Andrews Seminary to General Conference: Further Discussion of "Unity" Document Needed

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October 3, 2016

Members of the faculty of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University have called on the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists to engage the Adventist Church in wider dialogue concerning the recently released "unity" document. On September 25, the Office of the Secretary of the General Conference circulated the document, "A Study of Church Governance and Unity," to members of the General Conference Executive Committee and published the document on the website of the General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research which helped prepare the document for publication.

The document contends that on the matter of women's ordination church territories in all parts of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church, particularly the church's unions, should "defer," "submit," "yield"—the document uses several synonyms—to what it characterizes as the higher authority of the General Conference because of that body's wider representation. Many have objected to the document's seeming move to consolidate the General Conference's governing power, which in turn could be used to take over some union conferences being characterized as "rebellious." Others have objected to the document's demonizing language that implies that the many territories in the Seventh-day Adventist Church that have moved toward ordaining women may be exhibiting a spirit indicative of satanic influence.

Andrews University Seminary faculty members object on different a basis—that the document must be discussed more widely with broader input before being put before the General Conference Executive Committee for approval. In a joint statement released on Friday, September 30, the Seminary Faculty members called on the General Conference to engage the wider body:

We the faculty of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, affirm the biblical truth of church unity grounded in our worship of God, our common faith, our shared community, and our sense of mission. We have serious concerns about the recent document “A Study of Church Governance and Unity” released by the General Conference and its portrayal of the nature and authority of the church. Further discussion by the church at large on this important ecclesiological issue is needed before such a document is adopted.”
Voted September 30, 2016.

It is not the first time that the General Conference and the Seminary faculty have staked out different ground over the question of ordaining women. In October, 2015, only months after the General Conference rejected a measure that would have given jurisdiction of ordination to the church's thirteen divisions, nine seminary faculty members petitioned the General Conference to return their ordained minister credentials in favor of commissioned minister credentials. The General Conference rejected the request, using an argument that is now contained in the "unity" document: 

Because ordination is the Church’s recognition of a divine calling, it cannot be given up on individual impulse. Thus, what would have to be repudiated would be a pastor’s entire vocation and his calling to ministry. Even if one were to accept such a process as theoretically permissible, however, presently no pastor with ministerial credentials has denied his call to ministry; and it seems highly unlikely that any pastor would do that. Repudiation is not actively prohibited, but certainly GC Working Policy does not countenance such a course of action" (page 38).

The Seminary faculty released a joint statement called "On The Unique Headship of Christ in the Church," repudiating male headship in advance of the 2015 General Conference Session as well.

 

Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.

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