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By Many Hands
Some of your Seventh-day Adventist pastors thought it might be interesting to see what the Church Manual and other essential documents say about the particular concept of president and of male headship through the years. As an example, we followed the developing job description of the conference president through several decades. There is a long-standing and statement regard this topic, officially published for many years. New wording is indicated in Capital letters, while removals or changes from the previous example are indicated with strike-through text. Consider the following samples:
“The president of the conference should be an ordained minister of experience and good report. He stands at the head of the gospel ministry in his conference, and is the chief elder or overseer at large of all the churches” (p. 143).
“The president of the conference should be an ordained minister of experience and good report. He stands at the head of the gospel ministry in his conference, and is the chief elder, or overseer, at large of all the churches” (p. 143).
“The president of the conference should be an ordained minister of experience and good report. He stands at the head of the gospel ministry in his conference and is the chief elder, or overseer, of all the churches” (pp. 170, 171).
“The president of the conference should be an ordained minister of experience and good report. He stands at the head of the gospel ministry in his conference and is the chief elder, or overseer, of all the churches” (p. 182).
“The president of the conference should be an ordained minister of experience and good report. He stands at the head of the gospel ministry in his conference and is the chief elder, or overseer, of all the churches” (p. 117).
“The president of the conference/MISSION/FIELD should be an ordained minister of experience and good report. He stands at the head of the gospel ministry in his conference/MISSION/FIELD, and is the chief elder, or overseer, of all the churches” (p. 143).
“The CONFERENCE president should be an ordained ministerPASTOR of experience and good report. He stands at the head of the gospel ministry in hisTHE conference/MISSION/FIELD, and is the chief elder, or overseer, of all the churches” (p. 32).
This particular statement is not all that the Manual says, but demonstrates a definite idea consistently transmitted.
As seen above, the essential ideas in the statement are that the worker is experienced, has been ordained, is male, and has a positive moral reputation. He is not only “at the head” of the work in the conference where he serves, but he “stands at the head of the gospel ministry”; He holds the position of the senior ranking elder in relation to all the churches in his territory. He is in a position of authority over the other male spiritual leaders in the conference where he serves.
Not only does the current Church Manual require that the conference president meet these qualifications, but so does the current General Conference Working Policy volume of the church. Policy number E-60 states
“Inasmuch as the conference/mission/field president stands at the head of the gospel ministry in the conference/mission/field and is the chief elder or overseer of all the churches, a conference/mission/field president shall be an ordained minister” (General Conference Working Policy 2011-2012, p. 219).
This is not all. Because the Seventh-day Adventist Church is a world religious body made up of millions of members, all its component parts are required to operate under particular Constitution and Bylaws documents. The General Conference provides such model documents to all its sections. These model constitutions and bylaws have two kinds of writings in them, portions composed of required wording, and other portions which may be changed as by the local unit within certain parameters.
In light of action already taken by Columbia and Pacific Unions in which they placed themselves in opposition to their world church, readers may be interested in developing an improved understanding of the ways in which all of this works. Consider pertinent portions of these Bylaws:
“The 54th General Conference Session, in its consideration of the Role and Function of denominational Organizations, pointed out that the constitutions, bylaws, and operating policies of all denominational organizations should be consistent with the Seventh-day Adventist concept of the church, its organization, and governance. The fruitage of that concept is a representative and constituent-based system. Its authority is rooted in God and distributed to the whole people of God. It recognizes the committee system. It provides for shared administration (president, secretary, treasurer/chief financial officer) rather than a presidential system. It recognizes a unity of entities (church, conference, union, General Conference) based on mission, purpose, and belief that binds the believers together in a universal fellowship. While the integrity of each entity is recognized (church, conference, union), each is seen to be a part of a sisterhood which cannot act without reference to the whole” (Ibid., D 05, p. 135).
“Union Conference Constitution and Bylaws—This model constitution shall be followed by all union conferences. Those sections of the model bylaws that appear in bold print are essential to the unity of the Church worldwide, and shall be included the the bylaws adopted by each union conference. Other sections of the model bylaws may be modified as set out in Bylaw Article XII, provided they continue to be in full harmony with the provisions of this model” (Ibid., D 10 05).
The continuation of the D 10 section includes in the model bylaws the following—all in bold print—that is, all required:
“Article VI—Officers, Sec. 1, Executive Officers, a. President: The president who shall be an ordained minister of experience, is the first officer and shall report to the executive committee of the union conference in consultation with the secretary and the treasurer/chief financial officer. He shall act as chair of constituency meetings and the executive committee and serve in the general interests of the union conference as the constituency and the executive committee shall determine. In his leadership he shall adhere to the policies of the ________ Division and of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, work in harmony with the ________ Division executive committee, and in close counsel with the division officers” (Ibid., p. 143).
With this policy, the Columbia Union, the Pacific Union, the North Pacific Union, the Southeastern California Conference, the Oregon Conference, the Upper Columbia Conference, and the Ohio Conference—among others—are, at present, out of policy. To restate, these units of the church, which “cannot act without reference to the whole,” which are “required” to have this wording, do not have it. In many cases, not even the remotest similarity can be found to the required wording.
Church leaders—and rightly—call for church members to be faithful in upholding their Christian commitments. They call for their pastors to be faithful in guiding their churches spiritually in obedience to the gospel. Again, rightly so. But it is also true that our church members call for our leaders—including at the conference, union, and division levels—to be faithful. We are part of a whole body in connection with Christ; we are not independent. We are obligated, and properly, to stand together with the world church. A union here and a conference there cannot each go its own way. We build the church; we do not fracture it by independent action posing one part against another.
Some current conference and union level leaders and bylaws committees seem to be marching to the beat of other drummers. They are leading their own unions and conferences away from the sisterhood of churches.
This must change.
This is a very sad day when brothers and sisters in some of our conferences, irrespective of their strong convictions against the actions of the world body, have decided to act as they have. How can this be seen as anything other than disrespect, frankly, rebellion against the world church? We realize that they have developed arguments which in their minds may seem to validate their position on the ordination of women and placing them in offices which the world church has reserved to males. Even were their position correct, it would be tragic to turn against the world body.
We urge those holding such views to kindly labor with their brethren and sisters and share the light they believe that they have, and at the same time to listen humbly to the thinking and positions of others. Likewise, opposing positions should be given an equal hearing. Let the Lord convict the world body. Rebellion under any position or pretense can not be in God’s order and will surely give the enemy fertile ground to cause confusion, likely eternal loss, to many.
Brethren, by God’s grace, let us reign in this course before further damage is done to God’s church. As far as the bylaws go, let efforts commence to bring our conference and union bylaws into harmony with the present position of our world church. If the world church ever authorizes changes supporting Women’s Ordination, at that time the bylaws can again be modified. But not a moment before!