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What Would Ellen White Say to Church Leaders?

This blog post was written for the Spectrum Blog and was posted on August 15, 2012 here.

Last week I asked what Martin Luther King would say about the current ordination struggle. Today I am asking what Ellen White would say.

In The Great Controversy, White writes about Martin Luther’s experience before the Diet of Worms. In this chapter, she hails Luther as a great model of faith who was willing to stand up for his convictions despite great opposition and risk of personal peril.

During his trial at the Diet of Worms, Luther was told that he must either retract his writings or face severe consequences. White records Luther’s response:
“The Reformer answered: ‘Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require from me a clear, simple, and precise answer, I will give you one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the councils, because it is clear as the day that they have frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture or by the clearest reasoning, unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted, and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the word of God, I cannot and I will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other; may God help me. Amen.’" (160)
In my opinion, the most disturbing part of the entire debate surrounding women’s ordination came during Elder Ted Wilson’s appearance on 3ABN last week. In an hour-long interview, he referred to those of us fighting in favor of women’s ordination as having “moral convictions.” However, the key word he kept on saying over and over again was “submission.” In Wilson’s opinion, we need to submit our moral convictions for the sake of the unity of the church.

Yet, we cannot do this because “it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience.”

White states that Luther’s bold speech had a powerful effect on all those present:
“The partisans of Rome had been worsted; their cause appeared in a most unfavorable light. They sought to maintain their power, not by appealing to the Scriptures, but by a resort to threats, Rome's unfailing argument” (161).
It has been widely noted that in the GC’s first document appealing for unity, that there was not a single mention of Scripture. They have since put out a second document which now starts with a quote from Jesus’ prayer in John 17, has a reference to Acts 15, and is titled “An Appeal for Oneness in Christ.” It appears they belatedly caught their omission and tried to fix it but their true intentions were not missed. 

The new letter also contains a carefully-worded threat when it states, “The action taken by the Columbia Union Conference represents a serious threat to the unity of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church, and thus, at its next meeting in October 2012, the General Conference Executive Committee will carefully review the situation and determine how to respond.” This not only puts the Columbia Union on notice, but is also meant to warn the Pacific Union that there will be consequences if they join the Columba Union in ordaining women.

History surely repeats itself as once again those in power seek to maintain it not by appealing to Scripture, but instead, resorting to threats.

Later in the chapter, White continues to laud the great courage and conviction of Luther:
“Had the Reformer yielded a single point, Satan and his hosts would have gained the victory. But his unwavering firmness was the means of emancipating the church, and beginning a new and better era. The influence of this one man, who dared to think and act for himself in religious matters, was to affect the church and the world, not only in his own time, but in all future generations. His firmness and fidelity would strengthen all, to the close of time, who should pass through a similar experience. The power and majesty of God stood forth above the counsel of men, above the mighty power of Satan” (166).
I hope we all have that same “unwavering firmness” which will help “emancipate” this church to bring on a “new and better era.” Let us not be afraid to think and act for ourselves because it will serve as a witness for future generations.

The final quotation I will share speaks directly to Elder Wilson’s call for submission despite our moral convictions. She writes:
“After his departure, still desirous that his firmness should not be mistaken for rebellion, Luther wrote to the emperor. "God, who is the searcher of hearts, is my witness," he said, "that I am ready most earnestly to obey your majesty, in honor or in dishonor, in life or in death, and with no exception save the word of God, by which man lives. In all the affairs of this present life, my fidelity shall be unshaken, for here to lose or to gain is of no consequence to salvation. But when eternal interests are concerned, God wills not that man should submit unto man. For such submission in spiritual matters is a real worship, and ought to be rendered solely to the Creator” (167).
I have spent over 20 years in Adventist education. One of the values that was instilled in me every year was the importance of standing up for what I knew to be right, no matter the cost. I was told to think and act for myself and not allow any man to control my actions. This lesson was reinforced as we learned about the Adventist pioneers who had to leave their churches in order to stand up for their beliefs and convictions. They could not remain quiet while their churches were not living up to what they believed to be true.

As a pastor, I was taught to appeal to prospective baptismal candidates to live their lives in accordance with their newfound beliefs. To encourage them to take a stand for Christ even if their families and churches tried to pressure them into maintaining the status quo for the sake of peace and unity.

This stands in stark contrast to the messages being sent to us from the GC leadership. We are now being told that we must check our convictions at the door of the church and instead submit. While we used to applaud the pioneers for fiercely standing up for their convictions, doing the same now is seen as causing dissension and disunity.

Yet, there still is a minority, dare I say, a remnant, who believe they must stand up for their convictions. Who are unwilling to sit idly by. Who agree with Luther and refuse to submit to anyone other than God.

So, to Elder Wilson, and the other denominational leaders who are attempting to force the supporters of women’s ordination to submit to their authority, let it be clearly known:

We will not submit!


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