Annual Council Considers Authority Document That Demonizes Many Church Entities

The Secretary’s Office of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (GC) has released a sweeping document on church governance and authority in advance of the 2017 Annual Council of the GC Executive Committee. The 50-page document, “A Study of Church Governance and Unity,” was prepared by the executive officers of the General Conference with research and writing from the General Conference’s Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research.

The document combines snippets of biblical material, excerpts from the writings of Ellen White, and accounts of Seventh-day Adventist history. Its stated intent is to “inform and guide the church regarding policies concerning the ordaining and credentialing of Seventh-day Adventist pastors.” The document has drawn strong criticism for its literal demonizing of several territories of the world church.

General Conference Secretariat circulated the document and a shorter companion summary document to Executive Committee members, who will be asked to approve the document at the Committee’s second meeting since the 2015 General Conference Session in San Antonio Texas. During that session, delegates voted down a motion to allow divisions to make provision to ordain women in their territories. Since then a spate of diverse practices on credentialing pastors, particularly women, has drawn the concern of the General Conference’s top leaders. The two documents are a response.

The longer document may be summarized by twenty key assertions made within the text:

  1. The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists is God’s highest authority on earth.

  2. Christ has given the Church “plenary power,” and when it is the expression of the entire Church rather than an individual, there is no justification for resisting the authority of the whole body of believers.

  3. Unity is one of the most important doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, ultimately achieved through deference to the body with the highest organizational authority, the General Conference.

  4. Seventh-day Adventists are united by their commitment to Christ, common biblical beliefs, shared mission, joint weekly study of the Sabbath School Bible Study Guide, interdependent worldwide organizational structure, and mutually agreed practices and policies

  5. The General Conference Working Policy is the Church’s vehicle for promoting unity and mission (ever more so since the 2015 ordination vote at General Conference Session).

  6. Statements or other actions approved by a GC Session or the GC Executive Committee are considered an expression of Church policy.

  7. The GC Executive Committee has delegated to unions responsibility for selecting candidates for ordination, based on the criteria set by the world Church.

  8. The world Church (i.e. the General Conference) has set ordination criteria since 1879.

  9. Diversity of practice can be allowed, but only after a representative body has agreed to allow some variation.

  10. Organizational units and church-member representatives have input into the decisions of organizations at higher levels of structure. However, having had input, reciprocity means that there must be acceptance of the collective decision.

  11. Strict adherence to Policy is required of “all organizations in every part of the world field.

  12. No world field may depart from decisions taken by units at higher levels of structure with wider authority. The status of local fields “is not self-generated, automatic, or perpetual,” but “is granted to a constituency as a trust.”

  13. Unilateral action on important matters is contrary to the biblical model and to longstanding Adventist practice. Further, it is a satanic distraction.

  14. Ordination is qualitatively different than commissioning or credentialing.

  15. The ordination of women has been explicitly disallowed by a GC Session action, a decision reinforced by two other GC Session votes.

  16. Ministerial credentials are temporary; ordination is permanent (except in cases of discipline).

  17. Recent moves to exclusively license (commission) pastors are contrary to policies voted both by the GC Executive Committee and by GC Sessions.

  18. Because ordination is the Church’s recognition of a divine calling, it cannot be given up on individual impulse.

  19. Ordained pastors cannot be turned, retrospectively, into commissioned pastors or licensed pastors, and if they qualify for a ministerial credential then they must receive it, rather than another credential or license. GC Working Policy excludes any other possibility.

  20. GC Working Policy can be amended, and its provisions can be waived in certain circumstances, but either requires consultation and consensus.

The document contains 88 references to biblical passages. Of those references, there are twelve unabridged, direct quotes of Scripture verses. Several more references excerpt small portions of biblical texts. Most instances are parenthetical references to books, chapters and verses without textual material supplied. Of the 88 scriptural references, there are no full passages in their biblical contexts.

Ellen G. White receives 189 references by name in the document. Of the paper’s 187 endnotes, 118 cite or pertain to the writings of Ellen White. Extended quotations from her writings permeate the document.

When one considers the specific language employed to make the assertions the document makes, one gets the sense that submission to authority is viewed as paramount. Those entities running afoul of the document's ideal are also characterized as influenced by evil. Below, some of the document’s terms (and cognates in some cases) are listed by frequency of occurrence:

Policy - 127 General Conference - 122 Authority - 109 Christ - 108 Executive Committee - 78 Private judgment vs. corporate judgment - 54 Mission of the Church - 30 Gospel - 29 (16 instances of policy concerning “gospel ministry”; 7 references to book or article titles; 1 reference to “everlasting gospel”) Unilateral - 27 Govern (and governing power) - 21 Surrender - 14 Submission - 14 Satan - 12 Require (including “require adherence”) - 10 Binding - 6 Obliged - 6 Mandate - 5 Compliance - 4 Obey - 2 Defer - 2 Evil forces - 2 Yield - 1

The document has drawn many reactions, among them, strong condemnation for its literal demonization of many church entities. Page 33 of the document delves deep into statements from Ellen White on what she saw as evil forces, and extrapolates to those church entities that have ordained women: “Ellen White makes it plain,” the document states, “that unilateralism can arise not just from independent-mindedness, but sometimes from the influence of evil forces.”

The document pointedly and repeatedly refers to Californian Adventists in the 1870s and 1880s who demonstrated independent-mindedness, and suggests that they were influenced by satanic powers. (In August 2012, the Pacific Union Conference based in California voted to authorize the ordination of women despite an in-person appeal from General Conference President Ted N. C. Wilson not to do so.)

Speaking of the Adventists in 19th century California, the document cites Ellen White’s admonition:

She warns that “those who . . . do not labor to have harmony of purpose and action are verily doing the work of Satan, not the work of God” and continues in similar vein: “It is a delusion of the enemy for anyone to feel that he can disconnect from the body and work on an independent scale of his own and think he is doing God’s work.

The thinly-veiled accusation that those organizational units that have ordained women are under satanic influence elicited criticism from one contemporary California pastor.

“It is never appropriate to suggest someone who behaves or thinks differently than yourself is under satanic influence,” wrote Trevan Osborn, an associate pastor at the Azure Hills Church in California.

Osborn called the language “toxic, manipulative, coercive, and horrifying on every level.”

He called for wholesale rejection of vilifying language. “[Let’s] wholly embrace one another as God's children just trying to do what we think is right,” he said.

For some, the document called to mind the presidential campaign in the United States. Writing in a Facebook group created to support the ordination of women in Adventism, Cherry Ashlock wrote,

GC says: We are following the will of God to purge and protect the church. What I hear: [To borrow language from a current great mind and rising global political star], 'Believe us! We are the only ones who can save the church and make it great again. It's a beautiful thing'!"

Among some who approved of the document, the question was what next steps the church would take. Richard P. Mendoza, a pastor in the Michigan Conference, wrote in response to the document's publication on the Adventist Review's website,

We just need to impliment the process and call the disenters (sic) into account and give them the choice of copplying (sic) with the WILL of the Body express in General Conference Session 2015 or dissfellowship (sic) or dissolve those members or churches, replace church leaders who will not comply and be supportive of the World Chuch's decision."

The 2016 Annual Council, October 8-15 at the General Conference Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, will put the document before the GC Executive Committee for approval, including language that accuses many Adventists of being swayed by Satan.

Jared Wright is Managing Editor of

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Thank you for your report, Jared. There are some deeply concerning theological implications in the document to be sure.


This should come as no surprise to anyone. TW warned that there would be consequences. Here and elsewhere he has been mocked for his comments. Many groups stepped across the proverbial line in the sand. Are you all really surprised that this would be allowed to continue?


The Winston Churchill of Adventism is at the helm, facing the present crisis with courage. The cold water of the Channel is lapping at the conqueror’s boots, and the finest hour of God’s people—as for the British Empire long ago—is at hand.

May God preserve and protect the great Advent movement in the present exigency.


The document might as well be titled:

“An invitation for younger members to leave the church”

At 50 years old I consider myself among the younger members.


For a moment I thought that the Adventist church had usurped the Roman Catholic church as “God’s highest authority on earth”. When I look a bit more closely, I see that the authors of the document are restricting their authority only to all of the organisations and individuals that make up the Adventist church. Whew, that is a relief. I was fearful that I might be forced to bow down to the beast.

The organisation is tone deaf. It says the things that it is somewhat confident that its supporters will rally to, which are offensive to those outside its thought processes. Not dissimilar to some politicians and would be politicians.


–The hour of belittling and denying the Holy Spirit gifts women…
–The hour the official church changes its own governmental structure to a top-down authoritarian one of purifying and cleansing.
–The hour ordained women will be told by others who do NOT know them and their spiritual gifts, the ones who recognized, affirm and authorized them, that they are not worthy of being ordained–it’s a “men only” club of power.
–The hour many young women in our seminaries around the world are placed in crisis.
–The hour the General Conference tries to leverage unions to give up their constitution and by-laws and authority to do their business, to the G.C. abandoning constituency-based consensus, business, and personnel authority.
–The hour that men say, “hey, get to work without authorization from your peers. What’s wrong with you? You can work anywhere, anyway.”
–The hour the “disciplined” unions are faced with attacks of their official, legal votes.

It’s an “Hour of Shame.”

Praying for the power of the Holy Spirit to embolden and empower those He has gifted for service, leadership, and voice."

Response to @Susan who said:

“Perhaps ‘everyone’ needs to view the several videos on WO conducted by Stephen Bohr…a panel of several people including women.”

Is this the session where those who believe in ordaining women called
by the Holy Spirit are labeled as participating in Witchcraft Type 2? (Actually presented by a woman)

Response #2 to @Susan

Stephen Bohr hosted a weekend of seminars on Ordaining Women.

In one of the presentations, Laurel Damsteegt’s presentation called ordaining women Type 2 Spiritualism of the devil.


I haven’t read a papal flavoured document like these in a long time…

Submit your convictions to the majority vote (no matter how narrow, no matter how it was achieved - i.e. with ignoring all expert witness as irrelevant advisory, political arm twisting, even lies) - only thus can unity be preserved.

This is the very opposite of revival and reformation. It will kill (and some comments do sound quite blood thirsty … in a modest Christian way, of course) and enforces principles from outside scripture (if you want to call “working policies” principled). Time to take a stand - and not otherwise.


Sad to see a corporation using scripture to advance its patriarchal, misogynistic power structures. Such a cynical use of inspiration to retain power.

But the moving of the Holy Spirit is stronger and those who wish to dominate and coerce will not prevail.


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” depending on one’s convictions. Every member is in a union, so soon you will be “in” or “out” of the official church. How does that sound?


If God does "preserve and protect " I sure hope it looks different then it does now and that is inclusive!


I am gratefully no longer a part of the SDA church, but my heart is heavy for all those still involved who are going to be hurt by this. There are many.


The idea of “The Shaking” had been scoffed at. This whole process is part of that shaking. We know the end result. May we be among those who hold firm to the truth and are not shaken out.


Come out of her my people that ye be not partakers of her sins.

Hail the Empire!


You compare proponents of women’s ordination to the Nazis. Well, I guess I am not surprised.


We seem to be mesmerized by unity on a minor issue like women’s ordination, but blind to a major one like the violation of the commandment designed to protect the right to life of all innocent human beings.

I have in mind our participation in the genocide of the unborn, something we started back in 1970 with the blessing of the church. That year our hospitals were allowed to offer elective abortions to their patients with impunity, and thousands of innocent human beings perished in our own medical institutions.

We need to repent of this great sin against our Creator. Without confession and repentance there is no forgiveness. We need to repent and to do away with the document known as “Guidelines on Abortion,” that justifies the violation of God’s Law.

We are critical of Rome that altered the fourth commandment of the Decalogue, but are blind to the fat that we guilty of a similar sin. We altered the sixth commandment that forbids murder.


I thought the GC session ONLY voted against allowing divisions to make their own decisions to allow ordination of women. I can’t remember the GC Session voted to mandate a top down control of that action. I remember correctly that the GC in Session is the highest authority of the church. Therefore to make such a drastic decision requires a majority by the world membership in Session. Is it not? Also it is not the Division leaders who can make this recommendation. Should it not be a mandate from grassroots at division level that should mandate their leaders to make such recommendation? Or am I misreading the policy of the organisation that employs me?


I’m 67 and I think it’s an invitation not only for younger people, but thinking people of all ages to leave the church.


On a scale of 1 - The Papacy (which they oh so very dislike), this is like full-scale Papacy! hehe.


I cannot believe that a few powerful political people can be so stupid!! (Just who is being influenced by the evil one in all of this?) The actions of this secretariat remind me of a certain committee in Rome called the Curia which we as Adventists have scorned and criticised for decades… Jesus said “Judge not that you be not judged.” All this surely should cause us to look to Jesus whose coming draweth nigh. JimB