Open WindowsSmyrna

(This article is taken from the September 2010 issue of Old Paths from Smyrna Gospel Ministries and is a report that details some of the events that occurred at the 2010 General Conference.)

On April 19, 2005, on the main balcony of the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI, who until moments before had been Cardinal Joseph Alois Ratzinger, delivered his apostolic blessing to the city of Rome and to the world in general as the new Bishop of Rome. A new leader was on the scene, and since his election, he has stressed to his body of believers the need for a return to fundamental Christian values, the importance of both the Catholic Church and a correct understanding of the redemptive love of God, and the importance of prayer. In addition, he has stressed the importance of church tradition and has revived a number of traditions since his accession.

On June 25, 2010, Ted N. C. Wilson was elected president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, who just moments before had been a general vice president of the same body of believers. In his first Sabbath sermon, July 2, he stressed the need to return to fundamental Seventh-day Adventist values (such as accepting the Spirit of Prophecy as one of the greatest gifts to the Seventh-day Adventist Church), the importance of the Adventist Church and that it must go forward, lifting up Christ and proclaiming God’s grace and the three angels’ messages, and the importance of prayer. In fact, at the close of his sermon, President Wilson invited the 70,000 plus people in the Georgia Dome to form small prayer bands throughout the auditorium and pray for the descent of the Holy Spirit. Since his election, he has also revived at least one church “tradition,” that of sharing The Great Controversy with our neighbors, by overseeing the mailing of this book to every household in the same zip code neighborhood as that in which the General Conference headquarters resides.

Two important leaders, each charged with shepherding a large flock of believers and steering a mammoth organizational structure and both using the same methods for realigning the believing body — a return to traditional religious values, a fostering of the importance of the church and its understanding of God’s grace/love, and an emphasis on the importance of prayer.

Several millennia ago, a group of leaders designed a statute in a secret meeting and then presented it to the king for approval. The organizers knew that once signed, the statute could never be revoked, and the king foolishly offered his seal of approval, thus prohibiting anyone from asking anything of any man or of God for thirty days save the king. Daniel, however, was not affected by this new law. He continued his daily routine of prayer before his opened window. And so it is today. Much behind-the-scene activity continues, little of which we are aware, but as Christians we need to be as open in our dealings as Daniel was to the world, balancing being harmless as doves with the wisdom of serpents.

We have a new invisible military, for example, building up forces in cyberspace. “Because the units are unseen, parliaments and publics [in over a score of nations] have not noticed the movement of these forces,” says Richard A. Clarke in Cyber War on page 257. Cyberspace contends with logic bombs, trapdoors, and unique strategies unavailable to yesterday’s generation of military leaders. It involves gateways, malware, and botnets, and, unknowingly, it has pulled many benign users of the Internet silently into its army. What is significant is that the use of these techniques is noiseless and sightless. No buildup of armies is seen, navies aren’t deployed, and troops aren’t obviously moved. Everything is done behind the tight security of passwords, eye scans, and armed guards, but it is warfare nonetheless. Ellen White also portrays Satan as a master of this type of invisible warfare:

The great master of evil conceals himself, working behind the scenes. He lays his plans with wonderful ingenuity, so arranging matters that men will not have time to think of the things of eternity. As his instruments do the work assigned them, he directs and controls. He gives all who will serve him plenty to do. He can keep mind and hand employed. He fills those under his guidance with ambitious hopes for worldly greatness.

Thus Satan is playing the game of life for the souls of men, and he is succeeding in a way surprising even to himself. Men are straining every nerve to gain earthly treasure, but when eternal riches are offered them, they turn carelessly away. Very easily the enemy persuades them to renounce their supreme good. Satan hides Christ and heaven from their view, because they choose to have it so. Led by him, they worship the world and the things of the world. Too late they will find that they must stand before God without a fit preparation, to hear the words, “Depart from me,” and to be forever banished from the divine presence.

In his work Satan pretends to be very religious. He finds this the most effective way of carrying on the work he began in heaven. Under his guidance the Christian world has made void the law of God by tearing down the seventh-day Sabbath, and exalting in its stead a common working day. As men depart further and further from God, Satan is permitted to have power over the children of disobedience. He hurls destruction among men. There is calamity by land and sea. Property and life are destroyed by fire and flood. Satan resolves to charge this upon those who refuse to bow to the idol which he has set up. His agents point to Seventh-day Adventists as the cause of the trouble. “These people stand out in defiance of law,” they say. “They desecrate Sunday. Were they compelled to obey the law for Sunday observance, there would be a cessation of these terrible judgments.”

The civil power is called to the aid of the Church in persecuting those who keep holy the seventh day. The Church and the world are united in trampling upon God’s commandments, and those who obey these commandments they threaten with death. John declares, “The dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” The decree goes forth that no man shall be allowed to buy or sell save he that has the mark or the number of the Beast. (The Review & Herald, July 16, 1901; all emphasis supplied unless otherwise noted)

Strategic planning is the normal procedure for all money-making endeavors, and often this type of planning is secretive in order to stay ahead of the competition. This behind-the-scene, secret activity also occurs in many church activities. Evangelistic outreaches, for example, are planned months or years in advance, which is fine as long as no deliberate deception is involved in the planning and/or in the presentation of information. Satan does not work behind the scenes just to deceive the secular world alone; his methods are used in and against the church, as well, and probably some type of insider planning is occurring right now somewhere in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. As recently as June 24, 2010, for example, the church openly admitted to the delegates during their orientation at the General Conference Session in Atlanta, Georgia, that strict security had been observed in the materials sent to them prior to the convening of the session, and that tight security would continue to be in force during the session. No materials were allowed to be passed out in any hallway or in any room other than where the delegates were seated, and in order to be seated, passes were needed to advance beyond the many security guards always present. The delegates were told that in this way they would know for a surety that if any material was offered to them other than what was given to them in the business sessions it was not material sanctioned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church!

Addressing the tight security on materials sent to the delegates before the session, I ask you, why is it necessary to so carefully guard the business of the church so that the church at large has no idea what is to be voted on by the only true business session of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists until after the fact? Preventing the agenda items from being known by the church body as a whole before the General Conference business sessions may not be listed as one of the specific strategies of Satan by Ellen White in the 1884 edition of The Great Controversy in the chapter entitled “The Snares of Satan,” but invisible, behind-the-scenes consultative activity is definitely his underlying method of working:

As the people of God approach the perils of the last days, Satan holds earnest consultation with his angels as to the most successful plan of overthrowing their faith. He sees that the popular churches are already lulled to sleep by his deceptive power. By pleasing sophistry and lying wonders he can continue to hold them under his control. Therefore he directs his angels to lay their snares especially for those who are looking for the second advent of Christ, and endeavoring to keep all the commandments of God.

Says the great deceiver: “We must watch those who are calling the attention of the people to the Sabbath of Jehovah; they will lead many to see the claims of the law of God; and the same light which reveals the true Sabbath, reveals also the ministration of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary, and shows that the last work for man’s salvation is now going forward. Hold the minds of the people in darkness till that work is ended, and we shall secure the world and the church also.

we must exert all our wisdom and subtlety to deceive and ensnare those who honor the true Sabbath. We can separate many from Christ by worldliness, lust, and pride. They may think themselves safe because they believe the truth, but indulgence of appetite or the lower passions, which will confuse judgment and destroy discrimination, will cause their fall.” (The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, pp.337, 339)

You should read the rest of Satan’s strategies listed in this chapter, but we must move on to the General Conference Session itself. Many people have written about the items discussed and voted on in the business sessions, and theAdventist Review has reported on each business session and their actions as well, so we plan to cover just a few items from the various sessions. Before we do, however, let us first consider an overview of the session.

Each business day started and ended with a spiritual emphasis sermon and/or a devotional, and sometimes there was a spiritual presentation at midday. Speakers included Mark Finley, Tara Vin Cross, Randy Roberts, Dennis Meier, Chris Oberg, John Ferguson, Steve Riley, Abraham Jules, Hyveth Williams, Dwight Nelson, Derek Morris, and Angel Rodriquez. Topics were assigned to each speaker with an emphasis on the theme of grace, topics such as “The God of Grace,” “Grace at Calvary,” “Grace and Forgiveness,” “Grace, Law, and Obedience,” “Grace and Reconciliation,” “Grace in the Sanctuary,” “Grace in the Manger,” and “Grace and Redemption.” In the varying styles of deliverance, we saw drama, emotion (including vigorous jumping up and down on the platform), and showmanship, but we also saw reservedness and quiet dignity, but in all little meat was presented for the body of believers to dwell upon. With such wonderful topics as these and others, we longed to hear clear explanations concerning the nature of Christ, the nature of sin, the final atonement, etc., but we were sadly disappointed. We were told, as might have been expected, that the atonement was completed at the cross, that sin is doing without God, that God condescended to become a man, that God takes up residence in the person of Jesus Christ, that the Almighty God became flesh, and that we need comprehension before compliance with God’s commands and understanding before obedience. At one of the Yes, Creation! seminars, we were exposed to the confusing comparison of “when the godhead said to the godhead” aligned with “the Father and the Son,” in a brief parenthetical comment on screen to explain, I assume, that the godhead is the Father and the godhead is also the Son. All of these comments should not surprise us, but it does cause us to reflect about how leading, intelligent men and women can be so illogical and unscriptural.

Past General Conference president, Jan Paulson, also addressed the delegates and told them that the word of God is the basis for everything we hold and that our doctrines stay with us and are a part of our spiritual personality. He also said, in connection with these thoughts, that our church is a dynamic community where many things change and that we must have the dexterity to move with the changes. We agree that the word of God must be the basis for all truth, including our doctrines which, as laid out by God in our early days, must continue down to the present day to be pillars for every believer worldwide, but it is obvious that the current Seventh-day Adventist Church has been very dexterous and has smoothly moved with the worldwide flow to the point that we have repudiated vital truths, including those concerning God himself and the ministry of Jesus in the sanctuary above. Standards of Christian behavior have also adjusted to fit more comfortably with current lifestyles worldwide.

In addition, Michael Ryan, a general vice president of the General Conference, stated from the platform that if it were possible for the early Adventist pioneers to be on the platform with him and look out over the auditorium as he was doing, they would weep and shout to the world that this church was not accomplished under man’s power but in the power of the Holy Spirit! Well, we agree the early pioneers would, if they could, look out and weep.

On six evenings of this 59th Session of the General Conference the thirteen worldwide divisions of the church presented glowing reports of their work around the world, and these individual reports culminated in the Parade of Nations Saturday evening before sunset. This parade can only be described as an abominable trampling down of the Sabbath. Groups of people were loudly clapping, cheering, and screaming, as representatives from their countries appeared on stage, carrying their national flags and wearing representative national dress. As each division was beginning its part of the parade, a video prepared by that division was shown on the large screens around the Dome. These were all choreographed to rock music or, as in the case of the South Pacific Division, The Hallelujah Chorus which was played with a very heavy beat. The atmosphere was one of a party and not an assembly suitable for the Sabbath. At the end of the presentation of the nations, a closing song was sung by people dressed in white with white wings as angels, a sight which must have made the holy angels weep.

We should next comment briefly upon the exhibit hall at the General Conference Session. Hundreds of booths promoted many projects and companies. Smyrna Gospel Ministries applied for a booth as soon as applications were accepted by the General Conference, but we were denied the opportunity to obtain one, with no explanation given. Bakers’ Flags & Emblems, however, which supplies flags, tourist goods, and T-shirts was granted a booth, as were IT Solutions (evidently a hardware and software development group), Canon Business Solutions, Office Depot, Reliv International, Sankofa Books, Stevens Van Lines, X20 Filtration, Simple Updates.com, and Stewart Church Signs. These all appear to be commercial, profit-making enterprises which offer no spiritual truth as an integral part of their business life, but we, who wished only to present the spiritual truths of the Bible and of our forefathers, were denied access. Incredible! It should also be mentioned that this exhibit hall was open both Sabbaths of the conference from 2 to 7 p.m., also incredible.

Information posted at the Adventist Review website, http://www.adventistreview.org/article.php?id=3510, states that it was decided at the Annual Council in October 2008 to appoint a small study group to determine if it would be beneficial to write a new Church Manual. A proposed, re-edited version of the Church Manual was the final result of this committee work, and all the additions, edits, deletions, etc., were presented to the delegates of the 59th General Conference business session for approval. It is also noted that a “full copy of the proposed, re-edited, version of the Church Manualwas released to the Session delegates in mid May to allow them ample time to review the proposal before the discussion” was to take place. Since the Church Manual affects every member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, would it not have been more appropriate for the proposed, re-edited version to have been made available to all church members prior to discussion at the General Conference Session so that they could have expressed any concerns or agreements on these issues with their representative delegates prior to the vote? Nevertheless, this was not done, and the delegates on the floor had much to decide concerning the proposed new Church Manual without input from the grassroots.

We would like to commend Elders Mendosa and Trecartin, Chair and Secretary respectively of the Church Manual Standing Committee, on the manner in which they fielded questions and explained items to the delegates concerning the proposed changes. They were patient and kind, and were willing to take items back to the committee for further clarification. We are also happy to report that most of the time each chair was pleasant, forthright, and intelligent in the way they fielded difficulties and in how they tried to move the action along.

One of the first major points of discussion concerned the acceptance of the proposed wording for ordaining deaconesses — “Deaconesses may be ordained in divisions where the process has been approved by its executive committee.” Delegates from some countries were concerned that allowing the ordination of deaconesses would have negative consequences in their home fields. The rational given for the change was explained as a need for equality in the manual. We were told in the session that the Greek word translated deacon is the same Greek word that is also translated deaconess; therefore, if we ordain one, we need to allow for the ordination of the other. To begin with, the English word deaconess is not found in the King James or in the New King James version, but it is found in the Revised Standard Version for Romans 16:1: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae”. The Greek word translated in Romans 16 as deaconess is diakonon (the feminine form of diakonos), and this is the only New Testament usage of the feminine form of the word. More importantly, there is no biblical example of ordination for any diakonon (females). Ellen White does refer to the “seven deacons” of Acts 6 (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 90), but they are not called deacons in the Bible. These persons in Acts 6 were males set apart for their special ministry of service and gospel work by the laying on of hands and by prayer. This was not done simply because they were servants in a normal sense. The Bible says all Christians are called to serve or minister (1 Peter 4:10,11; same Greek root word), but we are all, obviously, not ordained.

Paul’s list of qualifications for deacons in 1Timothy 3 is also for males, as revealed not only by the Greek language and grammar but also by the logic of the text itself (they must be husbands of one wife, for example.).

The need to change the Church Manual on this issue in order to provide equality for both deacons and deaconesses seems to be weak reasoning because the Bible gives no example (even though the same Greek root word can be used for both males and females) of the feminine form of the word diakonos being used in connection with the laying on of hands or in connection with the counsel given to Timothy. So does the Church Manual really need to be changed? A quotation from Ellen White which was shared at the session by Elder Armando Miranda gives some insight: “Women who are willing to consecrate some of their time to the service of the Lord should be appointed to visit the sick, look after the young, and minister to the necessities of the poor. They should be set apart to this work by prayer and laying on of hands. In some cases they will need to counsel with the church officers or the minister; but if they are devoted women, maintaining a vital connection with God, they will be a power for good in the church. This is another means of strengthening and building up the church” (Review and Herald, July 9, 1895). This is good counsel. Women are a power for good as long as they maintain a vital connection with God, and we are in harmony with Ellen White’s counsel for the laying on of hands on women who are consecrated to God in the service of the sick, the young, and the poor, but since it is not a practice that can be sustained by Scripture, we are not in harmony with its inclusion in the Church Manual. We also think the Church Manual Committee has gone against the very words they asked the delegates to vote into placement in the introduction of the new Church Manual (and they did) which state: “The standards and practices of the Church are based upon the principles of the Holy Scriptures. These principles, underscored by the Spirit of Prophecy, are set forth in the Church Manual.” (Where is the scriptural principle of ordaining women?) After further discussion, however, the delegates voted to allow for the ordination of deaconesses to be included in the Church Manual. See http://www.adventistreview.org/article.php?id=3510.

Another issue that received much discussion and that called for the legal advice of Karnik Doukmetzian, lead counsel for the Office of General Counsel of the General Conference were two proposed additions to the Church Manual concerning ascending liability. The first proposal said: “No Church organization or institution assumes responsibility for the liabilities, debts, acts, or omissions of any other Church organization simply because of its Church affiliation,” and the second proposal stated: “When organizations review decisions of other organizations, they do not assume responsibility for the liabilities of any other organization.” After many comments and questions (including the sharing of thoughts that it did not seem appropriate for higher levels in the church organization to be supported by and to receive funds from lower levels and for those higher levels to even arrange for and/or approve of loans to lower levels in the general church structure to disengage itself from any responsibility for the activities of the lower levels), it was voted to refer the first proposal back to Church Manual Committee for clarification. The second proposal, however, was approved for inclusion in the Church Manual.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church includes a large corporation, with many levels of activity. Committees are a way of life, and decisions are not made quickly, but running throughout every level of activity is money. It is the fuel for the worldly engine, and at the World Session a financial report was presented by Elder Robert Lemon, Treasurer of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. We do not know if his report has been made available to the church body as a whole, but a bundle of reports and notes for the years 2005-2009 was provided to the delegates in their notebook of information. This bundle is the auditor’s report of the basic financial statements of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for those years. Also included in this 36-page packet of information were the combined schedules of financial position and activities for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and the General Conference Corporation of Seventh-day Adventists for the years 2009, 2008, and 2007. In addition to this document, a colorful 39-page Treasurer’s Report for the year 2010, which includes many graphs, was given to the delegates. Elder Lemon stated in his report to the delegates that the church is doing well financially. Total assets at the end of 2009 were $292,984,142, and total liabilities for the same period were $94,518,455, so we see the Seventh-day Adventist Church is a multimillion dollar organization in the black. Even though the reports are lengthy and convoluted, they are still surface reports. No where, for example, are we told in which companies the General Conference is investing tithe funds on the stock market. Even if the General Conference Session audit report is not the place to list such information, it and all other financial information should be freely and easily accessible to all.

We realize that Jesus counsels us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, and we acknowledge this includes a judicial use of information and its presentation to others not of the Advent faith; however, in the work of the church on all its levels we advocate for complete openness and the clarity of crystal and for the opportunity for each member to decide for himself what he wishes to read and discuss without the control or sanction of leadership. May I remind you it was the church leadership that insisted (because of their huge financial investment in procuring the Dome) to the Georgia State Police that Smyrna Gospel Ministries representatives be limited to a very small number and be relegated to a spot as far away from Dome activity as was legally possible.

We have been told that the system Pope Benedict XVI and his body of cardinals head has always been engaged in a tremendous warfare against God’s people, that the powers of earth will unite under the head of the papacy, and that the ensuing war will culminate in the final persecution of God’s people (Revelation 17:14; 13:16; Great Controversy, page 604). Because Satan is the head of this evil organization, we know there is a massive build up of his strategic forces behind the scenes and an escalation of invisible religious warfare of every kind, aided and abetted by secret meetings, weapons of mass spiritual destruction, and the hissing and sputtering of natural forces. A fury hitherto unknown will soon be unleashed on an unsuspecting world, for Satan knows he also has just a short time in which to work. Neither the Papacy nor Satan works before open windows but in the shadows of the dark councils of the blackest of nights.

President Ted Wilson, on the other hand, has the golden opportunity to be as Daniel and open wide the windows of the stuffy General Conference headquarters for all of the church so that the Spirit of God can come in on a sweet, clean breeze and clean house, but we fear he will not have it so in spite of his Sabbath sermon on July 2 (more on that next month). The cost is too great, and the rudderless ship without chart or compass is too cumbersome to turn around. Onycha Holt

Taken from Old Paths Newsletter September 2010

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