“Seventh-day Adventist Church policies are decided through a lengthy process involving multiple committees and councils, and it is the sacred responsibility of the General Conference president and all other church leaders everywhere to follow, according to policy, what the world church has voted,” General Conference president Ted N.C. Wilson said.
Wilson, quoting extensively from the General Conference Constitution, Bylaws, and Working Policy, made the comments in a detailed response to a recent question submitted to his Q&A column (see www.facebook.com/PastorTedWilson/posts/1125011014221456:0).
His remarks came after world church leaders at the 2016 Annual Council voted on measures to deal with church entities that do not adhere to the voted actions of the world church. The measures have been described by church leaders as pastoral and redemptive in their approach.
Church Working Together
The measures voted came to the Annual Council floor as a recommendation by a large majority of the General Conference and division officers, showing that many senior world church leaders are strongly in favor of having the entire world church work together.
The Oct. 11 vote by the Annual Council, the second-highest decision-making body of the church, recognized the authority of voted actions taken by the General Conference Session, the church’s highest decision-making body.
“As president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I am duty bound with a sacred responsibility, as are all other officers of every level of organizations throughout the church as is indicated in Working Policy, to follow what the world church has voted in session (whether I agree with it or not),” Wilson wrote in the Q&A column published on his Facebook page and blog. “To go against this vote would be exercising kingly authority.”
These issues have come to the forefront since the last General Conference Session, in 2015, turned down a proposal that would have allowed divisions to decide whether to allow the ordination of women to pastoral ministry. A few of the church’s entities, however, have ordained women, voted to allow it, or have some aberration of policy on the subject.
Wilson explained that the General Conference Working Policy does not allow any church entity to ordain women to pastoral ministry.
“While the union has the right to approve or disapprove of which individuals, recommended from local conferences, to ordain, that decision is to be made only within the framework of the Working Policy of the world church,” Wilson said. “In addition, the unions are not responsible for approving men to be ordained to the gospel ministry on the division or the General Conference levels. Each of those organizations and their institutions, through the respective executive committees, are authorized to approve ordinations. Therefore, the unions are not responsible for all aspects of ordination.”
Questions on Authority
In his Q&A column, Wilson was replying to a question from someone who had suggested that unions held the final authority on whom to ordain.
“How is it that when they exercise that authority they are rebellious?” the individual wrote. “Has the General Conference decided that they know better? How does this (what absolutely appears to be an) exercise of kingly authority promote unity?”
Wilson’s office said this echoes a number of similar questions that it has received in recent weeks. Questions about whether unions hold the final authority on whom to ordain have also been voiced widely on social media and other places.
Wilson indicated that there is a misconception about unions and the extent of their functions.
“When union conferences were established, they were given the responsibility of working within the policies outlined for the world church, which now generally takes place by world church representatives at an Annual Council and sometimes at a General Conference Session,” Wilson said. “Unions were established to make mission more local since the General Conference wasn’t able to cover the world with direct counsel for every situation, but unions are not a law unto themselves.”
Policies are Agreements
Wilson noted that all church entities are subject to the General Conference Working Policy and stressed that the Working Policy is not equivalent to the Bible or the writings of church cofounder Ellen G. White.
“Working policies are agreements made by church leaders and lay members from around the world as to how we will operate as a world church in carrying out our God-given mission,” he said. “The foundational principles of policies are and should be based on the instruction of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy.”
Church members often refer to White’s work as the Spirit of Prophecy.
Wilson said the Working Policy was not written by one person or a small group of people and has developed over time. Its items have gone through a careful and deliberate process involving multiple committees and councils, he said.
Wilson provided a long list of excerpts from the church’s Constitution and Working Policy to explain how the church works in an interrelated manner and to show that Working Policy only allows men to be ordained to the gospel ministry.
He noted that this male-only policy was confirmed by the General Conference Session in 1990, while General Conference Sessions in 1995 and 2015 decided that no other level of the church’s structure had the right to determine who would be ordained other than that which has been indicated in the Working Policy and confirmed in 1990.
“Regarding your ‘kingly authority’ question,” Wilson responded, “what could be more of a ‘kingly authority’ action than to deliberately go against what has been voted by the worldwide representation of delegates from around the world at a General Conference Session? Three times this subject has been addressed in some form by a General Conference Session.”
A Redemptive Process
On Oct. 11, Annual Council delegates approved a document that lays out a two-phase redemptive process to bring non-compliant church entities into reconciliation and adherence with voted actions and policies of the world church. The first phase envisages multiple conciliatory consultations at various levels of the church’s structure, pastoral letters encouraging compliance, and much prayer. If the matter remains unresolved, the document calls for a second phase of redemptive action that the General Conference Administrative Committee will draft and submit to the 2017 Annual Council for approval and implementation.
After the vote, Wilson emphasized that reconciliation was the main goal of the document. He also called for unity so the church could better fulfill its mission of spreading the gospel since the mission of the church is the primary purpose for its existence and is vital at this end-time setting before Christ’s return. (Read his full statement here: https://perspectives.adventist.org/en/news/news/go/2016-10-12/one-lord-one-faith-one-mission/)
He reiterated those sentiments in his Q&A column.
“Let us be sure to recognize that our ultimate unity is found in looking steadfastly unto Jesus who is the Great Unifier portrayed in His John 17 prayer of unity,” he said. “The Holy Spirit will keep us in unity and focused on our final, last-day proclamation of the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14 and the fourth angel of Revelation 18 as we unitedly lift up Christ, His righteousness, and His soon Second Coming.”