Who Is Authorized to Lead a Communion Service Becomes Church Manual Debate
By AT News Team, July 6, 2015: The Church Manual which provides the operating rules for local congregations in the Adventist denomination can only be revised by the GC Session every five years. A standing committee begins work on this process nearly five years in advance and by the time the agenda for the current session was approved last fall, it had accumulated 26 recommendations for changes.
When the delegates began to process these proposals on Sunday (July 5) a debate broke out on a simple change of language in the section that specifies who may conduct the communion service in Adventist congregations. It was unexpected, to say the least.
The recommendation was to insert the word “commissioned” on page 73 and again on page 122 to make it clear that Commissioned Ministers as well as Ordained Ministers can lead communion services. Denominational policy has defined clergy with either credential as essentially the same in function and pay scale since the late 1980s. In fact, the 1990 GC Session in Indianapolis which voted against ordination for women, also approved commissioning for women in the clergy.
Pastor Louis Torres, who directs a lay evangelism school, started the discussion by reading from an old edition of the Church Manual a passage that he thought contradicted the proposed revision. Pastor Armando Miranda, the GC vice president who has chaired the Church Manual Committee, reminded Torres that at the 2005 GC Session the terminology “ordained/commissioned minister” was inserted to make the manual more inclusive. “So, a commissioned person without being ordained can lead out in communion?” Torres said. Pastor Jay Gallimore, president of the Michigan Conference, stated, “I’ve never understood how you can have a commissioned minister who is unordained … conduct the communion.”
Dr. Denis Fortin, who was until recently dean of the seminary at Andrews University and still a faculty member, tweeted that he was fascinated by the discussion beause the Bible says nothing about this topic at all. Fortin was a pastor in Quebec before he joined the faculty at the seminary, and that Canadian province has a Catholic culture with a clergy-centered attitude about communion, and it must have surprised him to hear Adventists with similar ideas.
Pastor Doug Batchelor, who has used his media ministry to take a strong stand against the ordination of women, stated that since this section of the Church Manual involves ordination, the proposed revision should be tabled until after the presentations on ordination on Wednesday. When Pastor Artur Stele, the GC vice president in the chair, would not accept a motion to table the item, Batchelor said, “I am really encouraging this body to reject this change.”
Thomas Mueller, a delegate from Europe, said, “We are not rolling back on female elders or female pastors.” That is not under consideration in the report of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) on Wednesday. “People opposed to women’s ordination should not use every opportunity to discuss it.” Joren Tuinstra made the same point. Another delegate stated the discussion of women’s ordination is hampering the mission of the church, and there was applause.
Pastor Dan Jackson, president of the denomination’s North American Division, stated that the Church Manual needs to be gender neutral on this matter because “in my division women serve as elders and pastors.” Dr. David Trim, director of archives, statistics and research for the GC, pointed out that without adding the revisions, then it remained open for deacons and deaconesses to preside over the communion service.
Dr. Clinton Wahlen, a scholar at the Biblical Research Institute (BRI) who has privately published a book opposed to women’s ordination and advocating male headship theology, moved to strike the word “commissioned.” Miranda responded, “Some people are trying to find something relating to women’s ordination here. That is not the intention of the committee because we have men who are commissioned ministers.”
Dr. John Brunt, a pastor in California who taught theology for many years at Walla Walla University, asked for a point of order. “We have been told that changing the Church Manual requires a five-year process and this is a major change. The amendment destroys the intent of the revisions presented by the Church Manual Committee.”
After several more rounds of procedural motions, interruptions for other items of business and complaints from NAD delegates prevented from speaking because Microphone 3 was still not reliably working, a vote was taken and three out of four of the delegates abstained from voting. With a small modification in the language, proposed by retiring GC vice president Pastor Lowell Cooper, to clarify that ordained and commissioned ministers as well as local elders could preside over a communion service, the revised section was finally adopted.