A Warning Ignored

TimeWatch Editorial
February 18, 2017

The Adventist Review published an important article on October 26, 1978 which revealed the fact that the then President of the General Conference of Seventh Day Adventist, Robert H. Pierson, announced that he would be retiring. That article described it as “a dramatic announcement that caught those attending the Annual Council by surprise. Pierson, with his wife standing by his side, told a hushed audience that for health reasons he is laying down the duties of his office.” Elder Pierson was born in the year 1911, the same year that the final edition of the Great Controversy was published.

“Born in Brooklyn, Iowa, in 1911, Elder Pierson began his ministry in Decatur, Georgia, in 1933. He spent most of his 46-years ministry as a church administrator in India, Jamaica, Trinidad, Tennessee, Texas, and Zimbabwe. After serving in Georgia for two years as a' church pastor and departmental secretary, he came to India in September 1935 to serve as the pastor of the Bombay church. It was while working here that he was ordained to the Gospel ministry in 1939. Elder Pierson spent 46 years in ministry, another 10 in service after "retirement". Of the 46, 25 came in overseas posts. It was fitting that this leader of God's people should lay down his tasks still active, and thousands of miles from his home in North Carolina. Although Elder Pierson turned 78 January 3, he and his wife accepted an invitation to serve as interim pastor of Kaitua church on the islands of Hawaii. The Piersons were only a few weeks into their two-month assignment when Elder Pierson suffered a massive heart attack.”  Southern Asia Tidings, page 6, March 1989

Pierson’s commitment to his calling was seen throughout his entire ministry. The Southern Asia Tidings makes the point that “His first message to the church after becoming General Conference president called for reformation and revival. Throughout the nearly 13 years of his leadership in Washington, D. C., he returned to this theme. After he retired he confided in Ted Webster that the response to his call had fallen short of his hopes. But he never failed to sound that call.”  What is, however the most memorable event of Elder Pierson’s service is the speech he gave the Annual Council after his announcement of retirement, October 16, 1978. In that speech, he expresses concern about the direction that God’s Church will take in the future. He first describes the first generation of believers those who have come to the faith with an earnestness that is filled with determination and joy. He recognizes in them a preference for truth rather than fame or wealth. Then he describes the generation that follows. This is how he puts it.

“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.”Robert H. Pierson, Presented to the Annual Council after his announcement of retirement, October 16, 1978.

Every time I go back and take a look at that speech, I am convinced that it was not accidental presentation. It was a warning regarding things that had already begun to occur and a further description of events that would mark a further deterioration.

“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 the members. Youth question why they are different from others, and intermarry with those not of their faith.” Robert H. Pierson, Presented to the Annual Council after his announcement of retirement, October 16, 1978.

It is not often that a General Conference President delivers the sort of clear warning that this message turns out to be. His primary concern clearly reveals the devolving organizational structure of the church. What he is warning about is a watering down of truth, and a shift to the superficial. It is a description of the other side of Laodicea. Not just the rising self satisfaction of the individual members who have become consumed with the attractions and accumulations of the world, but a secularly influenced vision of what the church should be. No longer the called out ones, but rather the “absorbed in the world” ones, driven by potential political and academic advancement. Listen as he describes the fourth generation.

“In the fourth generation there is much machinery; the numbers of administrators increase, while the number of workers at the grass-roots level 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 reexamination 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 with popular causes. Services become formal. The group enjoys complete acceptance by the world. 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!” Robert H. Pierson, Presented to the Annual Council after his announcement of retirement, October 16, 1978.

Just forty years have passed. This is already where we are. The sad fact of the matter is that this was where the church was when Christ came to earth the first time. What Christ did then, he will do again. Simple, humble men were chosen to be his disciples, to carry the last message to the world. That process has already begun.

Cameron A. Bowen


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