Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Threefold Deception

The Devil's Divide and Conquer Strategy for Taking Down the SDA Church

Every issue of the Adventist Review of late seems to have an article about church unity lately. Either that or they are advertising another conference to talk about church unity. To an outside observer the Adventist church would appear to have a unity problem. Already observers in the religious community are gleefully predicting that Adventism will fracture into two or even three factions. I've heard numbers as high as five groups.

I'm not going to dignify that bit of wishful thinking with an answer. Are we having a unity problem. Well, duh!  What organization of people doesn't face "unity" problems. Adventism has had unity problems from it's founding. The church is, itself, and offshoot of the Millerite movement of the early 1800s. We fought to achieve unity through Bible study conferences and with the guidance of God's messenger throughout our formative years.

We faced our first unity crisis in the years between 1888 and 1903 when the message of righteousness by faith was emphasized at the 1888 General Conference. Ellen and James White supported the message as coming from God. Then GC president G.I. Butler, however, resisted the emphasis, believing that emphasizing the law was the correct approach to evangelism. He manipulated the 1888 conference so as to suppress the righteousness by faith message. Sister White was harsh in her criticism of the GC administration warning Butler and his successors against attempting to wield the power of kings and princes over the little flock.  The General Conference asked her to go to Australia as a missionary.

It's interesting that Sister White prayed about the call and never could get an answer from God one way or another. Despite her age, she accepted the call and wound up spending nearly a decade in the land down under, far from the General Conference and it's operations much to their relief. But when she returned, she returned in full voice. At the 1903 General Conference she came out in support of creating Union Conference as a way to decentralize church authority. At one point in the lead up to the conference she publicly stated that she no longer had confidence that the General Conference spoke as the voice of God to the church.

The measure carried in 1903 and the GC administration was placed in a much less powerful position. The new principle from 1903 on was "unity in diversity" and authority was distributed to the unions that had belonged to the GC administration.  The GC has long been uncomfortable operating in that fashion and has steadily attempted to regain some of it's power over the past century. Since the Union Conferences were responsible to the local conferences, the GC created divisions which report to the GC. The GC Working Policy attempted to restore power to Silver Springs. In the San Antonio Conference we saw a repeat of the 1888 General Conference with the proceedings being manipulated to achieve an outcome with which the GC administration was comfortable. More authority was transferred back to the GC. Since San Antonio, we've had a Unity Conference at which retired SDA historian George Knight delivered his memorable paper on church authority and which closed with the issue of unity still not resolved to GC president Ted Wilson's satisfaction. More unity meetings have followed to little effect.

The Devil has initiated a three prong attack on the church designed to divide the faithful.

1. The Orthodox SDA Position
- This group opposes women's ordination and firmly believes the position is Biblical.

2. The Liberal SDA Position - This group thinks the last three SDA Bible Conferences on women's ordination were correct and that women's ordination is not against the teaching of the Bible.

3. The GC Administration Position - This group sees the needs to centralize authority in the General Conference administration in order to maintain church unity.
There is a way to bring the church back to a powerful unity in diversity as was intended and approved by the 1903 GC and Ellen White. 

1.  We need to return authority to local churches, local conferences and union conferences. This will give the church body greater flexibility to address both problems and opportunities. Centralized authority creates an organization that is easier to behead. We are approaching a time when the church will need to be able to operate without a General Conference administration. We need to learn how to do that.

2.  We should redefine the role of the pastor. In the early church, pastors were local elders, chosen by the church and responsible for teaching and with deacons and elders whose job it was to take care of their little flocks.  We call our pastors "elders" for a reason. They might be lay pastors trained to handle administrative issues and to care for their congregations. This can even be a job done by a team of local members. In fact, if you want a fully engaged congregation, what better way than to leave them in charge of their own affairs.

3. We should use our trained ministers the way the apostles were used in the beginning.
They should travel and preach and train the local church pastoral teachers. They might cover a large area of churches and provide guidance and expertise. Our ministers spend too much time sitting in on board meetings and handling the payment of the electric bills.

We need to restructure our system to promote greater autonomy, not less. If a local church wants a woman pastor/teacher, let them choose one. The traveling ministers can travel to churches and preach the word. Let the local pastor/teacher act as administrator. Actually, that could be the job of the head elder. Let our ministers train them in their duties and support them when they need it.

We are to be evangelizing the world in these last days, not squabbling among ourselves about who is permitted to do what. Let God call those to ministry, to deaconship, to church elder, church secretary, music ministry, or youth ministry who He wants to call.

We should be looking to God to lead our local congregations anyway instead of relying on a new pastor every five years. We need to be planting churches and engaging new generations of young people in the ministry of the church. Instead of settled pastors, why not visiting apostles and strong local congregations.

Some worry that local churches with too much authority to care for themselves, might go off the rails. That's when the minister/apostles could step in and provide guidance. Then, when the threefold union is fully accomplished and the church faces persecution, our strong independent churches will be ready to survive, even as authorities seek to take our larger church organization down.

Our leaders will have to trust that God will take care of his church and protect her from evil. It's tempting to think that you personally are holding the church together if you're one of the top guys. We had a prominent church leader throw a temper tantrum in the hall, when he was replaced about thirty years ago. He loudly complained about the church's disloyalty and predicted that things would fall apart without him. He even acted like a recent US president and immediately began to undermine his successor. It was an unworthy exhibition and one I'm sure Sister White would have had a stern message for that leader.

It takes courage for leaders who have worked their way to the top for years to let go of their new-found power and trust the members. Unity through diversity frightens people who believe in strong central authority. They forget that we do have a strong central authority. God our Father is the head of the church. Everyone else serves the church. We need to give up our kings and princes and return to the simpler style of governance that God keeps showing to us - in early Israel and in the early Christian Church.

© 2018 by Tom King


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