- What is AC?
- Who goes to AC?
- What happens at AC?
- The Present Issue of Disobedience
- The Proposed Action
- October 9 Business Session
- What Next?
I promised that upon my return, I would give a report on Annual Council 2017. We will make this a special opportunity to learn about our Church. We are members of a global body of believers in Jesus. We are part of the body of Christ, bringing a hope-filled message of salvation through Jesus in over 200 countries. To engage successfully in this mission, thorough organization is essential. Few religious bodies dare attempt anything remotely like your Church is doing, not in theory but in fact!
2. What is AC?
You know how your local church works: every member is a constituent and has voting rights. We hold church business meetings maybe once a year in which every member can vote. It would be clumsy to do this very often, and so officers are elected to function as a decision-making body called the church board. It meets once a month and acts to advance the work of the local church.
Think of the world church as a global version of this arrangement. A General Conference session is like having a business meeting for the entire Adventist Church. We hold those meetings every five years.
Between General Conference Sessions, a smaller body, the Executive Committee, acts. The denomination holds an Annual Council, a much smaller meeting. It is like a church board meeting for the entire denomination. In between General Conference sessions, the Executive Committee leads the Church.
3. Who Goes to AC?
Who goes to Annual Council? The top General Conference officers, like the president, secretary, and treasurer, along with several GC department heads, a fairly small group of laypeople selected by the GC, along with all the Division presidents and the president of every SDA Union worldwide. For example, 298 votes were cast in the decision made on Monday. When an Annual Council meeting is held in the United States, all 59 NAD Conference presidents are also able to attend. On the floor, they have voice but not vote. Additionally there is space for a small group of people attending as the "Press." Usually each press organization gets a maximum of two slots. Months ago, a friend of mine, Pr. Rich Constantinescu, urged me to consider attending this year's Annual Council as he had done last year. Eventually an arrangement was made in which I would attend as an observer for the website Fulcrum7.com. My task was to observe, think, and write informative articles.
4. What happens at AC?
Annual Council elects officers as needed between GC sessions. It processes proposed modifications to the Church Manual, to the Constitution, and to Working Policy. The Church is continually expanding and growing Unions must be broken up into multiple Unions. It takes serious energy to organize and remain organized. New soul-winning programs are explained and rolled out. And, when problems need action, it is the task of the Council to act to solve them. There are numerous hours of sitting through meetings, some occasional group discussions, and business sessions conducted according to parliamentary procedure.
For example, the first few days were filled with thrilling mission stories and the Total Member Involvement emphasis. I'd like to share a few bits on this and other things we were given.
- TMI/Mission to the Cities
- Almost a million Adventists in Zimbabwe (created three new unions out of one)
- Adventism 911
5. The Present Issue
In 2015 the General Conference in Session voted not to permit Divisions, and by extension their constituent subunits, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry. That is, the representative delegates of the world body came together and engaged in a Spirit-led, democratic, representative process, debated, discerned, and voted an answer to that question that is binding upon the entire world church. They voted No.
Since that decision has been made, the North American and Trans-European Divisions have broken faith with the world church on this question, and some of their Unions are presently engaging in the ordination of women and other credentialing irregularities destructive to the unity of the world church.
At Annual Council 2016 the GC Executive Committee voted to engage in a process that would give the units which are acting in disregard for the world church until AC2018 to come into harmony with the world church. If those units refused to fulfill their obligations, this year's meeting was authorized to enact disciplinary action. As it turns out, neither NAD nor TED leaders have chosen to fulfill their obligations to their world church and some of their Unions and Conferences continue in present disobedience. I don't know of any disobedient units that have turned back. Since there has been no correction to the behavior, it was anticipated that this year the Executive Committee would act in correction.
6. The Proposed Solution
A plan was developed in subcommittee and proposed for action by the General Conference Executive Committee. It was a very measured approach that would have offered disobedient units an additional year to correct their practice. If that did not happen, church leaders would be required to sign a statement that they would act in harmony with the voted actions of the world church. Refusal to sign would automatically remove their voice and vote at the General Conference Executive Committee. Remaining as committee members, having disregarded the authority of the world church, their authority to vote would be removed. Their intentional choice to disregard the vote of the Church would be addressed in kind, and the world church would refuse to regard their vote. This solution had a remarkable "fairness" to it! While avoiding energy and momentum-consuming action, it provided substantial consequences, made opportunity for the disobedient to repent, and protected the Church from their acting out additional dangerous decisions.
7. October 9 Business Meeting Session
So what happened on October 9? I have no doubt some who engaged in debate had honest reservations with the proposed plan and no malevolent purpose.
But those familiar with the train of events to this point knew exactly what the disobedient leaders would do. Their behavior at last year's Annual Council lingers in memory. They would do their utmost to introduce fear, uncertainty, and doubt. They would take every opportunity to complicate, amend, run out the clock, misrepresent, confuse the actual issues, and avoid accountability. Maybe, just maybe, they would succeed somehow in staving off accountability.
From the first minute they did exactly this. We won't spend time working our way through the details.
In the end, the discipline proposal was sent to committee for another year. It was not God's purpose for this proposal to be enacted at this time. A few points of interest:
- The AC2017 proposed disciplinary approach was not written by the president; it was the product of a committee.
- There are members on the highest committees who are themselves part of the pro-women's ordination faction who leaked key documents and vote counts to undermine fair process and damage the influence of the president. This behavior leaves him few good options. He can give the document out ahead of time and persons not acting in good faith will pick it to pieces and more easily sidetrack it through parliamentary procedure, or, he can withhold the document until the last minute attempting to prevent leaks, but then be assailed for being non-transparent.
- I believe that God has worked providentially so that more will be revealed about the spirit behind the disobedience, and a better path will present itself for resolving the situation.
- Writers from those "Adventist" entities which habitually attack the Church and its beliefs called for pity for we who oppose women's ordination because we thought the devil had led in the meeting rather than the Holy Spirit and we were "grieving" at the outcome. None of us were grieving. We were saddened that the disobedient who are actively working in a way that undermines the unity of God's Church had escaped accountability for another year. But none of us thought that the devil had led in the vote. We believe and accept that the Holy Spirit was working and that God will be ultimately glorified at the result. He is guiding His Church and in His way, in His time, He will recover souls at present far from Him, or else triumph over those who are rejecting His work on earth.
9. What Next?
The larger issue remains. My last point will be to illustrate the larger issues by sharing a comment posted last night as part of a reaction to Gerry Wagoner's AC2017 wrap-up article titled, "A Surgeon Must Cut to Heal." The author of the comment, without using the phrase, embraces the idea that everything in the Bible is culturally-conditioned, the view that everything in the Bible is tainted because it is infused with human opinion; that nothing there is an actual trustworthy revelation from God. Because even the Bible is a mixture human opinions mingled with divine ones maybe, it is valid for humans to approach the Bible with deep skepticism and to deconstruct and reconstruct its message ourselves.
Each one of us is infused with culture; we don’t receive a direct, pure, dose of 'truth' that somehow is not a part of the world around us. This means that our views on the proper roles of men and women, no matter how 'liberal/progressive' or 'conservative/traditional,' are reactions to human nature and cultural forces. To accuse WO supporters of being influenced by 'culture' is only to deny the cultural forces that affect WO opponents, as well. Seeking the headship of Jesus, rather than the false dichotomy of male headship or female headship, is countercultural. The miracle, to me, of the incarnation of Jesus, is that He came to our world, and entered into a specific culture, to challenge human culture, to show God to us.
But the thoughts he offers are a dangerous mixture of truth and error:
- "Each one of us is infused with culture" :: True. We certainly come to God already deeply infused with culture.
- "We don't receive a direct, pure, dose of truth that somehow is not a part of the world around us" :: False. Via the Word of God ("Thy Word is very pure" Psalm 119:140) and the work of the Holy Spirit, God is able to bring untainted truth to us.
- "This means that our views on the proper roles of men and women, no matter how 'liberal/progressive' or 'conservative/traditional,' are reactions to human nature and cultural forces" :: False. That is, our reactions need not be merely culturally-conditioned reactions to culturally-conditioned error. God is able to bring to us factually correct understandings of reality to which we can respond in actual fealty to God and obedience empowered by His righteousness.
- "To accuse WO supporters of being influenced by 'culture' is only to deny the cultural forces that affect WO opponents, as well" :: False. We are all influenced by culture, but the comment writer infers that there is no override to culture, that neither God's Word or Spirit operates in a strong enough way to correct for cultural-conditioning.
- "Seeking the headship of Jesus, rather than the false dichotomy of male headship or female headship, is countercultural" :: False. Jesus' place as Head over His church does not eradicate the headship He designed into His creation and that He assigned as a responsibility to both males and females to recognize and live by. God's plan is counter-cultural, but counter-cultural to the secular extreme equalitarian position that denies God-designed sex-specific roles and realities.
- "The miracle, to me, of the incarnation of Jesus, is that He came to our world, and entered into a specific culture, to challenge human culture, to show God to us" :: True. Jesus came and entered this world and lived truth. He challenges selfishness as manifested in any and every culture, and shows God to us. But Jesus is not Himself somehow captive to culture, somehow unable to transcend human cultural influences. He is able to do that very thing!
The larger issue is that in order to operate consistently with their commitment to extreme equalitarianism, to proponents of women's ordination demand that Scripture be viewed as culturally-conditioned. This reduces everything in the Bible to tainted human opinion and makes the word of God of no effect. It strips away the power of God's Word and leaves us completely in hopeless captivity to culture.
So you see, everything is at stake here, the whole Christian worldview, lock, stock, and barrel, because it is all divinely revealed via Scripture.
The Church is much more than one issue, and there is much for us to do, corporately and individually. As part of the world church I urge you to become more involved in personal spiritual growth opportunities, and in working for souls. Laboring for the hearts of others helps our hearts come into oneness with the heart of Jesus.
On the main issue at Annual Council, no longer really women's ordination, but disunity and non-compliance, God will have His way. There will, I expect, be a much better solution that will be simpler, faster, stronger, more effective, and more helpful to the Church than the one presented on Monday would have been. We can see the gravity of the situation and refuse to be disheartened.
Chewelah WA 2017-10-14