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Sabbath: Church Organization and Unity — 9 Comments

  1. In our modern society where communication technically takes place near the speed of light, we often want immediate answers to organisational issues. Spare a thought for the early Adventist church where communication between Australia and the USA would often take up to 12 months between sending off a message and getting a reply. It was in this time that the Australian Union, the forerunner of the SPD, would come up against a sticky problem and decide that they wanted a ruling on the issue from the General Conference. While they were waiting for the answer to return, the Australian Union leaders would often put a working solution in place that rendered the GC solution out-of-date by the time it was returned. What is the role of the church hierarchy? Should it provide solutions, or offer support for local solutions.

    This week we look at church organisation and its implications for unity. It is worth thinking about the issue seriously.

    Here is a little incident that provides some insight into perceptions of the church organisation. I was with a group of church members on the way to a local conference session. It was during a time of some doctrinal disquiet and some of the discussion, while travelling, was about this issue. One of the church members, a convert from Roman Catholicism could not understand the problem. He said, "Why can't the Church just say, this is what you believe, and everyone accepts it?" His question/observation is understandable given his background, but it raises the question: what does the average Seventh-day Adventist think about the role of the church organisation? Is the role of the Church organisation to dictate what we believe, or provide a support mechanism for spreading the Gospel? (I don't mean this as a dichotomy, but rather as a spectrum of ideas)

    (By the way, I am asserting my independence this morning by using Australian spelling! {grin})

      • Sorry, I should not have assumed that readers are familiar with church abbreviations. SPD stands for the South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church - the division that administers Australia, Néw Zealand, and the South Pacific Islands. And GC stands for the General Conference of The Seventh-day Adventist Church - the Church’s worldwide administrative body.

  2. Maurice I have to plead ignorance. I don't know what the "SPD" stands for. The only issue that comes to mind is the international date line and Sabbath. Sorry.

    • SPD is the South Pacific Division - the church division that covers Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific. The issues that I was thinking about were essentially organizational issues in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I don't want to get involved in a long discussion on the International Date Line (IDL) and the Sabbath but the church was largely silent on the issue when the Tongan decision was made. What I find interesting is that during the time that Ellen White was in Australia, the two missionaries at the heart of the decision and Ellen White attended a camp meeting together at Maitland, NSW (Carmel's hometown) and there is no record of the issue being discussed. I have done some research on the issue and find that the Tongans were rather proud of the fact that they were close to the dateline and accepted being on the western side of it (hence the Tongan kink in the IDL) and enjoyed teasing foreigners about it!

  3. I am so glad to see the opening statement for this week. As Paul said in 1 Tim 2:5 there is only one mediator between God and me that is Jesus Christ. No church determines my relationship with the LORD and what I believe. It is my choice to fellowship with others who believe as I do. This week we will discover the benefits of being part of like minded believers.

  4. On Thursday's lesson, the author makes a comment that "In the breaking of bread," that sometimes someone would offer special prayer to remember Jesus Death and Resurrection. I would venture on to say that this was probably done maybe once a year during Passover or twice a year to also include the Day of Atonement.

  5. On the last sentence, in the last paragraph for Sabbath, it should read like this: "Church leaders are important, too, in that they foster unity when they exemplify the example of Jesus." I have been an SDA since 1965 and I have yet to witness a perfect reflection of Jesus' example on any Church Leader yet.

    • "Without a church organization, Jesus’ saving message could not as effectively be communicated to others."

      2 points for consideration.

      1) Is is possible that we have come to believe the above quote to the extent that we have (perhaps inadvertently) essentially discounted the pivotal role of the Holy Spirit in the spreading and reception of salvation (Jn 16:8)?

      2) Having reviewed a lot of material related to the recent GC session (first hand, not commentaries), it would seem that we have church organisation - but one where the tail is wagging the dog.

      Yes, 'mission' is being verbally presented as the central priority for the SDA church but at the same time a specific type of 'unity' is being pursued (and monitored) under the rationale of enhanced mission. Unity is being conceptualised as conformity to the policies and practices outlined in the world-wide church manual so that the church is seen to be consistent throughout the entire world. Thus, while there is some laterality for local application in some areas, overall there is a more dominant emphasis on one-size-fits all application. I would raise that this is how the tail is wagging the dog.

      When I compare Jesus earthly ministry, I see absolute consistency of principles being applied no matter where he was. But I also see significant diversity of application of those principles, even in counter-cultural ways. This is why Jesus attracted considerable 'censure' from the church organisation of His day - to the point where they put Him to death.

      Thus, when the lesson raises the point that church organisation and church leaders exist to "foster unity and exemplify the example of Jesus", similar to Pete Villarreal's comment, I would ask the question: Is the current organisation actually exemplifying Jesus approach to ministry or are there discrepancies that need to be addressed before it can rightfully be in accordance with that claim?


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