What Actually Happened At GC Session? Voting On Statements On The Holy Bible And Ellen G White.

Two of the most debated items on the agenda were official statements of belief

News June 23, 2022

The 61st General Conference (GC) Session of Seventh-day Adventists drew to a close on Sabbath, June 11, 2022, marking the end of historical decision-making that will affect the future of the global Church body. Two of the most debated items on the agenda were official statements of belief—one on the significance of the Holy Scriptures, and another on the significance of the writings of Ellen G White.

The official discussion, which occurred on Thursday afternoon, June 9, can be watched in full on YouTube.The meeting took more than three hours to resolve and involved procedural complexities that were difficult for some to understand, leading to some conflicting narratives. To assist readers, here’s a comprehensive summary of the most important statements and motions.

WHAT ARE OFFICIAL STATEMENTS AND THEIR PURPOSE?

Opening Thursday afternoon’s business meeting, GC vice president Artur Stele began with some context to frame the Resolution on the Holy Bible that was first being voted upon.

“Every time a GC meets in session, we have a statement on the Holy Scriptures,” he said. “Please keep in mind that the goal of the statement is not to say everything we know or want to say about the Bible—because we do it every session. But every session we take one or two aspects that we want to emphasize.”

Official statements are made at every GC Session. Those made in 2010 and 2015 can be read at Adventist.org and act as an up-to-date guide for Adventists and non-Adventists alike to understand the official position of the global Church body on various social issues and theological topics.

Prior to the proposed statements reaching delegates at GC Session, Stele explained that they were “presented at every year-end meeting of every Division,” for suggestions and changes. The final version was then approved by the Executive Committee, to be voted on at Session.

TEM #124: RESOLUTION ON THE HOLY SCRIPTURES

The first item considered was the Resolution on the Holy Scriptures, read to the delegates by director of Biblical Research Institute Elias Brasil De Souza:

RESOLUTION ON THE HOLY BIBLE

As delegates to the 2022 General Conference Session in St Louis, Missouri, we express our conviction that the Bible is the inspired and revealed Word of God. Through the Holy Scriptures, God has revealed Himself and His will to humanity. The whole Bible is inspired and must be understood as a whole in order to arrive at correct conclusions as to the truth on any revealed topic. The Bible is reliable in what it affirms. Its record of creation in six literal days, the fall of human beings, a global flood to destroy wickedness and preserve a remnant, Christ’s early life, death and resurrection, as well as God’s numerous interventions in history for the salvation to human beings are trustworthy reports of God’s acts in history (Luke 24:27; Heb 1:1,2; Pet 1:21). Prophetically, the fulfillment of predicted events in accordance with prophetic time periods establishes confidence in the Bible as a unique witness to divine truth unlike any other religious book (Isa 46:9,10; Dan 2,7,8; Luke 22:22; 2 Pet 1:19,20). 

We believe that the Bible is the prophetic Word of God and through the prophets of the Old Testament, the apostles of the New Testament, and especially through His Son, Jesu Christ, God has revealed how He will act for the salvation of human beings and executive judgment on wickedness. 

We commit ourselves to prayerfully study and follow the Bible, the living and effective Word of God. It is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. It stands forever as a witness to God’s will, His law, His thoughts, and His purposes for human beings and for our world, and contains the treasures of eternal wisdom and grace (Isa 40:8; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Tim 3:16,17). Its principles and teachings are applicable in all times, all places, all languages, and all cultures for all people. It speaks credibly and relevantly today as it has in the past and will continue to speak as long as time shall last. 

We also believe that the Bible leads us to a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ. And by the Holy Spirit the Bible speaks directly to each person to reveal the plan of salvation and restore believers into the image of God. Thus, the Bible stands as the norm for all religious experience inasmuch as it reveals and teaches the truth and explains how its effects are manifested on the intellect, feelings and affections (Heb 4:12; Gal 5:22,23).

We express our deep gratitude to the Lord because in the Scriptures we find hope to live amidst the challenges of the world. The Bible tells of God’s plan to bestow immortality on His people at the second coming of Christ and ultimately, after the millennium in heaven, to put an end to sin and sinners forever and establish righteousness in the new earth (Ps 119:105; Rom 15:4; Heb 4:12; James 1:18). 

Following its reading, delegates took to the microphones to express their concerns or support for the statement, and whether it should be referred back to the GC Executive Committee for changes, or be accepted.

The first to take to the microphone was South Pacific Division (SPD) director for Adventist Mission, Wayne Krause, who did not stand in favour of the statement, noting how a quote from 2 Timothy was taken out of context, and how the Sabbath was not mentioned. He also questioned the priority given to the statements considered at the GC Session, saying, ”wouldn’t it be great if we actually had a statement on Jesus Christ?”

Other delegates expressed concerns about how the belief in creation was expressed. Reinhard Gallos from the Northern Rhenish-Westfalian Conference (EUD) suggested that the phrase “literal days” should not be used, as it is not seen in the Bible itself. Following this, Sven Östring, director of Ministry and Strategy for SPD, suggested that the word “consecutive” be added before the word literal to differentiate Adventist theology from “progressive creationism”, the belief that there are millions of years in between each literal day of creation. Both gentlemen suggested the statement be referred back to the GC Administrative Committee before being voted on.

Other delegates stood up to express that the motion not be referred back to the GC Administrative Committee, but be voted as is. “I passionately stand with the motion,” said Qedumusa Mathonsi from the Southern African Indian Ocean Division (SID). “In the times we’re living in . . . this comes as a reminder of us retaining to the basics of the inspired Word of God.”

Following seven opinions from the floor, Chairperson Geoffrey Mbwana opened the motion to refer the statement on the Holy Bible back to the GC Administrative Committee. It was referred back, with 650 delegates voting YES (59.1%), and 449 voting NO (40.9%).

Delegates moved on to agenda item #125, the Statement of Confidence in the Writings of Ellen G White. Nevertheless, item #124 was later reconsidered, due to confusion about what it meant, in practical terms, to refer the statement back to the GC Administrative Committee. This will be addressed later in the article.

ITEM #125: STATEMENT OF CONFIDENCE IN THE WRITINGS OF EGW

Read by Elbert Kuhn, GC associate secretary, the proposed statement read as follows:

STATEMENT OF CONFIDENCE IN THE WRITINGS OF ELLEN WHITE

As delegates to the 2022 General Conference Session in St Louis, Missouri, we express our deep gratitude for God’s prophetic guidance of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Aiming to live “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4, NKJV; cf. Luke 10:16), we take seriously the biblical passages that teach the abiding nature of the gift of prophecy (Rom 12:6 ; 1 Cor 12:10,28; Eph 4:11-14) and promise its end-time manifestation (Joel 2:28-31; Rev 12:14; 19:10, 22:9). We recognise the gift of prophecy in the life and ministry of Ellen G White (1827-1915). 

We believe that the writings of Ellen G White were inspired by the Holy Spirit and are Christ centred and Bible based. Rather than replacing Scripture, they uplift its normative character, safeguard the church from “every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14), and offer an inspired guide to Bible passages without exhausting their meaning or preventing further study. They also help us to overcome the human tendency to accept from the Bible what we like and to distort or disregard what we do not like.

We commit ourselves to prayerfully study the writings of Ellen G White with hearts willing to follow the councils and instructions found therein. Whether individually, in the family, in small groups, in the classroom, or in the church, we believe that the study of her writings bring us closer to God and His infallible Word–the Scriptures–providing us a transforming in faith-uplifting experience.

We rejoice in the Lord for what has already been accomplished in the global and local circulation of the writings of Ellen G White in both printed and electronic format, including egwwritings.org and related apps. We encourage the continued development of both worldwide and local strategies to foster the circulation and study of her writings in as many languages as possible. The study of these writings is a powerful means to strengthen and prepare God’s people to face the challenges of these last days as we approach Christ’s soon return.

Beginning the discussion, Anthony Bosman (GC) proposed that the statement be sent back to the GC Administrative Committee, to change the words “offer an inspired guide to Bible passages” and replace them with “offer inspired guidance by invoking Bible passages”, in order to prevent criticism from Ellen White skeptics.

“I believe some of our critics will latch onto the phrase “inspired guide” and will claim that we read that she is our normative interpreter to scripture,” he explained. “We do not believe that, though. Ellen White herself said that scripture interprets itself, and that the Bible is the only rule to faith and doctrine.”

In contrast, multiple delegates were against sending the motion back, including Rabea Kramp from the South German Union Conference (EUD), who said, “I like the description in line 23 and 24 that her writings are a safeguard and a guide, because I don’t want to imagine where we would stand as a church without this amazing treasure of her books.”

The direction of discussion changed, however, when Clinton Wahlen (GC) took to the microphone, asking the secretaries, “If we refer this back to the committee today, will it come back to use before Session ends for us to relook at it?”

In response, Chairperson Geoffrey Mbwana said, “It is possible, but we are not sure at this point. It might not come back, so I would recommend voting against [sending it back to the committee].”

Hearing this, Sandra Colon from the California Conference (NAD) expressed concern that it would be disrespectful to accept a statement on Ellen White before one on the Holy Bible. “It would be a dishonor to the memory of Ellen White,” she said. “I think she would be highly offended by us doing that as she always said she was the lesser light to the greater light.”

Considering these statements, delegates were invited to vote on whether item #125 should be referred back to the committee. 507 voted YES (41.2%) while 723 voted NO (58.8%). Thus, the original motion to accept and/or reject the statement on Ellen White’s writings was once again open for discussion.

First to take the microphone were Brett Townend, president of the South Queensland conference (SPD), followed by Steve Goods, president of the Western Australian Conference (SPD). Both leaders expressed concern that the statement didn’t do enough to differentiate and clarify Scripture as superior to the writings of Ellen White. “For those of us who went through the 1970s and 1980s, there will be a correction if we don’t get the balance between the Scripture and Ellen White correct,” said Goods.

Townend also highlighted the need to clarify what is meant by the phrase “Ellen White’s writings”, saying, “When we say the writings of Ellen White, what are we talking about? Is it letters to her children? Compilations? Just what are we referring to?”

i. Clarity and confusion

Following continued discussion, Oliveiros Pinto Ferreira Junior from Sao Paulo Conference (SAD) brought clarity by reminding delegates what a resolution or a statement is. “These are not documents that make an attempt to be exhaustive about things, we are not trying to rewrite our 28 Fundamental Beliefs. Both the Bible in the Spirit of Prophecy have been abundantly covered by Fundamentals 1 and 18. In light of that, I speak in favour of this motion.”

Vasilli Stefaniv live from West Siberian Mission (ESD) expressed a similar sentiment, saying, “It seems to me that there are some people who are trying to find some things in the statements that they would like to put in, they saving the like. Shouldn’t we just be looking instead for things that we agree with and say amen to statements like these?”

Finally, Johannes Bochmann from Berlin-Central German Conference (EUD) reiterated the concern expressed by Sandra Colon earlier in the afternoon, saying “I want to highlight that we are possibly voting on this without knowing if the statement on the Holy Bible will come back.” He then moved to table the item until a vote had been taken on the resolution on the Holy Bible.

In response, 624 voted YES (50.9%) and 619 voted NO (49.1%) to table the motion, and this was carried.

In response, Oliveiros Pinto Ferreira Junior moved that the discussion on the Holy Bible be brought back, specifically to reconsider whether the statement should be referred to the GC Administrative Committee (as had already been voted) or not, on the justification that it “was not clear from the group here what we were actually voting for.”

Prior to voting on this specifically, delegates had to vote firstly to cease the current debate (1224 voted YES (90.7%) and 125 voted NO (9.3%), then vote on whether they wanted to reconsider the referral on the statement on the Holy Bible (815 votes YES (62.5%) and 488 votes NO (37.5%).

RECONSIDERING THE STATEMENT ON THE HOLY BIBLE

The core issue in reconsidering whether the Holy Bible statement should be referred back to the GC Administrative Committee was the low likelihood, being Thursday afternoon, that the statement would be returned back to the delegates in time to vote on during Session. If the statement was referred back to the Committee, it would need to be re-voted during the next GC Session, in another three years.

“I don’t think we have any time really to re-edit it,” said Clinton Wahlen (GC). “I’d suggest that we vote it and affirm our confidence in the Bible and its inspiration,” he said. Oliveiros Pinto Ferreira Junior agreed, stating “We got stuck on secondary items—terms like ‘literal days’. I think it’s very important that we reaffirm to vote for this motion,” he said.

Delegates then voted to cease the current debate, with 1166 voting YES (91.3%) and 111 voting NO (8.7%). They then voted on whether to refer item #124 back to the committee, with 427 voting YES (31.9%) and 911 voting NO (68.1%). Thus, debate continued on the original item—whether to approve the Resolution on the Holy Bible as found in the Session Agenda.

Speaking on the original item, internationally renowned television evangelist, Mark Finley, shared his opinion at the microphone, arguing against concerns highlighted at the beginning of the debate, including the lack of a statement about Jesus, and the omission of the word “Sabbath” in the statement. “I stand in support of the statement, I hope we will vote it through today,” he said.

Lyndetta Schwartz (GC) also expressed her support, noting that, “We are living in unprecedented times. If we cannot agree that we can vote today on this item, we are standing on shaky ground.”

Following further comments, there was a motion to cease debate, with 1234 delegates voting YES (94.1%) and 77 voting NO (5.9%). Finally, delegates voted on whether to approve item #124, with 1249 voting YES (88.8%) and 157 voting NO (11.2%), thus avoiding the need to reconvene to further discuss the statement at the next GC Session.

“The motion carries, and the statement is adopted,” said Mbwana, closing the matter.

REVISITING ITEM #125—ELLEN WHITE

Once again opening the floor to debate the Statement of Confidence in the Writings of Ellen G White as found in the Session Agenda (item #125), the matter moved quickly, with Daniel March Lorenzo from Dominican Union Conference (IAD) calling a motion to cease debate and vote on the statement.

The vote was then cast, with 1224 voting YES (90.7%) and 124 voting NO (9.3%), thus ceasing debate on the statement itself.

The main motion was then voted on to be accepted, with 1189 voting YES (84.9%) and 212 voting NO (15.1%). With these results, the statement was accepted.

This article was written by Maryellen Hacko, and originally appeared on the Adventist News Network, ANN, the official news  agency of the worlwide Seventh-day Adventist Church.  Headline Photo courtesy of Tor Tjeransen / Adventist Media Exchange (CC BY 4.0).

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