Hundreds of Seventh-day Adventist pastors and laypersons from across Central America gathered recently for a Bible and Gift of Prophecy Conference to reaffirm their commitment to upholding Bible truths as the only rule of faith and practice.
The more than 600 in attendance testified about how the Bible ranks the gift of prophecy among the gifts of the Holy Spirit destined to edify the Christian church, during the four-day conference held at the Central American Adventist University (UNADECA), in Alajuela, Costa Rica, April 25-28, 2018.
It was the first such conference ever held for ministers and laypersons leading churches in Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, said Dr. Franz Ríos, director of the White Center at the UNADECA campus and organizer of the event.
“The Bible is our only rule of faith and practice and as Adventists we do not have a creed, the creed is the Bible and we accept the prophetic gift as a true manifestation of the last days,” said Dr. Alberto Timm, associate director of the White Estate. “We recognize that the Sola Scriptura principle, that the Bible is the exclusive authority to interpret itself.”
Timm emphasized how the church believes the historical accuracy of the biblical narrations, and that the Gift of Prophecy does not replace the Bible but “takes us back to the authority of the Bible.”
God speaks to us
It’s about how God decided to speak to man, said Dr. Elias Brasil de Souza, director of the Adventist World Church’s Biblical research Institute. “We believe in a God who communicates with us, and uses the Bible to communicate His messages and the prophets as His messengers,” said Brasil de Souza.
Just like God used the biblical prophets to guide His people, he also used Ellen G. White, a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, said Dr. Frank Hassel, associate director of the Biblical Research Institute. “Her writings were crucial in the emergence and consolidation of the beginning of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” said Hassel.
Pastor and laypersons were reminded not to run the risk of applying hermeneutical distortions when interpreting the Holy Scriptures and the Spirit of Prophecy from the pulpit such as reductionism, where only one point of truth is emphasized and that one loses the sight of the extent of the gospel message.
“As Seventh-day Adventists, we must be balanced,” added Timm. “Neither fanatics nor liberals, we must learn to distinguish between laws and norms, principles and advice, we must study the historical, grammatical and theological context of the Scriptures and of the Writings of Ellen G. White.”
Reaching new generations
One of the main concerns presented during the conference was the responsibility to reach and involve new generations of Adventist whose questions and challenges requires the church to make the prophetic ministry of Ellen G. White relevant.
Dr. Dwayne Esmond, associate director of the White Estate, said that “the new church generations, especially those born between 1990 and 1994 are very creative and innovative and need a different approach to the Spirit of Prophecy, not as codes that seek to change their behavior or lifestyle but as a source of inspiration that makes them relate more intimately with Jesus.”
Conference attendees were presented with survey results from a study done by Dr. Ríos of a group of 4,406 church members from across Central American countries in 725 churches on the behavior among church members who regularly read Ellen G. White writings and those who do not.
Dr. Ríos, who collected the data last year, said he replicated the study originally done by Roger L. Dudley and Des Cumming, Jr. in 1980 by the North American Division’s Church Ministry Institute.
The results were very revealing, according to Ríos. “Some 61.1% of those surveyed admitted that they do not read the writings of Ellen G. White, and only 38.9% of church members in Central America read them regularly. Those who read have been members for more than 20 years,” stated Ríos.
The study also confirmed the positive effect that the regular Reading of the Spirit of Prophecy writings with 87.1% of the members who said that they had a better relationship with God, reported Ríos. About 82.6% recognized their spiritual gifts for community service better; 76% of those surveyed are more aware of the need of funds for evangelism, and affirm that they are more prepared for witnessing; and 66.4% said they have family worship regularly, according to the study.
“We have failed the new church generations with the precious truths of the Spirit of Prophecy,” said Ríos.
The Bible conference brought out a number of resolutions recommended for church leaders and ministers across Central America to dedicate one month every year to promote the reading of the Spirit of Prophecy across churches and small groups, as well as more readings through the church’s initiative “Revived by His Word” and “Believe in His Prophets. Leaders also vowed to use digital technology to reach the younger generations with the message of the Spirit of Prophecy.
Bible Conference presenters also included Dr. Jim Nix, director of the Ellen G. White Estate, Dr. Clinton Wahlen and Frank Hassel of the Biblical Research Institute; Pastor Israel Leito, president of the Inter-American Division, Dr. Efraín Velázquez, president of IATS, Dr. Juan José Andrade, White Estate director at Montemorelos University in Mexico, as well as Dr. Carlos Elías Mora of the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies in the Philippines.