Do North American Adventists Support the Authority of the General Conference?
Annual Council 2016 is imminent. Union and Division presidents and other church leaders are arriving at American airports. Some have never been here before; others were present in San Antonio in 2015 or have come at other times. But some puzzle over the Adventist Church in North America. They are told that most American Adventists decidedly favor women’s ordination. Then they discover that many, many American Adventists strongly oppose women’s ordination. They ask themselves, Who should I believe?
A great cry has gone up from some Adventists over the prospect that Annual Council will enforce the decision made in 2015 not to permit divisions to ordain women. The cries make many claims: This is a religious liberty issue; young people will leave the Church; Pr. Ted Wilson and the GC are making a power grab; there will be years of litigation by lawyers; money will dry up; and so on. How should church leaders arriving in America for Annual Council relate to this?
A Presidential Problem?
Let’s start with the president of the Church. Pr. Ted Wilson is a man who believes the message God has given to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He understands how the Church works. He knows that it is a voluntary organization, that it is run by committees and bound together by mutual trust. He is committed to the message and organization God has given us. He stated before the vote in San Antonio that whatever the church voted, he would support it. This is what he is doing now. He is serving Jesus by offering the leadership the world church has asked him to provide.
The Youth will Leave the Church?
Have you ever been to a Generation of Youth for Christ (GYC) event? My church sponsored the very first GYC meeting in 2002 and I have attended many of the meetings. Today, thousands of faithful Seventh-day Adventist young people gather for these annual meetings in December of each year.
Very few of these predominantly North American Adventist young people favor women’s ordination. The majority are decidedly opposed to it. They see it as an unbiblical innovation. One faithful pastor I know serves a church in an Adventist university town. He regularly has 40-50 young people in his meetings, who are on the same page as GYC.
Many of our young people are yearning for revival and reformation. They are excited about mission, and would be thrilled to spend some of their zealous energies helping your unions and conferences. The Church has made a decision about ordination and they want to move ahead with mission. Many would not understand why we would delay resolution of this matter by letting a minority of North American Adventists press their failed agenda upon the Church.
There will be Lawyers and Lawsuits?
This is not likely. The Church is thoroughly bound together and has been for long years before Ted Wilson ever took the helm. The different levels of the structure are bound to accept the decisions of the world church and the policies it has duly prepared and adopted. Some other denominations are so organized that yes, there are shocking legal wrangling over their assets in similar situations. In the Adventist Church such outcomes are rare, if not non-existent.
The Money will Dry Up?
It is true that some of the money that runs the Church comes from “progressive” members who have graduated from our American universities. But a far greater proportion of moneys received by the Church arise from faithful members scattered everywhere who believe what the Church teaches.
What’s more, no one really knows how many dollars have been redirected by members who find that they cannot support the wrong direction that they see relentlessly pursued by current North American leadership. A perception that the Church is faithfully relaying the message assigned to it will go a long way toward increasing trust and giving. The opposite perception is financial death.
Many North American Adventists have been faithfully waiting for the leadership to act to preserve order in the Church. The wait has been long and has stretched their faith. We could see an astonishing release of means back into the Church when it is perceived that she is faithfully delivering her payload to the world, Jesus’ end-time Revelation 14 messages.
The GC is Making a Power Grab?
This is not remotely true. The world church has always understood the GC to have this power. The documents the GC has provided only pull together facts that are already there. Divisions, Unions, and Conferences never had authority to act unilaterally or to diverge from General Conference policy on issues of ordination and commissioning.
Beware of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt)
In sum, the shouting and complaining that we see against the General Conference is groundless. The world church has voted. The minority of North American Adventists who support women’s ordination have had many years of opportunity to make their case. They have acted intentionally to systematically prevent the publication of all views opposed to theirs in the North American publications of the Church. And they have still been unable to make a persuasive case supporting their view. They participated in the General Conference vote but now they refuse to submit to the decision of the world body.
There are those who feel an urgent need to persuade you by creating FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) about key decisions you are preparing to vote on.
Most North American Adventists Stand with You
Please know that most North American Adventists stand shoulder to shoulder with you. We believe in the authority of the Bible. We are convinced of the legitimacy and value of the writings of Ellen White. We truly see ourselves as part of a world church that includes you. We treasure your participation and your voting according to your convictions at General Conference sessions and Annual Council meetings. You are our brothers and sisters.
Stand true. Help your church. If unions, conferences, or even a division needs to be disciplined, love North Americans and other members enough in those parts of the Church to discipline them. None should hinder the advance of the Church based upon a well-meant but excessive respect for American Adventists. If some Americans maintain their private agenda and are bent on acting independently of the Church, the Church must love them enough to help them by helping them be accountable. The Church has spoken and we should accept that and move towards settling the underlying basis of the different views. The real issue at stake is the authority of Scripture vs. different interpretive approaches which grant culture primacy over the Bible.