Adventist Church Manual
Revisions Move Forward
Questions on role of women in ministry remain, however
BY MARK A. KELLNER, News Editor, Adventist Review
series of proposed revisions to the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual – a volume defined as “the expression of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s understanding of Christian life and church governance and discipline based on biblical principles” – was voted by delegates to the 2009 Annual Council in actions on October 12 and 13, 2009.
The changes, many editorial in nature clarifying or amplifying various terms and conditions of church membership and governance, are expected to be presented to delegates to the 59th General Conference Session – the movement’s quinquennial business meeting – in Atlanta, Georgia, beginning June 24, 2010 and ending on July 3, 2010. Until that time, the current edition of the Church Manual, ratified at the last G.C. Session in St. Louis, Missouri, in 2005, remains in effect.
Some of the many editorial changes and additions involved such things as language that would limit “ascending liability,” something that occurs in nonprofit organizations such as the Seventh-day Adventist Church, when one organization is held responsible for the financial liabilities of another. Other changes include the use of the New King James Version of the Bible when Scripture is quoted in the manual; the notification of members when a period of censure has ended; and emphasizing that every church must have a church board.
However, somewhat contentious questions involving the ordination of deaconesses and whether a local conference president “shall” or “should” be an ordained pastor, will wait for resolution at a special meeting of the General Conference Executive Committee on June 23, 2010, one day before the start of the G.C. Session. The issues were moved to that time to allow additional discussion and resolution of the issues. The goal, said Pastor Jan Paulsen, General Conference president, was to ensure that the Church Manual and the “Working Policy” of the movement were in sync.
CHURCH MANUAL DELIBERATIONS: Robert E. Lemon, treasurer of the world church, in conversation with Homer Trecartin, secretary of the church manual committee; seated next is Armando Miranda, Vice President of the world church and the church manual committee chair.
[Photo: Rajmund Dabrowski/ANN]
“We have many women in our church that make a huge contribution to the ministry of this church, that make a huge contribution to the leadership in our church,” Paulsen said October 13. “We have them in many different assignments, in many different parts of the world. And I would say that without the engagement of women, who constitute over half of the membership of our church, the church would be seriously crippled in its outreach and flexibility to care for the needs of the congregation. So I just want to affirm how extremely important it is for us as leaders to give the right signals and to make the correct provision in documents that give guidance in how the church operates, whether it be the Church Manual or the Working Policy.”
At its 1990 and 1995 General Conference sessions, the Seventh-day Adventist Church considered the issue of ordaining women to gospel ministry, and concluded on both occasions not to do so. While the topic is not on the planned agenda for the July 2010 General Conference session in Atlanta, some delegates from Europe, North America and Australia have periodically voiced their hope that a plan may emerge that would allow their regions to move forward with ordaining women to ministry. Only in China, where ordination is a function of both the regional Adventist authority and the government-led Three-Self Patriotic Movement, have female Adventist pastors been officially ordained.
Paulsen’s statement, and a vote to rescind a change in wording about conference presidencies from “should” to “shall” pending further review, came after an afternoon of spirited debate, with delegates lining up on each side of the issue. While North American delegates including division president Don Schneider and Pacific Union president Ricardo Graham each noted that a woman currently serves as a conference executive secretary and, Graham said, “the time will come when she will be considered for [conference] president,” others dissented.
Central African Union Mission president Allah-Ridy Kone pleaded for “unity in the church” and claimed there were no biblical grounds for women’s ordination. Church archivist Bert Haloviak asserted that Ellen G. White, a pioneering co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, interpreted Isaiah 61:6 – “And you will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God. …” – as applying equally to women and men.
Paulsen said at the time, “In some parts of the world, ordination is good for our churches. In other places, ordination is not good for our churches. I appeal to you not to make this into an issue.”
With the ordination question momentarily put aside, other proposed changes in the Church Manual were moved forward and placed on the agenda for the 10-day Atlanta General Conference session.