George Knight Talks About His New Book on Church Authority

George Knight's new book about church authority and its history in the Seventh-day Adventist church, seen in the context of our church's present disagreement over allowing the ordination of women, has been causing major waves. His paper Catholic or Adventist: the Ongoing Struggle over Unity + 9.5 Theses, originally presented at the Unity Conference in London, has been published and shared on the Spectrum site, and we have also published history professor Doug Morgan's extensive review of Knight's book. Here Knight answers questions about his book, explaining Ellen White's views on unity and church authority and how Ted Wilson is basically on a one-man crusade.

Question: You just published your latest book, called Adventist Authority Wars, Ordination and the Roman Catholic Temptation. Is it really fair to compare Seventh-day Adventist Church to the Catholic Church?

Answer: It’s only a fair comparison if the Adventist church decides to act like the Roman Catholic Church. That would be the only way to compare them.

In the past, we have contrasted Catholicism with Adventism.

Acting like the Catholic Church would mean ex-communicating large sectors of the church on non-Biblical issues.

As Ellen White says in The Great Controversy, page 289-290 [in discussing the beginnings of the Church of England]:

“The very beginning of the great apostasy was in seeking to supplement the authority of God by that of the church. Rome began by enjoining what God had not forbidden, and she ended by forbidding what He had explicitly enjoined.”

So yes, if they [the General Conference] wants to act like the medieval church, then we can compare them.

How important do you think unity is in our Adventist church? How much value would you place on it?

I think unity is extremely important.

But I don’t think uniformity is always the answer to unity. We live in very diverse cultures, and we have to meet people where they are in those various cultures. In order to meet various cultures we have to have diversity. Diversity should be seen as a strength.

Unity is important, but it is the basis of unity that counts. And the only basis is Scripture, trust in one another and the love of God.

When we have to start creating unity by ecclesiastical force and proclamations, then it’s problematic; then it will not be a true unity.

As James White put it so nicely in the Signs of the Times in 1874: “Church force cannot create unity,” but it has repeatedly created division.

Ellen White made a similar statement in 1892. All of the founders of the Adventist church were against trying to create unity by church force. That was one of the reasons they did not want to establish a formal church organization. J.N. Loughborough noted in 1861 at the formation of our first conference that first a church is created, then it adopts a creed, then enforces that creed, and finally those not in agreement with it are punished.

You emphasize how strongly Ellen White spoke out against central church authority. Where should the authority lie instead?

I am a firm believer in church organization, and a world church.

Ellen White was not against central church authority, but rather the abuse of that authority.

I might add that the Adventist pioneers’ first approach to church organization was anti-organization. They saw church organization as a form of Babylon. They saw Babylon as the persecuting force, as it was in Daniel. In 1843 ministers who held Millerite (early Adventist) beliefs began losing the credentials they held from their own churches. Up to this point, William Miller had urged them to stay with their own denominations. Now many were expelled, but the Christian writer and teacher George Storrs still cautioned the Millerites not to organize a new church, for “no church can be organized by man’s invention but what it becomes Babylon the moment it is organized.”

And that was the whole approach of all six denominations that were eventually formed out the Millerite movement. None organized for 15 to 20 years after the Great Disappointment, and only one organized beyond the Congregational level: The Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Ted Wilson and the General Conference leadership seem dead set on making sure the ordination of women is not allowed in the Adventist church, even at a very great cost. Why do you think President Wilson has dug in his heels on this issue? Isn't he shooting himself in the foot (to mix a whole lot of metaphors)?

I think that Ted Wilson is quite sincere in his belief that this is a Biblical issue. Of course he appointed TOSC and fully expected them to come up with the proper solution. Particularly because more than 50% [of the committee members] were against the ordination of women. But it didn’t’ come out the way he expected.

None of the many studies that have been done can find where it is forbidden to ordain women. There are lots of arguments, but lots of problems with all of those arguments. There is simply no clear Biblical teaching that only men should be ordained.

I believe the majority of our church members are willing to follow Scripture.

But study after study has demonstrated that you cannot prove it is wrong to ordain women in Scripture.

I have no doubt about Ted Wilson’s sincerity, but sincerity does not make him right. And unfortunately he has not emphasized the findings of the latest committee, TOSC, or all of the other studies that have been done.

The end result might be that Pastor Wilson may not only shoot himself in the foot, but Adventism in both feet.

Why did you write this latest book? How is it different from your previous books?

Maybe it’s not really different. l have been looking at ticklish issues in Adventism ever since I started to publish. I have spent my life tackling controversies and issues in the church, and some of my books have been loved by those on the right, some by those on the left. So I must be somewhere in the middle!

This book has been published by Oak and Acorn. Who is this press and why did you go to them?

The Oak and Acorn is an arm of the Pacific Union Conference. I first thought I might publish through Pacific Press, and we had a strong dialogue about it. But finally I said that the book had become too controversial, with all of my books banned in the Michigan Conference, so I went with Oak and Acorn who had published Bill Johnsson’s book, Where Are We Headed?: Adventism after San Antonio.

It’s nice to have an alternative publisher within the denomination. Oak and Acorn is becoming an outlet for things too explosive for the regular denominational publishers. I thought they would be the best outlet, and do the right marketing.

I think an independent press is very important.

Adventism is full of independent publishers; indeed you might say crowded.

How many copies have you sold so far? How can people buy the book?

I know the book is selling very well, but I don’t know how many copies. Some churches, and unions are buying large numbers. Amazon is moving a considerable number. And the book is also available through AdventSource and many of the ABCs.

Can people buy your book in Michigan?

I always thought this should have been advertised as the book that should have been banned.

I have no idea what they are doing in Michigan.

Of course, they have the right to do what they want with a controversial book.

But not selling this one is quite different than pulling all of my books. Many of them are pretty mainstream, and my works have been pretty central in church literature, including the Bible commentaries, and many works on Ellen White.

They have a perfect right not to put it on the shelf.

Of course, people in Michigan have a perfect right to go to Amazon.

In the long run, banning my books just gives them lots of free advertising. And it also means they are training people to buy their books from Amazon rather than the ABC.

How many books have you written now?

I have probably written 46 or 47, and edited about the same number.

It is pretty hard to sweep me under the carpet this year, as my books are the companion books for the second and third quarter Sabbath School quarterlies on Galatians and Romans. Beyond that, my book Educating for Eternity was released at the 2016 Annual Council event right after my talk to the delegates at the pre-session and has been used around the world in various languages in the GC's 2017 divisional meetings, which featured the book.

You are a very well-known and well-respected Adventist historian, with many friends and acquaintances at all levels of church administration. Has your stand on the ordination of women changed your relationship with administrators in the General Conference, or others?

Behind closed doors, I would say that my book is well read at the General Conference.

I suppose it might be frustrating for some people: dealing with someone with credibility, and a long publishing record. I am not in a totally different position from [former Adventist Review editor] Bill Johnsson.

I hope that Bill and myself and Lowell Cooper, and Barry Oliver, along with many others — as well as publications by Spectrum and other outlets — will at least broaden the discussion and maybe throw enough sand into the machinery to slow it down.

Maybe we just have to wait until the momentum changes over time; or until enough people retire.

I think this crusade is basically one man and his theological advisers.

Sometimes we seem to think the problem with “kingly power” ended in 1901 — but if we look at the principles undergirding Ellen G White’s use of the phrase we can see that kingly power is still being used in the present day.

What do you think is the best way for our church to move forward from here? Given that we can't undo what happened at San Antonio, what does the roadmap look like now?

The best way forward and the probable way forward are two different things.

Here is the best way forward: As a church we realize that if we desire unity it must be based upon the Bible, Christian love, and authority of Scripture — and not make big issues over non-Biblical topics. We must realize that God has used females all through history. Ellen White spoke in churches, had authority over men, and was certainly the most influential clergyperson in our church’s history.

We need to focus on things which are central: our message and our mission. These go together. We ought to utilize as many people as possible and as many techniques as possible to move forward the message and mission.

Trying to block people on non-Biblical issues is really strange to me. This whole business of ordination and trying to discover the difference between that and commissioning is not Biblical. There is no difference! The only Biblical practice is the laying on of hands. The calling to the ministry is from God. The church recognition is the laying on of hands.

And what is the probable way forward? I can tell you a whole lot better next week! I just looked at the agenda for Annual Council and I don’t see exactly how they are going to handle this whole thing.

But my guess for the probable way forward is this: the church administration will work on a process, which will end with disciplinary actions to be put in place after quite some time against these erring unions. I don’t think any actions will be taken yet, but they will begin a process, which might take two or three years. Then they hope these unions will come into line with the wisdom of the General Conference.

And they will if the General Conference has any Biblical evidence! But that evidence has not come out yet.

I see a process. I don’t see this Annual Council dissolving unions.

My hope is that more and more people will realize that this issue is not so clear cut.

As Ellen White says in Testimonies Vol 9, page 278:

“Many, very many matters have been taken up and carried by vote, that have involved far more than was anticipated and far more than those who voted would have been willing to assent to had they taken time to consider the question from all sides.”

If they really look at what all this means it is a bottomless pit of difficulties. If anything will block the mission of this church it is the years of potential litigation, hundreds of millions of dollars of property at issue, and all kinds of other things. A protracted legal battle would be a spectacle, and a witness against Adventism in the both the secular and religious worlds.

GEORGE KNIGHT is a retired professor of church history at the theological seminary at Andrews University. His books include the Adventist Heritage series, the Ellen White series, and a devotional Bible commentary series.

Read George Knight's paper from the Unity Conference here.

Read Doug Mogan's book review here.

Buy Adventist Authority Wars from AdventSource or Amazon.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8279

Jay Galimore’s banning of your books was a sure fire way to making them BLOCKBUSTER BEST SELLERS.

You owe Gallimore a debt of gratitude for all the free publicity/promotion/press you received through his act of animosity !

With people’s curiosity piqued by the banning ( something forbidden always becomes more desirable ) I am hopeful that your new book’s sales will soar.

Let us hope that Ted Wilson will also denounce your book. ----it will be an absolute affirmation that your book is worth buying !!

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George,

Congratulations on your book! I appreciated its confident tone, though I must confess that Douglas Morgan’s review nuances some of your major arguments in very helpful ways.

However, I am allergic to talk of clergypeople in the Adventist context as you do in your article above! I am not certain that this is a term used by Adventists much in Australia and New Zealand and I object to it because to my ears the term implies that those belonging to a special class of individuals have been honoured with a special indelible mark and an imagined resulting superior status. Adventists certainly do not believe that.

And to name Ellen White as a clergyperson, as you do, seems to me to be an oxymoron given all that she wrote about the collegiality and priesthood of all believers. I believe that Adventists are anti-clerical in the best sense of the term! Much like the Salvation Army movement! From the very earliest times Salvationists “imagine themselves to be about mass mobilization in which there was no distinction between clergy and laity, and no ordination or priestly caste.” (words taken from an Australian Broadcasting Commission program Earshot from 6/15/2016). As I understand it, Adventists are aiming for a Total Member Involvement in which like the salvos there is no two tiered ecclesiology, and in which every member is involved in fulfiling the mission and ministry of Christ, according to their gifting and calling. But the universal duty of serving and ministering to others, with a wide differentiation of functions can so easily be forgotten in the pursuit of status. The fellowship of all believers, and indeed the collegiality of all believers and thus the equality of all may easily give way and instead we may adopt a model in which the collegiality of a special ministry is paramount, and even the belief that one of them is first among equals.

The Salvos embraced the following two principles to counter such a process, through much of their history. Yet these principles may in recent years have begun to erode.

Principle One - The absolute equality of genders in ministry. An Australian woman served as Salvation Army General [equivalent to GC President] in recent years.

Principle Two - A rejection of the distinction between clergy and laity, while at the same time embracing the concept of full-time commissioned leaders and a volunteer non-commissioned soldiery. This rejection is made more difficult by the embrace of the practice of ordaining individuals at the time of commissioning, which has happened since 1978, albeit not with the laying on of hands.

These two principles have tended up until recent times to preserve the Salvation Army movement from an almost inevitable drift toward status seeking which may happen either by relegating one gender status to an inferior status or by seeking to exchange the collegiality of all believers for a two tired ecclesiology of clergy and laity.

Policy development that serves to re-establish these two principles of Adventist theology in its polity and policy is sorely needed. Perhaps one way to do this would be to credential our elders and deacons deaconesses, as well as our salaried leaders!

@getaclew

Spot on Robert! Well said! I am only sad that George Knight himself seems not to understand this!

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George Knight and Alonzo Jones may have more in common than not.

Re Principle Two-
In a presentation at the 1980 GC, Dr. G. Oosterwal talked about the role of Laity and role of the Pastor. The key point that he made, was that the Pastor is part of the Laity in the Adventist body of believers, and that as Pastor, they are fulfilling their gift to the church. We each as Laity have our own role to play. The role of Pastor/priest in the Catholic body separated the leadership from the laity and we need to understand the difference. This probably has a lot to do with our misunderstanding and why we cannot deal with “commissioning” and “ordination”.

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“The role of Pastor/priest in the Catholic body separated the leadership from the laity and we need to understand the difference.”

For all practical intents and purposes, Adventism has the same system. “Pastors” are very much a separate entity unto themselves and lay Adventists don’t regard them as “laity”. Pastors have their own special schools (seminaries), special status within Adventism, special retreats and organization, their own publications. The only difference from the Catholics is that they are allowed (even expected) to marry.

“This probably has a lot to do with our misunderstanding and why we cannot deal with “commissioning” and “ordination”.”
.
I think that the issue is that there is no misunderstanding at all.

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“As Ellen White says in The Great Controversy, page 289-290 [in discussing the beginnings of the Church of England]:

“The very beginning of the great apostasy was in seeking to supplement the authority of God by that of the church. Rome began by enjoining what God had not forbidden, and she ended by forbidding what He had explicitly enjoined.” …”

My Comment: How accurate description of what our church has been doing. We forbid Women’s ordination–which is not forbidden in the Bible–, but allow and participate in the abortion genocide–something that is forbidden in the Decalogue…

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I find George Knight’s view of Ted Wilson to be generous in the extreme. “I am sure that Ted Wilson is sincere in his belief…”

  • What if I could could show without question, that this view of Ted is not only generous, but completely out of harmony with Ted’s actions? That is to say it directly, Ted Wilson is insincere.

  • What if in addition to being able to show – again without reasonable doubt – that Ted Wilson is in direct violation of the plainest statements in the SDA church manual? Would that be insincerity? Or would it be worse?

  • What if I could show, again without reasonable doubt, Ted Wilson is in direct violation of God’s law? Would the SDA church follow Matt.18? If they were to follow Matt.18, how would that be administered? Practically now. How? And if Ted Wilson were to reject the “counsel of the brethren” and insist on pursuing business as usual with regard to women’s ordination “enforcement of the votes” what is the next practical step in Matt.18?

  • There should be no question, that even if it were shown without any shadow of doubt that all of the above were true, the majority in the Adventist faith would stand solidly behind Ted Wilson. Why would the majority side with Ted Wilson instead of what is stated plainly above? Simple, Ted Wilson was elected based on popular vote. He was not elected president because he spoke the truth in love.

Notice the careful choice of words, what if. But then I wrote the last bullet. In essence I said, none of that matters. I said, Ted Wilson would still be honored, respected and president of the General Conference of SDA. Many would like to take me to task. And some may dare to take me to task for making the above statements without offering evidence for them. I suggest that any such effort would result in extreme embarrassment of those who would seek to “correct my errors.”

Why would there be extreme embarrassment? Is it possible, that there is evidence for those statements? I reread them just now. They are very bold, but then I said it doesn’t matter if the first three statements are correct or not. Do you think I didn’t read and reread that fourth bullet? Maybe you are tempted to say, Roger is not thinking about reality. Short version, Roger is insane.

It doesn’t matter because the election and following of Ted Wilson is not now and never has been based on anything other than his popularity. And if his position is secure based on popularity, then what is all this talk about “the Bible and the Bible only?” Maybe some of you have been under a rock. Or worse, thinking that most of the church believed as they do that our Advent faith is rational and evidence based?

Notice carefully the words… “what if”… “based on popularity” … “still believe our faith is rational and evidence based.”

If you doubt that I can do items 1, 2 and 3, contact me directly. rogercox39@gmail.com. But you should pay even more attention to bullet 4. I have watched carefully for many years. I have seen clearly the evolution of the church views and administration since the early 50s. I remember clearly in 1961 sitting in a large SDA university auditorium and the speaker presented the evolutionary path of all church organizations. I didn’t like the last state of the organization he said was thoroughly established by historical facts. I asked the speaker directly, where is the SDA church organization in you evolutionary path?

As clearly as if were yesterday, I remember his response. The SDA church is in the last and final stage. Frankly, I was shocked. But I also affirm, I began to look for evidence that either supported or struck down his words. Evey one of his words were validated in the early 1970s. Since then, there has been almost no substantive change. Ted Wilson validates that speakers words. The speaker was a Seventh-day Adventist minister. He was not speaking against the Adventist faith, the organization and certainly not against Ted Wilson. Ted had not even graduated from the academy.

In spite of bullets 1 through 3, I am not writing in condemnation of Ted Wilson. I see no value in that. I see no value even if I am 100% correct. The reason why is plain and simple physics. Facts and data. This is the path of all organizations. And if it is the evolutionary path of all organizations, what is the chance that anything I can do or say would change the trajectory of the Adventist church?

Frankly, to every human eye it should be obvious, give up Roger. There is no chance for avoiding “physics.” You cannot change the path of organizational evolution.

That is if I saw and believed “strictly as a human eye sees.” I do not. I believe in Christ. I believe in the irrational acts that lead Christ to Calvary. And because I love my brother Christ, I chose to believe in what is to human reason “not possible.” To say it directly, Christ changed the world forever on Calvary. Do you dare think Christ cannot do it again? In fact, I have direct evidence of that in the lives of those around me today. “Love conquers all.” Don’t you dare say to me, love is powerless in the face of all I wrote above. I will rub your face in facts and data. Facts and data in real peoples lives. These are real people who walk with me daily.

If my brother Christ did it once, He can do it again. He will do it again. Love is not the most powerful force on earth. Love is the way God conducts all relationships. And if that is true, then God, by the power of love will change the entire universe. “Sin will not rise again.” Isn’t that what is predicted as the end point in the great controversy? Do you dare think my brother Christ is unconcerned about me today? The Advent faith today? Is my brother Christ unconcerned about Ted Wilson?

I suggest a simple plan. Offer Ted Wilson your outstretched arms in love.

It seems, given the above excerpts from the article, that it is indeed fair to compare the modern Adventist movement to that of Roman Catholicism: albeit, it is a vocal minority of the church membership that should bring on the comparison. They are starting just where the Roman Catholics did–by enjoining that which Scripture has not forbidden.

“We had to destroy the village to save the village.” This was the paradoxical strategy and tactics that was used by the U.S. government in the Vietnam War when I was an undergraduate at Andrews University. This was the phrase that jumped to mind when I first read about the leadership’s tactics to “resolving” the issue of women’s ordination. “We had to split the church to save the unity of the church.” Ted Wilson was the Treasurer of the Student Association at Andrews University the year I was S. A. President. I thought he had better judgment then.

Levterov, Theodore N. 2015. The Development of the Seventh-day Adventist Understanding of Ellen G. White’s Prophetic Gift, 1844-1889. New York: Peter Lang published a book including arguments against EGW’s gift that included all the current arguments against the ordination of women.

Cameron, Euan. 2001. Waldenses: Rejections of Holy Church in Medieval Europe. 1st. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell documents Knight’s thesis about the Catholic Church and authority. The Catholic hierarchy did not want Waldensian laymen preaching or teaching. The Waldenses did not dispute the Sabbath with the Papacy; they disputed the monopoly of the hierarchy on power.

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No, it’s not. The Biblical response to causing a miscarriage is not the same as it is for manslaughter or murder. Look it up.

It seems part of an unavoidable evolutionary process ie once a church is old enough, schism follows as of course.