I was sitting by a fire with my wife and some family members, and we were discussing the General Conference Compliance Committees created back in August, and the document approved at the 2018 GC Annual Council in October, as well as a few other bits of church politics.
We were knee deep into discussing how the findings of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) were not reported during the 2015 vote on women’s ordination, and a family member chimed in, “you know, it was so much simpler to grandpa — just believe.”
While initially I felt as though this was a bit reductive of the issues at hand, I realized that of the five committees: 1) General Conference Core Policies; 2) Doctrine, Policies, Statements, and Guidelines for Church Organizations and Institutions Teaching Creation/Origins; 3) Doctrine, Policies, Statements, and Guidelines Regarding Homosexuality; 4) Distinctive Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church; and 5) Doctrine, Policies, Statements, and Guidelines Regarding Issues of Ordination, the final one is not even biblical. From these titles alone, one can gather that these committees are not made to ensure that progress is made, but rather that all conferences, unions, churches, schools, and individuals are working in compliance based on the church’s Working Policy document (and maybe the Bible).
I myself am a seventh generation Seventh-day Adventist. As far back as my family can remember, we have always been members of this church. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized more and more that many people involved directly with the church are more focused on how Christians should act, rather than Christ.
In a sense, the Bible is merely used as a preface for whatever our leadership wants to say, regardless of the context or overarching meaning of the Book. The same can be said for many members of our individual churches, where they see the Bible as the keycard to get into the social club with a cross on the top of it. When I was younger, we had just received a new pastor at our church. While he was preaching his first sermon, a sermon of acceptance, the congregation was quietly judging the pastor’s mother for wearing a certain type of earring, a too short skirt, and too much makeup. While her son was professing a gospel of acceptance for all people, the church was already shunning his own mother.
I do not wish to even hint that we should ignore the failings of our leadership in regards to these compliance committees or women’s ordination decisions, or several other points. However, I believe that the General Conference’s level of success or approval is directly related to how saved we as individual Christians are. If the entirety of the General Conference and all unions were to collapse and close, what would happen the very next Sabbath? The lights in our churches would still come on, a message would still be preached from the pulpit, and a potluck would still be served. What I mean to say is that the General Conference has no bearing on my, or your, salvation. I do not mean to be ignorant in dismissing their discrimination against ordaining female pastors, or their beliefs regarding LGBT+ members, but I do mean to say that the General Conference is not the end all.
While we should always strive to create the most Bible-based General Conference we can through votes, and the members installed, we must remember that in the end, the GC has no say in one’s salvation. It is disheartening that, as of now, the GC does not allow women’s ordination, and this should be changed. But until then, I have seen amazing women of God preaching from the pulpit, showing Christ to people, sometimes more effectively than men. While the GC has created a committee to monitor and enforce the education of creation in our schools, I have seen professors and students making great strides in evolutionary science regardless. The GC is quick to say that these compliance committees don’t enforce anything, they only investigate and recommend, but recommend what? Why create something that’s sole purpose is to examine and make decisions on what it deems “out of compliance” if it would only “recommend” to some that they are out of compliance? Statistics show that over 80% of the world unions are already out of compliance, so what other purpose would the committees serve if not to take action? While the GC forbids practicing members of the LGBT+ community to be a part of the congregation, I have met many closeted members who contribute so much to the body of Christ and suffer in silence.
In 1909, at the age of 81, Ellen White attended what would be her last General Conference meeting. The meeting was held in Washington, D.C. As the day was closing and the final meetings had adjourned, she felt as though this would be her last time to meet with the body of the General Conference’s world representatives. Ellen walked up to the pulpit, and opened the Bible lying on it. She lifted it as high as she could and told the audience, “Brethren and sisters, I commend unto you this book.”1 After speaking that single sentence, “she turned from the pavilion. Her last message to the world delegates sounded the keynote of all her life and testimony.”2
The final message of our founding prophet was to focus on Scripture. She did not remind the congregation of world church leaders that they needed to unify under the outlined and GC-approved belief system. She did not tell us to constantly affirm any single one of our teachings. The final words of a woman who guided our church from a broken band of Millerites into a passionate worldwide church was to simply focus on the Bible.
All of this is to say that I do believe that the General Conference is out of line in its votes and practices, but the writer of Hebrews had it right, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6, ESV).
We must be a socially conscious people, always advocating for those marginalized and discriminated against, and forever strive for a leadership that as closely as possible imitates the perfection of Christ. But we should also remember that in the end, the General Conference is man-made, just as all non-profit organizations are.
This piece was originally published in Spectrum Magazine.