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Lee Roy Holmes
In the days of rail travel, trains were commonly identified according to the time they left the station. A man in a small mid-western town was rushing to catch the “8-0-9” for Chicago. As he came through the door sprinting toward the ticket agent’s cage, he called for a ticket for the “8-0-9,” only to be told it had just left. “Look,” the running man pled, “the town hall clock says 8:09. My watch says 8:08. The station clock says 8:10. What clock am I supposed to go by?” “You can go by any clock you wish,” the agent replied calmly. “But you can’t go by the 8-0-9. It’s gone.”
Like the stranded traveler, surely all of us have at some time cried out, “Which timepiece, which voice, which vote shall I go by?” And, perhaps never more so, than in this time of uncertainty in the life of our beloved church.
The April, 2013, issue of the Gleaner features questions and answers regarding Women’s Ordination. The editor’s note at the beginning of the article says, “We believe honest, prayerful, scripturally-centered people may hold differing views on this topic yet find unity on our common mission.” I’m sure that statement is intended to convey grace and warm acceptance of the reader’s views. But while that may work as a safe guide for those committed to unity in the truth, it can also be a prescription for disaster and division when exercised by those who are not submissive to due process and majority rule. No doubt most of our more notable dissidents—Ballenger, Jones, Brinsmead, Ford, etc.—found refuge in the thought that their conclusions were “honest,” and “prayerful,” and that they were “scripturally-centered people.”
So how are those with “differing views” and the church’s need for unity to be resolved? There has to be an end point. Thankfully, God has made provision for that. As discussion moves upward through the various levels of church organization, it eventually arrives at the General Conference in session. The authority of that body is described as follows: “But when, in a General Conference, the judgment of the brethren assembled from all parts of the field is exercised, private independence and private judgment must not be stubbornly maintained, but surrendered” (Ellen White, Testimonies to the Church, vol. 9, p. 260).
The Church Manual adds this: “Therefore all subordinate organizations and institutions throughout the Church will recognize the General Conference Session, and the General Conference Executive Committee between Sessions, as the highest ecclesiastical authority, under God, among Seventh-day Adventists” (p. 31). “The standards and practices of the Church are based upon the principles of the Holy Scriptures. These principles, underscored by the Spirit of Prophecy, are set forth in this Church Manual” (p. 18).
Are North Pacific Union leaders surrendering to that process and that authority? They say yes. “We want to give the world church the first opportunity to resolve this issue (women’s ordination) in a timely manner” (p. 13). But they make it clear that their definition of a resolution is accepting “women into the full range of leadership” (p. 12).
Unity is handily dismissed with the claim that “there is a big difference between unity and uniformity” (p. 12). It is not fair, they argue, for every region and every culture to be asked to go in lock step with the rest of the world church. In response to the question, “So you’re essentially saying, ‘if the world church doesn’t agree with our view, we’ll do what we want anyway?’” they answer, “We believe it is past time to bring every person called to minister to the front lines” (p. 12).
I believe it is important that every union and conference leader, every pastor, and every constituent in the NPUC take a moment to measure the possible consequences if our union joins the others who have rebelled against General Conference authority and approved ordinations without regard to gender. It seems a given to expect that attitude and action to trickle down through all levels of church organization. If a union conference is brave enough to go against a GC vote, that will certainly serve to diminish confidence in church authority at all levels.
Consider some possibilities.
The Church Manual says that “No pastor has the right to officiate at the remarriage of any person who . . . has no scriptural right to remarry” (p. 154). But the pastor and local congregation have strong emotional ties to the couple and, after a season of prayer, decide it is permissible for them to have differing views and so decide to go forward with the wedding anyway.
The Church Manual says, “The treasurer holds in trust and passes on to the conference treasurer funds intended for conference or general purposes” (p. 135). But the local church, in all honesty, decides that the financial exigencies they face warrant diverting some of those funds to local needs.
The Church Manual says, “Sexual abuse of children, youth, and vulnerable adults, fornication, promiscuity, incest, homosexual practice, the production, use, or distribution of pornography, and other sexual perversions” (p. 62) is a cause for discipline. A local church decides to edit out “homosexual practice,” having prayerfully decided that these individuals are who they are genetically and should not be excluded from full participation in the life of the church.
An article in the April, 2013, issue of the Adventist Review points up the tragic fact that most people leaving the Adventist church today do so because they no longer believe what Adventists believe. Of the 23 doctrines listed, those leaving rank belief in the remnant church at bottom. Here is a problem. To claim that Christ is the “head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23), and yet fail to find unity on something to which the Bible speaks with great clarity, seems to deny His headship. To claim that the Holy Spirit is given to the church today to guide “into all truth” (John 14:26) and yet excuse oneself from following that guidance, can only add further credence to the belief that the whole idea of a God-led remnant is a fiction.
As a pastor, I found wise counsel in the following from the Minister’s Manual, p. 67: “Close adherence to the Church Manual is not only your responsibility as pastor, but it is also to your advantage. If you support it even where you might wish to see it changed, you can rely on its authority to support you when others press for unacceptable change. On the other hand, if you belittle these policies of the world church, your members will learn to belittle policies you establish in the local church” (p. 67).
Our world church seeks to function in harmony with Scripture. The combined voice of Seventh-day Adventist believers speaking through the General Conference in session, coming to agreement on policies and practices for the world church, including those outlined in the Church Manual, I still find a safe voice and vote to “go by.”
I believe that will work best for our NPUC leadership and constituents as well.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Lee Roy Holmes has served the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the North Pacific Union as Bible teacher, pastor, and school administrator for over forty years. Most recently he served as pastor for the Kettle Falls, Washington district. He has co-authored two Bible textbooks used in our academies, and written the book, The Church that Does Not Fall. He has three sons who are active in their local churches.