SDAs and War

May 3, 2008

For the first time I have included a lecture on SDA attitudes towards war in my History of the SDA Church class. I have always wanted to, but time constraints mean that there’s always something that I have to grudgingly leave out. This year I made it a priority.


Julius Nam has a paper titled “Pacifists or Legalists? Korean Adventism and Conscientious Objection/Cooperation (1950-1970)” on his blog. Check it out here.

I’d also like to draw your attention to an upcoming conference: The Public Affairs & Religious Liberty (PARL) Department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada is sponsoring a Symposium on Conscientious Objection in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The Symposium is planned for November 6-9, 2008, Oshawa, Ontario; and anyone interested in submitting or presenting a paper may contact Tina Keys in the PARL Dept. at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada; by email with their proposal for a paper.

I am hoping to attend and present a paper on the history of conscientious objection in the SDA Church in South Africa.


“A Third Rate Lot”: A Brief History of the SDA Ministry

April 1, 2008

Most Millerite preachers who were ordained ministers, received ordination from their own denominations. Typical of this is James White who was ordained in 1843:
“In a few days I returned to Palmyra, where I received ordination to the work of the ministry from the hands of ministers of the Christian denomination, of which I was a member.” (Life Incidents, 1868, 104.)

washington-morse.jpgSabbatarian Adventists, having clearly separated from their parent groups, began to ordain ministers in 1853. The first appears to have been Washington Morse:
“In the winter of 1852, I received a prophetic chart from Eld. White, accompanied with the advice that I engage in public labors in spreading the message. I soon started out, my first effort being at East Randolph, Vt. Here I met Almond Arnold and family, with whom we had been acquainted in the first message, and who had been active in it. This family soon embraced the Sabbath truth. There was also quite a company at East Bethel who took their stand on the Sabbath, and regular Sabbath meetings were soon established at the latter place. The following summer, I was duly ordained to the ministry, and received the most unmistakable evidences of the approbation of God.” (Washington Morse, “Items of Advent Experience During the Past Fifty Years—No. 4”, The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, October 16, 1888, 643.)

Ordinations to the gospel ministry continued:
“We then had a meeting of two hours, in which time the wants of the cause were considered. And it was decided that there were those present that should be ordained to the work of the Gospel ministry, and that there were those (not present) who profess to teach the present truth who were not worthy of the confidence of the church, as teachers. At 1 o’clock at night we adjourned to 8 o’clock in the morning, when the subject of ordination was again taken up. And it was the unanimous expression of all present that our dear Bro. J. N. Andrews, A. S. Hutchins and C. W. Sperry should be set apart to the work of the ministry (that they might feel free to administer the ordinances of the church of God) by prayer and the laying on of hands. And as Bro. Joseph Baker and the writer performed the solemn duty, the Holy Ghost came down upon us. There, bowed before God, we wept together, also rejoice.”
It was then decided that the cause in Vermont required that other brethren in different parts of the State, who labor more or less publicly, should also be set apart by the laying on off hands, that they might administer the ordinances of the gospel. It was the unanimous expression of all present, that Br. B. P. Butler of Waterbury, Elon Everts of New Haven, and Josiah Hart of Northfield, should thus be set apart. And while engaged in this most solemn duty, the presence of the Lord was indeed manifested. We never witnessed a more melting, precious season,— The very atmosphere around us seemed sweet as heaven. How cheering to the Christian to know that his honest endeavors to do his duty are owned and blest of Heaven!
(“The Eastern Tour”, The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, November 15, 1853, 148.)

The Sabbatarian Adventists made some attempts at a theology of ordination to ministry:
“From this [I Timothy 4:11-16] we learn that the order of the gospel is that men who are called of God to teach and baptize, should be ordained, or set apart to the work of the ministry by the laying on of hands. Not that the church has power to call men into the ministry, or that ordination makes them ministers of Jesus Christ; but it is the order of the gospel that those who are called to the ministry should be ordained, for important objects.”

One of those objects was order and unity:
“To produce and secure union in the church. The laying on of hands should be done, we think in behalf of the church. A united expression of the church in this thing would certainly have a tendency to unite the people of God. Some have taken it upon themselves to baptize who profess no calling to teach. Others have gone out to teach the word whose lives were not correct at home. Both have injured the cause. We will not stop to dwell upon painful particulars. To save the flock from imposition of this kind, the gospel plan is sufficient. Let those who are called of God to teach and baptize, be ordained according to the Word, and known abroad as those in whom the body have confidence. By this course the greatest cause of evils that has existed among us as a people, will be removed.” (James White, “Gospel Order”, The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, December 20, 1853, 189.)

dt-bourdeau.jpgThe newly formed Seventh-day Adventist Church ordained its first minister in 1861. In a letter dated June 11, A. S. Hutchins recorded:
“At a business meeting on First-day morning, it was the unanimous voice of the church that Bro. D. T. Bourdeau, should be set apart to the work of the gospel ministry, by ordination…. At the close of this meeting, Bro. D. T. Bourdeau was ordained by prayer and the laying on of the hands of preaching brethren present. The Holy Spirit fell sweetly and powerfully upon us, manifestly approving of the solemn and important step. After a discourse in the forenoon…we repaired to the water side, where in accordance with the example of the Son of God, ten were by Bro. D. T. Bourdeau, buried in baptism.” (The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, June 25, 1861, 189.)

The Michigan Conference in the session of Oct. 6, 1861, decided that its ministers should carry papers of recognition, consisting of a certificate of ordination, and credentials signed by the chairman and secretary of the conference, which credentials should be renewed annually.” (J. N. Loughborough, The Church its Organization, Order and Discipline, 1907, 100.)

It was at this session too, that ministers were for the first time, paid a wage:
“Let every preacher have a certain sum per week for his labor, and be required to report to the Conference each week’s labor during the year, and present his account of all he has received during the year, and if his receipts fall short of the sum necessary to his support, let the amount be made up from the State treasury. ‘The laborer is worthy of his hire.’ If this good rule be suffered to work both ways, then the hire is worthy of its labor. And, further, let all our preachers by mutual consent, and the counsel of the brotherhood, find their fields of labor for the Conference year as far as possible.” (The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, September 30, 1862, 140.)

Such an understanding was not however universal:
“Brn. Sanborn and Snook then gave a report of their labors, receipts and expenditures in connection with their mission to Minn. Reports accepted. By the advice of Brn. Sanborn and Snook it was decided that those who have been laboring in Minn., as preachers should, for the present, support themselves by laboring with their hands. Adjourned till evening.” (“Doings of the Minnesota State Conference, July 19th, 1863.” The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, August 4, 1863, 75.)

By 1862, ordination in aprevious denomination was no longer sufficient. In answering the following question: “Shall preachers from other denominations embracing the message, preach and baptize among us, on the strength of their former ordination and standing as ministers?”, The Michigan Conference session passed the following resolution: “Resolved, That ministers of other denominations, embracing present truth, should give proof of being called to preach the message, and be ordained among us, before administering the ordinances.” (The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, October 14, 1862, 157.)

By 1872, the GC had decided that a post-secondary school to train ministers was needed. At the 1873 GC Session, an action was taken to found such a school and the GC Committee raised funds, purchased land, and erected buildings. On January 3, 1875, Battle Creek College opened (though classes had started in 1874).

By the mid 1890s, the system of credentials had become quite structured:
“D. W. Reavis: I have wanted to know for some time what is the difference between ministerial credentials and ministerial license. The Chair: Ministerial credentials are granted to ordained ministers in good standing, and engaged in active labor. Ministerial licenses are granted to licentiates, – those who are engaged in preaching, but who have not yet been ordained to the gospel ministry. Missionary credentials are granted to persons engaged in active missionary work, including our Bible workers, house-to-house missionaries, etc.” (GC Daily Bulletin, March 1895, 147.)

According to John W. Fowler, SDAs have “tended to cast all pastoral leadership in the mold of Paul, who was an itinerant evangelist.” (Adventist Pastoral Ministry, 1990, 10-11.)

This view is typified by the words of A. G. Daniells—GC President—who wrote in 1912:
“We have not settled our ministers over churches as pastors to any large extent. In some of the very large churches we have elected pastors but as a rule we have held ourselves ready for field service, evangelical work, and our brethren and sisters have held themselves ready to maintain their church services and carry forward their church work without settled pastors. And I hope this will never cease to be the order of affairs in this denomination, for when we cease our forward movement work and begin to settle over our churches…then our churches will begin to weaken and to lose their life and spirit and be paralysed and fossilised and our work will be on the retreat.”

Daniells continues:
“There is pastoral work to be done and our plan is this; instead of electing our pastors over the churches individually and having a man devote the greater part of his time to the church, we have him devote the larger part of his time to evangelical work and then visit the churches now and then.” (The Church and Ministry, 1912.)

It was not until the 1950s & 1960s, that the current model of pastoral ministry became dominant.

As early as 1892 GC President O. A. Olsen was disturbed over the poor quality of the ministry—he believed that some senior ministers were so defective it was unsafe to send younger ministers to work with them!

A decade later, A. G. Daniells felt the same way—“I do not know of anything that is demanded more urgently today in our denomination than the improvement of our ministry.” He characterized the young ministers as a “third rate lot.”

Colleges had been established to train workers—including ministers, however the reality was most were called into ministry prior to graduation and did not finish the course. Olsen tried to make up for the lack of training with “short courses.” There were debates over how much training ministers needed.

Australia developed a ministerial association in 1920 headed by A. W. Anderson a “veteran educator and minister”—that offered professional reading courses and a small paper The Evangelist to share study and experience. This development was enthusiastically received and adopted by the GC for the global church. It was headed by a new field secretary—A. G. Daniells.

ministry-1928.jpgDaniells wanted a magazine for the clergy but received no support for the idea—it would be too expensive, so he had to resort to mimeographed sheets and articles. These were hard to distribute and there were the specialist demands of evangelists and Bible teachers. Those who had opposed a separate magazine for ministers caved in and the first edition of The Ministry was published in January 1928 with Leroy Froom as the editor.

Daniells wrote in the first issue of Ministry that a pastor’s efficiency was generally judged by:
“Success in winning people to Christ and His Church.
Establishing these converts in the doctrines of the Church.
The ability to get church members actively involved with their time and money in the mission of the Church.”

Daniells believed formal education in all those areas would be “most helpful.”

At the 1919 Bible Conference Daniells shared his vision of what pastors and Bible teachers should be taught—taking for granted a thorough training in basic doctrines and stressing instead the development of character and personality and constant study as a daily regimen along with good personal grooming and decorum in all that they did.

A theological seminary was opened in 1937 in Takoma Park, Maryland—in the old Review and Herald cafeteria. It operated from this location until permanent buildings were established four years later. It had an international student body. During 1950’s one year of seminary training was required as part of the internship program—to the dismay of many conference presidents. With mandatory seminary attendance enrolment doubled. It increased further when extension schools were held in other divisions. These extension schools became an accepted part of the seminary’s effort to serve the world church.

The relationship between pastoral ministry and formal studies has sometimes been difficult. In The Ministry of April 1944, LeRoy E. Froom (Head of the Ministerial Association) wrote:
“How dare a man contemplate, or have the temerity to present, the degree of doctor of divinity, gained in the universities of Babylon, as a credential for teaching or preaching this threefold message, the second stipulation of which is, ‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen… Come out of her, My people.’ How dare we accept such a Babylonian credential, in lieu of mastery of the truth?….Someone needs to sound an alarm. We need to grip ourselves and halt a growing trend that, if it becomes entrenched, will bring disaster through neutralizing our message.”

The SDA Seminary at Andrews University established two doctoral programs in the 1970’s—a D.Min and a ThD. All seminary degrees were now accredited. This was possible because of the increased recognition of the work of the Seminary faculty in non-Adventist academic circles.


Better late….

January 11, 2008

I have previously blogged on Race and Seventh-day Adventism in South Africa: here, here, here and here.I want to briefly recap the situation focussing on Helderberg College (extracted from my ASDAH presentation here):

While at least one Black student and several Coloured students were admitted to Claremont Union College–the forerunner of Helderberg College, established in 1893–early in its history; the school’s constituency remained almost entirely White until 1974 when having been relocated and renamed Helderberg College Coloured fourth-year Theology students were officially admitted.[1]

  • Coloured students attended Good Hope College established in 1930 which when compared with Claremont/Helderberg College, was grossly under-resourced, understaffed, and underfunded.
  • From 1909, the Seventh-day Adventist church also operated a separate school for Black students. The institution operated under various names and in various locations most recently as Bethel College. It was also grossly under-resourced, understaffed, and underfunded.

In 1968 Alwyn du Preez became the first non-white to graduate from Helderberg College, completing the third and fourth years of the theology course there after graduating from the two year Good Hope course in 1957. His presence was a special concession by the college; du Preez was required to live off-campus and was barred from using an college facilities other than the classrooms and library. He was not permitted to attend the Helderberg College graduation ceremony in 1968.
In 1971, Robert Hall a black student from Zimbabwe who had completed three years of the Theology course at Good Hope College was grudgingly permitted to enrol at Helderberg College.
Similar restrictions to those placed on du Preez were placed upon Hall. He was not permitted to board in the dormitory, nor to eat in the cafeteria; nor was he allowed to graduate with his class in 1971.[2] That same year, the administration of Helderberg College asked the South African Government to rule on the acceptance of a foreign non-white at an all-white South African educational institution. They were told that it was not, and never had been, government policy to interfere in the training of ministers by any denomination. As has been pointed out, this meant that Adventists of colour had been barred from Helderberg College all these years because of naked racist attitudes, not by government laws![3]

[1] I. F. du Preez and Roy H. du Pre, A Century of Good Hope: A History of the Good Hope Conference, its Educational Institutions and Early Workers, 1893-1993. (East London: Western Research Group/Southern History Association, 1994), 181-182. Antonio Pantalone points out that even if some non-White students were enrolled, the college’s graduation records show that during its 25 year existence, not a single non-white student ever graduated at [Claremont] Union College. “A Missiological Evaluation of the Afrikaanse Konferensie (1968-1974) and its significance for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South Africa” (Dth, University ofDurban-Westville, 1998), 177.

[2] du Preez and du Pre, A Century of Good Hope, 104-105.

[3] du Preez and du Pre, A Century of Good Hope, 109-113.

Well why bring up this shameful history once more? Well on November 25, 2007 at a Graduation Ceremony at Helderberg College, small steps were taken towards righting these past injustices. At this ceremony–to a standing ovation–both Alwyn du Preez and Robert Hall were graduated (Post Facto); 39 years and 36 years late respectively.


Alwyn du Preez (Left) and Robert Hall (Right)

Thanks to Claudelle for the photos.


Kenya #2

January 8, 2008

Here is an update on the situation in Kenya. Unfortunately, the email I received did not list an author.

Forasmuch as the media has undertaken to update the world of what is happening in Kenya, in regard to the ethnic clashes that has terrified the country, it seems good to me being at the center of the clashes also to update you at AIIAS on the latest situation at Baraton, so that you may know and have perfect understanding of how good God is to us. He has not answered all our questions but He has kept all His promises.
The group that was holed up at Kapsabet Police station has now been evacuated to their ethnic homes. The first group of about 140 people composed of Kikuyus, Kamba, Meru and Kisii were evacuated by Kenya Military at about 4 a.m. They took about 3 hours to reach the nearest city, Eldoret about 65 km away. The military had to cut the big logs of trees that had been felled across the road, remove stones, metal spikes spread about half a kilometer. Sometimes the military had to construct road deviations at places where the bridges had been broken by the militia. The Baraton group travelled fear-frozen in their buses under military escort. Some recalled how they could see the solders cock guns any time they saw movement in the bush. One of the lecturers with children send a text message at about 4 am to me, ?Please, pastor, Pray as you have never done before?
The group arrived in Nairobi about 500 km away. I could feel the sigh of relief as they telephoned back from the East African Union head office in Nairobi where the Vice Chancellor of Baraton was awaiting to receive them. One of the lecturer?s daughter, aged 14 years txt me that she was going to write a long article once schools open on the experience they went through. Another group of about 150 people from Kisii ethnic group was evacuated yesterday to Kisii on trucks under police escort. For now the situation is calm and road blocks are being removed from roads. We hope to be able to travel freely as before. The university has postponed opening date until further notice. Other details can only be issued officially by university spokesman.
The University church meets daily at 6 pm to pray in groups for political situation in the country. We are seeing evidence of God?s leading and decrease of threatening crowds on road outside the campus. Apart from sporadic incidents of thuggery around, we are safe and we believe the university will open soon. The community is amazingly speaking friendly of the university. What God has done in this one week, cannot be fully quantified in such short email but it has left each one of us with a testimony to tell. Thanks for your prayers and concern.



January 5, 2008

I post below an email message from Caesar Wamalika of the University of Eastern Africa, Baraton – a Seventh-day Adventist university in Kenya.

“Subject: Report from CAESAR WAMALIKA at our SDA BARATON University, Eldoret, KENYA To: talkback-forum@ yahoogroups. com From: wamalika@yahoo. com Date: Thu, 3 Jan 2008 01:16:32 -0800 Subject: [talkback-forum] Going Through Nightmare of Ethnic War – Baraton, Kenya Dear Talkback Forum, I wish to share with you the terror and nightmare we are going through of Ethnic War. I am emailing from Baraton and the situation is bad! It all began soon after lection results were announced! Then several groups of community around broke into war songs. They broke into the shopping center next to the university and looted all the shops that belong to Kikuyus and Kisiis. Then they broke into rented off campus houses of students. A crowd of about 1,000 people surged to the university gate and wanted to storm the university. They demanded that all Kikuyus, Kambas, Meru, and Kisii people leave the university within two hours. That was the only way to save the university from being stormed. They remained at the gate until it would be seen done. About three armed policemen arrived and spent time negotiating with the crowd. Finally the police advised us to evacuate the named ethnic groups. We put the faculty and students numbering about 250 into three university vehicles and were taken to Kapsabet Police station under police escort. They are still there as at now. A few of us are on campus! The Division tried to evacuate those from Kapsabet Police Station to Eldoret international Airport but the next road block was a no-go-zone. In spite of the police escort, the university buses had to return to Kapsabet. The is no way anyone can get out. One baraton group is holed up at Kapsabet police station while faculty members from Luo and Luhyia community, international workers and students are holed up within the campus. Those at Kapsabet have no food or water. The worst fear is not so much of food but possibility of police station being stormed. The police are few and overstretched. We have been having threats a almost daily at campus. On one occasion, we had to give out a bull for them to slaughter and guarantee us peace. Then they came and demanded milk which we also gave. Then we succeed in pleading with the militia to allow us transport food to those at police station. They allowed us first day and we transported it on varsity tractor. It took three hours to go through road blocks to reach Kapsabet which is only 15 kilometers away. I attended a meeting yesterday with commanders and militia leaders who came to meet university administration. We confirmed that Militia had had their own meeting and resolved that on humanitarian ground, faculty with kids and pregnant mothers be allowed to return to campus. They also told us students of other communities should come back. It sounded good news. We shock hands. We asked them to transport food to Kapsabet. They agreed and used their own vehicles. But the food never arrived. The militia who were escorting the food we beaten and vehicles destroyed. The fact that you negotiate with one militia group, remember the next and several others groups have their own policy. It is like you need visa to cross several of them. We have about 130 Kisii students and workers stranded at police station but cant leave for home. I know of Mr Obuchi whose wife is pregnant! I know of Pr Elijah Njagi and wife, Nyarangi and wife, etcThey are sleeping in the grass and some in university bus parked at the police station. There is no food and I have never witnessed this. As I write this email, have just been informed that a crowd came to university gate 15 min ago and demanded that we go out and join them in mass demonstration in the street. That means we shall be put on front line to meet the armed police. University PRO has negotiated with them and the crowd has now chained the university main gate, locked it and gone with the key. No vehicle an come in or go out. We pray that they don’t come to force us out. It is a nightmare to meet them. All of them are armed with machetes, rungus, arrows and bows. Some are drunk and others baying for blood. I have never seen this! We are fear frozen and prayer takes a new meaning! My home is 100 km from here but how do you pass those road blocks? We have Luo workers who want to get out but we hear the Kisii are grouping to fight Luos on Kisii/Luo border. We are boxed in. The road blocks are manned by not less than 500 people. The road block at Cheptrit has a thousand youth manning it. Police told us that Mosoriot has ten thousand worriers camping there. It is a no-go-zone. We have no where to buy food, no calling cards available, no fuel! But we are finding a new meaning in prayer. I hope I can keep updating you of what is happening at Baraton. You can get from internet what could be happening in other parts like Eldoret, Kakamega and Kisumu. I have to leave for a crisis meeting to try and avert any attack on the campus. I hope internet access will remain open so that I can keep updating you. I can see helicopter flying over us but seems to be passing again! American Embassy called yesterday for the sake of their citizens. This is a no-go-zone! We need to be evacuated from here! Promises of safety from some militia groups cannot be trusted. You need to be here to feel it. Whatever the political argument, it is a nightmare! The ground issue is not how you voted but ethnic affiliation. Some are using it to settle personal scores! There were some leaflets from one group saying that all non-Nandis get ready to leave. Other Militia groups say no. But God still keeps us safe! From: Caesar Wamalika University of Eastern Africa, Baraton 14 Mwalimu Drive P.O. Box 2500, ELDORET 30100, KENYA, EAST AFRICA. Tel.: 254-734-429- 326 (Mobile)”

We hoped for peace but no good has come, for a time of healing but there was only terror. (Jeremiah 8:15)

Dona nobis pacem.


Divorce Part 2

December 17, 2007

The most up to date statement on divorce and remarriage for SDA Church members was was voted at the 57th Session of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, August, 2000 as a revision of chapter 15 of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, 1995 edition. A full copy of the statement may be found here. For the moment I’d draw your attention to the following statement–particularly the section in bold:

It is recognized that sometimes marriage relations deteriorate to the point where it is better for a husband and wife to separate. “To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband)—and that the husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Cor. 7:10, 11, RSV). In many such cases the custody of the children, the adjustment of property rights, or even personal protection may make necessary a change in marital status. In such cases it may be permissible to secure what is known in some countries as a legal separation. However, in some civil jurisdictions such a separation can be secured only by divorce.
A separation or divorce which results from factors such as physical violence or in which “unfaithfulness to the marriage vow” (see sections 1. and 2. above) is not involved, does not give either one the scriptural right to remarry, unless in the meantime the other party has remarried; committed adultery or fornication; or died. Should a member who has been thus divorced remarry without these biblical grounds, he/she shall be removed from church membership; and the one whom he/she marries, if a member, shall also be removed from church membership.

So let us summarize the SDA Church’s current position

  1. If your spouse commits adultery you may divorce & remarry without church sanction.
  2. If your spouse physically abuses you, you may divorce but must spend the rest of your life celibate and alone unless they enter into a sexual relationship first.
  3. If you are “abandoned by an unbelieving spouse” (whatever that may mean) you may also divorce and remarry without sanction.

Does anyone else see how sad and perverse such a position is?

I’d also like to draw your attention to a paper by Australian SDA Phil Ward on divorce. As part of his paper, Ward undertakes a very interesting examination of the position of Ellen G. White on this issue.


Divorce Part I

December 7, 2007

I’d like to draw your attention to the following paper by Gerald Winslow, posted on the General Conference Family Ministries website. The paper was prepared for a symposium at the World Minister’s Council in Toronto.

by Gerald Winslow

When the General Conference Session in Toronto considers proposed changes in our Church Manual’s statements on divorce and remarriage, the delegates will be continuing a process that began many decades ago. From the middle of the 19th century until the present, Seventh-day Adventists have sought to apply the principles of Scripture to heart-rending problems encountered when marriages fail. Gradually, we have enunciated and revised policies with the goal of being true to the Gospel and guided by God’s Spirit. Pastors seeking to minister to divorced persons in the church may benefit from a brief sketch of the major steps that have led our church to its current policy.

Early Steps
From the earliest beginnings of our organized work, Seventh-day Adventists have found it necessary to consider our response to divorce and remarriage. For example, one of the first questions raised at the 1862 Michigan State Conference was this: “How shall we treat divorced marriages?”(1) The questioner was a Brother Sanborn who needed an answer to a practical question. Should we accept into fellowship individuals who had become divorced without “biblical justification” and were later remarried? The difficult query was referred to the Conference committee for further consideration. There exists, however, no record of any subsequent action. So we cannot be certain what answer Brother Sanborn received during these early years.

Eventually, however, the church’s response to marital status of new believers did become settled. In 1887, for example, Uriah Smith, referring to remarried people who desired church membership, wrote: “Take them as they are found, leaving these things that cannot be undone to the past. . . .”(2) Smith noted that such couples have long-standing relationships that include children. The best they could hope to do, upon finding the truth of the Gospel, would be to live faithful lives in the future. This approach to new believers, though seldom mentioned in official policies of the church, has continued to hold sway. For example, the 1976 Autumn Council action on divorce and church membership says: “When a new believer is to be admitted to membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, he stands, in relation to the church as a ‘new creature,’ (2 Cor. 5:17) not subject to church discipline for his past conduct. He shall be eligible for church membership if his current marriage is legally certificated.”(3)

Thus, from early years onward, new members have generally been welcomed without blame for past marital difficulties. However, discipline for those who are already church members when their marriages falter has been the occasion for far more difficulty. The concern of the church has been to maintain the highest possible standards of marital permanence and fidelity for its members, while also acting with grace and forgiveness toward those who stumble. What, then, should be the church’s response to members whose marriages end in divorce? Should they be permitted to continue church membership even if the reasons for the divorce are not considered to be biblical? If such individuals marry again, should they be removed from membership? And, if so, may they ever be readmitted to membership while the second marriage continues? Official answers to such questions have emerged gradually.

One early attempt to generate an official policy arrived at the General Conference Session of 1879.(4) A committee had been asked to address the “subject of unhappy marriages.” In its report, the committee noted that there was an “alarming tendency” in the general public toward lax views of marriage; legal divorces were being granted by courts for flimsy reasons; and the church had the responsibility to “stay the tide of corruption” that was sweeping the country. The committee proposed three resolutions to accomplish its goals. The first stated that the only biblical cause for divorce is the commission of adultery “by one or the other of the parties to the marriage contract.” The second proposed a rule that would forbid churches from accepting into membership anyone who had been divorced for reasons other than adultery and subsequently remarried. This refusal of membership was to remain “during the lifetime of the person from whom such individual was improperly divorced.” (It is noteworthy that this second resolution would have had the effect of nullifying the already established practice of allowing such new members into the church.) The third resolution proposed that the cases of all current members, living in questionable second marriages, be “dealt with” only after the local church sought advice from the General Conference Committee or at least the local conference committee.

The first of these resolutions passed unanimously. But the second and third resolutions created dissent, and the leaders withheld a decision “till after the most mature deliberation.” The record indicates that both James and Ellen White participated in the discussions. And on the third day, all three resolutions, including the first one that had already passed, were tabled permanently. Although we have no record of what the various participants said, it is clear that our leaders did not come to agreement on the proposed resolutions.

There is only one other record of official action on divorce and remarriage during the 19th century. At the General Conference Session in 1887, the following resolution was passed:

WHEREAS, Our Saviour has laid down the one sole ground on which parties once married can be divorced; and,
WHEREAS, the practices of society have become most deplorable in this respect, as seen in the prevalence of unscriptural divorces; therefore,
RESOLVED, That we express our deprecation of this great evil, and instruct our ministers not to unite in marriage any parties so divorced.

This resolution made official what was surely the consensus of Adventists at the time: only adultery was “grounds” for divorce and remarriage. To this was added one of the first official rules regarding second marriages, namely, that Seventh-day Adventist ministers should not perform weddings for people entering second marriages without biblical justification.

During her lifetime, Ellen White offered counsel to people with troubled marriages. Occasionally, she also participated in discussions of church policy. But she resisted serving as the authority to resolve cases for which she had no specific light. At one point she said, “I do not think it is my work to deal with any such things unless the case has been plainly opened before me. . . . I cannot take responsibility in such matters. Let those appointed of God to bear the responsibility deal with it in accordance with Christian principles.”(5) Later, reflecting on his mother’s work, W.C. White wrote: “It was Sister White’s intention that there should not go forth from her pen anything that could be used as a law or a rule in dealing with these questions of marriage, divorce, remarriage, and adultery.”(6)

Still, through her books, articles, and letters to individuals, Ellen White did influence the general direction of the church’s practices regarding divorce and remarriage.(7) While consistently calling for high moral standards in marriage, and while condemning the sin of adultery, Ellen White often worked to rehabilitate those who had erred.(8) She saw no light in breaking up a second marriage, even though the circumstances that led to the marriage were not exemplary.(9) She expressed grace and compassion for those injured by divorce.

Solidifying Official Policy
A decade after Ellen White’s death, Seventh-day Adventists still had very little in the way of official policy on divorce and remarriage. As the church grew both in size and complexity of organization, there was greater need felt for such policy.

In 1925, the church adopted a brief statement of general policy on divorce. The Autumn Council that year approved of a statement that deplored divorce and placed “emphatic disapproval upon any legal action for the separation of those once married, on any ground other than that given in Matthew 5:32.”(10) The church had not yet developed a church manual, so such resolutions like this were considered advisory.(11)

In 1932, the church developed the first Church Manual. Among its provisions was a section on divorce.(12) It repeated the action of the 1925 Autumn Council, and added a number of other elements, most of which have continued in subsequent statements of policy. The 1932 statement called for efforts to effect reconciliation when marriages were under threat. But sin must not be glossed over, and the “church must administer discipline in the maintenance of a high standard of moral purity and integrity.” Adventist ministers were forbidden to perform marriage ceremonies for persons who had been divorced without “Scriptural grounds.” Following Ellen White’s comments on the words of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the policy interpreted biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage in terms of “fornication.” The policy stated that members should not be permitted to continue in church fellowship if they remarried while their former spouses, whom they divorced without biblical reasons, were still alive. However, the “innocent party” to a divorce did have the “right” to remarry. It was the responsibility of the officiating minister to determine whether or not a person had the right to remarry, based on “satisfactory evidence of the facts of the case.” If in doubt, the minister was to seek counsel from the local conference officers.

So, for the first time in 1932, Seventh-day Adventists adopted a policy that was considered binding on all church members. And in broad outline, the 1932 policy, with its distinction between guilty and innocent parties, its emphasis on rights to remarriage for the innocent but not the guilty, and its provision for excluding guilty remarried persons from membership, has served as the template for subsequent church policy.

Ten years after the first Church Manual, the church looked again at its divorce and remarriage policy. Some leaders believed that the 1932 policy needed to be clarified and expanded. A special study commission was appointed, and it reported to the 1942 Autumn Council. The result was the adoption of a six-point policy that solidified the provisions of the 1932 policy and generally made them stricter.(13) For example, all members found guilty of adultery must be disfellowshipped, and could only be readmitted to the church by way of rebaptism even if they had reconciled with their spouse. People who were disfellowshipped because of wrongful second marriages could “not be readmitted to church membership so long as the unscriptural relationship continues.” And the pastor was responsible for investigating “all the circumstances,” and for requiring any member seeking to remarry to “produce satisfactory evidence in support of his or her claim.”

Moving Toward Balance
The 1942 statement stands at summit of stringency. For the most part, subsequent revisions have had a moderating effect.

Already in 1946, for example, the delegates to the General Conference Session revised the Church Manual. No longer would it be required to disfellowship all adulterers. Those who confessed their misdeeds and were deeply repentant could be placed under censure for a stipulated period of time. Nor would rebaptism be required for all such erring ones.

More significant revisions occurred at the 1950 General Conference Session and were incorporated in the 1951 Church Manual. In the introduction to the revised policies, the Manual stated: “The church believes in the law of God; it also believes in the forgiving mercy of God. It believes that victory and salvation can as surely be found by those who have transgressed in the matter of divorce and remarriage as by those who have failed in any other of God’s holy standards.”(14)

The 1950 changes left most of the earlier elements of Adventist policy intact. Only “unfaithfulness to the marriage vow” could lead to the dissolution of marriage. If it did, then only the innocent spouse could remarry with impunity. If the church’s reputation had been sullied by the flagrant actions of a transgressor, the church might elect to disfellowship him or her even if there was evidence of genuine repentance. For the first time, this policy also called for disfellowshipping the person who married someone who had been divorced without biblical grounds. Members who divorced without biblical reasons, and remained single, were to be censured. But, if they later remarried, they and the one they married were both to be disfellowshipped. The policy did recognize, however, that some members might, for reasons of safety, need to seek a legal separation or even a divorce. If such persons did this and remain chaste and single, they “would not be condemned.”

In all these provisions, the 1950 changes and additions served primarily to clarify and extend previous policies. But the most noteworthy change in 1950 was the new provision for readmitting members who had been disfellowshipped for errant remarriages. The Manual notes that circumstances of such second marriages may be complicated in many ways. For example, the welfare of children might be at stake. Then the Manual stated: “In a case where any endeavor by a genuinely repentant offender to bring his marital status into line with the divine ideal presents apparently insuperable problems, his (or her) plea for readmittance shall before final action is taken be brought by the church through the pastor or district leader to the conference for counsel and recommendation as to any possible steps that the repentant one, or ones, may take to secure readmittance.” If such a one was readmitted to the church, the policy insisted on rebaptism. And the policy said that the readmitted member should not hold leadership positions in the church, especially positions requiring ordination.

This provision for readmission to membership was the source of considerable discussion in subsequent years. What, for example, would it mean for a remarried person to “bring his marital status into line with the divine ideal”? Is the implication that he or she should divorce a second time? And what should be counted as “insuperable problems” which would lead the church to grant mercy to those in second marriages? How long must such people wait before being readmitted to membership? Once readmitted, what positions of leadership, if any, should be open to such people?

These and many similar questions have continued to provide opportunities to think about relevant biblical principles and their practical outworking in policy. While the main provisions of the 1950 statements have remained in force to the present time, efforts have been made to answer some of the perplexing questions. For example, the 1976 Autumn Council established both local conference and union conference committees to review difficult cases and make recommendations about how they should be treated.(15) A number of criteria were also outlined for readmitting formerly disfellowshipped members. These criteria included evidence of sincere repentance, the establishment of wholesome family life and a “praiseworthy reputation,” and fulfillment of financial obligations to one’s children or former spouse. The guidelines did not say exactly how long a person must wait to be readmitted, but they indicated that “a period of years shall be required.”

The 1976 statement also contained another significant development. In one of the appendices, the meaning of adultery and fornication, as grounds for divorce, were discussed. For the first time, the church officially acknowledged that “fornication” (from the Greek porneia) which Jesus mentions as a reason for divorce (Matthew 5:32 and 19:9) may have broader meaning than the act of physical adultery. The statement went on to list examples, such as sexual perversions, homosexual practices, and “persistent indulgence in intimate relationships with a partner of the opposite sex other than the spouse, even though falling short of coitus.”(16)

The most recent revisions of church policy occurred at the 1995 General Conference Session. At that time, the broadened definition of “fornication” was approved for inclusion in the Church Manual.(17) The wording of the Manual was also clarified regarding those, who for reasons of safety, find it necessary to seek legal separation or divorce. The revised language makes it clearer that such members need not be censured for their actions.

Finally, the 1995 General Conference Session voted to establish a study commission to give thorough reconsideration to the subject of divorce and remarriage and to make appropriate recommendations for changes in the Church Manual. The prescribed commission completed its work in 1999. Its final report to the Administrative Committee of the General Conference, which was later circulated among members of the General Conference Committee at the Annual Council of 1999, called for fuller statement of biblical principles regarding marriage and care of members who experience divorce and remarriage. Some of the commission’s work has been incorporated in the proposed changes in the Church Manual that will receive consideration at the 2000 General Conference Session in Toronto.

The ongoing discussion of how our church should best treat the matter of divorce and remarriage is evidence that we desire to take seriously the principles of the Bible and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We should not be surprised that the church has struggled with these matters from its inception. When we consider the complexities of marital relationships, the potential for harm when things go wrong, the desire of the church to protect high standards of moral conduct, and the conviction that we should treat our erring members with grace, we should expect to need God’s ongoing guidance. Let us hope and pray that the meetings in Toronto will represent a further step toward maturity of understanding God’s will and God’s grace.

(1) Joseph Bates, “Business Proceedings of the Michigan State Conference,” Review and Herald, October 14, 1862, p. 157.

(2) Uriah Smith, “Divorce and Marriage,” Review and Herald, Feb. 8, 1887, p. 89.

(3) The Annual Council of the General Conference Committee, General Actions, October 13-21, 1976, Washington, D.C.

(4) The record of the 1879 meeting, at which divorce and remarriage was discussed, was never published. The quotations given here are from the handwritten minutes of the 1879 General Conference Session. These minutes are in the General Conference Archives. A fuller quotation of the relevant portion of the minutes can be found in the unpublished manuscript of Bert Haloviak, “Law or Compassion: SDA Approaches to Divorce, Remarriage and Church Fellowship,” presented to the General Conference Divorce and Remarriage Study Commission, meeting in Hoddeston, England, September 14-16, 1997 (available on the General Conference Archives and Statistics website: www.adventist.org/ast). The most comprehensive historical, ethical, and sociological account of Adventists’ treatment of divorce and remarriage is in Michael Pearson, Millennial Dreams and Moral Dilemmas: Seventh-day Adventism and Contemporary Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 182-228.

(5) Ellen White, Manuscript 2, 1913.

(6) W.C. White, Jan. 6, 1931 quoted in Elbio Pereyra, “Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Writings of Ellen G. White,” unpublished manuscript, Ellen G. White Estate, Feb., 1987.

(7) In addition to the compilations of Ellen White statements in Adventist Home, Selected Messages, vol. 2, and Testimonies on Sexual Behavior, Adultery and Divorce, the following manuscript releases from the Ellen White Estate have aided the church in continuing to experience the influence of Ellen White’s ministry:
“The Spirit of Prophecy and Adultery, Divorce, Remarriage, and Church Membership,” Manuscript release 448, August, 1975.
“Dealing with Ministers and Workers Who Have Violated the Seventh Commandment,” Manuscript release 449, August, 1975.
“Ellen G. White Counsels Relating to Adultery, Divorce and Remarriage,” a compilation by Robert Olson, June, 1976.
“Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Writings of Ellen G. White,” by Elbie Pereyra, Feb., 1987.
“Summary of Biblical and E.G. White References to Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage,” by Teofilo Ferreira, 1997.

(8) See, for example, the accounts in Elbio Pereyra, “Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Writings of Ellen G. White.” Cited above.

(9) Ellen White, Letter 175, 1901 quoted in Selected Messages, vol. 2, pp. 341-42.

(10) “Actions of the Autumn Council of the General Conference Committee,” Meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, Oct., 1925.

(11) On this point see B. Haloviak, p. 7 of manuscript cited above.

(12) General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Church Manual, 1932, pp. 175-77.

(13) General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Church Manual, 1942, pp. 187-89.

(14) General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Church Manual, 1951, p. 240.

(15) General Actions of the 1976 Annual Council of the General Conference Committee, pp. 25-33.

(16) It should be noted that the 1977 Annual Council of the General Conference Committee voted to amend Appendix C of the 1976 statement, resulting in a shorter list of examples of “fornication.” The 1977 statement reads, in part, “Gross sexual perversion, including homosexual practices, are recognized as a misuse of sexual powers and a violation of the divine intention in marriage. As such they are just cause for divorce.” General Actions of the Annual Council, Oct., 1977.

(17) Following the 1977 Autumn Council’s revised statement on the matter, the Church Manual of 1995 reads: “Unfaithfulness to the marriage vow has generally been seen to be adultery and/or fornication. However, the New Testament word for fornication includes certain other sexual irregularities. (I Cor. 6:9; I Tim. 1:9, 10; Rom. 1:24-27) Therefore, sexual perversions, including homosexual practices, are also recognized as a misuse of sexual powers and a violation of the divine intention in marriage. As such they are just cause for divorce.” Church Manual, 1995, p. 182.

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