November 5 Business Session
On Tuesday afternoon, the NAD Executive Committee briefly discussed an important statement on Confidence in the Writings of Ellen White voted by the GC Annual Council, which includes the following paragraph:
We believe that the writings of Ellen White were inspired by the Holy Spirit and are Christ-centered and Bible-based. Rather than replacing the Bible, they uplift the normative character of Scripture and correct inaccurate interpretations imposed upon it. They also help us to overcome the human tendency to accept from the Bible what we like and distort or disregard what we do not like.
Alex Bryant clarified that this is a GC statement the NAD is not voting up or down but is voting to receive it as part of the GC report of voted actions at the Annual Council. Nevertheless, several comments indicated discomfort with the statement:
Stewart Pepper, Pastor, Pennsylvania Conference, raised the question of whether this statement says,
that we interpret the Bible based on Ellen White, or does it say that we interpret Ellen White based on the Bible?… I am a big proponent of Ellen White but I want to make sure that we keep it in the right order, and this statement seems to be almost intentionally ambiguous to me.
Darrell Lindensmith, Pastor, Dakota Conference, expressed his discomfort with the wording of the statement due to its inherent contradiction.
The way it reads it’s pretty clear that we are using the Spirit of Prophecy to interpret the Bible, and therefore making the Spirit of Prophecy not only equal but above, and I personally would never support this statement.
Ed Keyes, Arizona Conference President, noted that if he had seen a statement like this before joining the church, he would have read it as affirming the widespread misunderstanding that the Seventh-day Adventists interpret the Bible based on Ellen White.
Ron Carlson, Kansas-Nebraska Conference President:
I wish we had an opportunity to … at least send a message to the General Conference of whether we have concerns or not…. This is going to the General Conference session and I guess I’m uncomfortable just simply saying we ‘receive’ it, as though we’re implying … that we’re comfortable…. I know that we will say that we don’t and we will read that statement and say, ‘No, we do not…’ but the very fact that it says that it is to correct misinterpretation, that means it is the final say, …it is to give the right interpretation. … As Adventists, we believe the Bible interprets the Bible. That’s been our statement from the beginning…. This [statement] is saying… [that] Ellen White interprets the Bible … and I wish there was a way for this body to express at least concern.
Alex Bryant indicated he can revise the motion to say that “we receive the report and note the concern on the floor that they review this particular statement for further consideration.” It was also mentioned that the division is willing to receive suggested wording for revision and pass it on to the General Conference before the 2020 session.
The motion to receive the report with the noted concern carried.
Some conversation was also raised in regards to use of tithe transparency, education, and restructuring.
Randy Roberts, Loma Linda University Pastor and NAD Member of the Executive Committee, spoke about the current generation’s attitude and perspective on giving.
It appears that many young givers don’t want to give to some large fund where they’re not sure how all that’s managed… they tend to give much more to projects … where they can see results quickly. … That touches us profoundly in one area, and that is, where money actually goes when it’s given at the local congregation. I get a significant amount of push back as I listen to young adults in our community when they think it’s just going to support a structure, and when this theme comes up there are frequent and sometime pretty feisty conversations about not just continuing to feed a structure, and questions like…. What are we doing to remove it from being so top-heavy?… I think those are really important questions and they are becoming increasingly important not only to young adults, but to everyone… in our churches, who are asking, ‘what can we do to keep more money locally, [that is…] local churches?’ I think those are questions that deeply need to be wrestled with, and not just go to committees, because committees, too often, are where good ideas go to die. I’m talking about something that will come out of and give promise to people in our pews that something is indeed happening.
Randy Robertson, NAD Treasurer, resonated with the comment.
If there is a financial issue I lose sleep about, it’s that one. … We have not figured out how to tell the story that when I return one tithe dollar in my local church offering plate, it touches everywhere in the world church.
Furthermore, the way we describe the use of money needs to be simplified for everyone to be able to understand this otherwise complex process, said Robertson.
Tracy Wood, NAD Youth and Young Adult Ministries Director, emphasized our need for young adult representation on committees dealing with these issues.
Paul Musafili, Union Treasurer/Chief Financial Officer SDACC, noted that the flow of money is not only up, but also down, benefitting places without SDA presence or with a smaller SDA presence. He made a motion to recommended our local conferences and churches to educate their members so that they understand that “the money does not feed the system but help to expand the mission of the church.” Along similar lines, another attendee suggested that IT could be involved in tracking down the money spent.
Bonita Shields, NAD Vice President for Ministries, indicated that this process of “illustrat[ing] the journey of tithe” has been started but not completed given the complexity of the process. She reiterated the value and need for clarifying the money flow to local members.
Randy Roberts appreciated the comments in support of transparency and education but clarified that his deeper concern is with the need for change in the structure.
For the future of our church we need to be seriously looking at how to streamline and how to keep ministry funded at the local level, because that’s where so much of it happens.
Dan Jackson concurred, stating:
I think it would be a tragedy if we face the General Conference in 2025 and the North American Division still looks like it does today… It’s good to be able to explain how we spend the funds, but it would be mandatory in the future that we show how we’ve reallocated the funds in order to satisfy our need to be able to minister, digitally and otherwise, to a world in need.
Jackson also noted that tithe parity would only bring a minor financial advantage comparing to gains that could be had in other ways. As an example, he mentioned that studies point to a ±$55,000,000 saving within the division, should the treasury departments be merged.
The motion carried.
Alvin Kibble, NAD Vice President, made a motion that we establish stewardship education at the Seminary level so that graduating pastors can understand the flow of funds and subsequently be able to educate their congregations.
The motion carried.