London Unity Conference Set to Reframe Conversation about Church Authority

Which came first in Adventism, discussion of women’s ordination or discussion of unity? All three words seemingly have been worn out in the conversations about them, particularly in the last ten years, but really since the beginnings of the church in the 1860s. Does the conversation change depending on whether or not you are in a division conference office, or a union, or a local conference office?

This weekend, eighty Seventh-day Adventist leaders have gathered at the London Crowne Plaza Hotel Heathrow, “enthused by God’s Spirit” to discuss “church structure, authority, unity and liberty of conscience.” Not surprisingly, union conference officials comprise the largest group with over two dozen union officials from North America, South Pacific, Trans European, and Euro-Africa Divisions. It is union conference officials who organized the meeting in response to the actions taken by the General Conference Executive Committee in October 2016. At that time, the Executive Committee discussed how to respond to what it considered union positions “out of compliance” with General Conference actions over women’s ordination.

But there are also several conference level administrators in attendance in London, as well as eight pastors, including one woman pastor, and a dozen academics from Avondale, Friedensau, Washington Adventist University, and Walla Walla University. While academics from both Newbold College and Andrews University were among those originally scheduled to address the Unity Conference, personnel from both institutions pulled out based on pressure from their church-sponsoring agency. Andrews is a General Conference institution and Newbold is a Trans-European Division sponsored school.

Barry Oliver, the retired president of the South Pacific Division, will give the opening address on Thursday morning. Oliver is considered an authority on church structure. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the topic. He will be followed by historian George Knight, whose book Organizing to Beat the Devil, traces the history of church organization in engaging fashion. Both papers will be followed by some discussion. The organizers have emphasized this as a time for conversation, noting that often when church officials gather in Silver Spring it seems that voting is the sole purpose of their time together. Here there will be discussion among those present about the need for conversation between the various layers of the church structure.

Reports of the conversation will be posted here throughout the weekend, with links to the papers presented. The next journal issue of Spectrum will be a historic one that will include all of the papers from the conference.

Bonnie Dwyer is Editor of Spectrum.

Image Credit: adventistunity2017.com

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8056
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Excellent! Looking forward to Spectrum’s coverage of this historic meeting and conversation.

All power to those loyal scholars and administrators, who are set to embark on this mission to reframe the conversation about church authority in its Adventist context!

Earlier today I reviewed the story of Thomas De Laune, the first Irish Baptist martyr. This story, to my mind, highlights the blessed and noble role of dissenters and non-conformists who dissent from an enforced gospel order that doesn’t allow conscience to hold sway!

Thomas was born in Cork in the early part of the seventeenth century to a poor Roman Catholic tenant farmer. Under the influence of a faithful pastor he was converted to the dissenting cause and given a classical education. He emigrated to London where he mingled with leading Baptist dissenters of the era at a time when King Charles II and particularly the Parliament were not prepared to grant any religious freedom to dissent from the gospel order of the established church. The authorities were prepared to enforce such order with harsh oppression and harrassment.

Thomas wrote many books and tracts expressing his concern for the persecution of dissenters such as the work, Compulsion of Conscience Condemned. A leading minister of the established church, Benjamin Calamy DD, preached a sermon entitled “A Scrupulous Conscience” in which he belittled the scruples of the dissenters whose conscience would not allow them to join with the worship and polity of the established Church of England. Calamy dedicated this sermon to his friend and patron, Lord George Jeffreys, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench who was known as the hanging judge for his severity and harshness against rebellion which included religious dissent and non-conformity. The sermon in its attempt to try and stop the dissenting movement also issued a challenge to any such dissenters, inviting a response to counter his many points.

Thus Thomas De Laune responded to that challenge - The Plea for the Non-Conformist. Throughout the work he responded almost point by point to Calamy’s sermon, “A Scrupulous Conscience.” He defended the importance of his scruples, which had been said to be “little things.” The gospel order the dissenters accepted was purged of many medieval trappings. The continuation of these practices in the established church warranted separation from it, according to the dissenters. The book, The Plea for the Non-Conformist is also recognized as one of the finest statements of religious freedom yet published in English.

De Laune was arrested late in 1684 as the book surfaced. He was found guilty of disobedience to lawful authority, malicious sedition and faction among other things, and imprisoned for inability to pay the fine imposed, together with his wife and two small children. It is thought other dissenters attempted to pay this fine but were prevented from doing so. De Laune actually pled not guilty, stating that he was only responding to Calamy’s challenge. Within a year De Laune was to see his wife die, as well as his two children before he too, succumbed to starvation.

I’m so grateful for scholars and administrators who in their quest for discovering the true source of ecclesial unity and gospel order, do not fear to assert by their words and actions the principles of true religious freedom. God bless this Unity Conference!!

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What a significant event! This is progress. However, let’s not forget Jan Hus’ experience…

Biblical Conference
TRUTH PREVAILS
How far are you willing to go because of truth?

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George –
Good to see you back!!!
The article DID NOT say how MANY total in attendance.
It is interesting that out of ALL THE NUMBER of men, only ONE WOMAN was in attendance.
It WAS good to see that the conference was NOT on American soil.
Yes, too bad it was NOT in Prague.
Perhaps they will lay wreaths at the spot where so many clerics were burned at the stake there in London.
As a reminder of what the mind-set needs to be when one is a non-conformist to Religion and takes the Gospel SERIOUSLY.
The Beast Power attitudes are really NOT far away even in some Adventist circles. Sad to say.

EDIT-- “One who sows discord among brethren” Prov 6:19.
I am sure that this text was read to the Waldenses. Read to the wandering, hunted-down men and women mystics of central Europe of 1100 to 1400, John Wycliffe and the Lollards, Jon Huss, Martin Luther, William Tyndale. others.
QUESTION – Where would Christianity be without these discordant brothers and sisters? Who asked questions, found answers.
FUNDAMENTALISM SAYS – Truth is No Longer Progressive. ALL Truths are Already known. There are NO MORE to find, to divulge. I FEAR that since we SDAs have “THE TRUTH” there is no more to know. No more questions are allowed. No more answers to be hunted down.
As persons Quote and Recite Ellen, the General Conference is OUR answer to the Catholic Pope-look-alike. The Pope says, “No Catholic women Priests.” Our General Conference says, “No SDA women Priests.”

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From USA to UK. Is it far enough?
Anyway it’s refreshing to see you again, George. In your USA you’re now having hard time with handling the truth. Your chiefs are more in favor of alternatives. Isn’t this havoc with US people’s impotence in regard to Trump’s leading astray a whole nation very similar to the NAD’s stalemate play with GC?

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While the London "unity conference " focuses on CHURCH AUTHORITY,
much of the woman’s ordination issue is really a cultural rather than a theological construct.

The FIFTY FOUR countries on the African continent have had fewer than five female prime ministers/presidents/heads of state, over multiple decades.

African representatives are conspicuous by their absence at this London conference. Their discomfort with female authority figures is evidenced by the gender disparity of their heads of state.

Of course they would view female authority figures in Adventism as being threatening to their patriarchal pride! This has nothing to do with theology and everything to do with tribal mores and institutionalized cultural misogyny.

By contrast the European countries have had a plethora of female prime ministers/presidents. Although USA has not yet had a female president, multiple powerful women have held the Secretary of State position, and there have been female governors of individual,states.

Australia has had a female prime.minister and also a female Governor General.

The women’s ordination issue is a cultural divide between the westernized countries and the tribal patriarchal African ones.

Nothing will bridge this divide.

So individual Union conferences/conferences/divisions should be allowed leeway to confirm to deeply held values – gender egalitarianism in the west, and entrenched patriarchal misogyny in the third world countries.

Otherwise the church will split in a catastrophic cultural divide. A divide which is cultural rather than theological.

And the heinous heretical “headship” dogma held by some of our hierarchy, is a throwback to medieval times and will alienate our MILLENIAL generation, which we already struggle to retain.

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Last week’s Sabbath school lesson’s topic was focused on false teachers.

This week’s SS lesson has comments about 2 Pet 3:16 where clergy/teachers warp Paul’s writings.

Have thousands/millions warped them for 2000 years?

I remember a 60/40 vote on the WO issue.
In USA I saw stats where the SDA members’ presidential votes were almost 50-50.

“These six things the Lord hates,
Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:
A proud look,
A lying tongue,
Hands that shed innocent blood,
A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that are swift in running to evil,
A false witness who speaks lies,
And one who sows discord among brethren.” Prov 6:16-19

This Sabbath, I will present a sermon titled…“Adventists Anonymous”

Hi Steve. The article referred to a woman pastor. It made no mention of gender breakdown of other participants. I know of at least one woman educator in attendance.

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Dear Readers and Leaders who have been gathered at London Conference, may the Lord Almight bless you abundantly. We have followed your discussion from day one up to date and we are convinced that this would have been done long time. Unfortunately the leaders in East Central Africa Division, where I belong, are not ready to grab this chance so that we can move together.
What we need for the time being is anything which can hasten the second coming of our Lord and the more we empower and involve more people including women the more we can be able to obtain our objecives.
I worked as Rwanda Union Mission Treasurer for 15 years until recently when the President of the Union broke into my office at night 9:00 pm to steal legal land documents as to hide exhibits of how he had given a land of 3 165 Square Meter as donation to ECD Treasurer. Fortunately enough I had removed the documents and reported this issue to GC and ECDTreasury and Presidency but up to this moment no effect.
The ECD President and Rwanda Union President are the ones who advised the GC President on how he would manipulate the GC Session which took place in Texas. This is how he related it to me before he broke my door. “When we saw that it was evident that the ordination of women was going to be voted and if the GC President would oppose it before being elected, he could not be reelected, I and Pastor Ruguri approached Pastor Ted Wilson and advised him on how he should manipulate the Agenda of the Session. We told him that since the Ordination of Women has been recommended to GC Session by GC Executive Commitee and we Africans are not in support with this ordination, would you please postpone the ordination item until your reelection and then after your election, this item will be delt with in your chairmanship and you will just manipulate it not to pass.” Why in the sky should these Leaders have to do all these things, it is because Pastor Ted Wilson supports them in the mischief they make!

The only way this problem of poor leadership should stop is to remove Ted Wilson fron the leadership and we have proof including the way he handled this matter of conflict of interest which took place in ECD. Again the way he manipulated the data of GC Session is clear evidence

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