An Interjection


(Spectrumbot) #1

For many years in my presentations and discussions I have called for a clear position from our church leadership on the subject of “constitution.” Finally, it has happened.

Our church constitution dates back to a time when we counted in the hundreds of thousands. Now membership has grown to about 20 million. It is becoming obvious that many, not just the governing bodies, are dealing with the question of an inevitable and necessary change. In the meantime, the pressure has been felt and various committees have been dealing with this in recent years. Results have only sparsely become known, which is presumably one reason that no paper has yet unambiguously answered the basic question “What organizational structure should our church choose?”

There are only two models Christian denominations throughout history have used to organize themselves upon: the centralist and the federalist constitution. Both have proven successful in different variations. The Roman Catholic Church has been practicing the centralist constitution for almost 2000 years — with great success. The Protestant churches have chosen the federalist variant — with great success, too. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has finally made a choice: there is no doubt that world church leadership has chosen the centralist structure.

This had already become apparent in the presidency of Robert Folkenberg. He had himself elected as "first officer" at the 1995 General Conference Session in Utrecht. This meant that he was no longer just primus inter pares, but that the Vice Presidents were also reporting to him. I still recall the long line of speakers at the microphones — some GC officers, headed by Neal Wilson — who vehemently argued against the President's proposal. It was in vain, though. The request was voted through.

Jan Paulsen tried to halt this trend (e.g., by setting up a number of special committees), but with no success. He only managed to slow down the progress. And now, under Ted Wilson’s leadership, the train is at full speed. Wilson has set the course towards centralism so obviously that there is no doubt about it anymore.

The first attempt at Annual Council 2017 failed. The majority of members, in an attempt to avert uproar, were not ready to approve the "Unity Document." Personally, I think many were in line with the proposal but wanted to avoid the open confrontation that would follow.

Presumably, many hoped that a revised text would find a majority of supporters in 2018, taking raised objections into account for a renewed draft. It seems a lot of people were wrong about that. The new documents are even clearer in their intention. Ted Wilson wants a centrally organized church. He is taking another dash at his vision of a "Uniformed Church" with a document that threatens punishments (warning, public reprimand, removal from office). A more awkward approach is hardly conceivable. It would be simpler — and more honest! — if one would clearly and precisely say what this is all about. The famous popes pushing the centralistic agenda of power in the Roman Catholic Church (Gregory VII, Bonifaz VIII) were of a more direct nature.

The problem of our church, as it presents itself right now, is the inability of those who have recognized the problem and taken a stand on it to offer any hint on how to avert the disaster. The excellent books by William G. Johnsson, Where Are We Headed?, and of Reindar Bruinsma, Facing Doubt, do not offer help in this area.

What should/could we laypeople do to avert organizational catholization? George Knight is silent on that point, too. It doesn’t really help if the foremost spokesman of the current opposition gets lost in analysis without solution! Similarly, the 2017 London Unity Conference of the inner-church opposition showed clear agreement in the analysis, but no way toward a solution. The general lament, which seems to be hardly more than a therapeutic session and a compilation of helpful Ellen G. White quotations, won’t do the job either. I have read the pronouncements on both sides of the issue and they both have an impressive arsenal of quotational ammunition which they aim at each other. At the end of the day, each side keeps on believing its own ammunition factory.

The two German Union presidents have taken a clear position in their published statement. They have explained why they will reject the two motions in Battle Creek next month. They want their churches to know what is at stake now. It is indeed very flattering for them if they are celebrated in publications in the United States as the two "Martin Luthers of the 21st century" (albeit with no “Elector of Saxony" in sight to hold his protecting hands over them!).

Now is the time for North American Adventists to take a courageous step forward.

Anyone who thinks that I am just drawing a gloomy picture should take a second and impartial look at our church. The documents that will be forwarded for vote this autumn are but the harbingers of change. This change has not only to do with unity allegedly at risk, but is part of the trend toward institutionalism — a typical threat for any second-century church or movement. Here in Germany, it began with nomenclature: the change of our church’s name from “Gemeinschaft (community) der STA” to “Freikirche (free church) der STA”; from “Prediger” (preacher) to “Pastor” (pastor); from “Vorsteher” to the international term “president.” It would have been wiser not to choose the American nomenclature, but rather a biblical one. We’d do better to call them “bishops” than “presidents,” but I am certain we have that coming, too.

Apart from such formalism, there are structural indications to where the journey will go. A few years ago, the Biblical Research Institute (BRI) was a fairly independent institution. Now it more closely resembles an Adventist version of the Congregation of Faith of the Catholic Church, defining what believers around the world have to believe. The BRI claims to pass verdict on the teaching qualifications of individual lecturers, and even recommends their removal in certain countries, which was formerly the sole responsibility of the employer, not of a remote-controlled institution. The catholic Congregation of Faith does have something called "freedom in research and teaching," but one does wonder why the rehabilitation of Galileo Galilei took the curia a couple of centuries. How will the BRI fare in the future?

To make things worse, at the beginning of this year, Ted Wilson expressed himself in an unmistakably dictatorial manner in a speech to church leaders. This "Lisbon Speech" is solid evidence of his firm commitment to a centralized church (Feb. 6, 2018, Lisbon, Global Leadership Summit).

Now one could argue that all these observations are but unfortunate misunderstandings. Maybe Ted Wilson just expressed himself ambiguously. But when you talk to people who know him personally, the picture is more revealing. Privately he may be “a good sport,” a guy like you and me. His private hobby of collecting vintage cars makes him highly sympathetic. But the moment he speaks and acts as first officer, he is a different person. As such, he seems to be driven with an almost fanatical sense of mission.

My impression is that he wants to be the one preparing the Adventist Church for the return of Christ. The sifting of the Church serves this purpose, notwithstanding the fact that sifting in the Bible is an action done by God alone (see the parable of the tares and the wheat). Wilson’s proximity to Last Generation Theology is also conspicuous. Losing parts of the Adventist churches in the process of sifting seems to be mere collateral damage on the way to a true remnant church.

The attentive observer will notice something at this point. Robert Pierson often used the same vocabulary in his presidency: Reformation and Revival. He, like Ted Wilson, meant not Reformation, but Restoration. Back then, a solution was found that could serve well today. But it is very difficult to send a person with that strong a sense of mission into retirement, as charming of a solution as it may be.

However, all my deliberations have to do with the church, not with individual people. I’ve never had the opportunity to speak to Ted Wilson personally. Apart from a short correspondence, I had no contact with him. That was different with his father, Neal Wilson. I visited him after my meeting with Desmond Ford and Walter Rea and left Washington strengthened in faith. The two hours with Neal Wilson strengthened my trust in church leadership a lot. That was long ago, though.

Back to the subject of solutions. Why isn’t it possible to discuss structural church models that could take us out of the current impasse? For years I have been pleading for a model of "continental churches." I have often outlined the details of this model in my presentations and writings (e.g. in Spectrum in 2011). Support for this model is growing, but not in administration. I suggest a "Seventh-day Adventist Church in Europe," one in North America, one in South America, etc. and all of these united in a "World Alliance of Adventist Churches" instead of the current General Conference. That would follow the Lutheran model. Women's ordination in such a model wouldn’t have made it to the top of the agenda. Concerns about the dangers of congregationalism could also be invalidated. I have explained and described this in detail in a number of presentations. These are sound concepts of church structure that could save us from papalism.

As a prerequisite, however, the present proposals of the GC on the subject of "unity" have to be rejected. Once again, let me make it very clear: the vote in Battle Creek in October 2018 is not about the ordination of women, nor about a procedure for preserving unity. It will be a most fundamental choice. Do we steer this church into centralism, Yes or No? Whether or not we will have a pope-like president very much depends on the outcome of this vote: will we have a president who leads the church with the help of a well-oiled Congregation of Faith — or a church still firmly established on the legacy of the Reformation?

We are far from achieving our goals. Even if the proposals are rejected in October, it does not mean that the issue is off the table. Whether Ted Wilson solves the question of church constitution or only achieves interim results does not make much of a difference. We have to attack the question now or in the near future. We still have the chance to develop a “non-centralistic" model. I want to let my “interjection” end on two words: finally and still. Finally the time has come for a clear decision. The GC leadership leaves no doubt about their choice. We can still prevent the “papal turn.” It will depend on this choice whether for many brothers and sisters this church will remain their spiritual home.

Lothar E. Träder, Ph.D., is a retired pastor, teacher and former rector of Marienhöhe, an Adventist boarding school in Darmstadt. His doctorate is in church history and he has served the Adventist church in Germany in many committees over the past 50 years.

Photo by Daniel Jensen on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9044

(Kim Green) #2

Wow…Lothar! You couldn’t have outlined the issue(s) any more clearly. Though there were many important points that you made so eloquently- the one that stood out to me was regarding the church model changing. So true, that real issue is in the centralizing of power by the one (or few) at the top! No matter what issues confront the SDA church the one(s) that holds the power…control the outcomes.

"Now is the time for North American Adventists to take a courageous step forward."

I hope and pray so! Some of you in Europe have stepped forward and expressed themselves…now is the time for the NAD to do so.

Thank-you for this article and for the many cogent thoughts/feelings expressed.


(Johnny Carson) #3

Great job of defining the issues, of getting to the real heart of the matter.

The problem inherent in this proposal is that to reorganize in such a way would mean a loss of power on the part of those who are currently centralizing church governance. I don’t foresee that going down well at all nor do I see a church body that is willing to reign in the power grab.


(Robert Lindbeck) #4

For many, a centralist model will suit them. They can happily tun up to church each week, consume their fill of religion and happily return home feeling “justified”. For others, who actually wish to carry out the Great Commission and preach the Gospel to family (Jerusalem), friends (Judea), enemies (Samaria) and those they don’t know (the rest of the world), a centralized model will stifle their practice.
The really sad fact is that what is being proposed at AC2018 is a formalization of what many pew warmers think is reality. Many already believe this is our structure.


(Thomas J Zwemer) #5

A church is a consensus of believers. A demoniation is a consensus of churches. It is a bottoms up not a top down. Follow the money. Ted knows this that is why to him SA is so important. He claims that the churches in a called session voted his agenda. The only thing Adventism has contributed is the Investigative Judgment and that has been clearly scholarlyndisproved from the original text. In and of itself is a harmless fantasy, the corollary if a final perfect body of Christians to,enable the return of Christ and the denigration of the human nature of Christ are heresies. Therefore maleness has a very critical point in Ted’s world view. Thus he is embarked on a dastardly mission. The only good outcome would be a congregational form of association.


#6

Lothar T. has incisively identified the essence of the issue with
which the Adventist Church is currently trying to deal.
However, TW would be the last person to admit or perhaps even
to understand that!
Do we have here a clear example of the ‘blind leading those who
have sight’? Or is it a case of those who don’t know that they don’t
know? Perhaps worse.


(Carlo Schroeder) #7

That for that very insightful article, I learnt so much and thank you for giving an different point of view answer. God has given us different angles to observe the same thing, hence we all might see what is happening, yet we will experience and explain it differently. It is true that we don’t have an alternative system which will promote transparency, and equality for everyone. We need ideas that will speak to the people, and give them confidence in God, and this movement. One of the saddest aspects of this is that there are people who will be willing to sacrifice their families for the sake of “unity” and become that which they most hated, they will loose themselves, to be counted as worthy.


(Peter Marks) #8

Dr Trader,

I welcome the way you have continued the recent plethora of articles highlighting the distinction between a centralized and authoritarian hierarchy as a route to unity and a federalist model of ecclesial bodies pressing toward unity.

Dave Larson recently wrote concerning these two ways to unity. For much of our history Adventists have sought to achieve unity through a decentralized model. The Roman Catholic hierarchy has sought to achieve its unity through a centralized and authoritarian hierarchy.

Perhaps, it is time that we Adventists explicitly embrace a lateral model of church govenance whereby our multitude of ecclesial bodies and institutions are conceived of as “wheels within wheels.” The relationships enjoyed within a model of this description will eschew master/ servant relationships or boss/ gofer relationships. Rather, all hold the same status as brothers and sisters.


(Carlo Schroeder) #9

It is hard to admit error, when one can’t reconcile that one is helpless, but believes that what they are doing is truth.


#10

Johnny Carson: (re. loss of power) You are absolutely right!
To step down into insignificance, that is so hard for us (especially
when in positions of power) … but Jesus showed us the way.


(Nicolas Salomon) #11

I hope I’m not the only one that this really bothers. To liken the direction we are heading to a system used by Catholicism doesn’t sit well with me at all. Neither does the alternative. It seems to me that as a church we are doing fine being guided by the Bible. While I understand the need for a certain level of politics, time and time again I’ve seen churches and members unite to any extent to help those in need. I personally feel that politicizing the church will drag us down a dark and nasty rabbit hole. Let the Bible be our guide.


(Johnny Carson) #12

Hmmm… In point of fact, it’s not a comparison. The highest levels of this organization are moving the denomination incrementally toward the same type of church governance that the RCC has engaged in for a very long time. If that makes you uncomfortable I think you’re arguing with the wrong people.


(Elmer Cupino) #13

With the exception of PUC, the majority of our NAD church leaders have been deafeningly silent. I would suggest they consult with their urologist to check their testosterone levels or consult with psychologists the likes of Dr. Tichy @GeorgeTichy to determine the viability of their “psychological spine.”

Watching from afar I believe our beloved GC president cannot lay idle. For some, the journey is the destination. I can see him convene a special GC Review Committee to outline procedures on how Jesus and his angels should return.


(Nicolas Salomon) #14

Sadly I don’t know how to put into words what I’d like to say. I didn’t mean to make it sound argumentative however. I worry that if we continue to adopt the same structure as the RCC we will be crawling down the same path they have. Their history is dark. Slaughtering anyone who disagreed, withholding the Bible, and more recently the sex abuse thing. Not to mention the whole pope thing. Their path made them what we are warned against in revelations.

Sadly I can’t offer an alternative. I’m not smart enough. I can only mention me fear about it.


(George Tichy) #15

That may be the next step Elmer. The first step is dividing the Church to make sure that women wont have anything to say on it. I bet his divisive plans include keeping dividing the Church until only the LGTarians are left. You know, the perfect people who will be raptured.

Are you in???.. LOL


(Elmer Cupino) #16

The most compelling reason against LGT, of which TW has been associated with, is the merging of ego and superego as the only means of achieving their goal of perfection. Created beings are never to be trusted because our primitive natural drives are and will never be the same as God’s.


#17

Not to worry, I think it is important to voice your concern even though you may not have a ready solution.:wink:

It is by recognition that there is a problem as a first step that we as a body of believers can than consider solutions.


#18

Perhaps LGT as a concept is simply based on a false premise. It was said that the people of God would reflect the character of Jesus. What does “character” in this context mean, how would it come about? Is it possible that those who advocate this are applying it to the wrong aspect of a person? As it is it almost appears that people will mystically and mysterious suddenly be as Adam before the fall.


(Robert Lindbeck) #19

@GeorgeTichy, LGT should be called for what it really is - pure, unadulterated human arrogance. Satan’s original sin was that he wanted to be like God. To imagine that a person can be sinless and perfect, let alone a whole generation, borders on that same sin. God is perfect. We are all sinners - we all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) and our righteousness is as filthy rags ( Isaiah 64:6). To claim perfection is to say “I no longer need Christ’s redeeming blood”. Christ’s blood covers our imperfection so that we can stand as perfect in God’s eyes - because He sees Christ’s blood, not our imperfection.
The choice is simple - claim perfection (LGT) or claim the blood of Christ.


(Elmer Cupino) #20
  1. List item

My understanding of reflecting the character of Jesus is similar to a mirror. There must be an image to emulate. To reflect from a mental structure means one has to have an image or/and a superego. Jesus does not require “a still small voice” that tells him what is right and wrong. Thus, created beings will never achieve his level of character. NEVER.

To claim and have the character of Jesus as LGTers are known to aspire has its origins in infantile thinking where children are known to say “I want to be just like dad or mom.” It is embellished and with some mental gymnastics develops into LGT theory,