Going Forward, Not Backwards

A Reflection on the 2010 Atlanta General Conference Session


Samuel Koranteng-Pipim


The 2010 General Conference session in Atlanta is now history. Although many significant decisions were taken at this session, this particular GC session event may, perhaps, be remembered for the very courageous and stirring sermon given by the newly elected GC president to the 60,000-70,000 people who filled the Georgia Dome. His clarion call to “Go Forward, Not Backwards” will echo and re-echo in the church for years to come.

Let me share some brief reflections on this 59th session of the General Conference.

I. Why Attend GC Sessions?

GC sessions are presently conducted every five years. Among other things, General Conference sessions are occasions for the worldwide church to take stock of how it is doing, elect new leaders, and set an agenda for the future.

It is a privilege to attend GC sessions, either as a delegate or as an observer. Converging at GC sessions is like Muslims attending their Mecca. Though we don’t have any holy ground, GC sessions can be spiritual high points for the SDA Church. You get to meet old friends and make new ones. You get to hear the exciting reports of church growth in different parts of the world. You learn from the successes and failures of others. And you get to see different expressions of modest Christian dressing (or the lack thereof).

The fact is, when you live in your own little Adventist ghetto in whatever region of the church you live in, you think Adventism is only circumscribed to your narrow area. At GC sessions you get to see Adventism in all of its diversity. And you get humbled by your parochial view of things.

Another reason why GC sessions are important is that it is a time to gauge the temperature of the church theologically and spiritually. From the theological implications of booth displays to the tenor of worship services, from mission strategies to election processes, I gain insights into the church’s health.

And by evaluating the reasons given for its actions, I get a sense of how the church arrives at its theological decisions: Is it through opinion polls, referenda, political action, subjective feelings, pragmatism, or through a sound reflection on inspired writings?

What I mean is this: GC sessions, in my opinion, constitute one of the highest experiences for the Seventh-day Adventist Church worldwide. And it is worth the effort, time, and money, even the millions of dollars needed to make it happen. Yes, sitting through the GC business sessions is at times boring and frustrating. But it is worth all the investment by the church and its members.

Thus, I have attended every single one of the past six GC sessions, serving as a delegate in all but the most recent one.

II. My Interests at GC Sessions

Although several issues are discussed at GC sessions—Church Manual, constitution and bylaws, auditors’ report, etc.—the issues that tend to interest me the most are theological issues. I’m sure you will appreciate it because my training is in systematic theology—a fancy phrase for the study of doctrines. My specialty is in biblical authority and interpretation (hermeneutics), and the doctrine of the church (ecclesiology).

My interest in theological issues also has to do with my Ghanaian educational background and my previous training in engineering. This background encourages serious thinking and reflection on issues, instead of the annoyingly shallow “sound bite” pop-theology that is pervasive in our “feelings-based,” poll-driven society. So at GC sessions I try to comb through the agenda materials that are passed out to delegates (or are freely available on the website), with a keen interest on the theological issues recommended in Church Manual revisions. Then when the occasion lends itself I try to speak to the issues clearly, pointedly, and sometimes vigorously.

This year (2010 GC session), because I had the luxury of not being a delegate I was also able to attend a few seminars, as well as observe trends and worship practices in youth and prayer ministries—two major areas that are engaging my attention in recent times because of the inroads within our ranks of emergent philosophy and contemplative spirituality. I wanted to gauge the extent to which these practices are subtly being purveyed to well-meaning members—all in the name of church growth.

III. Growth of the Church

Before talking about some of the significant issues (at least to me) that came up at the session, let me begin by noting that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is alive and well. I always leave GC sessions with this feeling. This year was no exception. Seeing and hearing the reports of the commitment and sacrifice of Seventh-day Adventists around the world was very thrilling and inspirational.

The report from the GC Secretary was one of the best and most comprehensive I can remember. It highlights the exciting growth of the church and some unique challenges it faces. Church growth has grown to 3,000 baptisms a day, but is dwarfed by 371,000 babies being born each day on this planet.

Another observation that deserves mention is that the Adventist Church is truly an international church; it is a worldwide church. The Advent movement began in the United States and quickly spread to the industrialized countries of Europe and Australia. Today, however, about 93% of Adventism is outside the industrialized countries of North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

Did you know, for example, that in the South Pacific Division (Australia and the islands of the Pacific), some 90% of church membership there lives outside Australia!? Even in Western Europe, a majority of the members are from the developing countries. On the continent of Africa alone, there are over 6 million Adventists. Then think of Inter-America (over 3 million), South America (over 2 million), Philippines (over 1 million), etc.

The point is, the Adventist movement is now international, with an overwhelming majority living outside the typical industrialized countries which gave birth to our overseas churches and which have over the years supported the overseas fields with finances, prayer, and personnel. While some may be a little afraid or uncomfortable when they see the growth of the church in developing countries (and hence their large delegate presence and right to speak to issues at GC sessions), all God-fearing Adventists will rejoice that the church is truly a worldwide movement.

I personally look forward to the day when experts from the developing countries will also be asked to share the reasons for their phenomenal success. Without doubt, these lopsided growths may be attributed to the gracious blessings of the Lord. But could it also be that our people in the developing countries are doing things that we, in the Western world, need to take note of?

In my opinion, many of the outreach and church plant strategies or methods often presented by specialists in the industrialized countries simply don’t work. At the very most, these gimmicks have only limited results. Worse still, we have managed to convince ourselves that the simple proclamation of the Word of God cannot work in the Western world, unless we jazz it up with some questionable gospel gimmicks—clowns, puppets, drama, rock music, café worship centers, and all the latest fads from Hollywood or megachurches.

My point right now is that, on the whole, I’m really delighted by the growth of the church worldwide. The future is bright and full of promise—especially if we can mobilize every baptized member as a true missionary. Compare the figure of 7,326 total official missionaries with some 60,000 missionaries the Mormon Church sends out every year. And that is a church that doesn’t even have the biblical truth we have!

I don’t think it takes a neurosurgeon to realize that we cannot fulfill our mission as a church if we rely only on official church entities. The successful stories of organizations like ASI and GYC show that grassroots, lay-led, and church-supporting organizations (such as 3ABN, Amazing Facts, Gospel Ministries International, etc.) are a tremendous asset, not a hindrance. I want to believe that the oversight that left these unmentioned in the division reports was a genuine mistake, and not borne from petty spiritual jealousy on the part of the organized work.

At the 2010 GC session, the church unveiled its strategic plan for 2010-2015, aptly summed up as: “Reach Up, Reach Out, Reach Across: Tell the World.” We are to “reach up” to God through Bible study, prayer, Adventist Bible study guides, and the Spirit of Prophecy, so as to experience revival and faithfulness. We are urged to “reach out” to others in missionary service and community responsibilities. And we’ve been challenged to “reach across” the barriers that threaten to divide us as a family, by endeavoring to disciple, nurture, and involve every individual in the life and mission of the church. If we’re to succeed in meeting these strategic objectives in the coming five years, we cannot afford to ignore, marginalize, or even fight against supporting organizations.

IV. Major Issues at the 2010 Atlanta GC Session

Arguably, the 2010 Atlanta GC session will be remembered by the stirring Seventh-day Adventist sermon delivered by the newly elected GC president—a clear, unambiguous message that re-asserts our unique identity and purpose for existence as God’s remnant church. However, some issues also stood out at this session. These have to do with doctrinal issues that were addressed in the course of revisions in the Church Manual.

The need for these changes and actions arises from the fact that, in recent times, a certain segment of our church has been pushing the church step by step to embrace unbiblical teachings and practices. We are told that the church must create a “big tent” for all views. As a consequence, there is confusion in certain quarters of the church about the actual position of the church and the biblical legitimacy of its position. Against this backdrop, I will cite the following significant actions that were taken:

1. Creation

Given the recent discussions in the church about the promotion of theistic evolution in some of our institutions, it came as no surprise that the world church re-affirmed its belief in the historicity of Genesis 1-11, a literal 6-day, 24-hour, contiguous creation. The delegates did so in two important actions—namely, (i) approving a 2004 “Affirmation of Creation Statement,” and (ii) recommending to the Church Manualcommittee to incorporate essential components of that statement into our fundamental belief #6.

In the deliberations on the floor and in their vote for these two actions delegates essentially rejected the new views on Creation, arguing that theistic evolution: (i) undermines the authority and reliability of Scripture, (ii) attacks the character of God, (iii) overturns key aspects of the doctrine of salvation, (iv) overthrows the foundation for morality, and (v) seriously erodes distinctive doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

By recommending to the Church Manual Committee a rewording of our current fundamental belief #6 to incorporate the essential components of the affirmation of Creation statement, the delegates were seeking to bring a definitive closure to the claim by some that theistic evolution is an option for Seventh-day Adventists.

2. Clarifying the Definition of Marriage & Homosexuality

Another subject that came up for discussion was the proposal to clarify the church’s definition of marriage by adding the phrase “between one male and one female” to the existing statement in the Church Manualthat said, “Marriage, thus instituted by God, is a monogamous, heterosexual relationship.”

According to the new proposal, that statement would now read: “Marriage, thus instituted by God, is a monogamous, heterosexual relationship between one male and one female.” This minor, but significant, addition did not pass easily. It generated a heated discussion that lasted about an hour and a half—with all kinds of motions, amendments, and amendments to amendments.

The first amendment came from a delegate from one European division, who not only removed the new addition, but also dropped the original “heterosexual relationship” words. This individual suggested the following wording: “Marriage is a monogamous, loving relationship between two mutually consenting adults.”

This amendment, worded to avoid further alienation of the gay and lesbian community, was greeted with obvious disapproval by an overwhelming majority of delegates. Some delegates were quite surprised that some Adventist delegates even entertained the thought of using this occasion to slip into our Church Manual homosexuality as a legitimate form of marriage—all in the name of inclusiveness and grace.

In the end, after a series of amendments and motions to get back to the original proposal, and after a heated discussion, the delegates voted the approval of the suggested recommendation that was initially brought to the floor—namely, “Marriage, thus instituted by God, is a monogamous, heterosexual relationship between one male and one female.” I believe the proposal was supported by some 99.9% of the delegates.

By this unanimous vote, the church reaffirmed its position against homosexuality, making explicit what we have always believed.

3. Ordination of Deaconesses

Although, in my opinion this was really a non-issue, because of the ongoing agitation by a vocal and influential segment of the church for the ordination of women as elders or pastors, the proposal to ordain women as deaconesses became a very contentious issue. Folks debated this proposal against the backdrop of the calculated, step-by-step efforts by proponents of women’s ordination.

Up until the 2010 GC session in Atlanta, the Church Manual did not mention the ordination of deaconesses. But in Atlanta, delegates were asked to vote on a recommendation to allow women deacons “to be ordained in regions that favor it.” Some felt that this recommendation “affirms women in ministry,” others saw it as another subtle attempt towards laying a foundation for ordaining women as pastors.

In the ensuing discussion, the delegates (a) voted an amendment to the original motion that removed the line that would have left ordination of women deacons to the discretion of each region; (b) approved the ordination of deaconesses; (c) subsequently (on a later day) recommended to the Church Manualcommittee to set up a commission to set forth the church’s theology of ordination.

Because I have written extensively on the questionable reinterpretations of the Bible and SDA history to justify the ordination of women as elders/pastors, prior to and shortly after the GC session discussion on the “ordination of deaconesses,” some of my friends asked me about what I thought about this proposal. I responded thus to them:

(i) There is nothing wrong with ordination of deaconesses as such. Ordination is simply the act of the church in choosing, appointing, and setting apart through the laying on of hands certain individuals to perform specific functions on behalf of the church. Rightly understood, both male and female, through an act of dedication (the laying on of hands), can be commissioned to perform certain specific functions.

(ii) Accordingly, both men and women can be ordained to be teachers, literature evangelists, medical missionaries, deacons, deaconneses, etc. The debate over women’s ordination is not whether women can or cannot be ordained in this sense. The Bible, confirmed by the Spirit of Prophecy, suggests that both men and women may be  commissioned to do certain assigned tasks on behalf of the church. (For a detailed discussion on this, see my online article: http://www.womenministrytruth.com/resources/articles-and-documents/articletype/articleview/articleid/1125/clarifyingthe-key-issues-on-womens-ordination.aspx).

I find it ironic, though, that after over 150 years of practicing ordination in the church, we now realize a need to study our theology of ordination. One would have thought that those who have been pushing the new practice of ordaining/commissioning women as elders/pastors during the past two or three decades would have called for a serious study before embarking upon these recent practices in certain quarters of our church. These questionable practices have the potential of seriously undermining our belief in the Word of God as the ultimate test for all beliefs and practice, and eroding confidence in the Spirit of Prophecy to inform our decision.

I sincerely hope that the commission that will be set up will not be ideologically driven, as was the pro-ordination Andrews University scholars who published the controversial book Women in Ministry, a work that has been soundly refuted by other scholars in Prove All Things (for more on this, see my online article, titled “The Campaign for Women’s Ordination,” available at: http://drpipim.org/womensordination-contemporaryissues-46/64-0-the-campaign-for-womensordination-part-2.html).

Whereas it is easy to legislate error, it takes true repentance and revival to get back onto the path of truth. Unconverted human nature would not surrender to truth. It would do anything possible, including twisting scriptures, the Spirit of Prophecy, and our history to justify its darling ideologies. “Truth is straight, plain, clear, and stands out boldly in its own defense; but it is not so with error. It is so winding and twisting that it needs a multitude of words to explain it in its crooked form” (Early Writings, 96, emphasis mine).

V. Other Notable Issues

Besides the above major issues—Creation, Marriage and Homosexuality, and the Ordination of Deaconesses—there were other issues that I find worthy of mention:

(i) Transferring the Membership of Former Sexual Offenders

Another heated discussion was a Church Manual change, requiring that there be a written notification of the past actions of a former sexual offender who is transferring his/her membership to another church.

The debate boiled down to a possibility of character defamation versus the risk of exposing children to a former child abuser. Theologically, the issue was whether the forgiveness of sins necessarily removes consequences, and if not, how the church should weigh these consequences in the light of restoration of a sinner, the laws of nations, and the safety of children. Should the church allow presumably repentant predators to attend church and church-related events? What about former murderers, liars, thieves, adulterers, etc.?

In the end, the delegates approved the Church Manual change that requires a church to notify another congregation of a transferring member who has a record of sexual misconduct with minors. The delegates also voted to include in several chapters a statement requiring background checks and certifications for all church employees and volunteers who work closely with minors.

(ii) Union of Churches

The delegates at the Atlanta GC session also approved for inclusion into the Church Manual a new level of church governance structure called “Union of Churches.” This refers to a group of local congregations in specific geographical areas, which instead of being treated as local conferences or missions, are now to be treated as “Unions”—at least as far as representation at the GC level is concerned.

Whatever the presumed advantages of these “union of churches,” in my opinion, this action may encourage regions where the church is not growing to have undue advantage in representation at General Conference levels (e.g., Executive Committees and GC sessions). I can imagine a scenario whereby a country or region with about 10,000 members would intentionally form a “union of churches,” so that, instead of being treated as a local conference/mission, it would now be treated as a “union” and thereby be granted the same number of representatives as would be given another region which has a membership of say 200,000.

(iii) Representation of Young Adults

At the last business meeting of the GC session, delegates also voted unanimously an amendment to the General Conference Constitution and Bylaws that states that the GC Executive Committee’s membership (currently about 300 members) shall include “not less than 15 and not more than 20 members . . . from laity including young adults.”

I believe this vote was long overdue. Coming from a region of the world (Africa) where between 70-80% of the church membership are young people, and currently working with public university students in the USA, I was struck by the conspicuous scarcity of young adults (i.e., youth under 30 years) as delegates at the GC session. It is my understanding that out of a total of more than 2,230 delegates, less than 45 young adult delegates were registered at the session.

I believe there are qualified young adults who can effectively engage in the business of the church. I can point to many young people from our ministry to secular university campuses, GYC youth, and many other committed and capable young people around the world. The church can do a lot more to involve them in every facet of the church’s life.

But I hasten to add that we must resist the egalitarian ideology that mistakenly believes that young people should be given “a piece of the pie” simply because they are young. GC sessions and Executive Committees are not for just any kind of young people. Because these are venues where we make important decisions about the church, we need people who are demonstrably committed to the church and who are knowledgeable about the church’s teachings. It is the Bible that makes spiritual maturity a necessary requirement for church leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-7; cf. Titus 1:5-9).

We must find a biblically better way to involve or mentor the youth to be spiritual leaders than thrusting them unready into positions of responsibility. The kinds of young people we need are those like our Adventist pioneers. I always remind young people that in 1844, James White was 23 years old. Ellen G. White was 17. Hymn writer Annie R. Smith was 16. J.N. Andrews was 15. What set these youthful pioneers apart is that they were converted and studious Bible students. As such God used them to launch a global movement.

I am all for bringing to GC sessions and Executive Committee meetings young people who are godly, Bible-believing, mission-driven, brilliant, and talented. We must bring converted young people who are solidly grounded in the Adventist faith, and who have demonstrated they are effective soul-winners. In some cases, if we want to make the youth aware of how the church operates, they can come as guests and observers. But I will strongly caution against entrusting important responsibilities to young people who are spiritually immature and whose loyalty to the message and mission of the church is questionable.

VI. The President’s Inaugural Sermon

Without doubt, the most important message coming out of the 2010 GC session was the inaugural sermon delivered by the newly elected GC president, Eld. Ted Wilson. It was a bold, clear, unequivocal, and refreshingly Adventist sermon. A fitting message that stands in marked contrast to the fuzzy, ecumenical, people-pleasing, and  non-convicting messages that often ooze from some of our pulpits.

Judging from the reaction by many attendees—and the buzzing responses by those who listened to the message via the TV and the Internet—the sermon could very well be the defining characteristic of the Atlanta GC session. It was, perhaps, the clearest message any church leader can give to an Adventist audience.

Titled “Go Forward,” the new GC president began by highlighting the urgency of our times and the ultimate destiny of the Advent movement. Employing the experience of ancient Israel at the Red Sea (Exodus 14), he called upon church members to follow the path marked by God, however dangerous it might seem. He summed up the thrust of his message by pointing to the words of E.G. White when she described the great lesson from Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea:

“Often the Christian life is beset by dangers, and duty seems hard to perform. The imagination pictures impending ruin before and bondage or death behind. Yet the voice of God speaks clearly, ‘Go forward.’ We should obey this command, even though our eyes cannot penetrate the darkness and we feel the cold waves about our feet. The obstacles that hinder our progress will never disappear before a halting, doubting spirit” (Patriarchs & Prophets, p. 290).

Speaking as a fellow pilgrim in our journey to heaven, he spoke pastorally: “So, brothers and sisters, look to the Almighty God who can take you through anything you will face in the future. Never lose your full confidence and trust in Him. Always obey His command to ‘go forward.’” Even when Satan tempts us to step backwards towards Egypt, we must still “go forward.” And borrowing the words of E. G. White, the GC president assured the members of the church family: “The path where God leads the way may lie through the desert or the sea, but it is a safe path” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 290).

After applying the lessons of the Exodus 14 passage to the personal lives of church members, the new GC president turned his attention to the corporate life of the church. He used the metaphor of “going forward” to mean faithfulness to our distinctive message and mission, and “going backwards” as a symbol of betraying the trust through the adoption of unscriptural fads.

Accordingly, he challenged the attendees to “be vigilant to test all things according to the supreme authority of God’s Word and the counsel with which we have been blessed in the writings of Ellen G. White.” He was neither fuzzy nor ambiguous about what fads he had in mind. He said: 

“Don’t reach out to movements or megachurch centers outside the Seventh-day Adventist Church which promise you spiritual success based on faulty theology. Stay away from non-biblical spiritual disciplines or methods of spiritual formation that are rooted in mysticism such as contemplative prayer, centering prayer, and the emerging church movement in which they are promoted.”

Eld. Wilson also urged members to adopt biblically legitimate worship styles:

“While we understand that worship services and cultures vary throughout the world, don’t go backwards into confusing pagan settings where music and worship become so focused on emotion and experience that you lose the central focus on the Word of God. All worship, however simple or complex, should do one thing and one thing only: lift up Christ and put down self. Worship methods that lift up performance and self should be replaced with a simple and sweet reflection of a Christ-centered, Biblical approach. To define it too closely is impossible but when you read in Scripture of the holiness of God’s presence the Holy Spirit will help you to know what is right and what is wrong.”

In this respect, the president set a good example when, right at the beginning of his message, he tactfully requested that there be no applause during the course of his message. Here, at last, is a leader who is not afraid of going against a crowd. Tastefully discouraging applause in a big sports stadium required courage and conviction to go against what was popular.

Very perceptively, he also cautioned against another danger—namely, succumbing to “fanatical or loose theology that wrests God’s Word from the pillars of biblical truth and the landmark beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Don’t be swayed with every little whim of ‘new’ theology or complicated time chart purporting to carefully explain unusual or obscure concepts that have little to do with our overall theology and mission.”

He couldn’t have said it better in a few words. This is because Bible believing Adventists are in constant danger of attracting, if not succumbing to, all kinds of bizarre, fanatical, and sensational theology.

Turning his attention to a contemporary challenge, he echoed the concerns of many delegates about the promotion of theistic evolution. The new GC president stated:

“Don’t go backwards to misinterpret the first eleven chapters of Genesis or other areas of Scripture as allegorical or merely symbolic. . . . [T]he Seventh-day Adventist Church both teaches and believes in the biblical record of creation which took place recently; in six literal, consecutive, contiguous 24-hour days. . . . If God did not create this world in six literal days and then blessed the Sabbath day, why are we worshipping Him today on this seventh-day Sabbath as Seventh-day Adventists?”

He pleaded with us to “read the Bible, live the Bible, teach the Bible, and preach the Bible with all power from on high.” Against the dangers of higher criticism (the so-called “Historical-Critical method” of interpretation) he employed the words of E.G. White:

“When men, in their finite judgment, find it necessary to go into an examination of Scriptures to define that which is inspired and that which is not, they have stepped before Jesus to show Him a better way than He has led us. . . .[L]et not a mind or hand be engaged in criticizing the Bible. . . . cling to your Bible, as it reads, and stop your criticisms in regard to its validity, and obey the Word, and not one of you will be lost” (1 Selected Messages, 17-18).

And he strongly reiterated the church’s belief in the Spirit of Prophecy.

There were many other themes covered in his one-hour sermon. When it came time for Eld. Ted Wilson to conclude his message, he did so by inviting the almost 70,000 members of the congregation in the Georgia Dome to pray for revival and reformation:

“I invite you to accept Christ’s marvelous grace in your life, to renew your commitment to Him and this great Advent movement, to proclaim God’s grace, and to ask the Lord to help this church ‘go forward.’ . . . I invite you to remain standing and now turn to the person next to you or behind you and in heartfelt, humble prayer plead with the Lord for revival and reformation so the Holy Spirit can lead God’s remnant church as we ‘go forward’ proclaiming God’s grace and the three angels’ messages. Please pray together.”

I believe I speak for many people when I say that the GC president’s message was the defining characteristic of the 2010 GC session in Atlanta, Georgia.

VII. Conclusion: Going Forward or Backwards?

While the overwhelming majority of the church greeted Eld. Wilson’s sermon with joy and hope, the reaction of those who for decades have been pushing the church away from its message and mission was predictably negative.

One writer on a particular “progressive” website described the message as a call to “Retrograde Adventism,” a call “backwards” to the 1950s or 60s. We would do well, however, to go all the way back to the first century—some 2,000 years ago.

Another “progressive Adventist” friend of mine caught up with me in one of the hallways of the GC session and remarked that the sermon was “a declaration of war” (to which I quickly responded: “No, it is not a declaration of war; the war has been raging for decades. The only thing that has changed is that the church has found a  courageous captain who is not afraid to publicly state what our message and mission are.”).

The reaction of the critics are shrill voices of an influential minority who have largely repudiated our distinctive Adventist identity and mission. Cooped up in their parochial orbit, they are totally out of touch with where the real Seventh-day Adventist Church is.

Our church leader’s sermon from the Georgia Dome has reassured me of the church’s future. No doubt, the enemy will do everything in his power to mute the message and messenger of this inaugural sermon. The coming years will witness some major challenges—new and old. The new GC president, and his team of leaders at every level of church administration, will need our prayers. They need biblical discernment, courage, and humility as they lead our church to “Reach Up, Reach Out, Reach Across” in telling the world of the soon return of Christ.

Regardless of what will happen in the coming years, let us take confidence in the fact that the cause of God will ultimately prevail. Armed with this assurance, let us heed the call from the Georgia Dome of Atlanta: “Go Forward, Not Backwards.” For, in the words of E. G. White, “The path where God leads the way may lie through the desert or the sea, but it is a safe path” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 290).