Category Archives: Current Events

A Short History of SDA Organization (AC18-3)

Seventh-day Adventist growth reached the point in the late 1850s where organization of some sort seemed a necessity. Nevertheless, a sizable number of leaders was opposed to it, believing that church organization of any kind would turn the movement into “Babylon,” an organization hostile to God’s mission for the world. They argued that the since the Bible does not require the followers of Christ to organize themselves, the believers should not do so. On the other side, spurred on by James White, other Adventist leaders argued that since the Bible does not forbid organization, and common sense required it, the movement needed to organize. The pro-organization group won out and the Seventh-day Adventist Church was formed over a two-year period, in 1861 and 1863.

As the church continued to grow, the organization grew highly centralized, with top to bottom power centering in the president and a handful of officers. Ellen White became concerned about this development for two reasons. She feared the creation of an authoritarian culture within leadership and she feared it would result in the coercing of conscience. So the church was moved to considered once more how it would or should be organized.

There have been three main options for church organization in the course of Christian history. First, there is congregationalism, in which local churches are essentially independent of each other. Although they may form loose connections with other churches, there is no over-arching authoritative body. The second type of organization is often called episcopal, where authority resides at the top and flows down from there. This kind of organization works best when a people see the leadership as being directly guided by God. The best-known organization of this type is the Roman Catholic Church. The system works because Catholics see the pope as “inspired” when he speaks ex-cathedra, from the holy chair. And most church leaders operate under vows of obedience (SDA leaders chose not to take a step in that direction last year). So the Roman Catholic Church has stayed united through the centuries.

The third type of church organization is the Presbyterian, which has a central organization, but the authority flows up from below and there are “firewalls” at each level that prevent top leadership from dictating to lower levels. While congregationalism emphasizes local needs and perspective, and the episcopal system emphasizes centralized control, the Presbyterian approaches operates on a tension between global and local authority and concerns. The firewalls preserve much to local control.

In 1901 to 1903, the SDA Church created something of a hybrid of the three systems, but ended up closest to Presbyterian model. While the General Conference is concerned with matters that affect the whole world church, the formation of unions between the conferences and the General Conference provided for provide for more diversity of approach when carrying out the church’s mission. So the formation of unions was intended to care for local needs and prevent the formation of “kingly power” at the top. The basis for this type of organization was not in the Bible, the Bible offers some basic principles of leadership and offers some examples or organization, but it offers little systematic guidance as to just how the church ought to organize itself. So the SDA Church created a system, with encouragement from Ellen White that balanced global concerns and central control with diversity of focus and decentralization of power.

Proposal for Annual Council Next Week (AC18-2)

Two documents are coming up for discussion and vote at the Annual Council of Seventh-day Adventists next week (probably Sunday, October 11). The first spells out the consequences for any entity of the church whose official actions are out of harmony with world church policies. You can read that document here ( A second document lays out terms of reference for “compliance committees” that would be tasked to investigate charges of “non-compliance.” These are less interesting but posted here ( The General Conference raise eyebrows by appointing five “compliance committees” a month later, before the documents calling for them were even approved. While at first glance all these proposals and actions seem quite alarming, many safeguards have been built in to the processes to prevent many avenues for manipulation and abuse of these regulations and committees. I will try to explain this as we move along.

I share the key points of the first document here. It concerns what should happen when any entity of the church (institutional executive boards or committees) determines that it or another entity is out of compliance with some policy or belief of the church. A number of principles are stated first. 1) Complaints must arise by vote of an executive committee of the church and be expressed in writing. These are executive committees of conferences, unions, divisions and the General Conference Administrative Committee (also known as GCADCOM– a body of roughly 25 people that runs the day to day operations of the General Conference). Complaints are not to be taken seriously if arising from an individual or a committee outside the above parameters. And they must be made in writing. These are extremely important safeguards against abuse (and any regulation like this has potential for manipulation and abuse of power so safeguards are critical). These investigations are not to be based on disgruntled individuals or vague accusations.

2) Oversight for compliance falls to the nearest entity to the complaint. If a problem arises in a church, that is the responsibility of the conference, if a problem arises in a conference that is the responsibility of the union above it. If a problem arises in a union that is the responsibility of the division above it and so forth. If the problem is not resolved at that level it can be addressed at the levels above it and so on up the chain. The location of last resort is the GCADCOM, which could vote to refer the issue to the appropriate compliance committee for investigation and recommendation. A side note: for those not familiar with the SDA Church structure, there are six levels. The lowest level is the church member, then local churches, then conferences, then unions, then divisions and then the General Conference itself. The idea is that addressing problems should happen at the nearest level, but this document sets up a mechanism for higher entities to deal with lower issues if it is felt that intermediate entities are not dealing with the problem. That is a major change in church practice.

3) The process for dealing with non-compliance is to involve prayer and dialogue, confirmation of all charges and responses in writing, allowance of 60 days for a suspect entity to explain what they are doing, change it, or lay out a plan for change. The document calls for all that to be done in a supportive atmosphere, even allowing an extra 30 days when needed. If that process fails it is bumped up to the next higher entity (union, division or GCADCOM). If GCADCOM cannot resolve the issue it is referred to the appropriate compliance committee to investigate, work with the non-compliant entity, or recommend consequences for continued non-compliance. There is also room for an appeal of such a recommendation.

If GCADCOM concludes that there is continued non-compliance in the entity under review, it can recommend to the GC Executive Committee (GCEC– at Annual Council) consequences of progressive severity. 1) A warning to the entity, not just its president, that it is out of compliance and could face consequences. 2) If that does not change anything, the GCEC could vote a public reprimand. This would mean that at future meetings of the GCEC, the president of that entity would be placed in a “reprimanded” category on the attendee list and a public announcement of the same would occur at the commencement of the week-long meeting. This is a softening of the original proposal to make a public announcement of reprimand every time the president of the non-compliant entity gets up to speak. 3) If the non-compliance continues, at the next meeting the president of that entity could be “removed for cause.” The concept of “cause” is expanded from moral impropriety to non-compliance with a particular policy, but would require a two-thirds majority to implement, so this would be hard to do. If the president of a non-compliant union, for example, is removed from membership on the GCEC, other members of that union who are on the GCEC would retain their voice and vote. In terms of the Pacific Union, people like Pastor Randy Roberts and LLU President Richard Hart would retain their voice and vote even if the president of their union (currently Ricardo Graham) lost his position on the committee. And conference presidents from that union would retain voice in the meeting, as appropriate under current regulations.

Compliance Review Committees have been appointed to oversee five areas: 1) The teaching creation/origins, 2) policies regarding homosexuality and 3) ordination, 4) GC core policies (particularly concerned with finances), and 5) distinctive beliefs. The current membership of those committees can be found here ( We will have more to say about these later.

The big unresolved question for me is: Who holds the president and/or GCADCOM accountable? No mention of such is made in this document, which suggests a top-down privilege that has high potential for abuse and manipulation. Based on past experience, the first line of defense when a president is “out of compliance” is the General Conference Treasurer, who needs to sign all financial transactions (money is a major compliance issue of course). The General Counsel’s office, with its team of lawyers, also keeps watch on the president. If the GCADCOM does something inappropriate, the GCDO (General Conference and Division Officers Committee—about 70 people) reviews all GCADCOM decisions before they get on the floor of the GCEC. A couple days ago the GCDO voted to pass on the above documents by a vote of 32 in favor, 30 opposed, and 2 abstentions, a razor-thin margin. It appears that top leaders of the church are divided on the usefulness of these documents. Going forward without address who holds the president and GCADCOM accountable may be one reason for the great hesitation, even among those who helped craft the document. Next time, a short history of SDA Church organization is needed to understand what is happening now.

Annual Council 2018 Preview (AC18-1)

Today at 10:30 AM PDT I will be presenting a journalistic overview of the documents being presented at the General Conference (of SDAs) Annual Council in Battle Creek and their history in the larger setting of current issues in the Adventist Church. I thought it would be helpful to put these things in writing as we approach the day of the fateful vote. For those who are not Seventh-day Adventists, you may want to take a on this series regarding the Adventist Church, although it is a fascinating account of how large voluntary groups address difficult issues (see Acts 15 for a similar situation—Pastor Roberts will be preaching on that text at 9 AM and 11:45 AM this morning, also live streamed). I will post a summary of my remarks in twelve parts beginning here. My series on LGBTIQ issues is not over, but I am taking a break to bring this material to you.

Pastor Roberts of the Loma Linda University Church has asked me to perform this task because he was not able to secure a speaker from among those who created the document. He asked me to study all available materials, interview as many key people as I could (for background on condition of anonymity) and report as objectively and fairly as possible. So this is a journalistic report. I will do my best not to color the account with my own opinions, but share the essence of the documents and the larger context that brought them into existence, along with the forces in the church that were driving leadership in this direction. Journalism seems increasingly under threat these days, but it is still useful in educating the public to the issues behind the strident voices in a community. I will share my own views on a penal this afternoon at 3 PM.

I bring a major assumption to the task. First, I personally trust the collective wisdom of SDA Church leadership. I have differences of opinion with many church leaders, but collectively they tend to get things fairly right, even if their processes and motivations are not always understood in the trenches. If you don’t agree with my assumption, you may not like where I will be going, but I take that assumption from knowing all the key players and seeing how they operate behind closed doors. There is one major exception to this compliment, which I will share as we move along.

Much of this presentation will likely be new to most people. As I have interviewed people I have been startled at how badly I myself misread the documents the first couple of times. The original document on regard for and practice of GC actions is here: One reason the document has been widely misread, even by independent media is that it is extremely dense. The intent was a half-page document, but after a long period of working over it, the committee ended up with three pages and nearly every word or phrase was fought over. So each word is probably significant to somebody on the Unity Oversight Committee. Every word and phrase is a potential battleground. So I needed people to walk me through the document and explain its significance. Before that I read selectively, focusing on things that jumper out at me. And I read it through a distorted lens of opinion pouring out from at least five media sources (AR, ANN, Spectrum, Adventist Today, Fulcrum7). After some oral explanation, the document looked very different to me, and I will do my best to explain in this series. The document will be voted up or down on Sunday October 14.

For me the biggest surprise is that no one is really defending the document and its parallel document on the formation of compliance committees. Why? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect it is because no one, even on the committee, is excited about this document. It represents a hard-fought compromise. It is not exactly what anyone wanted. Nevertheless, there is a good chance it will pass on October 14. Why? And how did we get to this place? Stay tuned.

Waco and My Family

In spite of many differences, Koresh’s free-wheeling use of proof-texts from the Bible, interspersed with quotations from Ellen White, mean he was a bit more Adventist than most Adventists would like. The Branch Davidians kept the Sabbath, were vegetarians, abstained from tobacco, alcohol and most drugs, were constantly talking about Bible prophecy, and believed that the King James Bible was the only true and authoritative version. The Branch Davidians were culturally very similar to the most conservative of Adventists.

This came home powerfully to me when my family and I spent two weeks in New York City in 1999. As a family we stayed in a small apartment behind and above my childhood church, now called Church of the Advent Hope, in Manhattan. One evening the kids (12, 14 and 17 at the time) got a little bored, so I went down the street and rented the documentary “Waco: Rules of Engagement.” I had seen it at a scholarly conference (where I met James Tabor) some time before and thought they would find it interesting. The documentary includes footage of both federal attacks and also video from inside the compound between the two attacks (February 28 and April 19).

My children were not easily frightened by videos, but this documentary completely traumatized them. They couldn’t sleep the whole night afterward. When I questioned them about it later, they emphasized several things. The Davidians inside the compound talked and acted so “Adventist.” As children in Sabbath School they had been taught that the end-time persecution was coming, and it would affect them personally. To them the video was evidence that what they had been taught was beginning to happen. So when my children saw the charred bodies of Davidian children, they identified very strongly with them and feared that the end-time persecution was about to happen. Koresh in many ways deviated strongly from Adventism, but the similarities are troubling. While commitment and faithfulness are important things, in an end-time context they can be carried too far.

Eschatology and the Last Day Prophet

Eschatology and the Last Day Prophet

As time passed after Waco, I learned more about the theology of David Koresh. Koresh did not have much formal training in the Bible, but he had the ability to memorize large portions of the Bible and to explain in a convincing manner texts that puzzled most people, like the Seals and Trumpets of Revelation and chapter 11 of the book of Daniel. Koresh was particularly fascinated by the seven seals of Revelation. In many ways he was a man of contradictions. He could enforce strict dietary rules on his community, but break them on a whim. He could be lovable one moment and scary the next. He was funny sometimes and deadly serious at other times. He was very spiritual much of the time but could be quite carnal at other times. This led some to call him “the sinful Messiah.”

Koresh did not believe that he was Jesus Christ re-incarnated, as many have come to think, but he believed he was the end-time Cyrus (Koresh) who would come from the east (Isa 45:1-4; Dan 11:44-45; Rev 16:12) and be God’s final messenger on earth. He considered himself the last in a line of such messengers as Luther, John Knox, John Wesley, Ellen White and Victor Houteff, the founder of the breakaway Adventist movement (“Shepherd’s Rod”) that spawned the Branch Davidians (see accompanying photo). He reported that on a trip to Jerusalem in 1985, God gave him a vision of seven angels anointing him (the biblical Cyrus was God’s anointed messenger [Isa 45:1] as the last living prophet on earth. The Bible, in his view, was full of clues as to just when and how Jesus would return and how His people were to prepare. End-time salvation would come from believing Koresh’s message regarding the seven seals of Revelation (Rev 6:1 – 8:1), which he considered the last message to a lost world. The practical aspect of the message was to “endure to the end, no matter what the cost” (Matt 10:22), and so find end-time salvation. He was raising up an exclusive end-time people who would become God’s sole channel of salvation. They were the bearers of “present truth.”

As God’s last-day prophet, he anticipated a violent, apocalyptic end to his life. Death was not something he feared, he believed it was part of the path God had laid out for him. His death would come at the hands of end-time “Babylon” (Rev 17:1-5). He saw that Babylon everywhere; in mainstream religion, the US government, and even in his former spiritual home, the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Apparently his view of God allowed him to believe that taking up arms to defend “the truth” was in harmony with God’s plan for the end of time. In this belief he deviated greatly from the end-time convictions of Seventh-day Adventists, who have been largely pacifist from the beginning. SDAs believe that deliverance in the end-time will not come from guns, but from direct deliverance by God.

25 Years After Waco: My Own Personal “Near-Miss”

About a year ago I got my first chance to actually visit the site of the Waco tragedy that occurred 25 years ago next month. I interrupt a series of blogs on the theology of Revelation to repost and rewrite (as needed) a series of blogs that I did for a different context (the war with ISIS) a few years ago. In this series I share my own recollections and regrets about what might or might not have happened if I had been more involved at the time.

On February 28, 1993, scores of federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms approached the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas. Their mission was to serve a search and arrest (to arrest Vernon Howell, aka David Koresh) warrant on weapons charges due to the large amount of weapons the Branch Davidians had accumulated. While the ATF would have preferred to arrest Koresh outside the compound, they were incorrectly told that he rarely left it. Surprise was lost when a mailman tipped off Koresh that the raid was coming. The Branch Davidians were armed and in defensive positions when the federal agents arrived around 9:45 AM. It isn’t clear whether the Branch Davidians or the federal agents fired first, it is likely an accidental discharge on one side or the other triggered the shooting on both sides. A cease-fire was arranged a couple of hours later (in part because the federal agents were running out of ammunition), but by that time five Branch Davidians were dead (another was shot and killed trying to enter the compound that evening) and the ATF had suffered four dead and sixteen wounded.

The incident brought the Branch Davidians and their Seventh-day Adventist “cousins” into the international spotlight. In the course of the siege and after its tragic conclusion on April 19, 1993, I was contacted by the BBC, CNN, ABC and NBC to answer questions about the situation. The roughest question came from a BBC reporter, “What is it about Seventh-day Adventists that breeds these kinds of people?” But the most disturbing phone call of all came in early March from a fellow Adventist, Dan Serns, at the Texas Conference. He told me that the FBI was looking for an Adventist scholar familiar with how Adventists think about the book of Revelation and the End-times to help in the negotiations with Koresh. To be honest, I wanted nothing to do with the situation at the time, yet I felt that it would be wrong for me to ignore the request. I took the FBI number I was given and gave my contact information to Serns for them to call if they wanted to.

I called the FBI number three times but no one picked up. In retrospect I think my lack of enthusiasm for the potential assignment caused me not to try too hard to reach the federal authorities. As far as I know, the FBI never attempted to call. I wonder what would have happened had I tried a little harder. The role that I might have played was offered to James D. Tabor, a religious scholar at the University of North Carolina (Charlotte) and J. Philip Arnold, a religion scholar from Houston, Texas. From what I have seen in the media and my one meeting with Tabor six years later, they seem to have been good choices. They warned the federal officials that the harsh siege tactics they were using would only encourage the Branch Davidians to think this was a truly apocalyptic event with cosmic implications. The Davidians’ beliefs were sincerely held and they were willing to die for them. I understand that these scholars’ interpretations were convincing enough that Koresh was willing to leave the compound. But in the end, the advice to federal officials appears to have been ignored (one possible reason is that no arrest could legally occur until the search verified illegal guns on the premises– so the compound had to be entered and searched first somehow). The final assault began before the date Koresh had agreed to leave. The siege ended tragically on April 19 with the death of some 75 Branch Davidians when a fire broke out during the final assault using Bradley fighting vehicles (essentially tanks). Among the victims were 21 children.

I still wonder if I could have made a difference. Given the fact that Tabor and Arnold gave sound advice which was ignored anyway suggests it wouldn’t have mattered, but. . .

I’ve Changed My Mind on Women’s Ordination

I interrupt the “guest blog” series from Graham Maxwell and Lou Venden to offer up some thoughts on how my mind has changed or stayed the same on the issue of women’s ordination. Hopefully these thoughts will have some value as the Seventh-day Adventist Church approaches a fateful Annual Council on October 5-11. As the two sides in this crisis harden their positions, I have considered, for the first time in my life, the possibility of a significant church split and it saddens me deeply.

In this context, let me review where I was in San Antonio (2015) and how my mind has changed since then. For forty years (since 1975), the best theological and administrative minds in the church studied the subject of ordination and the role of women in the church. While some were convinced the Bible supported women’s ordination and others were convinced that it opposed it, many or most of us drew the conclusion from all this study that the Bible never actually addresses the question. It neither mandates nor forbids the practice. I know that Seventh-day Adventists on both sides will disagree with me, but their honest disagreement actually helps make my point. I believe I was and am on solid ground in this assertion, as it was voted by the Annual Council in 2014.

Another area of consensus concerned the meaning of ordination itself. The same vote asserted that ordination is not the conferral of special powers, nor a superior position in a hierarchy. It is simply the conferral of representative authority. When we ordain someone, the church is essentially saying, “You speak for us, we trust you to represent us wherever you go.” And such a conferral of representative authority is necessary in a worldwide church. The church can’t have every Tom, Dick and Harry claiming to speak for it. It has the right to confer that authority on those it trusts. Hence the tradition of ordination.

The problem with that position is that ordination doesn’t really mean a whole lot in contemporary terms. When the church hires someone to preach, male or female, they have as good as ordained them already. No church entity hires a pastor they don’t know and trust to some degree. To hire a person and pay them out of tithe money confers representative authority. So the vote of the Annual Council in 2014 denied that ordination has “magical powers” that should be limited to select groups, ordination is simply a public recognition that a person speaks for the church. In saying all of the above I do not assume that every voting delegate read and/or understood the action and its implications. But it was voted as the consensus of church leadership, and I support that consensus.

In light of those actions, I came to the conclusion that the only logical step left was to encourage a “Yes” vote in San Antonio (2015), allowing divisions of the church to decide on the basis of mission whether or not to allow ordination of women in their territories. Since some Adventists’ consciences compelled them to ordain women and other Adventists’ consciences forbade them from ordaining women, a Yes vote seemed Solomonic to me. Let each church, congregation, conference, union and division consider carefully whether ordaining women would enhance or detract from the mission of the church in their local areas. Let each area of the church follow its conscience on these matters. No need to split the church on a matter that the Bible did not either mandate nor forbid. It made perfect sense to me. It was a win/win solution, like Acts 15. Everyone gets to follow their convictions and their conscience (Rom 14:5). No one loses. The mission of the church wins. But I was wrong. I had completely overlooked one or two really important realities that change everything in my mind. I think I now understand why a “No” vote has led us into such difficult circumstances. I now believe a “Yes” vote would have been equally problematic. Why? Let me explain.

In large parts of the church, particularly in the southern hemisphere, conscience not only compelled people to keep their churches and local regions from ordaining women, it was for them a matter of conscience that women should not be ordained anywhere in the church. It was something like Achan in the camp. To ordain women anywhere was to bring God’s curse on the church everywhere. A “Yes” vote would have violated their consciences just as much as a “No” vote has violated the consciences of others in the church. In other words, the problem was with the vote itself. It was a win/lose situation. Whether the vote was Yes or No, someone would lose, someone’s conscience would be violated. This was a tragic reality that I did not see at the time and I suspect neither did most of those who voted to set up this choice in 2014 (its passed with some 85% of the vote).

Is this clash of conscience intractable? Is there no way to maintain the unity of the church in the face of its diversity on matters of conscience? I think not. A second insight I have recently come to may point the way to a resolution of the impass. Most people who favor the ordination of women do not do so because they believe women need the “magical powers” that ordination will provide. They realize ordination is one way for the church to determine its authorized representatives, nothing more. What is a matter of conscience to those who favor women’s ordination is treating women equally, as is enshrined in the 14th Fundamental Belief of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In light of this Fundamental, to ordain men and not women is to create an unbiblical inequality. But ordination in itself is not an overwhelming value, particularly in the West. That is evidenced by a number of male pastors who have requested Commissioned credentials, even at some potential cost to themselves financially, in order that they have no advantage of position over women.

It seems to me that there is room for negotiation here. It is possible to honor the consciences of all. What exactly that solution is would come from the kind of listening to each other and praying together that the Annual Council action of 2016 called for. One possibility is the Scandinavian approach. They dropped the terms “ordination” and “commissioning” for a Scandinavian word that means something similar but does not have the biblical and historical overtones that make “ordination” discussions so problematic. Since the Scandinavian unions are not coming under discipline for this action, it seems leadership may see some possibility of a middle ground here. Those compelled to ordain who they wish would be free to do so. Those who want to treat women equally would be free to do so. The church would stay united. The mission would move forward.

I have no idea exactly what is going on among church leaders in the run up to Annual Council. I have no idea what will happen there. But experience has taught me that while the leadership of the church DOES make mistakes (witness the many rebukes of church leadership when Ellen White was alive), the collective wisdom of church leadership tends to correct itself and end up in a wiser place. I trust my leaders to do the right thing, all of them. Let’s hope that they will hear each other and the voice of the Spirit next month. Let’s pray for the Council. And above all else, let’s pray that regardless of the decisions made there, Adventists will not lose their faith in God and their fellow believers.

Another View of Women in Ministry

One of the regular contributors of my Facebook page, Linda Hoover, has sometimes taken issue with my position on women’s ordination (that the Bible neither requires nor forbids it). Being more interested in what the Bible actually says than in what I think about it, I have often challenged her to share biblical evidence for her confidence that I was wrong and recently she sent me a piece that is fresh and interesting, so I thought I’d share it with those who might have missed it at the bottom of a discussion on my Facebook page. Linda does not claim to be a biblical scholar, but shows creativity in addressing a subject that has been analyzed to the nth degree. I have edited just a bit for format and clarity but believe her views come through clearly. I share the following from her without comment for your consideration and welcome your feedback:

I formed my position from several SDA sources including WO (women’s ordination) proponents, and some outside sources, including an article from Answers in Genesis ( non-SDA on FB), and maybe the most influential source is the spiritual application of an article shared with me by my daughter. That article presented a detailed account of a large corporation that was sinking rapidly into failure as it was run by the top-down model of management. By suddenly changing the management model to the new team management approach, the corporation was rapidly turned around to give us an amazing success story. Even at the time of reading it I had immediately seen the application to church management, but I had heard nothing of the WO dispute at the time. This article resurfaced in my thinking during this WO discussion, inspiring me to review all of the direct Bible texts on the topic of the position of authority in the church.
I will share a few spiritual concepts I gleaned from the article since I cannot find it at present. This I would rather do before giving you my other sources, for the understanding gleaned from that article helped me hear terms such as headship, authority, rule, equality, submission, and roles with different ears.

I see God as the prime example of the owner of a huge corporation which He runs on the team leadership model. He illustrates perfect team leading in Himself as three in One, so that every team leader under Him will have His example to follow in their position of responsibility. The product of His corporation is love, joy, peace, unity, and redemption for fallen mankind. So when He creates man in His image He wants us to be part of His team in production of the same. Adam was to be the team leader of earth and was given Eve as co-leader. Together they ruled earth as part of God’s huge corporation. The team leader, Adam, was primarily responsible for working in cooperation with his equally essential and perfectly matched assistant. He first provided for her as a spiritual guide and protector, as she then was better able to assist him in bearing and raising children. He was the lawgiver; she was the nurturer. He had extra physical strength and natural leadership drive; she had more emotional, nurturing, and counseling skills. They were each perfectly adapted to their roles as husband/father and wife/mother. And they perfectly complemented one another as they co-ruled their family and the earth.

As team leader Adam is not the owner of the corporation but is responsible for forwarding the goals of the CEO/owner. But this he must fulfill by also developing a successful cooperative team–his family. So he also becomes their servant leader. His goal was to serve their needs and guide them in ways to benefit the company and forward its goals. He has responsibilities both to the company owner and those on his team, for no team is successful without leadership that pulls people together in cooperation, inspiration, and motivation to make the company successful and the owner happy.

The pastor/elder is to be a team leader. He does not own the company. He does not make the policies without approval of the owner/CEO. He is not a boss but a guide to protect, inspire, encourage, and strengthen the abilities of the team members–men, women, and children. For it is they who do the work together in production. He teaches them the principles of the company (kingdom), protects them from error, and empowers them to do the work of pastoring, Bible studies, spiritual visitation, evangelizing, public speaking, health work, and whatever other gifts the members may have. If any devote themselves to full time work in their ministry, they should be paid accordingly. But that does not make them the team leader.

The servant-leader asks for and receives counsel, correction, and recommendations from his team members as needed, for his authority is limited to team leading–he does not make arbitrary decisions on his own, but seeks the mind of the whole team. Besides ongoing teaching/training and guidance, at times he may have to remind the members of company rules set by the owner, but otherwise the collective wisdom and action of the team is what drives the company’s success.

So the team leader pastor/elder is a servant leader. If he is not training those under him toward the kind of leadership that forwards the work of the company, then he has missed his calling. He is not called to do the work by himself, but to develop the team’s ability to do the work. Every team member that has gifts or talents should be encouraged to put them to work for the company. Some of those team members may become leaders over their own assigned area and given as much responsibility as they can to benefit the company. Some may become spokesmen for the organization, advertising agents, support personnel in various ways, etc.
With this model the pastor multiplies his efforts by developing a whole team full of workers and even some “pastors” to the flock. He is a “pastor” trainer. Both men and women can do this work, but as Ellen White stated, women are often more effective in this personal work. They can reach hearts and families in ways that men are not as effective. Can you imagine a church full of “pastors”? Instead of women taking the position of team leader, they should be free to minister where they are most effective.

Along with team leader responsibility there will of necessity be the degree of authority necessary to serve in that capacity. This is why we see words like “rule” and “authority” used in Scripture. It is servant leader authority. He is at the “head” of the church family activities, but he is not the owner/CEO. He is an under shepherd responsible for leadership-service to the church members. He stands on equal ground with all the other church members, but has a specific role to fulfill. This role is similar to the one a husband fulfills in the home. That is the reason his success at home is criteria for judging his effectiveness in the church (1 Timothy 3). If his family love and respect his leadership, this indicates he should succeed with a church family also.
As for references I like Clinton and Gina Wahlen, Women’s Ordination – Does It Matter? And “WO Overview,”…/womens-ordination-issues…/. Ingo Sorke has a good compilation of Ellen White statements.…/7118…/Ordination-Trifold.pdf.

Thoughts on the Inauguration and Bible Prophecy

I’ll do my best to be non-partisan in my remarks below. Some have wondered if the election of Trump and the threats to the inauguration would have prophetic significance. I would suggest that we tend to blow current events out of proportion, simply because they are what we know and our fears for the future magnify them. A lesson or two from history may be helpful.

John Adams was so contemptuous of Thomas Jefferson that he left the White House in the middle of the night on March 4, 1801, refusing to attend the inaugural ceremony of the man who had vanquished him.

Democrat Samuel Tilden, who won the popular vote in 1876, was urged to lead an army into Washington to stop the “corrupt” handover of power by Congress to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes; luckily, Tilden declined. Nonetheless, Tilden and his backers insisted they had been robbed. President Hayes was thereafter called “His Fraudulency.”

So bitter was the rivalry between Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt that they said not a word to each other during the 1933 inaugural drive from the White House to the Capitol. Hoover and Roosevelt never reconciled, and they hurled insults at one another with regularity. The last three paragraphs are are deeply indebted to a brilliant essay posted earlier today:

As riveting as the current election and its aftermath have been, in many ways it is nothing new, so breathe out slowly everyone, relax, and enjoy the ride, wherever it leads. Prophecy is not concerned with the ins and outs of political intrigue. It is written to provide direction and hope to the people of God. No matter how out of control things appear, God is still in control.

Disappointment with the San Antonio General Conference Session

Last weekend was spent at the Calimesa SDA Church Retreat at Pine Springs Ranch in the San Jacinto Mountains of southern California. During the Sabbath School time the teacher was addressing the weekend’s theme of “When Things Don’t Turn Out. . .” He was addressing how we should respond when things don’t turn out the way we expect, personally, in local communities, and worldwide. He invited me to be prepared to say something about the General Conference Session and the big thing that didn’t “turn out” there, the vote to give official endorsement to divisions of the church to consider mission as a key factor in decisions regarding women’s ordination. Time ran out before I was able to speak, but I thought my notes there might be useful or encouraging to someone here. My apologies if this blog is annoying to those who might disagree with my conclusions.

Let me begin with the history of ordination. While the word “ordination” appears in the King James Bible, that English word comes from the Latin, it is not found in the New Testament. Ordination as we know it developed gradually over the early centuries and became fixed in the Middle Ages. Ordination of women did not occur then on two grounds: 1) the Bible nowhere required it, and 2) no one had ordained women before, so tradition supported the Bible’s silence on the question. These two reasons also sufficed for the Adventist pioneers, who adopted male ordination from their previous churches. This was not a theological act but a practical one, providing credentials to those who spoke for the church. When I entered ministry in the early 1970s, the traditional situation remained in place and the lack of biblical clarity meant I was neutral to negative on the question when calls to ordain women began in the 1970s.

In the years since, society in many parts of the world has completely changed on the role of women. In the 1950s nearly everyone assumed that some roles should be filled only by men: physician, soldier, lawyer, fireman, police officer, truck driver, President of the United States, and airplane pilot, to name only a few. In more and more places today, women fill virtually all roles in the work place except for ministry in churches like ours. Absent a clear “thus saith the Lord” on the matter, a tradition was threatening to present the church as completely irrelevant to society in many parts of the world.

So I took a fresh look at the Bible in light of the new situation. Acts 15 provides encouragement to do that. The earliest church believed that the Bible (the Old Testament at the time) taught circumcision as an unchanging requirement for salvation. But God’s providence in their experience led them to re-read the Bible and open the way for uncircumcized Gentiles to participate in the church. Things that once seemed obvious from their study of the Bible were no longer so in light of the Spirit’s leading. In my own fresh look at the Bible it dawned on me that the Bible nowhere asks the question “Should women be ordained?” It doesn’t address the issue directly. That means that the “answers” people were finding on both sides of the issue lacked the clarity of direct speech from God. Why doesn’t the Bible address the issue directly? What does that tell us about God? Evidently God never addressed the question in Scripture because He could live with the situation as He found it (male ordination). It was not the most important thing to challenge people with in those days. God addressed people on issues when they were ready to hear it (John 16:12) or when the mission required it (Acts 10-15).

This was the conclusion of the majority of members of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee. For many it was a change of mind. They learned that the Bible does not settle the matter in an absolute sense. Where mission requires it, women can be ordained. Where mission suggests that ordaining women would harm the church in a particular society, it should probably not be done. There were holdouts on both sides who believed the Bible clearly forbade or required universal women’s ordination, but the clearest trend of Bible study was in the direction of mission being the determining factor in any part of the world. That meant the world church allowing local jurisdictions to decide what was the best approach for their areas. This was not a pro-women’s ordination conclusion, it was a pro-mission conclusion. And it seemed to me that this was the only reasonable outcome at the General Conference session in San Antonio (July, 2015). I realize that there are many on both sides who still disagree with me on this. And I affirm them as brothers and sisters who have the same right I do to study and seek the mind of God on this question. Where God has left room for differing opinions, we dare not cut each other off.

Having said this, the denial of the TOSC conclusion and process in San Antonio was heart-breaking for many of us. I was heartbroken for the many women who felt the action showed disrespect to their perception of a call from God to do ministry. I was disappointed for those parts of the world who felt distrusted when their local judgment on the matter was rejected. I felt distrusted and disrespected when my earnest attempts to bring reason into the discussion were summarily dismissed with assertions and condemnation, rather than collegial debate.

But I realize that in the ultimate scheme of things my disappointment and that of others does not matter all that much. If I am right about Scripture and about God, God has been waiting a long, long time to see His people come to their senses on many issues. He has been waiting a long, long time to see healing of the divisions in the universe. He has been waiting a long, long time to see the ministry of women being affirmed by us in the same way He affirms it. If that is true, things in San Antonio didn’t turn out for God either. . .