The spectacle of a University Church inciting its host conference to take action to oppose its own denomination should provide insight. How does the ideology which now prevails in so many North American Adventist Universities operate in the face of a clear “No” vote by the General Conference in session? The November 9, 2016 Walla Walla University (WWUC) church board meeting with Upper Columbia Conference (UCC) administration provides just such a sample case.

During the meeting, UCC president Paul Hoover offered an illustration which has been used in defense of implementing women’s ordination in some places and not in others. According to the president, a church member from Berkeley, California, should not have to do things the way a church member from Botswana might do them.

Should people who wish to be disciples of Jesus be baptized in both cases? Should they keep the Sabbath in both cases? Should they fulfill agreements and commitments properly made in both cases? Or, should church members in Berkeley, because of a supposed advanced status be given special exemptions? Should certain agreements binding upon every other brother and sister in the world church not apply to them because they are from Berkeley?

The context of the meeting at WWUC was disagreement in the conference over the unilateral, non-compliant commissioned minister policy first implemented and then rolled back by the conference. Why was it rescinded? Was it because many “small churches” in the conference require additional “education”?

Walla Walla University Department of Theology chair Dave Thomas made a gracious offer in the meeting: “I would gladly offer the services of my department to help.”

We wonder, were Walla Walla theologians to visit insufficiently educated UCC “Botswana” churches, what kind of improved understanding might be received?

HELP FROM WALLA WALLA?
In an article published on November 17, 2016, in the Collegian, the official newspaper of Walla Walla University, Thomas previewed the kinds of ideas members might be offered in such meetings. For example, he wrote that

“The church is a new society formed on principles very different from those typically seen in the world. One of those principles is the absence of hierarchy” (Dave Thomas, Collegian, “Unity, Diversity, Discrimination and Church Politics,” p. 8).

Is there an absence of hierarchy in God’s kingdom? “Not content with his position, though honored above the heavenly host, he [Lucifer] ventured to covet homage due alone to the Creator” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 35). There is a hierarchy of at least three levels in this sentence. The first chapter of Patriarchs and Prophets abounds with the question of “position” and “government.” There, it is Satan who proposes a non-hierarchical government: “he [Lucifer] promised those who would enter his ranks a new and better government, under which all would enjoy freedom” (p. 40). Satan argued that angels needed no laws, “no such restraint.” Indeed, the Ten Commandments, with its prohibitions, has a hierarchical aspect. Both Old and New Testament Churches had their order and rank. While such ranking is an aspect we would not emphasize, it is a fatal overstatement to claim “absence of hierarchy.”

Dr. Thomas also writes that “Top-down power tends toward rebellion and disruption,” (Ibid.). But all actual power begins with God and can be directed nowhere else but from Deity’s infinite heights. Yet there can be no justification for any creature’s rebellion against Him.

As for ordination itself, the professor insisted that “The concept of ordination assumed by the document [the reconciliation document voted at Annual Council 2016] is now known to be nothing more than a tradition that crept into the Church from the Roman Empire,” (Ibid.). Someone should have told this to Jesus before “He gathered the little band close about Him, and kneeling in the midst of them, and laying His hands upon their heads, He offered a prayer dedicating them to His sacred work. Thus the Lord’s disciples were ordained to the gospel ministry” (The Desire of Ages, p. 296). For another detailed explanation of ordination, see Acts of the Apostles, pp. 58-62.

It is interesting how different the position presently being taught in the Walla Walla theology department is from the position of the world church (and presently being taught in Botswana). Indeed, the one point in which the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) did share consensus agreed at this concept:

While all believers are called to use their spiritual gifts for ministry, the Scriptures identify certain specific leadership positions that were accompanied by the Church’s public endorsement for persons who meet the biblical qualifications (Num 11:16-17; Acts 6:1-6; 13:1-3; 14:23; 1 Tim 3:1-12; Titus 1:5-9). . . Aside from the unique role of the apostles, the New Testament identifies the following categories of ordained leaders: the elder/supervising elder (Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Tim 3:2-7; 4:14; 2 Tim 4:1-5; 1 Pet 5:1) and the deacon (Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:8-10). While most elders and deacons ministered in local settings, some elders were itinerant and supervised greater territory with multiple congregations, which may reflect the ministry of individuals such as Timothy and Titus (1 Tim 1:3-4; Titus 1:5). (http://archives.adventistreview.org/article/6497/archives/issue-2013-1520/20-cn-study-committee-votes-consensus-statement-on-theology-of-ordination/consensus-statement, accessed 2016-11-18).

The above TOSC statement, voted on July 23, 2013, came after the committee had in its January 2013 meeting considered the presentation made by Darius Jankiewicz, “The Problem of Ordination: Lessons from Early Christian History,” which had espoused the theory Thomas presents as fact.

It is troubling that an erroneous view of the order of heaven is presently being taught at the University. How will this non-Adventist view of church order now being taught to WWU theology students work itself out in the field when Walla Walla theology students are assigned as ministers in churches in Washington, Oregon, Upper Columbia, Idaho, and Montana conferences?

CONCLUSION
It is interesting how a meeting held in such a supposedly diverse university community could result in an intellectual monoculture like that manifested on the 9th of November. While some 500 persons were present at the meeting, those permitted to speak stood lockstep in their support for the non-Adventist approach to the commissioned minister credential. Still, many UCC members would decline the offered services of the WWU theology department. Most would prefer to be presented an understanding of church governance which would harmonize with that of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We think they would welcome a presentation from Adventist teachers who support the Bible-based teaching of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. By all means, let teachers from Botswana apply.

In a recent Walla Walla University Church (WWUC) business meeting, University leaders invited the student body to join them. In what? In requesting that the Upper Columbia Conference Executive Committee reinstate a commissioned minister’s policy voted March 29 then rescinded July 19. Why the rescind? According to the official conference announcement of the change, many constituency members “felt that it placed our conference beyond the parameters of the Church Manual and the North American Division policy for commissioned ministers” (See http://ordinationtruth.com/2016/07/22/ucc-rescinds-commissioned-minister-policy/).

But conference members are very concerned that WWU church leaders would solicit advocacy from the student body for a policy which stands in opposition to God’s leadership as reflected in the Church Manual and the General Conference Working Policy. The result of this incitement of our youth entrusted to the WWU remains to be seen.

The Conference is still communicating with several churches in its constituency. Those churches, in response to the March 29, 2016 executive committee vote to implement the non-Adventist practice, had voted, between then and July, asking that it hold a special constituency session. The action by the churches was plain. The churches did not ask the conference to rescind. They sought via a special constituency session to overrule the committee. Some voted statements supported the replacement of conference officers.

Most members of the constituency, whatever their views on commissioning and women’s ordination, are determined to be in support of the world church. Unilateral action by conference leaders opposing world church practice is unacceptable to them. The action by the conference in disregard toward the world church has been disunifying, provocative, and destructive to its mission. On July 19, rather than face a special constituency session, the Conference executive committee rescinded its March 29 vote. At present, the matter is in the hands of the lay members of the conference. There could be a renewed call for a special session.

The General Conference sets the criteria for ordination; it determines which authorities are included in a given credential. Seventh-day Adventist congregations are part of a world church. A local conference can no more determine for itself the authorities which are included in a denominationally-approved credential than can a local congregation.

But on November 9, aware that conference administration was engaged in its first potentially constructive dialogue with its own world church supporting congregations, WWUC voted to ask the conference executive committee to “rescind its rescind” at its upcoming December 6 meeting—while still engaged in discussion with sister churches.

Referring to the UCC churches which sought for the conference to return to operating in harmony with the world church, the president said that those churches had been “demanding” a constituency meeting and that they had “pushed aside” the executive committee. The WWUC board even accused sister churches that called for the special constituency meeting of using “ways and means discordant with Christian values. . .”

But the membership of the conference has every right to expect elected conference officers to operate in harmony with the world church. When a conference executive committee violates trust, the checks and balances of a conference’s Constitution and Bylaws empower membership to overrule decisions of a conference executive committee, or even to appoint new officers.

Conference officers are now pincered between congregations which seek harmony with the world church, and those working vigorously to advance the cause of women’s ordination no matter the cost. How much wiser if leaders will speak more widely with their constituency; how much better if they will communicate directly with the General Conference. These steps should be taken before obeying the wishes of those in Walla Walla who openly call for the implementation of policies which by violating world church practice divide the Conference.


Previous and specifically related articles include:

CM Crisis 1: What is a Commissioned Minister?

CM Crisis 2: UCC Commissioned Minister Policy Compared With World Church

CM Crisis 3: Significance of Commissioned Minister Policy Action

Laypeople Speak Out on UCC CM Policy

UCC Rescinds Commissioned Minister Policy

Text: Washington Conference Mission-Focused Leadership Policy

CM Crisis 4: Washington Conference Misrepresents New Policy

CM Crisis 5: A History Lesson as Annual Council 2016 Approaches

CM Crisis 6: GC Unity Documents and the Commissioned Credential

In a news item posted on November 3, 2016 on the Adventist News Network (“Important responsibility in following voted World Church actions”), General Conference president, pastor Ted N.C. Wilson reminded leaders in North America of their “sacred responsibility.” President Wilson indicated that every leader has a responsibility “to follow what the world church has voted in session (whether I agree with it or not).” The president had indicated previous to the 2015 San Antonio session vote that he would adhere to the results of the vote no matter the outcome.

In the article, the president clarified the authority of unions:

“When union conferences were established, they were given the responsibility of working within the policies outlined for the world church, which now generally takes place by world church representatives at an Annual Council and sometimes at a General Conference Session,” Wilson said. “Unions were established to make mission more local since the General Conference wasn’t able to cover the world with direct counsel for every situation, but unions are not a law unto themselves.”

Unions do not have authority over all aspects of ordination. They never have.

“While the union has the right to approve or disapprove of which individuals, recommended from local conferences, to ordain, that decision is to be made only within the framework of the Working Policy of the world church,” Wilson said. “In addition, the unions are not responsible for approving men to be ordained to the gospel ministry on the division or the General Conference levels. Each of those organizations and their institutions, through the respective executive committees, are authorized to approve ordinations. Therefore, the unions are not responsible for all aspects of ordination.”

Some advocates of women’s ordination have accused church leaders of exercising “kingly power” as they seek for integrity in other church leaders who can only be faithful by adhering to the decisions made by the world church. To one who had asked pastor Wilson about the exercise of “kingly authority, Wilson replied:

“Regarding your ‘kingly authority’ question,” Wilson responded, “what could be more of a ‘kingly authority’ action than to deliberately go against what has been voted by the worldwide representation of delegates from around the world at a General Conference Session? Three times this subject has been addressed in some form by a General Conference Session.”

The ANN article can be found at this link:

https://news.adventist.org/en/all-news/news/go/2016-11-03/importantresponsibility-in-following-voted-worldchurch-actions/

The detailed response by the president is found on his official blog here:

http://perspectives.adventist.org/en/questions-answers/questions/go/2016-10-22/what-authority-do-church-unions-have-in-ordaining-ministers/

Pastor Wilson’s Facebook page, quoted in the ANN article, is here:

https://www.facebook.com/PastorTedWilson/

The president often communicates with world church members via his Facebook page.