2015: The Year of Regional Autonomy

One of the biggest stories of 2015 for the Seventh-day Adventist Church was its refusal to grant regional autonomy to the Church's 13 divisions concerning ordination. During the San Antonio General Conference Session in July, a majority of delegates voted no on the question: "Is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry?"

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://spectrummagazine.org/article/2015/12/30/2015-year-regional-autonomy
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Those sporadic instances of autonomy is not a healthy sign for the Church. Any organization that is stifled with such a problem is on the brink of collapsing. If at this point in time we think that autonomy is best for us and it is what God wants us to do we should go for it. If we think it is not the best but we are divided over this issue and in some parts of the world Church are doing what they want, then the center cannot hold. We need to reflect and work on this problem in order to solve it.

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It’s all but impossible to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Those who object to WO and regional autonomy are fighting a lost cause.


2015: The Year of Regional Autonomy 30 December 2015 Spectrum is indulging in a “little” fantasy.
Autonomy is a noun, a word that means political independence. Wo issue is ONE issue and all these pronouncements have ONE caveat and that is that they are subject to review, revision, interpretation and in some cases subject to further endless study. Let’s not get carried away in our joy at one small step that was taken by some. We have miles to go…

When a group wants to govern itself or a person wants to make independent decisions, they are looking for autonomy. Autonomy comes from the Greek roots auto meaning “self” and nomos meaning “custom” or “law.” This reflects the political sense of the word — a group’s right to self-government or self-rule. When a person seeks autonomy, he or she would like to be able to make decisions independently from an authority figure. That authority figure remains the local church. EXCEPT, where by default (big mistake!) we defer to the General Conference.


Great!!! commentary in the box.

David P–
"God’s problem is that leading humans is like herding cats."
I think this is a great analogy of the problem manifested in the World Church.


It sure does not look or feel healthy for church unity. I remember a number of elders including Elder Paulsen releasing videos that suggested a ‘YES’ vote would be a vote for unity and well I guess we’re seeing signs of what they suggested barely six months after the vote.

Without the Urim and Thummim, a recognised prophet of God we are left with the unfortunate situation of leaving the beliefs and practices of the church in the hands of an electoral college (of theologians, church administrators and some laymen) with the hope that our prayers will mean a simple majority vote equals the will of the Lord for our church.

Hmm!!! Hopefully the true will of God prevails whenever our leaders meet to debate and vote. But it gets tricky like cases like WO when the best of our theologians arrive at 3 different positions. It gets tricky when all positions strongly argue from the same Bible and SOP books. The question remains what do I do when what I belief to be the truth losses out in the vote?

  1. Accept the will of the body as the will of God
  2. Continue in my path of what I clearly see in the Bible as true.

If I don’t accept the will of the body, wouldn’t that be like rebelling against God? On the other hand does the colour of a blue chair become green just because the majority insists it’s green? Let’s not forget church leaders took a vote that resulted in the crucifixion of Christ. The majority is not always right, neither are my personal convictions.

If only we could arrive at a clear direction from the WORD of God or we had the Urim and Thummim.


The conservative nucleus which is now leading the World Church does not represent the majority of the Church’s administrative and scholar corpus (clergy), but it uses (the system is allowing them to do so) the majority of theologically uneducated and spiritually dependent body (laity) to reign by adopting the most conservative approach since the mid 20th century. If it’s wise to be silent only for the cost of the unity then it is NOT.
Like @sam already stated above, WO is not the only thing which is calling for more autonomy of Church’s entities. There are also 28 FB’s wordings, historicist approach to prophecies, “veneration” or personal cult of EGW, exclusivism (remnant theory), and many other things which are no more unique in every part of the Church across the world.
@Nana, who is the one who decides about someone’s speaking in the name of God? Hasn’t Jesus said: “…If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” And what is that “Moses and prophets”? Read in Matthew 7:12. If I should be embarrassed of my Church because her members are more for end-time prophecies and male headship than for Christ’s Golden Rule, then there is no need for unity at all. If someone neglects Jesus’s elementary teaching in favour of Antichrist and other speculative theories, you don’t need any Urim and Thummim to tell you.


I’m not sure I understand your point–you seem to be saying two things:

1. The independent actions of various territories on the topic of ordaining women do not amount to true autonomy, and the idea of political independence is, in this case, a "fantasy."
2. The true locus of power resides at the local level, except where deference is given to the General Conference.

Your formulation confuses me because:

A. if true power resides primarily at the local level, that implies independence from an authority figure (autonomy) in the first place (not a fantasy after all?), and

B. don’t the actions of the local entities that have acted independently of the General Conference’s presumed authority demonstrate the fact that they have and are exercising the power that flows up from the local level, as opposed to deferring to the power that the General Conference argues flows down from the top?

Again, to me, that seems to be an example of autonomy as you’re defining it, which is why I’m confused. Maybe not complete political independence, but certainly political independence nonetheless.

As an aside, my limited knowledge of early Adventist history leads me to believe that this local autonomy is more in line with the governance model that the pioneers of this church envisioned than the top-down model that the current administration espouses.

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I disagree. The TOSC was not composed of our best theologians, but rather some theologians and quite a lot lay persons, who were strong supporters of the anti-wo-position and the headship-theory, which had been rejected by our best theologians. You cannot call the supporters of the headship-theory “our best theologians”, since this theory has been refuted as unbiblical by exactly our best theologians in Andrews University. So the TOSC was composed of some theologians and some people who had rejected the advice of our best theologians.


Thank you Jared for your detailed response. Perhaps I was not clear with what I meant. Communication is the transfer of meaning and obviously some things did “not get transferred”.

  1. Autonomy is political and financial freedom. You either are or are not autonomous. To imply a degree of autonomy is to be talking about something else. In the words of the “old philosopher” you cannot be a little pregnant.
  2. I purposely define “power” and “authority” as two distinctly different things. Power and authority are separate but related concepts. A manager in an organization has authority if he or she has the right to direct the activities of others and expect them to respond with appropriate actions to attain organizational purposes. Authority most often comes from the duties and responsibilities delegated to a position holder in a bureaucratic structure such as our church structure. A company president can order a product design change, for instance, or a police officer has the authority to arrest an offender of the law. Power is the possession of authority, control, or influence by which a person influences the actions of others, either by direct authority or by some other, more intangible means. A prime source of power is the possession of knowledge. A person with knowledge is oftentimes able to use that knowledge to directly or indirectly influence the actions of others. The authority of knowledge is often independent of levels or positions. Power can reinforce authority, and authority is one of the primary sources of power.

My “point” or bottom line is that as welcome as these actions are by the divisions and unions, they are NOT in themselves indicators of real ecclesiastical, organizational, theological, autonomy from the “mother ship” the General Conference.

We are probably more in agreement than this exchange demonstrates. You are doing a good job. Perhaps the word “fantasy” was too strong. I appreciate the opportunity to clarify.

Have a great 2016!


The same God leads the GC and the 13 divisions and the union and local conferences. So why does God seem to be leading in more than one direction? God’s problem is that leading humans is like herding cats.
We all think we’ve got the TRUTH when in fact we struggle to understand even truth. We should be very humble about our limited capacity to understand and interpret big ideas.
We’re like the blind men trying to describe an elephant. We don’t all have the same bit, and none of us has every bit.
Is church unity under threat? Probably no more than before San Antonio. As church members, we believe and act according to our consciences. If the GC fails to give us good guidance, we continue to trust God and to do our best to understand and interpret Scripture.
As long as God is leading us, we have nothing to fear. Indeed, “perfect love casts out fear”.


Rather that giving people the trust to determine exactly how they will worship God and honor Him, the leaders appear to have less trust in them and have begun defining more exactly the finer points of doctrine as illustrated in their addition of specific wording to the Fundamental Beliefs. Were they not sufficiently worded for members to understand and accept them? The inference shows less willingness to give individual autonomy to members and more constricting their interpretation.

Where does individual conscience end and adoption of administrative ruling become the norm? Is this working to gain new members? Or has it, by default, eliminated some who chafe at the tightening controls on one’s beliefs and personal reading of Scripture? Should members now wait for the official wording and interpretation of Scripture before giving their assent? How has newer and more definitive wording given added clarity to old beliefs?


2015 was the Year of the GC.

2016 will hopefully be the Year of the UNIONS! :wink:

@marianne_faust: The TOSC was first intended to be a manipulative tool in the hands of the GC to maneuver the WO issue according to the GC’s will. The members were chosen in a way that would basically guarantee a NO recommendation.

However, the political maneuver failed, and it all backfired on the GC. So what did the GC do? It took advantage of the Annual Council, to trash the TOSC work (worth over one million dollars…) and they came up with an infamous question that they knew ahead what the result would be when voted on in SA. The GC knew that the so called world church would never allow the elimination of discrimination of women from out ranks.

I congratulate the Unions that already proclaimed the desire to eliminate discrimination of women in their territories. Now I want to see the action, the real confirmation of their talk. Talk the talk, but walk the walk - otherwise it’s just mere theater!


Any pastor who has ever transferred from one division to another knows that our admistrative apparatus is far less uniform than it appears. There is a lot of “regional autonomy” already. And since WO is not a theological issue (we do not believe that ordination is a sacrament, or do we?!), but an administrative and ecclesiastical issue, diversity of practice should not be any more a challenge to “unity” as are retirement policies.


Thanks for the clarifications. I’m tracking with you, and yes, I think we’re on the same page.

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Why does someone need to tell you what is the right, decent, fair, thing to do? Why does someone need to make decisions for you? Sure, an oral culture, just out of slavery, might have needed some drastic direction. But Urim and Thummim, the pillar of Light/Cloud in the Desert, even God walking on earth in person (Jesus) did not, and WILL NOT, help most humans reach the right decisions. Most people continued to make wrong choices, make mistakes, be human, even when Jesus was with them.
Even Ellen White, towards the end of her life, started telling people, with some frustration, to stop quoting… Ellen White, all the time, and use their God-given brains prayerfully.

So, nothing and no-one will save us, or His Holiness Ted Willson and his Vatican-council, from having to reach hard decisions.
I hope they, and us individually, do so in humility, with prayer and love for their church and for humanity in general. And not expecting any Urmi and Thummim to sparkle and save them from reaching difficult decisions. Because this will not happen. It does not seem to be God’s way, these days.

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December 2015:

October 2016:

While last week the recommended action from the office of the General Conference president was to dissolve the unions and attach them to the General Conference as missions, this week a rewritten “pastoral action” will propose giving the unions a year of grace, and will appeal to them to repent of their actions.


Maybe Spectrum could clarify who, exactly, is currently on the Repent List?

The tone of the rhetoric from the LLU Religion Department today, if representative, does not inspire much hope of repentance, or even detente, from that quarter. I could scarcely believe what I was reading, or that Spectrum had posted it.

It’s flabbergasting the things Adventists are saying to each other these past days. I don’t see how you’re going to salvage a thread of dignity, much less credibility if this keeps going for the next year.

I have dozens of family members in this church, many children.

I really hope you will start modeling some collaborative communication for them, soon.

If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
Galatians 5

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