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Dr. Pipim’s GC Session Report—Part 6—Read the Fine Print PDF  | Print |  E-mail

In this report, I will explain the importance of carefully reading the fine prints of GC Session documents. I will also briefly explain what these documents are, and why even seemingly insignificant revisions in them can impact the life, identity, and mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

This particular report may be the most boring, and yet it could be the most important—as it provides a framework for understanding some key issues and official actions at GC Sessions.

 

Thus far, I have posted on my Facebook page five reports associated with the San Antonio, Texas GC Session. They are:

 

1. “At the GC Session: Why?”—Dr.Pipim's GC Session Report—Part 1

 

2. “Reflection On The First Week—Dr. Pipim's GC Session Report—Part 2:

   

3. “Wednesday Was Already Present”—Dr. Pipim's GC Session Report—Part 3

  

4. “Something HasChanged”—Dr.Pipim’s GC Session Report—Part 4

 

5. “I Will Not Be Silent”—Dr.Pipim’s GC Session Report—Part 5

 

The present post (“Read the Fine Print”)is Part 6. It will emphasize the need to pay attention to items that are brought to GC session for discussion and a vote. This present post will lay the groundwork for the next (and final) report, which will look at specific changes that were made in our Fundamental Beliefs, Church Manual, and GCWorking Policy. That final report will also highlight some finished and unfinished business at San Antonio, Texas—that is to say, some significant things that happened and failed to happen at the 2015 GC Session, and their implications for the Church.

 

In other words, this current presentation should be read as the prelude to the next (and hopefully final)report.

 

I approach this task from the perspective of a committed Seventh-day Adventist, trained theologian,non-denominationally employed, and one who has some basic knowledge about howGC Sessions work. As mentioned in my first report (“Attending GC Session:Why?”), this is the seventh consecutive time I have attended a GC session.Since 1985 (when I first attended a GC session), I have, by divine appointment,attended all the GC sessions to date—New Orleans (1985), Indianapolis (1990),Utrecht (1995), Toronto (2000), St. Louis (2005), Atlanta (2010), and SanAntonio (2015)—serving as an official delegate in five of the seven sessions (Atlanta and San Antonio being the exception).

 

Therefore, the reports or reflections I have been sharing on the just-concluded GC session in San Antonio are shaped by important lessons from the past, as refracted through the lenses of a Wounded Soldier who has been engaged in some of the major theological battles of the church during the past three or so decades (For more on this, see chapter 12 of COURAGE).

 

READING FINE PRINTS

 

The phrase “fine-print” is used to describe situations in which a critical information in a document or about a product is printed in very small type. The fine print information may seem unimportant, but if you fail to read it carefully, you may end up paying dearly for it.

 

Generally-speaking, fine prints are designed to deceive or conceal important details about a purchase you’re about to make or a contract you’re about to sign

 

Sometimes fine prints say the opposite of what the larger print says. For example, if the larger print of a promotional offer says you’re "pre-approved" to receive something,the fine print might say "subject to approval."  

 

Similarly, many TV ads sometimes include glowing testimonials, with dramatic photos before and after using a product.But then, the small fine print will say, "results not typical." In other words, there’s no guarantee that it will work for most people.

 

But not all fine prints conceal valuable information. Some “fine print” situations arise from the fact that we choose not to pay attention to glaring detail.

 

For example, I remember going on a mission trip to a foreign country (not English-speaking) where you can purchase good products at very cheap prices. Looking for some gifts for friends when I return to the States, I stumbled upon some very inexpensive toothpaste—a particular COLGATE brand I really like, and which leaves a good impression as a gift. I purchased several of the Colgate, knowing that this brand is the same everywhere around the world.

 

But when I can home and tried it, I discovered to my chagrin that the tooth past tasted like, well, a paste mixture of chalk and starch! Upon carefully examining the box and the writings on the toothpaste tube, I discovered that, although it looked exactly like my favored brand, it was not “Colgate” that I purchased. Rather it was “Coolgate.” The word has two “o’s” in it. Coolgate!

 

It was fake! The fine print issue here is that I didn’t pay attention to details. I thought I already knew what Colgate is, believing that Colgate everywhere maintained the same level of excellence. But I didn’t realize that the Colgate brand had been deceptively hijacked by people with a hidden agenda. I was duped, because I didn’t pay attention to the fine print which was right there—in my face—on the box and tube of the toothpaste.

 

FINE PRINTS AT GC SESSIONS

 

At GC sessions, the fine prints are not because they’re hidden, or written in a foreign languages that cannot be read or understood. Rather, we often don’t bother to look carefully at what is written and examine them using the laser beams of the Bible as guide. We’re too trusting, forgetting that, wittingly or unwittingly, some fine print items will be introduced that are incompatible with what we have always known to be real thing.

 

A significant part of the duties of GCSession delegates is to read the “fine print” suggestions or proposals that are believed to positively impact the life, message, and mission of the Church.These proposals or suggestions are put into a document file—the Agenda Book at the GC Session—and made available to all attendees.

 

Unfortunately, not all delegates pay attention to the materials found in the Agenda Book. Often they are captivated by the politics of who’s elected to a particular GC or Division office. Others are pre-occupied in the Exhibition Booths, looking for freebies, some free things and memorabilia they can take back home. Some others use the time to socialize.Still, others are more interested in the “spiritual” programs—the rousing devotional sermons, inspirational music and heart-warming evening reports of the various Divisions.

 

In contrast, a majority of the delegates at the GC sessions often find the business session discussions to be dry and boring. Some even think it’s a waste of time quarreling about minor changes in the Fundamental Beliefs, Church Manual, and GC Constitution and Bylaws (WorkingPolicies). They express their impatience by either sleeping or not showing up during business meetings.

 

In fact, with the exception of big-ticket business session issues like women’s ordination, divorce and remarriage, Creation and evolution, etc., (each of which has in the past dominated GC session events) a number of delegates to GC sessions tend to absent themselves from the seemingly boring business session discussions.

 

And yet, the fine print changes in theFundamental Beliefs, Church Manual, and Constitution and Bylaws can have far-reaching effect on the Church than we think. Let me illustrate with a few examples:

 

1. Issue of “Women Elders.” Have you wondered about why there’s confusion over whether or not our Church Manual allows women to function as local elders? One significant answer lies in gradual and subtle changes in relevant sections of the Church Manual to make the office of the elder a gender-neutral one. As I will show in my next report,there is a direct correlation between Church leaders' actions in voting certain policies and the effort, later, to reflect these policies in the Church Manual (instead of the other way round).

 

Let me illustrate with the Manual before and after the 1990 GC session, when women’s ordination was brought to the floor for discussion and voted. For comparison, I’ll use the 1986 edition and 1995 edition (as they reflect the mood before and after the women’s ordination issue which gained prominent attention at the 1990 GC session in Indianapolis).Observe the "fine print" of gender-inclusive language, even when theBible clearly taught otherwise. The statements concern local elders:

 

Church Manual (1986 edition; published after the1985 GC Session)

  •  “Men Not to Be Hurried Into Office” (p. 55)
  •  “Unsafe to Choose Men Who Refuse to Cooperate withOthers.” (p. 56)
  • “A Religious Leader of the Church—The local elder must be one recognized by the church as a strong religious and spiritual leader…he is the religious leader of the church” (p. 57).
  • “Ordination of Local Elder.—Election to the office of elder does not in itself qualify aman as elder; he must also be ordained. Until this is done he is not an elder and has no authority to function as such…”

[NOTE:An elder is a “man” and “he” must be ordained, otherwise “he” has no authority to function. Now let’s consider the minor changes in subsequent Manuals. Observe the wording of the headings and the content.]

 

Church Manual (1995 edition; published after the1990 GC session when women’s ordination was voted down)

  • “Not to be Hurried Into Office” (p. 43) [“Men” dropped for earlier versions]
  • “Unsafe to Choose Those Who Refuses to Cooperate With Others”(p. 44) [The word “those” is a camouflage for women as well as men].
  • “A Religious Leader of the Church—The local elder must be one recognized by the church as a strong religious and spiritual leader, and must have a good reputation…the elder is the religious leader of the church…” (p. 45)
  • “Ordination of Elders—Election to the office of elder does not in itself qualify one as an elder. Ordination is required before an elder has authority to function…” (p. 46).

[NOTE: In all the above examples, the male terms of previous Church Manuals before 1990 GC session have now been gender-neutralized; cf., also, 2000 edition (pp.45-48); 2005 edition, p.50;2010 edition, pp. 70-72)]

 

With these seemingly innocuous changes(and others like them), it was not long before we heard folks saying “theChurch Manual does not explicitly say only men can serve as elders. Show me where the Manual says only men can be elders.” After the “fine print” changes,it was no longer possible to point to any page in the Manual that explicitly prohibits women from serving as elders. In other words, the seemingly minor editorial changes were actually theological statements for women’s ordination, even when the world Church had said No to it! It wasn’t long before pro-ordination activists started pressuring ChurchAdministrators on the GC Executive Committee (NOT a GC session, but a smaller body of church leaders) to vote policies to allow for the ordination of “women elders.”

 

And having succeeded in getting church leaders to vote for “women elders,” it did not take long for them to start tinkering with other areas of the Church Manual to render them gender-neutral.

 

This is one reason why delegates at the2013 GC Session were quite cautious with some gender-neutral revision suggestions (such as revisions about Jesus Christ, and the Bible writers; these will be discussed in my next report).

 

Divorce & Remarriage. And do you know why, in addition to adultery and fornication, “abandonment” is today another grounds for divorce and remarriage in the church? (However loosely one may define“abandonment”—physical abandonment, emotional abandonment, financial abandonment, sexual abandonment… On this one simple word, a person can divorce and remarry for pretty much any reason—including spiritual abandonment, when one spouse feels the other is not spiritual enough.) “Fine print.”

 

How could a GC Session vote this questionable word into the Manual? The answer lies in the action of a few GC delegates from the industrialized world on the very last business session day of the 2000 Toronto GC session (it was a Friday). On that day, when a majority of the delegates were absent, they staged a “parliamentary coup d’etat” by overturning the position of the church that had been unanimously voted a few days early. Then they inserted the word “abandonment” into the ChurchManual. Today, it is still in our Church Manual. (For details, see the chapter, “When Error Is Legislated: Is Abandonment Grounds for Divorce,” in myMust We Be Silent, pp.579-596; available online for free download:http://drpipim.org/documents/MustWeBeSilent.pdf.)

 

(One cannot help but think of another unfortunate incident at this past GC Session in San Antonio, when another calculated attempt was made, this time to prevent delegates from attending the last business session, deceiving them into believing that the business meeting had been cancelled. But for divine intervention, who knows what “fine print”item could have rail-rolled into the Church Manual?)

 

3. The Authority of Local ChurchPastors.  Do you want to know one reason why Conference-appointed ministers in local churches seem to exercise inordinate power in the local churches assigned them by their employing Conferences? It’s because the Manual has given them that power!

 

Many are familiar with situations whereby a newly-appointed pastor comes to town and immediately decides to impose rock music, women's ordination, homosexuality, or some other agenda on the local church (whether it’s his own pet agenda or that of the Conference which has hired him and instructed him to go and change that church). In such a scenario, the local church elders/members have little say. If they do, the pastors make sure such elders/leaders are marginalized or arbitrarily disfellowshiped, or the elders themselves choose to leave those local congregations to other places. Do you want to know why?

 

Well, whether you know it or not, the answer lies in the fine prints of gradual changes in theChurch Manual,allowing the Conference-appointed pastors to have more and more authority at the expense of the local church elders.

 

Perhaps I should mention,parenthetically that, biblically and in the writings of EGW—as well as in the practice of the SDA pioneers—the authority of the local congregation rested in the board of local elders. “traveling” or “itinerant” pastors were simply sent to churches as evangelists to help evangelize, train the members to run their own congregations, and then move on to another place to raise new churches.Pastors were never “settled pastors.” They did not have much authority in the running of the Church. When needed, they could be invited to church board meetings, nominating committee meetings, business meeting, etc. Even then, they were simply advisors. They didn’t have a vote. They didn’t chair the meetings,or have veto powers.

 

(For more on this, be sure to read avery insightful chapter in the book Here We Stand, a work I edited. The chapter(by Dr. P. Gerard Damsteegt) is titled “New Changes in Local Church Leadership:Have Adventists Abandoned the Biblical Model of Leadership for the Local Church?” This must-read book is available as a free download on my website:http://drpipim.org/free-books-online-sermons-and-videos-96.html)

 

But since 1932 when a Church Manual began ascribing much authority to Conference appointed Pastors of local congregations, successive GC sessions have gradually been adding to their power. You only have to read the “fine prints” of Church Manual changes to understand.

 

Even the highest authority in the local church—which resides in the members of the local church at business meeting or constituency meeting—has been slowly taken away and given to theConference-appointed local pastor. Let me illustrate with one seemingly innocent “fine print” example in the Church Manual.

 

In the past, when local congregations were run by the board of local elders, it was the elders who called for business meetings. But look at the subtle transition, as reflected in changes in the Church Manual after the GC sessions in Toronto (2000) and Atlanta(2010):

 

Church Manual (2000 edition), p. 81:

  • "Church business meetings duly called by the pastor, or the church board in consultation with the pastor, maybe held..." (p. 81)

[NOTE: Business meetings are called by the pastor. If called by the church board, it now has to be "in consultation with pastor.” Prior to 1932, it was the board of elders who called business meetings. They, not the assigned pastor,were responsible for the local congregation. But now, the pastor is the boss.So it is he who decides when (or if) to call for a business meeting. The Board can only do so “in consultation with the pastor.” But now look at the current Manual (2010)]

 

Church Manual (2010edition), p. 123:

  • "Business meetings shall be held at least once a year. The pastor, or the board in consultation with and support of the pastor, calls the meeting. Business meetings typically are announced a week or two in advance…”

[NOTE: Now the business meetings (which is the highest authority in a local church) can be called by the board "in consultation with" pastor, and now "in consultation with AND SUPPORT" of the pastor! This loosely worded statement allows the pastor to say whatever agenda comes to the business meeting must be "in support of the pastor"! The implications are huge. But not many read the “fine print.”

 

It’s like saying to a members of a congregation (those who constitute a business meeting): “You have $10 million(you have the power to decide on any issue in your local church). But I(Conference-appointed pastor) decide when you can use the $10m, and when you douse it, it must be used for what I want (“in consultation with and support” of pastor)!]

 

And if you wonder how a GC Session could have voted such thing in the Church Manual, it is because the GC Working Policy itself was changed to allow a majority of GC delegates to be denominational employees. It was not surprising then that they voted for their self-interest at the GC session. Fine print. (If there’s space, I’ll talk about that in my next post—how the formula was reversed from 60% to 40% in favor of denominational employees.)

 

My point is this: Unbeknownst to us, we have given so much power to the local pastor--and enshrined it in our constitution--the Manual. So why are we surprised when, in some cases the pastors can do whatever they want and get away with it? Or they simply come to a church and impose the will of their employing ConferenceAdministrators upon the church? The pastors feel they are not accountable to their local congregation, but only to their employers, who can easily pressure them to do the Administrators’ biddings in the local churches. And the pastors have no choice than to follow orders from the Administrators, or else they risk losing their jobs. (So, local church pastors impose their wills on local congregations; local Conference Administrators can pressure the pastors, theUnion can pressure the Conference, Divisions can pressure the Unions, andGeneral Conference can pressure Divisions… I may be exaggerating a bit, but I guess you see the point.).

 

In certain scenarios in local congregations, pastors think they cannot even be held accountable to the Bible and SOP. Their "feeling" or "professional training" makes them “popes” in the church. If you don't go along, too bad you can leave. If you keep talking about it, you're a troublemaker and it is grounds for disfellowship! This is what is playing out in some local churches. And when you question them, they point to the Church Manual that has granted them so much power—power that is even above the power that is to be exercised by all members at during the business meeting. With the wielding of unchecked power in the local church, it is very easy for pastors to abuse the power.Ideally members can appeal to the church business meeting to address their grievances. But, unless the pastor agrees to a business meeting, it will not happen. And remember the business meeting should be “in consultation AND SUPPORT of the pastor”—whatever that means. And should that happen, it wouldn’t be long before pastors would soon begin to decide who can be saved or lost.

 

The point in all these illustrations is that we must read the “fine prints” or changes/revisions that are brought to GC sessions for vote. Even decisions that are made in the seemingly insignificant revisions can have far reaching consequences. This is why delegates to this year’s(2015) GC session had to be alert to proposals that were brought for discussion and vote. Those proposals were contained in the GC Session Agenda Book.

 

THE GC SESSION AGENDA BOOK

 

The Agenda Book is the most important resource material needed at GC sessions. It is the road map to discussions that would take place during the business meetings. It contains valuable information about changes to the Fundamental Beliefs, Church Manual, and theConstitution and Bylaws (Working Policy) of the Church.

 

If you want to change the SDA church,one logical place to look at is the Agenda Book at GC sessions—the huge folder that describes the items that would come up for discussion during the twice-a-day business meetings.

 

A Typical Day at GC Session

Perhaps I should mention that a typical day at the GC session begins with morning worship at 8 a.m. (music, group prayers, testimonies, and devotionals). After that, there are two business sessions. The first is a morning session that runs from 9:30 a.m. to 12:00.Then after a break for lunch, the second (an afternoon) session runs from 2:00pm to5:00 p.m. Thereafter, delegates break for supper and return for the evening program—which consists of a 30-minute musical concert (6:30 to 7:00 p.m.), inspirational reflection on the Word of God and the history of the SDA Church, and reports from the various Divisions, ending at 9 p.m.

 

Fine Prints Everywhere

I love listening to the reports of the various Divisions. They give you a fair idea about what the various Divisions are doing, how they’re doing it, and the results. If the Secretary’s report on the second business day gave the figures of church growth, in the evening video reports delegates actually get to see it, hear it and feel it.

 

Significantly, the evening reports also contain “fine prints” of the priorities of the various Divisions, their priorities, plans, and the results of what they’re doing to fulfill the mission of the Church—whether they’re succeeding or not. Thus, when the North AmericanDivision (NAD) mentioned in their evening report that in the next five years they plan to double “women pastors,” the “fine print” of their message to the worldwide Church was that, regardless of the outcome of the vote on women’s ordination, the NAD leadership would still continue charting the course they’d been traveling on.

 

Of course, the effectiveness of anyDivision’s priorities and methods of soul-winning ought to be judged by the results: How many souls have been won? How has it helped build up the church?Is there harmony and unity in the various congregations, Conferences, Unions,and Division. Perceptive attendees of GC sessions can discern a lot from the evening reports.

 

Another area to look for “fine prints”are in the materials passed out in the Exhibition halls, in the booths of different organizations, in the different worship programs conducted for different age groups, in the activities in the prayer rooms, etc. Whether we are aware of it or not, all these places and programs proclaim certain theologies—which reveal the state and health of the Church.

 

I regret not having time to visit all the booths and prayer rooms, etc. This is because from time to time some very interesting (my way of saying crazy) things take place in some of these places,knowingly or unknowingly. Not infrequently, some questionable materials are passed out to unsuspecting individuals. As a trained theologian, I try to read most of the stuff—from the liberal left, through the independent right, to some rather eccentric, and even offshoot groups who ambush delegates and attendees,passing out their materials outside designated areas.  

 

Reading or skimming through some of their agenda-driven materials can provide valuable knowledge about the kind of theological food being served to our members—or the kinds of challenges to expect in the future, as folks will go home and read those materials.

 

However, the best place to find “fine prints” are in the Agenda Books and discussions during the business sessions

 

Business Session Issues

As mentioned in my first report (“At theGC Session: Why?”), the issues that tend to engage my interest the most are those contained in the Agenda Book and how they issues are discussed. The issues deal with our Fundamental Beliefs, Church Manual,Constitution and Bylaws, Auditors’ report, etc. Of these, the theological issues tend to interest me the most. I guess it’s because of my training is in systematic theology—a fancy phrase for the study of doctrines—and my specialty in biblical authority and interpretation (hermeneutics), and the doctrine of the church (ecclesiology).  Thus, unlike some, I spend quite a bit of time combing through the materials to get a sense of where the church is going—at least at a particular GC session.

 

Who Gets the Agenda Book?

In the past, the Agenda Book was only given to the delegates on the day they register their arrival at the GC session. There is, however, a problem with that:  Can you imagine being handed a hefty folder of information and expected to plow through it and make informed decision? If you’re an overseas delegate, it means you have to combine the assignment with your fatigue resulting from jet lag. Under this kind of circumstances, you can it is evident that many people do not have the time to read and digest the contents until the day when those issues are discussed. How can they avoid agenda-driven “surprises”—should they be slid into the document,whether wittingly or unwittingly?

 

For this obvious reason, at previous GC sessions some of us added our voices to several appeals for the GCAdministration to make the contents of the Agenda Book of future Sessions available to delegates at least a month or two before GC session. In an electronic age, this shouldn’t be difficult to produce. And it would not cost any money. And if we believe that the Church “belongs to the people”—and not a few super-elite folks—an electronic version could be made available to ALLSeventh-day Adventists around the world so that they also can read and follow along GC session proceedings.

 

Thankfully, for the first time the information was made available—electronically and ahead of time—to ALL church members (both delegates and non delegates). This allowed some of us to review the agenda in advance. (http://2015.gcsession.org/fileadmin/gcsession.adventist.org/files/galleries/2015-gcs-agenda-website.pdf).

 

One benefit of this provision was that,some of us were able to discuss critical areas of agenda items—and reflect over the fine prints, not just about women’s ordination issue (undoubtedly the most explosive issue in San Antonio), but also other critical issues. In fact, long before that Wednesday vote on women’s ordination, if one understood the theological “politics” behind some of the suggested revisions, one could see that the debate on Wednesday actually started from day one.

 

CONTENTS OF THE AGENDA BOOK

 

The Agenda Book contains importantStatements and clarifications about the core values that bind Seventh-day Adventists together. There are two types. I refer to them as:

 

(1) The Foundational Core Values of theChurch (enshrined in the Bible and the writings of Ellen G. White), and

 

(2) Derived Core Values of the Church(reflected in the Fundamental Beliefs, Church Manual, and our Constitution and Bylaws.)

 

These two types of Core Values have relative authority. Though they are all important, we may arrange them from the most important to the least, thus: the Bible, the writings of EGW, the Fundamental Beliefs, the Church Manual, and the Constitution and Bylaws (Working Policy). If there should be conflicts, the core value higher on the continuum overrides the lower core value:

 

  • The Bible
  • The Spirit of Prophecy
  • Fundamental Beliefs
  • Church Manual
  • Working Policy (Constitution and Bylaw)

 

So, therefore, if there is any working policy somewhere around the world that is contrary to the Church Manual (the decision voted at GC Session), that working policy must be changed. This point has implications for what the Church should do, now that the world church has explicitly voted against women’s ordination on the grounds that it is not biblical or in harmony with the writings of EGW.

 

Before concluding this particular report on the 2013 GC Session, let’s briefly look at what I call the “foundational core values” of the Church (the Bible and the Writings of EGW). In my next report, we shall look at the “derived core values” (the Fundamental Beliefs,Church Manual, and Working Policy).

 

AUTHORITY OF THE BIBLE & THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY

 

Let me briefly discuss the place of theBible and writings of EGW, because they’re the unchangeable pillars that guide the Church. These two important foundation documents bequeathed to the Church cannot be revised. They can only be re-affirmed, and where there’s been some misunderstanding about them,declarations or statement can be made to clarify the issues.

 

 Thus, at every GC Session,delegates vote an affirmative Statement about the Bible and another about theSpirit of Prophecy, often highlighting areas that are being disputed at that time in history.

 

Let me explain the relationship between them

 

1. The Bible (The Holy Scriptures)

 

For Seventh-day Adventists, theBible is our sole, normative, or supreme authority. As a protestant denominations, we take “the Bible and the Bible only” as our rule of faith and practice. Not tradition, not culture, not anyone’s feelings or opinions, not policies or administrative fiats, the speculations or assertion of scholars,etc. The Bible, the inspired Word of God, is our highest authority.

 

As such, we cannot write or re-write theBible. We can only read, study, and apply it to our lives. Thus, at GC sessions we’re not to take decisions that are contrary to the Word of God. For this particular session in San Antonio, delegates voted on a document titled “Resolution on the Holy Bible.” Among other things, the statement asserts:

  • “As delegates to the 2015 GeneralConference Session in San Antonio, Texas, we reaffirm our commitment to the authority of the Bible as the infallible revelation of God and His will. … As a trustworthy record of God’s acts in history … and framed with doctrinal and ethical instructions, the Scriptures shape the intellectual and practical experience of believers.”
  • “The Scriptures offer a divine perspective to evaluate the intellectual and ethical challenges of the contemporary world….[The Bible] presents a message of hope and certainty that transcends time and culture…The Bible gives certainty that in Jesus our sins have been forgiven and death has been defeated. The Scriptures also announce that He will soon return to put an end to sin and to recreate the world….”

Then, the Resolution on the Holy Bible concludes with this appeal to members:

  • “Given the importance of the Scriptures,the benefits of their study to the Church, and the challenges posed by the contemporary world, the delegates of the General Conference in Session appeal to all Seventh-day Adventist believers to read and study the Bible daily and prayerfully. Moreover, because of the special challenges faced by new converts and young people, we urge every believer to seek ways to share the Bible with these groups in a special way and foster their confidence in the authority of the Scriptures. We also urge pastors and preachers to base their sermons on the biblical text and to make of every sermon an occasion to uphold the authority and relevance of God’s word.
  • “Let us show the beauty, love, and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ revealed in the Scriptures. Let us think and act in accordance with the biblical hope of the soon return of Jesus, our Lord.”

Besides the Bible, the second foundational document contained in the Agenda Book is a“Statement ofConfidence in the Writings of Ellen G White” (p. 71). Because of misunderstanding, it is important that I explain the relationship between theBible (our sole, normative authority, and the writings of EGW).

 

2. The Writings of EGW (often called the Spirit of Prophecy)

 

Even if you don’t accept E.G. White as having the true gift of prophecy, you need to recognize her as one of our pioneers. As such, we have to respect and pay close attention to what she has to say. After all, she was one of the visionaries of the movement that birthed the Seventh-day Adventist Church—which church you are a member. Her views ought to matter!

 

But of course, we do know that she was not merely a pioneer or visionary of our Movement. On the basis of the BibleSeventh-day Adventists accept Ellen White as a recipient of the true gift ofProphecy. As such, though her writings are not at par with the Bible, nor take the place of the Bible, they provide reliable guidance for the church—in every aspect of the Church’s life.

 

 I must point out that SDAs are not unique in according deep respect to the writings of one of their pioneers.Every Christian denomination respects the interpretative insights of leading figures in their respective traditions. Lutherans pay attention to the works ofMartin Luther, Calvinists look to John Calvin, Methodists value the works ofJohn Wesley, and liberals measure their views against liberal giants. Thus,Seventh-day Adventists should not be embarrassed to take seriously the works of Ellen G. White.

 

Though Ellen White never studied Hebrew or Greek, and though she had no Ph.D. in theology, her insights into Bible truth cannot be dismissed lightly or even patronized as the private opinions of a nineteenth-century "devotional writer."

 

 In fact, given their belief thatEllen White received the prophetic gift, Seventh-day Adventists must value her theological insights more highly than any uninspired authority or expert,whether church leader or scholar. Without exhausting or preempting the task of serious biblical interpretation or exegesis, her expositions on any given Bible passage offer inspired guidance to the meaning of the passage (see Evangelism,p. 256; The Great Controversy, pp.193, 595; Testimonies for the Church, 5:665, 682, 707, 708; Counsels to Writers andEditors, pp. 33-35).

 

She herself described her two-fold function in the church as follows: "God has, in that Word [the Bible], promised to give visions in the 'last days'; not for a new rule of faith, but for the comfort of His people, and to correct those who err from the Bible truth" (Early Writings, p. 78).The light God gave her, she explains, "has been given to correct specious error and to specify what is truth" (Selected Messages, 3:32).

 

Notice that the writings of Ellen White are not to establish a new rule of faith apart from the Bible. Rather, they have been given the church to "comfort" God's people (when they are in the right path), to "correct" them (when they err from the truth)and to "specify" what is truth (when they are not sure).

 

With so many confusing, conflicting voices involved in biblical interpretation, can anyone doubt the importance and urgency of the Spirit of Prophecy in theological discussions—such as in the women’s ordination issue?

 

At GC Sessions, delegates never vote to change or revise the Bible or writings of EGW. They only make affirmation or pledge to take them seriously. Thus, at the San Antonio GC Session, as with theBible, delegates also voted a "Statement of Confidence in the Writings of Ellen G. White." This statement is particularly noteworthy, being issued on the centennial of her death. It begins:

  • “As delegates to the 2015 General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas, we express our deep gratitude to God for the continuing presence of the various spiritual gifts among His people (1 Cor 12:4-11; Eph 4:11-14), and particularly for the prophetic guidance we have received through the life and ministry ofEllen G White (1827-1915)...

Then the document goes on to talk about the role of EGW’s writings in our interpretation of Scripture. It states:

  • “We reaffirm our conviction that her writings are divinely inspired, truly Christ-centered, and Bible-based. Rather than replacing the Bible, they uplift the normative character of Scripture and correct inaccurate interpretations of it derived from tradition, human reason, personal experience, and modern culture. 

The second sentence in the statement above, allowing the writings of EGW to “correct [our] interpretations of [Scripture]” was vigorously challenged by certain segments of the world church—delegates mostly from the industrialized countries of North America,Europe and Australia). It became obvious that some of them would have preferred that sentence taken out. But the overwhelming majority of delegates made it clear that that statement was needed and critical. The statement concluded thus:

  • “We commit ourselves to study the writings of Ellen G White prayerfully and with hearts willing to follow the counsels and instructions we find there. Whether individually, in the family,in small groups, in the classroom, or in the church, a combined study of theBible and her writings provide a transforming and faith-uplifting experience….
  • “The study of these writings is a powerful means to strengthen and prepare His people for the glorious appearing of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In the light of the above two affirmative Statements—on the Bible and the writings of Ellen G. White—we can only hope that extra efforts will be made to produce and distribute good quality Bibles and Spirit of Prophecy Books, making them available and affordable to the world. Not just any ordinary Bible, but Bibles of the quality as Remnant Study Bible. Not justThe Great Hope,but also The Great Controversy! And in this Centennial year of EGW’s death, we need the entire Century Classics—theConflict of the Ages series attractively designed. (Sorry, I cannot help but make a pitch for the great work being done by Remnant Publications. www.RemnantPublications.com. We must strengthen the hands of those doing excellent work.)

 

And by the way, those who desire to read more about the relationship between the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, and how to correctly interpret the writings of EGW, I will refer them to my online article: “Understanding the Spirit of Prophecy: Some Key Questions and Principles”(http://drpipim.org/spirit-of-prophecy-contemporaryissues-53/58-understanding-the-spirit-of-prophecy.html).)

 

CONCLUSION

 

This present report  (“Read theFine Prints”) is designed to be foundational to the next report in which we shall look at specific changes made in our Fundamental Beliefs, Church Manual and Working Policies,actions taken at the Session, and their implications for the future.  My basic point is that the document file contained in the Agenda Book determines the health and direction of the Church.

 

Of the core values that hold the Church together, the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy cannot be revised. We cannot make changes in them. We can only affirm their relevance—and clarify certain issues about them, as had surfaced by the time of a particular GC session.

 

For the San Antonio Session, the significance of these two affirmative Statements about the Bible and the writings of EGW cannot be underestimated. In the context of the women’s ordination debate and vote that would come a few days later, the unanimous approval of these documents means that the frame work for the debate over women’s ordination had been established. Whatever anyone would say on that day had to be in harmony with the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy (as we often refer to her works).

 

In case delegates lost sight of this fact, it must be pointed out that, for the first time, the motion that would be brought to the floor on Wednesday concerning women’s ordination, was explicitly framed to establish the basis upon which the decision was to be made. It had to be our collective understanding of the Bible and the writings of EGW on this issue. Not some cultural or quick or speculative views.

 

The Yes or No vote on women’s ordination was to be based solely on these foundational core values of the Church. Here’s the relevant portion of the motion:

  • "After your prayerful study on ordination from the Bible, the writings of Ellen G.White, and the reports of the study commissions, ...Isi t acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry? Yes or No."

Thus, when the world Church eventually rejected the ordination of women a few days later, the clearest message was not just the outcome of the vote, but more importantly, it declared the basis upon which Seventh-day Adventists are to settle theological issues—namely: That our understating of issues must always be in harmony with the holy Scriptures, as informed by the writings of EGW.

 

In other words, one of the most significant and positive “fine prints” in the Agenda Book was the provision of parameters to discuss issues in the Church. We must be together in our understanding. For when one Division of the world Church goes its own separate way on a theological issue, they create a problem for the entire Church. It will undermine out witness in our respective regions of the world where we shall be forced to explain why the Church allows the NAD to hold on to unbiblical practice.

 

Are you still in doubt about the need to read the “fine prints” of documents brought before them at GC sessions? Only if you want to buy someone’s “Coolgate.”

 

 

[NOTE: In the next report, I will discuss some significant changes that were made in ourFundamental Beliefs, the Church Manual, and our Constitution and Bylaws (the “Derived Core Values” of our Church). I will conclude by mentioning some noteworthy things that happened, and those that failed to happen, at the San Antonio GC Session, and how the Church should deal with the implications of that Wednesday’s No vote on women’s ordination.

 

Next Report:

“Changes In Our Fundamental Beliefs”—Dr.Pipim’s GC Session Report—Part 7

 

Previous Reports:

1. “At the GC Session: Why?”—Dr.Pipim's GC Session Report—Part 1

 

2. “Reflection On The First Week—Dr. Pipim's GC Session Report—Part 2:

   

3. “Wednesday Was Already Present”—Dr. Pipim's GC Session Report—Part 3

  

4. “Something HasChanged”—Dr.Pipim’s GC Session Report—Part 4

 

5. “I Will Not Be Silent”—Dr.Pipim’s GC Session Report—Part 5

 

6. “Read the Fine Print”—Dr.Pipim’s GC Session Report—Part 6

 

 

PS: Ignore the hype and propaganda. If you are a Seventh-day Adventist, you need to know why your church has always rejected the ordination of women. COURAGE provides you with the answers. It is arguably the clearest and most engaging work in the Church on the subject. COURAGE is available as:

 

1. A FREE PDF download: 
            http://drpipim.org/documents/courage.pdf or
2. Ebook & Softcover Book
            http://store.eaglesonline.org/index.php/books/courage.html.