The recent 2018 conference of the 1888 Message Study Committee offered a rich assortment of messages designed to strengthen the faith of believers in what Ellen G. White called “a most precious message.” In the first installment of my report on this event, I gave a general overview of the sessions presented.
In this installment, I will employ a more detailed unpacking of two discourses that, in my opinion (and that of some other attendees), carried an exceptional degree of fascination, import, and poignancy.
One of these was shared by Fred Bischof—a trained and licensed physician who currently directs the Adventist Pioneer Library and operates from the Light Bearers headquarters near Eugene, Oregon. The other was shared by Dee Casper—a brand evangelist for ARtv, a web-based video media ministry.
The title of Bischoff’s first message (he spoke several times), which he shared Thursday morning, July 12, was “The Faith of Jesus: A Topic Dimly Understood.” The early start seemed standard, as far as faith sermons typically go. He directed us to Hebrews 11:1, the prototypical verse for defining what faith is. One point he made was that the “things not seen” clause is inherently associated with physical, tangible manifestations, for faith itself is a channel of sight/vision (see also vs. 27).
From there we went to 1 John 5:4 (our faith enables us to overcome the world) and Romans 15:4. Here he began his unique approach of addressing this topic from a linguistic and grammatical angle, something I personally appreciated as an editor and writer. The “of faith” clause means “out of faith.” Therefore, if genuine faith in the Lord is not the wellspring for our conduct, then we offend Him and transgress His will, even in proper behavior such as going to church on Saturday, paying tithe, etc.
Fred continued this grammatical angle in earnest, quickly defining what a preposition is (a word that gives positional, directional, or relational context in a sentence), then underscoring how the implementation of any given preposition (in partnership with the word “faith”) in any given Bible verse will help us better decipher what that verse is trying to communicate, using examples like Philippians 3:9, Galatians 2:20, and so on.
Something to keep in mind is that though the Holy Spirit can still guide us and supply the clarification we need, examining the Greek precursors to these prepositions, even if we are just reading a passage in English, can be helpful. This laid the foundation for his focus on Romans 1:17 and recommendation that “faith to faith” is not primarily linear, as many of us may have concluded over the years, but instead cyclical.
One of Bischoff’s key points in demonstrating the biblical veracity of this faith-circuit motif was that whatever faith we exercise is simply responsive to the faith that the Lord puts in us. He initially stressed the creative nature of Jesus’ faith, not only in making us in the first place, but also in pouring Himself out as a sacrifice so that we might have our vitality restored.
He then alluded to Jesus’ words regarding the fig tree that did not bear fruit (see Matthew 21 & Mark 11), stating that though we can learn important lessons from this account, there is another tree to which we need to devote greater attention—the tree of Golgotha. He asserted that the cross, with a more pronounced trumpet sound than that of the fig tree, displays both the life-giving nature of faith and the deadly nature of no faith.
Moving towards his conclusion, Fred reiterated the reciprocal dynamic of the faith circuit, emphasizing that as a catalyst to God’s call to us to believe in Him, He first believes in us. God trusts us. What a solemn and stirring concept! Of course, there is much risk in this, considering the often-wild variation in our dependability (which I will anecdotally suggest swings from low, to really low, to pathetically low, then maybe back to low again).
Notwithstanding this, considering that the Lord can and does empower us to honor His trust in us, the variable on our end is not skill, but will. Fred couched this entire dynamic in a relational framework, as God—whose essence is love—extends faith and requests a response of faith in order to achieve the bond with humanity that He originally intended.Dee spoke Friday morning on “The Cross of Jesus Christ” (with an alternate title of “The Faith of Jesus: Why He Left”). He set the tone early as he saturated his treatise with quotes from the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy. He established the breadth of the value God places on each us by referencing passages like Luke 19:10 and much of Hosea 2.
He then underlined the need to examine and delineate the gospel in a particular way—by reminding ourselves of how it was presented in Genesis 3. God would place enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, and though the serpent would suffer a crushed head, the Seed would suffer a bruised heel. The main thread that ran through Dee’s gospel address was the suffering of Christ.
Casper inserted the caveat that he would not mimic the approach Mel Gibson took in producing The Passion of The Christ by conjuring up gratuitously graphic imagery. Nevertheless, he challenged us to admit that we have likely not taken the immeasurable agony that Jesus experienced seriously enough. He alerted us to the reality that Christ did not just cut a check to pay the price of sin. He became sin and received the wrath of God toward sin to set humanity free (see 2 Corinthians 5:21).
He further postulated that this verse conveys deeper meaning when one differentiates between guilt and shame. Guilt equates to “I did something wrong,” while shame equates to “I am something wrong.” The latter stands in stark contradiction to the value that God sees in us. We will need to feel guilty sometimes in order to appropriately polarize right from wrong, but, by His grace, we never need to bear shame because He, through His Son, took that elephantine weight upon Himself.
Another significant component of Dee’s discourse was assurance. He “coincidentally” (he acknowledged this and, in good humor, asked for permission) repeated a reference from Jerry Finneman’s conference-opening homily—Ellen White’s comment (Manuscript Releases, vol. 10, pg. 175) on John 6:37. This intertwines intimately with the aforementioned notion of value in that the actuality of how much God invested into the plan of redemption can and should instill us with a confidence that if we come to Him by faith, He will in no wise cast us out.
One of the main hinges between these two highlight orations is the faith of the Godhead—the belief and trust He puts in us—and the bafflingly high level of hazard associated with this. More broadly and qualitatively, what Fred’s and Dee’s messages had in common was how they infused my friendship with Christ and journey of faith with a fresh, inimitable verve.
I eagerly hoped and confidently assumed that at least some of my fellow brothers and sisters at the conference had a similar response. I pray that you too will be impacted in like manner, whether it’s as a result of this summary, or better yet, through watching or listening to these sessions (via the YouTube links above) in their entirety. Please believe me when I say it will be time well spent.