Randy Bierwagen, Carol Avila-Elder, and Eiji Minami
World Church Affirmation Sabbath held its first gathering on May 20, 2017.
The gathering was held simultaneously at Chewelah and Stateline churches for the northern and southern parts of the Upper Columbia Conference respectively. Those present were united in support of the Seventh-day Adventist world church, its message, and its leadership.
Nearly 600 attended between the two locations, and over 60 churches from multiple states were represented. Some traveled several hours to attend. Both churches were filled to overflowing, with additional rooms used to accommodate the overflow crowds.
World Church Affirmation Sabbath began when lay members of the Upper Columbia Conference felt a strong need for organizing lay members’ support of the world church and its leaders. The Seventh-day Adventist Church presently faces serious challenges to unity on important issues that profoundly affect the direction of our church.
The Day Arrives
At Chewelah there was heavy rainfall in the morning, but by noon it was sunny, welcoming a large number of attendees. Most came in from the northeastern part of Washington and the northern part of Idaho. Many participated in the potluck lunch before the meeting began at 3:00 pm.
The sanctuary was soon filled, and the Fellowship Hall was opened for overflow. The meeting was streamed to the overflow room by video.
The theme of this meeting at both locations was “Forward—with Yesterday in View,” based on Ellen G. White’s statement in Review and Herald 1851, “We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.”
The meeting at Chewelah started with the hymn “The Church Has One Foundation,” duly reflecting the prayer of the people attending. Opening remarks were made by facilitator, Eiji Minami of the Chewelah Church. Minami pointed out that each member is responsible for the present condition of the church, that finger pointing is useless, and that it is time for each lay member to take full responsibility to help the body according to what God planned for His last day remnant church.
A special prayer was offered by Alyce Ispirescu of the Sandpoint Church who authored our call for worldwide prayer to be offered on May 20 for the unity of the world church, for the outpouring of the latter rain, and that God would endow the leaders of His world church with wisdom, courage, and guidance from above.
Next, six presenters at Chewelah, seven at Stateline, delivered short talks, about 15 minutes each. The focus was not to forget where Adventists have come from—our history and our message, especially now at the fingertips of time. “We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history” (LS 196).
The first topic at Chewelah was “How We’ve Been Led” presented by Joel Haywood, a self-supporting Bible worker from the Deer Park Church. Haywood reviewed how God has led His people through the dark ages and the great disappointment, and that He will continue to lead His faithful people.
The second topic at Chewelah, “What Is a Protestant Biblical Interpretation?” was discussed by Dan Knapp, a retired pastor, now a member of the Ione Church. He explained how the protestant churches arose from Sola Scriptura, and the Seventh-day Adventists are among the minority of Protestants today to still adhere to it. But some are falling in the old error that places the human wisdom above the Word of God.
The third topic at Chewelah, “Messenger to the Remnant” was addressed by Sally Sartin from the Kettle Falls Church, an emergency room physician. Sartin reaffirmed the authenticity of Ellen G. White as a true prophet of God, citing various evidences. Special messages were given to us, the God’s remnant church in the last days, through Ellen G. White.
At Stateline, Carol Elder spoke of the dangers of sin, the battle we are engaged in regarding self, and the importance of surrendering yourself to the will of God and having a willing, obedient heart so that the Lord can change you. Elder spoke of how the Lord can give victory over self-purpose and self-glorification if you seek His will. She said that we need to have foremost His glorification, reading the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy, and a continual striving to “be about our Father’s business.”
At Chewelah, Don Eckenroth, a retired pastor from the Hayden Lake Church elaborated on the fourth topic presentation at that location, “Dangers at the Door.” Eckenroth emphasized on the headship model of God’s government, even within the three persons of the Godhead, denial of which leads to erroneous theology in some of the current issues.
Sorin Ispirescu of the Sandpoint Church, a physician specializing in pain management, spoke at Chewelah on the fifth topic “Truths We Must Share.” Ispirescu pointed out that we are God’s peculiar people. There are some pillars of our beliefs that set us apart, among which are the sanctuary teaching and the three angels’ message.
“Non-Unity to Unity, How?” was the sixth topic at Chewelah. Randy Bierwagen from the Newport Church, a general contractor specializing in off-grid homes, dove into answering this question. Bierwagen said the church members are responsible for the state of the church, and that we need to stay in the church and be part of the solution by being involved and making wise decisions in choosing delegates and officers who stand firmly on Biblical principles.
At Stateline, Kim Kjaer concluded the presentations phase, bringing the focus back again to the Bible and of making it the foundation of all that we do for Jesus Christ. The story in Haggai was told, how all of the remnant came and did the work. Kjaer discussed how we must all press together and unite on the messages of the scripture (AA 12), that we must support the world church as a holy institution of the Lord. Inspired writings tell us that “betrayal of the church is treachery” (AA 11).
The final 30-minute presentation at Chewelah, “In Affirmation of the World Church” was presented by Rhonda Backman of the Sandpoint Church, who has a special mission for teenage girls and young mothers. Backman summarized what each one can do in our local church level in order for this church to turn from the church militant into the church triumphant.
All presentations were positive; none were accusatory. The messages were straight forward and simple, and based on principles drawn from the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. Though they pointed out the difficulties we are facing as a Church, there was no tone of discouragement or despair.
Many “Amens” were heard from both congregations, and a spirit of hope and togetherness was experienced by those who shared the same convictions. The first part of the Chewelah meeting was concluded singing the hymn “We Have This Hope”—the exact sentiment that prevailed among the congregation at the end.
The fellowship supper followed where the members from the same region of the conference were encouraged to gather and get to know one another. Face-to-face fellowship was stressed during the meeting for genuine communication among the members, something that cannot be had by sharing information through modern technology. After the question and answer period, the 10 principles of World Church Affirmation Sabbath were read and widely accepted by the attendees.
The Chewelah meeting was concluded with a prayer seeking the continued blessing of God for the part we are doing as lay members, as well as for the leaders of the church.
A lingering crowd expressed gratitude for this gathering and the grassroots movement it represents. The feedback/response forms that the attendees filled out showed overwhelmingly positive response. Many spoke of their desire to be actively involved in future strategy and planning. The next meeting is set for September and likely will be held in all five regions of the Conference.
While the responsibility rests upon world church leaders to deal with open defiance by some in leadership who are resisting the decisions made by the world church, the constituents have the responsibility for how the local conference determines its direction. They need to be involved and take active roles in the governance process.
Could it come to pass that World Church Affirmation Sabbath might spread to lay members of other conferences? Will others organize to show concrete and visible support for the world church? If each Conference aligns with the world church, the unions and divisions will come into alignment with the world church as well.
What can happen then!