The Value of Local Church Membership in Light of Recent Developments

The Executive Committee of the General Conference just had another meeting at the World Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. I must confess I did not monitor the motions, discussions, or votes closely, choosing instead to occasionally glance at my Twitter feed for the “hot takes” others had. A couple of years ago, our family moved to the beautiful Pacific Northwest region of the United States when my wife was hired to teach at a unique Adventist school. Initially there were no pastoral positions available for me in the area (which was fine), so I found a job at a nearby resort. However, six months into our new adventure, I was given the opportunity of pastoring a wonderful congregation part-time, while still working at the resort a couple of days a week. I know I live a charmed life, and even though there are challenges everywhere, I am thankful for the many opportunities I have to spend more time with family, enjoy the breathtaking natural beauty all around us, and get to know many amazing people, both in our local church, and the surrounding community.

Having spent some time on the Executive Committee of a large Conference in the North American Division, I do not envy the work our denominational administrators are assigned. In between the occasional lively exchanges which create rumblings well beyond the walls of the meeting room, there are hours spent listening to seemingly endless reports, which can bore to tears even a seasoned delegate. However cumbersome it may seem, our imperfect administrative structure has served us well in the past by facilitating extensive mission and tremendous growth. Lately, many dedicated members have been startled by what the General Conference has become. A policy-making machine, creating obstacles to mission rather than advancing a compelling Christ-centered vision everyone can rally behind. My purpose here is not to address any given policy or administrative matter. Others have articulated the many facets of every issue, and will continue to do so.

This new denominational reality has caused conscientious individuals great consternation. The pressing question asked lately with more frequency is, “Can I maintain integrity as a member of an organization I believe is headed in the wrong direction?” The negative impact of the disunity created by the current General Conference Administration (by trying to enforce unity) is felt most keenly at local churches in areas of the world repulsed by authoritarianism. So, what is the value of church membership for those who are dismayed by the recent developments at the General Conference?

Firstly, leaving the Seventh-day Adventist Church will not impact the General Conference in any way. It is not a protest they will hear. In fact, there are General Conference leaders who precisely want those refusing to comply with certain policies to self-select out of membership, even viewing this as the “shaking” prophesied for the end of time.1 When it comes to purifying the church, I travelled to the General Conference a couple of years ago to personally meet with (and plead with) a General Conference official who had stated publicly he would actually prefer to burn the whole denomination to the ground and rebuild Seventh-day Adventism making it only available to those who agree with his views. So, there you have it. Any loss of sincere members protesting authoritarianism will not be felt at the General Conference, but only by their local churches.

Secondly, by leaving the Seventh-day Adventist Church, members are not leaving the General Conference, but their local churches. We must always remember “the church” is not the General Conference. The church (Greek: ecclesia) is those who are “called out.” The church refers to people who have been gathered for a special purpose, and that task/calling/vocation is to proclaim by words and actions (by the entire life of each member, and collectively as a body) the Good News of Jesus Christ’s victory over evil.

I love how N.T. Wright captures this in his recent book, The Day the Revolution Began. He writes on page 76,

“The vocation ... is that of being a genuine human being, with genuinely human tasks to perform as part of the Creator’s purpose for [His] world. The main task of this vocation is ‘image-bearing,’ reflecting the Creator’s wise stewardship into the world and reflecting the praises of all creation back to its maker. Those who do so are the ‘royal priesthood,’ the ‘kingdom of priests,’ the people who are called to stand at the dangerous but exhilarating point where heaven and earth meet.”

When the church is defined in terms of people given a special mission, leaving the church means literally leaving these people and abandoning this mission. You can argue there are other ways of fulfilling the Christian calling apart from the church, but Paul would quickly reply, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’” (1 Corinthians 12:21a, NIV).

Thirdly, the value of church membership is immeasurable. Local churches need every single member because everyone’s spiritual gifts are diverse and essential in order to have the greatest impact in our communities. Each member is invaluable, irreplaceable! Paul, using the analogy of the human body (1 Corinthians 12:12–31), says every member is absolutely necessary. When members leave a local church, it is painful. To push Paul’s metaphor a little further, it’s like having body parts removed. A body cannot be as effective with missing parts. Even those who continue attending services after removing their names from denominational membership will only lose opportunities to serve in local church leadership roles.

As a local church pastor, I invite those of you who are frustrated by the General Conference to continue using your spiritual gifts in your local churches. You are a member of a local church, not the General Conference. According to the upside-down triangle I learned as a young Pathfinder regarding our denominational structure, the General Conference was created to serve the church, not control it. It’s at the bottom of the triangle when the triangle is turned upside-down. The General Conference is not the church. You and I are the church. We don’t serve the General Conference. The General Conference serves us. Even when the General Conference is not doing its job, you and I are still called to serve God by serving those above us in the upside-down triangle. That would be the rest of the world. And we are called to do it together!

Footnote:

1. For an example, see Testimonies for the Church (1900), Volume 6, p. 332.

Sam Millen is the pastor at Anacortes Adventist Fellowship in Washington State. He lives on Orcas Island with his wife and three kids.

Photo by Peter Dlhy on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9970
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The position you advocate appears to me to be a middle of the road approach. In other words, stay with the church and pay your tithes. Don’t worry about the leadership for they are not the church–the members make up the church.

What concerns me is the unresponsiveness of the leadership toward structural change. To streamlined upper management, to be more in touch with local members. With more webinars providing face to face conservation. More transparency with tithe dollars and conference expenses. Providing legitimate ways for individual members to protest church policies, that are given honest discussion, with the possibility of change in direction. I feel that a middle-of-the-road approach will facilitate the status quo. Which we all admit upper leadership is becoming increasingly more dysfunctional. More interested in maintaining their statues and position than caring about the concerns of the membership. I hope our leaders do hold that their leadership position is akin to divine appointment, above correction and accountability.

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There are Members who have discussed NOT giving their Tithe to the Conference
but giving their TITHE in the form of “local church expense”.
The problem with this is that the local pastor CANNOT dip into “church
expense” for personal needs.
Perhaps what we need is “creative bookkeeping” by the local church. That is,
gifts to the Pastor in the form of “Kind” such as paying utility bills, gasoline card,
grocery card that these persons can pay into.
Just a thought.

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There are a number of ways to respond to this situation - 1) wake me up when it’s over; 2) it’s over; 3) where else can I send my money; etc.

The article seems to ask us to stick by our local churches and ignore the rest. Here’s the problem. If the officialdom doesn’t care if it looses some or all of the congragation we really do have a problem when they have named the situation “the shaking”, while they are doing the shaking.

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What it amounts to Frank, is this.
They are more interested in holding the church together than loyalty to the word of God.

It has always been so down through history all the way back to the rebellion in the beginning. So, we have Elijah, Jer. Isa., and every prophet dealing with this “unity” issue all the way to the first coming of Jesus and was the major issue when He came.
They murdered Him over this issue.
And down through the history of Christanity it is still the same issue.

It has always been the bible vs. the statis quo. We all love security. And many if not most find their ultimate security in “their church” and the bible is secondary, or not relevant at all.

And this is the final reality as we see it developing in a one world spirituality of assurance. We are all lazy. It is easier to let someone else think for us than carefully evaluate every issue for ourself.

And if “the church” can convince us of this bogus agenda, they can easily control the mind. We have massive independent ministries and they all operate on the same basis. Each one will “straighten out the church” and they could all use a little straightening out themselves.

But as EGW said, “Everything that can be shaken, will be shaken.”
And “Every wind of doctrine will be blowing.”

We must accept the responsibilty to carefully evaluate for ourselves what is being advocated and the implications of what is defended.
If not, we are doomed to the final deception that is intensifying daily.

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This is certainly a challenging time to be a Seventh-day Adventist particularly if you are employed by the church such as people like myself. For years I have stated both privately and from the pulpit I do not believe in ordination as we practice it for either men or women. It is, in my opinion, a clear demonstration that the Reformation, begun in the 16th century, still has miles to be go before it sleeps.

As I have read the Scriptures it is God who does the calling and gifting of His people and it is the responsibility of His people (the Church) to recognize His provision in whomever He provides and to cooperate and celebrate it. We have confused our role in the process and assumed that it is the Church that confers the “Gift” of the calling and not God. What I have found especially troubling in this whole spectacle is the GASLIGHTING that is being inflicted upon our Church in general and the women, who are called, and those who support them in ministry.

Please follow my reasoning here and correct me if it is faulty. By the Church obstructing the ordination of women to ministry it is basically saying they are not called to ministry. So doesn’t it follow that the women who believe themselves to be called, and those who support them, must be somehow mistaken if in fact they are not called? And according to our theology God is not the author of confusion so therefore it must in fact be Satan who is leading all these deluded people to advocate for the ordination of women. Doesn’t this also suggest that these confederates are actually part of Satan’s kingdom and not that of God’s?

If the above thesis is correct then why in the world does the church tolerate the presence of obvious Satanic agents in its midst? Why doesn’t the General Conference call for the systematic disfellowshipping of all those in support of WO so that the pure church can go forward? I understand the whole shaking theology is supposed to do that but shouldn’t a faithful church have the courage of its convictions and act decisively?

I would think so. However, instead the GC has elected to go the route of taking a position that implies all the supporters of WO are in fact Satanically deluded and yet they don’t have the love for us to tell us that to our faces. That ladies and gentlemen is a whole other level of GASLIGHTING like we have never seen. To have your church take a position that clearly implies something without ever having the integrity to call it out is so very painful.

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*Those church members who elect to retain their memberships with their own unique congregation, should be very sure to mark all contributions as “ CHURCH EXPENSE / CHURCH BUDGET * — and never as “tithe “

Why continue to fund an intransigent General Conference and why even remotely fund one of the seven Union Conferences in NAD who have yet to affirm equality for their women members / clergy ?

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A Membership controlling system like we have today in church business is not found in the Bible. We are members of Christ, and we can leave Him if we desire. At the end of the day, Christ will not ask us what church we belong to, buy if we’d love Him and followed Him.

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We rejoice whenever spiritual pilgrims find our encampment (Adventism), and hope they will remain connected with us until the Second Coming. To reinforce adherence, the church has taught (quasi official) that our camp was the final stop on the celestial journey, and all who left us would fall away into spiritual darkness. (That was the dark side of EGW’s first vision.) If I have learned anything from ministry, including the experience of my children, it is that some people do find life and light after and beyond Adventism. The same Spirit that guided the Israelites from one campsite to another is still at work, and it humbles our exclusive and prideful attitude to realize we may not be the final stop after all for some people. Your membership will be where your heart is.

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Yes, this apply to me as well. I have been in this condition for almost 40 years now.

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Asking to be a Local Church Member changes the person from just being
a “long-time visitor”. “Membership” allows one to show others that they
are interested in the Journey that the Local members see themselves on.
It allows the person to have a vested interest in how the church community
are perceived in the wider community.
However, it does not guarantee that one will be asked to fill a “church job”.

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I have often been instructed by the Lord that no man’s judgment should be surrendered to the judgment of any other one man. Never should the mind of one man or the minds of a few men be regarded as sufficient in wisdom and power to control the work and to say what plans shall be followed. But when, in a General Conference, the judgment of the brethren assembled from all parts of the field is exercised, private independence and private judgment must not be stubbornly maintained, but surrendered. Never should a laborer regard as a virtue the persistent maintenance of his position of independence, contrary to the decision of the general body. {9T 260.1}

At times, when a small group of men entrusted with the general management of the work have, in the name of the General Conference, sought to carry out unwise plans and to restrict God’s work, I have said that I could no longer regard the voice of the General Conference, represented by these few men, as the voice of God. But this is not saying that the decisions of a General Conference composed of an assembly of duly appointed, representative men from all parts of the field should not be respected. God has ordained that the representatives of His church from all parts of the earth, when assembled in a General Conference, shall have authority. The error that some are in danger of committing is in giving to the mind and judgment of one man, or of a small group of men, the full measure of authority and influence that God has vested in His church in the judgment and voice of the General Conference assembled to plan for the prosperity and advancement of His work. {9T 260.2}

A reminder once again to Sammy that we are world prophetic movement and that we have testimonies from God through the prophet Mrs. Ellen White and it is clearly stated here in nine Testimonies that when the entire world church comes to together and votes that the voted matter has the direction of God in it. HIS will is being communicated through these votes. The GC is trying to have the these misguided divisions understand who we are and what are calling is. We have the law and the testimonies and they are being ignored by leaders in the church.

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Robert, are you suggesting the the GC Session possesses infallibility like the Pope claims?

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Likewise, do the content of that “God’s voice through GC” matter, or do we go on assuming that whatever they say is “So says God” because EGW established that a 100 years ago?

I know it’s a bit off topic, but doesn’t it bug anyone that none of the EGW predictions warn about the wave of telecommunication, digital computing and technological revolution at any degree of specificity?

If you really think about it, it’s one of the most significant developments in history of humanity, beginning with radio, moving on to TV and subsequently digital communication and computing. Some of it happened during her lifetime with Radio broadcast. But she didn’t seem to notice or anticipate any of it, at least not in the written form.

It would seem rather strange that God would ignore that important detail about the influential aspect of human dynamics today.

I guess you could argue that each prophet only addresses the problems of that particular church era, but it would be rather strange that she “saw” the world of the future as she wrote GC, and yet neglected to mention that people carry around small boxes that they use to talk to each other at great distances and can read any book on it.

Doesn’t it bother anyone who is a strong believer in EGW’s prophetic forecast?

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I’m not sure that the leadership is dysfunctional in regard to the focus that they chose. What ends up being dysfunctional is such focus takes away from the local church development and integration into existing culture at any viable conceptual level, especially as it relates to the problems of the next gen.

There’s simply not enough leadership in position that understand cultural issues beyond their own theological presuppositions. They moved on from “sex, drugs, and rock-‘n’-roll” critique to a more generic “Just look to Jesus and people in the Bible who looked to Jesus”, but these narratives don’t address cultural complexity of the issues the next gen faces today and tomorrow.

The Church structure itself is conducive to driving them away. And the leadership seems to be rather comfortable with the idea of keeping the “used car” they drive today until it will not drive any longer. But then, who would want it.

While I understand the author’s point, the problem comes when the local church attempts to create an image to the GC, and there are those individuals in many local churches who work to accomplish exactly that.

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You are correct. It is money and the right connections that accomplish that.

Have you ever wondered why the GC in Session did not present a motion to be voted that was clear and definitive about WO? The “authoritative” vote at SA was with regard to the Union ceding the authority of ordination to the Divisions. It did not state a Yes / No vote to allow WO.

Why? Why did the committee responsible for writing the motion choose to word the motion this way? Why did they not specifically put forth a motion to vote for or against WO?

I support WO because I respect God’s call on men and women. If I were a delegate at SA I would have voted against allowing the GC Divisions to take over the Union’s sacred responsibility for ordination. The Church Manual is very detailed on the authority at each level of the church. The GC (includes the GC divisions) should never usurp the responsibility of the Union, Union Conferences or local church. And during SA, the vote was to not allow the GC Divisions to usurp the Union’s authority.

Since there was NO AUTHORITATIVE vote by GC in Session against ordaining women or against not ordaining men, the retribution actions that have been initiated by the GC against specific individuals and unions are ungodly.

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Do you mean the Ellen White that wrote these statements?


And the General Conference is itself becoming corrupted with wrong sentiments and principles. In the working up of plans the same principles are manifest that have controlled matters at Battle Creek for quite a length of time.” –Letter 55, September 19, 1895, par. 2

That these men should stand in a sacred place, to be as the voice of God to the people, as we once believed the General Conference to be—THAT IS PAST.” - The General Conference Bulletin, April 3, 1901, p. 25; Last Day Events, p. 50.

It is working upon wrong principles that has brought the cause of God into its present embarrassment. The people have lost confidence in those who have the management of the work. Yet we hear that the voice of the Conference is the voice of God. Every time I have heard this, I thought it was almost blasphemy. The voice of the Conference ought to be the voice of God, but it is not, because some in connection with it are not men of faith and prayer, they are not men of elevated principle. - April 1, 1901, Ms. 37-1901.

It has been some years since I have considered the General Conference as the voice of God. —Manuscript Releases 17, p. 216, 1898; Last Day Events, p. 50.3

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You could also add Air travel. The Wright Brothers were in 1903.
The interstate highway system in the US was not in her visual horizon.
When she died, it was still horse-buggy and horse-wagons most places
out west.
Available electricity to the South had to wait till TVA in the 1930s.

1 Like