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Avondale College Church, September 2002

The Being Adventist Conference in Retrospect

Introduction. During 2001a wide-ranging discussion amongst Seventh-day Adventists in the South Pacific Division raised in many minds a hope that the destructive conflicts so apparent in Australia from the 1950s to the 1980s might be relegated to the past. On 30 October 2001 the Avondale College Church commissioned a Membership and Relational Issues Committee (MRIC) to prepare a report for consideration by its Business Meeting on 19 March 2002. The MRIC gave an interim report to an open meeting in the church on 23 February 2002; its final, five-page report dated 23 March 2002 was available on the church notice board for several months. Of the five recommendations adopted by the Business Meeting on 19 March 2002, the weekend conference entitled Being Adventist in Twenty-first Century Australia was the major initiative.

The seven sessions of the conference convened from Friday night 13 September to Sunday noon 15 September 2002. The following retrospective was written consultitatively by about 40 conference attendees and was presented to and recorded by the Business Meeting of the College Church on 19 November 2002, therefore this report conveys a consensus view of the conference.

A follow-up conference, entitled HEBREWS FOR AUSSIES IN CENTURY 21, Convened August 22-24, 2003, led by Dr. William Johnsson, editor of the Adventist Review. A decision as to whether to hold a third conference in 2004 is anticipated.

The Being Adventist conference was a local church initiative designed to foster unity and Christian maturity within our membership through earnest, prayerful study of the Scriptures and Seventh-day Adventist heritage. The conference presentations are available on six cassettes and it is hoped that the scripts can be printed in the near future. The content and tone of the conference provide a context within which to interpret the following observations:

1. To explore the way the Lord has led and taught Seventh-day Adventists from Millerite times to the present has potential for resolving tensions that so impacted our members and their friends in the past. Accordingly, we encourage our members to continue such exploration using the wealth of resources in the Ellen G. White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre on campus. All the printed items and cassettes mentioned below are readily available in the Research Centre or the College Library.

2. The Dynamics of Salvation statement of 1980 (see Adventist Review, 31 July 1980) is an appropriate point of reference for those in search of a biblical, unifying understanding of Righteousness by Faith.

3. The article entitled "The Inspiration and Authority of the Ellen G. White Writings: A Statement of Present Understanding" published in the Record on 22 January 1983 (also carried in Adventist Review, 23 December 1982 and Ministry, February 1983) offers reliable guidance with reference to the church's understanding of Ellen White's ministry. This document is basic to the South Pacific Division strategy document of 1999 and is illumined by ten cassettes of lectures delivered by Dr. Allan Lindsay at the North New South Wales camp meeting, October 2002.

4. The 1980 consensus statement Christ in the Heavenly Sanctuary (see Adventist Review, 4 September 1980) offers helpful comment on the church's understanding of the doctrine of the sanctuary. This statement should be read in its entirety and interpreted in the light of its authorship, nature and purpose.

5. Significant growth has occurred during the past two decades in the church's perception of the sanctuary doctrine, a fact illustrated by seven lectures, available on cassettes, delivered by Dr. Richard Davidson at the North New South Wales camp meeting, October 2001. Such presentations offer our members help as they continue to address such themes as the reality of the heavenly sanctuary, the linguistic understanding of Daniel 8:14, the ultimate vindication of God in His dealings with sin and sinners, and the pre-advent judgment in relation to the doctrine of Christian assurance.

6. The discussion in which many of our members and their friends have been engaged since 2001 indicates the purpose and subject matter of the September conference merit continuing reflection and application. The conference was designed for persons who "accept the Bible as their only creed," cherish the church's fundamental beliefs as its "understanding and expression of the teaching of Scripture" and expect revision of these fundamentals to occur "at a General Conference session when the church is led by the Holy Spirit to a fuller understanding of Bible truth or finds better language in which to express the teachings of God's Holy Word."

7. It is realistic to envision a Seventh-day Adventist future that is far more effective than the recent past. A core purpose of the College Church initiative was to better identify and describe (with the help of substantive church publications) the centre of Adventism and to invite individuals from the extremes of right and left toward unity in fellowship and cooperation in mission. Both the spirit and the substance of the conference offer hope that conflict can yield place to "the dialogue and dialectic of a community."

8. For some of our members the exegesis of Daniel 8 and Hebrews 6-10 may still represent fundamental and irreconcilable problems. We encourage these members to seek an awareness of the content and sources presented by Angel Rodriguez, "The Sanctuary," in Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology (Hagerstown: Review and Herald), 375-417. The analysis offered by Rolf Poehler's 1995 Andrews University dissertation or his book (Continuity and Change in Adventist Teaching: A Case Study in Doctrinal Development) published in 2000 may benefit their ongoing research. Fritz Guy's volume, Thinking Theologically: Adventist Christianity and the Interpretation of Faith (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 1999) provides thoughtful comment on theological method.

In summary, it is appropriate in this context to highlight a core principle of Adventism: "It is the first and highest duty of every rational being to learn from the Scriptures what is truth, and then to walk in the light and encourage others to follow his example," The Great Controversy, page 598. We are heartened by the evidence that shows much of the destructive conflict that occurred in the Australian church from the 1950s to the 1980s is resolvable in ways that are satisfactory to most of our members within parameters of diversity similar to those embraced by such standard works as the SDA Bible Commentary. Of course the church may need to conduct a carefully designed, comprehensive survey to test the accuracy of this assessment. Alternatively, it may be of benefit for it to review the status of this matter intentionally after a couple of years. But even if continuing reflection confirms this assessment, the church should remain aware that "fundamental and irreconcilable" differences still exist in the minds of some and continue to impact relationships. This reality implies a continuing need to ask how the church may better respond to three closely related questions: What does it mean to be Christian? What does it mean to be Adventist? What does it mean to belong to the church of the living God?

— Dated 19/11/02.

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