|Ted Wilson - GC President|
During the 1903 General Conference, Ellen White noted that angels walked the aisles during the meeting which changed the structure of the church organization, divesting power to the new local union conferences that had been held closely in the hands of the General Conference administrators. Many SDA theologians, pastors, leaders and members had hoped a "yes" vote would signal a further decentralization of the church's command structure. Sadly, it didn't happen that way.
The recent vote not to allow local unions and conferences to decide whether or not to ordain woman who are already working in the ministry came up a not-so-resounding "no" when the votes were counted. The vote seems to affirm that decision-making power is to remain in the hands of a few "key" leaders for the time being.
In Elder Wilson's first inaugural address, he promised a return to traditional Adventism under his administration. I have to admit, that gave me a little shudder. Having grown up in a small SDA college town, my memories of "traditional" Adventism boil down to the night I found myself praying that God would help me remember every sin I committed because after the day's camp meeting sermon, I was convinced that if I forgot something I would be lost. I was 12. The next day I became an agnostic and when the church's baptizing lady came around, I turned her down despite haveing scored 100% on all my Bible Study lessons.
A round of blogs and Facebook posts in the wake of the GC vote have reiterated that we must remain loyal to our church and to Christ. I fully expect to see another round of sermons in the months ahead on the subject of the proper attitude of members toward ecclesiastical "authority" like the one we saw after the Atlanta GC when the delegates were sharply divided over the election of the new president. I remember after that meeting our pastor gave a sermon that was very different from his usual style which reminded us of the authority of the church hierarchy and of our obligation to obey it and not cause trouble.
This concept of ascending levels of authority is a feature of something called the headship doctrine. The headship doctrine is espoused by some leading SDA theologians and challenged by others. It is not the purpose of this post to debate the idea that God has layered his children in ascending ranks. The late George Chudleigh wrote a fascinating ebook on the subject that can be downloaded at this link.
Despite our differences, I think the church will hold together. One thing we need to do, however, is focus on strengthening our home churches. Every day we see new signs of an approaching storm. We cannot become too dependent on proclamations from on high to lead our families and our churches aright. We need men and women who will stand for the right though the heavens fall; who will grow where they are planted so to speak. Should the few at the top go astray, we should not fall with them. The more authority in the hands of the few, the more danger to the church.
This paragraph appeared in the NAD News Notes about the ordination vote:
"This vote does not determine whether or not women can serve as ministers. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has already decided that women may serve as credentialed ministers. As several delegates pointed out during floor speeches (including special guest former GC president Jan Paulsen), this vote was not about whether female pastors should be ordained, but who should decide whether or not to ordain them."
And there's the point right there. On one side you have the folk like Ng and Paulsen, who do NOT oppose decentralizing power and on the other side the Neil/Ted Wilson group that does. I'm just saying out loud what was whispered around San Antonio and all over the Adventist World. We could have moved further toward the 1903 GC decentralization movement had we voted "yes". Women are serving as credentialed ministers and that's been allowed a long time. The only issue at play here was who decides whether they can be ordained or not. We can live with unordained female ministers if the church pay them fairly (Merikay Silver forced the church to deal with that issue nearly 40 years ago).
My opinion is that the local conferences should have been able to decide for themselves. This was clearly a procedural and not a theological issue. Even the "no" voters will grudgingly admit that. The issue was essentially whether we operate as a more congregationalist style organization with power divested to the local level or a more hierarchical Vatican-Style organization with power concentrated at the top.
Me? I prefer the congregational style organization. It's harder to kill a decentralized organization by striking off its head. It's time for congregations to own their own churches. Do you realize that if the law goes after the church, most local congregations could lose the buildings they meet in because the individual churches own nothing. The larger church owns it all ultimately. The final battle will be guerrilla warfare after all. When the forces of evil try to shut us down, the first thing they hit will be our church properties. We will need to be ready to find new places to meet and new ways to do our ministries.
For now, little really changes due to the ordination vote, other than a lot of ruffled feelings among those who sought the change and the reaffirmation of GC central authority. For now we Adventist men should stand in the breach and be prepared to defend the faith. The Army of the Lord has a fight before it. I prefer we adopt the American style military organization, where the commanders in the field have greater leeway in making battlefield decisions. I fear the church is going with a more top-down decision making process (reminiscent of German and Soviet military command structures where knocking off a general creates a massive decision-making vacuum in all the forces he commands).
That said, the church is still the church and with prayer and courage, we must stand in our place in the line and do our duty. The sisters who stand next to us in that line may not wear the stripes of ordination, but that does not mean God has not called them as he called Deborah and Esther and Ellen to take their places on the front lines; even, sometimes, as leaders. If they are ever to be ordained to take those places of leadership, however, it will have to wait for the blessing of Ted Wilson and crew.
In the meantime, prayers are ascending as the time grows closer.
(c) 2015 by Tom King