Putting Church Above Personal Position
Putting Church Above Personal Position
From time to time we are faced with the challenge of adhering to a position or subjecting our thinking to certain positions and policies of our church. Admittedly, our thinking or conclusions may differ and therefore the question arises, How do we reconcile issues or matters? It would seem to me --for resolution there must of necessity be an agreed reference point. That is, what do we subscribe to in order to guide us and steer us in ensuring that we operate in accordance with acceptable and best practices? Accordingly, I proffer a few points that may be beneficial.
Relating to Personal Views
It is possible to have personal views and positions that may at times not comport or line up with established positions of the church’s practice. That in itself is not necessarily wrong. However, what I do is equally or more important. The steps I take may lead to compromise, chaos or reform. So it is crucial for one to weigh carefully all that he or she does. I can recall that, some years ago, I strongly resented the idea of dedicating infants born out of wedlock in a pastor’s study or away from the main sanctuary, unless requested. This was the practice of the local Adventist church in the Bahamas -and for acceptable reasons to many over the years. However, I decided to research the practice and discovered in the 90’s that the Church Manual did not support this practice. Therefore, I researched further and came to understand a principle as to why many of the then church leaders held to it. Nevertheless, I met with my then conference leader and shared my position and was given the opportunity to present a position paper at a Ministerial Retreat in Cuba. This position was accepted generally, but it took some persons years to change the practice of what appeared to be discrimination. It is possible that some pastors still struggle with praying for babies born out of wedlock in the sanctuary. Nevertheless, I am happy that I sought advice from my leader.
Not Going Ahead of My Church
Had the then leader disagreed with me, I could have decided to do the extreme: resign, or, research the subject a bit more. But I did not take it upon myself to disregard authority, as this would have been irresponsible and possibly viewed by some as un-Christ-like.
The current debate regarding female ordination and what decision should be made at the upcoming General Conference session has been of great interest to some. The decision is likely to have mixed reactions, regardless to whichever position is taken. Nevertheless, I should not lose faith or confidence in my church if my personal position is not embraced. Neither should I feel victorious or superior if the position I held is accepted. It would be good to remember that persons have strong convictions regarding the different positions. Therefore, it would be wise for me to accept the position of my church even if it is not my conclusion, remembering that the church is still God’s. As pastors, elders and church officers, we ought to remind ourselves that we are a part of a worldwide church, notwithstanding that we belong to our local church/field and union. Quoting Lowell Cooper, one of the vice presidents of the GC, “each [entity/church/conference/union] is seen to be a part of a sisterhood which cannot act without reference to the whole.” These are “separate but not independent organizations,” says Cooper. Additionally, in reference to the Working Policy, Cooper says that it “is the recording of our agreements as to how we will work together to do the Lord’s work and mission, serves as one of the practical unifying agents that the Holy Spirit uses to bind the church together. Policy is not inflexible. It can be changed but it reflects the understanding of the collective group, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”
What We Can Do in the Interim
In the meanwhile, as we await this year’s GC session, we as pastors and elders could visit www.adventistarchives.org and read all of the study papers produced by the Commission on the Theology of Ordination. I can assure you that these will be quite enlightening and informative. Following this, or while doing so, we could engage one another in dialogue and in writing respectfully notwithstanding differences of opinion. Additionally, we could sincerely pray for our church to come to a position reflective of the Spirit’s leading. Until such time, let us continue the dialogue but never preempting the session. I hold to the view that we all believe in our church. Then let’s trust the process in place. To take it upon oneself to go contrary to policy and the church’s position is to say I will not wait; I will go it my way. That is to open the gate to our personal feelings and individuals doing as they feel.