What is My and Your Religious Security Blanket? A highlight from the Bible study of Luke chapter 3 shared by Tihomir Kukolja last Sunday with the Crossroads class at MDPC, Houston. About useless reliance on one’s religious pedigree, whether we talk about the Jews, Croats or Americans, or any other national, ethnic or religious group. We all have our own “Abrahams” of some kind, our own religious security blankets to keep us spiritually safe, superior, all sufficient, without any need for Jesus. Remember Jesus cannot be owned by anyone. The background text: Luke 3:7-9. NIV “John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?’Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’” I believe this part of my Bible study is of significant importance today in many places so I would like to share it with my wider circle of friends. Time: 5:22 min.
For many years Noah worked on the ark. To his generation the ark was a powerful visual sermon, a wakeup statement, a call to repentance and salvation.
But no one listened. Not even one, except his family, most likely reluctantly. The message of the ark was too ridiculous, too naive, too unscientific, too intruding, too provoking, too undesirable to his civilization. They believed that their destinies were firmly secured in their hands. They arrogantly thought that no one could challenge them anymore, not even the God Almighty.
It is the same today. Our civilization is too sophisticated to hear God knocking. We do not want Him to disrupt our lives. We have our own plans. Deceived, we are frantically trying to rebuild the Tower of Babel, fantasizing that the day is drawing nigh when we will finally claim the very throne of God.
The golden image of our Babylon is almost cast. The furnace if getting hot. The instruments of science are fine-tuned and ready to call us to bow down and worship. Nebuchadnezzars and Nimrods of our days are defiant. But, just as it was with the Noah’s generation ours too will be suddenly and shockingly surprised.
C.S. Lewis wrote: “For this time it will God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. It will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not.”
The night is falling. The storm is coming. It is about to start raining heavily again. Do not miss the light calling you to enter the ark.
I would like to share my report on the ROM (Renewing our Minds) 1999-2019 Anniversary Celebration Gathering held in Ohrid, Macedonia one month ago, since leading this amazing movement of friends has been my life for the past 18 years, out of 20 years of the current history of ROM. The gathering in Ohrid was a moving time when the baton of leadership was passed into the hands of a new ROM Director, Bojan Ruvarac.
The Renewing Our Minds (ROM) project was born in Croatia in 1999, in the aftermath of the 90s post-Yugoslavian war that called for the education of young generations of leaders in the areas of peace building, reconciliation, and leadership development through service, modeled by the person of Jesus. The organizers believed that the teachings and example of Jesus would equip the young, emerging leaders of the Balkans and the world the best for leadership in the challenging environments and circumstances.
In the period of twenty years 1000 people from over 60 countries have been blessed directly from the ROM ministry, and have themselves been a blessing to the Renewing Our Minds ministry either as participants, team members, speakers or mentors. ROM has also contributed to the creation or several international organizations that focus too on equipping young leaders for the leadership of service and leadership in reconciliation, and has refreshed the visions of a number of already existing ministries and movements with new ideas and incentives of how to serve more efficiently their communities. We are especially proud of our sister ministry, EDI – Economic Diplomacy and Integrity Forum, the first fruit of ROM ministry, that has been growing in its impact since 2006. ROM has also highly contributed to the personal and spiritual transformation of many young leaders who took part in its programs and projects.
The summer of 2019 was a special summer in the history of ROM. 200 participants, mostly ROM alumni, with families and children, gathered in Ohrid, North Macedonia to celebrate the first twenty years of ROM history. This is why we called the gathering, that took place between Monday, 29thJuly and Monday 5thAugust, 2019 the ROM 1999-2019 Anniversary Celebration Gathering. It was a week of reenergizing, sharing, empowering and thanksgiving, as well as a week of reminding the alumni of the values of peace building, reconciliation and leadership of service, as well as of following Jesus – which have been the core values of ROM since its birth in 1999.
Our desire was to learn from a mutual experience of the past 20 years, and thus set a stage for a new season of ROM ministry. This milestone ROM anniversary was also the important occasion when the top leadership baton was passed from the hands of Tihomir Kukolja, who served the ROM community as its director since 2001 (eighteen years out of its 20 years long history) into the hands of its new director, Bojan Ruvarac from Pancevo, Serbia. In fact, Bojan Ruvarac assumed officially the role of a new director on Sunday, 4thAugust, 2019.
The 1999-2019 ROM Celebration Gathering also highlighted the service of two organizations that have made the ministry of ROM possible in the past 20 years; the Croatian based organization Life Center International, under which leadership and guidance ROM was born in 1999, and Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation, the Seattle based organization that has provided ROM with the needed governance and support since 2010. Both organizations played the most significant role in providing leadership and ministry platform for the service of the Renewing Our Minds movement, as well as the mission and vision guidance under its mission statement: “Developing leaders transformed by the person of Jesus in a divided world”, inspired by the words of Jesus: “Whatever you did to the least of those, you did for me!” Matthew 25:40.
At the end of the ROM 20 Anniversary gathering several trophies were awarded to a group of leaders and organizations who have over the years served the ROM community or contributed significantly and most consistently to its development.
I’ve been away from updating and refreshing this place since May. The reason for my absence was that since May all my time was taken by leading and execution of my final project as the Renewing Our Minds (ROM) ministry director, namely the 1999-2019 ROM Celebration Gathering held in Ohrid, North Macedonia at the end of July and beginning of August.
I am planning to be back and write some more soon on the themes I am passionate about. And there is much that I would like to say. But at this moment let me share with you the highlights of the closing message at this ROM anniversary gathering. This was my farewell message to the ROM community at the end of my leadership of ROM having served as its director for the past eighteen years, out of its twenty years long history.
What is one to say at the end of eighteen years having led a beautiful and fragile ministry such as the Renewing Our Minds (ROM)? Since this was to be my last message to the ROM Community in the capacity of the ROM Director, my desire was to remind our ROM family of friends about ROM’s mission and purpose. ROM is a beautiful thing that has never lost its vision, purpose, momentum or relevance. ROM is also a fragile creation since it deliberately embraces young people across ethnic, religious, political and racial divides. The strength of ROM is in its deliberate rejection of any kind of nationalism.
Moreover, the real strength of ROM is in being anchored in the Person of Jesus.
If you are not familiar with ROM may this message help you to get some idea about what ROM is all about. Time: 14:51 min.
Continuing reflections on the Book of Hebrews – Jesus Without Strings Attached
“By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” Hebrews 10:14. NIV
Every follower of Christ, who understands and appreciates the Gospel, will agree that “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14.). But the author of the Book of Hebrews also states that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 1:12). He strengthens the point later saying that “by one sacrifice He (Jesus) has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14). Paul states also that Christ is not only “our righteousness, redemption” but “our holiness” too (1. Corinthians 1:30). He states that the obedience and righteousness of Christ (not ours) makes “many righteous” (Romans 5:12-21).
Thus when one speaks of qualities of our holiness and righteousness, victorious living, sanctification, overcoming, one has to recognize that there exists a difference between the vertical, the most literal expression of those qualities, which for the time being belongs to God alone, and its horizontal, imperfect application in the lives of the saved but still fragile people, who are fighting Jacob’s battles every day, and are continually remaining in need of God’s grace (Romans 7:7-25.).
The Book of Hebrews underlines the difference between the two by distinguishing between the objective, unspoiled, perfect holiness of Christ credited to a believer (“by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever…” – Hebrews 10:13), and the subjective, limited, never-completed but always needed and necessary holiness manifest in the lives of the believers in Jesus. So, both is true for the followers of Jesus: in Chris we are already declared redeemed, righteous and holly, while at the same time we are called to a life-long process of “being made holy” (Hebrews 10:13.), always necessary and never completed this side of the eternity.
This needs to be repeated since many are confused about this matter: as we believe in Christ in Him we are already possessing the absolute, complete and qualifying holiness that makes us fit for Heaven. Thus, when we speak of holiness as “our fitness for Haven” we can only speak of the perfect holiness of Jesus Christ credited to us as we believe in him, and never of our quality of holiness, or our subjective victories. No wonder that Paul calls us His “jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2.Corinthians 4:7).
When some of us are saying that we would rather trust in Jesus’ objective holiness than our subjective attempts at holiness, we are not making a mockery of the Gospel or limiting God’s power. On the contrary, we are humbly admitting, recognizing, appreciating and uplifting such a God who had in His greatness, despite ourselves, provided the most complete salvation for us, undeserving sinners. At the same time, by lifting up Jesus, our perfect representative, the only One who has ever given a due service of obedience in tune with His Law, we are also honoring the holiness of the Law of God.
Understanding that we are covered and vindicated by Christ’s perfect righteousness, and not by our bleak attempts at perfect righteousness will motivate and energize a repentant sinner to ever new victories and godly living than any do-it-yourself religion could ever do.
In other words, if the Gospel of Christ will not change us, nothing else will. This is why the words of Paul are more than true when he states: “I urge you brothers, in a view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices.” (Romans 12:1.)
Where some of us differ from others is in that we do not measure the amounts or intensity of our subjective holiness, victories, overcoming, obedience and anointing because we believe that they have already been measured-up to the fullest in the obedience, perfection, holiness, goodness, and righteousness of Jesus Christ our Representative.
In short (repetitio is mater studiorum) – however feeble and fragile our subjective, horizontal holiness may be, it is always inspired by the perfect holiness of Christ. And, however far we go with it and however victorious we might see ourselves on our faith journey, in humility we will continue to be reminded that our personal righteousness is just a weak projection of its prefect original. Whichever way we look at ourselves our subjective righteousness is not much more than, in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
We shall not despair, however, because in and thanks to Christ, despite our crippled holiness, we are already and always counted clean and fit for Heaven.
Contribution to the ongoing conversation about the ignored contribution of the late Desmond Ford to the theology of the Seventh-day Adventist Church: Ministry Magazine, May 2001, under the editorial leadership of Willmore D. Eva, published a part of my article “Gospel Without Strings Attached”.
As Hans La Rondelle, Raoul Dederen, Hans Heinz, Roger Evans, and Will Eva questioned the assumptions of the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, they spoke with clarity, unseen for a considerable time in our official publications, about the forensic, objective, and legal nature of justification, distinguished from sanctification, as thought by Paul and the Reformers.
Those articles raised several questions: Has the Adventist Church, twenty years after Glacier View, finally matured enough to face the challenges of the gospel without preconceived prejudice? After providing an objective assessment of the current Catholic-Lutheran crisis over justification by faith, dare we now proceed by sweeping our own backyard, to provide a breath of fresh air so that the gospel, too often disfigured beyond recognition, may finally begin to shine in its intended beauty?
Consequently, we should ask again, how could the Church still maintain that our denominational views about the phased or stretched atonement, character-dependent investigative judgment, and the final justification of God’s character through the sufficiently perfect obedience of God’s people, all of which make salvation dependent on the believers’ performance, complement the truth of the objective gospel?
Just as much as the “gospel had been lost in an increasingly complicated systems of merits, good works, sacraments and penances” in the teachings of the Catholic Church, so it is compromised by the increasingly confusing systems of Adventist theology of salvation where individual sanctification frequently merges with the divine act of justification and where our eternal destiny was not decided on the cross as much as in the characters of believers, so that at the end of the day our honoring of Christ’s finished work of salvation appears more like a lip service than a genuine belief.
Whether the gospel is infused into indulgences, sacraments, merits of the saints, or into the character shaping doctrines of investigative judgment, vindication of God’s character through the lives of the believers and almost immaculate law keeping, it makes no difference. Both approaches are responsible for confusing the believer as to the method and place where salvation takes place, and as such they are an offense to the gospel—a serious deviation that undermines the fullness of salvation in the person of Jesus Christ.
The integrity of the Church and its mission in the days to come does not depend on how skilled it becomes in maneuvering through the challenges our distinctive beliefs will continue to face. Ultimately, the Church will be tested by its honesty toward the integrity of the gospel, for no church or a movement has ever been given commission other than to preach the gospel without strings attached. And how far will the gospel go in the Adventist Church this time depends on those ministers, evangelists, teachers, scholars, writers, editors, and lay members who treasure the gospel above the loyalty to any ideological concept.
For all of us the first step should be to stop hinting at the gospel and start preaching it deliberately and without apology.
Post Scriptum April 6, 2019: Although in this article, written and published 18 years ago, I was challenging the populist Adventist theology of salvation, by comparing it with the Roman Catholic theology of salvation, suggesting that none of them are in tune with the Pauline and Reformer’s understanding of salvation, justification, atonement because both tend to infuse our works into Justification, the truth is that the story of misunderstanding of the Gospel does not rest solely within the boundaries of these two denominations. Across large sections of the Protestant/evangelical spectrum prevails a widespread confusion as to the roles of justification versus sanctification in our salvation. Consider the following paragraph: “Just as much as the ‘gospel had been lost’ in an increasingly complicated systems of merits, good works, sacraments and penances” in the teachings of the Catholic Church, so it is compromised by the increasingly confusing systems of Adventist theology of salvation where individual sanctification frequently merges with the divine act of justification, and where our eternal destiny was not decided on the cross as much as in the characters of believers, so that at the end of the day our honoring of Christ’s finished work of salvation appears more like a lip service than a genuine belief.” If you belong to any other Christian circle, not mentioned in the article, ask yourself a question: In what ways it becomes obvious that I or my church believe and act as if our eternal salvation depends very much on our performance, despite that fact that we all love to talk constantly about the grace of God?
It is very sad and shameful that the South Pacific Division (SPD) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has succumbed to pressure from within and without (most likely from the General Conference too), and has placed Avondale College in the awkward situation of having to move the already scheduled commemoration of the life and work of Desmond Ford from its premises to a “neutral location”. Instead of being held at Avondale College, as previously planned and initiated by the college, the commemoration took place at the University of Newcastle’s Griffith Duncan Theatre, on Saturday, 30thMarch, 2019. Close to 1000 people attended.
Whatever the motives of the SPD leadership, pressuring Avondale College leadership to move the commemoration away from the denominational property was a disgraceful act of disrespect for the life and ministry of Desmond Ford. It seems that Ford continues to offend, even in his death, some “concerned brethren” among Australian SDA leaders and lay members. A man who has indebted the Adventist denomination worldwide with a clear teaching of the Gospel, and has served as a beloved lecturer at Avondale for a number of years, has to remain an outcast even in his death.
His unpardonable sin was that he never recanted. Once having declared forty years ago that 1844 was not a biblical date, he never changed his mind about the controversial nature of the Investigative Judgment, a cherished and the most distinctive Adventist doctrine. So, the official SPD correspondence sent to the Avondale staff and leaders of the church in Australia stated a few days ago: “Many people are still suffering pain and distress from the past events involving Dr Ford, whose views remained inconsistent with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Because of this I want to inform you that the memorial service has been moved to a venue outside the Avondale campus.”
But the way the SPD has behaved towards the deceased Desmond Ford is very hypocritical, to say the least, at a time when all kinds of controversial, fundamentalist, and legalistic individuals and ministries, that are preaching to the Adventist audiences “the other gospel” (Galatians 1:8.9.), are flourishing and growing under the protective canvas of the global Church.
More so than in other parts of the world, the Australian kind of Adventism has been for many years contributing to the world church the other brand of controversial leaders; those who preached the gospel of radical perfectionism, and literal necessity of attaining unquestionable super humanism, alias sinlessness unique only to Adventism. For decades Australia was a greenhouse that supplied the entire Adventist world with the revivalists of sinlessness, and none of those people have been treated with the kind of contempt the church has shown for the late Desmond Ford ever since 1980.
Moreover, many modern-day Adventist evangelists of perfectionism are nowadays welcomed to use denominational infrastructure and facilities, including denominational media and denominational financial resources, to advance their reformation, with no expression of denominational concern if their views are “consistent with the Seventh-Day Adventist Church”. Quite contrary, it seems as if the “remnant LGT (Last Generation Theology) ministries” of “historic Adventism” are being treated as if they were the spiritual elite within Adventism. For example, who dares call Doug Batcehlor’s views “inconsistent with the Seventh-day Adventist Church?”
So, in the light in the denominational tacit endorsement of its popular teachers of legalism, it is downright dishonest and hypocritical that the official South Pacific Division communication, released only a day or two ago, would be bold enough to say the following:
“Recent communications from Avondale following the death of Dr Ford have been perceived as Avondale supporting his theological views. Sadly, this has reignited the pain and distress that many people experienced in the past. It has also been perceived that because the memorial/celebration was to be held on the campus of a Seventh-day Adventist institution, that the South Pacific Division was affirming someone whose views were inconsistent with the Church. This has led to an outpouring of concern and confusion from churches and members and most Conference leaders around Australia.”
One would have thought that the Seventh-day Adventist Church, especially in Australia, has moved away from its 40-year-old antagonism towards Desmond Ford. At least this was my feeling in the years of my pastoral service in Australia in the late 1990s. It seemed, at least in the church milieu where I served as pastor, that a more reconciliatory and embracing spirit had been winning towards Desmond Ford. What has happened since? Was I somewhat naive in believing that Desmond Ford was gaining friends in the Church again at that time? Or, could it be that legalism is becoming mainstream again in the Adventist Church?
Sadly, the decision of the SPD to evict the commemoration of the life and work of Desmond Ford from Avondale, speaks forcefully that the denomination’s reconciliation with Desmond Ford and his legacy is still far-off, and that the Gospel of Christ is still not so welcome in the church. It seems that today in Australia no one remembers or knows about the insights and recommendations of the late Arthur Patrick, Australian Adventist theologian and historian, who was on his death bed, in March 2013, completing a document “Toward a Historical Perspective and the Normalization of Relationship” to encourage denominational reconciliation with Desmond Ford (See Post Scriptum April 6, 2019). The golden opportunity for at least a symbolic act of reconciliation has been wasted. Meanwhile, the elitists of perfectionism will, most likely, continue to enjoy favored status, and remain to flourish as the celebrity leaders in the eyes of many Adventists.
Post Scriptum, April 4, 2019: Whoever might have suggested or spread the idea that moving the Ford’s memorial service out of the premises of the Avondale College was done due to some “security concerns” was either uninformed, or dishonest. The official letter says it all: “We understand that many people are still suffering pain and distress from the past events involving Dr Ford, whose views remained inconsistent with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Because of this I want to inform you that the memorial service has been moved to a venue outside the Avondale campus.” Avondale did what it could under the circumstances, and it did a great job. It was a very encouraging thing to see that the idea about the memorial service came out of its circles. The orders to evict the service from the college premisses did not come from within the college, but the denominational headquarters in Australia. A wrong message was sent to the world by what happened last Saturday. It looks as if the SPD acted vengefully, wanting to punish Ford even in his death. Some grace would have not hurt anyone. I initially thought the directive came from GC, but I am now hearing that the initiative came solely from the Australian conferences (???). The whole thing is even more concerning if this is true. During the years when I worked as a pastor under Victorian Conference in Melbourne 1995-2000 I remember a favorable spirit manifest among the pastors and some leaders toward Desmond Ford; at least in the circle of a significant number of pastors and some leaders if not among all of us. Among ourselves (pastors) we were almost quietly divided between “evangelically minded” pastors and traditional, “historic” pastors who were flirting with CBs, or quietly (or not so quietly) affirmative of them. It looked to me at that time that the most hurting years following the Glacier View were almost behind us, and that we were gradually advancing towards reconciliation. What has happened since? Had SPD acted more generously this could have been justified in more than one way. Instead it has contributed potentially towards deepening the crisis, unnecessarily I believe. The whole thing looked as if the Church was punishing Ford even in his death and this is not fair, nor it projects well.
Post Scriptum April 4, 2019: This is something every Adventist today should read and think about. John Rosier writes in his latest letter: “We are witnessing the rise and encouragement of heretical perfectionist Adventism. It’s in the SS books. It’s being propagated in sermons. Last Generation Theology and the false views of M. L. Andreasen are coming into vogue again…. As for the gospel its definition of justification is confused with sanctification. It’s allowed people to call the understanding of justification by faith as taught in Romans and Galatians ‘legal fiction’. Thus it encourages the undermining and compromising of the very gospel it claims to be taking to the world. It has allowed and encouraged without correction the propagation of the heresy that we are saved by a mixture of faith and works based on a law keeping lifestyle performance. As such grace is in completion with human works and spiritual humanism as the basis for salvation. It also undermines the appreciation of the full force of the Fall and Sin, which is a form of Pelagianism.” Read the whole letter …
Post Scriptum April 6, 2019:Arthur Patrick was “a Seventh-day Adventist theologian and historian. At the time of death, he was an honorary senior research fellow at Avondale College in New South Wales, Australia”. In 2002 Arthur Patrick put together a document “Toward a Historical Perspective and the Normalisation of Relationships” with the guidelines for the leaders of the Adventist Church in Australia how to pursue reconciliation. On the side of the church administration the document was kept very private, so much so to that Arthur Patrick decided to upgrade the document and share it publicly. To him it was so important that his document becomes public that he finished the publicly released edition of the document only a few days before his death on 13th March, 2013. Anyone who wants to learn more about the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of Desmond Ford, and the role SPD played in it at the time, and much more that is not widely known, must read this document. “This story has never before been told in this detail to a group of Australian Adventists. Why tell it now? Simply to facilitate an understanding of the level at which information was controlled in the 1970s and early 1980s; to illustrate the evident fear amongst church leaders that ordinary members might become aware of facts now recognized as basic for all Adventists; to highlight the need of mature pastoral care for workers and members in a situation of turmoil. The lack of information amongst church members meant that scores of ministers faced dismissal if they attempted to understand and interpret the waves of data flowing over them.” Read the entire document here.
In October last year the organizers of the ROM (Renewing Our Minds) Integration Forum released the Croatian edition of the Memorandum on the ROM Integration Forum, with conclusions and recommendations for Croatian government and non-government organizations and institutions, as well as for EU and international organizations that could benefit from the findings of this document.
Today we are honored to share with you the English edition of the Memorandum. Although the focus of the document is on Croatia we are aware that many of the findings also reflect similar, often identical experiences around Europe, and as such our recommendations, especially around the questions of integration, can be adapted to suit many national and international context.
In September 2018 a unique integration conference took place in Fuzine, Croatia. The event brought together 54 asylum seekers, lecturers, workshop facilitators, counselors, mentors, humanitarian activists, and religious and political leaders under the banner of “ROM Integration Forum: Moving Forward in Truth, with Courage and Hope.” The conference was attended by participants from 14 countries, including Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, and Iran.
This document comes as the result of a promise given by the organizers to the participants, especially the asylum seekers attending the conference, that we would make the findings of the conference available nationally and internationally as a tool by which we would like to raise public awareness about the plight of the refugees who are seeking international protection in Croatia and Europe. Our desire is to help contribute to the making of a healthy and constructive climate that would be supportive of a more dignifying treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Croatia, Europe and elsewhere..
Thank you for giving us your attention at this time.
MEMORANDUM ON THE ROM INTEGRATION FORUM
Conclusions and recommendations for Croatian government institutions and organizations, religious communities, charities, and civic initiatives in the Republic of Croatia; as well as for EU and other international government and non-government organizations that could benefit from the findings of this document.
From Wednesday, September 19thuntil Monday, September 24th, 2018 a unique five-day integration conference took place in Fuzine, Croatia. The event brought together 54 asylum seekers, lecturers, workshop facilitators, counselors, mentors, humanitarian activists, and religious and political leaders under the banner of “ROM Integration Forum: Moving Forward in Truth, with Courage and Hope.”
The conference was attended by participants from 14 countries, including Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, and Iran. The conference was organized by the Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation, an international nongovernmental organization based in Seattle, USA, and Work as Calling, a Croatian nongovernmental organization based in Zagreb, as well as the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM), based in Brussels, Belgium. The conference was a project that grew out of Renewing Our Minds (ROM) a project that has been held in Fuzine, Croatia every summer since 1999. The conference sessions were conducted in English, with translation into Farsi and Arabic.
The goals of the Integration Forum
The goals of the integration forum (hereafter referred to as the ROM Forum) were to assist international asylum seekers in Croatia, as well as some who have been recently granted asylum in Croatia (hereafter referred to as asylees)and are planning their new life in Croatia. The forum sought to assist them in gaining a balanced understanding of the integration process in the Republic of Croatia and the European Union. Conference organizers wished to communicate openly with asylum seekers about the challenges they face during the lengthy, uncertain, and draining process of awaiting a final decision from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) regarding their status in the Republic of Croatia.
The conference organizers wanted to offer a platform for the voices of asylum seekers and asylees in Croatia. As well as for the Croatian government, non-governmental, religious organizations, institutions and European organizations that offer various social, psychological, humanitarian, and spiritual assistance to asylum seekers and asylees in Croatia. A high-quality range of lectures and workshops, and small and large group discussions helped achieve these goals. The topics were approached with the goal of acquainting the asylum seekers and asylees with Croatian and European legislation and analysis of the cultural and religious milieu of Croatia and the European Union.
Conference participants included both Christian and Muslim asylum seekers and asylees, and their interactions were warm and mutually respectful. It is also worth noting that a majority of the participants (24 people) were asylum seekers still living in the Porin refugee center in Zagreb, and seven participants have already been granted asylum in Croatia. A few asylum seekers and asylees were also included in the team that organized and ran the conference.
Challenges faced by asylum seekers in Croatia
The organizers of the ROM Forum ensured that there would be enough time for participants’ questions, and for discussion sparked by their questions. Although the conference was marked by a warm tone and grew daily in mutual acceptance, understanding, and unity, it was also marked by intense and challenging discussions. The afternoon discussions repeatedly touched on a handful of relevant, painful, and previously suppressed questions that brought to the surface the challenges that asylum seekers face daily.
Multiple conversations with conference participants communicated the following:
A large number of asylum seekers have spent two, or even three years living in Porin, a center for asylum seekers in Zagreb, where they, along with their families, are in a state of long-term uncertainty while they await a decision from the Croatian MIA regarding their request for residence in Croatia. All of them are seeking asylum based on threats to their lives due to war, or because of political or religious persecution. A few participants have received two or three negative responses, and a fourth negative response would be final, forcing them to leave Croatia no more than one month after the decision. Invitations to interviews with MIA representatives are rare, and six to nine months can pass in between interviews. In the meanwhile, the asylum seekers live in a state of radio silence, unsure of the result of their request, unable to find employment during their first nine months in Croatia, with insufficient healthcare, and with no legal means of receiving financial assistance from family and friends living outside of Croatia. They wait for months or years in Porin, and are expected to live off the 100 Croatian Kuna (US$15 or 13.5 Euros) a month per person from the government, which is insufficient to cover even the most basic necessities.
This uncertainty leaves most of these asylum seekers in a state of emotional and psychological exhaustion, deeper feelings of insecurity, irritability, helplessness, and apathy, demonstrated by a lack of desire to get involved in activities such as language study and volunteering, and a lack of belief in the possibility of a positive outcome. A significant number of asylum seekers in Croatia gradually lose faith in the Croatian government and social institutions, because they believe that the challenges, they face during their long-term wait, are the result of a deliberate attempt by the Croatian government to discourage them and force them to give up and leave Croatia of their own will.
Challenges faced by asylees in Croatia
A majority of those who receive asylum in Croatia are faced with a new set of challenges upon receiving a positive response from the MIA. The funds that they receive during the first two years after the decision are intended to cover their basic needs and living expenses. They are expected to get on their feet during these first two years, including finding accommodation, learning the Croatian language, and finding a job.
Because a majority of asylum asylees are just beginning to learn Croatian, finding accommodation is automatically more difficult. The fact that they are “refugees” and unable to communicate closes many doors of potential landlords from the beginning. And while the Croatian government is willing to pay their rent for the first two years, a majority of Croatian landlords ask for payment in cash in order to avoid paying tax, which limits their options, making it more difficult for Croatian asylum asylees to find an apartment. It is common for them to be forced to remain in Porin for weeks or even months after receiving asylum before they are able to move into their first apartment.
Asylees in Croatia are also easy targets for labor exploiters, who offer them quick earnings by giving them the most difficult and thankless jobs, only to later threaten or blackmail them with diminished or no wages. Despite the fact that these asylees enjoy almost all the same rights as Croatian citizens, they can easily find themselves in situations of long-term enslavement or exploitation.
New asylees are most discouraged by the inefficiency of state institutions and systems. They testify that even in cases where the laws are in their favor, application of the laws is inefficient or even nonexistent, especially in the case of their right to education, medical care, and assistance in finding employment in keeping with their qualifications.
The most frequent questions asked by participants of the ROM Forum clearly demonstrate the traumatized condition of many of the asylum seekers and asylees: “Why is the process of awaiting a final decision by Croatian authorities so slow and filled with uncertainty? Why are the conditions the asylum seekers live in for months and years of waiting so inadequate? Why is it that some asylum seekers, who submitted their requests for asylum only recently received a quick response, while others who have been in Croatia for two or three years are still waiting? Why are only some asylum seekers able to find legal work after waiting the prescribed nine months, while most are denied this right? Why is it that services which are guaranteed by law are ineffective, for instance the right to organized study of the Croatian language and healthcare? Why does the Croatian MIA not assist in reuniting family members who have been separated during their refugee journey and now reside in different countries? Why do religious and humanitarian organizations not coordinate more efficiently in offering psychological and social help to asylum seekers and asylees?
Our desire is that through this memorandum we help the voices of asylum seekers and asylees in Croatia be heard, and we also wish to offer the conclusions of the organizers of the recent ROM Forum. We recognize that the path to successful integration is a two-way streetand that responsibility to integrate is matched with the support to do so. Therefore, we want to share the conclusions of this memorandum and the following recommendations with Croatian government institutions, including the MIA of the Republic of Croatia, as well as with religious organizations, and finally with asylum seekers and asylees in the Republic of Croatia. Also, we want to share this document with EU and other international government and non-government organizations that could benefit from the findings of this document.
Recommendations for the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Croatia, and Croatian government institutions and organizations:
Newly arrived asylum seekers, who came to Croatia from neighboring countries, should be allowed to register at the nearest MIA representative in Croatia, and request asylum in Croatia without fear that they will be forcibly returned to the neighboring country from which they came.Representatives of the Croatian MIA must carefully follow Croatian law and binding declarations and conventions of the United Nations and the European Union on the rights of refugees and migrants, which state that they cannot be returned to neighboring countries (straight away without due process) after they have expressed a desire to seek asylum in Croatia, but should be provided a legally guaranteed procedure.
The conditions under which refugees, whether or not they have possession of their personal documents, may enter Croatia, and, under the protection of the law, seek international asylum should be clearly and publicly explained, and the explanation should be made easily accessible.
The process of making decisions about asylum should be speeded up in order to reduce the wait time. Early decision-making for all will facilitate integration, and resources must be available to process all cases quickly, accurately and efficiently. Those who’ve been waiting longest must have immediate and speedy decisions, and credit should be given in the questioning and evaluation process to candidates who are making visible efforts to successfully integrate into Croatian society. To evaluate this, those conducting the evaluations should seek the input of mentors, Croatian language instructors, leaders of volunteer or sports organizations, employers, clergy or leaders of religious organizations, and other professionals whom the candidate has a regular working or mentor relationship with.
It is necessary to create a model of integration with a detailed plan of integration for asylees which can be easily followed. New asylees in Croatia should be allowed access to mentors and counselors who can help them take the first steps towards integration in Croatia.
The Croatian government should work on finding and reuniting families of asylum
seekers, whose members have, through various circumstances, been separated during their journey toward or across Europe.
Inefficient practices on the ground should be brought into line with Croatian law, which guarantees various forms of support for asylum seekers, and in situations where asylum seekers are unable to receive residence in Croatia, they should be pointed to other means of gaining Croatian residence, such as for humanitarian reasons.
While waiting, asylum seekers should be given the right to basic protection of their human dignity, including their right to healthcare, right to work, right to basic income even before nine months have passed, and a right to free Croatian language classes.
In order to achieve a high-quality integration process, asylum seekers should be encouraged to study the Croatian language, which could be achieved by making their receipt of social aid and protection conditional on their study of the Croatian language, and making their language study an additional factor in making a decision about their status in the Republic of Croatia. Also, the required amount of language study should be increased to 160 hours. (Assistance and help maybe required in order for seekers to gain access to these classes)
Asylum seekers should be given temporary documents issued by the Republic of Croatia as a legitimate proof of identity for use in monetary transactions.
It is imperative to protect the dignity, integrity, and security of asylum seekers and asylees residing in Croatia as much as possible, especially in public communication. There has been a recent trend of dehumanizing refugees and asylum seekers in the media, which can easily lead to the radicalization of segments of society with nationalistic and racist proclivities. Therefore, it is also important to protect the dignity, integrity, and security of nongovernmental and humanitarian organizations and citizen initiatives which are making an effort to help asylum seekers and asylees in their successful integration into Croatian society.
It is important to develop access to evaluation and verification of accrued knowledge, degrees, and competence, which would allow asylum seekers who do not have access to their original diplomas and certifications to more easily continue to grow their education and professional skills and titles and find corresponding work.
It is important to protect the dignity of asylum seekers who are seeking protection due to religious persecution, threats, or abuse they faced in their countries of origin. This is especially true in cases where the asylum seekers are Christians or recent converts to Christianity. In order to achieve this, it is important that: 1) the investigators questioning the asylum seekers, and those making the final decisions be aware of the differences and nuances of the religious experience of the asylum seekers, and have an understanding of various religious movements (for instance, Roman Catholics and Protestants do not share identical beliefs even though both belong to the Christian faith); 2) candidates have access to non-ideological translators (there have been accusations that some Arabic and Farsi translators purposeful mistranslate the words of Christians); and 3) asylum seekers be allowed access to a spiritual mentor during their interviews, who can help explain the faith of the interviewee to MIA employees (who can step in and provide clarity if, for instance, a Protestant from Iran is asked questions about the Roman Catholic faith tradition in an effort to confirm the legitimacy of their Christian faith).
Recommendations to religious, church, and nongovernmental organizations
13. Religious communities should be ready to offer religious teaching and pastoral care and open their doors to spiritual integration into the church community for asylum seekers who have accepted the Christian faith either before their arrival in Croatia or while living in Croatia.
14. There needs to be better cooperation between religious organizations, churches, and religiously affiliated humanitarian organizations in offering various social and psychological services to asylees and asylum seekers.
15. Because churches and faith communities have access to the human resources needed for using their humanitarian ministries to meet the needs of asylum seekers and asylees as efficiently and thoroughly as possible, we recommend that they create a unified list of professionals, including lawyers, doctors and health professionals, Croatian and English language teachers, and Farsi and Arabic translators who are willing to offer free professional assistance to asylum seekers.
16. We also recommend coordinating efforts to provide concrete assistance to new asylees, including assistance in finding an apartment, employment, childcare, shopping, and other practical types of help in the first days and weeks of their independent life in Croatia.
17. We call on churches to become shelters where asylum seekers and asylees will feel welcome, secure, protected, and able to receive psychological and spiritual support, thereby diminishing the traumatic consequences of long-term uncertainty and other difficult aspects of refugee life.
Recommendations for asylum seekers and asylees
18. When making statements and giving interviews, always tell the truth about the details of your life, your origin, the country you left, your personal documents, your education, and the reasons why you are seeking asylum in Croatia.
19. Despite the many limitations and barriers created by the inefficient application of existing legal rights and protections of asylum seekers in Croatia, show initiative in proactively approaching the process of integrating into Croatian society. Make learning the Croatian language your top priority. Also, get involved in volunteer activities, which can help you integrate, understand, and accept Croatian and European culture and traditions.
20. Use every opportunity to confirm that you wish to stay in the Republic of Croatia and make it your new home. When invited to interviews with representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, make it clear through your appearance and behavior that you desire to stay in Croatia, contribute to Croatian society, and respect its culture, traditions, and laws.
21. Be patient. Even if the process is long and difficult, do not give up and leave Croatia until the last possibility of receiving a positive response from the Croatian authorities has been exhausted. Your follow through and patience, accompanied by taking initiative and demonstrating an understanding of the complexity of the situation will, in most cases, help you receive asylum status and residence in Croatia. Patience pays off in the majority of cases.
We are sending you this document hoping that it will help expedite the integration process for asylum seekers and asylees in the Republic of Croatia and increase the understanding of Croatian authorities and government organizations, as well as church organizations and humanitarian organizations of the difficult and uncertain path which asylum seekers and asylees must travel in Croatia.
On behalf of the organization team of the ROM forum, “Moving forward in truth, with courage and hope.”
Tihomir Kukolja, Director, Renewing Our Minds, Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation
Mihal Kreko, Pastor, Malesnica Baptist Church, Zagreb; Community Activist and Work as Calling, Director
Heather N. Staff, Core team member, Renewing Our Minds, Policy Adviser – Kate Green MP (UK), for Resettlement, Asylum, Migration Policy (RAMP) project
Zagreb, Croatia, 27thMarch, 2019.
It is noted that terminology for those granted asylum can differ between countries. For our purposes asylees refers to those granted political asylum
We also recommend greater work on training and sensitivity of border officials and police with regard to asylum applications and understanding that not everyone knows they need to officially ask for asylum.
I met Dr. Desmond Ford, a leading and unusual Adventist theologian from Australia, through the word of mouth and vibrant discussions with friends at Newbold College, England in the late seventies. Those encounters led me to seek, photocopy and read his writings and articles available in the college library.
Those were the days of my personal and desperate search for a kind and forgiving God, who I knew existed but was unable to grasp emotionally. I reached a point in my young life when a distant God would not do any more. Several articles written by Desmond Ford, published by the Ministry magazine, a leading Adventist magazine for clergy, and Spectrum, the journal of the Association of Adventist Forums, started working a miracle in my heart. They led me to dig diligently into the writings of the Apostle Paul, especially into his letters to the Romans and the Galatians, as well as the Letter to the Hebrews. All of those led me further, to other authors who majored in the questions of grace, complete Atonement in Christ, and justification by faith.
One of them was Robert Brinsmead and his magazine Present Truth, which later in the seventies became Verdict. Throughout the seventies and in the early eighties Brinsmead was publishing by many welcomed articles on the forensic justification. Robert Brinsmead and Desmond Ford, both Australians, for a while were very much complementing each other in their expositions of the grace of Christ. Then Brinsmead (around 1983) disappeared completely in the waters of deism. Ultimately, he completely dismissed the need for Jesus in his faith.
The other book which made a huge impact on me at that time, as hungry as I was for the grace of Christ, was Roland Bainton’s classic biography on the life of Martin Luther, “Here I Stand”. In the words of the German Reformer I too felt that “I had been born anew and that the gates of heaven had been opened. The whole of Scripture gained a new meaning. And from that point on the phrase, ‘the justice of God’ no longer filled me with hatred, but rather became unspeakable sweet by virtue of a great love.” All of this started as the writings of Desmond Ford on the grace of Christ and the “once-and-for-all” completed Atonement in Jesus were introduced to me, and led me further in my search for peace in Christ.
Then came Desmond Ford’s historical presentation, on October 27, 1979 to the audience of 1000 delivered at the Pacific Union College (PUC) Forum in Angwin, California. Ford challenged the SDA (Seventh-day Adventist) denomination with a message “The Investigative Judgment: Theological Milestone or Historical Necessity.” In the words of Mark A. Kellner Ford’s milestone presentation “signaled a major break with two of the church’s distinctive beliefs: the ‘investigative judgment’ of every person, living and dead, which Adventists believe God has undertaken since October of 1844, as well as the prophetic timing of the sanctuary cleansing described in Daniel 8:14, which led the pioneers to that 1844 time-frame.”
In other words, Desmond Ford argued that the cherished and distinct Adventist doctrine of the investigative judgment stood affront to the firm Biblical understanding that the Atonement was completed once and for all in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on behalf of a sinner, without any contribution required from the saved sinner. He argued that the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment was an offense to the cross of Christ because it presupposed the necessity for human perfection in order to justify God’s own character.
Somehow, while Adventists have always believed in justification by faith of a repentant sinner, they have also believed that somehow a true believer needed to justify God’s character and His requirements by attaining complete perfection of one’s own character through perfect and complete commandment keeping. Adventists were taught that such perfection comes by grace too, through one’s continuing obedience to the Law of God, and especially by keeping the fourth commandment. And if such a high objective had never been achieved by anyone else throughout the entire history of human race except Jesus, the last generation of faithful Adventists will have to attain this goal fully in order for Jesus Christ to come again, and for his faithful ones to pass the scrutiny of the Investigative Judgment. Those “heroes of faith” of the last generation would then prove that, with God’s help, men and women of God can too, just like Jesus, keep all the commandments of God perfectly.
Desmond Ford’s message declared both, the Investigative Judgment doctrine and the doctrine of 1844 heretical and offensive to the Gospel of Christ, since both denied the complete atonement achieved in Christ on the cross, and made the eternal salvation of human race dependent on human performance. I still have a copy of the audio cassette with the recording of the Ford’s 1979 milestone presentation.
The recordings of the presentation went viral and created a spirit of anticipation unseen in the Adventist circles since the birth of denomination. Only another event in the denominational history, the release of the book “Questions on Doctrine” in 1957, which made Adventists more acceptable to the mainstream Evangelicals, created a similar kind of anticipation and angst in the Adventist circles. Some hated it, while others loved it. Within the denomination the church was divided between the scholars, pastors, students of theology, and lay people who downright rejected the presentation of Desmond Ford as heretical and damaging, and others who rejoiced anticipating a long needed and awaited reformation of the denomination that would bring it completely in tune with the Biblical understanding of salvation, rooted in Christ alone, and not in the subjective, always drifting feelings of our sanctification.
I identified with the latter group. I truly believed that very little of fine-tuning was needed for the SDA Church to become a pride of Protestantism. I wanted to believe that the day of Adventist Reformation was fast approaching through the bold ministry of Desmond Ford and a small band of his friends. Many young Adventists, ministers and scholars expected likewise. I was not the only one.
But the Adventist Reformation was not meant to take place then, or any time later.
Almost a year later following Desmond Ford’s historic presentation at PUC, Ford appeared at what was promised by the church administration a fair and discerning hearing to evaluate his elaborate document and presentation by which he would explain in detail his position on the doctrine of Investigative Judgment. “The meeting of the Glacier View Sanctuary Review Committee Aug. 10-15, 1980, was the most important event of this nature in Adventist history since the 1888 General Conference in Minneapolis,” wrote Raymond F. Cottrell, a prominent Adventist theologian. But what was promised by the church administration to be a fair discussion and evaluation, to which 100 Adventist scholars were invited, turned into a trial with the preplanned outcome. Denominational administrators outwitted the scholars and turned the proceedings into the final judgment for Desmond Ford. Hurriedly and in a humiliating way Ford’s employment with the Adventist church was terminated, and his ministerial credentials revoked. Ford could no longer preach nor teach in the SDA churches or educational institutions. In short, “the leadership of the denomination had deliberately misled the entire membership”, and especially the millions of its uninformed lay members.
Desmond Ford’s wife Gill Ford, a very eloquent Ford’s life companion, explained further the manipulative character of the Glacier View hearing in her recent Facebook post: “Des’s fate was decided before Glacier View. If you go careful through the witness statements, leaders from GC (General Conference) were saying this clearly ahead of time. Glen Parmenter told a group here in Australia a week before Glacier View that his father was going over to fire Des. In 1983 in the meetings you attended, Bob Spangler and Duncan Eva said the same. Parmenter insisted that Des must be dealt with that week.” In short, it seemed that the administration was not interested at all if the merits of Desmond Ford’s findings. They could not or they did not want to see that what Ford was teaching would have brought the Gospel of Christ to stand more prominent in the Adventist Church. Keeping the church unity at the expense of the truth of the Gospel mattered much more.
What followed was a sequence of sad events. From the denominational pulpits Desmond Ford was demonized, patronized and his views caricatured. The weekly Sabbath School lessons, advanced with a sense of renewed urgency the “historic”, traditional and distinctive Adventist beliefs in somewhat refined but still fundamentally unchanged ways.
It is not true, however, that after the Glacier View trial all who remained in the church were in agreement with the administration of the church. Many Adventists who in their hearts of hearts hoped to see their church reformed in tune with the Gospel were profoundly disappointed and mourned the injustice done to Desmond Ford, but have nevertheless decided to stay in the denomination. Over a number of years of my denominational and pastoral ministry I’ve had numerous opportunities to meet and talk with many who like me were affirmative of Desmond Ford but have nevertheless stayed in the church.
I remember very well the years of my theology studies at Newbold college, England (1984-1989). We, students of theology and religion, knew among ourselves very well those who aligned themselves with the traditional, fundamentalist, overly distinctive Adventism, and those who majored in the Gospel, grace and salvation without strings attached. When Desmond Ford spoke once or twice at the locations near Newbold College, there was quite a sizable representation of Newbold students attending his presentation, unofficially. Likewise, the post Glacier View audio tapes featuring debates on Sanctuary and Investigative Judgement between Desmond Ford and Smuts van Rooyen in one team, and William Shea and Alex Ortega in the other, were in wide circulation among the Newbold students of theology and religion at the time.
Later, when I assumed the pastoral work in Croatia and in Australia my sermons resonated with the messages of the Gospel about the finished work of salvation in Jesus, judgment with the gospel in its center, Atonement completed on the cross, justification by faith alone, and objective perfection of Christ. I never preached a sermon advocating the Investigative Judgment doctrine, or affirming the prophetic meaning of 1844. And when I served as pastor in Melbourne, Australia (1995-2000) I aligned myself with those Adventist pastors who were of the “evangelical” mind. We knew each other very well, and affirmed the work of each other. And, when Desmond Ford visited Melbourne on a couple of occasions at that time, some of us, evangelical Adventist pastors would come to his preaching venue to listen and share in the fellowship. Personally, it was his clear affirmation of the Gospel of Jesus that had attracted my attention and respect for Desmond Ford 40 years ago, and has continued to do so for so many years.
The most tragic and lasting outcome of the denomination’s handling of Desmond Ford almost forty years ago was that it actually managed to create a new generation of Adventists ignorant of the Reformation that was almost achieved but failed through a foul play in 1980. Ask any Adventist younger than 40 today if they knew who Desmond Ford was, and most of them would not know, or would have a very vague, caricatured knowledge of him.
Even more tragic outcome was that the kind of dishonesty by which the denominational administration treated the Glacier View findings 40 years ago continues to be practiced today. One only has to observe how the General Conference continues to treat unfairly the question of the women’s ordination. Similar kind of dishonesty has been applied also with the content-manipulation of the more recent Sabbath School lessons. The unnamed General Conference editors are taking the liberty to manipulate with the original and already approved texts, without the approval of the authors, even to the extent that their message often becomes the very opposite of what the authors intended to say. All of this is done so that the main teaching tools of the church would fit the ever increasing conservative, fundamentalist agenda of the current denominational leadership, who desires to emphasize again human perfection as the standard for our salvation. In short, the same dishonesty that led the administration of the Adventist church in the early eighties to use the Glacier View against Desmond Ford, seems to be leading the latest errants of the church.
Meanwhile, in all of those years Desmond Ford remained a gentleman, unfairly disgraced but never bitter, striped of his denominational credentials but always responsive to his God-given calling to teach, preach, write and serve whosoever would listen. Sadly, for the past forty years, his own denomination treated Desmond Ford as “a prophet and reformer without honor.” A true man of God, Desmond Ford lived and died with dignity borne out of his firm trust in the finished, saving work of Christ. His wife Gill wrote a short time ago: “He was a man always in a hurry, driven by a mission to serve God and proclaim Christ. He would urge you to take up the work he has laid down. As many of you know, he would say, Meet you here, there or in the air. He has gone ahead of us. And the world is a far colder place.”
I am not embarrassed to admit that the teachings of the Gospel, as delivered by Desmond Ford in the late seventies and early eighties, and later significantly shaped my faith, and directed it on Christ alone. What I really loved about Desmond Ford was his greatness manifest through genuine humility, his leadership of integrity despite humiliation and challenges, and his love for the truth of the Gospel of Christ which mattered to him more than his own status or advancement. Ford taught me that the truth matters.
In the end, one has to say this too: the Adventist denomination did make a visible shift towards a healthier, more balanced understanding of the Gospel of Christ, despite the fact that there have always been forces within that have been and are still trying to bring Adventism back to the more sectarian, almost cultic days of its infancy of almost two hundred years ago. Whatever advancement the church has made towards upholding a more Biblical view of the Gospel, this has taken place because of the major impact Desmond Ford’s work had on the church forty years ago, regardless of whether one gives a credit for this to Ford or not. Even the official Adventist paper “Adventist Review” agrees. Gerhard Pfandl wrote only a few days ago: “Most Adventist scholars and pastors today have accepted Ford’s definition of righteousness by faith.” After all, maybe there is a hope that Adventist Reformation is still in coming?
“Well done, good and faithful servant!” Matthew 25:23.
Sermon Highlights: Lessons from the Early Church. Tihomir Kukolja preaches at the International Christian Fellowship Church, Belgrade, Serbia, June 2018.
How much does the Christianity today reflect the Christianity of its early days? How much are we like or unalike this movement that was born two thousand years ago? How come Jesus Christ did not create a religious order, something like in the Old Testament days, with 10 or 600 new laws and regulations, orderly structured to govern the movement of his followers?
Instead Jesus just said: “Follow me!” He said: “Look at me! Look at what I was doing when I was with you. Listen to what I was saying when I was with you, and follow me!” At the end of the second and fourth chapters of the Book of Acts we find descriptions of what this movement looked like at the beginning.
Firstly, there was a clear awareness among the early believers of the importance of community. The conversion of people was not only an individual matter. Tragically today the Christian church is either too institutionalized, individualized, secularized or ridden by nationalism. I do not believe Jesus had ever intended that His church should look like that. Church is meant to be much more than just a holy place to visit at given times. It is a family of support. It is very hard to be a follower of Jesus in isolation.
At the very beginning the Church of Christ was not a fancy building to go to. It was there with the believers in their fields, in their homes and houses. I can see them every night, after their daily work was done, going to different homes to share meal, to read the Word of God, to pray, to talk about Jesus, to encourage each other. Those meals they shared had much more profound meaning than the way we eat our meals today.
Then, their lives were centered in the person of Jesus, and not on some shallow spirituality that was based only on emotions without content. Today, unfortunately there exists a Christian culture that teaches many to believe that they are saved by default, with no need for repentance and clear understanding of sin; where people do not believe that Jesus had to die for our sins. Historical Christianity is in the process of becoming lost.
I’ve heard pastors and preachers whose sermons sound like a beautiful flower arrangement. Roses, everything is there, even a shakespearean way of crafting the words, but 10 minutes after the sermon was over one couldn’t remember what was said in the sermon any more. This is because everything was there, except Jesus and the challenge of the Gospel.
Finally, the early Church teaches us that suffering for Jesus was not an option. It always comes one way or another. The Bible says that “whoever wants to live a godly life will be persecuted.” 2. Timothy 3:12. Those early believers did not consider suffering as an unfortunate thing. Today we are reaching the point when all areas of apparent safety from persecution for Christ are gradually diminishing. The days are coming soon when your and my faith will be tested; when we will either be or not to be.
Already the number of people who are hated for the sake of Christ has gone beyond the total number of all persecutions of the previous centuries. The older I am getting the more I understand that I need to stand for my Jesus.
Jesus is in the business of saving people. Paul says: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”, and adds: “Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ” Romans 8:38.39. Could it be that simple? But rather than being a source of great joy, radical simplicity of the Gospel offends most people. The saving prescription is so simple that even a child will embrace it, and an elderly person whose mental faculties are already weak will find in it his or her ultimate comfort. It states: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:9.13.
Tihomir Kukolja, born in Slavonska Pozega, Croatia. Studied, lived and worked in Yugoslavia, Croatia, United Kingdom, Australia and the US. Educated in theology, communications, and radio journalism. Worked as a church pastor, radio producer and presenter, journalist, religious liberty activist, humanitarian activist, and reconciliation and leadership development activist. Lives in Baytown TX, USA. Currently serves as the Executive Director, Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation (Forum), and Director of Renewing Our Minds (ROM) initiative.