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Authority and Individual Conscience — 11 Comments

  1. Thanks William.I'm much humbled and blessed by this post full of leadership insight.In any organization,secular or church-based,there has to be a set of rules that guides the smooth running of the organization.In S.D.A,we normally use church manual to guide us on several matters pertaining administrative and many more issues.I've witnessed a scenario where an officer uses the manual upon the ignorance of the laity to score on his agendum.My question is:-
    1.When do we use the policy?
    2.What are the results of the selective use of policy?
    3.Do policy and grace work together? What route does grace take and what route does policy take? Is there an intersection point?
    4.Where is the balance?

  2. Hello.

    Always reading your soul-searching articles. Again, I agree and grateful for this one.

    You wrote:

    I believe we are keeping a healthy balance of respect for leadership without blind submission when we ask for accountability and checks and balances. In the United States we have a constitution with which the President must conform. This Constitution declares who has the ultimate authority. It reads, “We, the people.” Not “I, the President” or “I, Thomas Jefferson, or Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama.” The power and authority of the Constitution comes from “The People!” Therefore the United States president is not above the law.

    Is there a particular reason you did not use the current president name, Donald Trump?


  3. Great treatment of the topic, William.

    You stated: "God has designed the governance of our church in such a way that, if all of us allow the Holy Spirit to lead us individually, the mind of the Spirit will be met through the vote of the church body. "

    I would propose that when this is the case, then the GC vote would be regarded as authoritative.

    So, how can we know if such has been the case? I would propose that where this the case, there will be (a) consistency with the Bible as both elements are led by the Holy Spirit. And there will be (b) absolute transparency and accountability of process to clearly demonstrate that there have been absolutely no efforts, either direct nor indirect, overt nor behind-the-scenes to in any way influence the outcome of the vote.

    With respect to consistency with the Bible, this is where it has become complex because on the one hand there is a sector that is claiming a sound biblical case in regard to the matter. And on the other hand, the Committees set up to investigate this have repeatedly failed to come to a consensus outcome.

    And thus, we are at a stalemate position.

    • As you say Phil, transparency and honesty are the key. I was in a conference many years ago, where delegates met for a regular election to choose officers for the new term. A leader stood up and told the delegates that if they did not re-elect the sitting president that they would all be striking down the Lord's anointed, and God would deal with them accordingly. I was in my early 20s and this was my first time to participate in a conference election. I saw right through the manipulation. Fact was the delegates were God's anointed, and the president had only been "anointed" for his current term and nothing more unless the delegates saw fit to re-elect him. The leader was definitely tampering with the process.

    • And I think sometimes God expects "coming to a consensus" to take time because there is a learning (and perhaps some unlearning) process taking place. We are in the age where there is an expectation of a quick fix solution to our issues. The fight between the models for light went on for years and is a catalog of challenges and counter-challenges. Looming over the whole discussion were powerful personalities like Newton, who resisted change. Even today we are still learning more about light and ways of describing its behavior.

      Growing spiritually both individually and as a church is not the work of a moment, nor should we expect that a decision made yesterday will serve us for the rest of time. I don't mean the great spiritual principles will change but some of the peripherals will grow and develop with time.

    • Phil, you wrote

      You stated: "God has designed the governance of our church in such a way that, if all of us allow the Holy Spirit to lead us individually, the mind of the Spirit will be met through the vote of the church body. "

      I would propose that when this is the case, then the GC vote would be regarded as authoritative.

      I agree totally. And not just that - but there would be a clear majority in any votes taken. Enforcing a relatively close vote (e.g. 60/40) does not bear the stamp of the Spirit, because it is clear that there are differences that need resolving.

      Transparency is also key. When we or leaders act according to God's principles, there's nothing to hide. But when manipulation by those in power is evident, member lose confidence for good reason, because manipulation is not a part of God's style of governance.

  4. Thank you William for your beautiful post. What a wise short essay. I live in Australia, and I have observed the attitude of some (not all of course) of our most powerful former leaders who are now retired and yet still wield power and strong influence within their churches, and it's disappointing. They show disrespect and impatience with current pastors and members, when at their old age they should specially know better. I sometimes wonder where their humility has gone, or if they ever really had any. Sorry to be so blunt, but I wish they would understand that their local church is not 'theirs', it is everyones. The more we work together in true fellowship, with humility before God, the better. Let's all work together for the glory of God, putting Him first, regardless of how powerful we once were, or currently are.

  5. Sadly, I have observed since joining God’s Church that often secular organizations I worked for followed Biblical governance principles while certain segments of His organization that I am part of have stumbled at times, and in some instances, almost always. To borrow one of Maurice’s thoughts, there is much learning and indeed unlearning to be done in the area of church governance.

    Thanks, William, for your timely post especially when church leadership changes take place in the new year.

  6. William, I admire your courage in taking on such a challenging subject and appreciate the balanced approach you took.

    While we can all appreciate the necessity for human leadership--social, political and ecclesiastical, hopefully we all understand the risk that all human leadership of any type exposes followers to. While Scripture upholds respect for various types of human leadership (Eph 6:2; Rm 13:1; 1 Thes 5:12-13), it clearly declares God's leadership alone as inerrant (Isaiah 46:9-10) and unrivaled (Isaiah 46:5-7,3-4). No human leadership or leadership structure of any type falls into its echelon. God does not derive His authority from "We, the People...". God is autocratic.

    All human leadership, because of the fallen nature of every human, therefore comes with an intrinsic level of risk. That level of risk is directly proportional to the level and type of human deficiencies present in the leader or the leadership structure. I believe it is our awareness of the benefit-potential versus the risk-exposure, that becomes the cause of elevated anxiety among those who follow a human leader or a human leadership structure. Like the deer, we're aware that approaching the watering-hole in order to live, places us in danger from predators beneath or around the water.

    I strongly endorse what you said here, "It does not matter what church affiliation you belong to, you have to follow your conscience and what the Holy Spirit has convicted you is truth based on Scripture." However, your statement is as enlightening, as it is terrifying! It might be worthwhile for your readers to contemplate; what is the "conscience"? What's the benefit(s) and/or risk(s) of permitting individuals to "follow your conscience"? Who or what is the "Holy Spirit"? What is, or should be, the relationship between "conscience" and "Holy Spirit"? How much of the time allotted for an individual's existence, should that individual "follow conscience" or follow "Holy Spirit"? What is "truth"? Does "conscience" or "Holy Spirit" determine what is "truth"? Similarly, does "Holy Spirit" or "Scripture" determine what is "truth"? Does "truth" exist and does "truth" even matter?

    Jesus taught that belief occurs somewhere within an individual (Lk 24:25). Knowing what is actual "truth" (Lk 8:12; Jn 8:23-24) appears to have bearing on whether we leave our visit to the watering-hole alive (Jn 6:29) or as a predator's meal (1 Pt 5:6-8). The primary function of human leadership is the care and preservation of the individual follower (Heb 13:17). The end result of all ecclesiastical leadership is the establishment of Christ as the leader of each individual (Eph 4:11-13,15). Any leader or leadership structure that attempts to insert and usurp the legitimate "head of every man" (1 Cor 11:3), does so in opposition to the will of God (Mt 21:38-39; Act 20:30)--and is subsequently judged, by Him, to be apostate (Isaiah 3:12-15; Jude 1:4; 1 Jn 2:18-19).


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