Open Letter: A Call for Unity and Upholding Our Doctrines

June 8, 2015 An Open Letter To: Church Leaders Delegatesto the 2015 GCSession Church Members

RE: A Call for Unity and Upholding Our Doctrines Dear Leaders, Delegates and Church Members:

As we move closer to the 2015 GC Session in San Antonio and the vote on the issue of Women's Ordination (WO), I have been thinking and praying about this upcoming vote and the concern that some have that this issue may split the Unity of the Church and have a major negative impact on some members of God's Church.

I was pleased to see that in the study by the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC), the majority came out clearly in favor of permitting WO and in reality they claim that "ordination" is not a theological issue. While I agree about "ordination" not being a theological question from the biblical perspective, I do have concerns how we as leaders of the Church seem to be able to divorce ourselves from the theology of our 28 Fundamental Beliefs (FB's) and are unwilling to apply these doctrines in our personal and corporate lives as we administer the SDA Church.

As leaders, we say that our doctrines are not optional nor should we allow cultural settings to prevent us from adherence to the doctrines by our members. We say that the Sabbath is to be observed, even if the majority of the people and cultures in the world do not accept the Sabbath and choose to worship on Friday (Muslims) or Sunday (most Christians). If you are an SDA, the Sabbath doctrine is not optional! Similar positions are urged by the church on other doctrines such as Creation, Salvation by Grace, Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; in fact, the church does not teach that any of our doctrines (28 FB's) are optional.

However; when it comes to following the teaching of our 14th Fundamental Belief—Unity in the Body of Christ, and our 17th Fundamental Belief—Spiritual Gifts and Ministries, the Church has chosen to permit cultural biases from around the world to influence how we relate to the issue of allowing God through His Holy Spirit to call women into ministry and also the writing of our GC Policies. We treat these two FB's as though they are optional for our members and leaders in the Church.

The 14th FB reads as follows: "The church is one body with many members, called from every nation, kindred, tongue and people. In Christ we are a new creation; distinctions of race, culture, learning, and nationality; and differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us. We are all equal in Christ, who by one Spirit has bonded us into one fellowship with Him and with one another; we are to serve, and be served without partiality or reservation. Through the revelation of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures we share the same faith and hope, and reach out in one witness to all. This unity has its source in the oneness of the triune, God, who has adopted us as His children." (Rom. 12:4,5; 1 Cor. 12:12-14; Matt. 28:19, 20; Ps.133:1; 2 Cor. 5:16, 17; Acts 17:26, 27; Gal. 3:27-29; Col. 3:10-15; Eph. 4:14-16; 4:1-6; John 17:20-23.) [Emphasis is mine.]

In our 17th FB—Spiritual Gifts and Ministries: we state "God bestows upon all members of His church in every age spiritual gifts which each member is to employ in loving ministry for the common good of the church and of humanity. Given by the agency of the Holy Spirit, who apportions to each member as He wills, the gifts provide all abilities and ministries needed by the church to fulfill its divinely ordained functions. According to the Scriptures, these gifts include such ministries as faith, healing, prophecy, proclamation, teaching, administration, reconciliation, compassion, and self-sacrificing service and charity for the help and encouragement of people. Some members are called of God and endowed by the Spirit for functions recognized by the church in pastoral, evangelistic, apostolic, and teaching ministries particularly needed to equip the members for service, to build up the church to spiritual maturity, and to foster unity of the faith and knowledge of God. When members employ these spiritual gifts as faithful stewards of God's varied grace, the church is protected from the destructive influence of false doctrine, grows with a growth that is from God, and is built up in faith and love." (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:9-11,27,28; Eph.4:8,11-16; Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; 1 Peter 4:10,11.) [Emphasisis mine.]

Given that our Fundamental Beliefs #14 and #17 give us clear guidance on how we as members and leaders are to relate to each other and also makes it clear that it is God through His Holy Spirit who apportions to each member as He wills the gifts and talents needed for the church, who are we, to say we will not recognize God's calling of women to ministry, administration, or leadership? We should not be in the business of trying to tell God whom He is allowed to call into ministry, especially when our 17th Doctrine clearly states that God pours out His Spirit as He wills.

I plead with the leadership of the Church and all the delegates to the 2015 GC Session to vote in favor of upholding the theological principles of our doctrines asvoted by the 1980 GC Session and to permit God to be God and act through the Holy Spirit as He may choose, to call individuals (both men and women) to serve as ministers, administrators and leaders at all levels of the Church. If God does not choose to pour out His Spirit on Women in every Division of the World Field because for cultural reasons He knows that they would not be accepted in ministerial positions at this time, then that is His choosing, but let us as delegates not vote to limit God and His choice to call women into ministry anywhere in the world if He so chooses.

It is obvious that in Europe, North America, China, and some other Divisions of the World Field; God has chosen to pour out His Spirit on women who are faithfully serving and following God's call to ministry. How dare we as ministers, administrators, and delegates to the 2015 GC Session, think that we can forsake our 14thand 17th FB's and tell God that we know best upon whom He may choose to pour out His Sprit in these last days.

I urge you, as leaders, to stand up at the GC Session and strongly urge the delegates to uphold our FB's and vote in favor of the proposed motion to allow Divisions to decide on the issue of WO. Even better would be if the Session would vote to allow the ordination of women in the whole world field just as we voted in 1980 to adopt our FB's and have them apply to the entire church in all areas of the world, even though we knew in 1980 (and still today) that not all areas and cultures of the world field were ready to accept and fully implement our 14th and 17th FB's in their personal lives nor in the corporate church. It is time that we stand up and tell the world that we are no longer willing to consider the 14th and 17th FB's as optional!

Then, I would also urge you as leaders to encourage the delegates to return to their home fields and teach all of our beautiful 28 FB's to their members and help them to understand the true meaning of all our doctrines and to live them out within their personal lives and the corporate life of the church.

There is a gospel song that says "Our Talk Talks and Our Walk Talks, but Our Walk Talks Louder than Our Talk Talks!" Let's show the world that the Adventist Church stands by all our doctrines and that we practice what we preach and teach.

I am praying that our leaders and delegates will uphold the Word of God as expressed in our FB's #14 and #17 as the rule of thumb for administering our church in these final days. Yours for a finished work under the power of the Holy Spirit!

Sincerely

Assistant to Administration

PS. I give permission to each person who may see this letter to publish and share this letter in whatever medium (digital, email or print) you may choose.

James A. Greene is Assistant to the Administration and Director of Planned Giving and Trust Services for the New Jersey Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6859
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The best word that comes to mind here is A-M-E-N.

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Much better than merely showing the world the doctrines we preach are practiced; Adventists should show to the world that we love one another, which is the last message Christ gave us. He did not leave us with a message of obedience to laws or creeds as they are as superfluous to the church as the importance of the law to the Jews and the creeds to the Roman church. The adoption of the 28 are essentially, Adventist creeds, regardless of the label. When creeds become more important it is because the spirit of love has left.

Someone on another site wrote that of all the 28 FBs, not one mentions 1. Cor. 13, the “Love Chapter.” We will be known and respected not by our doctrines, but the love we demonstrate to all–especially our own Adventist brothers and sisters.

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THE LIMITATIONS OF RESOLUTIONS for UNITY

 Sensing the acute problem, faced by church leaders of safeguarding the unity of the church by rooting out differences of Scripture interpretation, Ellen G. White offered this sane counsel: 

“One man may be conversant with the Scriptures, and some particular portion of the Scripture may be especially appreciated by him; another sees another portion as very important, and thus one may present one point, and another, another point, and both may be of highest value. This is all in the order of God. But if a man makes a mistake in his interpretation of some portion of the Scripture, shall this cause diversity and disunion? God forbid. We cannot then take a position that the unity of the church consists in viewing every text of Scripture in the very same light. [bold type added]. The church may pass resolution upon resolution to put down all disagreement of opinions, but we cannot force the mind and will, and thus root out disagree-\ment. These resolutions may conceal the discord, but they cannot quench it and establish perfect agreement. Nothing can perfect unity in the church but the spirit of Christlike forbearrance. Satan can sow discord; Christ alone can harmonize the disagreeing elements. Then let every soul sit down in Christ’s school and learn of Christ, who declares Himself to be meek and lowly of heart. Christ says that if we learn of Him, worries will cease and we shall find rest to our souls.
Ellen G White, Manuscript Release 11, 266.

Our attempts to produce unity may accomplish the exact opposite. Even our so-called enforcement of certain ‘tests of fellowship’ may actually destroy fellowship; we end up shooting our own side first

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It appears we have a catch 22 situation regarding the voting of the FB’s as it appears the delegates are being asked to vote a belief that no one appears to know the interpretation. Thus the question: Which of the current Church teachings regarding Dan. 8:9-14, historically regarded to be the central pillar of the SDA Church, will be the official interpretation of FB 24?

• The pioneer position to Glacier View: The LH represents Rome pagan and papal, verses 9-11 apply to Rome, the crucifixion of Christ, and the destruction of the earthly temple, the identity of the daily is open.

• The interim position post Glacier View. The LH represents Rome pagan and papal, verses 10-12 apply to the Papacy, the daily represents Christ’s ministry.

• The current position, post 2002. The LH represents the Papacy only, verses 9-14 apply to the Papacy. The 2,300 years applies to Papal persecution on earth and in heaven, and a Papal host currently controls the ministry in the heavenly sanctuary.

If FB 24 is voted in its current form, and position 2 or 3 becomes the preferred interpretation, it appears there is a contradiction, as both positions consider 8:10-11 applies to the Papacy taking away Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary.

I have been advised that : “The way things work is that items to go to the floor of the GC session are reviewed by the Annual Council of the GC Executive Committee immediately before the GC session. If items are passed on to the floor of the session by that body, then they go to the floor. Since this item has been handled by due process and passed on to the floor, it will go for consideration by the floor of the session and will be voted upon. We will watch with interest what happens.”

Thus the question, do our delegates, or anyone else for that matter, know which position regarding Daniel 8:9-14 will be applied to the re-worded FB 24 after it is voted?

There is of course the logical position that the LH of 7:8 represents the Papacy only, and the LH of 8:9 represents Rome alone. That verses 9-11 apply to Rome, the crucifixion of Christ, the ratification of the Holy Covenant, and the destruction of the earthly temple. A position that proposes the Papacy does not appear on the scene of action until verse 12 of chapter 8.

So very well put, James

Elder Wilson has led the way to seeking to make possible full church approval of ordaining women to the Seventh-day Adventist ministry. This is no small achievement. He has been perceived otherwise, of course. And deservedly so, especially during his youthful years and perhaps mistakenly so more recently.

By the time the matter that involves ordaining women to the ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist church arrives on the floor of the General Conference for a vote by the delegates, Elder Wilson will have been reelected or replaced.

Either way, imagine the then General Conference President stepping to the microphone reserved for points of order, and speaking to this point of order, indeed your point of order.

‘Mr. Chairman, as President of the General Conference, I rise to a point of order.

In light of Seventh-day Adventist Fundamental Beliefs Numbers 14 and 17 declaring that all gifts of the Spirit are specifically recognized as inclusive with regard to gender,

and … in light of our church organization dully delegating exclusively to the constituencies of the Local and Union Conferences to discern the gifts of the Spirit face to face within the church in their purview,

I am standing in personal recognition that the matter of ordaining women to the ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist church is already presently and properly provisioned for within the church,

and … in light of women already having been ordained to the ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist church within this context, I now believe the matter currently on the floor for discussion and vote is unnecessary and therefor is out of order.

Therefore, in recognition of the full provision for the orderly ordination of women is already present in the church and in recognition of women having already been ordained under the leading of the Holy Spirit as recognized face to face by members in various parts of the world, I move that this matter be tabled.

I yield the floor awaiting a second to this motion to table.”

Your namesake in Acts 15 set the standard for such church leadership choosing to unify under the Holy Spirit as recognized face to face in various Christian communities rather than allow a vote to divide the young church.

It could happen again.

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Bill, I really can’t imagine TW doing that. He has given no indication that he will accept ordination of women, including his appearing at both PUC and CUC to plead otherwise when they voted. Not to mention the way Sandy Roberts was treated in the Yearbook and at Annual Council.

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It’s ironic that in a time when women could not be legal witnesses, Jesus Christ chose women as the first witnesses of his resurrection. Mary is almost always mentioned first in a list of the female disciples of Jesus Christ. She may have been one of the leaders of that group of women who followed Jesus from the outset of his ministry in Galilee to his death and afterward. The risen Jesus appeared to her first. Although the men fled for their lives, the women faithfully followed Jesus to the cross (Matt. 27:55-56), and Mary sat nearby while Joseph of Arimathea put Jesus’ body in the tomb (v. 61). Mary led the women who came to anoint Jesus early on Sunday morning (Mark 16:2), and an angel told them that Jesus had been raised (v. 6). They then told the news to the 11 disciples (Luke 24:10). Jesus appeared first to Mary (John 20:14), and told her to tell the disciples, which she did (vv. 17-18). Even though the testimony of women was not received by courts. Jesus appeared to women first, showing again their significance and value as human beings. These women led the way in proclaiming the gospel. The duty and high privilege of witnessing for Christ as an ordained minister is still open to every believer, without distinction as to gender. Isn’t it about time for us to stand up and be counted on behalf of full integration of women in our church leadership and to do the task God has given all of us?

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Your observations are as you saw them, Carol. And that was a now surprisingly long time ago.

Let me help.

Would you have imagined just 9 months ago that in a week the committee Elder Wilson chaired would recommend that the Annual Council agree that whether a woman, as a woman, can be ordained as a Seventh-day Adventist minister cannot be resolved on a biblical basis?

And would you have expected the Annual Council to support Elder Wilson in near unanimity in agreeing that all that really remains is how to make women’s ordination less threatening to various geographical areas of the world church?

And here we are with both of these improbabilities, indeed what many believed to be impossibilities just nine months ago, now fully supported by leadership from around the world.

What remains now is whether the elected president, next month when this matter arrives on the floor for consideration, will sense that the muddle this vote offers is the best that can be done, and surely it will be if the vote is taken.

However, perhaps the Holy Spirit will inspire and embolden the delegates through the president by giving the president a vision of the historical opportunity this is to decisively position the church for the infusion of the Holy Spirit, starting at its very edges where Seventh-day Adventists come face to face with the world.

A redux of Acts 15 is surely a possibility.

Revelation does not prophesy muddling through.

We are well beyond the improbabilities of what actually happened at Annual Council even just 9 months ago.

The tiller of the church appears to be moving the presidential hand that holds it, and if so, not only he but we all know who moves the church with such irresistible intent.

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Just wondering - are the other nine commandments then optional?

Also wondering - how do we resolve the dissonance between " the Sabbath doctrine is not optional" and “Salvation by Grace” not being optional?

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The 27 then 28 Fundamental Beliefs were adopted in a period of great stress from several sources. they have become a Creedal statement that seriously dilutes the Gospel. if one were to feel secure with creeds, then the Apostles Creed places the focus on a Triune God and the fulfillment of the Everlasting Covenant. It is a clear cut statement of the blessed assurance. It is an affirmation of redemptive faith. One can always say more but one cannot say less than Christ is Lord.,24/7. Tom Z

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Unity is not uniformity! I don’t believe the FBs call for uniformity. Unity is often times best expressed as working and living in harmony.

I also urge you to cease from the use of the term “Final Days”. It sounds wondrously, piously Adventist. But our denomination has been in the “Final Days” for 171 + years. To continue speaking of “these final days” threatens the credibility of our message now. Let us be ready every day. Let us serve the Lord just as faithfully today as if He wasn’t going to return for another 200 years. Let us obey the teaching of Jesus that no one knows the time of His return.

“The finished work” is also not our responsibility. God’s faithful servants having been doing His work for thousands of years. We are part of that. God will finish the work. He does not need any Adventist anywhere to “finish the work”.

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Well, that would indeed be miraculous. But I didn’t see Bonnie report that here on SPECTRUM when she attended Annual Council. I assume you were there? If that’s true, then God does indeed change the heart of the king as He changes the watercourse.

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Pastor Thomsen, excellent post and I love the quotation you used. We as a church need to focus our Unity in Christ and what He has done for our salvation, not insisting on enforcing uniformity of action on policy matters that have nothing to do with the salvation of souls.

It is clear that EGW in her quotation above and the 1877 General Conference Session action which I have copied below make some allowance for members to not be in lockstep uniformity on all points of scripture and even on some actions that may be voted at a GC Session. The GC Session action I will quote can be found in the 2005 Church Manual, 17th Edition, pages 1, 2. (Note: this quotation was removed from the 2010 Church Manual.)

“In the 1877 session this action was taken:”

“Resolved, that the highest authority under God among Seventh-day
Adventists is found in the will of the body of that people, as expressed in
the decisions of the General Conference when acting within its proper
jurisdiction; and that such decisions should be submitted to by all without
exception, unless they can be shown to conflict with the word of God and
the rights of individual conscience.—Review and Herald, vol. 50, No.
14, p. 106.

If I remember correctly, this action was voted when James White was the GC President and it certainly makes allowance for differences of understanding.

We must be careful to not use this 1877 GC Session action to say as members that we will not submit to the decisions of the GC in Session any time we do not like their decision. We need to test the decisions against scripture. The reason I wrote my letter is that I have a strong conviction that our failure to recognize and ordain women to the ministry is contrary to our 14th and 17th FB’s. God’s Word, clearly states in I Cor. 12:11 - “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines” NIV or the wording in the New Living Translation makes it even easier to understand - “It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.”

If God decides to bestow the gift of pastoral ministry on women, who am I to refuse to recognize His calling and leading in their life and ministry. That is God’s business and His alone. I am called to preach the Good News of the Gospel and I will gladly stand beside my fellow pastors, both men and women, whom God has called into ministry.

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Elaine, I am sure there are many who look upon our doctrines as a “creed” instead of a beautiful statement of what Adventists believe based upon scripture. Unfortunately, too many times our doctrines have been presented as the “do and do not” guidelines instead of an expression of God’s love towards us and how we should respond to Him in our personal life because of His gift of salvation to each one of us. If we are truly in Christ, then His love will show though our lives to those around us and we will not find our doctrines burdensome. I agree with you that we need to demonstrate the Love of God to all.

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Bonnie did an excellent job of reporting, and I was not in attendance personally. What I’ve summarized is the net result, based on the document itself and the near unanimity by the Annual Council representatives, as Bonnie reported, in sending the document to the General Conference session.

My interpretation as to its meaning with regard to Elder Wilson personally, it just that. An interpretation. It is difficult to imagine Elder Wilson pleading with his executive committee from around the world behind closed doors to stonewall women’s ordination still and then letting the report of the committee claim unanimous support in recommending this document be approved by the Annual Council for voting on by the delegates to the General Conference session.

It is increasingly obvious, it seems. that the Holy Spirit is moving Elder Wilson by moving the church. And how much better can it get?

To abandon the search for a forced, worldwide biblical solution with regard to women’s ordination in the Seventh-day Adventist church, has happened, and it has happened under Elder Wilson’s watch. He clearly is letting the Holy Spirit lead in this regard. I must confess I had more than a few doubts along the past five years, though clearly the Holy Spirit continues to lead where I wasn’t looking or couldn’t see.

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Does the Holy Spirit use political means to change minds? God moves in mysterious ways. Sometimes, folks begin to see the handwriting on the wall more clearly over time.

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Yes and at times over the course of a single gathering. Pretty inspiring, too.

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In fact, you are wrong,

When the 27FB was first published, it was stated that “Most SdA believe all of these, and all SdA believe most of these”. Individual FB were indeed optional,

Somehow since then the GC, without any authority to do so, seems to beiieve it can tell members what they must believe, But the SdA has a BOTTOM UP power structure, and a person is an SdA if and only if a local congregation accepts their name on their books, No-one can and no-one does force a local congregation to valid that members accepted before the GC made this power grab believe all the FB, When #28 was passed, the congregations did not go around their members asking if they believed it.

The FB were and still are optional Regardless what power-grabbers at the GC say.

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I applaud this letter by James Greene. While I also agree with the observations of @bevin_brett as regards the role of the local church in accepting members into fellowship, FB numbers 14 and 17 are surely among the more important and more universally accepted of the church beliefs, at least in principle, so I think Greene’s heartfelt plea comes from a good place.

But how much better would it be, if the action from the GC session were along the lines of “Ordination is a matter for Union Conferences. There is nothing in the present policies of the church that restricts Ordination to men, so if Union Conferences want to approve the ordination of women, it is within their power to do so, and the GC encourages this”.

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