Carry Out and Enforce Order

The prophetic voice spoke in 1861. Organization was the issue. Warning was delivered via the pen of Ellen White:

“And now unless the churches are so organized that they can carry out and enforce order, they have nothing to hope for in the future. They must scatter into fragments” (Review and Herald, Aug. 27, 1861).

The churches subsequently organized. The Seventh-day Adventist Church was born!

But now, after a century and a half, the church faces this question again. At the General Conference session in 2015, the world church voted not to grant to the Divisions which make up the Church the authority to set criteria for ministerial ordination. By the decision of the world body, only to the General Conference (GC) itself is this authority given. No other part of the Church—no Division, no Union, no Conference, no local church—has the authority to create its own standards for ordination to the gospel ministry. Only the General Conference in session possesses this authority.

But in the Pacific Union of the North American Division, certain local Conferences and the Union have acted with ill-advised independence. They have taken steps bringing confusion and disorganization into the Church. Their voted action contradicts verbal claims of loyalty. That Union has seen numerous “Union-approved” ordinations of women, and even the audacious claim that these “ordinations” are fully supported by the world church.

In the North Pacific Union of the North American Division, three Conferences—Washington, Oregon, and Upper Columbia—have presumed to abolish the distinction between the ordained and commissioned ministry, thus taking upon themselves an authority belonging only to the GC in session. (Upper Columbia rescinded this policy after a number of its churches called for a special constituency session to review it.)

In Europe, multiple Unions are operating in contradiction to the world church with regard to ordination. At least one Union has voted also to accept practicing homosexuals into church fellowship. In this light the words of Mrs. White echo again:

“And now unless the churches are so organized that they can carry out and enforce order, they have nothing to hope for in the future. They must scatter into fragments” (Review and Herald, Aug. 27, 1861).

Consider. If each individual Division, Union, or local Conference can do as it pleases with reference to ordination, it can also do so with reference to other matters.  This is already evident in the action of the Union noted above which has presumed to consider practicing homosexuals as holding good and regular standing.

If the Church is only loosely bound together, there will soon be no unity of belief or practice. If individual Divisions, Unions, or Conferences choose not to respect the global authority of the world church, and their insubordinate actions are not addressed in a timely manner, there will be no global church, only a loose coalition of disparate entities superficially sharing the Adventist identity. Under such a system our churches would be like locally owned restaurant franchises, merely renting logo and name.

Under the current wash of postmodern hubris, how far would such a body proceed before being absorbed into the cultural abyss? Not far. No wonder the president of the Church appealed to every Seventh-day Adventist in 2010:

"Seventh-day Adventist Church members, hold your leaders, pastors, local churches, educators, institutions, and administrative organizations accountable to the highest standards of belief based on a literal understanding of Scripture" ("Go Forward," Ted N.C. Wilson, 2010 General Conference session).

The members hold the responsibility. They are reminded to hold leaders accountable. This is the largely overlooked power in the system of church governance Heaven has given us. The Church is not to be ruled by bishops presuming to know what is best for the members. The members themselves, in our local churches, are to be Spirit-led and to help leaders be faithful. And this is happening. There are members who are now pleading for the guidance of God and acting in its accomplishment.

But there are also matters in which local church members have little recourse. When Division and Union leadership disobey established order, the members depend on the voted, authoritative world leadership of the Church to maintain this order. Then they especially trust that leaders of the Divisions and the General Conference will act out their faith to bring the Church back to order.

We are in a crisis. At no other period since the founding of this Church has the ability of leadership to “carry out and enforce order” been at stake in quite the same way. The leaders of the world church, when they gather in October for the 2016 Annual Council, must act with decision. If they do not, the authority of the world body will continue to dissipate, perhaps beyond recovery. The cohesion of this Church hangs in the balance.

We don’t want to go there. We don’t want to start over.

Many have nearly lost hope. I believe that a brief window remains in which leaders can act to preserve what the Lord did for us when the Seventh-day Adventist Church was organized in 1861. The message will go through; the only question is who will carry it. I believe that God’s purpose is for the Seventh-day Adventist Church to carry His gospel message to the end. But it is imperative that church leadership move with decision to preserve church order now.