In response to the General Conference Administrative Committee’s latest recommendations for addressing entities out of compliance and their subsequent formation of five compliance committees, the North German Union and South German Union presidents on Sept. 7 issued the following joint statement (translated into English):
The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (ADCOM) voted and published on Tuesday, July 17, two documents1 recommended by the Unity Oversight Committee that will be submitted to the Executive Committee in October 2018 for acceptance.
The documents describe a church legal process for Unions, associations and/or their leaders who are not in conformity with our rules or beliefs.
In addition, we learned from an unofficial source (Spectrum magazine) that at the same time a whole system of so-called “Compliance Committees” had been set up, to which the ADCOM (GC Administrative Committee) gave far-reaching authorizations. Each of these “Compliance Committees” is staffed by about a dozen people, almost all of whom are church employees.
As regards the documents and the establishment of the “Compliance Committees,” we respond as follows:
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a worldwide church, the foundation of which are the local churches. In order to lead a universal Church, we have therefore given ourselves a representative system to guide the Church as an organization and as a community of believers. In the recent initiative of the world church leadership, we see a threatening development towards a hierarchical church structure, which we will resolutely oppose.
1. Our Understanding of the Church
The Church is based on the call of Jesus to human beings: “Come and follow me” (Mark 2:15, 10:21, John 1:43, 12:26). Thus, every person is encouraged to enter into a personal relationship with God.
The ‘yes’ of people to God is a free decision and first describes a relationship of trust between two persons: God and the individual.
Every believer lives by his faith, a life that is equally committed to freedom and commitment, maturity and solidarity, self-determination and responsibility for others.
Where people profess and follow God together, they form a church, a church based on biblical principles and values. Communal life is organized by persons, spiritual gifts, and teaching (Acts 6, Ephesians 4, 1 Timothy 3, 2 Timothy 1:13-14). Structures are important to the well-being of a community. They have a serving character and give orientation.
The central understanding of the Church as the Body of Jesus (1 Corinthians 12) and as an organization is that we are united by faith in Jesus. That means:
Faith: In the church as an organization, each individual always lives first “by faith”, i.e., from his personal knowledge, which God gives him and from his free and independent decision of conscience, which he meets before God. If structures oppose the conscience, the whole community must work to find ways to develop them, as the New Testament confirms: Acts 15; Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 10.
Jesus: He is the foundation (1 Corinthians 3), the cornerstone (1 Peter 2), who carries everything and holds it together. The community is a dynamic, living building and not static.
2. Unity in the Church
The unity of the church is accomplished and guaranteed by Jesus alone. (John 17:20-23)
The quality of this unity is unmistakable: “As you, Father, are in me and I in you, so shall they be in us…”
Unity, therefore, is first an undeserved gift, founded solely in God, and thus stands before any human effort. For many reasons, there is no complete correspondence between this unity of God and a concrete ecclesiastical framework. Nor will it be realized in this world, even within our church.
With Jesus, unity and love, trust and freedom, are considered together, and only then does God, the Redeemer, become known. As the Seventh-day Adventist church, we can confidently follow this path of unity in diversity.
In our responsibility to our churches in Germany, we are guided by this understanding of the church and on unity, because that is the essence of the church.
The documents and the work of the Compliance Committees mark a change of direction in the basic understanding of church leadership: In place of trust, tolerance, respect, conflict resolution and dialogue in controversy, pressure, control, surveillance and the stigmatization of individuals occur. This significantly increases the undercurrents of schism within the church and turns the effort/prayer for unity into the opposite.
The documents and work of the Compliance Committees foster a spirit of mistrust, criticism, assessment, and judgment. This is contrary to the spirit of the gospel.
The public stigmatization of people is unacceptable because it damages their dignity. We expressly distance ourselves from this.
The existing rules in our church are sufficient to intervene in cases of problems or conflicts. The existing instruments and procedures give us a lot of room to maneuver.
For this reason, we decidedly reject the documents presented by the World Church leadership and the establishment of the “Compliance Committees,” because it does not meet our understanding of church, and how to lead a church.
As part of our mandate as members of the GC Executive Committee, we will work to ensure that the proposed regulations in these documents are rejected.
Werner Dullinger, President, South German Union
Johannes Naether, President, North German Union
1“Regard for and Practice of General Conference Session and General Conference Executive Committee Actions” and “Terms of Reference for Compliance Committees”
The original statement in German is available here.