Skip to content

Adventist Society for Religious Studies Provides Rich Investigation of Ecclesiology


The Adventist Society for Religious Studies met in San Diego, California, November 20-22, to present scholarly papers on Ecclesiology in Doctrine and Practice. The meeting corresponded with the annual meeting of the Society for Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion, also held in San Diego.

During the meetings, the group voted a statement of support for a “YES” vote on the question of women’s ordination before General Conference delegates who will convene in San Antonio, Texas in July of 2015. The statement was approved with a 98% vote in favor of the statement. Also during the meeting, Dr. Olive Hemmings of Washington Adventist University was voted as ASRS president. She is the first non-white woman to be selected. She will serve as vice-president in 2015, president-elect in 2016 and as president of ASRS in 2017. Dr. Zack Plantak of Loma Linda University was voted in and will serve as secretary-treasurer during the same term.

Below are listed the presenters, their titles and brief synopses of their papers in the order they were presented at the ASRS meeting. (Note: Two papers: Rahel Schafer, Andrews University
Should We Bring Our Dogs to Church? Animals and Ecclesiology”; and Gerald Winslow, Loma Linda University “How Adventist Healthcare Affects Adventist Ecclesiology” were not made available online or in print.)

From ‘Ekklesia’ to Something Else

Is infrastructure using up too many resources? Is it limiting growth by being too fixed? Is it in harmony with an appropriate ecclesiology? Is it giving too much power to too few people?
And is the power produced by infrastructure being used for management issues or is it broadly being called upon to also settle matters of belief and commitment?
More pertinent to our setting, where is the SDA Church in all of this? How far along in the Organizational Life-cycle are we? And what kind of language are we using to describe ourselves?
How is managerial power being used? And how do we perceive organizational structure, as some kind of missional necessity, or as something quasi-sacred in and of itself?

Community and Change: Hymnody and Ecclesiastical Unity (Appendix)

Imagery in Seventh-day Adventist hymnals reflects these rich biblical understandings of creation because hymn writers (poets) draw from the cultural and literary worlds of the biblical authors. In this paper I notice that the imagery the authors used also reflects their own diverse scientific understandings. In different eras, hymnody reflects the science of the time. Scientific assumptions enter our hymnody and thus our liturgy as new theoretical constructs make possible new language for worship.

How Civil Law has influenced Seventh-day Adventist Governance

So has the church’s ecclesiology been tainted by civil law? Perhaps the accusation really a less well understood influence: that of the culture of American corporations, especially since 1980. Over the last 30 years we have seen the rise of a CEO and board dominated corporate culture that has severely restricted the right and ability of the shareholders – the true owners of a corporation – to bring a proposal to a vote.

Adventist Ecclesiology and THE ONE PROJECT

 I will, first and briefly, tell the story of this grassroots movement of Adventist Christians. Then, second, I will attempt an analysis of THE ONE PROJECT’S ecclesiological contribution and why this might be helpful for the church. Before moving on let me state the obvious: I am, as an actor in this particular story, in no way qualified to proffer a fully unbiased evaluation. I will, however, attempt a fair and even self-critical analysis.

North American Division Education Initiative

Information regarding a program for North American Division pastors and their families to be held in Austin, Texas June 28-July 1, 2015 in advance of the San Antonio General Conference Session.

Rethinking Adventist Ecclesiology for Climate-Impacted World

This paper is an interdisciplinary consideration of how Adventist ecclesiology might interact with, and proactively respond to, the ecclesiological message of the church in our climate-impacted world. It dabbles at the intersection of a host of issues which directly or indirectly impact our global society and the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Hopefully, this paper is a catalyst to a broader and more extensive conversation on ecclesiological concepts that will help the church as it shapes its future.

The Nexus of Church and the Evolution of the Sacred Text

The evidences are now overwhelming that the literal text of scripture from its inception has always been a developing phenomenon. By “developing phenomenon,” I mean that scripture (not just the interpretation thereof) but the words themselves have never been static but have always been changing. This dynamic process results from the reciprocal influence between the written text and the ever-emerging church as both realities evolve and shape each other. The reality registers the now increasing recognition that original text [of scripture] has always been a plural entity. Thus, there have been multiple originals from which each of our current texts grew, not one definitive original.

The Chief and the Church

The Church (capital “C”) is NOT a business. This is the Church—the body of Christ! We cannot afford to confuse the two when we use the word “Church”—for the Church (capital “C”) cannot be run like a business. The members of the Church are not employees and they cannot be treated as such. Business policies regarding employees and other stakeholders do not apply to members of the Church. The closest term I can think of as a name for the members of the Church are “God-empowered volunteers.” As Max DePree states: “Volunteers do not need contracts, they need covenants.”

How Regional Conferences Affect Adventist Ecclesiology

One frequently overlooked aspect of Seventh-day Adventist ecclesiological conversation concerns structuring communities for mission. I suppose it would be natural that we who are administrative theologians would think about these things! We wrestle with the theological implications of operating mission and business units for the church on a daily basis. But the question of structure has broader importance because we can argue that ecclesial structuration, the process of creating structures, serves as a tangible expression of a community’s self-understanding, as well as it core mission. In its “diakonia” to the world, the church actively discloses its understanding of God’s kingdom and God’s community.

How Education Affects Adventist Ecclesiology

The church may find a way to cease denying, fighting, or judging the fault lines that traverse institutions of higher education. Many members have concluded that a sense of collective Adventist identity is of greater value than a pristine and imagined integrity in one’s list of doctrinal beliefs. These members may have chosen to remain Adventist by concluding that “these are my people; these are the songs I sing and the stories I tell; this is where I have staked my public loyalties and contributed my tithe and offerings; I’ve spent a lifetime traveling under this banner and it’s comfortable and familiar; the pain of leaving is greater than the pain of staying (at least, so far). I fill my days programming computers and selling real estate. If there are troubling issues brewing about ontology, I don’t have to think about them.”

Authentic, Divergent Faces of Adventism – and the Future

Adventism is today increasingly polarized, and my thesis is that this can be managed as a healthy tension or it can be allowed to morph into a divisive crisis. The present polarization over women’s ordination should be accepted as natural in today’s church and used as a step toward a more mature denomination.

The Emerging Church, Oprah Winfrey, and the Reshaping of American Consciousness

Traditional church has birthed a materialistic culture of competing claims to truth, and an essential dis-ease with/in the faith community. A deep sigh for something more rises above the noise of ecclesiological dogmas evident in the rush for books on spirituality – meditation, ego reduction, the nature of consciousness, and paranormal experience. While the emerging church phenomenon is a response to the spiritual vacuum, Oprah Winfrey, “the world’s most famous woman” and a confessing Christian steps forward on a huge media platform in emergent mode. With the aid of a diverse team of ministers – spiritual/social action leaders she sets out with the express goal to transform America (and the world). By drawing upon multiple religious traditions, social, scientific and cultural disciplines she functions as high priestess of the most pervasive form of the Emerging Church, and demonstrates the extent to which many people seek God beyond traditional church even if they are still part of it.

From Adventist Anthropology to Adventist Ecclesiology

Besides the apostolic emphasis on the importance of congregational life, there is another reason for Adventists to give more attention to the cultivation of close, nurturing relationships. And that is the wholistic, or non-dualistic, anthropology that has always been a central Adventist doctrine. Though Adventists have not, to my knowledge, taken wholistic anthropology in this direction, there are scholars who have, and their conclusions have important implications for our understanding of the church. Two of them are Warren S. Brown and Brad D. Strawn, authors of “The Physical Nature of Christian Life: Neuroscience, Psychology, and the Church.”

Biblical and Contemporary Metaphors for Church

In addition to explicit suggestions for contemporary models or metaphors, there is the common language used by church leaders and members that suggest, often without conscious reflection, our understanding of what church is. In fact, there is a circular dynamic at work. The language we use demonstrates our view of what church is all about, but the use of that language also reinforces our thinking and helps create reality. Therefore it is important to consider our unconscious ecclesiological images. As I listen to the language of church members and hear professionals at pastoral conferences, I notice that most images and metaphors cluster around two aspects of American culture: business and entertainment. One need only measure the amount of space given to these two elements of our culture in the Los Angeles Times each day to know how much they influence our thinking. Thus it is not surprising that when we think of church the language of business and entertainment/media is prominent.

The “Sanctuary Doctrine” and the Hydrological Ecclesiology of the Temple

A much subdued—if not mostly missing—element in the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the sanctuary doctrine is the dynamic ministry of the Spirit in bringing life, healing, nourishment, and blessing (cf. Ezek 47:1-12; Rev 21-22). I have attempted to suggest in this sketch that a renewed interest in, understanding of, and appreciation for the imagery of the Spirit of Jesus flowing from the heavenly temple into and through the temple of the community of believers and out into the world would greatly enrich Seventh-day Adventism’s sanctuary doctrine, the ecclesiological concepts of baptism, discipleship and spiritual gifts, and mission, and enhance its contemporary relevance.

“And to the church that meets in your house.” Plumbing the Plural in Philemon

It is fitting that the last formal paper at this session of the Adventist Society for Religious Studies should look at the little letter of Philemon placed last among those explicitly written by Paul. In this paper I note Paul’s inclusion of “the church that meets in your house” as part of the addressees in the opening of the letter along with the presence of second person plural pronouns elsewhere in this letter that is largely addressed to a single person, usually understood to be Philemon, a Christian slave owner regarding his slave, Onesimus.

Subscribe to our newsletter
Spectrum Newsletter: The latest Adventist news at your fingertips.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.