When I was younger I was impressed by the title of one of Ellen White’s articles in Fundamentals of Christian Education, “Formality, not Organization, an Evil.” When we work together, sensible order brings extra power. Think “one, two, three, PUSH!” But when we systemize this sensibility (think “from now on whoever pushes before the announcer says the word ‘three’ will be denied the privilege pushing on the bumper”) we drain the order of its common sense. We stifle thought.
Prior to his decease in October of this year, our friend and fellowworker, Dane Griffin, captured the essence of this unity-induced power. In his article he explores the writings of Ellen White for gems of thought on a level of unity deeper than unity of action. He answers that rhetorical question, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” Amos 3:3.
Some that are agreed yet fail to walk and work together. Since the early 90’s there has been a growing pattern of congregationalism in Adventist circles. In retreat from the order established in God’s church in 1901 and 1903, many congregations have set themselves up as their own final organizational authority. My article in this edition of Adventists Affirm addresses the theology behind this retreat and its current manifestations in some home-church movements.
And those that are trying to work together with the body sometimes find themselves stymied by the disinterest of their brethren. At our recent General Conference session some delegates, represented in this volume by Reno Paotonu, were surprised to find many of their fellow delegates to be absent from business meetings. Reno suggests steps that might raise the level of participation and thereby increase our togetherness.
“Would you work together with me?” If I asked you, you would likely respond “What are you doing?” Working together involves buying into a common mission. After reading Elder Skeete’s article it is easy to see that, generally, we have yet to buy into that mission. In the metaphor of Amos 3, we aren’t walking, and hence, aren’t walking together.
New authors to Adventists Affirm have contributed two fascinating articles. Read Dave Fiedler’s account of the General Conference sessions of 1901 and 1903. When a living prophet was around to help us work together, what did she have to say in regard to church order?
Then read Bob Pickle on how God used her to establish Madison, an early first self-supporting school. How did God intend that such institutions would be held accountable? And how should their modern counterparts (Adventists Affirm is a self-supporting organization) be answerable to church authority today? Pickle addresses these questions on the big picture of working together.
This edition’s theme has been inspired largely by the stellar model of executive leadership demonstrated by Ted Wilson’s General Conference sermon. That sermon showed that Elder Wilson knew that he had authority to teach. And teach he did. He charted a course for us and made it easier for willing persons to walk together with power.
While many leaders, knowing that they have no legal authority to mandate a change in policy, have felt that there was little they could do to hold heretics (such as teachers of theistic-evolution) accountable, the Bible has granted them more power than they know. The authority to teach committees what they should do is a power that has everything to do with working together.
Where pluralism reigns, unity sags, mission suffers, and church becomes formality. It is formality, not organization, that is an evil.