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Reinstating Former Members in the SDA Church - May 2015
Reinstating  those  previously  removed  from  membership
in  the  Seventh-day  Adventist  Church

 Members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church facing discipline have rights to “due process” to insure a fair hearing (see Church Manual page 64, 65) and if the congregation votes to remove them from membership they have rights for reinstatement and appeal. 
The church manual describes two processes for former members to return to the church, one for appeal when they believe they have been treated unfairly, and the other is for those who repent and seek to rejoin the church in a different congregation ( read page 66, 67 ). This article will mostly deal with the second process.
“Those previously removed may be received again into membership when the period assigned by the church in a business meeting is concluded, when confession of wrongs committed is made, evidence is given of real repentance and change of life . . . Such reinstatement should preferably be in the church from which the member was dismissed. However, when this is not possible, the church where the person is requesting reinstatement must seek information from the former church about the reasons for which the person was removed from membership.
Church Manual, page 66
 When the period of time is concluded, a former member can seek membership at a new church (rather than returning to the one that removed him). The church manual says the new Church must seek this information from the former church. It â€‹could say the former member has the right to know what the reason is for his disfellowship before he demonstrates it has been resolved, but usually they know the reason. Either way it is written the required action is to contact the former church. The obvious thinking here is not to accept the reason and the waiting time presented by the former member because it is better to get the official reason and related information from the former church. However, are these reasons enough to use the word “must” and not the word “should” since asking for the official reason from the church is a common sense approach, and certainly makes more sense than to accept the former member’s story of what happened. 
The Church Manual gives us some additional help in the section titled: 
Right of Appeal for Reinstatement
“While  it  is  the  right  of  the  church  to  administer  discipline,  this  does  not  set  aside  the  rights  of members  to  seek  fairness.  .  .”
 Church Manual, page 67
The principle described here is that discipline is always in the context of fairness because God is a righteous judge and fairness is God’s way of dealing with the erring ( see SoP quotes ) and fairness is the basis for reinstatement and for appeals. When a former member chooses reinstatement in a different church, the process requires the former member to demonstrate the issues have been resolved, and fairness requires knowing the official reason that he or she was removed from membership. Not what the former member says, or what the new church may have heard but the official reason from the former church.
However, is this right to seek fairness enough to justify the word must? Let’s look closer at the same paragraph on page 67
“While it is the right of the church to administer discipline, this does not set aside the rights of members to seek fairness .  .  .  the former members have a right to appeal in writing to the church for a hearing.  The church should not neglect or refuse to grant such hearings.”
 Church Manual, page 67
The church should not neglect or refuse to grant this appeal.  Notice it says "should" instead of “must” as it does on page 66. And the procedure is written giving another right to the member if the church does refuse. But why is "must" used on page 66 and not on page 67?
 I believe one answer is found in the section:
Authority and Function of the Church  
"The standards and practices of the Church are based upon the principles of the Holy Scriptures. These principles, underscored by the Spirit of Prophecy, are set forth in this Church Manual. They are to be followed in all matters pertaining to the administration and operation of local churches. The Church Manual also defines the relationship that exists between the local congregation and the conference or other entities of SDA denominational organization. No attempt should be made to set up standards of membership or to make, or attempt to enforce, rules or regulations for local church operations that are contrary to these decisions adopted by the General Conference in Session and that are set forth in this Church Manual."
Church Manual, page 18, 19
This paragraph is amazingly precise, it establishes the authority of the Church Manual as the standard of operation and confirms that the "standards of membership" must be in harmony with the decisions adopted by the General Conference in Session and presented in the Church Manual. This emplasis shows the importance of maintaining "standards of membership" and clearly says no other standard should be made and no attempt to enforce different rules contrary to the rules about membership. 
 Asking a former member to demonstrate that issues have been resolved before establishing what the issues are is not only unfair to both parties but it sets up a standard for membership which is contrary to what appears in the church manual. Therefore, requesting information from the former church is one of the first actions to be taken by the church receiving the request to join.
Another reason from Chapter 6
In Chapter 6 of the Church Manual is about Membership there is a sentence on page 54 which is of high value to this discussion.
Church Manual: Chapter 6 --  Membership
 Membership is a personal relationship of an individual to the body of Christ, and a church should recognize this relationship and avoid any action that might be construed as arbitrary.      Page 54
In first person terms it says that my membership is my personal relationship to the body of Christ, and the “church should recognize this relationship”  It should be recognized that God brings people into His church, without God the church can do nothing.  Matthew 13 says that Satan also beings people into the church, and this mixture of members is called the wheat and the tares. Scripture in Matthew 13 says not to uproot the tares, but to let them grow together until the harvest. Human judgment is not capable to determine who are the wheat and who are the tares, so the church is instructed to allow them both to exist in the church.
Jesus answered and said, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.
Matthew 15: verse 13    [ KJV ] 
When unfair practices are used to discipline a member it is possible that God is not involved and the church could be uprooting  a  wheat  when  they  should  not even  uproot  a  tare.  That is why there are clear reasons for church discipline found on page 61 and 62.
Continuing from the Manual page 54 and avoid any action that might be construed as arbitrary.” The dictionary definition of arbitrary is helpful, you should know that arbitrary decisions are made on whim or impulse and not decided by reason, rules, or principle. In addition to a dictionary definition, God has blessed us with insight from the pen of Ellen White. Arbitrary appears in 286 places, but we can narrow that down by considering the two word phrase “as arbitrary” which appears nine times. Inspiration tells us 'arbitrary' is an attribute of Satan himself.  http://www.diggingfortruth.org/article/3866/
 Could this be why the Church Manual says avoid it?  because you are entering into Satan’s methods.
Another aspect of this discussion should focus on the phrase “when that is not possible” found on page 66. "Such reinstatement should preferably be in the church from which the member was dismissed, However, when that is not possible, the church where the person is requesting reinstatement must . . . "
 The church receiving the request may say, “Your former church is five miles away, it is possible, therefore, we reject your request on that grounds.”
 This word  "possible"  is interjected into the paragraph before it also. "When person have been removed, the church should, where possible, maintain contact and manifest the spirit of friendship and love, endeavoring to bring them back to the Lord."
Notice the difference in qualifiers words about possible, in the first quote the qualifier is "should preferably" and in the second quote it is just "the church should" – the former church has the former member's address, phone # and e-mail and it is certainly possible for them to make contact. But many times they don't.  So in the case where the church that removed a member unfairly and does not “manifest the spirit of friendship and love and does not endeavor to bring them back to the Lord"  but instead, refuses to talk to the former member, spreads gossip and lies, and has driven out of the church the friends that voted against removal. Is the former member required to go back to this church that treated them so badly and unfairly. Remember, it is the choice of the former member to appeal based on unfair practices or to wait for the “period assigned by the church” and go to another church for a fresh start.
I believe the answer is in the word "PREFERABLY" - - but just whose preference is it?
I believe the former member has a choice to return to the former church or to start fresh at a new church, but some believe the new Church has the choice to say we don't want you.
The answer is both - the new church can say do we don't want you, but the correct process is for that only after the member has made an attempt to demonstrate that the issues have been resolved. ( see page 67 ). The church can not make that determination until they know what the reasons for removal were, and the church manual does not let the member inform the new church, it says, "the church where the person is requesting reinstatement MUST seek information from the former church about the reason for which the person was removed"  
After they hear what the former member has to say, then, they can decide if they are satified enough to let him join the church.  The former member is given the choice of going back to an uncomfortable situation or to start fresh in a new church.  
Consider the case where a member is not removed from membership, but just leaves the church, and then the Lord brings them back, they are not required to return to the church they left and force them to experience the same things that caused them to leave. But somehow some church boards think it is their choice, and that it is OK to set aside what the church manual says they must do because the word ‘preference’ gives them the right to choose.
The church manual says p, 66
“Those previously removed may be received again into membership when the period assigned by the church in a business meeting is concluded, when confession of wrongs committed is made, evidence is given of real repentance and change of life, and the life is consistent with Church standards and it is clear that the member will fully submit to Church order and discipline.”
It is up to the member to decide these things and for some it is a hard decision to repent and change their life,  the church can not force them to do these things, So when the member requests to be reinstated in the church, it should be because the former member feels they can meet these conditions and give the evidence which is required.
When the member thinks they are ready and willing to rejoin the church, the church must consider the request. That is why it says MUST. 
Remember, "While it is the right of the church to administer discipline, this does not set aside the rights of member to seek fairness.”  Fairness dictates that the member be given a chance to be heard and present evidence of repentance and a changed life.
I conclude with a quote from the Mark Finley's article published in the May  9, 2015 issue of Adventist Review where he devotes a section to fairness.
  “This wise counsel speaks volumes to the issue before us today. God values fairness. Each side must be given equal opportunity to freely share their views. The perception must not be that one side or the other is manipulating the process or controlling the flow of information. Fairness de­mands that both sides of a question be heard equally. When the information has been clearly presented and prayerfully considered and a decision finally made, both sides will be able to say, “The process was fair. There was open discus­sion, honest dialogue, and now the debate is over. We re­spect the decision of the corporate Body of Christ.”
  I pray that, if the Lord tarries, future generations will be able to look back on this pivotal moment in Adventist his­tory with the sense that the process was fair. And I have every confidence they will, for the integrity of the process is as equally important as the outcome in God’s eyes.”
   Mark Finley, article in Adventist Review, May 9, 2015

I like the last line about the integrity of the process is as equally important as the outcome in God’s eyes. Pastors and Church Boards should apply the principle of fairness to every request to join the church and to recognize that God could be bringing that soul to the church.
In 2013, David Trim presented startling statistics about membership to the Annual Council
"From 2000 to 2012, more than 13.6 million people joined the church, mostly through baptism. But during the same time, 5.9 million Adventists were lost (and that doesn’t include those who died). That’s a loss rate of nearly 43.4 per 100 new converts. “That is too high,” Trim said."
Click Here for more info  http://news.adventist.org/all-news/news/go/2013-10-17/landmark-survey-reveals-in-depth-beliefs-perceptions-of-adventist-members/ 
Update:  Report to Annual Council - Oct. 2016
by G.T. Ng, Executive Secretary of General Conference

Membership loss has increased to 49% (one out of every two members leaves the church)
Click to read article in Adventist Review

I hope that people reading this article will pray that the church finds ways of bringing disfellowshipped people who want to rejoin the SDA church, back into the church. One way is to correctly understand that disfellowship is not punishment that has to follow them to every church they visit or want to help.  I urge Pastors and Church Board members to study the process for Reinstating former members and not add burdens and obstacles that prevent them from re-entering the church.


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