General Conference president Ted Wilson appeared on a special edition of Night Light Wednesday on the Three Angels Broadcasting Network (3ABN) to appeal for unity and submission. Elder Wilson was joined by General Conference vice-president Mark Finley, Hope Channel president Brad Thorp, 3ABN president Jim Gilley and 3ABN founder Danny Shelton. 3ABN aired the segment live from the Duke Energy Center in Cincinnati, Ohio on the first day of the Adventist-laymen's Services & Industries Convention.
Introducing the program's topic, Vice-president Finley referenced the book of Acts. He said that before Jesus' ascension came the command to await the Holy Spirit. But the disciples weren’t ready, he said, because of their pride, arrogance and striving for supremacy. The disciples were not in one accord. However, after they repented and confessed their sin, the Holy Spirit was poured out, Finley told viewers. These remarks set the stage for the panelists' discussion of unity and submission.
Jim Gilley led the discussion with a direct question of Wilson. Referencing the roughly 17 million Seventh-day Adventists around world from some 200 countries with a variety of cultures, Gilley asked, "How do you keep that type of church from fragmenting?"
Before addressing Gilley's question, Wilson took about ten minutes to offer introductory remarks.
"I want to indicate I am in good courage," Wilson told viewers, adding, "The Lord is in control of his precious Advent movement. He will not let anything happen to this precious Advent movement."
Wilson pointed to current political climates, economic instability, "ecumenical movements" and natural disasters as signs of the immanent Second Coming. He also referenced "same sex marriage acceptance" as a sign of the end and suggested the imperative is to "love the sinner, but hate the sin," and help people find victory [over homosexuality] in Christ. Jesus' prayer in John 17 that the disciples would be one was the launching point for Wilson's subsequent comments. The prayer was not only for the disciples, but also for those that would come later, Wilson said, "and here we are."
"The Lord expects us to be unified as we come to very end of time," Wilson said. He framed oneness as focusing on Message, which he explained was the reason for his platform of Revival and Reformation, his mission to the cities and distribution of various versions of Ellen White's The Great Controversy. Accomplishing these objectives, Wilson stated, demands unity.
Then Wilson suggested that the devil is seeking to bring about "dissention and distraction," seemingly referencing the Columbia Union Conference's recent action. "We have an item causing considerable discussion--ordination of individuals without regard to gender," he went on. But Wilson stated he would not talk about ordination, that he wanted to discuss unity instead.
"Organizations through all the systems of church need to show respect to each other," Wilson said. "They need to work together in submission to each other and to Lord himself."
Wilson issued caution about "depreciating the value" of church entities, and used the General Conference as a specific example. "In a sense, we all are part of that great body," Wilson said. "We need to show respect one to another." Wilson said that suggestions that "the General Conference or other units don’t have voice in something" shows a clear lack of respect, which prevents church unity.
Numerous times, Wilson returned to submission as the paramount posture. He made an "[earnest] appeal to everyone--every administrative union, those having administrative events coming up," to "humble themselves before the Lord," not acting as individuals or groups, but as a whole. "When we don’t see unanimity and unity in what we’re doing, we see a fractious church," Wilson told the television audience. But he added that he does not worry about church unity because he believes the Holy Spirit will come upon people from different cultures and nations, and they will submit to one another and to God.
Hope Channel president Brad Thorp asked for a biblical model that the world church ought to follow. Wilson's response referenced submission, prayer and "Bible truth."
Mark Finley chimed in to discuss the Acts 15 conflict between Jews and Gentiles. Finley suggested the Acts passage reveals vigorous discussion and disagreement. "This is not fatal to a church," Finley suggested, "in fact it is healthy." Finley indicated that the point was putting aside "individual differences" in the interest of the church and its mission. Finley invited viewers to imagine what might have happened if a church in one location voted one thing, and another church voted another thing. "Individual differences" seemed to be the phrase of choice with which the panelists sought to frame the issue of ordaining women.
3ABN founder Danny Shelton asked Wilson to discuss the difference between uniformity and unity. For the first time in the broadcast, Wilson seemed genuinely flummoxed, and appeared unprepared to answer.
"Unity is the broader term we want to use," Wilson began, hastening to add that this did not mean walking in lock step "in particular situations and settings." He then asserted that when the world church has agreed upon and voted certain actions, "we want to be extremely careful not to see entities go off in [their own] directions," he said. He rejected the notion that unity should mean "wooden soldier[s] marching along in the same beat." He described unity as bringing people together with "major doctrinal and biblical themes…understanding that what I do will affect the other part of body."
Mark Finley added that uniformity was more of an outward appearance, but unity pertained to "heart and soul."
Gilley suggested that the Seventh-day Adventist Church might be the only truly worldwide Protestant church, and asked the role of policy in maintaining unity.
Responding, Wilson called church policy "Christian agreements" that are not voted by an "obscure group with no relevance," but by the General Conference Executive Committee. Wilson pointed out that the ExecCom consist of presidents of unions, division officers, GC officers, pastors and laypeople. "They create policies for good of the church," Wilson said. Finley added that policy is not itself the church's mission but that it drives and facilitates mission.
Shelton asked what might be the dangers of local groups acting independently.
Wilson replied that such moves would bring discord and disagreement. "Not to say there isn’t disagreement before," Wilson offered. He asked rhetorically how best to approach situations in which moral conviction different from church policy. "Look at in very spiritual way, take it to the Lord," he said, answering his own question. Better to act together, even if the church's conclusion differs from one's personal conviction, than to foster disunity, Wilson suggested, again framing the issue of women's ordination as an individual conviction.
Gilley asked Wilson to state the church's position on women's ordination.
Wilson replied that he did not intend to discuss the topic except to provide a factual answer to the question. He began referring to General Conference sessions as the highest authority in the Adventist Church, and pointed out that the GC in session has not allowed organizations to proceed on their own or to ordain women. Wilson assured the audience this did not mean that "women cannot be vitally involved in the evangelism and outreach of the church." He appealed to the commissioned ordination study that will provide a report to the 2014 General Conference Annual Council.
Thorp asked what about the policy of ordination makes it so important an issue.
"It is important," Wilson replied noting that the portability of ordination credentials from one locale to another is the key point.
"What if regions took charge of the criteria?" Finley added. "You’d have different criteria based on a number of factors." Finley asserted that the General Conference sets criteria for ordination in order to ensure what he described as a "marvelous sense of unity."
Shelton asked Wilson to offer an appeal to church members about unity. "Make an appeal to us," Shelton said. "How do we see Jesus come back?"
"We must look beyond the challenges of the immediate crisis that brings discord," Wilson told viewers. "God has called us to Revival and Reformation." Wilson appealed to the audience to use every means possible. He called for men, women and children working together, and reiterated the need to be united, "not going our own way."
Finley added, "If we can sweep aside our own egos and desire for supremacy and pushing our own agendas," we can accomplish the church's mission.
Wilson closed with prayer, saying, "As we think about dissention and disagreement, help us to be charitable, loving, kind," not acting in a unilateral manner. "Help us fulfill your desire that we press together."
The program imparted the clear message that for top church administrators, Revival and Reformation demands unity and submission. That some entities would move toward ordination equality indicates the devil's work to sew dissention, distraction and discord, and such actions are the result of "personal ego" and "individual differences." Deference to the General Conference's decisions is the proper, spiritual way to respond when one's own moral convictions differ from the church's policy, top leaders want the church to know.