Dark clouds rolled into Silver Spring overnight and raindrops fell on members of the General Conference Executive Committee Sunday as they gathered for the first business session of Annual Council. Inside the mood was somber as well as GT Ng, secretary of the General Conference, presented his secretary’s report on “Adventism 911” detailing seven crises in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church:
The Marion Rebellion of 1865 when Iowa Conference President B. F. Snook and Secretary W. H. Brinkeroff were not re-elected as expected. “There is a time of appointment and a time of disappointment,” Dr Ng said. These men carried on a campaign of criticism. Several churches broke up. They took one third of the members with them. “But the church moved on.”
The Canright Defection of 1887 is still affecting us today, he said, because of the book that Canright wrote, Seventh-day Adventism Renounced, which is still in print. He was the church’s leading evangelist and worked as a minister for 22 years. He accused Ellen and James White of autocratic behavior and left. “But the church moved on. Membership 10 years later had increased by 100%.”
The 1888 Theological Crisis broke Ellen G. White’s heart and affected her personally. It pitted G.I. Butler, president, and Uriah Smith, secretary, on one side, and on the other side, A.T. Jones and E.J. Waggoner, the two young editors of Signs of the Times, in a theological disagreement at the 1888 General Conference Session. EGW sided with Waggoner and Jones. She was deeply disappointed in the way the GC Session turned out. While she spoke almost 20 times, she was spurned by the leaders and her testimony ignored. This is one of the reasons the church shipped her out to Australia. She was told to go and she went. “And the church moved on.”
The 1901 Organizational Crisis. Mrs. White had declared that the GC leadership was no longer the voice of God, it had become a strange fire. This is when she first used the term “kingly power” regarding the concentration of power in the hands of a few people. Then, at the 1901 General Conference Session, the union conference structure was proposed and accepted; the GC Committee was expanded to include the world field, departments were established, and independent organizations were brought under the control of the GC. “The church moved on.”
The Kellogg Crisis of 1907 involved Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who was a genius, said Ng. Kellogg wrote The Living Temple which was declared heresy for its pantheism. In 1907, he was disfellowshipped. In a seven-hour interview, Kellogg boldly declared, “I don’t see anything ahead of the SDA denomination but complete wreckage.” Adventism seemed certain to split down the middle. Two hundred ministers, teachers, and medical workers left the Church. “But the church moved on.”
The Conradi Defection of 1932. Ludwig R. Conradi was president of the European Division. Under his leadership, there was great membership growth. He pioneered the work in Egypt, Turkey, and Palestine; broke new grounds in African countries such as Zimbabwe, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia, as well as in South America in Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay. But in 1922, he was not re-elected, and it was a fateful disappointment to him. He felt he was ousted unfairly. In 1932, at the age of 76, he turned in his ministerial credentials. “The church moved on.”
The Ford Crisis. Des Ford was an Australian scholar of the first degree with two PhDs. He was head of the South Pacific Division’s Biblical Research Institute. When he gave a talk critical of the church’s stand on the sanctuary doctrine and the Investigative Judgment, the General Conference stepped in. He was given six months to write a paper stating his position. Then, 114 people convened at Glacier View to review what he had written. The Sanctuary Review Committee concluded that he had undercut the church and his ministerial credentials were revoked. Over 180 ministers left the church. “But the church moved on.”
In conclusion, Dr. Ng repeated the quote that those who cannot remember the past are destined to repeat it. Musicians came to the platform and sang “Remind Me, Dear Lord” and the audience was invited to join in as a prayer: “Nothing good have I done to deserve God’s own Son; I’m not worthy of the scars in his hand. Yet he chose the road to Calv’ry to die in my stead; Why He loved me, I can’t understand. Roll back the curtain of mem’ry now and then; show me where you brought me from and where I could have been. Remember, I’m human and humans forget, so remind me, remind me, dear Lord.”
But Dr. Ng was not yet finished. He had six reminders to add:
Remind us who we are and what we are about.
Remind us that you are on the throne.
Remind us that rebellion has no future.
Remind us that the church is far from perfect.
Remind us that distraction does not pay.
Remind us dear Lord, that the church shall continue.
He concluded with a motion to accept the report. President Ted Wilson, who was chairing the session, said he felt like he had been to a revival meeting. “GT led us to think deeply. The book that GT was quoting from was the book you received yesterday, Last Day Events. It is one of my favorites, a compilation. Tonight, I want you to look at Chapter 4, God’s Last Day Church. You have the book. There is no excuse. Read it tonight.”
Then he asked for the obligatory first and second on the motion to approve, followed by the usual, “Are there any comments or questions?” Thomas Muller, president of the Danish Union Conference went to the microphone. “I’m puzzled about this being in the Secretary’s Report,” he said. “This seems to be sort of a warm up for Monday afternoon. If it is an introduction to Monday afternoon, I found some of the comparisons inappropriate. 911 conveys very strong words. While I acknowledge there is an issue in front of us, it is not a theological question out on the far right, or people wanting to be elected inappropriately.”
Dr. Ng responded that the report was on trends in the church. He said the report was conceived a year ago, but just now delivered.
Ricardo Graham, president of the Pacific Union Conference, also went to the microphone. “In all due respect and speaking in love, the material presented was a sermon. I don’t think it should be recorded as a report. It should be accepted as a presentation, but not as a report.”
Elder Wilson responded, “this will be recorded as a report. The Secretary can say anything he wants to say. I thank God for the Secretary.” A smattering of applause broke out. Then Wilson proceeded to the vote asking for it to be received with yes, and opposed by no. While the yeses carried the day, there were a good number of no votes, too. Wilson said there was a lot of truth in what had been said, and that we have nothing to fear from the future.
After reports on the SDA Encyclopedia and Geoscience Research Institute, it was time to break for lunch. Walking outside, the rain had stopped, but there was plenty of humidity making it feel as sticky outside as the atmosphere inside.
Afternoon presentations included several division reports on Mission to the Cities: Blasio Rugeris, president of the East Central Africa Division, described the 250,000 Total Member Involvement (TMI) baptisms that had taken place following the evangelistic efforts in Nairobi. Rafat Kamil, president of the Trans-European Division used maps to show how plans had been made to inform church planting in London. Dan Jackson, president of the North American Division, talked about Houston and the work done there following Hurricane Harvey. He said the Division has set a goal of 1,000 churches to be planted before the next General Conference Session.
Dr. Peter Landless, director of the GC Health Department Ministries, introduced Dr. Kenneth Pargament of Bowling Green State University who has developed a program to address pornography addiction. He gave statistics on porn use, saying that 1 in 3 Christian men look at porn and that 33 percent of pastors look at porn. Gateway to Wholeness, the program that he has developed, is an online program to help people move beyond the guilt and shame associated with porn addiction and go forward to reach future goals. He expressed his appreciation to Seventh-day Adventists for their support in the development of the program.
The policy agenda scheduled for the afternoon had many items to consider, but first Undersecretary Myron Iseminger gave an overview of the history of the GC Working Policy—complete with pop quizzes. Then he proceeded item by item through the proposed changes. There were several in connection with ministerial training. The additions of university faculty to the International Board of Ministerial and Theological Education (IBMTE), as well as to Division BMTEs were approved. But the items that described ministerial training policy were pulled for further review. One of the items had changed the wording from “The general plan is that young people take the full Master of Divinity curriculum” to “The general plan is that candidates pursue advanced theological or religious education;” a change that raised great concern by Seminary representatives and pastors in the audience. Further consideration will be given to this item.
Likewise there was concern expressed about the proposed change to the General Conference Executive Committee Constitution and Bylaws Amendment. In Article XIII, Sec. 1.c. a phrase was being added to the section on who the Executive Committee shall have the power to elect or remove. Currently, the committee can remove for cause those in “elected or appointed positions.” It was being proposed that additionally the phrase for cause would also apply for removal “from membership on the General Conference Executive Committee” for: “1) incompetence; 2) persistent failure to cooperate with duly constituted authority in substantive matters and with relevant employment and denominational policies; 3) actions which may be the subject of discipline under the SDA Church Manual, 4) failure to maintain regular standing as a member of the SDA Church; 5) theft or embezzlement; or 6) conviction of or guilty plea for a crime.” When this item was introduced, Lowell Cooper, retired vice president of the General Conference and an Executive Committee member, went to the microphone and requested that the item be postponed until after the discussion on Monday afternoon, given its relationship to what would be considered on Monday. The item was pulled.
The rest of the policy items were approved. Just before proceedings were coming to a close for the day, Elder David Weigley, president of the Columbia Union Conference, went to the microphone and respectfully requested that the item that will be considered on Monday afternoon be sent to members via email this evening, so they would have a chance to review the wording before tomorrow’s meeting. Elder Wilson responded that the item would be distributed tomorrow afternoon at the start of the session.
This “secret” item was alluded to several times during the day. Committee members were told that they would need to scan their badges to get into the session when it would be considered. They were instructed to come early to be sure to get a seat before 1:20 p.m., when the general public would be allowed to enter. An overflow room has been designated for the anticipated large crowd. Live streaming of the event has also been added.
With that, it was time to sing another early Advent hymn to close the business day. When we left the building, the skies had cleared but more rain is predicted for Monday.
Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.
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