General Conference Says Unions Exercise "Delegated Authority" on Ordination

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Published:
August 18, 2015

Wednesday, August 19, the North Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Executive Committee will meet to discuss women’s ordination within its territory. The meeting follows two previous actions, as noted in the Gleaner, the official publication of the North Pacific Union Conference:

North Pacific Union Conference (NPUC) members have expressed varying concerns regarding the NPUC stance on the ordination of women following the action taken at the recent General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas. Here are several facts that impact the current NPUC position and any future plan of action. The most recent vote by the NPUC executive committee on this topic was on Nov. 12, 2014, with a decision to “schedule a special session of the NPUC constituency to address ministerial ordination to convene within 120 days after the fall 2015 North American Division Year-end meetings.”

(An NPUC Constituency Session on Nov. 14 included the passage of a motion to inform and educate Northwest members of the rationale toward biblical church leadership without regard to gender, engage and encourage constituents in structured conversation and discussion on women in ministry, and call a special session of the NPUC constituency to address ministerial ordination without regard to gender. -Ed)

-The Nov. 12 action was an amendment to an earlier executive committee vote in February 2013, which listed an earlier deadline for a constituency session. The amended action on Nov. 12 reflected a desire of the committee to allow the world church and North American Division (NAD) to process the topic first through work by the Theology of Ordination Study Committee and any subsequent General Conference session action.

-The General Conference voted on July 8 to reject the option of world divisions independently making provision for the ordination of women within their own territories. This action leaves the current process of approving credentials for both men and women pastors unchanged.

-NPUC leaders will seek to work in harmony with the world church and the NAD guidelines regarding women in ministry.

-The NPUC executive committee will review its position regarding ordination at the next regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 19.

-If the committee votes to affirm its Nov. 12 action, a special constituency session would be held separately from and in addition to the next regularly scheduled NPUC constituency session on Sept. 25, 2016.

NPUC administrators recognize the calling of God upon women in ministry. They also understand there are intense opinions on varying sides of the ordination discussion. They invite your prayerful input in preparation for the important executive committee action on Aug. 19. Comments sent to talk@gleanernow.com by noon on Aug. 18 will be forwarded unedited to NPUC executive committee members.

Following the Aug. 19 meeting, the Gleaner will issue a statement summarizing the committee’s action regarding the issue of ordination.

Tuesday, in advance of the meeting, NPUC President Elder Max Torkelsen received an email from General Conference President Elder Ted Wilson, via the North American Division president’s office. The email included a lengthy document prepared by the General Conference Secretariat, which has supervisory responsibility for the General Conference Working Policy (GC WP), entitled “Unions and Ordination to the Gospel Ministry: Brief Summary and Comprehensive Working Policy Explanation.”

The "Unions and Ordination" document argued forcefully unions' authority on ordination is meaningless, except as delegated from the General Conference:

The General Conference Secretariat document entitled “Unions and Ordination to the Gospel Ministry: Comprehensive Working Policy Explanation” is provided for clarification regarding the General Conference Working Policy (GC WP) B 05, no. 6 that “decisions regarding the ordination of ministers are entrusted to the union conference/mission.”  Some have understood it to grant absolute authority to ordain to the gospel ministry whomever a union wishes. This is a misunderstanding both of the actual wording of the General Conference Working Policy and its specific intent.

GC WP B 05, no. 6 is not a specific policy on ordination but rather is given as an example of church structure. The authority it references is not absolute or inherent to each union but is delegated by the General Conference itself. This means that each union’s actions regarding ordination must be in accordance with those of the General Conference since it is the source of the authority.

The document went further, saying that unions' authority is not only delegated, but also limited. Unions, the document contends, do not have the ability to establish criteria for ordination. The arguments strike back against the assertions most thoroughly articulated by Gerry Chudleigh in his 2013 book, "Who Runs The Church?" Chudleigh's primary thesis is 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.

For Chudleigh, jurisdiction, autonomy, and constituencies are ideas bound up in one another. Unions' authority derives not from the General Conference, but from constituents. Power, Chudleigh argued, flows up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, not down.

What these opposing views on jurisdiction and authority seem to indicate is that when in San Antonio, the General Conference in Session voted not to assign responsibility for ordination to divisions (which function as administrative units of the General Conference), it left open the question of who runs the church, at least where ordination is concerned. The General Conference is making a vigorous case that it is the lone power broker in the Adventist Church. However, not all agree.

 

Unions and Ordination to the Gospel Ministry

 

Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.

Image credit: James Bokovoy / North American Division
 

 

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