12 October 2021 | The agenda item that attracted the most attention at the second business meeting of the Annual Council on Oct. 11, 2021 had to be “Theological Issues Facing the Church,” which generated a flurry of activity and responses on Twitter.
Also of interest: Church finances — not great, but could have been way worse, according to presenters.
Other highlights included:
- “Richest Caveman” Doug Batchelor of Amazing Facts media ministry presented the devotional for the meeting today. He broke down conversion/salvation into seven steps:
- See the Lord
- See self in contrast
- Be cleansed by God
- Hear God’s voice
- Respond, “I will go!”
- Mike Ryan, former General Conference (GC) vice president who now serves as assistant to the president of the General Conference, tackled “Hyper Grace,” — the belief you are so saturated with grace that reform is not required. (No, he was not talking about membership’s long-suffering approach to the twice-postponed General Conference Session.)
– Ryan also identified “grace shrinkers” as those who throw out what grace has provided. He noted grace shrinkers are always accompanied by criticism of the church.
- It was off to the races with “Theological Issues Facing the Church”: a summary of some of the significant theological issues the church is facing in the 21st Century:
- Authority of Scripture: Does the Bible have authority in science, prophecy, lifestyle standards, doctrine, etc;
- Adventist Identity: Is the Seventh-day Adventist Church a divine movement raised up by God to prepare a people for the coming of Jesus, or is it merely one of many denominations on the landscape of religions? Who are we, and why do we exist?;
- Prophetic Interpretation: Are the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation still relevant in the 21st century or do we need to re-evaluate our prophetic understanding?;
- Creation/Evolution: Does it make any difference what one believes about the creation of the world and a worldwide flood?;
- Jesus and Doctrine: There is a growing movement of young Adventists who have the idea that there is a distinction between Jesus and doctrine. They view an emphasis on doctrine as legalistic and arbitrary. What relationship does Jesus have with the doctrines of scripture?;
- Moral Issues Deviating from Scripture: Issues such as co-habitation, unbiblical divorce and remarriage and LGBTQIA+ are confronting church leadership with increasing frequency. Is it unloving and unkind to take a stand against these practices?;
- Advent Fatigue: Is it unbiblical to preach the nearness of Christ’s return in the light of the delay of the Advent?;
- The Sanctuary and the Pre-Advent Judgment: Since the late 1970s and early 80s there have been a growing number of voices in the scholarly community that have questioned the validity of 1844. … The idea of a heavenly sanctuary is being questioned by many. How will the church relate to these issues?;
- Spirit of Prophecy Authority: Was Ellen White divinely inspired?
- The Re-Imaging of Adventism: “A shift in emphasis in worship from a biblically-based, Word-centered service that is life transformational to a more emotional form of worship that focuses on meeting a “seeker’s” perceived needs through music and shorter story-telling sermonizing rather than biblical preaching. This re-imaging of Adventism includes a dumbing down of lifestyle standards, a minimizing of the health message and an erosion of understanding in Adventist identity.”
Reactions after this agenda item ranged from outrage and disgust on Twitter, to fervent admiration and support from the Church’s core base. Amidst this distracting hubbub, the meeting deftly maneuvered to a topic that could possibly dampen the ardor of the hardcore: the Church’s financial situation.
- Paul H. Douglas, treasurer/chief financial officer-elect of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and Ray Wahlen, GC Undertreasurer, gave a presentation on church finances.
- When looking at the budget for 2022, it’s important to note the portion received from the North American Division (NAD) is projected to decrease from 49 percent to 46 percent, due primarily to the scheduled tithe percentage reductions, according to Adventist News Network (ANN).
- Unofficially known as the “Bread Basket” of the Adventist church, the NAD was contributing 8 percent of its tithe allocation to the General Conference while the rest of the divisions were contributing 2 percent as recently as 2012, according to an ANN article. In 2018, the NAD Executive Committee requested to lower the division’s tithe remittance to the GC with the goal of reaching tithe parity (equality) among all its divisions. Although parity sounds good on paper, it represents a loss of millions of dollars to the General Conference. In 2016, the NAD gave $74.2 million (all figures in USD) to the GC, while the rest of the world combined gave $25.8 million, according to an article from Spectrum Magazine.
- The South American Division lost approximately $10 million in currency devaluation. It will likely be the third largest tithe contributor at 13 percent in 2022.
- The Church’s budget will be based on income going back an extra year to 2019 to avoid taking “undue risks,” like overstating potential income.
- The Church is predicting that it will have less money to play with in its 2022 budget, to the tune of $16.4 million less.
- The plan is to use GC reserves, or net assets, to offset the loss of income from Covid-19 related reasons and the lower tithe percentage that the NAD will be giving. Up to $11.5 million (as estimated in the tithe parity plan) and $4.9 million (related to the Covid shortage) will be transferred from the budget reserves.
- Former GC treasurer/Chief Financial Officer Juan Prestol-Puesan cautioned that the Church’s current liquidity is based on the sale of the Review and Herald and is only temporary.
But Hey, It’s Better Than Last Year
- Douglas said tithe was ahead by 5.2 percent compared to last year and stood at 7 percent more than the denomination had budgeted to receive.
- Offerings were up by 14.2 percent— 30 percent more than the Church had budgeted to receive.
- Program expenses were down by approximately 10 percent, as compared to this time last year but they were still 11 percent higher than expected.
- Expenses to operate the GC office and its activities were 8.4 percent lower than a year ago, 16.9 percent less than budgeted. Wahlen stressed that the amount of tithe used for headquarters was lowered while it was boosted for pastors, evangelists, and frontline workers.
- Several of the denomination’s 13 divisions and 2 attached unions are reporting higher tithe and offerings, even when compared to pre-COVID 2019.
The business meetings will continue until Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, and can be viewed at:
(Photo: General Conference President Ted Wilson speaks at the second business session of the Executive Committee’s Annual Council on Oct. 11, 2021. Photo via screenshot of 2021 Annual Council.)