Pre- and Post-2015 San Antonio General Conference Adventist Bureaucratic “Bull”
by Ervin Taylor, December 14, 2015: Back in November 2013, the “The General Conference Executive Officers” issued a kind of Adventist version of a Papal Encyclical. Perhaps more accurately, we should characterize it as an Adventist version of a Papal Bull. That term “Bull” comes from the Latin “Bulla,” or seal that was placed on papal documents. The Adventist Bull was first issued as a “Special Edition” of the Adventist Review In Touch email news release, by the Adventist News Network on Sabbath, November 2, 2013.
It might be enlightening to reflect on what the “General Conference Officers” in 2013 stated prior to the 2015 General Conference session in San Antonio and what actually happened at the GC Session.
The General Conference (GC) Officers statements are in regular type and the commentary of the writer of this opinion piece are in italics between brackets.
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been called by God as an urgent, end-time voice proclaiming God’s love and last-day message to the world.”
[We certainly can hope that the Adventist denomination has been called by God. If the only or principal message of the Adventist Church would be the love of God, we would not be having these disputes. It is the institutional Adventist Church as represented by the “General Conference Executive Officers” which insists on continuing to emphasize the very problematic theological and church polity concepts of a fundamentalist-oriented Adventism currently being espoused by the GC President and his supporters in the Adventist Theological Society which creates considerable dissonance.]
“He has commissioned us to proclaim the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6-12 to people worldwide desperately looking for hope. The message and mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is unique and is heaven-sent.”
[A reader must well ask who the “us” in this sentence is supposed to be. Also, we again can hope that our message and mission are “heaven-sent.” Being unique is another matter. What’s wrong with just being Christian?]
“Our top priority as a church is knowing Jesus ourselves and sharing His message of redemption.”
[Yet again, if that were the only or principal message being advanced by the institutional Adventist Church and the “General Conference Executive Officers,” we would almost certainly not be having the problems that this GC Bull is seeking to counter.]
“Nothing is to stand in the way of this proclamation as we unite to reach every ‘nation, kindred, tongue and people’ with the “everlasting gospel.”
[If the institutional Adventist denomination were advancing only the Christian gospel, we would not be having the current problems. Most of the problems are created when a lot of disputed theological concepts which have nothing to do with the Christian gospel are included in what the institutional Adventist Church is proclaiming in its officially-sanctioned, standardized, evangelistic message.]
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a fellowship of believers bound together by a common commitment to Christ, the truths of the Bible, a worldwide church organization and a mission to the world.”
[Ah, we now come to the main point of this GC Encyclical-Bull! We can all certainly hope that the Adventist denomination is a fellowship of believers bound together by a common commitment to Christ [and] the truths of the Bible . . .” It is the “world church organization” part of this statement that is the problem. Let’s not confuse the nature of the real issue.]
“Each of these elements is vitally important in preserving the unity of the church and keeping it from fracturing.”
[Not necessarily. We can have an appropriate unity based on the first two elements (assuming that we all agree on the nature of the “truths of the Bible,”) but the insistence on defining unity as being uniformity is the problem.]
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church is not organized as a collection of independent units. Although each Conference/Mission, Union and the General Conference (which includes the divisions) have their own constituencies, they are also united by common commitments, mutual trust and agreed upon policies.”
[Ideally, yes, but “mutual trust” has been destroyed by the actions of the GC officers who seem determined to use various strategies to force everyone back into line. Sorry, that will not work.]
“The Church, the body of Christ, is inter-related.”
[True, but the “body of Christ” is the “invisible” Church, not the institutional Adventist Church. Please do not confuse those two entities.]
“Actions that affect one part of the body affect the whole. The Apostle Paul stated it succinctly in these words, ‘For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ’ (1 Corinthians 12:12). The Working Policy, which is the recording of our agreements as to how we will work together to do the Lord’s work and mission, serves as one of the practical unifying agents that the Holy Spirit uses to bind the church together.”
[Who exactly is the “we” in the “we will work together…”? The Working Policy should exist as a set of recommendations, not dictates.]
“Policy is not inflexible. It can be changed but it reflects the understanding of the collective group, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”
[Oh, really? Guess who gets to decide what is and is not being undertaken “under the guidance of the Holy Spirit”?]
“When personal convictions are placed ahead of the collective policy decisions of the worldwide church, troubling precedents are set.”
[Personal convictions? Please! Let’s get a little real here. The view that women should be ordained to the gospel ministry is a view held by tens of thousands of Adventist Church members in North America, Europe, and Australia.]
“God works in an orderly way and wishes His church to exemplify this sanctified behavior through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
[“God works in an orderly way? Really? That is debatable. Since when was the Reformation orderly? And early Adventism was certainly not orderly. Ellen White discoursing while lying on the floor was certainly not “orderly.”]
“Humility and submission to God for the good of the church body as outlined in the Word of God and the Spirit of Prophecy are fundamental Biblical principles for the benefit of the church.
[We can agree here. The GC officers should be humble and submit to the Spirit of God working in the Adventist Church to make sure that women called to the gospel ministry are ordained in full equality with men.]
“At the 2012 Annual Council in a voted action entitled, “Statement on Church Polity, Procedures, and Resolution of Disagreements in the Light of Recent Union Actions on Ministerial Ordination,” the world church strongly indicated that it does not recognize as ordained ministers individuals who do not meet the criteria outlined in policy.
[All that is indicated is that Church Councils can and do make serious mistakes.]
“It deeply concerns the world leadership of the church that recently a local conference constituency elected as a conference president an individual who is not recognized by the world church as an ordained minister.”
[The local conference is the Southeastern California Conference. That’s the “world leadership’s” problem, not the local conference constituency’s problem.]
“Ordination to the ministry is one of the criteria set forth for being a conference president.”
[Ah, back to the Working Policy again.]
“General Conference administration is working with the North American Division administration . . .”
[“Working with”? Now what does that exactly mean?]
“ . . .as they deal with the implications of this local conference action, which is contrary to the 2012 Annual Council action.
[Again, this just shows that Church Councils have made and continue to make serious mistakes.]
“The world church is currently working together in a Theology of Ordination Study Committee with participation by all divisions to better understand the functions of ordination as well as the role of women in relation to ordination to the gospel ministry.
[If you want to delay, delay, delay, just assign it to a committee over and over and over again. And then, when you can’t delay any more, when a study committee does make its report, just make sure that the vote at the next GC is done in such a way to ensure that the rational approach—allowing the Divisions to decide on this matter—is defeated.]
“A careful process is functioning and reports will be given to the 2014 Annual Council with the expectation that this subject will go to the 2015 General Conference Session for a decision under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”
[Let’s be clear on what is going on here. It will go to the 2014 Annual Council and 2015 General Conference Session where the control of procedures is largely in the hands of the same “Officers of the General Conference” and their supporters. A lot of lay persons are not going to fall for that story line again.]
“We have every confidence in the Lord’s leading of His precious remnant church.”
[With one proviso, we can all agree. We have confidence that the Lord is leading the Adventist Church to ordain women to advance gender equity. If the GC will not do it, then the local and union conferences can do so and then a local conference can elect an ordained Adventist minister who happens to be a woman as conference president. What’s the problem? Assuming that the institutional Adventist Church is the “remnant church” is certainly a disputed point.]
“By God’s grace and through the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the church will find its way through this challenging time as we move forward with the unique message and mission entrusted to the Seventh-day Adventist movement.”
[Well, yet again, we all can hope that whatever the Adventist Church does reflects the “Holy Spirit’s guidance.” But let’s be clear and honest about this—many times that does not happen because naked political power is exercised by church administrators.]
“It is God’s plan that we proclaim His end-time, prophetic truth to every corner of the globe and especially the enormous metropolitan centers of the world through “Mission to the Cities” utilizing every form of comprehensive urban evangelism including comprehensive health ministry and many other methods.”
[Well yet again, we can hope that it is God’s plan. However, what exactly is “prophetic truth” for the 21st Century that is in dispute?]
“We urge all church members and leaders to pray that the Holy Spirit will unite us to fulfill Christ’s promise that ‘this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all nations and then the end will come’ (Matthew 24:14). United in Christ’s love, bound together in a common Biblical message, linked through a common church organization and committed to one another with mutual respect and trust through the power of the Holy Spirit . . .
[Here we go again: “. . . linked through a common church organization. . . .” Leave that out and we can all be happy with that sentiment.]
“. . . we are confident this church will triumph at last and proclaim Christ’s eternal message of truth to the ends of the earth in anticipation of Jesus’ soon second coming.”
[As Christians, we can be confident that the triumph of God’s will in this world will be in the best interest of all of humanity. Some of the details of how that might happen may be a little vague and can only, at best, be viewed as through a “glass darkly.”]