A More Perfect Union: We Have This Hope

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A More Perfect Union: We Have This Hope

What You Will Learn:

The purpose of this four-article series is to help the reader to:

  1. Understand the basis on which theological unity in the Seventh-day Adventist church is built (see article 1: Unity and the Structure of Belief)
  2. Understand the role (a) hermeneutics and (b) theological method plays in establishing theological doctrine and unity (see article 2: Unity and Diversity in the Context of Mission)
  3. Understand (a) the theological factions in the church, (b) the existing barriers to church unity, and (c) how divisive debates over working policy, fundamental beliefs, and the church manual are merely symptoms of deeper issues in the church (see article 3: The Local Church and Mission)
  4. Explore practical solutions that (a) solve the root problems behind church disunity, (b) rebuild trust between church entities, and (c) help members to experience biblical unity in diversity (see article 4: We Have This Hope)

Introduction—Only Apparent Unity

 

General Conference Session 2015: I stood in the nosebleed section of the stands, in the San Antonio Alamo Dome, on the final Sabbath, at my first in-person General Conference Session in 2015, singing the hymn, “We Have This Hope,” with seventy-thousand other Seventh-day Adventists from all over the globe. It was a moving experience. During the previous week and a half, I had watched (and live-tweeted) the entire Session from start to finish.

 

Watching the world church deliberate on many important and seemingly important matters in a democratic and open manner was refreshing. The sheer scale of diversity in the exhibit hall was mind-boggling, with so many individuals showcasing their God-given creativity and concern for the work in their region. A person walking in the exhibit area would quickly come to the realization that the work of God is larger than any one person, entity, or ministry.

 

And yet, despite all the joy of meeting long lost friends and reconnecting with family, one could sense the deep underlying tension that pervaded the Session. Unity, it seemed, despite our mutual “Hope” in the soon coming of our Lord, is shattered in our church.

 

Purpose of the Article: This article combines the concepts of the last three articles to discuss the administrative side of the work. We will explore a wide variety of advanced concepts such as administrative precedent, administrative adjudication, constitutional tensions, process, proportional representation, choice, influence, power, and their connection to hermeneutics and mission. Along the way, we will look at plurality, coexistence, theological factions, equality, diversity, and of course, unity in mission.

Hermeneutics: /hərmə’n(y)oodiks/ n. the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation, especially of the Bible or literary texts.

Section I: Early Adventist Historical Context

 

Early Adventist Need for Organization: After the church organized in 1863, it grew exponentially and geographically until the original structure of the General Conference was ill-equipped to handle the scale of the work. It is generally accepted that while the Seventh-day Adventist church has a theological foundation built on Scripture for its system of beliefs, its premise for organization grew out of the principle of stewardship that reflected a sense of a worldwide mission and a worldwide message.

 

Contentions in 1880’s Lead to Work Expanding in Australia: The theological tensions in the church in the 1880’s led to an open conflict at the General Conference Session in 1888 between the General Conference administration, and two ministers and Ellen White. The aftermath of the Conference turned out to be as monumental as the conference itself as Mrs. White was “asked” to go to Australia to help the primitive efforts there.

 

New Structural Experimentation in New Lands: It was in Australia, and in another far-flung region—South Africa—that the new structural experimentation was carried out. Due to the inability of the brethren in Battle Creek to give day-to-day operational guidance to the work in the fields of Australia and Africa, this innovation was able to take place.

 

After several false starts, in 1901 the church finally found in A.G. Daniells, a man who had experienced the operational bottlenecks and had the will-power to bring this decision before the Session.

 

The Organization and Reorganization of the Church: Dr. Andrew Mustard, who covered the time period from 1844-1881, and Dr. Barry Oliver who covered the reorganization effort from 1888-1903, in their doctoral dissertations have left us all in their debt. We will scratch the surface of some of their insights here as they relate to the organization and reorganization of the church.

 

Oliver and Mustard on the Importance of a Centralized Structure: Mustard, as we noted in the first article shows that importance of a central structure in the perseveration of doctrinal belief. He further shows that, while there was a brief anti-organizational attitude that has been over-hyped by some in our current debate, the actual antipathy was not against organization per se, but rather over the idea that our belief system would be codified and harden into rigid dogma over time.

 

Oliver has shown conclusively that our organizational structure has been open to modification and change, reflecting our missional needs, which has contributed to our growth worldwide.

 

Reorganization of the Church to Meet Mission: The General Conference Sessions of 1901 and 1903 worked to change the structure of the church to reflect the needs of the mission field. Operational control was delegated to constituencies in the various regions so that each region could develop and carry out plans in a timely fashion.

 

Work of Decentralization: Dr. Oliver described the changes to the system, that they reflected the sense of the need to “decentralize” or “delegate” responsibilities to those closest to the work. Much as has been written on this subject so we won’t cover it here, however, most of the current analysis on the reorganization effort of 1901-1903 does not focus on the other great issue that was foremost on the mind of God’s prophet–Mission.[1]

 

Call to Return to Mission: Through voice and pen for the rest of her life, right up till the very last appearance before the world body, Mrs. White advocated eloquently and passionately for a return to the sense of mission that she felt was missing from the church.

 

The church in North America, during her absence, had drifted away from the New Testament model of member-care and non-clergy dependent status to a clergy-dependent one. This was cause for many concerned letters and testimonies that went forth from her pen. Unfortunately, the General Conference administration at the time was embroiled in an institutional-level dispute with Dr. Kellogg, and her entreaties fell on distracted ears.

 

Refocus from Mission to Solving Disputes: From my limited vantage point, I can see similarities in today’s earnest debates and institutional tensions, with what occurred during the reorganization of the church and its immediate aftermath. The church’s focus then, as it is now, has been diverted from mission to solving theological disputes.

 

Women’s Ordination a Surface Issue: Where then, does the tension lie? Some have argued that the issue of women’s ordination is symptomatic of the larger underlying issues that remain unresolved. From a structural standpoint, there are two differing views, however, they both agree that women’s ordination in and of itself is a surface issue.[2] We briefly examine both sides in this debate.

1. Question is the Role of Union Conferences: George Knight, one of the foremost proponents of the union side in this issue, writes:

The denomination needs to see that this problem will not simply disappear. Somewhat like the issue of slavery in the United States from the 1820s to the 1860s, the ordination of women will stay on the agenda no matter how much money is spent in studying the topic and no matter how many votes are taken. Without adequate scriptural grounding, legislation at the worldwide level of the General Conference will not and cannot bring resolution.…

I might suggest that the real issue in 2016 is not the ordination of women but the role of union conferences. The ordination problem is only a surface issue. But it is one that cannot be avoided.[3]

2. Unilateral Action Will Undue Church Governance: The General Conference Secretariat offers its analysis:

The danger to our unity lies not primarily in who we ordain, or what credentials we issue to them. The chief danger lies in accepting the possibility of unilateral action. That has potential implications which go far beyond this immediate issue. Yet if we were to sacrifice the overarching principle of representative, collegial, consensus-based decision-making—if we were to accept that organizational units can act unilaterally—then our whole ecclesiastical polity and system of church governance would be in danger of breaking down. Unions would decline to follow divisions’ guidance; conferences will ignore unions when it suits them; local churches would flout conferences or missions. We would do well to look to the wider principles of interconnectedness and interdependence. They have been the basis for 150 years of powerful proclamation of the gospel and prophetic truth, of extraordinary service to humanity, and of remarkable growth. They should not be lightly abandoned.[4]

Ecclesiastical: /əˌklēzēˈastək(ə)l/ adj. relating to the Christian Church or its clergy.

So, if the tensions lie deeper than the surface issues such as ordination, then how does one go about discovering the fault lines? The best approach is to start by 1) examining the macro-hermeneutical pre-suppositions and their role in shaping our system of beliefs and the doctrinal-missional understanding of the church—as Dr. Canale has done[5]—and take a look at the alternative view, as shared by Dr. Cottrell.[6]

Macro-hermeneutics: /’makrō-hərmə’n(y)oodiks/ n. the foundational or base level of hermeneutics.

Section II: Re-Constructing the Problems at the Organizational-Structural Level

Proportional Representation Instituted: Probably the most astute statement made on the problem of unity in the church was made by Dr. Raymond F. Cottrell in his paper, The Role of Biblical Hermeneutics in Preserving Unity in the Church, where he wrote,

Utrecht 1995 will go down in history as recognizing the fact that we are, now, the world church our forefathers envisioned. The structural administrative changes voted there recognized and implemented that fact by assigning the eleven world divisions of the church representation at future sessions of the General Conference in proportion to their membership.[7]

 

Cottrell Argues Unity is not Possible in a World Church: Here Cottrell brings up the proportional representation system that the church decided to adopt at the GC 1995 Session. The implications of this decision were not lost on Cottrell. He reflected in his paper,

 

Can we continue to function as a united world church? What is unity in a world church, and how can it be maintained? Does unity require uniformity, or can there be unity in diversity? Is it reasonable to expect highly trained and experienced fourth, fifth, and sixth generation Adventists, and first generation members in the developing countries, to agree on church policy? As Utrecht demonstrated, these structural changes provide for recently baptized converts in the developing countries to outvote members with a lifetime of experience in the church. What does that vote bode for the future? Whose church, and what kind of church, is the future world church to be?

The so-called ‘third world’ of developing countries is now in control of the General Conference. By their sheer weight of numbers they are the ones with power and authority. They demonstrated the way in which they propose to exercize that power by their overwhelming vote of 1,481 to 673 not to permit each world division of the church to decide a policy matter such as the ordination of women on the basis of what it considers best for the church in its part of the world. I am not concerned here with the question of ordination, however, important as that may or may not be, but with the far larger question of preserving and nurturing unity in the church. and especially with the fact that [t]hose who voted that resounding Nay cited their flawed biblical hermeneutic as their reason for doing so.[8]

 

Cottrell brings up two hard questions that we must ask in our quest to determine how the church can accomplish its mission through unity in diversity. First, is the process fair if delegates from other parts of the world outnumber delegates from a certain part of the world? And the second, if part of the church feels that the General Conference Session used a theological method that is flawed can they in good conscience accept the Session’s decision?

 

Effects of Proportional Representation: Proportional delegation is a two-edged sword. On one side, it offers greater input to the divisions that have the largest number of members, yet, on the other hand, it has a disenfranchising effect on the minority divisions.

Disenfranchise: /ˌdisənˈfran(t)SHīz/ v. a) deprive (someone) of the right to vote, b) deprived of power; marginalized, c) deprive (someone) of a right or privilege.

Can Minority Divisions Accept Decisions Contrary to Their Vote? How long can minority divisions accept decisions that go against them at the Session level? The answer is easy to find—not long. Two months after the GC vote in 1995, Sligo Church in Maryland conducted a local church “ordination service” of four women.[9]

 

Questions of Who can Make Decisions on Policy and Belief Statements: Quality of representation is another aspect that is often cited and alluded to in Cottrell’s statement above. Can decisions on the wording of our statements on belief and policy be made by individuals who barely understand English let alone the nuances of Hebrew and Greek? However, if we primarily rely on analysis by a Global North majority, for our decision-making processes—as was suggested by some that we do so with the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC)—can those in the Global South accept such analysis in good conscience, not having engaged in it themselves?[10]

Global North: /ˈɡlōbəl nôrTH/ n. divisions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the northern hemisphere, that typically are smaller in number than those of the Global South.

Global South: /ˈɡlōbəl souTH/ n. divisions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the southern hemisphere, that typically outnumber those in the Global North.

Suggested Solutions of Unilateral Approach to Decisions: It is questions like these that go to the heart of the issue of process in our system of representational government. To solve this issue some have suggested that such decisions should be undertaken by each division separately, while others have proposed an even more radical approach, where the unions decide unilaterally what their policy will be in their region.

 

Cause for Concern: Understandably, this has been the cause of worry in some quarters, as some unions moved forward unilaterally before the church sanctioned study and GC Session vote took place.

 

Discussion as to Whether the Unions are Autonomous: For those who have argued for an expansionist role for the unions, some have taken the position that the 1901-1903 Session decisions permanently created autonomous entities in which the unions were to act as “firewalls” between the conferences and the General Conference Session itself.

 

In the 2017 Annual Council, one of the “unilateralist” union presidents argued that any attempt to bar union representatives—who are also Annual Council members—from the GC Annual Council for not supporting the GC Session and its Annual Council decisions, was tantamount to disenfranchising an entire constituency.

 

The Big Question: This legal “gray area,” as the GC Counsel described it, is precisely where the debate is stalled. Can the General Conference Annual Council bar union administrators whose constituencies go against the General Conference Session decisions?

 

For now, the Annual Council decided to send back a document asking each General Conference Annual Council member to uphold GC Session votes, over concerns that it did not adequately cover whole constituency decisions and provide room for dissenting opinions. It was clear that the General Conference Constitution does not currently provide for an “intermediate option,” before the exercise of the so-called “nuclear option,” which is the dissolution of the union.

 

The Problem with Administrative Precedent: Administrative precedent at all levels can also problematic as we saw in previous articles. To solve the hermeneutical problem raised by Cottrell, Elder Pierson searched for an array of administrative solutions which raise a number of important questions.

 

Question of Whether Right of Conscience is Necessary for Minority Voters: If a General Conference president asks the Session to consider a change in the hermeneutical-theological method, and it complies, what should the minority voters do? The answer there is the same as the one that occurred in the aftermath of the 1995 ordination vote: union unilateralism.

 

A Double Standard: There are unions in the Global North that have long harbored theologians, who were deemed theologically unfit to teach at our flagship seminary. Yet, Dr. Fritz Guy, a theistic evolutionist theologian, chaired the nominating committee in which a woman was elected as a Conference president.

 

The General Conference administration has refused to officially accept or acknowledge that vote. However, it has not addressed the underlying issue of the continued employment of theologians who hold mutually incompatible views with those of the denomination.

 

Should these theologians be removed from teaching as Dr. Desmond Ford was? Should they be barred from participating in church activities such as nominating a conference president?

 

Proposed Solution—Autonomous Unions: As a solution to this problem, some have raised the new theory, of the autonomous union, as a way forward. In this view, the union constituency decides who is fit to serve and no other entity above the union can challenge that decision.

 

Inter-Structural Adjudication in Constitutional Debates: When there is conflict between two structures or a difference of opinion on the interpretation of constitutional documents, whose opinion prevails? Is it the next level up? Is it the administration of the next level up?

 

Questions Remaining Unresolved: When there was a brief tussle over constitutional interpretation during the last Annual Council, between a breakaway union president and general conference president, the union president pointedly asked for the opinion of the GC Counsel in the matter. The GC Counsel’s reply was inconclusive, and the matter remained unresolved.

 

The Great Debate—Whose Opinion Prevails: In these matters, whose opinion prevails?

 

  1. Some point to the General Conference Session vote and argue that the church’s “highest authority” had voted on the issue, and now the lower body is simply dealing with the consequences for those who departed from the established guidance.
  2. Others pointed to “unclear” memoranda from the General Conference administration—on their interpretation of the ordination authority—and then pointedly ignored three General Conference administrators who were present to argue against the union constituencies for taking the step to ordain without regard to gender.
  3. Others have advocated for a separate judicial body such as a Supreme Court with lawyers and theologians to mediate between the General Conference administration and union administrations, over differences of opinion regarding language in the GC Working Policy.[11]

 

The Integrity of Process Questioned: Some have gone as far as to imply fraud or coercion by the General Conference President before the pivotal vote in 2015.[12] Others argue that it is a denial of the process to discredit the “will of the constituents” in deciding who should serve in their region.

 

Unproven Charges: Again, here, the charges against the General Conference president are unproven. And the solutions such as the use of technology during the vote or secret ballot were hotly contested by various world divisions. Can the minority follow, if they have doubts about the process? Will engagement with the process fall in all areas of the world, if some work outside of the process, through unilateral action?

 

Equality and Diversity—Can Both Exist: Can our church tolerate a diversity of opinions on equality? Can we simultaneously hold that women are called of God to serve as pastors and also hold that women are intrinsically barred from serving as pastors?

 

Should we accept a theological method that reads into Scripture cultural definitions for gender equality, which leads us to an unequivocal acceptance of LGBTQ orientations?

 

Use of Singular Needs as Precedent of All: Some say that our church has experienced a diversity of experiences on ordination, and point to our church in China as exhibit A, where women lead the work because men are barred by the government. Others point to other “mature protestant denominations” as a template for an acceptance of more than binary definitions of sex and sexual orientations.

 

Can we be Divided and United Simultaneously: Can a house divided against itself stand? Can we agree to disagree on the most fundamental aspects such as our identity, remnant status, and theological method? Can we be united if we define our mission differently?

 

Can we baptize both those who believe in a recent literal seven-day creation and also those who believe in deep-time theistic evolution? Can we simultaneously hold that the stories of the Bible such as Samson carrying a city gate or killing men while armed with the jawbone of a donkey are true and false?

 

Can we expect our universities and elementary schools to teach our children our faith as we define it? Or should we expect our children to face professors who believe something radically different? Can we exist as a pluralistic denomination?

 

Section III: Proposed Solutions

 

I: Understand the Way We Have Come

 

We need to look back and understand that our present problems today are the result of decades of seemingly innocuous decisions made by others in the past. We cannot undo in a single day, what has taken decades to take root.

 

This is true for both theological differences that arise from different theological methods and for theological factions that exist because of those theological methods. Understanding our past requires us to see how our founders constructed the system of belief.

II: Bring Macro-Hermeneutical Changes

Return to the Sanctuary: There are several aspects to this that we need to do:

  1. We need to revert back to our macro-hermeneutical foundation of the Sanctuary.
  2. We need to build where our pioneers left off and complete the foundation for our faith.
  3. We need our foundation to be based on the historical-temporal reality of God so that we can provide a clear contrast to every system of belief that is in our world today.
  4. We need to embrace the Sola-Tota Scriptura method that articulates Christ through the Sanctuary system.

III: Rebuild Church Representation

Need for Members to Understand the Basics of Theology: From the local church, up, we need to rebuild in our members the sound principles of representation. Our members need to understand how to do basic theology and they need to understand how theologians arrive at their conclusions.

 

Global North Needs to Understand the Rest of the World: The Global North also needs to understand that, while those of us in the United States live in the most diverse country in the world, most countries do not experience such levels of diversity. Instead, they experience diversity in language, and tribal factions, and live in polytheistic religion environments.

Polytheistic: /pälēTHēˈistik/ n. relating to or characterized by the belief that there are multiple gods.

The Need to Engage Global South: Further, we need to engage our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, by 1) educating them, and 2) providing innovative means–such as micro-entrepreneurship—so they too can experience the economic blessings and freedoms that we have here in the Global North.

 

Purging of Corruption Worldwide: The Global South needs to purge from its system the scourge of corruption. If parts of the Global North are guilty of theological corruption, then parts of the Global South are equally guilty in engaging in the sin of personal corruption.

 

Need to be Honest with Numbers: Our data and metrics must reflect reality, not what we think our administrators need to see. Our system of representation is predicated on the principle of honesty, and it hurts the process when the minority Global North sees the Global South “get away” with inflated numbers and large delegations, which are based on fraudulent church record keeping.

IV: Reinvigorate the Local Church

 

Call to Return to the New Testament Model: Our local churches are failing—49 out of every 100 converts leave our church within three years. We need to return to the New Testament model that our pioneers embraced. Ellen White called for mission to the cities which was to be carried out by every means possible, but especially through door-to-door, neighborhood by neighborhood work.

 

The Members—the Real Strength of the Church: She emphasized that the real strength of the local church did not lie with the pastor, but with a laity who depended on God for their sustenance. Despite our theological tensions and inter-structural problems, we must keep our focus on the mission that God has entrusted us. Biblical mission is faithful to the great commission and the Three Angels’ Messages, and involves all three aspects: 1) discipling, 2) baptizing, and 3) training.

 

V: Addressing Theological Factions

 

Theological Factions will Always Exist: Biblical Adventists need to realize that theological factions in the church exist and will exist until Jesus comes. We need to distinguish ourselves from the historical Adventist faction and differentiate ourselves from the Evangelical and Progressive Adventist factions in our denomination.

 

Rebuilding the Church a Long Process: The task of rebuilding the church is a large one, and will possibly take more than the current generation to complete. To ensure that the work continues and that the transmission of our faith to our children and their children’s children is intact, we must embrace the methods that kept the truth alive in the Dark Ages.

 

We Must Train our Children Early: We must adhere to Scripture and emphasize theological training to our children from a young age. From Scripture, we see,

  • Samuel was a young boy when his mother left him with the Priest Eli.
  • Moses was twelve when all of Egypt was opened to him.
  • Daniel was around seventeen when taken to Babylon.
  • Joseph too was of a similar age when he was separated from his family.

 

Thus, our children too, need to know right from wrong before they go to our schools.

 

Our Youth to be Encouraged and Inspired to Reach High: We also need to create in a sense in our young people of the great need to pursue advanced education so that they can take up the reins in all lines of work in and outside the denomination. Our church administration needs to create spaces where biblical Adventism can be allowed to flourish and biblically sound ministerial practices and method experimentation is encouraged.

 

VI: Understand the Role of Scholarship

The Need to All to be Educated: The majority of members in the Global South distrust theological scholarship, because they do not understand how academicians arrive at their conclusions. Our church needs to address the problems that are currently plaguing our schools at all levels in the church.

 

The General Conference has attempted to do so through a theological-mission board. This process must safeguard academic freedom that is consistent with Scripture, while removing the elements that may harm the future of our church.

 

Conclusion—Unity and the Finishing of the Work

 

Autonomy without Theological Oversight Alien to Adventism: Can each region in the world exist without theological accountability from the rest of the world? If we are called to share the gospel in the remote corners of the earth, does the responsibility for the integrity of that gospel cease once there is a local presence?

 

If so, then we should discard or rule out every second book that Apostle Paul wrote to the same geographic region. The idea of autonomy—as suggested by Cottrell—without theological oversight by the world church, is alien to Adventist thought, the New Testament, and much of Scripture’s history.

 

Result of Being Simply Interpretive Communities: If we accept the contention that we exist as “interpretative communities,” with each of us remaking Scripture according to our own image, then we will have ceased to be the people of the Book.

 

Diversity at Hermeneutical Level Affects Mission: Diversity at the hermeneutical level precludes any reason for unified effort or concerted action as put forth by our world organization. It makes sense to rail against any semblance on independent accountability if diversity at the macro-hermeneutical level is your theological method.

 

It makes sense to reject and resist every attempt of having a coherent message, if your method is built on individualistic interpretation, based on a multiple source matrix of authorities over Scripture.

 

All Needed in the Work: God has ordained that every person in our church should participate in the process of the work. The precise roles and levels of participation has been left up to the church to determine from Scripture, yet, the work of God on earth requires the concerted effort of every member. Unity is a pre-condition, not only of Christ’s prayer in John 17, but also to finishing the work of God on earth.

 

The Condition of the Work Finishing: This concept of unity was immortalized by Ellen White when she wrote:

The work of God in this earth can never be finished until the men and women, comprising our church membership rally to the work and unite their efforts with those of ministers and church officers.[13]

It is only when we truly experience the biblically-based unity that Jesus prayed for, that we will be able to sing, “We Have This Hope,” and know that we all believe in the same hope and mission.

Incidentally then, our love for each other will become the greatest tool for witnessing to the world. They will see that Christ has a people on earth, who are living up to the fullest sense of the word: Seventh-day Adventist, who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.

 

______

Notes.

[1] Felipe E. Tan, “Ellen G. White on City Missions,” Journal of Adventist Mission Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1 (2015), p. 113-125.

“A number of studies have been published on Ellen G. White’s writings on city missions: N. C. Ted Wilson, ‘A Study of Ellen G. White’s Theory of Urban Religious Work as It Relates to Seventh-day Adventist Work in New York City,’ PhD dissertation, New York University, 1981; W. A. Westerhout, Science of Metropolitan Medical Missionary Evangelism, 1969, an unpublished manuscript; Lake Union Herald published a cover article, ‘An Appeal to Work in Our Big Cities,’ June-July 2014, 14-19, a compilation of Ellen White’s quotations.” Ibid., p. 123.

[2] In order to understand the historical context, the reader should take into consideration the founding presuppositions of the Seventh-day Adventist church, including the discussions related to the formation of its doctrines, the development of its clergy, the development of the organization of the General Conference, and its sense of a worldwide mission developed from its understanding of the Three Angels’ messages.

With regards to the current women’s ordination debate, the reader should carefully study all the women’s ordination study papers officially submitted to and accepted by the General Conference from the 1970s to 2014 as well as Scripture itself.

For a further, deeper study, regarding the constitutional issues, the reader should read the Union constituency meeting transcripts—from the Pacific Union Conference and the Columbia Union Conference—leading up to the vote in 2015, available Annual Council and General Conference Administration Actions timelines covering 129 years of committees and studies, transcripts from GC Sessions 1990, 1995, 2010, and 2015, and the two doctoral dissertations which cover the James White and the Development of Seventh-day Adventist Organization, 1844-1881, and the Principles for Reorganization of the Seventh-day Adventist Administrative Structure, 1888-1903, as well as examine Ellen White’s statements regarding the authority of the General Conference in Session. It would be impossible of course to chart every twist and turn of history, however, the reader is encouraged to access all the documents listed here and read them at leisure and compare what they find with the series produced here. For the greatest return on investment, I highly recommend the two dissertations listed above (and others I cite in the series), and the theology of ordination study papers from 1973-2014. Additionally, you can visit Intelligent Adventist to see a discussion on the constitutional issues between the General Conference and the Unions.

[3] George Knight, “The Role of Unions in Relation to Higher Authorities,” Spectrum Magazine, March 11, 2016; emphasis added.

[4] Secretariat, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, “A Study of Church Governance and Unity,” September 2016, p. 41; emphasis added.

[5] For Canale’s work on this issue please see the following:

  1. Fernando Canale, “From Vision to System: Finishing the Task of Adventist Theology Part I: Historical Review,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 15/2 (Autumn 2004).
  2. Fernando Canale, “From Vision to System: Finishing the Task of Adventist Biblical and Systematic Theologies—Part II,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 16/1–2 (2005).
  3. Fernando Canale, “From Vision to System: Finishing the Task of Adventist Theology Part III Sanctuary and Hermeneutics,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 17/2 (Autumn 2006).
  4. Fernando Canale, “Vision and Mission–Part 1: Historical and Methodological Background,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 26/2 (2015).
  5. Fernando Canale, “Vision and Mission–Part 2: Christ, Spirituality, and the Emerging Remnant Church,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 27/1-2 (2016).

[6] For Cottrell’s Paper on the role of Hermeneutics in producing Unity in the Church please see: Raymond F. Cottrell, “The Role of Biblical Hermeneutics in Preserving Unity in The Church,” March 12, 1996.

[7] Raymond F. Cottrell, “The Role of Biblical Hermeneutics in Preserving Unity in the Church,” March 12, 1996, p. 1.

[8] Ibid., p. 2.

[9] You can watch a brief “Herstory” looking back at the event. See, “Ordination Herstories: Kendra Haloviak Valentine and Norma Osborn,” Spectrum Magazine.

[10] The church asked each division to produce a report of their deliberations regarding the ordination issue. Each division issued their report, with varying degrees in quality of theological, systematic, exegetical, and historical analysis.

[11] See Mitchell Tyner, “How Civil Law Has Influenced SDA Governance,” La Sierra University. See also, “Adventist Society for Religious Studies Provides Rich Investigation of Ecclesiology,” Spectrum Magazine.

[12] See Dr. George Knight, “The Role of Unions in Relation to Higher Authorities,” Spectrum Magazine, March 11, 2016.

[13] Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9 (Nampa ID: Pacific Press, 1909), p. 117.

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Adrian Zahid is a recent survivor of advanced-stage cancer, he is trying to make the most of the second lease on life that God has given him. He is the co-founder of Intelligent Adventist and in his free time enjoys helping nonprofits be sustainable and the Seventh-day Adventist Church succeed in fulfilling the Great Commission.