The Role of Union Conferences in Relation to Higher Authorities*

In March 2016, I presented two papers to a group of influential Adventist administrative and lay leaders. These papers, until now, have not been released. But, given the current discussion in Silver Spring, the time has come. The most pertinent of the papers is “The Role of Union Conferences in Relation to Higher Authorities.” Although written months before the recent paper by the General Conference, it addresses many of the same issues from a very different perspective. The other paper (actually the first in my presentation series) sets the stage for the one on Unions. It’s title is “The Antiorganizational People Organize in Spite of Themselves.” -George R. Knight

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Thank you, Dr. Knight, for this informative explanation of the history of Adventist ecclesiology, your incisive analysis, and clarifications of the options before us as a global community of faith. May this study be widely read and carefully heeded!


In the light of the magnitude of the what Dr. Knight is describing–an unfolding betrayal of the very heart of Adventist’s prophetic heritage by the Executive Committee itself–the delegates at the Annual Council meeting should move to immediately table all further discussion about what to do with the unions that have ordained women. How can they vote without being informed, and how can they be informed without hearing serious presentations from distinguished scholars who have studied Adventist history no less diligently than the Secretariat?


Thank you George! Your chronicles of Adventist history have covered every possible angle! Your gift of knowledge is such a blessing to many! I pray God blesses you and continues to let your light shine around the world. This was so needed at this time. Many are still confused, but whoever has ears, listen!

I was reminded by Ellen White’s words:

“In reviewing our past history, having traveled over every step of advance to our present standing, I can say, Praise God! As I see what the Lord has wrought, I am filled with astonishment, and with confidence in Christ as leader. We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.” -LS 196

May the Spirit of Jesus lead His church!


Brilliant observations! Dr. Knight is really some hope in this darkness…
Tim Keller would say…“the demon is in too deep”…
History did not convince them (Jankiewicz had made his point long before San Antonio), the studies of the Bible scholars and others of the TOSC did not convince them, logic (EGW was a woman) did not convince them, The courageous action of the unions did not convince them, the negative response of western young people did not convince them…
“Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting”. May be we should do that.


Exposed as to how ridiculous this issue has become. This essay needs wide distribution and prayerful reading. It’s time to bury the issue of ordination into the primary calling of the Church: sharing the everlasting gospel with hands laid upon men and women who have been called and gifted of God as pastors. Let’s end this madness and get on with hastening the coming of the Lord by allowing variance in the manner of mission that local fields can relate to and accept.


Leaders at every level of Adventism need to be well-acquainted with our history, most especially those elected to the General Conference. This historical process makes eminent sense in light of what we are struggling with today. Thanks Dr. Knight for this truly helpful chronicle!


Ordination is a POWER action.
It places a recipient as a Control Person.
It is an EGO Enhancing Activity.
It Separates Classes of people in the Church.
The Ordained Person is no longer a Lay Person.
One is Elevated.

To REMOVE Ordination is to REMOVE all of the above.
The MALE EGOS of the 300+ MALE members of the Autumn Council AND the Spring Council
will NOT ALLOW that to happen to them.
Without this Symbol of WHO THEY ARE, How are these and all the other thousands of MALES
going to function??


Ordination is only those things to those who do not understand a Seventh-day Adventist Theology of Ordination.

Annual Council 2014 voted to adopt a Theology of Ordination that clearly states, “Seventh-day Adventists understand ordination, in a biblical sense, as the action of the Church in publicly recognizing those whom the Lord has called and equipped for local and global Church ministry.”

To understand ordination from the standpoint of this statement takes away all the negative attributes many ascribe to ordination as you’ve listed.


Always amazing, how prophetic a look into history can be…

Thank you, Dr Knight.


Curious seeing my GrtGrandfather is placed in the annals SDAism for other than establishing the work in Africa (and his son marrying EGW granddaughter).

Thank-you, George, for the balance of your presentation. May we all achieve such.

"Come out of her my people that ye be not partakers of her sins."


It is interestIng that Dr. Knight made his paper available to the readership of Adventist Today and Spectrum, which would probably make it suspect in the eyes of some within the Adventist church. Has there been an attempt to invite Dr Knight to present it to the participants of Autumn Council or to make the paper available to each participant?


I wept as I read this article. There are so many issues and people at stake. - Carla Gober-Park


i suppose we now have a choice in whom to believe: george knight’s version of union authority, or the GC secretariat’s…

if george knight’s version is correct, and the reorganization called for by egw in 1901 really was about removing the possibility of the exercise of kingly power by the GC, and allowing local jurisdictions to call their own shots, this entire episode with WO - the endless studies and committee reports; the nonstop positioning for advantage; the rank, unapologetic politicking in san antonio; the massive blame game; the threats - has been a gong show…if the GC has no authority to impose uniformity on WO throughout the world church, it means the vote submitted to the delegates in san antonio was in itself illegitimate…this in turn means everything we’ve been witnessing during this past year, and longer, has been pointless…


Very interesting article, and a very good time to hear from an historian!

Perhaps you all remember this video, released several months before SA2015, about Ellen White’s 1903 vision:

What Might Have Been
from The Adventist Church (Official)

After the 1901 General Conference Session, Ellen White had a vision in which she saw church leaders reconciling their differences, and confessing their sins against each other.

When she awoke from the vision, Mrs. White realized that what she had witnessed was not a reality. Pride and hardened hearts prevented God’s people from being united.

Deeply grieved, she understood that the Lord could have come in their lifetime, but His people did not surrender their thoughts and opinions to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Regarding Higher Authorities, at about the 9:30 mark in the above YouTube video, the Ellen White character begins to speak:

The light given me is that this people should stand higher than any other people on the face of the earth.

So much pressure on Seventh-day Adventists, decade after decade. The Lord hasn’t come because of us. All the horrible deaths and atrocities of the 20th century, all because of us.

9/11, the Tsunami, the Haiti earthquake. All because of us.

Is Ted Wilson indirectly telling us in that video that if we ordain women at the (then) upcoming SA2015, it will prevent the Eschaton?

Friends, if he is, let’s finally call spiritual abuse by its right name in Seventh-day Adventism.

They bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

Have we so learned Christ, whose yoke is easy and burden light?

I hope David Larson is right that, in all likelihood, a more moderate GC president will follow Ted Wilson, and a schism can be avoided. I hear wisdom and moderation in his latest suggestions, and I truly hope my experience and intuitions are misinforming me.

David Read suggests that this "year of grace: is a mistake and will be used “lawyer up,” but I don’t hear aggression in David Larson’s admonition, I hear leadership, initiative, and concern for the family. Thank God for that.

Perhaps this could also be a year of reassessing what about Adventism is truly relevant personally to each one and talking that over.

If someone jumps the gun and triggers schism, it will be very difficult to heal.

There is much Adventist history already that remains unprocessed and unhealed.

The sad incident that triggered the formation of Regional Conferences–can that truly said to be healed?

And let us not forget that we have a century-old unhealed schism already in our history:

The Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement split from the Seventh-day Adventist Church during World War I, when the official church in Germany voted to allow its members to serve in the army, carry arms and fight on Sabbath. A small minority (2% of members) refused, and so were disfellowshipped.

…the actual point of discord that resulted in the division was the full active participation of the church during World War I and the disfellowshipping of those who refused such participation.

The Reform Movement tried to re-join the main church after World War I, but were rebuffed. Is this correct? Why?

Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement President Explains the Century-Old Church Split

Adventism has already had a (2%!) schism over matters of conscience. I find the reasoning hard to understand in that case, and in the present threatened split.

And, if you’re wondering why I’m saying “our” history, ponder the “great cloud of witnesses” that were once Seventh-day Adventists, and considered part of your family. Your history is our history too, often to a very deep extent. Are we part of your history also?

I can’t verify Tom Norris’ numbers, and, in any case, they are out of date, but:

As can be seen in the figure above, there are only 450,000 (20.77%) active church members remaining in the U.S.; 216,199 (9.98%) inactive members; and 1,500,000 (69.25%) former members.

Such a large accession rate, combined with those who are already moving in that direction (approximately 80%), is an intolerable statistic that must be quickly addressed and resolved. Should this trend continue into the 1990s, the survival of the Denomination much beyond the year 2000 is doubtful. (With such bleak statistics, it is truly a miracle that the Church still survives today).

There is little doubt that dramatic action must be implemented immediately in order to reverse these startling statistics.

Denominational repositioning is no longer an option, it is a mandatory action that must be taken if the Church is to survive.

Christianity Today: Adventists Assess Why 1 in 3 Members Leave the Church

The Seventh-day Adventist Church boasts 18 million members worldwide. But leaders recently revealed the denomination has lost one in three members over the last 50 years.

Additionally, for every 100 people the Adventist church gains, it loses 43 previous members, according to research presented at the denomination’s first Summit on Nurture and Retention, reports Adventist News Network (ANN).

As I said on another thread, this is an opportunity, seen with different eyes.

Maybe Adventist eschatology will not be neutered by integrating it with its soteriology. Who knows what wonderful insights might emerge if you welcome your women into full fellowship!


A long history all to present EGW’s quotes on kingly power? Not what happened at the last 3 GC votes. The bottom up voted.

Perhaps it would be helpful to read George Knight’s article again to understand what he is saying.

That the San Antonio vote was “bottom up” is somewhat of an illusion. And George Knight points out why: A great proportion of the delegates who voted came from areas of the world without a real understanding of or experience in democracy. Instead, they have been conditioned to act as instructed by their authority figures. And in quite a few conferences of several unions, delegates were instructed to vote “No.” Even though the final vote was secret, that would not prevent a grilling on how the delegates voted once they got back to their home conferences and “severe consequences” if they did not vote as instructed.

Something George Knight did not bring up in this essay is the fact that the great majority of the delegates from these areas of the world did not have access to study materials on the subject. They had no access to TOSC materials, only the instructions from their leaders who opposed women’s ordination. Thus to say that the vote was an intelligent vote “from the bottom up” is not quite true.

But the point re “kingly power” is not about San Antonio. It is about the present effort of enforcing policy from the top down - a policy that, by all accounts, the GC has no right to enforce. Ellen White specifically supported the formation of unions so that they could have “full authority” regarding all matters pertaining to their fields. If anyone is in rebellion, it is the current GC leadership that seeks to impose policies on the unions that it has no right to do. It is a not-so-subtle attempt to reverse the re-organization of the church in the early 20th Century, as supported by Ellen White.

@ajshep Please note that it is the anti-women’s ordination faction that has championed the idea that women’s ordination and gay marriage are cut from the same cloth. They are not. There is nothing in the Bible that forbids treating women on a par with men. In fact, there is much that indicates that that is precisely Go’s plan. And that is why great numbers of “conservative” biblical scholars support women’s ordination.

Gay marriage, on the other hand, can not be supported in like manner, and I would daresay that the vast majority of biblical scholars who support women’s ordination do not support gay marriage. It is a red herring injected into the discussion for the express purpose of making people afraid of the “slippery slope.”

As for Paulsen’s speech - I was present to hear his speech and to hear the vocal inflections and to see the body language. It was not condescending. Rather, he pleaded with his brothers and sisters in Africa, whom he thought he knew, to be charitable towards their brothers and sisters in the West. His speech was not appreciated because he was clearly in favor of a “Yes” vote, and the spirit in the room was a spirit to “win” against the West. I was not a delegate, thus sat among spectators of African heritage and heard the disparaging remarks made about anyone who dared speak in favor of a “Yes” vote. I could not imagine such a spirit being inspired by the Spirit of the Lord. The whole experience made me disheartened, not to mention disillusioned with the political jockeying going on in such meetings.


So Knight is now a mind reader knowing all the thoughts motivations and unspoken perspectives of people around the world? Not only that but [quote=“ACA, post:18, topic:12029”]
Even though the final vote was secret, that would not prevent a grilling on how the delegates voted once they got back to their home conferences and “severe consequences” if they did not vote as instructed.
Sounds like such severe consequences! I suppose just telling them what they wanted to hear would be to simple a solution to such a insurmountable problem. And a little fib wouldn’t have been so bad especially since they were on the side of the angels on the vote and all right?

When you say,[quote=“ACA, post:18, topic:12029”]
And in quite a few conferences of several unions, delegates were instructed to vote “No.”

you do realize that this is a representative democracy so to speak? That people are charged with going and giving the perspective of the districts they represent? That there is a reason for voting on who is the representative of a district for that very reason? You say it like its some bad thing when its the way its supposed to work. You think people to go and vote and choose the guy who is going to vote his personal bent and not represent his district?

What there is here is a lot of speculation and rationalizing going on. None of this was made during or shortly after the vote. During that time it was that they were all to 3rd world ignorant to make a good decision or in 2nd place was the "they are to primitive culturally…not enlightened enough to vote correctly.

George Knight has given us an inclusive history of the G.C.and its continued power plays.

But we can’t help wondering: how many of the administrators and the G.C. President who so liberally quotes his favorite writer, have read all these statements and ever thought it might be describing his bid for “kingly power” which he seeks?

We will watch and read the reports on Annual Council currently being held. Is anyone listening? Can there be another legitimate reason for ignoring Dr. Knight’s astute and accurate historical analysis?

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Thanks, Dr. Knight, for this provocative report.

There is far too much good here upon which to briefly comment. However, you have created a powerful guide, based in historical argument. Every member who cares about what our church does next should quickly inhale it. Your quotes from Gary Patterson, on the violation of policy, are worth the price of admission, alone.

Two thoughts:

  1. Regarding women’s ordination: This statement…

“One Wheaton College biblical scholar recently told one of my friends that he could not understand how a denomination that had a female prophet as its most influential clergy person could take such a stand. The vote in such people’s minds is either a sign of hypocrisy or a breakdown of logic or both.”

…so archly summarizes the utter cognitive dissonance I usually experience as to be seemingly telepathic.

  1. In his 1998 essay, “The Ethos of Adventism,” the late Raymond Cottrell made even more pointed remarks than yours about how Adventism and Catholicism compared, as it pertained to polity and governance.

In a section of his paper so titled, he said this. (The final paragraph is explosive, and its concluding sentence nuclear):

"Historically and structurally the hierarchical form of church government is imperial, not apostolic. It rules rather than serves.

"The word hierarchy connotes centralized authority and stratified administrative levels, each of which is responsible to the next higher level, and all levels to a supreme authority at the apex of the hierarchical pyramid. Authority flows downward from the supreme authority to the congregations and their members. Whether these administrative levels consist of priests, bishops, cardinals, a curia, and a pope, or of pastors, committees, and presidents is irrelevant. The essential characteristic of a hierarchy is centralized control from which authority flows–downward. The Roman Catholic Church is the prime example of this form of government.

"In a representative form of church government many congregations cooperate together through representatives to whom, collectively, they delegate authority to devise ways and means by which to work together for their mutual good as units of a larger whole. Authority flows upward from the local congregations through their representatives to the higher levels of organization and the leaders serve the church, as in New Testament times. Modern transportation and communication have made representative government possible by enabling congregations at whatever distance from one another to participate together through delegated representatives. With variations, of course, most Protestant churches follow this plan of organization. Usually, local congregations elect delegates to each of the higher administrative entities, including the highest.

"Within local Seventh-day Adventist conferences governance is representative. The congregations appoint delegates to a conference session at which they elect conference officers and make basic decisions with respect to the operation of the conference. At times this process is aborted when delegates representing higher echelons of the hierarchy veto the delegates’ preferences. The GC also has the power to suspend a conference if it does not comply with GC policy, and has, upon occasion, threatened to do so.

"Above the local conference level Adventist polity is strictly hierarchical. There is no provision by which church members or congregations can express preferences or participate in the process of governance. The local conference executive committee appoints delegates to its union session, the union executive committee to its division session, and the division executive committee to sessions of the GC. Each delegation to the next higher level consists primarily of members of the hierarchy. Lay persons appointed by each executive committee, which is part of the hierarchy, thus represent the hierarchy, not the members or their congregations.

"Instead of the three Adventist administrative levels between the local congregation and the GC, most Protestant churches have only one, or in some instances two, between congregations and their highest administrative authority. Through their congregations the members collectively constitute the supreme authority. Congregations participate in the election of officers for each of their higher administrative levels. Ultimate authority thus flows up (rather than down from the top, as in a hierarchy). Fewer administrative levels, and participation in the election of officers and in the formation of policy at all levels thus bring leaders and grass roots members closer together.

"In two major respects the polity and governance of the Seventh-day Adventist Church are essentially the same as those of the Roman Catholic Church rather than Protestant churches. Both are hierarchical rather than democratic. Both are universal (‘catholic,’ with a lower case ‘c’) rather than national. Official awareness of this trend was reflected in Neal Wilson’s jocular reference to his vice presidents as ‘cardinals’ at the 1985 session of the GC in New Orleans, and references to him as ‘pope’ at the 1987 Spring Meeting of the GC. The Adventist hierarchy is a self-contained, self-operating, self-perpetuating system remote from, and immune to, members and congregations."

So, to quote the “Unity in Mission” document, please come, Lord Jesus.