“Scripture, Church Structure, and the Path to Unity” is the title for a special symposium to be held at the Secrets Unsealed Studio in Fresno California on August 1-3. The event will be live-streamed.

Presenters and topics, in sequence of presentation, are:

  1. Stephen Bohr, “Why Another Symposium?”
  2. Daniel Scarone, “Developments After San Antonio”
  3. Larry Kirkpatrick, “Biblical Hermeneutics and Church Leadership”
  4. Mike Lambert, “Scripture and Church Authority”
  5. Mario Veloso, “The Gender of Elders in the Church Manual”
  6. Kevin Paulson, “A Biblical Theology of Church Discipline”
  7. Mario Veloso, “That They All May be One”
  8. Mike Lambert, “Unity at What Cost”
  9. Mario Veloso, “Two Paths to Unity: John 17 and Isaiah 4”
  10. Kevin Paulson, “Message and Mission: Internal Church Controversy and the Challenge of Distraction”
  11. Larry Kirkpatrick, “Dissolution or Revolution: Church Structure and Doctrinal Faithfulness”
  12. Mike Lambert, “Fitly Joined Together”
  13. Phil Mills, “The Government of God: The Model for Church Structure”

In addition there will be town hall meeting segments on August 2 and 3 with questions and response by the presenters.

The link for the live streaming is YouTube.com/SecretsUnsealed

On June 8, 2017, The Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) voted officially to discard Jesus’ teaching that marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman. Canon 31 was officially replaced by a new rule which permits same-sex “marriages.” Anticipating this development, GAFCON (Global African Future Conference), after the vote, today appointed its own bishop to the United Kingdom (UK), Andy Lines.

The Anglican, i.e., Episcopal Church, for hundreds of years has deferred to the archbishop of Canterbury as the “first among equals,” as being the bishop uniting the Anglican Church. However, current archbishop Justin Welby has alienated the majority of Anglicans by refusing to seriously discipline TEC (The Episcopal Church in the USA) and other sections of the Church which have departed from Christian principles of marriage. In 2003 TEC appointed Gene Robinson, a practicing homosexual, as bishop. In 2015 TEC approved same-sx “marriage” rules, and in 2016 received an inconsequential slap on the wrist from Welby.

The Anglican Church numbers some 70 million members worldwide. Between 50-60 million are African. GAFCON, in appointing its own bishop to the UK, Justin Welby’s home turf, signals to all that his episcopal oversight is considered compromised. On June 30 Andy Lines will be consecrated as bishop. Anglicans in Europe will have the option of accepting Andy Lines as overseer rather than Welby. In a concrete way, today’s developments demonstrate the depth of schism in the Anglican Church.

More detail can be had at the following links:
Scottish Episcopal Church approves Gay Marriage http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-40190204

EDINBURGH: Rev. Canon Andy Lines Named GAFCON Missionary Bishop to Europe
http://virtueonline.org/edinburgh-rev-canon-andy-lines-named-gafcon-missionary-bishop-europe

Missionary Bishop Introduced by Archbishop Foley Beach
https://www.gafcon.org/news/missionary-bishop-introduced-by-archbishop-foley-beach

Two large local United Methodist congregations in the Mississippi Annual Conference recently voted to leave the United Methodist denomination. According to Walter Fenton, “Ninety six percent of the parishioners at Getwell Road UM Church in Southaven and 99 percent at The Orchard UM Church in Tupelo supported separation on Sunday, February 5.” Getwell church averages over 800 people in worship. The Orchard church on average sees an attendance of over 2,700 people to its weekend services.

The churches and their staff have been considering taking the step for some time. Church members were invited to consider the possibility of departure. Most notable is what Fenton says about how those congregations arrived in this place where thousands of members are now leaving the United Methodist church. According to Fenton,

Both pastors cited their congregations’ frustration with the denomination’s long and acrimonious debate over the church’s sexual ethics and teachings on marriage. Going forward, they said their congregations want to focus on kingdom matters so they are removing themselves from unproductive battles that distract them from their larger missions. Collier cited the Judicial Council’s (essentially the denomination’s “Supreme Court”) impending decision regarding the validity of the Western Jurisdiction’s July election of the Rev. Karen Oliveto as the denomination’s first openly gay bishop. “Either way, the Council’s decision is just going to prolong a bitter and divisive debate,” Collier said. “We don’t want to be part of the argument anymore. We have more important things we need to do in the Tupelo community and well beyond it.”

Other churches in the Mississippi Annual Conference are contemplating similar action.

The decisions at Getwell and Orchard came before the judicial Council decision regarding Western Jurisdiction-appointed lesbian bishop Karen Oliveto. In the April 28 decision, the United Methodist Church’s high court ruled 6-3 that while her lesbian status was in violation of the Church’s policies governed by the Book of Discipline, she could still retain her position as Bishop and the Church’s Western Jurisdiction would handle the matter. The Western Jurisdiction includes virtually every United Methodist church in the Western half of the United States. It issued the short video response above reacting to the April 28 decision. For more information, see Fenton’s original article at Largest Congregation in Mississippi Parts Ways with UM Church.

The UMC recently commissioned a “non-binary” person who uses “they” pronouns as deacon: Transgender person commissioned as deacon.

Seventh-day Adventist church members in the Upper Columbia Conference will gather May 20 for multiple regional meetings. The meetings were not organized by Conference administration but by the laypeople themselves. The meetings are described as giving opportunity for members of the Conference to show their support for the world church.

Meetings will be held simultaneously, May 20, at the Stateline church in Milton Freewater, OR, two miles from Walla Walla University, and also at the Chewelah church, north of Spokane, WA. Meetings begin in the afternoon, with UCC members attending their local church in the morning, then traveling to Affirmation Sabbath.

Food will be provided so that guests can eat after arrival. Meetings begin at 3:00 pm. Six speakers will give short talks (15 minutes each) one after another, with a final 30 minute presentation titled “In Affirmation of the World Church.” The highlight of the meeting will come in the fellowship shared in the meal provided at 5:30. Members will have a precious opportunity to connect with other members from their own region. An open question and answer session is planned.

The group’s website is http://www.AffirmationSabbath.org. Its Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/WorldChurchAffirmationSabbath

Most Seventh-day Adventists reject the radical policy of opposition toward the world church seen in some places. Affirmation Sabbath is planned to be a positive experience. In a gracious post by NPUC executive committee member Alyce Ispirescu, WCAS invites members around the world to join them in special prayer for world church leaders on May 20.

NOTE: Article corrected with new and more-correct information on 2017-05-09 5:13pm PST and then a further edit completed at 11:21 pm PST. This is drawn from our Netherlands sources.

A meeting of the Netherlands Union of Churches constituency was held May 4-7, 2017.

Previous leadership had guided union enactment of policies contrary to the world church, including with reference to women’s ordination and LGBT+. But new officers were elected by the constituency at this meeting. Netherlands has a new president, Rob de Raad, and a new secretary, Enrico Karg. The treasurer, Istrahel Schoera, who we understand as opposing women’s ordination, was reelected with a 99% vote. Thus, 14 of 15 members of the Executive Committee were replaced. Delegates sat in some amazement as the non-compliant president and secretary were removed.

A new Constitution and Bylaws was presented by that committee for approval. Reinder Bruinsma served on the committee. The previous constitution had been a created as a patchwork of other documents. But the proposed new Constitution disagreed in many places with the required wording for all Seventh-day Adventist Church Constitution and Bylaws documents. In the end, the new constitution was adopted but assigned immediately to a committee in order to be corrected and brought into harmony with the Model Constitution. Some delegates were very disappointed that the newly approved Constitution does not permit women to serve in the position of Union president.

New arrangements and new committees were carefully populated. One member who had been working for ten years to correct problems and bring the Union into harmony with the world church was surprised when delegates appointed her to serve on the newly appointed Constitution and Bylaws Committee.

Under the new Constitution and Bylaws the executive committee was enlarged to 17 members and now requires 50% + 1 to be laypersons. This was a remarkable change, since previously the executive committee made non-conference employee church members a minority, allowing for a maximum of 40% of such members. Several pastors objected to these changes but the constituents overruled those objections by vote.

The new officers not only have problems to resolve in terms of guiding the Union into harmony with the world church, but also very significant financial shortfalls incurred under the previous administration. Still, the new Union of Churches has a fresh start! Delegates and members are expressing great hope. They said that they have never seen a session like this. They felt their voices were heard in a fair way, their delegates rights were not violated, and that this time around they did not serve merely as voting machines for an executive committee.

Some officers insist that the union is still committed to the ordination of women because of Dutch laws. But in the Netherlands, Churches have strict freedom, and every court would realize that there had been no legal ground for the 2012 action and following 2013 implementation of women’s ordination, since in the Dutch Civil Code churches are bound to abide by their Constitution, and that, for the Netherlands, means the Working Policy. The actions of the 2012 session and the executive committee decision to implement it in 2013 were illegal. Very recently a civil court ruled in a case that churches must abide by their own denominational Policy (Google Translate this article: http://www.rd.nl/kerk-religie/rechter-censuur-oud-ambtsdrager-gg-kruiningen-opheffen-1.1398019).

Problems in Netherlands Union have been building for many years, and there has been a rising tide not only of concern, but of action by members. Many were dismayed that their Conference was out of harmony with the world church in so many points, and that leadership did not reflect the values held by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This week, members of the Netherlands Union of Churches are rejoicing at the deliverance God has brought to them. Much work remains to correct matters, but our Dutch brethren seek the prayers of faithful Adventists worldwide in confidence that God will lead and guide.

A commissioning ceremony was conducted for a woman pastor on Sabbath, which had been planned by those who turned out to be the outgoing officers. It might have been intended as a statement to General Conference officers present which included Bill Knott and Karnik Doukmetzian. Constituents were very pleased with the fairness of Pr. Doukmetzian as parliamentarian.

In the letter to the local churches the executive committee stated that the woman pastor will not have hands laid on her by the pastors in the field “as yet.” The usual practice in Netherlands is to hold such a service in the afternoon when all the pastors can be present to lay hands. But the newly chosen officers want to follow a different course. Some now believe that with this commissioning service, Netherlands has seen the last woman ordained.

Report after conclusion of meetings: Major change has come to the Netherlands Union. Persons on the Executive Committee who have led away from the world church have been replaced. The news is very good, and a fuller report will follow. Praise be to God!

Sunday:

Friday:

Thursday:

In an unusual constituency meeting of the Dutch Union of Churches, laypeople are seeking to change the direction set by leaders there. Netherlands leaders have opposed the decision reached by delegates to the San Antonio General Conference Session in 2015. And in 2014 Dutch leaders announced support for LGBT members:

Although we acknowledge the biblical ideal of a monogamous, heterosexual relationship, we continue to emphasize that it is an ideal. The basis of Christianity is that all people fall short of God’s ideal; this is why we require God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice. This leads to the conclusion that we, as Christians, must welcome all children of God — who all fall short of God’s ideal — into our churches with love.

We advise the churches in the Netherlands to fully commit themselves to ensuring that LGBTI individuals feel safe in the church. We would strongly advise against any steps to revoke the membership of LGBTI people, given the unsafe environment this would create in churches.

On Friday many committees will be appointed, including the new Executive Committee. Please pray for the Church in the Netherlands.

Update: Persons were elected on Friday who will help guide the Union into closer harmony with the world church! Details to be added when they become available.

A website that aggressively publishes positions disagreeing with the Seventh-day Adventist Church on women’s ordination and LGBT issues, reports that North American Division (NAD) president Dan Jackson presented a proposal to General Conference (GC) leadership with laughably minimalist disciplinary steps for non-compliant unions. The NAD is said to be proposing three sanctions.

First, that persons from Columbia and Pacific Unions who serve on the General Conference executive committee continue with voice and vote but not be permitted to serve in GC subcommittee leadership roles (as if GC leadership would place these men in such positions at present). Second, that ordinations of women in those Unions not be recognized outside those Unions (a non-starter since those rebel ordinations are already NOT accepted outside those Unions). And third, that General Conference auditing services check these Unions for compliance with the world churches voted policy regarding women’s ordination.

In other words, if the report is accurate, the NAD is proposing to do nothing about the present disregard for the instruction of God in His Word as well as the voice of the Church at three General Conference sessions. This is actually a proposal to give more time to the deviant Unions to strengthen their “cause.”

The proposed sanctions leave the current practice of ordaining women operative in those places, leaves insubordinate leaders in positions where they can continue to promote disunity, and they institutionalize congregationalism by permitting Unions to continue to act independently of the world church.

Such inaction, posing as discipline, would leave the church even more fragmented. The plan Jackson is said to have set forth prepares the way for disregard of the Bible in other areas including LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) issues, and threatens to reduce the Seventh-day Adventist Church to a patchwork of regional churches offering conflicting teachings.

The proposed sanctions, even if enacted, would leave the majority of NAD membership which broadly supports the world church and opposes women’s ordination, disenfranchised and doubtful. Many NAD members feel the Division has been hijacked and would see only betrayal in General Conference acceptance of such proposals.

Will Spring Meeting tell the NAD its proposal is unacceptable? How long will the NAD continue in open defiance of the world church and open promotion of disunity?

We rest in God’s promise that the “gates of hell” will not prevail against the Church that is built on Jesus the Rock, who taught us to obey God’s Word.

A new publication began in January which offers great encouragement to God’s Church. It is called the General Conference Executive Committee Newsletter. While the newsletter especially serves the 300+ members of the General Conference executive committee, it is freely available to leaders in the church at any level who would like to read it.

The January 2017 issue of this brief, four color newsletter featured a main article by Mark A Finley, titled “A Divine Movement United in Mission and Message.” Among other thoughts shared, the article points out that “The unity of the New Testament church was based on a common commitment to Jesus’ revealed truth,” “Truth is God’s basis for the unity of His people. Truth unites,” “truth is based on the word of God,” “Church organization and its subsequent policies based on biblical principles play an indispensable role in unifying Christ’s church. Rather than being arbitrary decrees by authoritarian leaders, the church’s policies are mutual agreements based on and through the body of believers as a whole and the leadership established by them,” “No power or authority within the church can claim independent or unilateral legitimacy in view of this model of interdependence established by the Chief Shepherd.”

The February issue carried as its main article BRI’s Elias Brasil de Souza’s article “Built on a solid Foundation: A Biblical Basis for Church Governance and Authority.” A sample from that article is this statement: “A system of church authority and governance is required in order to maintain doctrinal unity and to implement the mission of the church. Thus, compliance with decisions made by the legitimate representatives of the church organization is not optional.”

The March issue carries as its lead article Myron Isminger’s “History and Development of Seventh-day Adventist Policy,” another very informative and useful article helping the church to understand the importance of organization. Each issue also carries inspiring mission stories from around this world church.

You can find the Executive Committee website at this link:

https://executivecommittee.adventist.org/newsletter/

The first three issues are available at these links:

https://executivecommittee.adventist.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/ECN-January-2017.pdf

https://executivecommittee.adventist.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/ECN-February-2017.pdf

https://executivecommittee.adventist.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/ECN-March-2017.pdf

NPUC Gleaner: Learning From History?

By Engel Yoder


The March 2017 NPUC Gleaner editorial titled “Protest” likens the NAD union presidents who are opposing the authority of the General Conference (GC) to the German princes who opposed the authority of the papal church at the Diet of Spires in 1529 (1). By making this analogy, the editorial further insinuates that our GC leaders can be likened to the papal leaders whose authority the princes protested against. The editor then asks, “What could the princes of long ago teach us by example?”

It is difficult to put into words just how offensive such an editorial is. And that it has been printed in an official church publication shows just how incredibly disjointed church leadership is in the NAD. But not only does this reveal how disconnected NAD leadership is from the rest of the world church, the history the Gleaner editor suggests that we learn from has nothing to do with our current church crisis.

When we consider what the princes of long ago can truly teach us, we find they held to two principal points. Regarding the Diet of Spires we have this historical summary:

“The principles contained in this celebrated Protest . . . constitute the very essence of Protestantism. Now this Protest opposes two abuses of man in matters of faith: the first is the intrusion of the civil magistrate, and the second the arbitrary authority of the church. D’Aubigne, b. 13, ch. 6” (2).

Obviously, the intrusion of civil authorities is not an issue in our current situation, but neither is the arbitrary authority of the church. Can any thinking Adventist actually contend that the source of the current controversy—the 2015 GC Session vote regarding women’s ordination—was an exercise of arbitrary church authority? Never in our church history has there been so much time and study invested in a single question as this one. Every world division fully participated and expressed itself. And once the ultimate body of church authority, consisting of over 2300 duly appointed representatives from around the world, made its decision, can anyone seriously say that this decision was an arbitrary one? Or that this decision was made by the exercise of so-called “kingly” or “popish” power?

But the historian continues by going beyond identifying what the Protest at Spires opposed and identifies what it affirmed:

“. . .Protestantism sets the power of conscience above the magistrate, and the authority of the word of God above the visible church. In the first place, it rejects the civil power in divine things, and says with the prophets and apostles, ‘We must obey God rather than man. . . .’ But it goes farther: it lays down the principle that all human teaching should be subordinate to the oracles of God” (3).

As the Gleaner editorial correctly points out, the papal church claimed to have authority above that of Scripture, and this claim the princes at Spires vehemently denied. But never has Protestantism claimed that all believers would interpret Scripture in precisely the same way. The myriad of Protestant denominations attests to this fact. Actually, the principles of Protestantism purposefully grant anyone who in good conscience cannot accept the teachings and practices of a particular denomination to be entirely at liberty to go to, or even to start, another church or denomination that is more to his liking. But to expect that one can abide within a faith community while openly defying the authority of that community is to embrace the principles of the papists at Spires, not the German princes. Indeed, this expectation reflects the spirit of the one who caused war in heaven when he desired to retain his place there while defying the authority of heaven’s Sovereign.

If the editor of the Gleaner wants us to learn something from history, I suggest we begin with the editor’s own history as a four-year old and learn that a duly authorized “No” means “No.” If someone cannot accept and respect that answer, then that person, like a mature adult, should pack his soap and toothbrush and go. I sincerely hope, however, that he would choose to stay, and that he would reconsider the moral principles upon which he stands. They just may not be as solid as he thinks. He may then be reassured that the General Conference in Session remains God’s ordained authority on earth (4), that this authority is to be respected even if its judgments are not entirely understood at the moment, and that our Father’s house is truly the safest and most secure place to be in all the world.


Notes

1. http://GleanerNow.com/news/2017/03/protest, accessed March 20, 2017).
2. The Great Controversy, p. 203).
3. Ibid.
4. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, pp. 260, 261.


Biographical Note: Engel Yoder has recently retired after 33 years of denominational service with Christian Record Services for the Blind. He lives in Kansas and serves as an elder in his local church.

No organizational structure of the Seventh-day Adventist Church exists in China. Nevertheless, there is news from the Northern Asia-Pacific Division, Chinese Union Mission field, relating to women’s ordination. Approximately two dozen women workers there had been assigned a status of “ordained” on the basis of Chinese government rules. However, it is reported that those women who had received “ordained” credentials from the Chinese government have voluntarily turned them in and received Commissioned minister credentials in their place.

The main reason women are more prominent in ministry in China is because men are expected to work, even on Sabbath, while women have more freedom to be at home. This results in more flexibility for women to do the work of ministry. Neither the Bible nor the Adventist Church approve of secular labor during the Sabbath.

Men who do not work are considered suspect unless they are ordained by the Three-Self Movement. If they receive state-sponsored ordination they are monitored and controlled by the Chinese government. It is difficult for men to become pastor of a house church (secret congregations which are not recognized by the government) unless the men are very old and are retired. Thus women fill the gap left by men’s general unavailability for the work of ministry in this unique field.

Women in unusual situations may step in to fill a void, but God’s plan is for men to assume the spiritual leadership role (1 Timothy 2:9-13; 3:2; Titus 1:5). Although these Adventist women had been “ordained” in China in the past, they have decided to accept replacement of their ordination credential with the commissioned minister credential. One such female worker said, “It isn’t about titles over here. It’s about getting the work done! We don’t want any distractions from ministry and this really isn’t even an issue over here.”

In San Antonio, Texas, at the 2015 General Conference session, the assembled delegates of the world church voted not to permit Divisions to make independent provision for the ordination of women in their fields. The Seventh-day Adventist Church maintains a unified world practice of appointing spiritually-qualified men to congregational leadership. World practice should not be based on side-cases and anomalous situations. Still, the decision of these workers is a step forward for unity in the world church.

We will update this article with corrections and added information as it becomes available.