ADVENTIST SOCIETY FOR RELIGIOUS STUDIES
RESPONSE TO THE GENERAL CONFERENCE DOCUMENT
“A Study of Church Governance and Unity”
November 19, 2016
In a world divided into polar-opposite camps comes the urgent call to the Seventh-day Adventist Church to fulfill the prayer of Jesus in John 17:20-21, and to “make every effort,” as Ephesians 4:3 says, “to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” In this effort our bond of unity is our relationship with Jesus Christ as head of the Church (Ephesian 2:14-22).
Acts 15 teaches that when significant conflict over circumcision confronted the early church, the Jerusalem Council provided the answer: “we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19). As the church grew in diversity, it made the requirements few and not difficult. The church did not find unity through policy enforcement, but instead lessened restrictions on new believers thus embracing the wide diversity of its membership. When there are deep divisions in a community, as there were in the early church, the enforcement of regulations that are not fundamental to community identity assures disunity rather than unity.
We believe that unity can only take root when the church experiences full fellowship in spite of diversity in practice based upon missiological needs and understanding. The church must not yield to fear and anxiety that gives rise to uniformity—the very antithesis of unity.
In this 500th year of Martin Luther’s protest, it is imperative to remember the history of the Christian church. That history teaches us how perilous it is to move a church from a movement with a focus on mission toward one that seeks ecclesial unity through policies enforced by a hierarchical governance structure. This runs counter to Ellen White’s guidance throughout her writings. In a spirit of love and loyalty to our church we recommend the following:
- Following Jesus’s counsel in Matthew 18 we encourage all entities and individuals to spend much time in prayer and conversation particularly with those of different convictions.
- Since actions and working policies are not always based on clear biblical principles, and there are policies on which we have reached no consensus, it is vital that we accommodate the conscience of those who may disagree over matters of church policy.