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Without preaching the resurrection of Jesus Christ, "there is no gospel," declared Pastor Jan Paulsen, president of the Seventh-day Adventist world church, on Sabbath, October 10 during a morning worship service held at the church's world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.
In a wide-ranging sermon, Paulsen noted areas where tensions may rise within the movement, which claims over 16 million baptized members and more than 25 million people attending weekly worship around the world. For example, he said, "people by the millions are on the move from their home countries into another. How will we receive them?"
While noting that some may question the cultural differences of these newcomers, Paulsen said he hoped that a message of "come into my church and you will be loved" would prevail: "The Seventh-day Adventist Church must be like that," he said.
"The cross has made us all into brothers and sisters with no one of lesser or greater value," Paulsen told a packed auditorium in a service that was broadcast globally via the Adventist Church's Hope Channel satellite television network.
"In God's family, we don't value people on the basis of wealth, position, status, education, race, gender, color of skin, language, culture or dietary habits. There must be no sense of superiority or inferiority in any of these," Paulsen said. "The cross of Christ is the catalyst [and is the] great equalizer that levels all of us. Regardless of who we are, or where we come from, we each have the same value in God's eyes, and this reality must shape all our relationships."
Paulsen also called for world church divisions and unions to consider adding young people into more leadership roles, saying "in these matters, we haven't done well."
He added, "I long for the day when a much larger spectrum of those who are half my age - half my age - will sit on the committees which make the decisions of the church and will occupy positions of elected leadership. They do it in politics, in selecting national leaders ... why can we not do it in the church?"
Paulsen cited Ellen G. White, a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist movement, as saying that men and women and young people had a role in the mission of the church: "'Let not the youth be ignored; let them share in the labor and responsibility,'" he quoted Mrs. White's statement in "Testimonies for the Church," volume 6, p. 435.
In calling for the addition of more women in leadership roles, Paulsen also turned to Ellen White's counsel, from the book "Evangelism," page 469: "When a great and decisive work is to be done, God chooses men and women to do this work, and it will see the loss if the talents of both are not combined." To those words, he added, "We have a large segment [of Adventists] that needs to be brought in from the cold."
He asked, "How can all this be done? The cross of Christ is the catalyst that transforms relationships, that helps us see each other differently, that removes barriers that divide and are obstacles on our journey. Reconciliation always affects relationships!"
Basing his message on Paul's remarks to the believers at Corinth (in 2 Corinthians 5:14-20), Paulsen noted that the ancient role of an "ambassador," the word the apostle used to describe himself, was different in the first century A.D.
"When a territory was conquered, the ambassador accompanied the victorious general and arranged the terms of peace for the vanquished people, [and] determine [the] boundaries.... In a sense, the ambassador was responsible for bringing people into the 'family' of the Roman Empire. So Paul thinks of himself as a representative of God, who presents the terms by which people may become citizens of God's kingdom and members of the royal family of God," he said.
That responsibility falls on today's followers of Christ, Paulsen added: "The implications of this are breathtaking: Preaching the gospel is not talking about God; it is God talking through us."
In his address, Paulsen also alluded to recent controversies involving Adventist education: "I appeal to you as leaders to reach out to your scholars and teachers," he urged the dozens of church administrators present for the service.
Of teachers in Adventist schools, colleges and universities, Paulsen said, "they perform a valuable service both to our youth and to our church as an institution. Frankly, we could not be what we are and do what we do without them. They hold a very high position of trust: they teach our young people, they counsel our youth, they help them make the decisions, [and] they help them set the direction for their lives."
These teachers' "search is in the discovery and clarification of truth," Paulsen added. "I have to tell you that I have the highest respect for them and for their integrity. In their quest for truth, they will sometimes state positions and argue findings in which we think they are wrong; and we will tell them. We will address that challenge."
However, he added "we will not walk away from them and I do not want them to walk away from the church, with the values which define and identify us. If there are aspects of our identity which need to be reexamined and maybe adjusted, fine, we'll talk about it and we will test it by the writings of Scripture and of Ellen G. White. But we must talk openly, honestly, respectfully and carefully, and then we must journey together, bonded to each other by the power of God's reconciliation."
Later in the message, Paulsen returned to the importance of churches, pastors and educators all presenting the core beliefs of Adventism: "Let me be absolutely clear: Seventh-day Adventists have been entrusted with a broad range of truth-filled messages which we will proclaim. We will preach the biblical prophecies of Daniel and Revelation; we will preach the sanctity of the Sabbath; we will preach the health message; we will preach about the state of the dead and about judgment; we will preach and present the moral and ethical values that define the Christian life; and, yes, we will preach about Creation as recorded in Genesis [chapters] 1 and 2."
However, Paulsen added, "as true and loyal ambassadors, the first thing we must tell the world of unbelief is that God has reconciled humanity to Himself by the death of Jesus Christ. If not, our ambassadorial assignment has lost its meaning and we have failed. We are not there to be interesting or entertaining; we are there to preach the Gospel."
The worship service helped inaugurate the church's Annual Council meetings where leaders will consider a variety of administrative matters, some in preparation for the quinquennial General Conference Session of the movement, which is planned for June 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.