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Wednesday, July 27, was a beautiful day as we began the General Conference World Assembly Public Conference in Tortoreto, Italy, under the theme, "The Time of Reformation" (Hebrews 9:10). It was a joy to greet beloved fellow believers from everywhere. Some people arrived in the early morning hours, and others were still on their way.
Main thoughts of the meetings appear below. As you will see on the Program for each day presented in other News items, Wednesday and Thursday had the most meetings. More complete reports of the meetings will appear in the November-December issue of The Sabbath Watchman. Meanwhile, we pray that God will bless you, with us, through this link to the World Assembly!
Wednesday's presentations came under the subtitle, "The Great Reformers and Themes Before Luther."
"Holy, Holy, Holy!" was the first hymn we sang together in the Conference Hall to begin the day.
Pastor Felipe Acuña Sanchez, President of the Costa Rican Field, reminded us that it has been five years since we last met at the General Conference World Assembly in South Africa. We have been about our Father's business, privileged as no other people in being able to share the eternal gospel with people who are searching for answers to life's big questions.
Reading Genesis 13:10, we were reminded that Lot chose the verdant valleys in the plain of Sodom when he and the patriarch Abraham had to go their separate ways. He saw the opportunity to do business, to have night life and pleasure, and to achieve wealth.
When the destruction of the wicked cities of the plains was imminent, Lot had to leave immediately. What did he have to show for the years he spent in that place? He lost all of his possessions and his wife. The two daughters who went with him had been fully educated in the corruption of Sodom. Their unnatural offspring, the Moabites and the Ammonites, produced two corrupt nations that created enormous problems for Israel.
Today, parents can make the same choices that Lot did, supposedly supplying their children with all the benefits cities have to offer–business opportunities, education, culture, and the good life–but at what price? Lot's family was destroyed, and that is the high price that such places exact from those who would seek the "good life" that is really a enchanted, corrupt environment. Let us get far away from the corruption in this world as we prepare for the heavenly home.
Pastor Idel Suarez, Jr., welcomed everyone attending the opening service. In the last five years, more than 6,400 members have been added to God's church. The organization is operating in 135 countries. In 2014, the Centennial of the Reform Movement's beginning was held at the headquarters in Cedartown, Georgia. Live broadcasting from the headquarters chapel began four years ago.
Other highlights included a symposium in Friedensau, Germany, sponsored by Seventh-day Adventists to discuss the actions of the church during the World Wars. An apology was issued to the Reform Movement for the mistreatment of the faithful Adventists. On behalf of the outgoing officers, Pastor Suarez praised God for what was done.
JOHN THE BAPTIST–THE GREAT REFORMER
Pastor Suarez spoke about the 400-year period of silence between the last prophet of the Old Testament and the appearance of John the Baptist, a time when many in Israel questioned what was happening, especially in light of Malachi 4:5, 6, where God promised to send Elijah and turn the hearts of the parents and children to each other. In being sent as the forerunner of the Messiah, John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah to waken those who were sleeping and dead in trespasses and sins. The prophet pointed people to the Lamb of God and and came to restore all things concerning God's kingdom.
It was pointed out that every person has a throne and a cross. If one sits on the throne, then Jesus is on the cross. If one is on the cross, Jesus is on the throne. We were urged to see ourselves crucified with Christ and to put Him on the throne of our hearts.
John was also a symbol of the last generation on earth that will be part of the 144,000 and proclaim the Lamb of God as coming soon in glory. From Genesis to Revelation, He is the first. Let us find Him here at this conference and take Him wherever we go. Like John the Baptist, "He must increase, but I must decrease." John 3:30.
Two presentations were given simultaneously in two different places over the course of the day. Summaries are provided below.
COLUMBA–THE GREAT MISSIONARY FROM IRELAND
Presented by Pastor Pablo Hunger, a chronological sketch revealed a man who was very close to the Lord living from A.D. 521 to 597. Descending from royalty, his parents gave him the best education they could in northern Ireland. He was frequently involved in political strife.
He went into exile on the little island of Iona, Scotland (just 3 miles long and 1 mile wide) after seeing that war is not the way to accomplish changes in society. With a small group of followers Columba set up a facility to serve as a training center where important Bible manuscripts were hand copied and decorated. The monastery became a missionary school from which 300 books were sent throughout Europe. The seeds of truth that were planted in Scotland were never wholly destroyed.
Now we live in the last days, and we have a mission similar to that of Columba. Let us be people of faith and prayer so the gospel will go everywhere. The Lord is calling us to surrender our lives to Him, as did Columba, and to preach the gospel so it will be a witness throughout the world.
THE SABBATH, CHURCH FESTIVALS, AND THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT
This presentation was given by Pastor Manola Najera. There was spiritual darkness during the reign of the papacy, but the light of holy truth was not completely extinguished. Faithful men and women in all of the ages were heavenly witnesses who who kept their faith, who held the Bible as the only rule of their lives. Faithful individuals maintained their integrity before the Lord. Whole churches kept the faith and observed the commands of the Lord.
What were the main causes of the separation of the faithful people from those who followed human ideas and edicts? One was the Sabbath; another was the refusal to worship images. These men kept the holy faith in spite of persecution. They hid in the mountains. They were persecuted and oppressed and found refuge in the rocks for a thousand years. God cared for them there, and no human hand could touch them. In the same way, God has established his law, and man can never change His law, no matter how hard he tries.
When His holy day is honored, God is honored, even while Satan continues to attack the holy law and His people through deception. Missionaries to and in England, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and other European countries maintained the ancient faih. They were examples for us. We can and are privileged to be repairers of the breach and reformers for God in the last days.
PETER WALDO AND THE WALDENSES
Pastor Douglas Francis told about Peter Waldo and the Waldenses, that appear to have been named after him. In Daniel 7:7 is the symbol of the fourth beast, which is terrible and dangerous, first pagan and then papal Rome. Up until the 14th century, Rome became the greatest persecuting power, the worst part being the Inquisition, which was active in Peru, India, and Europe. One person wrote, "The noon of the papcy was the midnight of the world." Not to convert to Catholicism meant death. Nevertheless, the Waldensees wanted nothing more than to keep the Holy Scriptures as they were and obey the instructions found there. Their lifestyle was very similar to what we practice and was popular.
The same truths that were important to them, and for which they were persecuted, are important to us today:
They were actually called the "Israel of the Alps." It was recorded that they were recognized by their modesty and precision of speech. After so much persecution that they endured, the Waldensees were granted righte os citizenship on February 17, 1848. We were cautioned that, especially in first world countries, we are enslaved to the system and must be very careful today, otherwise we may have problems when the Sunday law comes.
GIROLAMO SAVONAROLA–THE GREAT ITALIAN REFORMER
It was fitting that Pastor Francesco Caputo, from Italy, spoke about this preacher and prophet who wanted God to lead in an age when the popes were extremely corrupt. Girolamo Savonarola preached concerning the terrible moral condition of the church and confirmed that Rome was the Babylon of Revelation. He also preached against the papacy and longed for a kingdom in which Jesus was King, knowing that this would lead to more persecution. He proposed practical Christianity that springs from the heart, love, and righteousness.
When he was condemned to death, he was told that he was losing both his earthly life and his eternal life. But he immediately disagreed, statying, "You have no power in heaven." Such great reformers as Savonarola were men of integrity and courage who had Jesus as the center and the very end of their lives. It is clear that man is the worst kind of animal when he does not keep God's law; corruption is in his heart.
The lesson for today is that when the Sunday law comes, each of us will need to decide whom we will serve. It is easy to be a Christian when things are going well. But it is when things are not going well that we learn the most, especially that evil will be overcome through the power and strength of Jesus in His people.
CELIBACY, MARRIAGE, AND THE FAMILY
This subject was presented by Pastor Alfonso Reto. There is a blessing in obedience, especially when it comes to honoring the marriage vow. A deeper understanding of the Scriptures (comparing important Bible texts on this subject in different versions) provides a foundation so the marriage institution will achieve the purpose for which God gave it. Problems will always present themselves in marriage; but, with God’s help, every problem can be overcome within the marriage and deepen one's Christian experience.
The Bible does not condone leaving a marriage because of problems and beginning another marriage. Some advocate celibacy instead of marriage, but the Bible does not require this. Celibacy is a choice, not a requirement. It is asserted by Catholic doctrine that Peter was the first pope, and he was a married man whose mother-in-law was healed by Jesus. No matter if we’re married or single, we should remain faithful to God in all things.
JOHN WYCLIFFE–THE MORNING STAR OF ENGLAND
Also referred to as "The Heretic of Litterworth," John Wycliffe was depicted by Pastor Larry Watts as one who came from a wealthy family and was given an excellent education at Oxford University. At the time (about 120 years before America was discovered), people had little more than did Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They did have paper, eyeglasses, firearms, compass, sextant; but they were mostly illiterate and were being held in spiritual darkness by the established church.
Wycliffe resisted the power of the church to impose its will on the people. Oxford became his center of influence, where he fell in love with God, with His word, and with his fellow man. His great desire became to make the Scriptures available to the common person, who could them know God's word directly for himself. He believed that the Bible was simple enough for all to read and determine His will. In contrast to the popes and clergy, he called for pastors to live simply and for the Scriptures to be the supreme authority of truth and practice. He preached that the Catholic Church was the antichrist and as a result endured rejection, slander, and persecution.
He became very sick when he was less than 60 years old, and he received a visit from members of four different religious orders along with civil authorities. They insisted that he was going to die, so he must retract his teachings or he would face the fires of hell. The reformer listened patiently and then asked to be raised up in his bed. He replied that he would not die but rise and declare the evils of the friars. After that, he translated the Bible into English. He died six years later. Thirty years later, his bones were dug up by the established church and burned, with the ashes cast into a brook that carried them to the sea, just as his teachings went to the whole world.
MORAVIAN BRETHREN AND BIBLE TRANSLATION
Pastor Antonin Salavyov, who is originally from Bulgaria, reviewed the history of the Christians in the region, beginning with the persecution of Stephen right after the time of Jesus and going up to the time of John Huss, who was burned at the stake for his faith. Filled with the love and power of the Holy Spirit, he helped to drive back the darkness of the Dark Ages by revealing the light of the simple but deep gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Dark Ages were a time of great evil. The pure church of God was corrupted by pagan teachings. But God had a remnant who kept His teachings pure during this time of compromise. Descendants of the disciples of the apostle Paul reached Moravia; they translated the Bible into the Slovak language, with the Cyrillic alphabet. A fire was thus lit in Eastern Europe that could not be quenched. It spread throughout Europe and around the world. May we have courage to stand for truth even though the world hates us.
JOHN HUSS–THE REFORMER FROM BOHEMIA (CZECH) AND THE TIME OF THE END
Pastor Tzvetan Petkov’s presentation showed that as the 14th century closed and the 15th began, the gospel, Bohemia covered a portion of Europe that included today’s Czech and Germany, as well as Moravia. That area was home to men who were advanced in religious thought.
Although John Huss was poor and orphaned at a young age, he qualified to enter the University of Prague, where he studied very hard and was blessed by God to discover the Bible and learn to trust it. Even as a child he was mocked, so he simply ignored the criticism of his ideas concerning the Scriptures. Besides, in 1 Corinthians 1:18, 23, the apostle wrote that “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness,” a stumbling block to the Jews, and foolishness to the Greeks.”
Huss was impressed by the artist preachers who visually contrasted the Saviour’s humility with the pride of the popes. He connected with Wycliffe and Jerome and saw that he was not alone in his views of Scripture. He preached against corruption of the clergy and war, widely influencing religious thought. When he was called to the Council of Constance in 1414 to give account of his doctrine, he was immediately arrested, even though he had been granted safe conduct. He thought that the authorities would listen with honesty and change, but this proved not to be the case. He died at the stake. His courage in preaching against the abuse of authority gave others courage to take up the battle for God.
PURGATORY, IMMORTALITY, AND THE RESURRECTION
The practical importance of the truth concerning what happens when one dies was presented by Pastor Joel Barnedo, who spoke of his personal experience when two cousins died with six months of each other. It was a shock to the family, and questions arose about why such things happen. Satan is at hand to inject his deceptions into such situations, and spiritism is rampant across the world on many fronts. Some are subtle, but many are overt and openly destructive, all of them calculated to ensnare the people's minds.
The Scriptures document examples of individuals–even among God's people–who turned from clear Scripture to the doctrines of devils. Rebellion and lack of faith lead to disobedience and entrapment in the occult. Satan has been given a free hand in the media, in churches, and in government.
It is the Bible alone that counteracts such evil. It shows clearly that death is the exact opposite of creation. When God created Adam, He took the elements of the earth and formed them into the shell of a man. Only when God breathed into Adam the breath of life did he become a living soul. When death comes, the breath of God leaves the body and returns to God, leaving the elements of the lifeless body to return to the earth. The resurrection is the restoration of life to the sleeping soul. The world says, “Death is the end.” But the apostle Paul says that death is the beginning. Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in Me.” John 14:1. Praise God that, even when faced with death, we have hope.
JEROME–THE KNIGHT FROM BOHEMIA (CZECH)
Pastor Roland De La Paz continued the stories about the Reformers before Martin Luther with an account of Jerome, whom John Huss mentored. Jerome’s rhetoric and oratory attracted many people, who demonstrated against the church. He called for the church to serve as Jesus did, not making Catholic Church wealthy by taking from the people. He also advocated freedom in preaching and wine in the Lord’s Supper to be served to the laity, not just the clergy.
Jerome had multiple degrees from universities in Prague, Paris, Cologne, and Heidelberg. He insisted that the Bible’s teachings were for all the people and that all should obey them. He was in and out of prison for preaching as he did. In 1414, he traveled with Huss to Constance, but without a safe conduct. He was arrested on his way back to Bohemia and kept in a cold, filthy prison for many months.
Called to appear before the Council of Constance, as Huss had been, Jerome recanted and agreed to adhere to the Catholic faith. However, he immediately was sorry for having done that and pleaded with God for strength to defend Him. When he was brought before the Council again–because the church authorities weren’t convinced that he meant what he had agreed to earlier–he renounced his former recantation. Jesus’ words guided him, and speaking with power despite his physical weakness, he confirmed that his belief was the same as that of Wycliffe and Huss. “I am ready to die,” he said, and as he was burned at the stake, his last words were, “Lord, have pity on me, pardon my sons.” His ashes were scattered on the Rhine River. Both Huss and Jerome prepared for their death as if going to a marriage feast, singing and praising God, and this greatly encouraged others to follow them in defending the ancient faith.
THE DEBATE OVER THE BREAD AND WINE OF THE LORD'S SUPPER
Pastor Antonino Di Franca presented some history concerning Jesus' words to the disciples when he instituted the Lord's Supper, which replaced the passover in the Christian church that He set up. There was a big discussion about this among The reformers. Calvin preached something different, but Zwingli had a correct interpretation. The bread and wine symbolically represent the body and blood of Jesus. From Zwingli, we inherited this great truth about the wonderful meaning of the Lord’s Supper.
The broken bread and the pure juice of the grapevine give a picture of the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus. Bread that is leavened will not come to the communion table. It does not rightly represent the Lord, His life, or His death. Let us not be confused about this.
"He took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is My body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of Me." Luke 22:19. Jesus did not say that the Lord's Supper was a celebration or repetition of His sacrifice. Rather, its purpose is to remind us of what He did for us. Look at 1 Corinthians 11:24-26, where the apostle Paul quotes Jesus' words. “Take, eat: this is My body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of Me." We are to remember Jesus Christ, His obedience, and His sacrifice. "This cup is the new testament in My blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me." This is the true meaning of the Lord’s Supper. The above three verses all speak about remembrance. As reformers, we must stay true to the teaching of the Bible. And in 1 Corinthians 10:16, it says: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ. The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" When we take the body and blood of Christ, we come into communion with God and with our fellow believers. We should never go outside of this teaching. "This cup is the new testament in My blood." Luke 22:20.
His one sacrifice is effective for man's salvation. Hebrews 9:11, 12. He entered into the Holy Place through His own blood ONCE. Hebrews 10:28. The sacrifice was made one time, not repeated daily or weekly or yearly. Just one time for all time was complete. The Lord’s Supper is not a repeating of the sacrifice. It is for the purpose of remembering Jesus Christ and being in communion with Him and our fellow believers.
“The Enemy Within” was the subject of the evening worship, presented by Pastor Morris Lowe, from Canada. He stated that all of us have an enemy within. At his creation, man was made in God’s image and given ten gifts: life, a sinless nature, a marriage companion, reproduction, a healthful diet, a beautiful home, dominion, employment, the holy Sabbath, and God’s commandments. But he forfeited these gifts by choosing to sin against God.
Exiled and no longer able to commune directly with God, he bore children in his own likeness. Sin is a tremendous evil, for the mind is perverted and the imagination is corrupted. “The flesh profiteth nothing,” Jesus said in John 6:63. The flesh is the human nature, man’s basic character, the sum of who he is. “At its very source, human nature is corrupt.” –Review and Herald, April 16, 1901. And Abraham Lincoln said, “Human action can be modified to some extent, but human nature cannot be changed.”
To return to Eden is not easy, and most people will not make it. Why because of the enemy within–human nature. It cannot be changed unless God changes it. Man cannot. “… Our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” Romans 6:6. Clinging to one evil trait or even one sinful desire will neutralize the gospel. We can rejoice that through Jesus the enemy within can be destroyed. That is a powerful incentive and a great hope.