The following is a report on Ted Wilson’s interview at Andrews University, held on March 2, 2019 and conducted by the university’s president, Andrea Luxton. The questions were submitted during the week preceding the interview and were grouped and selected so as to cover the major areas of interest expressed in the submissions. The questions are reproduced mostly word-by-word (with the exception of question #8), while Ted Wilson’s answers are a close paraphrase, third-person summary. After the report I offer my reaction to the Q&A.
- You were a student at Andrews University. If you were to choose one thing that AU gave you that you took away and that has helped you in your leadership and ministry, what would it be? What is one thing you would hope students take from their experience here?
Andrews has played a critical role in his life, said Wilson, as it did in the lives of the other students, faculty, staff, and visitors. One of the biggest things that impacted him was the opportunity to study under great teachers, who, aside from being experts in their fields, showed genuine interest in the students and took time for a personal relationship with them. Wilson encouraged everyone serving in various capacities in the university to take a special interest in the students, as this will result in a great blessing. He considers his time at Andrews formative and praised God for that.
- Why do you think the church does not see more urgency in pushing the three-angels’ message? Is our church really focusing on the imminent return of Jesus any longer?
The three-angels’ message is the basis of all that Seventh-day Adventists are about and it has to be absolutely front and foremost in everything we do, stated Wilson. He likes to call the end of Revelation 14:12 the “caller ID” of who Adventists are. While some people feel this passage is scary, its core message is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. This is the teaching that Adventists should be promoting most, along with showing others through personal example the effects of a relationship with Jesus Christ. When we lose focus on Scripture, we become entangled with other things, which may be good, but are not of eternal consequence, said Wilson. He encouraged everyone to study again these passages and not shy away from the truth about the roles of the papacy and the United States in the future. We should cherish the freedom we have now and use it to share the message of Scripture with as many as possible. For example, he pointed to the involvement of the church members in the South America, East Africa, and the Inter-American divisions.
- What are you doing (personally, and the church leadership) to respond to perceptions and concern that our church is discriminating against others based on sex, gender, or sexual orientation? How can we remedy the hurt experienced in our church by those who feel impacted by that sort of discrimination? What can we do more effectively to address social justice issues in our church and the society as a whole?
Wilson’s first comments were that everyone should be treated fairly and with respect, and that Adventists should be foremost in helping people in need as part of our responsibility to build up the society. Our help, however, must be done in the context of the gospel, and our primary goal should not be to fix the society, but to bring Jesus to people. Since the industrial revolution, the world kept thinking it was getting better, but the only way for it to get better is for people to meet Jesus. This encounter changes us and gives us a perspective on how we can help others. In regards to the LGBTQIA people, said Wilson, we need to respect them, understand where they come from, and ask God to help us know how best to serve them. But we also need to recognize that the societal trend is in complete opposition to the Bible (which also speaks against abhorrent heterosexual acts). We must avoid doing the things that lead us away from God’s word and help those in need find restoration in Christ. Bringing up the abortion issue, Wilson stated that Seventh-day Adventists must stand in a loving way for the sanctity of life. While neither personally, nor as a church, can we be the conscience for someone else, we need to see what the Bible says and be the strongest proponents for the beautiful sanctity of life.
- (Luxton citing someone else:) I believe that pastoral ministry is a response to God’s call, and ordination is what we as a church affirm as that call. However, as the church has taken a stand against ordaining women, how do you respond to the fear that the church is now stating that God never has, never will, and never can call a woman to that specific role? Luxton summarizing other related questions: The action against ordination is also perceived by some as an action against women in pastoral roles or in evangelistic roles. A student from China talked about the unique situation in China and the role of women in the church there that has been really critical to the church’s growth, and what does the action of the church say about the validity of those women acting in pastoral roles?
This subject is complex, said Wilson, affirming that everyone is called to ministry, and that nothing prevents women from being involved in the spiritual nurture of the people. This is not a special private area reserved for males; even children are called to be part of it. However, the church has decided some time ago, and continued to underscore that ordination is only for men, and this, said Wilson is something we have gotten form Scripture. He recognized that the major difference on this issue comes from our differing understanding of what the Scripture says on the topic. Our way forward is to work through this difference, but meanwhile we must submit to the church’s decisions. We must accept that we function under the rules and regulations of a body we have decided will govern us. Our decision-making process involves discussion, prayer, listening, and collectively making a decision through voting. The votes may not always be what we want, and at times he was in the situation where he did not agree with some decisions at the annual council. Yet we need to abide by them. Concerning China, Wilson mentioned that some women leaders refuse ordination given that the church has not authorized it. Recalling a recent meeting between the GC and the NAD where the group focused on 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 and the ministry of reconciliation, and where Jesus was invited to be present, Wilson affirmed the value of dialogue even in disagreement and restated that the primary focus of our church should be mission. He also mentioned that many people around the world are not very concerned with the issue of women’s ordination. While he affirmed the right to be concerned about this, he encouraged people to look at the big picture and focus on what God asks the Seventh-Adventist church to do.
Recognizing that this will continue to be an ongoing conversation and that nothing in the church says women cannot be in ministry and be effective in ministry, Luxton asked two further related questions.
- How do I evangelize in a world that cares about equality for everyone when I don’t think that that is what is happening? How do I speak about my church with confidence when we don’t seem to be dealing equally with each other in a world that does?
Wilson emphasized that the mission of the church is to bring the gospel to the world, and that has to be the fundamental understanding of all members. Even if you don’t agree with how this happens, and even if you are embarrassed (which is regrettable), we need to remain focused on reaching people with a message that helps us transcend even societal trends. Those who ask the question or feel uneasy about how the church is doing mission need to look at our purpose as a church – to help people realized their need for Christ, and this might lessen the uneasiness as we shift focus to mission. Through prayer and reliance on God we can learn the best way in which we can share the good news to those who seek the truth.
- Concerning the difference between unity and uniformity, when do we decide which one? Before you talked about the church organization and actions taken by the church, and that’s when we should be unified as a people. But beyond that structural decision-making process, when we have an issue, whether it’s a doctrinal issue, which in one country may look slightly differently because of local issues, or whether it’s an issue of approach to people, how do we decide whether this is really a unity thing where we must all be together, or where we recognize the diversity and divergence of groups in the church and we allow some diversity of approaches?
From a practical and administrative sense, said Wilson, we can only achieve something if a majority of the church agrees. He emphasized that the true mark of being a Christian is humility and that when the majority of the church does not agree to allow a certain thing, those in disagreement must not give up their connection with the church, even if they think the church is wrong. Diversity is valuable, but when it is in contrast to what is voted, we need to accept the vote and abide by it even if we cannot do so with enthusiasm. Wilson also mentioned that he thinks God will ultimately resolve things with a special touch.
- We are in a university setting, we have a lot of millennial and generation Z’s in our midst, and to that group, relationships are very important, largely more important than the organization. Also, for that generation, at least in the wider community, there is a huge increase in people who call themselves “nones” – no spiritual connection, no attachment to any particular affiliation. How do we – the church, the General Conference – remain relevant to that generation, to this generation, and how do we engage them more intentionally in their thoughts of the church, in how they can be part of the church, and in what the church should be in the future, which will be their future?
Wilson acknowledged the validity of the concern yet pointed to the fact that throughout history there have always been what seemed to be generational gaps and distinctions. He stated that, possibly even for commercial exploitation, young people are segmented into groups and told what they represent. While there is some truth in that there are certain tendencies in our current society, we should not focus on the differences, and help the youth realize that “nobody is restricting them from using every potential that they have to be part of a witness to other people.” He emphasized the need for relationship with God through prayer and Bible study and being involved in mission, especially in the local church. In conclusion, Wilson stated that our church leadership is serious about listening to young people, but we should never forget our real mission.
- There are a lot of questions in our church now about the Trinity and a rising number of Adventists writing about it, questioning the traditional view of the Trinity, and promoting the Arian concept of the Son’s subordination to the Father. What is your view of the Trinity, and what would you tell people about it?
Wilson agreed that there is some movement in different parts around the world who wish to go back to an Arian point, which many pioneers accepted at first. He clarified that, as the pioneers studied the Bible, they moved into a better understanding and accepted the Trinity. Ellen White likewise strongly affirming this doctrine. Wilson shared his conviction that he believes that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, “have been together from eternity and will be together through eternity,” working in complete harmony. He added that he does not see the Trinity functioning in a CEO model, but, while performing specific roles, they work in absolute harmony. Wilson believes that, while on earth, Jesus was submitted to the Father, but does not think this concept is related to the headship concept or the women and ordination discussion. Emphasizing that he is absolutely not an anti-Trinitarian, Wilson, uncertain of how God will lead the church through this issue, encouraged people to study and understand the views of our pioneers in their historical development and explain the biblical truth when they have the opportunity.
- We are in an environment that is challenging, and it’s very easy for there to be fictions and factions. How do we move forward as a church? What is it going to take to recognize the fact that different voices will continue to exist and that is fine? That there are things on which we need to dialogue, and that is fine? But that we still need to be moving forward together? How do we do that?
Stating he does not have a complete answer to this, Wilson said he leans on the Lord in everything, citing Matthew 5. Our main challenges are lack of trust in Scripture and not sensing the urgency of the hour. This sense of urgency cannot be forced or imposed, but only encouraged by pointing people to the Bible and letting them know that they have a role to play in a last-day mission. As we focus on this and draw close to Christ, we will be able to work through our difference, stated Wilson in his closing remarks.
Editorial Note: We’d like to hear your opinion in the comments below. Are you satisfied with the questions that were asked and the answers given? What questions would you have like to ask Elder Wilson? Let us know what you think in the comments.