17 November 2021  |

By Todd Leonard

A silver lining in what has otherwise been the dark cloud of the General Conference in Session’s refusal to endorse ordination equality is that it forced union conferences to recognize and reassert their authority over the issuing of ordination credentials. As unions in North America and Europe now issue ordination credentials to women, we see that the General Conference (GC) is legally powerless to stop them. While we always hope that we can organizationally move forward as one international body, the reality is that the body of Christ is complex and messy and doesn’t all move forward in lockstep agreement. Recognizing that those closer to the unique needs of their geographical territory will be able to make better decisions about how to carry out the church’s mission, union conferences have been given the authority to contextualize how that work is done and who is empowered to lead it.  

At our recent Annual Council Session and in subsequent remarks to the Euro-Asia Division, our General Conference president vigorously challenged local congregations to make membership and baptism decisions in harmony with long-established precedent accepted by the denomination and outlined in the church manual.  

The reaction by some of our local members to this hostility by Elder Wilson was to quit the church! This has happened every year after an Annual Council or General Conference session for many years now. The GC president speaks, and more progressive, justice-minded Adventists leave the fold. 

The mindset of these members seems to be, “If Elder Wilson says it, then that’s how the Adventist Church is going to be.” As they look at what appears to be a top-down governing structure, they see no hope of anything ever changing if the “boss” won’t change. 

But what these members don’t realize is that the very reason why Elder Wilson is addressing the issue is because there are local churches out there who are exercising their authority on issues of membership and lay leadership. He knows he doesn’t have the authority to stop it, so the best he can do is use his bully pulpit to rail against it. The local congregation is the sole arbiter of Adventist membership and local congregational leadership.  

Unfortunately, not enough congregations understand their authority within the Adventist governance structure. It’s time for local congregations to limber up, flex their muscles and say, “We continue to be united, heart and soul, with the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but in order to do that in our local community, we are exercising our authority over who is welcomed into our congregation and who can lead our ministries.”

Guest teacher:

Todd Leonard is the Senior Pastor of the Glendale City Church. You can access his website, here.


Randi Robertson is an instructor/pilot for JetBlue Airlines. She teaches at JetBlue University at Orlando International Airport.

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