I will refer here to some words from the final speech of Robert Pierson as General Conference
President on October 15, 1978.
“This will be the last time that in my present role I shall stand before the world leaders of my church, your church, our church, and I have a few words to leave with you. “I take my thoughts from something that Elder and Mrs. Ralph Neall have written describing how typically a sect evolves into a church. They say a sect is often begun by a charismatic leader with tremendous drive and commitment, and that it arises as a protest against worldliness and formalism in a church. It is generally embraced by the poor. The rich would lose too much by joining it, since it is unpopular, despised, and persecuted by society in general. It has definite beliefs firmly held by zealous members. Each member makes a personal decision to join it and knows what he believes. There is little organization or property, and there are few buildings. The group has strict standards and controls on behavior. Preachers, often without education, arise by inner compulsion. There is little concern about public relations. “And then it passes on to the second generation. With growth there comes a need for organization and buildings. As a result of industry and frugality, members become prosperous. As prosperity increases, persecution begins to wane. Children born into the movement do not have to make personal decisions to join it. They do not necessarily know what they believe. They do not need to hammer out their own positions. These have been worked out for them. Preachers arise more by selection and by apprenticeship to older workers than by direct inner compulsion. “In the third generation, organization develops and institutions are established. The need is seen for schools to pass on the faith of the fathers. Colleges are established. Members have to be exhorted to live up to the standards, while at the same time the standards of membership are being lowered. The group becomes lax about disfellowshipping nonpracticing members. Missionary zeal cools off. There is more concern over public relations. Leaders study methods of propagating their faith, sometimes employing extrinsic rewards as motivation for service by members. Youth question why they are different from others, and intermarry with those not of their faith. “In the fourth generation there is much machinery; the number of administrators increases while the number of workers at the grass roots becomes proportionately less. Great church councils are held to define doctrine. More schools, universities, and seminaries are established. These go to the world for accreditation and tend to become secularized. There is a re-examination of positions and modernizing of methods. Attention is given to contemporary culture, with an interest in the arts: music, architecture, literature. The movement seeks to become “relevant” to contemporary society by becoming involved in popular causes. Services become formal. The group enjoys complete acceptance by the world. The sect has become a church!”
Pierson goes on to say:
“Brethren and sisters, this must never happen to the Seventh-day Adventist Church! This will not happen to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This is not just another church—it is God’s church! But you are the men and women sitting in this sanctuary this morning on whom God is counting to assure that it does not happen. Already, brethren and sisters, there are subtle forces that are beginning to stir. Regrettably there are those in the church who belittle the inspiration of the Bible, who scorn the first 11 chapters of Genesis, who question the Spirit of Prophecy’s short chronology of the earth, and who subtly and not so subtly attack the Spirit of Prophecy. There are some who point to the Reformers and contemporary theologians as a source and the norm for Seventh-day Adventist doctrine. There are those who allegedly are tired of the hackneyed phrases of Adventism. There are those who wish to forget the standards of the church we love. There are those who covet and would court the favor of the evangelicals; those who would throw off the mantle of a peculiar people; and those who would go the way of the secular, materialistic world.”
Pierson’s call for leadership is more crucial now than ever before:
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church had its alpha years ago. You and I are the leaders who will face the omega that will be of the same subtle, devilish origin. Its effect will be more devastating than the alpha. Brethren, I beg of you, study, know what is ahead, then with God’s help prepare your people to meet it!” “God calls for men who are prepared to meet emergencies, men who in a crisis will not be found standing on the wrong side” (RH, November 5, 1903) “We are pressing on to the final conflict, and this is no time for compromise. It is no time to hide your colors. When the battle wages sore, let no one turn traitor. It is no time to lay down or conceal our weapons, and give Satan the advantage in the warfare” (RH, December 6, 1892) “And then I call attention to a vision the Lord’s servant had, in which she saw a ship heading toward an iceberg. She said: “There, towering high above the ship, was a gigantic iceberg. An authoritative voice cried out, ‘Meet it!’ There was not a moment’s hesitation. It was a time for instant action. The engineer put on full steam, and the man at the wheel steered the ship straight into the iceberg. With a crash she struck the ice. There was a fearful shock, and the iceberg broke into many pieces, falling with a noise like thunder to the deck. The passengers were violently shaken by the force of the collision, but no lives were lost. The vessel was injured, but not beyond repair. She rebounded from the contact, trembling from stem to stern, like a living creature. Then she moved forward on her way. Well I knew the meaning of this representation. I had my orders. I had heard the words, like a voice from our Captain, ‘Meet it!’ I knew what my duty was, and that there was not a moment to lose. The time for decided action had come. I must without delay obey the command, ‘Meet it!’” (1SM, p. 205, 206) “Fellow leaders, it may be that in the not too distant future you will have to meet it. I pray God will give you grace and courage and wisdom.”
We can all stand together and ask, and search for, the answers to these perplexities, if we are committed to seeing truth prevail, regardless of where that might take us.