Why The Proposed IBMTE Endorsement Process Would Betray Adventist Identity

Denominational managers at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists have proposed a process of “endorsement” for higher education religion teachers. The process would be executed by Boards of Ministerial and Theological Education at the division level, all of which would be overseen by the International Board of Ministerial and Theological Education (IBMTE), a General Conference entity. Conceived as an endeavor to assure the integrity of the mission and message of the church, the process would actually be a stunning betrayal of Adventist identity.

As presently described in the IBMTE Manual, religion teachers would be required to submit in writing a willingness “to be supportive of and work within” the guidelines articulated in five denominational statements as follows: 1) “28 Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists,” 2) “Pastoral Ethics,” 3) “Code of Ethics for Seventh-day Adventist Educators,” 4) “Academic and Theological Freedom and Accountability,” and 5) “Methods of Bible Study.” Together these documents compose 35 pages of text. In addition, teachers would be required to submit copies of all of their publications for review, presumably to insure that they contain nothing that would constitute evidence that they could not support and work within the statements’ guidelines.

On September 16, 2016 the Presidents of Adventist Colleges and Universities in North America, in an unprecedented act, unanimously voted a statement saying they are “fundamentally unable to support the proposed IBMTE endorsement process.” The resolution is accompanied with two pages of reasons for this inability. The resolution also notes that the North American Division Association of Adventist Academic Administrators, the North American Division Ministerial Association and the North American Division administration do not support the process.

In October, the IBMTE Board met and made some changes to the process, such as having the process start at the academic institutions rather than at the IBMTE.

All of that notwithstanding, at the subsequent meeting of the General Conference Higher Education Cabinet, the presidents of Adventist colleges and universities in North America agreed to develop an alternative process. However, that alternative process is to be governed by the IBMTE even though it will, as suggested, commence at the level of each academic institution under the administration of its dean.

Finally, at the recent gathering of Adventist religion teachers in San Antonio, the chairs of religion departments attending the meeting expressed their own dissatisfaction with the proposed process and agreed to seek a conversation with church officials to address the concerns held by religion faculty at their various institutions.

As may be noted from this necessarily cursory recital of developments, most objections to the proposal have to do with the process. They pass over in silence the content of the documents that would be central to that process. Moreover the situation is fluid at the time of this writing. The alternative process devised for North America may render the content of the five Statements irrelevant to the actual procedures followed in granting denominational endorsement. If that turns out to be the solution to what is generally considered a serious problem facing the church and its religion scholars, integrity would be better served by simply abandoning the proposal to “endorse” faculty. It should not escape notice that being hired and continued in employment as a teacher of religion is an act of institutional endorsement on behalf of the denomination.

Focusing on the process—who does what, where and under what authority—seems to be obscuring the fact that the content of the documents that will establish faculty legitimacy is the much more important dimension of the proposed process. One may be able to appreciate that by noting the existence of two differing organizations of Adventist religion teachers. The organizations arose out of differences regarding “Methods of Bible Study.” Those differences were deemed to be irreconcilable and hence the emergence of the Adventist Theological Society. They are more pronounced today than they were when the Adventist Theological Society split from the majority body of Adventist religion teachers now known as the Adventist Society for Religious Studies. The two societies are about equal in membership today.

When careful attention is given to the IBMTE Manual and the five “Statements” teachers must support and abide by in their classrooms, their malignant defects are unmistakable.

1. The statements are self-contradictory

At the very outset of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs, the well-worn assertion that the Bible is “our only creed” appears and is immediately contradicted by the adumbration of the 28 Beliefs. If the Bible were our only creed it would be unnecessary to compose a creed to assure the correct understanding of our only creed.

The Preamble to “Methods of Bible Study” declares, “In recent decades the most prominent method in biblical studies has been known as the historical-critical method….Even a modified use of this method that retains the principle of criticism which subordinates the Bible to human reason is unacceptable to Adventists….In contrast with the historical-critical method and presuppositions, we believe it to be helpful to set forth principles of Bible study that are consistent with the teachings of the Scriptures themselves…”

Subsequently in a clear case that “subordinates the Bible to human reason” the statement instructs its readers that, “…in order not to misconstrue certain kinds of statements, it is important to recognize that they were addressed to peoples of Eastern cultures and expressed in their thought patterns.” One such expression that must not be misconstrued is found in Exodus 9:12 which reveals that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart. That biblical statement finds endorsement by Paul in Romans 9.

But “Methods of Bible Study” knows better. The statement asserts, “…the inspired writers of the Scriptures commonly credit God with doing actively that which in Western thought we would say He permits or does not prevent from happening, for example, the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.” So Western thought controls what Moses and Paul actually meant, since they said something the Westerners composing “Methods of Bible Study” do not now wish to say. Clearly, even modified use of the historical-critical method is “unacceptable to Adventists”—unless using it authorizes desirable divergence from plain Scriptural declarations.

2. The Ecclesiastical Authoritarianism of the Statements is Utterly Alien to the Soul of Adventism.

The most remarkable assertion of the five Statements is to be found in the one concerning “Academic and Theological Freedom and Accountability.” That assertion is, not coincidentally, reflective of the freedom the authors of these documents exhibit in their dictation of what Moses and Paul actually meant (but did not say) regarding God’s actions upon Pharaoh.

Under the heading “The Church and Its Institutions” the reader is informed, “…it is consistent with Adventist administrative practice to recognize the worker’s privilege to study the Bible for himself ...” No Adventist religion teacher, indeed no Adventist at all, can fail to be thoroughly shocked to learn that study of the Bible for herself is a privilege established by Adventist administrative practice.

The authoritarianism permeating the five documents reaches its apogee in the claim that, “Freedom for the individual Christian grows out of his belonging to the community of Christ…One person may stimulate the community to study a question, but only God’s people and church as a whole can decide what is or is not true in the light of Scripture. No member or worker can ever serve as an infallible interpreter for anyone else” (emphasis mine).

The International Board of Ministerial and Theological Education is a late comer to the doctrine that Biblical truth is what the church says Biblical truth is. Must we conclude that Rome has reclaimed another one of her separated Protestant brethren? Moreover, not only is this ecclesiastical authoritarianism alien to the soul of Adventism, a soul that claims the mantle of Martin Luther who, with his individual interpretation of Scripture, defied his church as a whole, it is also burdened with vagueness. Indeed the entire collection of documents suffers from ineradicable vagueness.

3. Ineradicable vagueness afflicts the statements.

While one cannot doubt that the court theologians drafting these statements assumed that “God’s people and church as a whole” is the Seventh-day Adventist Church, it is fair and necessary to ask just how this people and church are expected to exercise their magisterial power over biblical teaching. The document obviously needs greater elaboration.

As is well known to readers of this website, considerable energy and political maneuvering went in to modification of #6 (Creation) of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs voted at the last General Conference Session. The promoters of those modifications might be rather startled if they were to discover that a moderately clever and modestly informed seminarian could easily and honestly affirm the conceits of that reformulated statement while at the same time affirming the general contours of the standard account of natural history. Here too vagueness impairs content.

Consider belief #4 regarding the Son of God. That the vagueness afflicting every creed afflicts this creed as well may be illustrated by a conversation I had during the closing moments of the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature.

Two Adventist religion teachers and I re-enacted (roughly speaking) the ancient conversation regarding the identity of Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, native of Bethlehem. Our exchange of ideas lasted less than ten minutes and more extensive engagement might have resolved our differences, although those differences appeared very early in the history of the church and have their committed representatives to this day.

I asserted that Jesus of Nazareth is the creator and redeemer of the world. I invoked John 1:1, 14 in support of my claim. I was immediately challenged on two fronts. The New Testament exegete declared that my citation does not in fact make my claim but merely asserts that the Logos is the creator and that incarnation is a revelation of the eternal logos in the medium of flesh. According to John, so I was told, Jesus was the revealer of the creator and redeemer, not himself creator or redeemer. The theologian in our trio offered a different “defeater” of my claim saying Jesus could not be the creator because he wasn’t born at the time of the creation. “He had Mary’s DNA after all!” When I suggested that the whole point of the notion of individual identity through time is to allow for new developments in a single identity, my dialog partners suggested I had fallen into Platonic dualism. No Adventist, they asserted, can make a distinction between an embodied and unembodied state of a single human person and be talking about the same person.

By failing to articulate the meaning of incarnation relative to individual identity as assumed in John 1:1 and in our ordinary and theological uses of concepts of individual identity, Belief #4 admits of numerous conflicting interpretations. It cannot be otherwise.

Just how exquisitely complex and treacherous this project of insuring theological reliability is, and how impossible it is to formulate rules to yield desired behavior should be clear. Not to belabor the point, but what, after all, would a religion teacher be affirming to state that she will be “supportive of and work within the guidelines” expressed by the statements? Count on a broad range of understanding by individuals finding themselves capable of signing such an assurance. The range of those understandings exposes the last defect worthy of mention.

4. The statements are corrupting because they are corrupt.

To say at the outset that our denomination has no creed other than the Bible and then produce 4,560 words exercising a magisterial right to determine what constitutes biblical truth (the 28 Fundamental Beliefs) is at best astonishingly inattentive and at worst cynically duplicitous. Corruption takes many forms. To be corrupt may be simply to be impaired by decay or disuse, inattention. More serious is the corruption of cynical deceit, saying what you know is obviously untrue.

Corruption produces corruption. Put middle aged teachers under threat of employment termination and they will easily outdo moderately clever graduate students in their capacity to exploit vagueness. Challenge the political prerogatives of middle managers of the church and you will find them collaborating with teachers to defeat this ill-conceived process resting as it does on thoroughly defective statements.

It is no accident that the 28 Fundamental Beliefs are now deemed insufficient to defend the church from deviant religion teachers, a central purpose for which they were initially composed. After all, people who devote their working hours to obeying the great commandment to love God with all their minds should be expected to come to new understandings assuming that the infinite God they love cannot be encompassed in any formula. And just how can we dare to assume that the Holy Spirit has stopped guiding the faithful into greater understanding of the mystery and beauty of holiness? More documents are always required to make sure the Spirit speaks the truth.

Long before Immanuel Kant bequeathed to seekers for integrity his profound rule to guide their endeavors, Aristotle recognized that if we want to know what excellent behavior is we should consider people who behave excellently. Faithful people understand the uses and values of rules. More importantly their faithfulness is the one assurance that rules have any value at all.

It is perfectly proper for our community of faith to insist that its religion teachers be devoted to the truth and disciplined in their investigation of it. The “one holy, catholic, apostolic church,” in which we Adventists properly claim membership, early confronted the necessity to be as clear as possible about its testimony to God’s saving act in Christ Jesus. We cannot afford to be less vigilant about our own witness.

Vigilance is not served by careless, contradictory, self-deceptive formulations applied by remote hierarchies. There is no shortage of deeply informed, rigorous Adventist thinkers whose wisdom offers real assurance for preservation of integrity in theological instruction while remaining true to the historic Adventist suspicion of creeds and their tendency to suffocate intellectual love of God. It is to be passionately hoped that these thinkers will be pressed in to service to provide the church with resources for theological assessment that are distinguished by their brevity, fecundity, coherence and erudition.

Daryll Ward attended Andrews University, Tübingen University, and the University of Chicago (where he earned his PhD) and spent many years working in the field of addiction treatment, business ethics, and pastoring. He currently serves as Professor of Theology and Ethics at Kettering College.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7805

WOW, and WOW!! Donald should have picked Ted for his Vice President. TZ

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Ted Wilson will clearly not give up until he has destroyed the church. If he cannot be removed, the NAD must formerly sever its ties with the GC and become an independent church entity.

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Dictators and despots cement power and to undermine opposition by silencing the voices of the educated and artistic classes…I see absolutely no difference here.

Adventism appears to be doomed to be a second rate religion with a once highly regarded educational system going down the tubes to become “Bible Colleges”. With these sorts of maneuverings I expect that there will be less and less parents sending their children to Adventist Higher Education facilities.

Good job, Ted Wilson…

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Although this initiative began under previous President Folkenberg to intentionally reach into Adventist universities to control curriculum and professors (through something called back then a “Spiritual Plan” or a “Spiritual Masterplan,”) it has never flown with academics. One reason is that universities, under accreditation rules, answer to their Board of Directors, not the G.C, on the organizational chart. While the G.C. has been and continues to try to reach around the board’s governing power to influence and control faculty, hiring, and class content, the “endorsement” initiative continues to try to accomplish the same thing: Control of Adventist Universities by the G.C.

@jjlondis your post may have been deleted because of the “one posting only” rule on this side. You can discuss back and forth in The Lounge at this site. However, several members have been suspended for varying amounts of time for posting twice here. One way you can continue a conversation here is to just keep editing your original post.

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An excellent assessment—on all fronts. Thank you.

[quote=“spectrum, post:1, topic:12582”] In addition, teachers would be required to submit copies of all of their publications for review,
[/quote]

This is stunning . . . . “All their publications”?

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The more that control’and authoritarianism are used to force uniformity and compliance in a diverse global church that has a population bigger than two thirds of the world’s nations, the more deep trouble it is brewing for not just the present but significantly for the future. The path the increasingly out of touch GC leaders are with this and on so many other fronts (it’s in their DNA of leadership, not just specific issues) is a great prescription for schism, breakdown and personal and institutional trauma down the track - despite all the claims of doing things for unity. It is hard to back track and take a different direction later on by more enlightened and ethical leaders without other crises emerging. Perhaps there is time to halt this runaway train heading to a train wreck. Or perhaps the sooner it crashes and burns the better. Just get off before you are badly hurt. Increasingly this is not the Adventism and values that I grew up in. SADism is leaving me more rapidly rather ever than me leaving it.

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You make it sound like Elder Wilson is “Der Führer.” He cannot act unilaterally. Everything is done by committees. He can advise and recommend, but, contrary to Kim Green’s assertion, he is not “dictator” or a “despot.”

It is sad that Spectrum has become a platform for those who would love to see the SDA Church break up and fail in its mission.

The church is growing by leaps and bounds outside the “civilized” world, and you call it second rate? Sad, that there are professed Adventists who think that having a Bible College is “going down the tubes.” Something may be going down the tubes, but it isn’t our educational system.

After years of weak leaders we finally have a GC president who is willing to take a stand against creeping compromise, and the “cultural Adventists” are wringing their hands and having vapours.

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I am ‘wringing my hands and having vapours’ reading your comment. The shenanigns going on at the GC just keep getting worse!

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Dr. Ward’s analytical skills are on full display in this essay. Would that those who need to read it do so with openness. From the outset of the “split” between the two theological societies he identifies, there has been almost no (“almost” may be too weak) willingness within the ATS to engage in open dialogue with its counterpart ASRS (Adventist Society of Religious Studies) about helpful hermeneutical methodologies . Their decision to separate circa 1988 made it clear that for them, the “others” could not be trusted to protect Adventist theology. Fearing their society would be compromised, they established onerous requirements for new members. Absent pushback from church leadership, from their now “privileged” authority position they informed church leaders about the subtle dangers of the “others.” As a result, GC leadership unfamiliar with the materials and the issues, disallowed the disfavored from influencing the "Methods on Bible Study "Document voted eleven years later.

Not only do the IBMTE documents betray Adventist identity, their history and content violate the prayer of Jesus to the Father that his disciples would be “one, even as we are one.”

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While I do not question the sincerity or motives of Jim Landis, it may be only fair to share a few “adjustments” to his claims, as I have been a member of both societies (at the same time some of the time as well):

  1. I was personally present at the ASRS in 1986 when some tried to “challenge” the alleged process concerning how the “Methods of Bible Study” document came about. The Director of BRI publicly noted that the entire document was sent to the Religion department of every Adventist educational institution – and then asked which (if any) did not receive it. Not one could disagree. Suddenly, the complaining stopped.
  2. It was thus, only at this point in time, when it became clear to several religion teachers that there was a need for a new society in order for Adventist scholars (who so desired) to be involved in scholarly research using essentially the same hermeneutics. (I was a doctoral student at this time, and watched these proceedings with great interest).
  3. Having friends in both societies, and having attended both groups, and having beem a member of both societies, I consider Londis’ claim that the ATS has not been willing to dialogue on hermeneutics a rather inaccurate allegation, and not one which promotes openness.
    There are more problems with Londis’ claims; but, I merely raise the above issues to show that we need to be careful as to what we accept as fact – especially since memory can be rather poor (and selective), including MINE :slight_smile:
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None of us should be surprised that Ted Wilson would seek to pick up the torch dropped by Robert Folkenberg. The latter failed when the university presidents unanimously opposed his effort to require faculty to sign a document. Hopefully, the presidents will remain strong again against the excessive control sought by TW and his GC. My concern (and that of others I know) is that the religion faculty represent a convenient starting point. Ultimately, TW and his GC would also like to control the behavioral scientists who contend with the biological complexity of sexual identity and behavior, and the biologists who struggle with questions of origins and change.

I am highly doubtful the academics will tolerate conversion of our universities into Bible colleges. I suspect this too shall pass.

Umm…I believe you are describing more accurately Fulcrum7 and AdVindicate, whose leadership have often called for war and pushing out the “progressives,” i.e. breaking up the church.

I’m guessing “publications” includes four major categories: course syllabi, quotes from interviews in campus and other publications, authored non-technical publications, and authored professional publications. I have little doubt that the “powers that be” would justify firing a faculty member based on any comment they deem to be either gray or black in their worldview.

Yes, I think so. If someone (conference or GC official) becomes unhappy about a faculty member, they could mine the material to find justification for firing.

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To my mind, the underlying problem here is the categorizing of perspectives and then slapping labels on everything and everybody. For starters, “liberal and conservative” labels are a lazy way of dealing with these issues. Not only does it skip actual thought and investigation, it diminishes people, placing them in very generalized categories, and then administrating judgment.

The problem is that as soon as the label gets plastered on an idea or person, there is no need to deal with them further, shutting down investigation, growth, progress, even our ability to “love thy neighbour”. It’s much easier to see people as part and parcel of the ideology they espouse, than to see them as our brothers and sisters with differing life experiences that formed into different perspectives from our own. Organizationally, strident poses are set up in the name of loyalty and faithfulness to the God of our own perspective; and the more people we can get on board with our own thinking, the more secure we feel, and the more strident we become.

From my perspective, the SDA church is going in a predictable path to a dogmatic and hierarchal religion, as most man-made religions ultimately do. Paul “preached Christ and Him crucified” without all the bells and whistles that entrap people as they appeal to their human weakness of fear and insecurity. If anything, the strident stance of the church demonstrates that fear and insecurity; and is a very human way of dealing with it -through coercion; and it belies the freedom offered by Christ. When faith is diminished, it is replaced by dogma.

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Ted Wilson ALREADY IS the last and only true follower of HIS Adventism.
I wonder what is the force behind Ted Wilson for him to behave so much “Sovietly”… Is Putin influencing his Presidency as well? The man just doesn’t give up his attempt to control people’s conscience, thinking, belief, behavior, all under his now famous threat of “grave consequences.”

IOW, the man is as sick as one could ever be!!! Yes, his need for being a despot, a totalitarian ruler is so evident that it can only be attributed to some disturbance of the mind. Where did he get this idea that every church member is his possession, a mere object that he can control and manipulate at will? And now this about religious education, as if the current system is not enough to indoctrinate and brainwash the youth?

He should move HIS headquarters to Russia and meet frequently with Putin to continue developing his KGC. They can have tea together, and listen to music from the “La Putineske” collection. This is where Ted Wilson belongs to, not to a free world where people are individually valued and respected.

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I am always amused that anyone ever honestly thinks, the we have no creed but the Bible. I guess they don’t know what a creed means, But as this was mentioned a couple times in the article maybe this is the time for someone to explain if they can what the Bible is their only creed means to them. It has always been to me a bit of advertising with no actual meaning other then to appear that it somehow makes them appear better in some way.to all those actual creeds out there.

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I’m not sure “amused” is my reaction, more like amazed that this can be stated (over and over) with a straight face. And, this comes from intelligent, well-educated people.

It reeks of dishonesty, or a total lack of basic understanding (due to indoctrination).

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It is extremely difficult to reason or have an intellectually honest conversation with that type of mentality. Those who say “saved by grace alone through faith alone” while handing you the latest version of The Great Controversy are really a challenge.

Bump to Lounge

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Fascinating. I would certainly counsel my children not to seek denominational employment. Over the years I have had many questions about faith, doctrine and our church’s particular teachings. As a layman I can ask these questions privately, online, in Sabbath School class, etc. without jeopardizing my career and my ability to support my family. I pity the denominational employees who have to keep such questions to themselves for fear of losing their jobs.

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It is no wonder why Dr. Ward was superb in his analysis of the IBMTE. His background in addiction treatment most likely gave him insight to the core source of our highly esteemed GC leadership’s team possible behavior. One can normally tell whether a behavior is reactive or pervasive by how many life domains it affects. Well, our GC leaders are dipping into their members’ sexual orientation, spiritual domain and now into their educational aspirations. No one can argue that the basic dynamics behind this delusion of group paranoia is more than just theological beliefs but could be bordering in addictive behaviors. The evidence is compelling.

Good job, Dr. Ward.

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The Ecclesiastical Authoritarianism of the Statements is Utterly Alien to the Soul of Adventism.<<

Can’t say it any better. Thanks for sharing this article.

Against such ecclesiastical authoritarianism generations of protestants—and yes, many catholics, have struggled.

And, now Seventh-day Adventists. Amazing! Are they losing the Way at the General Conference?

Our academy needs freedom, not constriction.

Do we need to protest universally—well, across the world for freedom in the Advent Academy? Do we not need to be radical> Ask questions? Never quit asking questions? Does the GC need to be dismantled at least in its present form? Maybe we need a Grand Rabbi like TW like we need some other emerging authoritarian leaders.

7th D Adventist of the 5th generation

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