Adventists are reading with interest two documents released on Sunday by the General Conference. According to Adventist News Network, General Conference executive secretary G.T. Ng stated, “During Annual Council this year we plan to discuss how best to address divergence from the current policy.”

“A Study of Church Governance and Unity” is a 50 page study. Section headings discuss unity, policy, diversity, authority, authority in the Spirit of Prophecy, unilateralism, and application. The shorter document summarizes the longer.

Since the General Conference vote in 2015 in which delegates forbade divisions of the Church from ordaining women to the gospel ministry, several Unions and Conferences have acted unilaterally toward the world church. A wide range of approaches have been implemented, including inflating the commissioned credential to parity with the ordained minister, the outright ordination of women, changing ordained credentials for commissioned ones, and more. All undermine the unity and mission of the Church.

The Council of Adventist Pastors recommends that readers peruse the full documents (linked to at the end of this article). We also believe that readers will be interested in our highlighting some of the material now being studied by church leaders.

ON POLICY

“Policies provide a clear record of what representatives of the world Church have discussed and agreed is essential for the global body to engage effectively in mission and ministry” (p. 9).

“Policy also expresses our unity, for, in the succinct words of a recent statement by world Church leaders, ‘General Conference Session actions and voted policies are agreements that the body of Christ make together’” (p. 9, emphasis in original).

“When God’s people determine whether or not to allow diverse approaches among them, they should make their decision collectively and collaboratively, not unilaterally” (p. 12).

Far from being inessential, policies are a concrete expression of the unity of the Church. It is because the Church invests energy in creating policy that the Church is able to operate an effective global program, and to do so coherently. When variations are permitted, such should be determined on the basis of collective decision-making, not unilateral action.

DECISIONS APPLY TO DIVISIONS, UNIONS, CONFERENCES

Inherent in our system of representative, consultative, consensus-based decision-making is that organizational units and church-member representatives have input into the decisions of organizations at higher levels of structure. However, having had input, reciprocity means that there must be acceptance of the collective decision. Also inherent in the system, then, is that the authority of an organizational unit at any level is plenary in its territory, encompassing all constituent or component organizations at lower levels. The latter are bound by the decisions of the higher-level units of which they form a part, and of any executive committees entrusted by Working Policy with far-reaching authority. . . .the authority of the GC Executive Committee applies not only to divisions, but also to unions, and in consequence to conferences and missions. . . . unions are constitutionally obliged to act in harmony with GC Working Policy (p. 15).

No mission, conference, or union has a right to take unilateral decisions on important matters, or to depart from decisions taken by units at a higher level of structure with wider authority. . . Recognition as a conference/mission or union brings with it decision-making authority in defined areas and the right of representation at higher levels of denominational structure, but ‘status’ is contingent on ‘compliance with denominational practices and policies’ and ‘can be reviewed, revised, amended, or withdrawn by the level of organization that granted it’ (B 05, 3). (p. 16).

These are clear statements that the authority of each part of the church structure attached to the General Conference is derived from it. A decision limiting what a division can do also limits what that division’s unions, that union’s conferences, and that conference’s local churches can do. Authority is limited and derived; we are a world church.

The document also reminds us that the status of a division, union, or conference is subject to that unit’s “compliance with denominational practices and policies.” The document draws an important parallel between Ellen White’s warnings referring to the unilateral actions of J.H. Kellogg and “the current circumstances of unilateral action by Church organizational units.” The GC then says “overly independent, unilateral action poses a special danger to the Seventh-day Adventist Church” (p. 31).

DANGER AND COMPLIANCE

When, after such a process [referring to the TOSC study and GC session voted decision. pp. 40, 41], a GC Session takes a decision, one obviously intended to apply to to the world (since variation in practice was part of the motion put to the Session), it cannot be disregarded. The decision cannot be called a matter of little significance on which everyone could reasonably go their own way. That is because we all, together, considered it, and collectively decided it was not such a matter, but one in which we should act together. The biblical principle of unity in decision-making requires compliance. Whatever our views as individuals, ‘private independence and private judgment must not be stubbornly maintained, but surrendered (p. 41).

If we were to sacrifice the overarching principle of representative, collegial, consensus-based decision-making—if we were to accept that organizational units can act unilaterally—then our whole ecclesiastical polity and system of church governance would be in danger of breaking down. Unions would decline to follow divisions’ guidance; conferences will ignore unions when it suits them; local churches would flout conferences or missions (Ibid.).

Longtime readers of OrdinationTruth.com will recognize in the above statements things we have been saying since 2013. At that time the Pacific Union constituency session vote to disregard the 1990 decision not to ordain women was still fresh in our minds and the NPUC was telling members they were going to embark on a plan to “educate members” about a position on women’s ordination which was contrary to that of the world church, and then hold a special constituency session to vote on it. In other words, threatened unilateral action by the Union prompted us to act. We have engaged in a process of study and published those results in support of the world church. The sample quotations above (and there are many more in the documents) help us know that these issues are well understood and that the world church, after much forbearance, is ready to bring Spirit-led correction.

DOCUMENTS

Here are the General Conference documents available for downloading:
A Study of Church Governance and Unity (54 pp.).
Summary of a statement on Church Governance and Unity (17 pp.).

What Might Have Been from The Adventist Church (Official).

There are now (100 days of prayer) until the Seventh-day Adventist Church General Conference session that begins on July 2, 2015. We encourage church members round the world to join us in an experience of prayer to God for the delegates and leaders of His Church. The short 27 minute film presented above portrays events surrounding the 1901 General Conference session and a vision that was given Ellen G. White concerning it. It contains special lessons that are applicable for us today—no matter what one’s thinking concerning ordination.

It concerns us that some of the strongest advocates of women’s ordination have attacked the film. They allege historical inaccuracies and claim the film seeks to misapply Ellen White’s comments about the 1901 General Conference session and to exploit them in support of a position opposing women’s ordination. But these critics have missed the point. They are relying on half-truths and misinformation in their portrayal.

For example, issues of Kingly power and a confederacy in Battle Creek involved micro-managing the work around the world. God had workers everywhere “on site” that could manage the work locally more efficiently. Decentralization was not so that every conference could come up with its own list of fundamental beliefs, or decide church-wide policy on matters impacting the whole church. The same is true in Acts. Deacons were appointed to take care of local distribution, but items with larger theological implications were taken to the Jerusalem council. Does the Seventh-day Adventist Church really want to place itself in a situation where issues such as gay clergy and same-sex blessings are to be decided by local conferences or unions?

We encourage all, others and ourselves, to seek God and ask Him to search hearts. Embrace His help and find place for repentance and a willingness to submit to the decisions of the world church in General Conference session in San Antonio this July—whatever they are. We believe that what might have been. . . can be!

3ABN Night Light Women’s Ordination Discussion, featuring pastors Doug Batchelor, Stephen Bohr, Jay Gallimore. The program was recorded at ASI. Includes discussion of Scripture evidence and of the surprising results of the survey conducted. There is a brief musical presentation near the beginning, and afterwards the main program continues. At 16 minutes in the 3ABN WO poll sample and process is explained. Doug Batchelor kicks off the main discussion 28 minutes in. Doug Batchelor is the senior pastor of the Granite Bay Church near Sacramento. Stephen Bohr is senior pastor of the Fresno Church. Jay Gallimore is the president of the Michigan Conference. The hosts are pastor Jim Gilley, president of Three Angel’s Broadcasting Network (3ABN) and Danny Shelton, a founder of 3ABN. Full Program.

In the January 2014 meeting of the Theology of Ordination Study Commottee (TOSC), several papers were presented. Among these was this short paper prepared by 10 members of the committee. This paper is a concise evaluation of several of the arguments favoring women’s ordination. The ten authors writing this response are Gerhard Pfandl with Daniel Bediako, Steven Bohr, Laurel and Gerard Damsteegt, Jerry Moon, Paul Ratsara, Ed Reynolds, Ingo Sorke, and Clinton Wahlen.

Among other things, this paper addresses the following pro-woman’s ordination arguments advanced by those holding that position:

  1. In Genesis 1 there is full equality in function between man and woman.
  2. Adam and Eve were priests in the pre-fall Eden sanctuary.
  3. Male headship did not exist in the Garden; it is a result of the fall and applies only to the marriage relationship and not to the church.
  4. The qualification lists in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1:1-11 are gender neutral.
  5. Junia in Romans 16 was a female apostle.
  6. Galatians 3:26-29 applies not only to salvation, but it also abolishes the subordination of “females to males.”
  7. 1 Timothy 2:12-14 applies only to a specific situation in Ephesus and does not refer to the relationship that should universally exist between men and women.
  8. The priesthood of all believers permits women to be ordained as elders/ministers.
  9. Ministry in the New Testament Church was non-hierarchical.
  10. “Head” in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 has the meaning of source rather than spiritual authority.

DOWNLOAD THE DOCUMENT HERE IN PDF FORMAT.

By OrdinationTruth.com staff

Last week the General Conference’s Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) met in its second substantial meeting and voted 86-8 to approve a consensus statement concerning ordination. We are interested in the developing thought of the committee seen in the areas touched by this document.

In the first of five paragraphs, all members of the church are included in a “royal priesthood.” Believers are called by God and engage in the God-appointed mission of the body. They serve according to the gifts God bestows.

The next paragraph makes clear that beside this general ministry, there are more particularized kinds. There is ministry in terms of “specific leadership positions.” These are on the basis of particular “biblical qualifications,” among them, those sex-specific items found in 1 Timothy 3:1-12 and Titus 5-9. Persons are called to serve in these “offices” for “local and global church ministry.” This is amplified by recognition in the document that “some leaders were itinerant and supervised greater territory with multiple congregations” (third paragraph).

One argument that has been urgent to some of those favoring either the ordination of women or a significant overhaul of the Adventist understanding of it, has been that ordination, as it has been practiced by Adventists, is little more than an error emanating from a Roman Catholic tradition that we have copied unwittingly.

This idea is seen, for example, in the 1998 volume, Women in Ministry (WIM). Daniel Augsberger’s chapter “Clerical Authority and Ordination in the Early Christian Church,” closed arguing that

By mid-fourth century the bishops had taken over the power to preach and the authority to judge Christians. . . Clericalism had triumphed. . . . Adventist ordination that is valid worldwide reflects a later,
Augustinian concept of ordination (p. 96).

The idea represented here has been that anything approaching ordination as Seventh-day Adventists have understood it is wrong. Especially here, the new consensus statement is of special interest. The statement rejects this idea found both in WIM and in more recent discussions. The committee concludes rather that the basic Adventist approach is
consonant with Scripture; it is valid. This, then, is an important point of clarification: there is an identifiable biblical approach to this question, and the present Adventist Church position is confirmed.

More might be said. But as we look on and consider the development of this consensus, we see a position whose shapers have sought to develop in a manner biblically defensible. Interestingly, the statement as voted has room for both a baseline equality of men and women, even while honoring distinct, differentiated, creation-assigned sex-roles.

As earlier mentioned, here already is a trend away from the position of the chapter in WIM and toward a more biblical one. Not only has the world church never indicated progress toward the position of the WIM book, but here is seen movement away from that position. We concur that there is a kind of biblically consistent ordination, there is a royal priesthood in which we as believers participate, and at the same time, there are roles which are Scripturally mediated by specific qualifications.

We encourage church members to continue to lift up TOSC participants in prayer. We have added the TOSC consensus statement to our growing list of resources available on OrdinationTruth.com. Download it here:

TOSC-Theology of Ordination Consensus Statement.