Open letter to Ted Wilson president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists


Dear President and brother in faith,
I carefully watched and listened to your sermon “Pastors and Leaders Resign…The Shaking of the Church Has Begun.” (Title provided by some very zealous Italian fans of yours – with great sense of charity and deep Christian joy.)

Your sermon begins with a call to go and live the mission.
I, Pastor Emeritus Rolando Rizzo, have accepted this call together with my newly married wife on September 17, 1972. Since then, we went and remained faithful to our love and mission to the church. Despite having a disabled daughter, we have given to this mission our full commitment, like so many other colleagues. My wife is a musician and she has donated her time as a volunteer to the mission by caring for children, directing choirs, assembling hymnals, working during congresses, scout camps and in various local communities.
I have preached in churches and door to door. I have testified our faith through public lectures, radio broadcasts, by writing articles, books, pamphlets. And now, at the age of 80 years old, I continue to do the work with the same enthusiasm I have always had.
I have always lived by the norms of our church. Never have I ever intentionally transgressed a rule, including this very important one, to which you are not faithful: reflecting on improving existing norms.

Last year, the Italian church awarded me an honorary degree:

“In recognition of his long and fruitful commitment to the pursuit of the Truth, expressed both in fidelity to his pastoral vocation, with particular regard to Youth, and in his activity as a poet and novelist, in service of art as a yearning for the Transcendent. A pastor of souls, preacher, church leader, Youth leader, visionary pioneer in the founding of the Casuccia Visani Youth Center. He is the author, in addition to poems and countless pastoral and theological articles, of several works about the Adventist faith, including – and of definite scholarly value – the work dedicated to Ellen G. White: “The Legacy of a Prophet”, and the homiletic handbook: “Preaching Christ: the Art of Communicating the Message of Revelation”. Later on in life, he also wrote a series of novels centered on personal and social redemption, of autobiographical inspiration and at the same time of universal value.”

It is with a heavy heart that I have to express my concerns. Your preaching has both disconcerted and scandalized me. Since I have neither the time nor the energy to address your sermon point by point (due to my ongoing battle with cancer,  and the constant care that our disabled daughter still needs form me and my 75 years old wife), I will challenge four aspects of your view of the Adventist message and mission, that I do not believe to be part of our identity and therefore do not condone.

1 – The Remnant and Ecumenism.
Throughout your sermon you proclaimed several times the Adventist church as a “Us”, to be well distinguished from and above of other religious denominations. The same attitude was brought up by the Pharisees, so long ago, but at least, they were the only people worshiping Yahweh amidst all the other polytheistic religions. Adventists today, on the other hand, live among thousands of different religious denominations that profess Christ. According to a document voted by the GC in 1982:
1. We recognize organizations that present Christ to men as part of the divine plan to evangelize the world and we hold in high regard men and women of other denominations who are committed to bringing men to Christ.
2. Whenever we come into contact with other Christian denominations and religious bodies in our missionary activity, the Christian spirit of courtesy, frankness and honesty must always prevail.

The General Conference’s Public Relations and Religious Liberty Department, holds meaningful dialogues with many denominations such as the Lutheran World Federation (1994-1998), led by Bert Beach, then John Graz and and now Ganoune Diop, organizing the annual event with participants from France, Finland, Estonia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, England and Germany. Not to mention the relationships entertained at a local level.
I was president of the Evangelical Pastors Association in Florence, which still gathers about 30 evangelical communities. On this account, you were far to quick to mention that it is not about Ecumenism, but about public relations that we use only to enforce religious freedom and to spread the Adventist message.
Events, study days, prayer groups and more… What else are those about if not Ecumenism? Gatherings in which we recognize others’ faith and the good faith of people, more generally. Therefore, in your view, this moments of sharing would be ethically questionable as it seems that there is no Christianity outside the Adventist faith. Moreover, according to your sermon, we are not bearers of a special message, we have the only message. Isn’t it true, though, that the only message is Christ alone? Can we only give? Nothing to receive or learn?

I am proud to be an Adventist and I am also grateful to the many religious denominations that have not discovered the Sabbath, but have struggled and achieved victories in the same fields envisioned by the prophets:
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Isaiah 58:6
In my opinion, your vision of the message conveyed in Apocalypse 14 is quite narrow. You identify God’s commandments as the two tablets of the law only. Free from these narrow views, other denominations, like the Methodist and the Baptist, fought for civil rights. Nelson Mandela was a Methodist, ML King was Baptist, Father Puglisi and Father Peppe Diana, murdered while trying to help young boys to get out of criminal organizations like the Mafia, were Catholics.
It appears that, in your view, Ecumenism equals compromised principles and boorish syncretism. To the contrary, in over 50 years of ecumenism I was never asked to give up my principles. Of course, there are various kinds of Ecumenism, as there are various kind of Adventism. It is not a matter of relinquishing ecumenism in favor of the same spirit that fueled religious wars in the past, it is a matter of choosing an honest ecumenical practice, which means:
– Granting every believer in Christ the principle of good faith until proven otherwise.
– Cooperating with anyone on established programs in accordance with our conscience.
The concept of the Remnant  it is not about self-proclamation, it is proven by facts. Furthermore, if being Adventist equals being the Remnant, then the Adventists of Rwanda (10% of the population) would have had the strength and faith to prevent the horror bygone.

2 – Does the Bible contain the word of God or is the Bible the word of God?
In your preaching, you celebrate the value of the Bible, in good reason, I may add. Despite so, I would dare to say that the Bible you talk about is somehow different from the one I read every day. I could compare “your Bible” to an instruction manual of a car, that works for every model without distinction, in a clear and functional way. “My Bible”, which is certainly the only book in time and space to contain God’s Revelation, ought to be read through the lens of hermeneutics and theology. It is my belief that a view similar to yours has been wrongly used to revive slavery, fuel machismo, legitimize torture and death penalty. What happens if you read the Bible as a car instruction manual?

  • Nu 1:51 Whenever the tabernacle is to move, the Levites are to take it down, and whenever the tabernacle is to be set up, the Levites shall do it. Anyone else who approaches it is to be put to death.
  • Deut 24:4 then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.
    Forgiveness, according to this verses, would be the abominable sin.
  • 2 Chronicles 14:8-9 Now Asa had an army of 300,000 from Judah, bearing large shields and spears, and 280,000 from Benjamin, bearing shields and wielding bows; all of them were valiant warriors.
    Now Zerah the Ethiopian came out against them with an army of a million men and 300 chariots, and he came to Mareshah.
    (At the height of its power, the Roman Army included four hundred and fifty thousand men; here they exceed two million!)
  • Deut 13:6-9 If your brother, your mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom neither you nor your fathers have known, of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end), you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him. But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.
  • Lev 21:17-23 “Speak to Aaron, saying, ‘No man of your offspring throughout their generations who has a defect shall approach to offer the food of his God. For no one who has a defect shall approach: a blind man, or a lame man, or he who has a disfigured face, or any deformed limb, or a man who has a broken foot or broken hand, or a hunchback or a dwarf, or one who has a defect in his eye or eczema or scabs or crushed testicles. No man among the descendants of Aaron the priest who has a defect is to come near to offer the LORD’S offerings by fire; since he has a defect, he shall not come near to offer the food of his God. He may eat the food of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy, only he shall not go in to the veil or come near the altar because he has a defect, so that he will not profane My sanctuaries. For I am the LORD who sanctifies them.’”
  • 1 Samuel 18:27-28 David rose up and went, he and his men, and struck down two hundred men among the Philistines. Then David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full number to the king, that he might become the king’s son-in-law. So Saul gave him Michal his daughter for a wife. When Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David […].
    David tore 200 genitals from 200 Philistines, put them in a basket and brought them to the king who saw “that the LORD was with him.”

Should I continue?

How is it that Paul, educated to consider the cripple unfit to worship Yahweh, places at the center of his worship, not a cripple but someone torn apart by torture and crucified?
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Cor. 2:2

3 – The aberrations of human sexuality
In your sermon you state that “God does not accept the aberrations of human sexuality”, referring to homosexuality. And indeed there are biblical texts affirming it. That said, I wish to express a couple of remarks on the matter:  First, the same texts define as aberrations also the cripple approaching the altar, the husband forgiving his adulterous wife, the stranger approaching the disassembled pieces of the Sanctuary. Second, God accepts sexual aberrations which are, ethically speaking, far worse than the homosexual relationship.
An ethical homosexual relationship, between consenting adults (that I personally find aesthetically disgusting), is not included in the creation plan, but it certainly harms no one and takes no one’s dignity away. God, on the other hand, grants to Abraham slaves and concubinage; to Solomon seven hundred princesses as wives and three hundred concubines. As it is written in 1 King 11:3-4: He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned his heart away. For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; […].

The problem with polygamy (wives and especially concubines were considered disposable objects, gaining some value only when chosen by men) is addressed in these verses only in relation to Solomon’s idolatrous drifts.
To this regard, I ask myself: if God understands that it is unreasonable to ask men to completely step out their cultural context, why should he not be sympathetic toward those who experience the necessity to affection, the most powerful of the human needs, in a different way? Polygamy and disregard towards women, are those not as much outside God’s plan as homosexuality is?

Moreover, what right do I have to judge that young pastor’s son, brilliant graduate student and faithful member of our community who a few months ago released a video saying “I am gay”?

4 – The concept of the end of times and the Remnant
I have no doubt that the Adventist people were chosen by God for a mission. We always talk about “the end of times”, but didn’t Jesus forbid the speculation about time? And aren’t 160 years enough for us to feel some embarrassment when saying the word “soon”? or when confusing the always occurring signs with the last signs?  or when confusing the destruction of Jerusalem with the end of the world?
The following two texts should be sufficient to clarify this matter:

  • Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. Matthew 24:34-36

It should be forbidden, in my opinion, to quote E.G.W. authoritatively (isn’t our creed based on the Scriptures only?), nevertheless, I will quote her in response to you:

  • “Satan is always ready to fill the mind with theories and calculations[…]. There is an intense desire on the part of many to startle the world with something original, that shall lift the people into a state of spiritual ecstasy […]. He did not come to arouse and gratify curiosity […]. There will never again be a message for the people of God that will be based on time. We are not to know the definite time either for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit or for the coming of Christ. […] for time will never be a test again. […] We are not to live upon time excitement. We are not to been grossed with speculations in regard to the times and the seasons which God has not revealed.” Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, vol. 1, pp.173 – 175

Regarding the imminence of the end of times, E.G.W. was wrong, as many other prophets. She wrote:
– In June 27, 1850: “The angel who guided me said, ‘The time is near’.”
– In 1879: “We are on the frontier of the eternal world […]. Considering the little time we have left, we must watch and pray”
– In 1882: “We are near the end of time. I have been shown that God’s judgments are already on earth. The Lord has spoken to us of events that will soon come.”
– In 1900: “The great crisis is on the verge of breaking out […]. The Return of Christ will not tarry much longer.”

And about the last prediction, 123 years have already passed by. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on the certainty of Christ’s presence among us and of His second coming, rather than using the preaching to convey useless and wrong certainties? In your sermon you quote Apocalypse 22 to prove the biblical and therefore real nature of the word “soon”, even if Apocalypse was compiled 2000 years ago!
Catastrophic chronicles are exciting to many, but the expectations, in my opinion, are based upon lies. In fact, since 1844 men’s living conditions have been improving, despite the tortuous paths. The laws of men as well, in most of the states of the Christian world , have come closer and closer to the laws of God, as expressed by the prophets.

Nowadays, in Italy there are those who fast over crowded prisons where inmates are fed anyway. In the past, torture was a commonly accepted practice instead. Therefore, is it exaggeration to say that the world has improved? Is it heretical to say that humanity’s sense of ethics has grown?
It is true that on this path there was no shortage of terrible wars: the American Civil War and the Two World Wars, in addition to other bloody civil wars, such as the one in Rwanda and the current ones in Ukraine and Palestine.
Unfortunately, wars in the previous centuries were somewhat part of the normality. There were wars that lasted thirty years and wars of conquest were periodic and habitual in Europe and in the rest of the world as well. It is, however, in the 19th and 20th centuries that constitutions, universal state laws, democracies, human rights, and Welfare were born, despite all the tortuousness and contradictions. What about the most recent decades? Between ups and downs, through baby steps or even giant steps at times, the world, overall, has improved.
In the Florence of the Golden Ages, where cathedrals were built and masterpieces were painted, there were 20,000 beggars. Many of them were disabled, either from birth or due to unsafe labor. In today’s so called wicked Italy, three million invalids are assisted by the community. So, what has the Remnant done to structurally improve the world? What did the Remnant do in Rwanda, South Africa, Argentina?

I have no expectations for you to read my articles, listed below. I am presenting them to you merely to show you that I have prayed, I have met and I have thought long and hard about the things I wrote.
God bless you.

Rolando Rizzo, proud 7th-day Adventist.

Translated with DeepL