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Suggested revisions to Adventist Church Manual include matters on discipline

Executive Committee sends edits to next July’s GC Session for consideration

Suggested revisions to Adventist Church Manual include matters on discipline

Harald Wollan, is an associate secretary of the Adventist world church and secretary of the Church Manual Committee. Here he presents suggested revisions of the manual to delegates of Annual Council on Monday, October 13. [photo: Viviene Martinelli]

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Delegates at the 2014 General Conference Annual Council this week agreed to amend some chapters of the Church Manual, including adding new details to further specify the reasons that members can face discipline.

The 13 reasons for which members can be disciplined—such as disloyalty to the church and physical violence—did not change. But the section that deals most closely with extramarital relationships was expanded to include details on specific definitions relating to sexual conduct.

The current wording on that section states that members can be disciplined for “violation of the seventh commandment of the law of God as it relates to the marriage institution, the Christian home and biblical standards of moral conduct.”

The Church Manual revision committee proposed to replace that statement with the following: “Violation of the commandment of the law of God, which reads, ‘You shall not commit adultery’ (Ex. 20:14, Matt. 5:28), as it relates to the marriage institution and the Christian home, biblical standards of moral conduct, and any act of sexual intimacy outside of a marriage relationship and/or non‑consensual acts of sexual conduct within a marriage whether those acts are legal or illegal. Such acts include but are not limited to child sexual abuse, including abuse of the vulnerable. Marriage is defined as a public, lawfully binding, monogamous, heterosexual relationship between one man and one woman.”

Delegates overwhelmingly adopted the recommended changes yesterday. The revisions will be forwarded as a proposal to be voted on at the 2015 General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas, United States.

Many of the modifications to the Church Manual were minor edits.

In one chapter, the outdated word “ordinance” was removed from the description of the communion, foot-washing ceremony and baptism. Another chapter added the word “discipleship” to emphasize that local churches should be more mission-minded to its members and the community.

A new section was added to recommend that church boards have a “mission-driven, broadly-based” finance committee or similar structure to review the budget process.

In addition, references to Adventist Youth Society, also known as AYS, were deleted and replaced with Adventist Youth Ministries, or AYM.

But the proposed amendments that drew the most attention from delegates sought to: Tighten the wording on who is allowed to address the congregation from the pulpit; clearly define that a marriage is between a “man and a woman” as opposed to the former wording, “husband and wife”; and identify the reasons for discipline on grounds of sexual immorality.

Some delegates protested the removal of the words “seventh commandment” from the discipline section and others said the section needed to be more specific, such as including a passage to deal with “inappropriate texting.”

The proposal on “unauthorized speakers” sought to remove details about who other than credentialed ministers can have speak from the pulpit. The proposal also suggested omitting a line that states that pastors who have been “removed from the ministry” shouldn’t be able to preach.

The new wording states: “Only speakers worthy of confidence will be invited to the pulpit by the church in harmony with guidelines given by the conference. Individuals who have been removed from membership or designing persons who have no authority from the church, should not be given access to the pulpit.”

Delegate Chester Clark questioned why the committee would want to adopt a position that “simply seems to be shifting from one policy that’s applied around the world to having different standards or different guidelines maybe in every conference.”

Harald Wollan, secretary of the Church Manual Committee, explained that the change would allow churches to adhere to the manual. “The majority of laypeople are not issued credentials,” Wollan said, “so what has been practiced is actually against the Church Manual and we wanted to have something in the Church Manual that actually can be followed.”