The Conference on the Contours of European Adventism (Day Three)

In the final session on Thursday morning, Dr. Rolf Pöhler, leader of the Institute of Adventist Studies at Friedensau Adventist University, rose to the task which his colleague Stefan Höschele called, “putting together the pieces of the mosaic from the previous two days!”

His paper was called, “Bringing the Treasures into the City of God.” Using the picture in Revelation 21:23-26 of nations all bringing their treasure to the New Jerusalem, Pöhler asked two basic questions: 1) What contribution might the European church – less than 2% of the world-wide population of Adventists – offer to the global church, especially as the global center of gravity moves south? And, 2) If there is such a thing as European Adventism, is its input desired at all by the leadership of the church and by other world regions or are European Adventists “too insignificant and idiosyncratic to be considered a blessing to the global church?”

Free from some of the restraints of time placed on previous speakers, Pöhler went on to explore the evidence for there being various “Adventisms” in the global church. He suggested that the “concerned and sustained effort by the denomination’s top leadership to foster church unity by imposing uniformity of beliefs and policies on a worldwide scale is telling evidence of the very existence of such diversities.”

But is the concept of European Adventism inappropriate and actually misleading? Pöhler suggested that on an administrative level, European Adventists, lack… “a shared vision and a common goal….Europe is irreducibly and irreversibly heterogeneous,” he said.

At the same time, Pöhler argued, Europeans share a great deal: “mutual history, cultural imprint, economic systems, political institutions and juridical traditions…More than any other continent except Australia, Europe is characterized by secularism and post-modernism.” He suggested that the post-modern reality faced by European Adventists may be “a herald of what tomorrow will be faced in other parts of the world.” European Adventists, Pöhler argued, may be pioneers.

Finally, he turned his attention to the four “treasures” which, in his view, European Adventists may offer to enrich the world church. (In a footnote, he owned that these suggestions reflect his personal biography and upbringing in Western Germany.) The European gifts he named were: cultural sensitivity, Protestant identity, conscientious adaptability, and critical loyalty.

Cultural Sensitivity

To demonstrate what he meant by this, Pöhler recalled the approach to German evangelism of the early German Adventist leader, Conradi, who presented Adventism not as an American movement but as a European phenomenon, rooted in Europe long before William Miller. Following his approach, “Adventists in Germany prefer to see themselves, not as a national branch of an American movement but as an indigenous free church molded by the European context and culture,” said Pöhler.

Protestant Identity

Despite the emphases of The Great Controversy, the consistent application of the Protestant emphasis on sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, sola scriptura tends to be “more an aspiration than a reality” among global Adventists. When it comes to moving away from these emphases, European Adventists with a Reformation imprint have something to offer. They are “seismographs who sense tremors before others notice them.”

Conscientious Adaptability

European Adventists, especially those who live in places where freedom of speech is not valued, have learned “to show their loyalty to the state without denying their commitment to God.” In Western Europe, marked by widespread secularism and pronounced individualism, Pöhler claimed that Adventists have learned different skills of conscientious adaptability, adapting to new cultural contexts without betraying their loyalty to Christ. The courage and commitment and the prudence and circumspection this requires are the gifts of faithful European disciples.

Critical Loyalty

Referring again to the German leader, Conradi, and his history of establishing the “European General Conference,” Pöhler observed that there remains in American Adventism a suspicion that European Adventism – and particularly German Adventism – is set on an independent course. Critical questioning from Europeans regarding church teachings and policy decisions have reinforced the notion of insubordinate European Adventism. European history of Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment has developed in secular Europeans and their Adventist counterparts the ability to ask probing questions, to critique, and to disagree. This approach, claimed Pöhler, quoting German Adventist historian, Daniel Heinz, “can contribute in a fruitful way to the clarification of the Adventist deposit of faith.” Critical loyalty, he maintained, calls for loyal criticism. The institutional church needs such an approach.

Pöhler claimed that these gifts are not the exclusive possession of European Adventists or even of Adventists, just that they are typically European. He made no claim for European Adventist superiority or specialness. Rather, he thanked God for the rich variety of Adventist European history and experience.

In conclusion, Pöhler turned his attention briefly to the future and the lasting changes to European Adventism with the influx of Adventist immigrants. Social cohesion, commitment, and enthusiasm are the gifts many of them bring and the Adventists of the Old Continent must learn to dialogue with these with respect – critically but also with generosity. And not only with them but also with European society, with global Adventism, and within European Adventism itself.

Pöhler gave the last word to a non-European Adventist working in Europe: the Peruvian theologian and philosopher, Dr. Hanz Gutierrez, Chair of the Systematic Theology Department at the Italian Adventist Theological Faculty at Villa Aurora. “While the ‘De-Europeanization of European Adventism’ through demographic (ethnic) changes may be securing its survival, it is also jeopardizing its uniqueness by blending with a globalized form of Adventism.” To some of his listeners, the words seemed prophetic.

Further Reading: The Conference on the Contours of European Adventism (Day One) The Conference on the Contours of European Adventism (Day Two)

Helen Pearson is a counselor, psychotherapist, writer, and trainer from Wokingham in England and a longtime elder of Newbold Church. She and her husband, Michael, run the website Pearsons’ Perspectives.

Photo courtesy of the author.

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Thank you Helen, for this quick and excellent summary, making scholarly work quite easily understood for anyone interested (and apparently you don’t have to be German to understand Germans :wink: ).

I am impressed by Rolf Pöhler’s succinct descriptions of European Adventism. While I doubt Conradi actually plays a role in the awareness of current German Adventists (I actually knew a person who had known Conradi personally … but she herself died about 30 years ago at a very old age…) the four treasures certainly ring true to me - a European Adventist.


Speaking of Rolf Pohler’s summary contribution to the Conference Helen Pearson had the following to say:

I have no quarrel with any of these European gifts. Yet let me be so bold as to make my own list which comes from my own experience of European Adventism both as a Newbold College student in the 1980’s, from my own study of European religious history and as one whose Anglo-Celtic heritage runs deep and strong in my veins.


  1. Biblical Preaching - The Protestant Reformation was always accompanied by a revival of expository preaching.

  2. Emphasis on a Religion of the Heart - Such a warm hearted religion was evident in the systematic instruction of John Wesley in England and the Moravians in the German states just as much as in the ministry of Ellen White.

  1. Emphasis on a Religion of Hope in the Coming King and His Kingdom - The “gospel of the kingdom” was the message of the prophets, of our Saviour and His apostles and of real Adventists.

Without these three gifts our Adventism will become just noise and fury signifying nothing. With them our message and mission will be fruitful.


Speaking of De-Europeanization of 21st century Adventism through demographic change: There is the encouraging possibility that different perspectives and experiences may invigorate ‘tired cultures’ and faith traditions, bringing renewed energy and commitment to mission.
Is the Adventist (demographic) experience in the UK an example of this, or is it merely indicative of a colonial culture returning to its place of origin, reflected in and bolstered by current GC leadership and policies?

“Conscientious Adaptability” brings to mind survival skills in holding to faith while surrendering some elements of religious practice due to social pressures. With European Adventist it means when they are around American Conservatives they are able to adapt to their ways as a means of keeping peace. They may concede to church teachings and doctrines, but not feel personally obligated to enforce them as absolutes.

I don’t think this attitude is productive for long term evangelism, when the church holds 27-28 undeniable truths that are undismissable.

In the final decades of the 19th century, a movement called New Education took root in America as a reaction against entrenched methods of teaching history and other subjects. First developed in Germany by Johann Friedrich Herbart, his most far reaching idea and impact was that education’s grand purpose was delivering moral and ethical lessons. Supporters of New Education argued that students should be taught to think systematically and to ask questions, rather than memorize lists of facts. Since that time there has been an increasingly fruitful dialogue between American and European educators, helped along in recent decades by the rise of a global communications network that includes email and the Internet. European Adventists are known for asking good questions in the quest for finding truth and authenticity. The best teachers I had while attending the seminary at Andrews and other graduate schools in my life, were from Europe. Each one was distinctive and yet in one area they excelled. They all encouraged me to ask good questions in the lifelong quest for learning truth.

What we really need (and badly!) is a NEW GC!

Most of our current problems are caused by an intransigent GC Prez who dares to even threat an Union with “grave consequences” if a certain vote is taken by the Union’s constituents. Or, from a dictator podium, not allowing the name of a Conference (SECC) President legally elected to be be included in the Yearbook.

And more recently this absurd signing of an allegiance contract during the AC17? It resembles some Soviet kind of management. The KGB is gone, I only hope there is not a KGC now…

What I suggest is the RCC model, having TWO POPES at the same time, the second being the active one while the first is ostracized. The SDA leadership in Europe should consider electing a second GC Prez asap, so that they no longer have to follow this model:

Hoping for changes soon.


George, I place the blame on all of us who elect and support the leadership we have chosen.
As an Alternate Delegate to the forthcoming constituency meeting of my local conference, I attended a preparatory meeting put on by the conference where no new questions, strategies or alternatives were proposed for the operation and growth of the local church. There was little “authority” in the plans and speeches that were presented. There was plenty of “power” on display. Overall it was reported that financially we are doing just fine, There were no fundamental alternatives to the status quo of apathy that was present. No one was asking good questions in preparation for the five year event of an important constituency meeting. As long as we elect leadership that is interested in more power though creeds, outdated policies and gender inequality nothing will change. Neal Wilson or a “new GC” is not the only problem. It is the need for power. Power has overwhelmed authority. As long as we can pay the bills we are just fine.
The need for power – the others are the needs for affiliation and achievement – is where you are motivated to dominate and control what other people want, need or fear. “Need for power” was identified by the great psychologist David McLelland as one of three basic, largely unconscious drives, which motivate people to different degrees. American presidents and some Adventist leaders, who show this need, throughout our history, been more likely to take our country and church into wars and theological rabbit holes than those who don’t. Our current President may want to escalate the current stand-off with North Korea as a prelude to something worse. Dwight Eisenhower didn’t show it for instance, while George W Bush did.
All leaders seem to have a certain appetite for power – leadership is too stressful otherwise, and power’s effects on the brain. But like all addictive drugs, too much for too long causes dangerous changes in the brain, which include reckless disinhibition, risk-blindness and difficulty in seeing things from other’s perspective. Power fosters the delusion of indispensability and many political and religious leaders have created havoc in fighting to stay in a post because they genuinely believe their abilities are crucial for the survival of their country and that no-one else can do it. George, your comparisons of our situation to Soviet Russia or the KGB should serve as cautionary narrative. Vladimir Putin has held power in Russia as president or prime minister for approaching 15 years – too long for any man or woman’s brain to endure without dangerous changes which foster recklessness and a blindness to other perspectives.


“As long as we can pay the bills we are just fine.”

Yes, and I wonder why those “Dire Consequences” (a la Ted Wilson) hasn’t occurred yet? Perchance that it might have to do with not disrupting that good financial flow?? North America and part of Europe still funds a healthy portion of the annual overall SDA budget.


Many years ago, way back, welcoming one lone European scholar missionary to our school, in what was traditionally a mission field for North Americans, due in part to geopolitical subdivisions drawn at the GC headquarters, proved to be an opener for us students as well his academic colleagues. Pohler’s comments aptly describe the kind of respectful dialogue this particular missionary modeled. If we “seek first to understand, then to be understood,” there’s hope we might still learn from both sides, regardless of how we draw the lines between North and South, East and West, first and third class world Divisions of our church.

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If they were “Undeniable”, the Wilsons wouldn’t have worked so hard to generate and enforce a creed…and prevent collegial discussion of those “truths” that cannot survive without coercion.


The present Authority over the SDA Church is clearly on no such quest.


I noticed throughout the years that the “American SDAs” often become aggravated when people ask questions on issues that are not clear. I wonder if that happens because they actually do not have answers but are too proud to admit it…


Harry Elliott wrote “The present Authority over the SDA Church is clearly on no such quest.” I had suggested that “European Adventists are known for asking good questions in the quest for finding truth and authenticity.” One of the problems with the present church governance issues and the way they are being handled in Europe and the USA is that our political contexts are so different. The idea that the term “Authority over the SDA Church” is understood and accepted in governing our church, is a myth. We use the terms “power” and “authority” wrongly when conducting the business of the church.

Authority is the right or power assigned to an individual in order to achieve the respective goals and aims of an organization. It defines the limits and actions which an individual is supposed to take for assuring the progress of an enterprise.

Church members in the USA often get confused between the terms, ‘power’ and ‘authority’, they assume that these are similar in context, but it is not so. Power is the manipulation or usage of the authoritative rights, which are supposed to be implemented on the right path. It is the ability to control, while authority is the right to enforce the control. For example: A GC or USA President can be considered as a very powerful person. However, he/she, does not have the authority to implement actions on his/her accordance or wishes, that is the legislative rules/policies cannot be passed by a President just because he or she just wants to.

Authority is the enforcement of power, whereas power is the ability to control and manage authority. We get into serious problems as a nation or as a church when we try to lead or govern without authority. Authority is owned or gained after much hard work and experience. Power, on the other hand, is strength that is applicable during any rule in an organization. Both can be fairly distinguished while playing their respective roles. We confuse “power” with “authority” all too often in governing God’s church.

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You are exactly correct. I used the word authority ironically because, sadly, the present GC president is Authoritarian with a capital “A”.

If we have 27-28? undeniable truths, why doesn’t the GC leadership adhere to fundamental belief #14? “We are all equal in Christ”


Because, they believe and reason, our equality is found “in Christ.” Not the in church or social order. In Gen 3, God placed woman under male control and in the Hebrew Sanctuary women were not allowed entrance into the presence of God as a priest. Thus some people believe, that God has mandated a Biblical order that places males in leadership. (Strange: married men know that in hundreds of ways women rule and often are better at management.)

Because they think they are above the law, therefore those 28 don’t fully apply to them. Discriminators will go long distances to fight for their causes. Very sad, bad behavior, unbelievable it happens among religious people, especially “the remnant.”

Only way to “drain the swamp” is to vote those people OUT in 2020.

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This may be the cause of the discriminators’ fear to share certain positions of power with women. It’s all a psychological process intended to protect their weakness.
Did they get addicted to exerting Power & Control? Treatment is available, they can get free consultation with our psychiatrist “par excellence” Dr @elmer_cupino who will gladly help them to reboot their brains and bring them to normality again.

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Of course, those who believe this, totally deny the Protestant Doctrine of The Priesthood of ALL Believers which occurred after Christ’s death when the curtain was torn from top to bottom signifying direct access through Christ by every human. Then, of course, Christ sent the Holy Spirit with GIFTS for ALL for the ministry to spread the Gospel to every corner of the earth. Those gifts do not have gender earmarks on them.

Why would those who deny that the Holy Spirit can gift any gender for spiritual leadership try to roll us back to the time before Christ’s death, “the Christ Event” as Tom Zwemer calls it? Not only is denial of The Priesthood of ALL Believers an attempt to control the Holy Spirit and dictate to whom He can provide spiritual gifts, it is also a denial of the direct access of everyone to Christ, and thus the equality all have with Christ.

It is sad, that a portion of our church, those who deny Fundamental Belief #14, are also tampering with the role of the Holy Spirit, The Priesthood of ALL Believers, and are insisting on inviting the headship Heresy into our church which also tampers with the Trinity.