Council of Adventist Pastors
On March 29, 2016, the Upper Columbia Conference (UCC) executive committee voted itself a “Commissioned Ministry Policy.” The committee described its desire as being to “honor the decision of the world church to commission women rather than ordain them, and at the same time affirm and unify the gospel work of commissioned ministers” (1). It stated that its new policy would “clarify” the practice of commissioning in the conference and implied that the policy is in harmony with North American Division (NAD) Working Policy L 32 (2). But does the UCC policy honor the decision of their world church? Is it in harmony with the current Church Manual and NAD Working Policies?
The following chart compares world church and UCC policy:
We accept that the UCC executive committee does not consider its policy to be in opposition to the world church. We accept that the intention of the committee is positive. While we ascribe to the committee these benevolent motivations, we are constrained to recognize that the policy the committee has voted nevertheless remains independent of and opposed to the voted practice of the world church.
The UCC policy brings disunity to the Church. A local church could even be expelled from the sisterhood of churches for taking the same course of action as the conference, by “refusal to operate in harmony with the Church Manual” (Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, p. 40). Shall a conference contradict the Church Manual with impunity?
Two Different Tracks for Ministry
In the Seventh-day Adventist Church, spiritually-qualified males entering upon the work of ministry are granted a ministerial license. “The granting of such licenses confers the opportunity to develop the ministerial gift” (Church Manual, p. 34). The authority of the licensed minister is carefully limited. In order to carry out his work he would be elected as an elder by his local church.
If he is to serve in a multi-church district, leading in more than one church concurrently, the licensed minister must first be granted authority to do so by the division and conference executive committees. Only after this permission is sought—and received—can his authority be extended beyond the local church. Only then can the local conference act to grant him that wider authority permitting him to serve multiple congregations. Yet even then, “A conference committee action cannot be substituted for church election or ordination to gospel ministry” (Church Manual, p. 33). Licensed ministers are on a track toward ordination, and if demonstrating themselves successful workers, would be candidates to become ordained ministers.
In contrast, the commissioned minister is on a different ministry track. The commissioned minister is not on a track for ordination (See General Conference Working Policy E 05 10 3, p. 196, 2011-2012 ed.). Such a worker is granted a commissioned minister license. Workers who may receive such a license are associates in pastoral care, Bible instructors, conference treasurers, departmental directors, chaplains, presidents of major institutions, and GC auditors. The commissioned minister is a specialized, supporting function which does not involve being a chief spiritual leader of a congregation. (For a more detailed discussion, see Commissioned Minister Crisis 1.)
A congregation is not normally led by a commissioned minister. To place a woman as a chief spiritual leader over a congregation is an aberration nowhere supported in the New Testament. A commissioned minister has only that local authority vested in himself/herself as a local elder. Like the licensed minister, a commissioned licensed worker cannot serve a multi-church district without the express permission of division and conference executive committees nor while lacking specifically granted extensions of authority, as will be seen below.
What is more, even North American Division Working Policy L 32 explicitly limits the authority of the commissioned minister, stating that the commissioned minister does not have authority to organize churches, unite churches, or ordain elders and deacons (3). It is amazing then that UCC executive committee had the actual text of L32 10 in their hands in the very moment that its majority voted to act independently to that policy.
No Request Sought or Granted
The world church is very careful to keep the various credentials distinct:
E 05 05 Types—Denominational employees shall be classified and accredited by the employing organization (see E 10) according to the categories listed below. No person shall be included in more than one category at the same time. Any division that wishes to issue credentials other than those characterized below, may do so with prior approval of the General Conference Executive Committee at Annual Council (General Conference Working Policy, p. 195).
We asked the Secretariat of the General Conference whether the NAD or any of its subsidiary units had requested a modified commissioned credential and been granted authority to issue such a credential. The Secretariat indicated that such a credential had been neither sought nor granted.
In other words, in the North American Division, neither Oregon, Washington, nor Upper Columbia conferences have been granted permission to issue any commissioned minister credential carrying different authorities in the commission than the world church has approved in GC session.
The differences between the authorities invested in these two kinds of credential are distinct. For example, the ordained minister, by virtue of his ordination, “is qualified to function in all rites and ceremonies” (Church Manual, p. 32). He is the congregation’s “spiritual leader and adviser” (Ibid.). He has authority to organize churches (Church Manual, p. 36), may preside at a uniting of churches (Church Manual, p. 39), and gives the charge, vows, and declaration in a marriage ceremony (Church Manual, p. 75) (4). Other than an exception for weddings, these authorities are not granted to those holding the commissioned minister credential.
Executive Committees Not Given Authority
The 2015 General Conference session held in San Antonio, Texas, addressed whether division executive committees were or were not to be granted special permission to change the credentialing in their geographical areas. By vote of the assembled delegates this authority was explicitly denied them.
And yet, what kind of entities have recently acted in the same way, but with reference to the commissioned minister credential? The Oregon Conference executive committee, Washington Conference executive committee, and now, the Upper Columbia Conference executive committee. By their voted actions, these conference executive committees are claiming for themselves an authority like the authority which the world church explicitly denied to divisions on July 8.
The commissioned and the ordained minister credentials are given to workers serving in two entirely different tracks of tithe-supported ministry. The ordained minister serves by leading congregations and is granted global authority. The commissioned minister is called to serve in auxiliary ministry roles not involving congregational leadership in the same way as the ordained minister. The commissioned minister is granted only local authority. “A conference committee action cannot be substituted for church election or ordination to gospel ministry” (Church Manual, p. 33). On March 29, 2016 the Upper Columbia Conference executive committee explicitly violated the Church Manual and NAD Working Policy L32 10, in several points outlined in the chart above, by its voted action granting authorities which the world church has entrusted only to its ordained male workers.
- “Commissioned Minister Policy Voted,” Jay Wintermeyer, http://uccsda.org/News/commissioned, 2016-03-30.
- NAD Working Policy, L 32 10.
- As already noted, the authorities granted a licensed minister may be specifically extended (if approved by the division and conference committees), so that with special permission granted on a case-by-case individual basis, such a worker could conduct a wedding. The same is true in the case of the commissioned minister. Present policy within the NAD permits this duty to be be conducted by persons bearing both kinds of credentials.
Next: Commissioned Minister Crisis 3!