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The Gleaner is the Union paper of the North Pacific Union in the North American Division, and is funded by Seventh-day Adventists in conferences in Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. The March 2017 Gleaner carried an editorial penned by editor Steve Vistaunet on page 4 titled “Protest.”
The editor’s 12 paragraphs come in three segments. The first describes his protest against his mother’s “totalitarian” decisions when he was four years old. But “some protests are far more worthy,” and “confront us with moral choices that cannot be compromised.”
And so, in the next segment he quotes from Ellen White’s discussion of the protest of the princes, who exclaim, “If we must choose between the Holy Scriptures of God and the old errors of the church, we should reject the former.” Vistaunet adds, “Rejecting compromise, the princes instead drafted a solemn response that declared they would not ‘consent nor adhere in any manner whatever to the proposed decree in anything that is contrary to God, to his Word, to our right conscience, or to the salvation of souls.'”
These lines prepare the reader for the final segment:
“Union conference presidents in North America have been summoned by world church leaders to seek a way through a maze of principles, politics, and policies. The health of our collective unity hangs in the balance. What could the princes of long ago teach us by example?”
The author concludes desiring that the Church “move beyond the status-quo and be fully re-engaged with our Father’s business.”
Later in the same Gleaner we find another article featuring an interview with the new NPUC president, titled “John Freedman: A Prayerful Journey” (pp. 8-11). (Freedman, while chairman of the Washington Conference executive committee spearheaded that Conference’s adoption of its present non-compliant commissioned minister policy). Freedman says this about the NAD stance toward our world church:
“I’m working closely with union presidents from around the North American Division (NAD) and our NAD leadership to determine how we can most effectively support our world church structure. We had a thoughtful meeting with world leaders on January 19. We hope to draft our vision for a suggested way forward to deal productively with the issues of governance that will be reviewed by the NAD administration and approved by the NAD executive committee before being presented to General Conference officers. These are important steps. Our church is not designed to be run by a few people at any level. It is a collective effort involving the priesthood of all believers in doing God’s will in every corner of our world. I hope we’ll soon be able to move beyond these current concerns so that all of us—male, female, young and old—can fully be about our Father’s business” (p. 11).
Wait a moment! It is because the church is not “to be run by a few people at any level” that the Church has addressed the question as it has. The spirit of the women’s ordination faction put itself on display in unilateral action by conferences and unions in North America which disregarded the previous decisions of the church. And so, the world church engaged in a study process and handed the ordination question—yet again—to thousands of delegates to the San Antonio 2015 General Conference session.
This was the third time that delegates to our highest earthly decision-making body have been asked to address questions whose outcome would open or close the door for women to be ordained. On those three occasions, the answer has been No, No, and No, respectively.
Can anyone call to mind any topic the world church has addressed so many times? No comparable issue has been brought before so many Adventists in the history of the Church, or received so consistent an answer. God has spoken to His people, first in the Scriptures, and then patiently, in session after session of the General Conference.
If we would speak of decisions impacting the whole body made by but a few people, we need look no farther than to the insubordinate decisions of conferences and unions and executive committees which have defied their God and His Church.
God has through the body given the same decision again and again: No to the practice of women’s ordination to the gospel ministry.
The “governance issues” Freedman speaks of are not complicated. If the ordination of women was insubordinate before San Antonio, afterward, it is positively rebellious. Leadership in the North American Division is in rebellion. If these leaders wish to advance with mission and “move beyond” these concerns, the only way to do so is to accept the decision of the world church: No to the ordination of women to the gospel ministry.
Rather than inciting NAD leaders to rebel against their world church, or insinuating that our General Conference leadership’s humble request to these entities to respect the decisions of the world church is equivalent to the Papal suppression of truth and religious liberty, the Gleaner editor and union leaders should submit their contrarian agenda to the decision of the body. Rather than drawing a line of conscience in the sand and claiming the mantle of heroic progressives, won’t you respect the combined decision of delegates gathered from across the globe you are called and conscientiously bound to uphold?
The NPUC leadership, if these two articles offer any indication, is bent on pushing the women’s ordination agenda even to the point of fracturing the Church. What extraordinary shame.
It will not stand.
This week will be an important one for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Many readers will be aware that in 2015 General Conference delegates in session voted to reject a proposal to let each division executive committee to decide for itself whether or not to make provision for the ordination of women. The world church made a global decision, the result of which was to follow the biblical practice and the from-the-beginning-of-the-Adventist-Church until now global practice of only ordaining qualified male spiritual leaders.
After the session, some elements of the church in Europe and in North America continued and increased in their defiance of the world church.
At Annual Council in October 2016 General Conference leadership brought a fair-minded proposal for reconciliation procedures to help the disobedient sections of church leadership be kept accountable and help the church draw together in united practice in harmony with the decision made by the world church. Many NAD leaders aggressively fought the proposal. Nevertheless, it passed and the reconciliation procedures are now being applied. Leaders from the General Conference will meet with North American Division Union leadership in a special meeting to be held this week on January 19. Some NAD leaders have called for special prayer for these meetings. It is a good time to pray for these meetings.
While there were numerous quite contentious comments made by NAD leaders who are advocates of WO at the meeting, The Council of Adventist Pastors thought readers might find it encouraging to recapitulate again some truth-telling comments made by faithful leaders at that meeting held three months ago. For example, Dan Houghton offered the following observations:
“I’m extremely puzzled by this discussion, and I want to speak in favor of this motion. Its seems to me that 90% of everything that’s been said has been re-litigating what happened in San Antonio. . . And I would just like to say, that there are lots of people watching this proceeding, right now, around our country, with different ideas. The question I have, Does a vote in General Conference session mean anything? Does it mean anything? We spent five years, and I don’t know how many dollars, preparing for Indianapolis, and we took a vote. And there was a vote. This is really not about women’s ordination, and cannot be; we cannot make it that. Does this Church have a unity,? And does it have an authority? I would encourage those of my brothers and sisters who I love, they’re my friends, to find a different way to express their frustration with that vote, than undermining the authority and the unity of this Church.”
Some had insinuated that the General Conference, in seeking compliance with the 2015 GC session decision, was exercising kingly power. But Dr. Clinton Wahlen in speaking from the floor contradicted that claim with facts:
“Mr. Chairman, there is a difference between local policies, and policies voted by the General Conference session. The situation before us today, is, in some important respects, unprecedented. That’s why a focused solution is needed. The events leading to non-compliance with the San Antonio vote were not accidental. A great deal of energy was expended on crafting proposals for constituency meetings to act on, and these deliberate efforts have placed some unions and conferences in non-compliance. This situation arises from deep theological convictions that have been held for a very long time. Following the vote in San Antonio, a formal appeal was made on August 17, 2015 by the GC Secretariat to each division, kindly asking every entity to come into alignment with the world church. . . The time has come to take action. I appeal to this body to choose the solution that policy already provides, and that the Secretariat’s recent Unity document suggests. Quoting B05.3, ‘Organizational membership and status are entrusted to entities that meet certain qualifications, including faithfulness to Seventh-day Adventist doctrines, compliance with denominational practices and policies, demonstration of adequate leadership and financial capacity, and responsiveness to mission challenges and opportunities. Membership and status can be reviewed, revised, amended, or withdrawn by the level of organization that granted it.’ Please hear this final appeal from Jody, a constituent of one of the non-compliant unions: ‘I feel that my local church, my conference, and my union are the ones with the kingly power. It is frustrating wanting to be unified with the GC under the layers of three uncooperative kingly powers. I want to be made whole with the world church.’ We need to consider her plea and the cry of many thousands like her.”
Michigan Conference president Jay Gallimore, stated:
“I’m disappointed to hear so many references made that the issue that faced the General Conference in San Antonio is some kind of minor policy. That motion required a vote based on the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. We spent months and years, through all kinds of committees, to get to the place where this Church could vote on that issue. At this point, the issue is no longer that issue. The issue is the unity of the church. And the unity of the church is not maintained by pluralism. If we want to try to find a way that’s painless, to keep the unity of the church, we can go down the road of pluralism, but it will be very, very costly in the end. Redemptive discipline is painful. Its patient. Its full of love. And this document, I believe, gives us the start on that. We cannot as a Church maintain our unity, and allow people who oppose the world church, to simply accomplish what they wanted by default, by the Church never addressing the issue.”
We accept the decision at San Antonio, and we believe the Church needs to move forward united. Our prayers go up for church leaders to be resolute in helping the NAD Unions come into the harmony that Jesus desires. Most members in North America want to move forward united as a world church. We are not going to ordain women to the gospel ministry, because to engage in that new practice would mean to abandon the correct understanding of Biblical interpretation that this church was founded on.
The prayers that go up this week ought not be for permission to disobey the leading of God’s Spirit but for courage to surrender a pet idea rejected by the world church at San Antonio. There remains opportunity for NAD leadership to come into harmony with the world church. For this our prayers are ascending.
According to the Rocky Mountain Conference News Nuggets Newsletter, dated December 9, 2016, the executive committee of the Mid-America Union Conference (MAUC) voted the following statement November 12:
The Mid-America Union Conference executive committee, after reviewing the “Unity in Mission” document voted by the General Conference executive committee at the 2016 Annual Council, wishes to express the following thoughts about this action:
We share the need for and pray for worldwide unity and mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
We affirm the document’s call to mutual listening, consultation, and prayer as we work together over differences.
We, as a protestant organization, believe the true authority of our church lies with the local members comprising our churches. Furthermore, we recognize our working policies delegate authority to our constituencies as voted by our church members.
We believe all members and entities in the church should be held accountable when needed by the constituencies to which they are responsible, as has been outlined by our church’s working policies. We see this as paramount, because to do otherwise would be a departure from our protestant heritage. By staying with and following our long-held policies for accountability, the appearance or threat of kingly power is held in check.
We express grave concern with the Unity Document’s establishing working policy as on par with our fundamental beliefs. Whereas policy is made for the organizing of our church for the purpose of mission, our fundamental beliefs speak to the Biblical truths we hold as a people.
We are alarmed by the “Unity in Mission” document and object to the direction it is taking our church. True unity will not be achieved based on voted policies, but rather through our spirit of “Christlike forbearance,” as Ellen White counsels us to do.
“The church may pass resolution upon resolution to put down all disagreement of opinions, but we cannot force the mind and will and thus root out disagreement. These resolutions may conceal the discord, but they cannot quench it and establish a perfect agreement. Nothing can perfect unity in the church but the spirit of Christlike forbearance.” (MS 24, 1892)
One reads the MAUC voted document in vain for affirmation that the world church has any authority in the Mid-America Union. On the contrary, the document suggests that the executive committee admits only that members of its constituency have authority. At this time when a statement of support for the General Conference would have been welcome, Columbia and Pacific Unions, which are acting in open disregard for the authority of the world church, may take the MAUC statement as support for their insubordinate voted actions.
On December 6, 2016, the Rocky Mountain Conference voted to affirm the MAUC statement.
A report on the MAUC voted statement appears here:
At the San Antonio 2015 General Conference session thousands of delegates participated. The decision sought was determined after “prayerful study on ordination from the Bible, the writings of Ellen G White, and the reports of the study commissions.” The outcome represented the ground-up process which God in His wisdom instructed His Church to follow for seeking His will on matters in which we must remain globally united. Acceptance of the GC session vote is the proper path to bring unity to His people. The MAUC statement, in so many words, is objecting to the General Conference implementing the decisions of the world church. The General Conference represents the will of the world church and is duty bound to abide by and implement the policies voted—as is the Mid-America Union and the Rocky Mountain Conference. And “In Seventh-day Adventist Church structure, no organization determines its own status, nor does it function as if it had no obligations to the Church family beyond its boundaries” (Church Manual, p. 27).
Order is essential at this time. If the Church in North America becomes a zone operating independently of world church order, it has no future. The General Conference has voted to implement a careful plan to bring order, but NAD entities have united to resist it. The situation in the Division is desperate.
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:
The detailed response by the president is found on his official blog here:
Pastor Wilson’s Facebook page, quoted in the ANN article, is here:
The president often communicates with world church members via his Facebook page.
On Monday, October 31, 2016, the North American Division executive committee voted a statement calling efforts to bring compliance to the world church vote at the 2015 General Conference session “profoundly divisive and demoralizing” and voiced “vigorous disagreement.” In the statement, North American Division leaders affirmed “unwavering support and steadfast intent” to secure what they feel is “full equality of women in ministry.” This, in spite of votes at the highest level of church polity in which the world church has refused, refused, and a third time refused, to approve directly or indirectly the ordination of women. The NAD vowed to continue to make “ongoing, proactive progress toward the full equality of women in ministry in our Division.”
Early October each year the General Conference holds its Annual Council meeting, and in late October the North American Division, its Year-end Meeting. The 2016 Annual Council approved a very patient process to be used for reconciliation, called “Unity in Mission: Procedures in Church Reconciliation.” NAD leaders were frenzied in their resistance to the document, but representatives of the world church enacted the document anyway.
The Monday vote is not the first provocative action taken this year by the NAD. On Friday, October 28, the NAD voted to request that the General Conference recognize the illegal 2013 election by Southeastern California Conference of Sandra Roberts, a woman, to the male headship role of conference president. The YEM2016 action was done in spite of awareness that such recognition by the General Conference was impossible. It was an NAD statement of defiance toward the world church. Yet the passage of two days led to no improvement in graces. The Monday motion voted was offered by Southeastern California Conference pastor Randy Roberts, and reads as follows:
The Seventh-day Adventist Church exists to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ as expressed in the Three Angels’ Messages. Nothing should impede this prophetic mission.
It is thus with grave concern that the members of the North American Division (NAD) Executive Committee witnessed the passing of the Unity in Mission document at the recent Annual Council. The implementation of this document will create–indeed, is already creating–a profoundly divisive and demoralizing reality in many parts of the NAD.
While we wish to register our vigorous disagreement with the intent of the document, we do not wish to respond impulsively. Therefore, in light of this document, we move to authorize NADCOM to appoint a subcommittee to craft a thoughtful path forward.
Furthermore, recognizing that the underlying focus and context of the Unity in Mission document was the ordination of women to ministry in two unions in our division, we wish to once again publicly affirm our unwavering support and steadfast intent to realize the full equality of women in ministry, in fulfillment of biblical principles, in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In light of these realities, we do not want the Unity in Mission document to be a deterrent to the ongoing, proactive progress toward the full equality of women in ministry in our Division.
We invite earnest prayer for the leading of the Holy Spirit as we engage in this process.
The action taken by the NAD at YEM2016 is extremely divisive. The NAD participated fully in the studies and votes which resulted in the 2015 world church decision. How can the NAD ignore those same decisions which they are duty-bound to accept, and then accuse world church leadership of being “divisive” when they humbly seek to secure respect for those same decisions? Thousands of Seventh-day Adventists who fully support the world church hang their heads in shame today for the insubordinate actions of their own Division. They feel voiceless and abandoned by NAD leadership. They support efforts by the world church to help recover the wayward unions, but the actions of NAD leadership are ripping the fabric of goodwill within the Division.
Has the leadership of the NAD gone rogue? Are they content to destroy world church unity to pursue the “proactive progress” of the ideology they are bent upon inculcating not only over the protest of their North American Division members, but also the world church?
How Long O Lord?
Jay Gallimore is president of the Michigan Conference in the North American Division.
One of the last prayers of Jesus before the Cross was that his disciples would be one in Him, even as He and the Father were one (John 17:21).
Yet, the New Testament predicted a great apostasy within Christianity. Revelation shows the great red dragon pursuing the woman, the symbol of the remnant church, who keeps the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. In contrast, the vision reveals another woman called Babylon who is the mother of harlots. This, as we understand, is false Christianity with its many divisions.
So we can reasonably conclude that Jesus and the disciples never believed that the outcome of His ministry would be a united Christianity at large. But He did believe in a united remnant.
This remnant is made up of many different nations and cultures. So it would be natural for broad discussion to take place regarding “unity in diversity” amongst Seventh-day Adventists. But what do we mean by this phrase? How does our definition differ from Babylon’s notion of “unity in diversity”?
Jesus understood oneness on the basis of two things. First, Jesus petitioned the Father to sanctify the disciples through the word of truth. In other words the Spirit of truth would employ Scripture to mold the church into oneness with Christ and one another.
The second was for Christ to be one with His disciples, just as He was one with the Father. He prayed; “I in them [disciples], and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one” (John 17: 23).
We should note how the mother of harlots, who sleeps with the kings of the earth, unites her daughters. Even though they are all related to each other through the mother, they all have different fathers. While she raised them to hold on to certain core practices, the rest of their beliefs are as diverse as their spiritual fathers. In contrast, the faithful woman keeps the commandments of God and has the faith of just One—Jesus.
When “unity in diversity” is applied to the disciples of Jesus, it cannot mean diversity regarding the teachings of the Word of God. Here the church must stand united. Take away the unity of doctrine, and you really have no mission. Diversity cannot become an excuse to negate the commandments of God.
Yet, there may be diversity on how the principle is applied. For example, let us take the New Testament command to dress modestly. The clothing in India, Africa, and North America may be very different. Certainly all cultures will have immodest choices. But the Bible doesn’t demand that all clothing be alike, only that it be modest. So Christians may wear any cultural clothing they like as longs as it is modest. Such diversity does not overthrow the principle of modesty, but supports it.
However, to use the expression “unity in diversity” as a means to embrace cultural positions, which are contrary to Scripture, is to promote a delusion called pluralism. Pluralism, within the church context, assumes that unity can be maintained by giving credibility and support to different competing beliefs and practices.
Babylon has already embraced this, but it is not the oneness for which Jesus prayed.
Today the Seventh-day Adventist Church is faced with this temptation. Will we as a church choose faithfulness to Scripture or concede to cultural norms? The pressure to conform to cultural standards burdens the church in many ways. At the end of the day, should we endorse pluralism for the sake of unity?
The church faced a major issue at its last General Conference (GC) session. After a careful and thoughtful process and with representatives from all over the world, it essentially voted not to allow the ordination of women. The motion asked for a vote based on the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy. The vote supported position one of the Theology Ordination Study Committee. That position makes it clear that the issue is not about the value or equality of men and women, but about faithfulness to the divine order given in Scripture. Some, of course, disagreed with the vote. That is to be expected. But for the sake of unity in the church, there comes a time for institutions, entities, and their leadership to surrender their opinions and practices.
Sadly, there are some unions and entities that are defying the vote of the GC Session by refusing to bring their practice into harmony with the vote of the world church on this matter. So now the issue is no longer about ordination, but rather the unity of the church.
Ordination to the office of a minister is no small matter to the world church. It is one of the essentials to its organization. It is the responsibility of the GC to define the qualifications for that office on the basis of Scripture. And it is the responsibility of the unions to see that those qualifications have been met.
If every union or conference acted unilaterally and assumed the same authority of the GC in session, unity would be impossible. If a local church, conference, or union decided to act contrary to the church manual or the voted actions of the GC, then it would threaten the unity of the body.
The Annual Council with nearly 315 delegates, is made up of GC officers, union presidents, administrators from our educational institutions, and laity from around the world. It functions as the executive committee for the world church between sessions. It should come as no surprise that they voted on Tuesday, October 11, 2016 to start the process of addressing the issues of noncompliance. The document is designed to cover any noncompliance issue, not just ordination.
Fundamental to religious liberty is the “right of association.” This simply means that everyone has the right to start and maintain their own church with its unique doctrine and teachings. Religious liberty means the individual can voluntarily choose to belong or not to belong. They also have the right to leave and form their own group. But they do not have the right to force their pluralistic ideas on the body unless the group agrees to it.
The action recently voted means that the church leadership, empowered by the Annual Council, has an open door to start addressing the issue of noncompliance. It will be a patient, redemptive, and longsuffering process. One can only hope and pray that those supporting this opposition will have a change of heart. If not corrected, there are consequences of insubordination to the worldwide body.
The world church is faced with two choices: (1) allow noncompliance to go on, and thereby dismantle the unity and practice of the church; or (2) stand firm on the vote of the GC Session and preserve the integrity and oneness of the church. Redemptive discipline can be painful and filled with tears! Yet, any organization that cannot or refuses to discipline itself is doomed to failure.
No one wants dissension or animosity. While people’s different convictions in the church may be patiently endured, they cannot be allowed to undermine or disrupt the faith, practice, and teachings of the church. The utilization of shrewdness or political maneuvering to undermine the collective decision of the church body is unchristian and cannot be accepted. Church discipline, rightly done, is not persecution; but rather, it embodies the pursuit of principled love, not sentimentalism.
Pluralism is the death knell to the theology and mission of the church. During the temptations in the wilderness, Jesus was offered the kingdoms of this world without the pain and suffering of the cross. He refused.
Those proposing a pluralistic path to oneness, instead of disciplinary action, are advancing a delusion. This will not result in the accomplishment of the church’s mission, nor preserve its integrity as the remnant church, or deliver us to our ultimate hope of the Second Coming.
Only the oneness of Jesus can overthrow the seductive temptation of pluralism. Unlike Babylon the path of the faithful remnant church will be painful and bloodstained.
But the good news is that the path of Christ’s oneness and unity ends in glory!
Note: This item was oriignally published here:
The Northern California Conference (NCC), located in the Pacific Union, held its Quadrennial Constituency meeting on Sunday, October 16, 2016. Of special interest was the vote on a resolution worded thus:
Submitted by: Anderson Church and Sacramento Central Church
Pastors: Murray Miller and Chris Buttery
WHEREAS, the words of Jesus admonish us to be “one” as His Father and He are one (see John 17:20-22) and one of our fundamental beliefs states that “differences between male and female must not be divisive among us” (Fundamental Belief 14);
WHEREAS, both the Church Manual (page 31), and North American Division policy emphasize that “all subordinate organizations and institutions throughout the world will recognize the General Conference in session as the highest authority under God” (NAD Working Policy B01 20 3);
WHEREAS, on Wednesday, August 22, 2012, at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Northern California Conference [hereafter referred to as NCC] Executive Committee, time was spent debriefing the actions and decisions of the Pacific Union Conference Special Constituency Session held August 19, 2012. Out of that discussion, the motion was made that the NCC will recommend to the Pacific Union Conference candidates for ordination without regard to gender;
WHEREAS, the May 18, 2014, NCC Constituency Session voted to refer the duly introduced agenda item of women’s ordination to the NCC Executive Committee for an official statement;
WHEREAS, the NCC Executive committee voted to affirm their previous decision of August 22, 2012, to recommend to the Pacific Union Conference candidates for ordination without regard to gender;
WHEREAS, the July 8, 2015, General Conference Session voted down a motion that would have allowed each Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church® to decide for itself whether to ordain women to the gospel ministry in its territory (which includes the Northern California Conference);
WHEREAS, we have been admonished by both the General Conference and North American Division Presidents to comply with the 2015 Session’s outcome;
WHEREAS, Article VII, Section 7 of the NCC Constitution states, “The Executive Committee shall have the authority to adopt rules and regulations for the conduct of its affairs and the affairs of the Conference, provided that the same are not in conflict with these Bylaws or those of the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, or of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists,” and at present Executive Committee votes conflict with General Conference policy;
We now vote to retract the Executive Committee votes of August 22, 2012, and December 3, 2014, in order to be in harmony with the World Church as represented by the General Conference session of July 8, 2015. We will continue to support women in ministry with the exception of issuing a ministerial credential and thus abide by the outcome of the vote of the World Church.
The constituency proceeded to vote. The motion, which would have placed NCC back in compliance with the world church, failed with 211 Yes votes compared to 294 No votes. This is an interesting result when we realize that constituency session vote are weighted in favor of conference leadership by the inclusion of its entire employed pastoral staff. That is, the membership at large is likely much more opposed to unilateral action separated from the General Conference than conference leadership.
While many within NCC oppose women’s ordination on Bible grounds, others favor women’s ordination but do believe that the world church has ultimate authority over these decisions. On July 8, 2015, world church delegates to the San Antonio General Conference session voted “No” to a proposal which would have permitted individual divisions of the church to decide whether or not to ordain women for themselves.
Many NCC members are very disturbed about the decision.
As a side note, it is interesting to read the NCC reaction to the resolution. On page 71 of the Constituency meeting book, the NCC makes several claims which are summarized in this sentence: “The NCC Executive Committee actions are not in contradiction with either the Pacific Union Conference Bylaws or the General Conference Constitution and Bylaws.” This statement is false. Saying one is in harmony with the world church while acting out disharmony towards it is unlikely to convince others that one is in compliance. Rather, it puts the highlight on the fact that the NCC, as other conferences and unions in some parts of the world church, is now operating in open disregard for the authority of the world church of which it is constituent.
Update: Oct. 23, 2016: An earlier version of this article pointed to published statements by church members in the conference who had stated they would stop returning tithe through the NCC. The individual we had linked to has since then flipped his position and adopted the erroneous recently published views of George Knight and others about the history and authority of unions. That individual was and is in favor of women’s ordination, but initially ad upheld the authority of the world church over its sub-units.
[UPDATED Oct. 12, 2016]
After a lengthy meeting, the final vote of the General Conference Executive Committee was Yes 169 and No 122, adopting the recommended document, “Unity in Mission: Procedures in Church Reconciliation.”
Early in the discussion Kathryn Proffitt told the group that she had been a delegate to the Pacific Union Conference constituency meeting. She told the assembled Autumn Council, that “As I was reviewing the Pacific Union bylaws, one particular article stood out. It said that the constituents had the authority to change the bylaws, but only if they remained in harmony with the model constitution. As a lay person, I had no idea what the model constitution was, but I knew it must be very important if it limited the delegates’ authority.”
Once she had obtained a copy and read it, she said, “This really had a profound effect on me, because I understood how much, for maybe the first time, the unity of God’s Church means to Him. My feeling, as a member of the executive committee, is that I don’t have the right to deviate from actions that have been taken by the world church.”
Many did not share this view. As much as 80% of the debate was dominated by participants from the North American Division (NAD) arguing against the document. Numerous claims went up: more time is needed; the wording needs to be improved; more study of this, more study of that. The dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, actually suggested that the church assign theologians study church policy to tell administrators what it means!
Some made emotional appeals warning that young people might leave the Church over the decision. One example was offered by Loma Linda University Church pastor Randy Roberts (located in one of the non-compliant Unions), who said the following:
“If you follow the trajectory of church after church, in the latter phases of those churches, much time, much energy, and much focus, is given to propping up the realities of that church by policies and procedures, rather than focus on the vision. When it becomes calcified in that way, people break off and start the process again with a new vision and dream. I think we’re at a point where we’re in danger of that. I can say that at least in my part of the world, to vote a document like this may actually be a very good thing in terms of vision. Because young adults and many others will say, we have to do something that is not so regimented and governed by policy.”
NAD president Dan Jackson claimed to be an African, a Canadian, and a variety of other nationalities. He said that because he had traveled around the division, “I have become Columbia Union. I have become the Mid-America Union. I have become the Pacific Union, and the church in Canada, and a member of every union.” He did not speak in favor of the document.
Dan Houghton offered the following observations:
“I’m extremely puzzled by this discussion, and I want to speak in favor of this motion. Its seems to me that 90% of everything that’s been said has been re-litigating what happened in San Antonio. And we’ve heard Mike Ryan get up twice and say, that’s not our issue. And I would just like to say, that there are lots of people watching this proceeding, right now, around our country, with different ideas. The question I have, Does a vote in General Conference session mean anything? Does it mean anything? We spent five years, and I don’t know how many dollars, preparing for Indianapolis, and we took a vote. And there was a vote. This is really not about women’s ordination, and cannot be; we cannot make it that. Does this Church have a unity,? And does it have an authority? I would encourage those of my brothers and sisters who I love, they’re my friends, to find a different way to express their frustration with that vote, than undermining the authority and the unity of this Church.”
While many aging administrators worried out loud about young people leaving the church over the decision, the one young person who did speak, Natasha Dysinger, said this:
“As a young person, I have to echo what Mr. Houghton just said. When I first read this document when it came to my inbox, I found it extremely refreshing. . . when I read it I found it to be extremely pastoral in nature. . . What I read in this is, let’s have some simple Christianity, and sit down, and pray, and discuss, and communicate.”
Some had insinuated that the General Conference, in seeking compliance with the 2015 GC session decision, was exercising kingly power. But Dr. Clinton Wahlen in speaking from the floor contradicted that claim with facts:
“Mr. Chairman, there is a difference between local policies, and policies voted by the General Conference session. The situation before us today, is, in some important respects, unprecedented. That’s why a focused solution is needed. The events leading to non-compliance with the San Antonio vote were not accidental. A great deal of energy was expended on crafting proposals for constituency meetings to act on, and these deliberate efforts have placed some unions and conferences in non-compliance. This situation arises from deep theological convictions that have been held for a very long time. Following the vote in San Antonio, a formal appeal was made on August 17, 2015 by the GC Secretariat to each division, kindly asking every entity to come into alignment with the world church. I had thought that this kind of process would have been underway for 15 months already and a report brought here today. The time has come to take action. I appeal to this body to choose the solution that policy already provides, and that the Secretariat’s recent Unity document suggests. Quoting B 05 .3, ‘Organizational membership and status are entrusted to entities that meet certain qualifications, including faithfulness to Seventh-day Adventist doctrines, compliance with denominational practices and policies, demonstration of adequate leadership and financial capacity, and responsiveness to mission challenges and opportunities. Membership and status can be reviewed, revised, amended, or withdrawn by the level of organization that granted it.’ Please hear this final appeal from Jody, a constituent of one of the non-compliant unions: ‘I feel that my local church, my conference, and my union are the ones with the kingly power. It is frustrating wanting to be unified with the GC under the layers of three uncooperative kingly powers. I want to be made whole with the world church.’ We need to consider her plea and the cry of many thousands like her.”
G.T. Ng, the Executive Secretary of the General Conference also spoke to the proposal to adopt the document:
“Thank you very much Mr. Chairman. G.T. Ng from the custodial service of General Conference. Mr Chairman, I’m very proud of this Church because it prides itself as the church of prophecy. And this afternoon I hear prophecies being uttered from prophets, or sons of prophets. Whether they are major or minor, it is not for me to decide. But they utter prophecies I cannot find in the Bible or the Spirit of Prophecy. This morning I heard that this document is capable of setting the Church on fire. I never knew that. This afternoon we heard words such as ‘splitting,’ causing ‘earthquake’ And if we stay on until eight o’clock, we will hear terms like ‘Tsunami’ and ‘Armageddon.’ Where in the world do those terms come from? I think this document this afternoon—what is on trial is not this document. What is on trial is our faith and belief in the Spirit of Prophecy and the Bible. It has been clearly foretold that what is decided at General Conference is decided by the highest authority on earth, and either we believe that or not; its up to us. Our General Conference president has stated to us that he will move on whatever the vote. When the vote it taken, he will abide by that vote. And now it is our turn.”
Near the end of the debate, Michigan Conference president Elder Jay Gallimore made these remarks:
“Thank you brother chairman, Jay Gallimore for the Michigan Conference. I want to rise to support this document. Its an outstanding document. Redemptive discipline takes time. I wrote an article some years ago on redemptive discipline for the Ministry magazine. And they need time to get started. And I’m disappointed to hear so many references made that the issue that faced the General Conference in San Antonio is some kind of minor policy. That motion required a vote based on the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. We spent months and years, through all kinds of committees, to get to the place where this Church could vote on that issue. At this point, the issue is no longer that issue. The issue is the unity of the church. And the unity of the church is not maintained by pluralism. If we want to try to find a way that’s painless, to keep the unity of the church, we can go down the road of pluralism, but it will be very, very costly in the end. Redemptive discipline is painful. Its patient. Its full of love. And this document, I believe, gives us the start on that. We cannot as a Church maintain our unity, and allow people who oppose the world church, to simply accomplish what they wanted by default, by the Church never addressing the issue. Should it be patient? Should it be longsuffering? Should it be all those kinds of things? Yes. And I think this document is the journey that starts the world church on addressing what it needs to, and I hope this body will vote this.”
When the final vote is considered, what was stated by general Conference vice president Billy Biaggi was likely true. He indicated that while there were many participants who felt free to speak in English, that there were hundreds who did not feel comfortable speaking. It seems clear that many of these did not concur with the numerous voices of doom and disagreement offered by North America and a few other international voices.
Soon after, the vote was taken by secret ballots on paper. After this, the meeting was closed with kind and courteous remarks by General Conference president Ted N.C. Wilson.
God had worked for His people.
Kevin D. Paulson, Larry Kirkpatrick. October 10, 2016
“Some have advanced the thought that as we near the close of time, every child of God will act independently of any religious organization. But I have been instructed by the Lord that in this work there is no such thing as every man’s being independent” (Testimonies, vol. 9, 258).
Claim #1: It has been suggested that early Adventists, under the direction of James White moved ”from a literalistic hermeneutic that held that the only things permissible were those specifically spelled out in Scripture, to one in which everything was permissible that did not contradict the Bible and was in harmony with common sense.”
White was not suggesting a change in hermeneutics, but that the church should further “perfect” upon the biblical order already established in Scripture (cf. Acts of the Apostles, 88-92).
Does Scripture give indications concerning church order / organization?
Members – 1 Corinthians 12:27 / 1 Peter 2:5 :: “Living stones”
Churches – Titus 1:5 :: “Every City”
Small regions – Acts 9:31 :: “Judea” “Galilee”
Larger regions – 1 Corinthians 16:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1 :: “All Achaia”
Continents – 1 Corinthians 16:19 :: “Asia”
Input by all through representation – Acts 15 :: The Entire Church
The claim ignores the context of James White’s comment. He was discussing things that could enhance order (having a weekly church paper, a publishing press) which, while not specifically spelled out in Scripture, is not “opposed by the Bible, and is approved by sound sense” (James White, “Yearly Meetings,” Review and Herald, July 21, 1859, p. 68, col. 2). The further “perfecting” of organization included the holding of “yearly conferences, and systematic action of the entire body” (ibid).
Claim #2: It is claimed that the actions of the General Conference (GC) today, as in White’s day, modeled “kingly power,” that Ellen White indicates that it did not represent the voice of God on earth, and that unions were put in place to protect against possible misguided leadership from the General Conference.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It is the duty and responsibility of the GC to carry out the voted actions of the world church. Such accusations fit the category of “evil speaking” and remind one of the tactics used by Lucifer in his rebellion. The claim’s context is ignored. Ellen White is clear that “at times, when a small group of men . . . in the name of the General Conference, sought to carry out unwise plans and to restrict God’s work, I . . . could no longer regard the voice of the General Conference, represented by these few men, as the voice of God.” The instructions for reorganization were to correct this, which is why we have unions. Ellen White continues: “But this is not saying that the decisions of a General Conference session, composed of an assembly of duly appointed, representative men from all parts of the field, should not be respected. God has ordained that the representatives of His church from all parts of the earth, when assembled in a General Conference, shall have authority. The error that some are in danger of committing, is in giving to the mind and judgment of one man, or of a small group of men, the full measure of authority and influence that God has vested in His church in the judgment and voice of the General Conference assembled to plan for the prosperity and advancement of His work” (Testimonies, vol. 9, 260, 261).
In this age of enhanced communications and rapid travel, the church is a global community where what is done in one part of the body can be experienced in real time in many parts of the world. For this reason, unified action concerning many aspects of ministry is necessary if mission is to move forward effectively. Certainly the selection or replacement of leaders is one such area where unified policy is needed, particularly after years of study and deliberation.
Claim #3: Some claim that ordination is not supported by Scripture or the Spirit of Prophecy and thus should not even have been discussed at the General Conference session. They say that the General Conference in taking action concerning ordination, went beyond its proper jurisdiction. They desire that both the setting of criteria and the selection and setting aside of leaders should take place at the Union level.
The world church has never considered such a position to be biblical. The “Consensus Statement on a Seventh-day Adventist Theology of Ordination,” voted by the 2014 Annual Council, shows the Biblical basis for our understanding of ordination, that the TOSC study commission “did reach a high degree of accord concerning a biblical theology of ordination,” indicating that “Seventh-day Adventists understand ordination, in a biblical sense, as the action of the Church in publicly recognizing those whom the Lord has called and equipped for local and global Church ministry.” (https://www.adventistarchives.org/consensus-statement-on-a-seventh-day-adventist-theology-of-ordination.pdf).
The action taken by the world church in session (including conference and union presidents and laypersons) differs from this claim, because it was voted based on the delegates “thorough study of the Bible, the writings of Ellen G White, and the reports of the study commissions on ordination…” (http://www.adventistreview.org/assets/public/news/2014-10/statement.pdf)
Whatever one’s view concerning who should be ordained, “The danger to our unity lies not primarily in who we ordain, or what credentials we issue to them. The chief danger lies in accepting the possibility of unilateral action. That has potential implications which go far beyond this immediate issue. Yet 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 (“A Study of Church Governance and Unity,” Secretariat, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists September 2016 p. 41).
If the Church accepts the confused notions now being offered by some, what in the future would prevent conferences and unions from promoting unbiblical views regarding prophetic authority, creation, tithing, the investigative judgment, or same-sex behavior? The door will be opened for beliefs and practices enormously destructive to Adventist global gospel proclamation.
Claim #4: It is feared that we will lose our young people if we don’t address the issue of ordination and church structure in the manner advocated by some.
This same scare tactic was used when the sanctuary doctrine of the church was being discussed. Membership was then 4 million. The issue was met head on. There were some losses, but membership is now nearly 20 million. Standing for truth draws young people; it doesn’t drive them away.
Claim #5: Supposedly, the GC session vote against allowing divisions to make their own decisions concerning ordination practice is exhibiting “kingly power and top-down authority,” adopting and replicating “the most serious mistakes of Roman Catholicism.”
This desperate charge is clearly false. The interdependent nature of the Adventist church is more diverse and representative today than ever before. Decades of study and deliberation at all levels throughout the world field led to the decision in 2015, and the decision to be made in 2016 must evidence our commitment to collective decision-making.
The Choice Is Clear: The Unity document prepared by the Secretariat is a powerful and outstanding appeal for respect toward the collective actions of the church, church unity, and organization. It is sound biblically and in accordance with Spirit of Prophecy counsels. The choice is no longer about women’s ordination, but whether our church structure will remain interdependent or be forced into congregationalism.