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Annual Council Diary V: Inspired Revisions


The house was packed for Mark Finley’s Monday morning devotional, and he preached with fervor describing the love that is at the heart of the Three Angels messages in Revelation. In closing he told the story of George Frederic Handel’s encounter with God while writing The Messiah. Handel said the heavens opened up for him as he penned the Hallelujah Chorus and he saw Jesus’ face.  Then Finley invited the audience to sing the one-word song Hallelujah with him. The day was off to an inspiring start.

Have you ever sat down and looked at the way the Lord has led you in your life? That was the question of Treasurer Robert Lemon asked as he presented his report to the delegates. Charts followed of how God has blessed the church in terms of membership growth, tithes and mission offerings from 1995 to 2013. The Lord has provided in an incredible way for the church, he said.

Juan Prestol presented the 2015 Appropriations Budget of $184,241,437. He said that if they had been having this conversation last Tuesday he would have been talking about having no fund balance reduction. However, as a result of the drop in the market, that is not valid. “Market mobility makes a real difference in our operations,” he said. “The best way to serve the church is to have strong working capital and strong liquidity. A weak GC is not good to anyone, it becomes a burden.”
Prestol also talked about contingency funds. He said that GC has a contingency fund of $1 million for the budget of $184 million. That is one half of one percent, he said, a very small contingency for a budget of that size. That means the possibility of variability is very little. “Are we asking for more money? No. The point is that you experience financial tightness and we do, too.

The final budgetary item for the day involved the plans of the North American Division to move out of the General Conference building. Treasurer Lemon presented a $3 million enabling motion for the relocation. The caveat to the $3 million was a phrase in the motion that if NAD decides to move out of the District of Columbia area, the General Conference has to approve the location. The vote was 170 yes, 30 no, and 7 abstained.

Next, the Fundamental Beliefs Revision Committee was back with their response to the questions on beliefs 6, 7, 8, 19, 24, 25. But the Belief that was still on the minds of delegates was #1 on the Holy Scripture. Discussion of the Greek work Anthropos followed as people addressed the recommended change of the phrase “given by divine inspiration through holy persons of God who spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” Rudy Torres of the North American Division requested that the wording be kept as it is in the Bible. Several others weighed in on the word before Chair Lowell Cooper suggested that this question on Belief #1 be allowed to remain open for further review by the committee. That was approved with 158 yes votes and 32 voting no, and 4 abstaining.

Ed Zinke returned to the microphone to continue his plea that the word “vindicate” that is used in the document three times, be reconsidered. He moved that the committee be asked to look at that again. But the motion went down to defeat with 102 voting no, 72 saying yes, and 6 abstaining.

Then the main motion to send the revisions to the General Conference session was considered with 179 yes votes, 15 no, and 5 abstentions.

An expanded mission statement of the Seventh-day Adventist Church was read, comments requested, and when there were none, passed on a voice vote. The revised statement adds several paragraphs to the old one with a new section about our identity. “The Seventh-day Adventist Church sees itself as the remnant Church of end-time Bible prophecy. Members of the Church, individually and collectively, understand their special role as ambassadors of God’s kingdom and messengers of the soon return of Jesus Christ. Seventh-day Adventists have enlisted as co-workers with God in His mission of reclaiming the world from the power and presence of evil, as part of the Great Controversy between Christ and Satan.

“Therefore, every aspect of a Church member’s life is influenced by the conviction that we live in the last days described in Bible prophecy and the return of Jesus Christ is imminent. Seventh-day Adventists are called by God to live in this world. Every action of the Christian life is done ‘in the name of Jesus’ and to advance His kingdom.”

Immediately after the vote was taken, a 27-page color brochure was handed out with the proposed strategic plan for 2015-2020 featuring the words of the revised mission statement. The strategic plan also passed with no comments or questions on a vote of 194 to 4, with 4 abstentions.

The report of the General Conference Auditing Service was next. The legacy of the first GC Auditor J.J. Ireland was noted. In one of Ireland’s first speeches he said the expectations of his position is to “constantly be the representative of the constituent body . . . and keep in mind the interest of the people.” Current director Paul Douglas said transparency is the basic premise for sustaining confidence, the broad principle for shaping the code of contact, and the best practice for supporting organizational stewardship.” Lisa Beardsley Hardy went to the microphone and thanked GCAS for the work that it does, because it helps the accreditation process of the Adventist Accrediting Association. With that the GCAS report was approved.

A musical interlude came next with the presentation of  “Jesus Is Coming, Our Hope” by Williams Costa Jr. This orchestral piece with choir and children’s voices is based on “Jesus is Coming Again” and ‘We Have This Hope”. Sheet music and CDs were distributed.

When the Revisions to the Church Manual were brought to the floor, there was extended discussion of three items: unauthorized speakers at the local church, marriage, and reasons for church discipline. There was also confusion over the process of the conversation, as motions upon motions piled up leaving it difficult to discern where the delegates were in the conversation.

Regarding unauthorized speakers, new language was proposed saying,  “Only speakers worthy of confidence will be invited to the pulpit by the church in harmony with guidelines given by the conference, union, or division.” This replaces the paragraph that read, “Under no circumstances should a pastor, elder, or other officer invite strangers or any unauthorized persons to conduct services. Individuals who have ben removed from ministry or who have been removed from membership in other places, or designing persons who have no authority from he church, should not be given access to the pulpit. Those worthy of confidence will be able to identify themselves by producing proper credentials.”

At the microphone, a man said this is an issue where guidance is needed. In his area, a person who had withdrawn his membership from the Adventist Church was going to give an evangelistic series. The speaker moved that this section be sent back to the committee.

But General Conference Attorney Karnik Doukmetzian ruled his motion out of order, because he was there with “voice” but no “vote”.

Others however picked up the refrain, and the item was sent back to the drafting committee.

In the revised list of reasons for which members shall be subject to discipline, the sentence “Violation of the seventh commandment of the law of God as it relates to the marriage institution the Christian home, and biblical standards of moral conduct.” was changed to read, “Any act of sexual intimacy outside of the marriage relationship and/or non-consensual acts of sexual intimacy within a marriage whether those acts are legal or illegal. Such acts include but are not limited to child sexual abuse, including sexual abuse of the vulnerable. Marriage is defined as a public, lawfully binding, monogamous, heterosexual relationship between one male and one female.”

The conversation and debate created a window for the committee to take a second look at those two items. Perhaps further revisions will be brought to the floor on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Mark Finley in an inspirational moment came up with a suggestion to the Fundamental Belief Committee for revised wording of Belief #1: “The Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments are the written Word of God, given through divine inspiration. The authors spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. . . .”
This new wording passed on a vote of 203 to 2, with 1 abstention.

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