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 Why was it rescinded?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?
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.