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Best of Spectrum Comments - August 16, 2015

In order to highlight the great feedback we often receive as comments to the articles on the Spectrum Website, the editorial team has introduced the Friday feature, The Best of the Comments. Spectrum editors select comments that exemplify respectful discourse and that further the conversations that begin with Spectrum's articles and news stories. Here are seven comments we especially appreciated this week with links to the articles under which the comments appeared. -Editors

In response to "Why Hermeneutics is Our Biggest Problem"

Comment by Adrian P:
I agree that our divisions are at their root, in part hermeneutical in nature. However, the desire for a 'unified hermeneutic' is well-meaning but unlikely for the same reason that folks were in such disagreement during TOSC: because one's hermeneutic is not just about methodology, but theology and philosophy. Further, the Rio document's assertion that all Bible students 'must be willing to submit all presuppositions, opinions, and the conclusions of reason to the judgment and correction of the Word itself' is a noble one. However, it is arguable that it betrays a misunderstanding of the nature of personal presuppositions and whether they can be winnowed by Word and the Spirit into some sort of idyllic uniformity. By way of example, I have just finished reading Fernando Canale's book, Vision & Mission: How a theological vision drives the mission of the emerging remnant. Here, Canale advocates the use of a sanctuary-based hermeneutic; a phrase/approach absent from the Rio document. He is critical of evangelical and postmodern approaches to interpreting the Bible... approaches, of course, adopted by some Adventists. How such differing views can be engineered so as to come under a unified hermeneutic would be interesting to watch. However, at the end of the day, the 'real' issue is that we need to be mature enough to agree to disagree and still live together as a spiritual community without losing a sense of what calls us together in the first place and constitutes identity. That is the challenge that folk from all ends of the spectrum have to contend with.

Comment by James J Londis:
The primary authors of the Rio document seem to have accepted what several have called a "presuppositional methodology." Translation: We must begin "presupposing" or "assuming" certain things about scripture and use them as our method for interpreting it. This approach is a "deductive" one, meaning that our assumptions determine our conclusions, unless those conclusions are almost impossible to sustain. Moreover, the complexity of engaging an ancient text whose language, culture and thought processes differ markedly from our own, is simply brushed aside by the "plain reading of Scripture." What amazes me, picking up on Sirje's comment, is that if we pay attention to Ellen White's ministry, we learn that she borrowed from other authors, had editors, wrote a considerable amount of counsel unrelated to visionary experiences, did not pretend to know geology or other scientific disciplines, relied at times on the best information available to her at that moment, and still convinced those closest to her that God was using her to guide this movement. We now know that this is equally true of the biblical writers, yet resist the hermeneutical implications of these findings. Ripley's appeal was a master-stroke of insight and he is to be commended for it. But the larger issue is: How will the effort to unravel this issue be structured and who will be invited to participate?

Comment by Julius Nam:
That we lack of a unified hermeneutic is a debate that is only meaningful to those who believe that there should be a unified hermeneutic and what that unified hermeneutic should encompass. This debate is one that the church has been engaged in since at least 1888. The debates of the 1890s, 1919, the church's foray into the Modernist-Fundamentalist Controversy of the 1920s and 30s, the Questions on Doctrine Debate, the great debate over soteriology in the 1970s leading up to the discussions about the heavenly sanctuary in the early 1980s—they all have been variations on the debate over what the "Adventist" hermeneutic should be, while presupposing that there should be an identifiable Adventist hermeneutic. At this juncture, a debate that spans the Adventist spectrum more broadly and in a more representative manner is whether there should be a unified hermeneutic. Is a unified hermeneutic desirable? Or is it more desirable to have multiple hermeneutical approaches? Must Adventism be connected by identical or similar hermeneutics? Or is Adventism a meta-hermeneutical phenomenon—that is, can Adventists with multiple, clashing hermeneutical approaches still be Adventist and identify each other as Adventist?
I would say No to the first question of each pair, and Yes to the second. THAT I choose to read the Protestant Scripture, interact with the Adventist tradition including Ellen White, and engage others within the Adventist community makes my hermeneutic Adventist—regardless of the content, methodology, and conclusion of my hermeneutic. I also interact with Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Hindu, Buddhist, and postmodern secular thinkers and writers (to name a few) in thinking about Scripture, the Adventist tradition, and the present community, and I incorporate insights I learned from various sources in shaping my current Adventist experience and participation in the Adventist community. My approach is particular to my own life, but because I live out that approach in the Adventist context and in relation to the Adventist tradition, my hermeneutic is distinctly Adventist. I'm not sure searching and striving for a unified, magisterial approach—even if I happen to resonate with that approach—is either desirable or healthy.

 

In response to "General Conference Says Unions Exercise 'Delegated Authority' on Ordination"

Comment by Rich DuBose:
Misdirected Vision - When churches lose their first love for God, they become overly obsessed with behavioral purity and institutional preservation--which is why the Jewish leaders eventually killed Jesus! When a church becomes "leadership-centric,"as opposed to "Christ-centric," it places more emphasis on matters of self-governance and policy than on the original vision of its founders. When there is a loss of vision and mission, matters of ecclesiastical authority and conformity become the primary talking points.

Comment by Aubyn Fulton:
This development is consistent with everything that has come before, and it does not represent any change. President Wilson has long held that Unions do not have the authority to ordain women when the GC has specifically not allowed it. The Unions that went ahead with ordaining women anyway did so knowing that this was President Wilson's position (President Wilson made his case very passionately and directly at the Pacific Union meetings). The document titled: “Unions and Ordination to the Gospel Ministry: Brief Summary and Comprehensive Working Policy Explanation" is simply re-stating President Wilson's position. Nothing new here. Someone above commented that the "Working Policy Explanation" is the GC calling a supposed bluff by the Unions, but I think this has it the wrong way around. It is the GC, not the Union Conferences, which has made representations that may or may not be a bluff (essentially, there it will attempt to punish Unions that authorize ordination without regard to gender). It will be up to Union Conferences, not the GC, to test this claim, and see if it is a bluff. When Adventist leaders of conscience and courage authorize the ordination of women in the shadow of San Antonio, we will see if President Wilson really intends on taking punitive action, and if so, what kind. When President Wilson preached at PUC last month he did reference the image of "The Shaking", and there are lots of very conservative Adventists who are actively hoping that this conflict will begin the process of identifying the "True Believers" - perhaps that showdown is where we are headed. I hope and pray that President Wilson has been bluffing, and that this need not result in any profound organizational schism, and cooler and wiser heads find a way for us to communion together even when we disagree on important matters.

Comment by Phillip Brantley:
There are many reasons why I find the GC's legal argument to be weak and unpersuasive: The GC's legal argument is not substantially different or stronger than what the GC offered for consideration to Pacific Union Conference and Columbia Union Conference. There have been two adjudications in the NAD regarding the right of unions to ordain women, and in both adjudications the Pacific Union Conference and Columbia Union Conference considered and rejected as unpersuasive the GC's legal argument. The GC's legal argument is steeped in an empty formalism that is not sufficiently mindful of Stare Decisis; the reality that women have been ordained in NAD unions, in China, and in various unions in Europe is not addressed. More important, the reality that those ordinations of women have not been rescinded or disturbed in any way is not addressed. All of those ordinations of women, which have stood the test of time, are compelling precedents that stand in opposition to the GC's legal argument. The GC does not discuss the draconian consequences that necessarily result if unions do not have the right to ordain women. Women would be stripped of their ordinations, pastorates, and offices if the GC's legal argument were to prevail as Seventh-day Adventist Church law. Because such draconian consequences are unthinkable, as evidenced by the GC's refusal to offer one word of contemplation about them, the argument urged by the GC is impractical, injurious, and divisive. The GC's legal argument misconstrues and misrepresents the 1990 and 2015 GC session votes regarding women's ordination. Those votes were not policy votes that prohibit unions from ordaining women. The GC's legal argument does not sufficiently engage Gerry Chudleigh's excellent work that chronicles the importance of unions in the ecclesiastical structure of the Church. The GC's legal argument is theologically incoherent. It is well-settled Church law that women can be ordained as elders. Because ordination of an elder is theologically indistinguishable from ordination of a minister, acceptance of the GC's legal argument would result in theological incoherence and inconsistency. The Church should be spared such embarrassment. It is important also to note that male headship theory, upon which opposition to women's ordination is based, was soundly repudiated in the revisions to the fundamental beliefs. Ironically, the GC has an institutional imperative to argue for the most expansive understanding possible of its authority. I do not fault the GC for going through the motions of presenting a legal argument. But the unions also have an institutional imperative to similarly argue for the most expansive understanding possible of their authority. In a Separation of Powers context, adjudications of disagreement are political, not judicial. A consensus eventually develops regarding where authority lies. I make no recommendation whether or not North Pacific Union Conference should vote to implement women's ordination. But I strongly urge that North Pacific Union Conference assert its ecclesiastical authority to make that decision on the merits. In my opinion, failure to do so would contribute to a weakening of unions and cause significant injury to the Church's ecclesiastical governance structure.

Comment by Inge Anderson:
The apocalyptic vision generally accepted as the end-time scenario by the Seventh-day Adventist church, includes the building of an "image to the beast," with the beast being the papacy. In that scenario, Adventists have regarded the forcing of conscience as an identifying mark of "the beast." What I find most startling is that, from the highest levels of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, there seems to be a concerted effort to build a symbolic "image to the beast," both in structure and the exercise of authority to force compliance of conscience. Our church governance was purposely designed to be very different from the hierarchical structure of the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, our forefathers were so afraid of the abuses that come with such a structure that they, at first, wanted to avoid structure altogether. When it became obvious that some kind of governance was necessary, they designed a structure in which authority rested in a Spirit-led membership, the idea being that, when members are led by the Spirit, the mind of the Spirit is met by the vote of the membership. Of necessity, some of this authority of the membership was delegated to elected leadership of churches and conferences. However, it became apparent that the elected leaders at the GC level had an alarming tendency to exercise "kingly power" (Ellen White's words). Perhaps they saw their authority derived from the GC in session, which Ellen White several times declared to be like the voice of God on earth? At any rate, Ellen White saw this tendency to "kingly power" as a problem. Thus she strongly encouraged the formation of local unions with a constituency that would elect its own leaders - leaders more familiar with the local situation than the world-wide leadership. The unions would derive their authority from their local constituency, and this would prevent the GC executive from exercising undue authority over them. I believe that Gerry Chudleigh was "right on" when he wrote that "unions were created to act as firewalls between the GC and the conferences, making 'dictation' impossible because: 1. Each union had its own constitution and bylaws and was to be governed by its own constituency, and 2. The officers of each union were to be elected by their own union constituency, and therefore, could not be controlled, replaced or disciplined by the GC." We need that kind of firewall if we are not to become something very much like an "image to the beast" which would have made our pioneers blanch in apprehension.
But this two-pronged attack by our current GC President and his Secretariat seems to me to be unprecedented in its boldness to exercise authority and force the conscience of members of the unions. I believe that if we are to maintain our current system of governance as well as liberty of conscience, it is imperative that our unions stand firm to defend the authority of their constituency to make decisions in harmony with their collective conscience. May God grant the leadership of the NPUC both courage and wisdom to stand firm in this crisis.

 

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