The December 2015 issue of the North Pacific Union Conference (NPUC) Gleaner magazine announced the adoption of a “New Mission-Focused Leadership Belief Statement” by the Washington Conference. The Gleaner announcement stated that the policy, “respects the world church’s ordination requirements. It is a practical approach to allow commissioned ministers to participate, along with ordained ministers, in the new General Conference Total Member Involvement initiative, to fulfill the Gospel Commission commanded by Christ Jesus in Matthew 28.” There was nothing in the announcement that would alert a casual reader that the announced policy was in conflict with the North American Division (NAD) policy or the many votes of the General Conference (GC) in world session.
The first page of the “New Mission-Focused Leadership Belief Statement” is a preamble where they state their rationale for adopting the policy. There, they refer to the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) report. They note that the TOSC made recommendations that the 2015 GC Session voted down. The page ends with the following amazing statement:
While we desire to respect this vote [the 2015 GC vote], we also desire to live in harmony with Scripture and the Seventh-day Adventist belief that it is the responsibility of the Church to recognize those individuals whom the Lord has called and equipped for ministry in a local setting. We further desire to reconcile and live by the voted theology of ordination which is based in Scripture but which our church policies do not allow. [emphasis added]
Thus we, the Washington Conference Executive Committee, have adopted the following policy for Mission-Focused Leadership.
So, the new Washington Conference policy appeals to Scripture and clearly implies that the TOSC recommendation was faithful to Scripture but that the GC vote was not.
The second page of the policy statement presents a table that is a summarization of NAD policy with respect to the role and authority of persons holding a Commissioned Ministerial Credential vs. those holding a Ministerial Credential (ordained pastor). The new Washington Conference Mission-Focused Leadership Policy is then stated as follows:
- That we continue to recommend both ordination and commissioning candidates to the North Pacific Union Conference Executive Committee for their approval.
- That we give conference-wide approval for those currently holding Commissioned Ministerial Credentials to perform weddings and baptisms. And that we grant approval for those currently holding Commissioned Ministerial Credentials outside of our conference the same privilege.
- That we give conference-wide approval for participation in the functions of organizing a church or uniting churches to those currently holding Commissioned Ministerial Credentials in consultation with conference administration as is practiced by those holding Ministerial Credentials.
- That we give permission to those holding Commissioned Ministerial Credentials and who have been ordained as elders the privilege of ordaining elders, deacons, and deaconesses in their local church.
- That we request that all individuals currently holding Commissioned Ministerial Credentials be granted ordination at a time when the World Church approves the ordination of men and women.
- That both commissioned and ordained pastors be allowed to serve in any position of the Washington Conference including conference president.
Policy Numbers 3, 4, and 6 are in direct conflict with the NAD policy that they summarized immediately above their statement of the new policy. The “New Mission-Focused Leadership Belief Statement” of policy makes no meaningful differentiation between the Commissioned Ministerial Credential and the Ministerial Credential (ordained pastor).
Truth Still Matters
Late in February 2016, two small churches in the Washington Conference, Winlock and Onalaska, became aware of the one-half page December 2015 Gleaner announcement. The announcement seemed innocuous enough but some of the members decided to research the background information. They found that the policy was in direct contradiction to NAD policy and the many votes of the General Conference when in world session.
The concerned members were totally unaware at the time that two other Conferences in the NPUC had adopted similar policies. Thus, they also had no knowledge that several churches in the Upper Columbia Conference were protesting their conference’s similar policy adoption.
When the two congregations completed their thorough analysis of the policy adopted by the Washington Conference, they concluded that the Conference was in rebellion against the NAD and the GC. They also concluded that they could not just stand idly by and be identified with this rebellion. The two churches jointly decided that though they may be just a small David facing a Goliath, they must do something. In early April they prepared and sent a letter to the Washington Conference requesting the Conference to immediately rescind the policy and to bring the Conference into full alignment and fellowship with the world church.
The Washington Conference Executive Committee subsequently met and considered the letter from the two small churches. The Executive Committee deliberated the letter’s request and a final decision as to how they would respond was deferred to their scheduled August 23rd meeting. These two small churches are awaiting that response.
I wholeheartedly endorse the efforts of these faithful churches to hold their leaders accountable--first to the Word of God, and second--to the expressed will of the World Church.