Will There Be Discussion or Rubberstamping of Church Manual Changes?

As most Adventists on the planet know, the primary buzz about the 2015 General Conference in San Antonio focuses on women’s ordination. There is also considerable conversation about proposed changes to the Statement of Fundamental Beliefs. However, the many Facebook and blog posts about the upcoming session have given little attention to the proposed changes in the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual. Yet the agenda for the San Antonio session lists forty-two pages of proposed changes to the Church Manual. Many of these are editorial and insignificant.

Since it is only the General Conference in session that can change the Church Manual, many items that seem unimportant come to the Session. This time, some interesting and significant amendments have been proposed, however. Here is an overview of some proposed changes. Page numbers indicate the location of the proposed changes in the 2015 General Conference Session General Agenda, available as a download on the 2015 Session Web site.

Nomenclature Several pages of changes have to do with nomenclature for youth ministries. The Adventist Youth Society is becoming “Adventist Youth Ministries.” The reworking of this section includes the addition or reworking of sections on public college ministry and the coordination of ministries such as Adventurers and Pathfinders. The changes, however, are not significant.

Another nomenclature issue is a change throughout from “licensed ministers” to “licensed pastors.”

Structural and organizational issues Of somewhat more significance is the addition of a statement on the function of the church manual vis-à-vis working policy. After stating that the Adventist Church has a representative form of government, the new statement reads:

The Church Manual applies this principle of representation to the operations of the local congregation. General Conference Working Policy addresses how this principle functions in the rest of denominational structure [p. 91].

A proposed change also clarifies that when a dispute arises between churches and conferences or institutions, the next organization which is not directly involved has final authority unless the organization itself chooses to take the matter to GC Executive Committee at Annual Council or to General Conference Session (p. 92).

There is also a change in the name of the church business meeting. Previously it was called the “governing body” of the local church. It is now proposed to be called the “constituency meeting” of the local church (p. 123).

The manual currently states that deacons, though ordained, may not lead out in the communion service. Now that deaconesses may be ordained as well, they too are specifically excluded from leading out in the communion (p. 102).

Another structural issue is the duty of nominating committee, when the church at large objects to a portion of its report and sends it back (p. 119). The current manual reads:

The committee should give due consideration to the objections presented. If they are found to be justified, the committee should substitute new names for those to which objection was made.

The proposed wording is:

After giving due consideration to the objections presented, the committee will exercise its judgment as to whether or not any change is warranted in the committee’s recommendation to the church business meeting.

Who may speak in Adventist pulpits The issue of who may speak in Adventist pulpits is addressed by another proposal. Previously the manual stated that one must present a current denominational credential or license. It is now proposed that no one should be allowed to speak to any congregation unless he/she has been invited by the church in harmony with guidelines given by the Conference (pp. 94, 120). This recognizes the fact that in some churches, especially university churches, guest speakers preach for special occasions such as graduations who are not employed by the church.

Discipline regarding sexual misconduct Perhaps the most significant and potentially controversial change involves reasons for discipline with regard to sexual conduct. Currently two statements address the reason people may be disciplined for sexual misconduct (p. 95). One says:

Violation of the seventh commandment of the law of God as it relates to the marriage institution, the Christian home, and biblical standards of moral conduct.

The other states:

Sexual abuse of children, youth, and vulnerable adults, fornication, promiscuity, incest, homosexual practice.

These are being replaced by a more specific statement that reads:

Violation of the commandment of the law of God, which reads, “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14, Matt. 5:28), as it relates to the marriage institution and the Christian home, biblical standards of moral conduct, and any act of sexual intimacy outside of a marriage relationship and/or non-consensual acts of sexual conduct within a marriage whether those acts are legal or illegal. Such acts include but are not limited to child sexual abuse, including abuse of the vulnerable. Marriage is defined as a public, lawfully binding, monogamous, heterosexual relationship between one man and one woman.

Later in the document, the present statement that marriage is a “lifelong commitment of husband and wife” is replaced by the words:

Marriage is a public, lawfully binding lifelong commitment of a man and a woman [p. 131].

Church membership issues Another proposed change has to do with church membership. At present, if a member wishes to resign from church membership their request must be voted by a church business meeting and is recorded as being dropped for apostasy. The new proposal would allow the church board to receive the letter and simply record it, adding that efforts should be made to restore the individual (p. 99; in addition, the wording of several other sections is changed because of this proposal).

Also with regard to membership, currently a business meeting can specify a period of time before a person can be reinstated after discipline, but a new proposal simply leaves the time open to a point where there is confession and evidence of change (p. 101).

Local church committees and functions Finally, there are new functions specified for the local church. Every church is to have a discipleship plan. In fact, the proposed wording states that the chief concern of the board is to have an active discipleship plan in place that includes both spiritual nurture and evangelism. It also states that the primary function of church is making disciples, which includes baptizing and teaching (p. 124).

A new proposal adds the finance committee to the functioning committees of the local church. The proposal reads:

Each church should have a mission-driven, broadly-based consultative financial planning and budgeting process with a committee structure that can give detailed review to the ongoing financial planning and budgeting. In some cases, this may take the form of a finance committee. In other cases, in smaller churches, this process may be handled directly by the church board. If the church establishes a separate committee for this purpose, the responsibilities should include reviewing budget requests and the review of the annual operating budget as well as a review of the financial position of the church as reflected in the financial statements. The approval of the budget and the review of the financial statement shall then be recommended to the church board and onward to the business meeting of the church for action [p. 128].

Conclusion In light of the major discussions on women’s ordination and fundamental belief changes, it remains to be seen whether these changes will create enough interest among the delegates to generate floor discussion or whether they will simply be rubber stamped. It is hard to predict how they will be received, discussed, and/or voted.

John Brunt is senior pastor of Azure Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church in Grand Terrace, California.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6910

I find it interesting that the church equates a request to drop membership with apostasy, “the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief.” I can easily imagine a situation where my beliefs have not changed, but I no longer want to be a part of the SDA church. This is especially true with what I read about the CG session and the bulk of the proposed changes that may take place. Most of the changes appear to represent a clarification that the church is regressive, and not progressive.

Some of the wording changes, for example, in this post display a rigid and relatively uninformed view of scripture, especially when it comes to marriage. The idea that we can base our current western marriage institutional norms on biblical examples is laughable, never-mind that cultural attitudes towards marriage vary considerably around the world, including within the church.

More correctly, our marital institution is based on medieval and more contemporary European and Catholic views of marriage, which have been foisted on the rest of the world over time, and have very little to do with Biblical examples.


I am very pleased with the proposed changes. The new emphasis on discipleship and evangelism is refreshing. There was an inordinate and unhealthy focus in the previous Church Manual editions on church purification. Granted, the church is a crucible, but the primary reason Jesus established the church is to effectuate His charge that we go into all nations and baptize people. Many of our spiritually-diseased churches never baptize anyone but instead wallow in self-gratification and a false sense of holiness. And there are too many excuses offered for the present lack of church growth.

And I especially like the prohibition against non-consensual sex acts in marriage. In a patriarchy, the patriarch is allowed to engage in non-consensual sexual acts within marriage. Patriarchy that is depicted but not endorsed in Scripture is offensive to God. The Seventh-day Adventist Church still has a long ways to go to repent of its patriarchal prejudices and practices.


To answer the question in the title of the essay…
Following the events so far I don’t expect any discussion, just a couple of speeches to praise the wisdom of our beloved leaders followed by a vote by acclamation - by cards at best.

Yes, Sir, allow me to wallow. We have tried, and tried hard to evangelize. It doesn’t work in our part of Europe - at least not the way we are told to do it - by distributing Great Controversies or holding evangelistic campaigns.

Okay - here we are almost in agreement. I would like to really see the non-consensual sex acts outside marriage seen put into practice. With 17.5% of our female youth having experienced severe sexual violence …


The focus of my criticism is toward those churches who make no effort to evangelize.


Discussion, then rubberstamping. Just like Wilson’s reelection today.


Looks to me like they are merely making sure that there is no ambiguity. Calling it ‘rubber stamping’, which has a negative connotation to it, seems to imply that the delegates don’t care about the church or the issues and just mindlessly put their approval on these issues. I believe with all my heart that these delegates are praying for guidance, that they love this church and that they want to remain true to God and His Word. Remember that these delegates were sent by members of the church…who I am sure also prayed about whom they chose. ALL this and you so easily relegate them to rubber stampers. Trust that God is leading…this church is His!!

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I find this interesting in light of the fact that one of the stipulations for marriage is that it be lawfully binding. So, on this particular condition the SDA bows to the state in stating that one of the stipulations for marriage is that it be lawfully binding. And it gives the State the right to say who can be lawfully bound at least as far as that goes. Well, that State and the SDA church are now at odds as who can be lawfully bound. I also see there is no mention of the “biblical concept of marriage” a term which has be so freely used of late. Wonder why?


Good point Tim. This pretty much seals it for me. Calling a non-Adventist an apostate is the worst position to take for dealing with others. This is anti-Jesus in any sense. I am now basically thinking that Adventism is embracing apostasy.


Tim, this seems to fall into that mindset that if someone leaves the Adventist church, they are lost. While it may not be stated directly, I have heard it stated many times about if you hear the truth and step away you will be condemned. It is rather disturbing, especially when if someone dare leaves they are declared apostates.

I personally am curious about the change to the “Who may speak at an Adventist church” rule. I wonder if this is meant to restrict or ban non Adventists from speaking at Adventist churches?

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They’re reaching and seem to be reacting defensively as the world changes out from under them. They apper to have not seriously considered their statements any more than they have seriously studied scripture, in context, to understand what it means/meant when written. Once again they are showing their uninformed and US-based Victorian view of the world.

What will church members in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Libya, Mauritania, as well as in Indonesia, Iran and Israel, as well as other countries do, since there is no civil marriage there?


Yes, a weird confluence of institutional arrogance and simple-mindedness, it seems. Equating technical membership with one’s faith is shallow at the least. For example, one could very easily retain the faith they have always had, even adhering to all of the denomination’s teachings, and still want their name “off the books”. Knowing “the truth” as they say, and your membership in the club are not really connected in any way, IMO.


It’s similar to how church members are berated and examined based on purely outward appearances, such as whether they wear jewelery, eat meat, do X on Sabbath, or any number of such things.

I have also heard the statement, “We are not just another denomination” multiple times.

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There are may thousands of Adventists all over the world who don’t have lawfully binding marriages. The rural poor who live in small villages around the word don’t have the resources, or sometimes the documents, to get legal marriages.


I hope that someone brings this issue up on the floor. There are many people who don’t have access to civil marriage but are married in SDA churches.

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Well put, Tim. Arrogance and simple-mindedness. Institutionalized idiocracy.

This is somehow intended to make resigning one’s SDA membership into the “unpardonable” sin.

This, of course, is the SDA-o-centric view of the universe. The concept of God is
trivialized by the institutionalized narrow-minded-ness of the church.

I am so pleased that I resigned my membership about 45 years ago. There is joy and
freedom outside the clutches of the church. Of course, staying in is okay for those
who can stand it and can ignore how deeply flawed its beliefs and policies are.


Yes … absolutely sure. The church manual committee is a group of “scribes” and “lawmakers” who have to deal with issues like “what exactly does this mean” or “what does that particular imply or not imply”. They then go about clarifying it. Therein lies their strength and their weakness.
The underlying reasoning is: “ambiguity is something bad, something to be abolished.”

I would beg to differ on that basic assumption. Christian freedom does not need to constantly refer to a manual - whether we call it Church Manual or Midrash. AND more important - we cannot always regulate faith in such a manner. Case in point: Why in the world do we “know” what happened at creation, when the Bible itself is very open ended on that question - being far more concerned about God’s doing than about the how and when. And yet we try to place God into a particular frame that fits our doctrinal needs.

If you are younger than 18 - please don’t read on :wink: … One down to earth example of the fallacy of such a clarification approach is right in the canon of changes. Reasons for divorce include (for a while now) “perversions”. What exactly is meant by that? Ask ten different people and you will get eleven different answers. The church manual would become quite inappropriate, rather saucy reading, if we would want to list all the perversions that are around. BUT to absolutely avoid ambiguity … we would have to add a list of more perversions we found over the past five years. … I guess you get my point.


Although I left Adventust ministry over a decade ago, I’ve always considered myself a friend of Adventists and still preach sermons that would make Mark Finley and HMS Richards proud. However, the renewed myopic emphasis on apostates and exclusion of Adventist pulpits shows that the church is really not wanting to build bridges with Christ loving people in other denominations. It’s remnant hubris is drawing the circle of fellowship even smaller. Unfortunate.


I hope I can weave this phrase into my everyday conversation sometimes. :smile:


To me it implies that the rulers of the church first decide which question to ask and then pay no heed to the delegates who care about the church and therefore wish to ask for clarifications or changes to those asked questions.