Adventist pastors who have perused the documents released by the General Conference on September 25, 2016, anticipate that readers of OrdinationTruth.com may be interested in reviewing what these documents say about the unauthorized commissioned minister credentials that have been issued in multiple conferences in the North Pacific Union since 2015. Such credentials are invalid since they carry authorities which the world church has not approved for this credential. The new GC documents support these concerns.
GENERAL CONFERENCE SAYS NEW COMMISSIONED POLICIES DIVERGE
On the first page of the document, the fourth paragraph reads as follows. Notice the last item.
Starting in 2012, however, a few unions have, in effect, claimed the right to set criteria for ordination, disregarding the 1990 GC Session action not to allow women to be ordained to gospel ministry, and the decisions of the 1995 and 2015 Sessions not to allow variances from this policy. Since the 2015 Session, some unions and conferences have diverged from GC Working Policy by discontinuing ordinations, and commissioning or licensing all new pastors; issuing ministerial licenses and/or commissioned-minister credentials or licenses to all pastors in their territories, including those previously ordained; and allowing commissioned or licensed ministers to function as ordained ministers (p. 1).
As we have carefully outlined in previous articles (SEE LINKS AT END OF THIS ARTICLE), this is the course that has been taken by Conferences in the NPUC. While the redefined commissioned credentials have not in all respects permitted function as ordained minister, in several respects they have. We understand this statement in the document as aimed directly at the illegitimate “commissioned+” credential voted into being by church administration in the regions of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.
INVALID CREDENTIALING AND LICENSING PRACTICES
A section of the GC document discusses invalid practices. The document warns, “As we have seen, denominational policy results from deliberations by representatives from around the world. Ignoring what was commonly agreed upon sets a dangerous precedent in organizational terms. It also strikes a serious blow against unity” (p. 35).
In recounting the history of Adventist practice, the document compares the ordained with the commissioned credential. The Adventist Church “has consistently regarded” “ordination. . . as qualitatively different to licensing or commissioning” (Ibid.). Indeed, another paragraph directly addresses “unorthodox credentialing practices”:
What, however, of the unorthodox credentialing practices? Is it perhaps the case that the Church has not taken a position on them? As we have seen, in the absence of an agreed and stated view, organizational units could continue to act. In fact, however, these are practices about which the world Church has deliberated and pronounced, meaning that it is necessary for all to accept the decision of the wider body (Ibid.).
Credentials are a very concrete thing, and have been throughout all but the earliest years of the church organization. They reflect mutually agreed practice, and are not locally malleable. The Church has specified and defined credentials very carefully, and neither unions nor conferences may independently redefine what a credential stands for.
A FOUNDATIONAL PRINCIPLE
Are credentials in a sense dependent upon other credentials? Credentials differentiate workers and set parameters for responsibility sets. The document makes an important point:
A statement approved by the GC Executive Committee in 1930, then embodied in GC Working Policy, sets out a foundational principle: that ‘any shadow of uncertainty in the matter of what ministerial credentials stand for in one field reflects a shadow upon all credentials, and is a matter of general denominational concern.’ Where there is any question about policy’s provisions, then, the GC Executive Committee is obliged to take an interest and reach a verdict (p. 36).
This is why the Working Policy outlines so carefully (SEE LINKS AT END OF THIS ARTICLE) the duties, responsibilities, and privileges of each distinct kind of credential. The very purpose is to make the authorities vested in each kind of credential distinct, so as to remove even “any shadow of uncertainty” over the question “of what ministerial credentials stand for.”
The Commissioned Minister policies enacted by conferences within the NPUC carry a combination of authorities from commissioned and from ordained minister credentials. They are less than ordained minister credentials in some respects, yet more than the commissioned minister credential. They, thus, are really “commissioned+” or “ordained-” credentials. As we shall next see, the General Conference has authorized no such credential.
GC MUST APPROVE MODIFIED CREDENTIALS
Where there seems valid reason to issue a modified kind of credential, provision exists for this. The Church is not inflexible. But before any such credential would be issued, prior approval must be secured from the General Conference Executive Committee. However, in the case of the commissioned minister credentials now being issued by Conferences in the North Pacific Union, this approval has not been sought.
“Organizations that have departed from Adventist practice in credentialing and licensing have done so without consulting and taking counsel—and that, too, is a departure (perhaps a more egregious one) from our established practice” (pp. 38, 39).
“While generally requiring strict adherence, it provides that local organizations can adapt, even depart from, the policies—but this requires ‘prior approval from the General Conference Executive Committee’ (B 15 10, 1). Such approval has not been granted” (p. 39).
In other words, what has been seen in the NPUC is exactly what this GC document addresses—unilateral action. This is unacceptable, and designated as such in the document.
CORRECT CREDENTIALS ESSENTIAL FOR UNITY
The document states,
The ordaining and commissioning of pastors, and the issuing of credentials and licenses, are not matters essential to salvation, but they are essential to the unity of the Church. They are also important elements of the Church’s smooth functioning as an organization: that is, they are important for mission (p. 42).
The commissioned minister credentials currently being issued by Oregon and Washington Conferences in the NPUC are invalid, for they are a hybrid credential granting authorities reserved to the ordained minister to the commissioned minister. Neither Oregon, nor Washington Conferences, nor the Union, have sought or been granted the authority to create this “commissioned+” credential. The creation of this credential has created disunity and distrust in the Union.
It would be a first step toward restoring trust if the executive committees of the Oregon and Washington Conferences, and the executive committee of the North Pacific Union, would act immediately to rescind and repudiate their actions creating and approving this false credential, before further embarrassing the Church in the Northwest and contributing to a situation which may lead to the dismissal of the NAD president under whose watch these errors occurred.
CM Crisis 1: What is a Commissioned Minister?
CM Crisis 3: Significance of Commissioned Minister Policy Action
CM Crisis 4: Washington Conference Misleads on Policy
CM Crisis 5: A History Lesson as Annual Council 2016 Approaches