I watched an amazing video Friday, September 22. First I thought it was simply a widely-known writer on Adventist history parodying himself. Wrapping himself in Martin Luther's bathrobe, he along with a cohort of supporters appear on the platform of the PUC church in an attempt to advance their agenda of ordaining women to the gospel ministry. Extremely serious and entirely unsubstantiated charges are presented undermining the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist world church.
The video offers numerous errors and half-truths, most I do not here address. Still, let's consider a few brief observations.
In the video, the well-known writer says that the only basis for Christian unity is Scripture, trust, and the love of God. Something is conspicuously absent from this formula: truth. Are the Scriptures primary and authoritative? How would we know who to trust and who has the love of God? Only by rightly interpreting the Bible. You see, unity is not possible without truth. This Luther wants a unity based on other things.
The video makes the claim that non-compliant Unions in the NAD are not out of harmony with the Bible. It is also claimed that women's ordination is not a doctrinal issue. But the Unions are out of harmony, and it is a doctrinal issue. Unity is agreed by Seventh-day Adventists to be a biblical, doctrinal issue. Fundamental Belief #14 states:
The church is one body with many members, called from every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. In Christ we are a new creation; distinctions of race, culture, learning, and nationality, and differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us. We are all equal in Christ, who by one Spirit has bonded us into one fellowship with Him and with one another; we are to serve and be served without partiality or reservation. Through the revelation of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures we share the same faith and hope, and reach out in one witness to all. This unity has its source in the oneness of the Triune God, who has adopted us as His children (Rom. 12:4, 5; 1 Cor. 12:12-14; Matt. 28:19, 20; Ps. 133:1; 2 Cor. 5:16, 17; Acts 17:26, 27; Gal. 3:27, 29; Col. 3:10-15; Eph. 4:14-16; 4:1-6; John 17:20-23).
The Church in its statement of belief recognizes that there are differences between male and female. Those differences are not to be divisive. Every elder in the Bible is male. That's a difference! The world Church, through its delegates, has refused to ordain women to the gospel ministry. To maintain the unbiblical practice of ordaining women to the gospel ministry in the face of repeated General Conference Session decisions, creates division.
The non-compliant Unions are out of harmony with the Bible because these Unions are denying the biblical truth that the Church is one body and God's design is that she share one united faith and hope. Three NAD Unions are acting against that design with wrong practices on ordaining and commissioning ministers. They are out of harmony with Scripture.
Another claim is set forth in the video: That recent General Conference documents and procedures do not reflect faithfulness to the Bible's teaching in Matthew 18 and Acts 15. No serious evidence is cited; just this raw assertion. The issue here is not private trespass, but public opposition. The most representative decision-making body of the world church (the General Conference in session) has made similar decisions three times. But these proponents of women's ordination are so attached to their doctrine that they thrust aside the Acts 15 model. This we cannot do. Consider what Ellen White says of the Acts 15 model:
The broad and far-reaching decisions of the general council brought confidence into the ranks of the Gentile believers, and the cause of God prospered. . . .The greater the responsibilities placed upon the human agent, and the larger the opportunities to dictate and control, the more harm he is sure to do if he does not carefully follow the way of the Lord and labor in harmony with the decisions arrived at by the general body of believers in united council (Ellen G. White, Acts of the Apostles, pp. 197, 199).
This our General Conference leaders are doing. They are laboring in harmony with the decisions arrived at in the San Antonio vote. This the leaders of the Unions and Conferences which make up the pro-women's ordination faction are not doing.
But those are not the video's most bizarre charges.
It is claimed in the video that "Crucial information including the recommendations of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee [TOSC], was not shared with the delegates at the General Conference session in 2015." Supposedly "data was suppressed and there was manipulation of events surrounding the voting process." And, because of this, "it is not credible to suggest that the 2015 vote on the issue related to women's ordination indicated the voice of God."
Actually, the General Conference made the TOSC material available in a timely manner to every delegate in print and electronic form. On March 4, 2015, four months before the session, every delegate was sent an email with a link to e-copies of all the TOSC documents. Another link was included via which delegates could request the TOSC documents in hardcopy form. The documents were also made available publicly on the General Conference's ASTR website. There was no suppression of the TOSC reports.
What about voting irregularities? The vote was conducted using the most minimally manipulable means--old fashioned paper ballots--meticulously counted with cameras rolling and the Church looking on. Had there been manipulation of the voting process, we can be certain the women's ordination faction would have produced evidence and pressed claim that the vote was invalidated. Offering wild charges now, absent any shred of evidence, is irresponsible. It is an attempt to undermine.
Equally absurd is the video's claim that our denomination is tipping toward a Roman Catholic approach to authority. To permit Conference and Union leaders to usurp the authority of the world church--that would be popery.
But the most outrageous argument of all is that "The current atmosphere of confrontation in Adventism has not been brought about by the Unions, but by the General Conference leadership and its non-biblical and manipulative tactics."
The Union presidents participated in the vote. Indeed, a GC session is essentially a business meeting of Unions. At every step, the process of seeking unity and consensus has been taken together by Union, Division, and General Conference leaders. In the Adventist Church, authority comes from the bottom-up, not the top-down. The GC leadership is tasked with the duty and responsibility of carrying out the will of the world church. When the GC carries out the authority of the collective voice of the world church, it sustains this bottom-up ecclesiology--it sustains the decision of the delegates of the world body.
The Adventist process of studying, discerning, gathering, voting, is the antithesis of Catholicism, which locates all four under the Pope's beanie.
The video concludes with a call for Unions to "stand together" in opposition to the will of the world church expressed through its delegates in GC session. It is claimed that if the Unions do not resist, the Unions will be systematically subdued by the General Conference. The video places the GC in the role of the Nazis. Hard to believe? Watch the video.
Our would-be Luther, in blue Hawaiian shirt, finally suggests that to reject the world church vote is to "obey God rather than men."
The truth is just the opposite.
In our GC sessions, God has worked through and for His people. Decisions were made at this highest level (1990, 1995, 2015) that, in essence, were No, No, and No. To disregard these decisions is to obey men rather than God. God's Church has authority. One cannot take a case to the Supreme Court three times, receive the same answer each time, and then say, "We don't accept the authority of the Supreme Court."
In 1972 Arthur White and Robert Pierson were discussing vexing matters of their era. White made a remarkably interesting observation:
With these things in mind, I cannot accept any movement that I have seen up to the present time as constituting the omega. When the omega does come, I shall expect to see something similar to the work of Dr. Kellogg and his associates when they labored so earnestly to undermine the confidence of all our people in the leadership of the General Conference.
As the clock ticks down toward start of Annual Council 2017 (October 5-11), the pro-women's ordination faction is making financial threats and uttering dire warnings of division and litigation. At the receiving end of this blistering attack is the leadership of the General Conference. All of the fear, uncertainty, and doubt these persons can muster will be brought to bear precisely against those laborers who are standing at the head of the work, who dare to uphold the long-standing principle of Adventist church governance, and who resist the women's ordination faction.
The history writer is no Martin Luther, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church is no Papacy.
It is my expectation that the General Conference Executive Committee members are able to tell true Luthers from false, and that they will stand for the Bible against the erratic tales of air-conditioned West-coast friars.
Let us obey God rather than men and stand in support of the world church. "It is time for Thee, Lord, to work, for they have made void Thy law" (Psalm 119:126).
Larry is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor in the Pacific Northwest.