The Rest Of The Story; Harold Butler's Thoughts On Annual Council

I am a lay member of the General Conference Executive Committee.

A few weeks ago, there was a video of me giving a speech at the October General Conference Annual Council meetings in Battle Creek, Michigan. The video was posted on the Fulcrum 7 website. All of the speeches given that day, for or against the particular agenda item being discussed, were limited to two minutes. It was obvious to most, that my speech was cut short by that time limitation. Some wondered what I had left unsaid.  I will review my speech, finish what I had planned to say, and share a few thoughts and quotations along the way.

 Let me start by stating the underlying issue for my speech; The God given authority of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Please consider what the Bible and Mrs. White have to say on this subject.

In Mathew 16 Jesus is speaking to Peter about how He Himself is the foundation of the Church, and whatever His Church binds on earth will be bound in heaven. Jesus not only gives authority to His Church to make decisions, but also honors those decisions.  Consider these E G White quotations

“God has made His church a channel of light, and through it He communicated His purposes and His will. He does not give one an experience independent of the church. He does not give one man a knowledge of His will for the entire church, while the church, Christ’s body, is left in darkness.” Testimonies for the Church Vol. 3, p 414. 

Continuing on P. 417,

“when you think you know more than those whom God has been leading for years, and whom He has been instructing in the truth and fitting for the extension of His work, you are self-exalted and will fall into temptation...God has invested His church with special authority and power which no one can be justified in disregarding and despising, for in so doing he despises the voice of God.”  

“The world’s Redeemer has invested great power with His Church...the heavenly authority ratifies the discipline of the church in regards to its members when the Bible rule has been followed. The word of God does not give license for one man to set up his judgment in opposition to the judgment of the church, neither is he allowed to urge his opinions against the opinions of the church.  If there were no church discipline and government, the church would go to fragments. It could not hold together as a body. There have ever been individuals of independent minds who have claimed that they were right, that God had especially taught, impressed, and led them...These draw away from the body, and each one is a separate church of himself. All these cannot be right, yet they all claim to be led of the Lord...The Redeemer of the world does not sanction experience and exercise in religious matters independent of His organized and acknowledged church...If each member of the church feels at liberty to move independently of the others, taking his own peculiar course, how can the church be in safety in the hour of danger and peril....they will not be at variance, one believing one thing, and another having faith and views entirely opposite, each moving independently of the body...If one man takes his view of the Bible truth without regard to the opinions of his brethren, and justifies his course, alleging that he has a right to his own peculiar views, and then presses them upon others, how can he be fulfilling the prayer of Christ? And if another and still another arises, each asserting his right to believe and talk what he pleases without reference to the faith of the body, where will be the harmony which existed between Christ and His Father, and which Christ prayed might exist among His brethren?..Christ will not undertake to teach the self-righteous, self-conceited, and self-willed. If such come to Him with the inquiry, What is truth? He gives them no answer” (Testimonies for the Church Vol 3, Individual Independence, Unity in the Church).

 Annual Council 2018

On the video, I was speaking in favor of an agenda item that addressed how the Church should deal with their entities that disregard the Church's fundamental beliefs and General Conference voted policies.

This agenda item, some called the unity (or Compliance) document, was on the agenda because some entities in the church are challenging the authority of the Adventist Church. 

Mrs White tells us “When the judgment of the General Conference, which is the highest authority that God has upon earth, is exercised, private independence and private judgment must not be maintained, but be surrendered” (Testimonies for the Church Vol. 3, P 492).

The document spelled out a step-by-step process of how the Church would work with entities that are not in compliance with Church beliefs or policies. It applies the principles of Matthew 18, in an attempt to bring everyone back together in unity. If this process failed to bring about compliance with a particular belief or policy, then other already existing voted polices would be used to determine what further measures should be taken to resolve the issue, and keep Church unity.

In my opinion, what makes the Seventh-day Adventist Church what it is, and what binds us all together as a Church, is what we believe as Adventists. Specifically, what we believe that is unique from other religious groups. What makes us different? What separates us from others, from the world? The unique beliefs we hold in common unify us.

Being different from the world is a Biblical concept. The children of Israel were instructed to be a light to their neighbors by being different. We are not different for the sake of being different, but different because what they believed and practiced was uniquely God-given, as opposed to what the surrounding nations believed. It was a superior way of life, and they were to share it with their neighbors. Mrs. White says similar things about the Adventist Church and its’ influence. Ours is a superior Message.

Attacks From Within

 Our Church is being attacked from within, by Adventist individuals, groups and organizations that don’t agree with some of the unique beliefs that Adventists adhere to. This endangers our unity. 

Attacks from within the Church are more dangerous than attacks from outside the Church. Some Adventist schools are teaching evolutionary concepts. Other groups promote homosexual lifestyles, including homosexual pastors. Misuse of tithe is carried out by some organizations. Christ’s nature is questioned. Some of the Bible is being disregarded, along with the writings of Ellen White. Conferences are ordaining women—in spite of a General Conference Session decision not to do so, etc.

It was pointed out at Annual Council, that this was the first time that this type of document was being discussed. That was because the Church had never been presented before with Church entities challenging Church authority by disregarding Church beliefs and policies. The alternative to voting this document would have been to do nothing, allowing these non-compliant Church entities to continue to practice and believe whatever they chose. What would that ultimately bring about? Congregationalism, splitting the Church into various groups, each believing something different than the other.

That’s not unity, and with time, we wouldn’t have an Adventist Church, as we know it.

“It is a delusion of the enemy for anyone to feel that he can disconnect from the agencies which God has appointed and work on an independent line of his own, in his own supposed wisdom...We are one body, and every member is to be united to the body” (Selected Messages bk. 3, P25).

Every organization on earth has rules, guidelines, laws, policies, etc., that govern their organization. They also have consequences for not following the rules. It’s what keeps them together as an organization.

Rules and consequences go together. One without the other makes no sense.  In Heaven God has rules and consequences for breaking them, and from the very beginning of this earths’ history, He has had rules and consequences, even before sin.  It’s  essential that our Church has policies and beliefs, and consequences for not honoring them.

Some Church members ironically were saying that if the Annual Council voted this document, with consequences for disregarding the voted actions of the Church, the Council would be splitting the Church apart. Let me make it perfectly clear, it is the entities that are disregarding what the Church has already approved, that are potentially splitting the Church and destroying our unity.

In voting this document, the Church at large is only trying to uphold what has already been voted and believes, keeping us all together.

“As we near the final crisis, instead of feeling there is less need of order and harmony of action, we should be more systematic than heretofore” (Selected Messages, bk. 3, p 26).

 I realize some Adventists are suggesting that one way of keeping unity would be what they call flexibility in how Adventists are allowed to interpret beliefs and policies.  Most of us would agree there are situations where flexibility is needed in some Church practices, and that has been provided. That works in matters of low significance.

We cannot however, compromise Church doctrines or policies based on Biblical principles. Some would suggest that we need to down-play our unique Adventist beliefs, that to some, seem a barrier to working with other Christians. They would promote blending in with the rest of professed Christianity, so we would supposedly be more able to influence others, not being viewed as an oddity.

Mrs. White says in The Great Controversy p. 45 “If unity could be secured only by compromise of truth and righteousness, then let there be difference, and even war.”

Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:1-4 NASB

“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God...reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”

 It has been said that people that believe in everything, don’t believe in anything. That’s kind of a strange statement, but there is wisdom in it if you think about it. Compromising what you believe to the point that you believe what everybody else believes, for whatever reason, leaves you with little or no influence.  We are suppose to be the salt of the earth. The goal isn’t unity with all of professed Christianity.

No, its unity with God in His own Church, all having the same unique beliefs. We are to let our lights shine, not hidden under a bushel. I think we not only have to believe in our unique doctrines, but be willing to stand up for them, even if it’s not the popular thing to do. We know that this is exactly what we will have to do individually, and as a people, at the end of time. Maybe it’s time to start practicing!

We as Adventists, individually, as congregations, and as organized Church entities, are at a point in our Church history, that it’s time to make up our minds what we believe. Either you believe what the Seventh-day Adventist Church has historically believed, taught, and practiced, or you don’t. The compromisers need to stop trying to change what the Adventist Church believes and stands for. If they can’t accept it for what it is, then maybe they need to move on to an organization that they can accept and believe in, and will accept them.

 Those opposed to this document don't seem willing to let God direct His own church. When things in the Church don’t go the way they think they should, they feel they have to step in and do what they think needs to be done. They don’t let God work things out in His own way and time.

If God can set up and take down earthly heathen kingdoms, I certainly think he can manage the affairs of His own Church, if we ask Him to and patiently wait on Him. Consider stories in the Bible where believers took things into their own hands rather than waiting on God. Lucifer, Eve, Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, etc. They all received bad consequences for themselves and the people of God.

Matthew 18

 I mentioned Matthew 18 above in regards to bringing Adventist groups of differing opinions back together.  I’d like to point out that verse 17 tells us that if the process of reconciliation fails, and these errant individuals don’t “hear the Church”, they are suppose to be as heathens to us.

Paul tells the Thessalonians in 2 Thess. 3:6 & 14 NASB,

“We command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us...and if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him”.

That’s pretty strong language. Mrs. White tells us in the Testimonies for the Church Vol. 3 p.192,193 that some of the Church’s workers were in such a “deplorable state of neglect, of indifference and unfaithfulness...a thorough and permanent change must take place...those who have had so much light and so great privileges should be dismissed and others take their place.”

That’s not sticking our heads in the sand, hoping bad things will just go away. No, its taking an action, doing something, like we are admonished to do. In my opinion the Church has taken appropriate action in voting this document.

It was interesting and disappointing to me to notice that during the discussion of this unity document at Annual Council, the large majority of those that stood and spoke against this document and its consequences, were Church administrators/ministers. I guess that’s logical since they are the ones disregarding the Church’s previous actions.  Almost every single layman however, spoke in favor of it. 

I was happy to see that our layman are thinking for themselves and not blindly following some of these confused leaders.

Jesus warns us that at the end of time, there will be false prophets that teach what man thinks, mixed in with what God teaches (Mat. 24:11).

Today’s equivalent of the ancient prophet leader of Gods’ people, is the minister. It shouldn’t be a surprise to us that some of the Adventist ministers among us are teaching the ideas of men. Mrs White told us this would happen at the end of time. She states,

“They will accept that which pleases their ideas, and will begin to manufacture another foundation than that which is laid. They will flatter their own vanity and esteem, thinking that they are capable of removing the pillars of our truth, replacing them with pillars they have devised” (Selected Messages, bk. 2, pp. 388,389).

“There is a disposition in man to follow the precepts and example of men, rather than to obey the word of God...the precepts of men are not so straight as are those of God” (The Signs of the Times Vol.12, Jan 7, 1886 p. 10.7).

“However strong may be his convictions, however confident he may be that the minister knows what is truth, this is not his foundation...We should day by day study the Bible diligently...The truths most plainly reveled in the Bible have been involved in doubt and darkness by learned men...These men are false teachers...if there were no false teachers to mislead and confuse their minds, a work would be accomplished that would make angels glad” (GC p 598). 

Be Aware

We can’t just assume that all of our pastors are faithful. Most are, but some are not. Much of what these misinformed individuals preach is worthwhile. They may even quote E. G. White at times. It’s the subtle things they say and promote, that can give us a clue to their disguised position.

A pastor friend of mine once told me that the problem isn’t always in what these pastors say, but what they don’t say. Some pastors or writers only talk about grace, love, forgiveness. These are all good, even essential topics for our salvation that we have in common with all other Christians. However, you seldom if ever hear them talk about the Law, obedience, judgment, the sanctuary, the Remnant, Christs’ nature, or prophecies — the things that make us unique.

“Satan is constantly endeavoring to attract attention to man in the place of God. He leads the people to look to bishops, to pastors, to professors of theology, as their guides, instead of searching the Scriptures to learn their duty for themselves. Then by controlling the minds of these leaders, he can influence the multitudes, according to his will” (Great Controversy p 592).

I wonder sometimes if some of our pastors might not be wolves in sheep’s clothing (Mat. 7:15). I’m not saying they are insincere or intentionally misleading people, they may be misguided. Just because one may see them preaching on television or read their articles in a Church paper, doesn’t however guarantee that their words are Truth.

The Spirit of Prophecy asks the question,

“Why is it that the Church does not distinguish the false from the genuine?... Apostasies have occurred and the Lord has permitted matters of this nature to develop in the past in order to show how easily His people will be misled when they depend upon the words of men” (Selected Messages bk. 2, pp. 393, 394).

On page 596 of The Great Controversy, Mrs. White, while discussing that Christ foresaw mans undue assumption of authority in future generations, states that Christ “had a prophetic view of the work of exalting human authority to rule the conscience, which has been so terrible a curse to the church in all ages... and His warnings to the people not to follow these blind leaders.” 

A Call to Action

The organized Church is doing its part in trying to hold the church together, unified in what we have traditionally believed. We need to support this effort.

Pray for the Church and its’ leaders. Stand up for it. It is clear that those who opposed this unity document—which was ultimately approved—are now very vocal in their opposition to it, and are organizing their efforts to continue the fight or, dare I say, the rebellion. They are showing their true colors.

As a Church we are facing a potentially serious situation. If the worst case scenario becomes reality, with the Church becoming divided, and the errant entities splitting off, as they predict, we shouldn’t be surprised. We all fervently pray that this will never happen. If it does develop, it may be part of what Mrs. White told us would happen to the Church at the end of time, when it appeared to her that the Church was falling apart.

We also know the Church has to be tried and purified before Christ can return. Remember the story of Gideon, and what I call the Gideon effect. God can do a lot more by narrowing down the group to just a few dedicated members that follow His will, than He can with a larger mixed multitude that follows mans ways.

If you want the traditional Adventist Church that we know and love to continue, it is time to stand up and be counted as one of Gideon’s soldiers in God’s army.

“It is not enough to have good intentions; it is not enough to do what a man thinks is right or what a minister tells him is right...walk in the light and encourage others to follow” (GC p 598). 

Our Greatest Need

Mrs. White’s famous  words on page 57 of the book Education says that the greatest want of the world, is men who will stand for right though the heavens fall.

“The false-hearted professor may not now be distinguished from the real Christian, but the time is just upon us when the difference will be apparent. Let opposition arise... the true Christian will stand firm as a rock” (GC p 602).

Stand firm, brothers and sisters. Our affliction will not last forever. In the near future we will be able to have the ultimate unity with Jesus in heaven when “One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation” (GC p 678).

“Let the redeemed of the Lord, say so!”