How Should We Deal with Adventist Heretics? Do Our Mormon Friends Have the Right Idea?
by Ervin Taylor, February 11, 2015: Mormon Voices, “an organization that seeks to assist the media in reporting on Mormon-related topics . . . [and which] is supportive of, but independent from, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” posted a story dealing with the excommunication of a member of the Mormon Church.
The story reports that “outspoken Mormon Stories podcaster and self-described progressive activist John Dehlin lost his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for reasons of apostasy. Based on documented statements made by Mr. Dehlin, he long ago ceased to believe in the basic tenets of the faith, and according to his local leaders, he has acted to deliberately draw others after him in his disbelief . . . [Mormon ] leaders worked very closely with Mr. Dehlin since 2006, trying to draw him back into the fold . . . Mormon Voices has compiled a summary of the circumstances and events leading up to the excommunication of John Dehlin….”
As many know, the Seventh-day Adventist and Mormon churches have many things in common. Both rose up in the early part of the 19th Century in the northeastern United States. Both have prophets—Joseph Smith, Jr. in the case of the Mormons and Ellen G. Harmon White in the case of the Adventists. Both prophets had visions. Both churches have special books written by their prophets, which are considered in part or in whole inspired by God. Orthodox members of each church believe that they possess and preach the pure “Truth.” Both have organizations that uphold and promote orthodoxy within each religion. The Mormons have “Mormon Voices” and the Adventists have the “Adventist Theological Society.”
But Adventists and Mormons have evolved their polity—their internal political organization—in somewhat different directions. Mormon membership is tightly controlled by the central Mormon organization, centered in Salt Lake City. Excommunication of Mormons judged to be heretics and apostates can be efficiently and easily accomplished with no appeal process to those in the upper reaches of the Mormon Church hierarchy. Power is centralized at the top and leaders are selected from a very, very small group of insiders, with no input at all from lower levels in the church structure. Local leadership at the parish level—known as stakes and wards—is appointed from above.
By contrast, membership functions in the Adventist Church are controlled at the local parish level. A local parish—or local church—is the only body that can vote individuals in and out of membership. That function cannot be exercised at any higher level. Instances in which Adventist conference, union, or even General Conference officials have attempted to control church membership have often been protested and, in some cases, where local lay leadership is strong, officials have had to back down. On the other hand, the power to ordain individuals to the professional clergy is held at a level above that of the local church, squarely in the hands of professional clergy.
The official Adventist view is that the Adventist organization is operated by a “representative” political body even though laity is greatly underrepresented in the higher levels of the Adventist Church bureaucracy.
While Adventist Church officials themselves currently do not have the power over membership that Mormon Church officials possess, one suspects that there are individuals within the Adventist Church administrative structure who think the Mormon Church has the right idea when it comes to controlling membership. Any idea of “big tent” Adventism is anathema to these people. The things that Adventists must believe are clearly spelled out in the 28 Fundamentals, it is said, and if you don’t believe those things, you should not be allowed to remain an Adventist and should be expelled from membership.