Everything happened so fast that you might have missed it if you blinked.
In one day, I read the news that the Michigan Conference of Seventh-day Adventists had stopped selling books written by renowned Adventist historian and author, George Knight. About an hour later, I saw a statement released by the conference deciding to change course and keep selling the books.
Did you blink? That was almost how fast it went for me too.
The longer story goes like this:
The Seventh-day Adventist church is in the midst of a large discussion regarding the future of women in pastoral ministry and, specifically, ordination.
Ordination is a ceremony where the church officially recognizes someone as a “full” pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist church. An unordained pastor can do everything that a local elder can (such as baptize, perform weddings, funeral, baby dedications, lead board meetings, and other general pastoral functions), with the exception of ordaining other pastors and elders and, in some cases, open and close churches. Women can already serve as local church elders.
In 2015, at the church’s General Conference session (a large meeting where church representatives from all over the world come together every 5 years and make important decisions), the world church decided against the idea of allowing parts of the church that believe women can serve in pastoral ministry to bestow the practice of ordination to them.
In response to this, a few areas of the church that still believe theologically in God’s calling of pastoral ministry to women decided to go against this newly voted policy. Some continued to ordain women anyway, while others changed the ordination credential to something more generic so that men and women could be on the same level.
Some senior leaders at the General Conference were not too happy with this and threatened to discipline these areas of the church which were now out of harmony with voted church policy. Some floated the idea of disfellowshipping or removing entire sections of the church for violation of policy.
Now, the church is asking itself what to do when we have voted policy, but no general theological consensus on the ordination of women. Also, what do you do when some sections of the church (largely in Western countries) chose to ordain women or provide a general ministerial credential based on their theological or legal convictions. Do we force them to abide by policy or allow for them to follow their conscience and interpretation of the Bible?
Enter George Knight.
Dr. Knight writes a letter entitled the “9.5 Theses” which, playing on the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, lays out his nine-point argument for unbiblical practices that have crept into Adventism. Among the points were these two:
Adventism has moved at times from being a church based on Scripture to one based on tradition and ecclesiastical pronouncements.
The General Conference leadership in 2017 is coming dangerously close to replicating the medieval church in its call for the serious discipline of large sectors of the church on the basis of a non biblical issue
As a historian, Dr. Knight was concerned that we as a church were moving towards a structure that points to actions of church councils to vote theology and take action against dissenting views that were not Biblically clear. Shortly after his paper was presented, Michigan Conference, chose to stop selling Dr. Knight’s books in their Adventist Book Center stores. Many believed that this was due to the fact that Michigan’s President, Jay Gallimore has written several articles outlining his open rejection of women in pastoral ministry as well as the views that support it.
Once the idea of “banned” books hit the public, the outcry led the conference to reverse its decision in less than a week. To be blunt, the entire series reminded me of similar political moves that happen all the time in secular government.
Dr. Knight said something that upset the “right wing.” So the right wing bans his book until the public finds out, and the “left wing” draws up on the irony of Michigan banning books just like the Roman Catholic Church banned and burned Martin Luther’s writings.
In response, the Michigan Conference President responds with an unapologetic letter in defense of banning the books because of the following premise:
“The question should be raised as to whether we should carry authors who position themselves against the leadership of the General Conference, and equate themselves to Luther standing up to the Pope of the medieval Catholic Church. Is it appropriate to suggest a comparison between the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the persecuting medieval church? Or should unions be urged to stand against the world church in the way that people were urged to defy Nazi Germany in WWII?
Are these proposed equivalences much different from the authors and speakers who compare the church to Babylon? A case could be made that these comparisons go beyond simply voicing constructive differences or concerns.”
Yet, flashback to Fall 2014 before the General Conference in 2015, and popular Adventist author, pastor, and fellow vocal women’s ordination opponent, Doug Batchelor made this very comparison on social media. This could have been seen as a way of preemptively undermining the legitimacy of the General Conference vote in case the results came out in favor of ordaining women.
However, because he compared the church leadership to the Roman Catholic Church, will there be a push to ban his books from bookstores or is this a case of a hypocritical double-standard because Pastors Doug and Gallimore hold similar views on the issue?
Now, it’s claimed (and this is a still developing story) that the Pacific Union Conference has refused a financial loan by the Amazing Facts Ministry, which is headed by Pastor Doug. It is believed that the loan was refused because of the ministries view on women’s ordination stance. Below is the relevant information:
The W.O.R.D. Center’ is the name of this – which is part of their new building project.
“The growth & success of this Amazing ministry (pun intended) has produced the need for a new ministry center. After over a decade of planning, working, and praying through countless obstacles, construction has finally begun on the Amazing Facts W.O.R.D. Center (World Outreach, Revival and Discipleship). They broke ground on June 1, 2017.”
QUOTING – in part:
That the PUC would deny a loan to a faithful ministry with the track record of Amazing Facts, all because of their (PUC’s) fascination with ordaining women, is–in this writer’s opinion–a new low in partisan pettiness. It aptly illustrates the vindictive spirit behind the WO agenda–jamming an unwashed thumb in the eye of faithful Adventist evangelism…”
The rest of the article can be found here.
Book bannings. Loan denials. Retaliation.
At what point do we stop all of this, take a step back, look at what is happening, and ask ourselves what kind of church are we building? Would we be shocked to realize that we were the ones that were building this church and not God?
I minister in South Florida where few people outside of the Adventist Church probably know who George Knight, Jay Gallamore, and Doug Batchelor are and maybe didn’t even know any of this was going on. Our church has about half a dozen guests who are in the process of preparing baptism for the future. I can guarantee you of two things:
Not a single one of these persons chose our church because of our position on women’s ordination.
The behavior that they witness online from those who claim to be the vanguards of “true Adventism” will leave a lasting impression in regards to the way we treat each other.
What do we tell them that their new larger church is like? Just like politics in Washington, D.C. and the media fights between Fox News and MSNBC?
I was impressed by the following tweet that came across my timeline:
“Do you agree? The greatest challenge to humanity is NOT knowing what’s in its best interest it’s having people care enough to make it happen”
— Mark Goulston, M.D. (@MarkGoulston) July 8, 2017
The best response to this came in the following series of thoughts:
“Everyone can have an opinion on what is best for humanity, but that does equate to everyone caring for another’s opinion. People can gladly push their own interests and opinions while disregarding others. One best interest is commonly unity, but what are people coming together for and how does that affect us all? Is that best for humanity or for a group of “united” people?”
Even though this was not in reference to what is going on in Adventism, the same thought applies. We keep pushing “unity,” but what are we coming together for and how does this affect all segments of the church starting at the local level?
Are we working to bring unity in Christ or ideology? I suppose at a certain level, people are going to see those two ideas as one, although in God’s eyes, they really are not. Let us not forget that after Luther’s start of the Reformation, Protestants literally fought and killed each other in the name of the same God. Each thinking that they were the “faithful” who were defending right theology.
Make no mistake, fallen human nature is no different today than it was back then. As humans, we have progressed in the understanding and control of many other fields, but have less control over ourselves than ever before.
All in all, I hope we’d take the approach of Augustine of Hippo (I probably made it on the banned list for this reference):
“In Essentials Unity; In Non-Essentials Liberty; in All Things Love.”
Funny enough, the one guy keeping his head cool in this entire situation is Dr. George Knight himself. According to one source, when asked for his comments on the whirlwind of events, Knight stated, “I was hoping for a book burning to meet the symbolism of the times. Oh well.”