One for All and All for One: Appreciating Dissidence in the Church

The September Diversity lecture at Newbold College of Higher Education was timely. Dissidence in churches is commonplace. In many faith communions, majorities of one stripe find themselves in conflict with minorities of another. The Church of England still in the early days of appointing women bishops, disagrees about liturgy and Biblical interpretation, and disagrees with some of its adherents from the LGBT community. In the Roman Catholic Church, the progressive Pope Francis meets open and fierce resistance from traditionalists. Meanwhile, at its Autumn Council in a few weeks, the Seventh-day Adventist Church through its leaders will be making decisions which may well have far-reaching consequences in formalizing the already deep divisions within the church over women’s ordination.

The lecture began with figures showing that while the Seventh-day Adventist Church is growing rapidly around the world, it has a problem with retaining 50% of new members. The lecturer, Pastor Wim Altink, a pastor for over thirty years including ten years as the President of the Netherlands Union of Seventh-day Adventist churches, suggested that attitudes to dissidence are part of a broader concern for retention. He explored two approaches to dissidence: that of Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, and that inherent in the genius of Seventh-day Adventism.

Luther’s approach to dissidence grew out of his own crucial vision of a God who saves through faith in Jesus Christ rather than by works. Communicating with a society where 10% of the population were in priestly orders, Luther translated the Bible into the language of the common people and bravely urged priests and people alike to read the scriptures for themselves and to measure all the Church’s teachings accordingly. Luther recognized that the controversial business of deep biblical scriptural interpretation was another arena where power politics could threaten freedom of conscience. His argument was that no-one can or should control the Word of God. “The revelation always comes in contradictions, different from what you would expect…we will never be the boss of the text, the text goes on to work for us.”

Luther’s own teaching about freedom of conscience exhibited some blind spots as he dealt with Anabaptists and Jews. But his general approach was to encourage the freedom of conscience of the individual believer both in the wider society and inside the church. “He encouraged his followers,” said Altink, “to stay loyal but to refuse to be treated like second class people!”

In the second part of the lecture, Altink described what he called the genius of Adventist attitudes to dissidence. Quoting from Where are We Headed: Adventism after San Antonio by William G. Johnsson, he outlined at least ten controversial issues among Seventh-day Adventists which lead to dissidence. He suggested that Adventism in its second century is experiencing a departure from Jesus’ teachings and practice similar to developments in the second century Christian Church.

Altink dug deep into the spirit of Adventism to talk about holistic thinking, the patience of God and the Adventist belief in independence of thought. “I believe that the DNA of Adventism provides a way forward…. Adventism preaches a holistic view of life. It is a movement of integration, inclusion and wholeness….” As we take this approach, we will create “a healthy whole of all Adventist believers” - whether they be historic Adventists, orthodox Adventists, fundamentalist, evangelical or progressive Adventists.

Closely connected to this holistic approach is the Adventist teaching on the Great Controversy –or God’s dealings with dissidents. “The theme of the Great Controversy,” said Altink, “is not the story of apocalyptic wars first of all… Rather, God’s…dealings with mankind show His forgetfulness, His forgiveness, His grace and His serving self-giving.”

Finally – there is Adventist independence of thought. “We Adventists love to feel that we are independent thinkers – ‘thinkers not mere reflectors of other men’s thoughts’ as Ellen White said.” We follow Jesus who was a dissident and are led by the thoughts of Luther and Ellen White – both of whom were dissidents – independent thinkers who brought people back to God’s original plan.

Pastor Altink finished with a quotation from another dissident – Nelson Mandela. “Changing society is not the most difficult task – the most difficult task is changing yourself!”

Significant challenges in the Q&A session explored the themes raised in the lecture. What follows are the questions and reporter’s summaries of the answers.

Q. “Are all dissidents destined, like Jesus, Luther, and Ellen White, to leave home and start again somewhere else?”

A. All the dissidents were pushed out rather than leaving! As a church we should make it very difficult for people to leave! I don’t believe that a new start is the only way forward…there could be options.

Q. “If you shower people with love, can you quench dissidence?”

A. If everyone is loving but not talking about the issues, it makes me want to hit someone! We should be honest and open about the issues, and about our weaknesses and differences.

Q. “What if the General Conference just absorbs the dissidents and doesn’t change?... Wouldn’t it be better if the GC hits back? Is it time for a good family row?”

A. Truth comes from dialectic – a good family row. But follow Augustine – always start with love, even if we have a fight. I’m not saying love is a weak thing…there needs to be honesty.

Q. “Would you agree that unconditional, non-judgmental love is the answer?”

A. If that would be the atmosphere locally and internationally… approaching Annual Council would be a completely different setup. I wish we were there… if we had that attitude we could cope with anything.

Q. “In view of your experience at Silver Spring – as a member of the General Conference Committee – are you optimistic?”

A. It’s difficult. With other leaders in Europe we have tried to approach the GC leadership but we didn’t see any change. Women’s ordination is not an issue of faith, not an issue of fundamental beliefs. I am still optimistic. Coming up to Annual Council there is always the rumor that things are going to be difficult and very tight. Up till now the church system has worked well…The Division presidents have stood up and said we cannot afford a break. When it comes to the unity of the church, I believe that the system of the church works well…that there is something in the system which can balance the system. When it comes to ultimate schism…I doubt it. There is more openness at the Annual Council than at the General Conference Session.

Q. “Does there come a time when you as a dissident can no longer stay? What about the decision you take as a dissident?”

A. If this issue is not dealt with in a proper way, I believe that many people will leave, especially in the West – and that is the responsibility of us all…

Q. “What about the people who are treated as second class citizens?”

A. If a group feels they are treated as 2nd class citizens, we should talk about that feeling.

Q. “Speaking from the authority side… For every honest dissident, we have a Jim Jones or David Koresh. Obviously, there must be a limit…when would you disfellowship?”

A. There are moments that you need to do that – interestingly, that is not a work for the General Conference but for the local church. There comes a moment when a person is destroying trust, grace and community…this is the time to leave.

Q. “There seems to be a pattern with Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Luther, and Ellen White who tried to remain in the organizations where they were. Does any change really happen when people leave?”

A. I’ve talked to too many people who after many conversations don’t feel that they will change anything but for their own sake feel they need to leave.

Q. “If boundary-making is in the hands of the local church and each one does it differently…is that a good thing?”

A. Yes!

WATCH Pastor Wim Altink’s lecture at the Newbold College Diversity Centre:

Helen Pearson is Diversity Centre Co-ordinator at Newbold College of Higher Education, where this report was originally published. It is reprinted here with permission.

Image Credit: Newbold College of Higher Education

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Thank you for this comprehensive report on a timely and pertinent topic: What will happen to the dissidents at Autumn Council?[quote=“blc, post:5, topic:14264”]
If something a “minor” as WO could cause someone to leave the church, one has to wonder how committed they were to present truth in the first place.

To downplay ordaining women with spiritual leadership gifts as small and “minor,” is to further degrade the contribution of women to the church and to further the gender discrimination. Obviously, thousands of citizens of China who found Christ through the spiritual leadership of ordained women there, would not see this as a “minor” issue. To include women is to forward the mission of the church and to support the unity of inclusion of each one.


According to the church manual pg 62, persistent failure to recognize church authority can result in church discipline, including removal from membership by the local church. If a local church fails in its duty it can be dissolved by the local conference. Annual council could encourage such discipline of persistent supporters of WO.

ICoincidently, the September issue of Adventist World has an article on church discipline!

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If something as “minor” as WO could cause someone to leave the church, one has to wonder how committed they were to present truth in the first place.

What nonsense. No one is denying the many valuable contributions of godly women over the centuries. But when compared to weightier issues such as abortion, or the many attacks on some of the pillars of the faith, it is minor, especially since it isn’t even one of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs. And this is a hill that some WO proponents are willing to die on?

“Appreciating Dissidence in the Church” this fine article and introduction to an excellent lecture by Pastor Wim Altink’s at the Newbold College Diversity Centre. This is a vital presentation for all those who seek a fundamental alternative to the status quo of apathy regarding current issues in our church. .Perhaps we can learn from our musicians and writers by considering the connection and use of the words dissonance and dissidence. They are related terms in a precise and carefully defined way, more often in an informal way, and very often in a metaphorical sense- (“rhythmic dissonance”). For many musicians and composers, the essential ideas of dissonance and resolution are vitally important ones that deeply inform their musical thinking on a number of levels.Despite the fact that words like unpleasant and grating are often used to explain the sound of dissonance, all music with a harmonic or tonal basis—even music perceived as generally harmonious—incorporates some degree of dissonance. The buildup and release of tension (dissonance and resolution), which can occur on every level from the subtle to the crass, is partially responsible for what listeners perceive as beauty, emotion, and expressiveness in music.If we can be open to creativity perhaps we can deak with dissidence in the same way musicians do with dissonance. Wouldn’t it be great if rather than read formal and boring papers at these large GC meetings we actually took moments to relax and sing to each other. It is understood that lying misrepresentations are kept to a minimum when persons sing rather than just talk to each other endlessly. We need an opera, a musical, a different way to frame and share our differences. What we are doing now or about to do is not working. To keep doing it the same way with the same persons is absurd. Let’s sing together!


Not recognizing and according equal recognition or remuneration based on gender is easy for you to write off as unimportant, because, apart from your views on abortion, your continual emphasis in your posts seems to be the centrality of doctrinal orthodoxy and being right, rather than the treatment of people. Thus, what you deem as nonsense, others view as a prolonged pattern of the unjust treatment of people… specifically women.

What if you were on the receiving end of such treatment in your workplace? How would you feel? Put yourself in the shoes of women who are being held back simply because they aren’t male. How would you feel and then respond?

One of the most central aspects of Christianity is that its founder identified himself with the mistreated, the marginalized, and the outcasts. Women the world over are treated as such. This issue carries the vestige of such views of women within a church organization that claims an exalted status of Christian discipleship. The disconnect is astounding.

Jesus’ own emphasis and summation of the Torah/Law, indeed the entire scriptures, was, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” This is always “present truth!” How does your view of this issue and response here line up with that?



perhaps what is needed at october’s annual council is formal recognition that, once again, a restructuring of our GC and entire authority arrangement are needed…clearly, a simple majority vote that was largely culturally driven, that carried conscience overtones, and that pitted inconclusive scriptural interpretations against each other, as we saw in san antonio, has not been helpful to our mission, or sense of unity or identity…TW is on record as saying that he would have upheld the san antonio vote had it been yes, which is fine and well…but why do we need a GC structure that calls for a vote on a cultural matter, and then feels a need to enforce that vote…would we not now be better off had the vote in san antonio never taken place…

as i understand it, the last time we restructured - under the gaze of a living prophet - the whole notion of top-down authority from the GC was distinctly and deliberately put to bed…at that time our church was the expression of a single dominant culture…but now that we’re clearly multicultural, and on our way to becoming polycultural, can it really be time for our GC to not only get out of bed, but claim and threaten to use power that can literally destroy our church…isn’t this possibility evidence that our GC structure now is lethal to our interests, and that something must be substituted in its place…what and if some unions are WO, while others are not…given that conclusive scripture on this question doesn’t exist, how can anyone claim an inconsistency with our profession, anymore than is provided by the phenomenon of celebration vs. traditional churches, black vs. white churches, or large vs. small churches…

what is it that the GC accomplishes that cannot be accomplished by the divisions, or the unions…


As with developing and maturing children, progression from one developmental stage to another is frequently precipitated by crisis. If the parents become preoccupied with the crisis at hand instead of ushering and helping their children through the crisis, interpersonal relationships in the family are compromised. The parents are encouraged to look past the stressors and crisis and focus on long term goals. Likewise for our church leaders. Focus on long term goals instead of fighting an unwinnable war. The battle might be won but at the risk of losing the war at which time there will be no one to blame but our leaders, TW and his EXCOMM.

The outcome of the “Year of Grace” rest on no grounds other than personal choices of our leaders and will be more indicative of their personality traits than their concern for our church’s future. I’ll be praying for our fearless and highly esteemed leader TW and his EXCOMM hoping against all odds they make the right decision for our church.


Exactly. This is what we musicians have been doing for years!


As far as our first class division cousins are concerned, does a General Conference majority vote by third class division delegates count? Really? Obviously not. What if our positions were reversed? What was it like when the former could vote as they pleased and had it their way despite protestations by the latter?

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“I have met God as often in the concert hall as I have in the church.” As I recall, my dear uncle Gerald Minchin once said this to me. Don


One of my favorite AUC professors and a dear friend. As much in love with the arts as with theology!!

Don –
Several years ago an organist friend was giving a 30 minute recital on his organ at Christ Church Episc here in Macon. I was sitting toward the back. His next piece was a Bach number. All of a sudden as the music began I had this mental vision that came out of nowhere. I sensed the doors of the church came open, and that a processional began. With the Trinity single file in front, and angels processing behind. It went all the way up the long aisle. And the Trinity took their seat on the altar.
It was ALL VERY STRANGE, but very powerful to me. I can still experience it even now as I write.
I’ve had nothing like it before, or since.


What a novel and fascinating idea - an Adventist opera about the divisions over WO! Now, there’s a great challenge for some of our younger generation musicians to take up! I could even see using a small part of my very limited resources to support it!


I think we forget the OT has a very different view on this matter. I don’t see that Moses was very good at handling “dissidents.” As with the spies, who were fearful, he punished them with death and everyone else under 20 years of age with 40 years living in the desert to boot. Did it work? Not really. Or we would not have the book of Judges. Yet overall the OT prophets were not tolerant to dissidents.

For that matter, neither was Martin Luther.


Ellen White was disfellowshipped from the Methodist Church. It impacted All of her writings. She ends Great Controversy with only the living outcasts will see Jesus as Redeemer.


chapter 21 and 22

seems confusing to me these debates isn’t stopping confusion ok ?