. A leader of Adventist Singles wrote to the conference president asking him to discipline Appel or “he’d have all 10,000 members of [the singles organization] attend the … meeting and vote him out of office,” the pastor told Adventist Today.
 
“I’m proud to be part of a church that tries to introduce people to the Sabbath, to the Lord of the Sabbath,” Appel said. “My goal for 40 years [in the ministry] has been that if someone wanted to persecute me, they will have a horrible time doing it because they will say, ‘This guy loves people and loves Jesus; why would I want to persecute him?” Appel never expected his persecutors to be fellow Adventists.
 
“People all the way up to the GC have been pressuring to have me fired,” Appel said. “Some have sent threatening letters to the GC, union conference and conference … just rabid attacks.”
 
To further encourage misunderstanding of the situation, when Appel completed his undergraduate major in theology at Pacific Union College many decades ago, he still had two or three required courses to complete before he could graduate and decided to take them at a Catholic university in his home town. Some have labeled him a “Jesuit plant.”
 
“My passion is not attacking Catholics,” he admits. “I am passionate that Adventists be known for what we are for rather than what we are against. We are known for being against all churches other than our own, against alcohol and pork, against Sunday instead of for the Sabbath. You rarely impact people in a positive way when you punch them in their spiritual noses, then expect them to listen to what we have to say.”
 
He wrote A Bridge Across Time, published by the Review & Herald in 2001, to provide a positive witnessing tool about the Sabbath. He has made friends with clergy from a number of other Christian denominations over the years. He remembers that while he was a pastor in Georgia some years ago, during a difficult time in his life, the Presbyterian and Methodist ministers and the Catholic priest in the town were particularly kind to him.
 
Appel did his homework. “Ellen White hasn’t written anything against Lent,” he told Adventist Today. It was first mentioned by Irenaeus in early Christian literature. “He died in 202” and wrote that Lent was a “long-standing” practice among Christians, so “to be long-standing in 202 it had to go way back.”
 
“The time has come for us to stop being known as the people who hate Catholics,” Appel said. “We should be known as people who love others more than anybody. When our message comes across a bridge of love and respect, people hear it. A relationship of love and respect gives us the right to disagree with them.”
 
He also refuses to say anything bad about his critics. “Their hearts are in the right place. They are sincere,” he stated.