Study of Church Governance and Unity   by GC Secretariat                

                                 published September 25, 2016 
 ( PDF file )


                                                                         I.    Introduction 

   This study of the foundations and function of Seventh-day Adventist Church policy and its relationship to unity brings together references from the Bible, the Spirit of Prophecy, and Adventist history for the purpose of informing and guiding the Church in relation to policies concerning the ordaining and credentialing of Seventh-day Adventist pastors. It also contributes to the discussion about unity in light of the vote at the 2015 General Conference (GC) Session not to allow divisions to decide on the matter of women’s ordination in their territories. As we move forward, there will continue to be dialogue at administrative levels regarding the issue of compliance with policy.​
     But what is the connection between unity and policy? The present GC Working Policy is the fruit of 150 years of collegial, prayerful, and frequently prolonged discussions among church leaders from around the world chosen by church members to represent them. Measures became policy only when a majority agreed on them, and usually only after a wider consensus was reached. Although the GC Working Policy is set out in numbered and lettered paragraphs, its chief purpose is not to produce a perfect bureaucratic system but to foster unity and mission. Its role in promoting unity has assumed even greater importance as a result of developments since the 2015 GC Session, arising from its vote on ordination.
   Ever since the Seventh-day Adventist Church first established criteria for the ordination of ministers at the 18th GC Session in 1879, the world Church has set such criteria. Since 1930, the GC Executive Committee has delegated to unions responsibility for selecting candidates for ordination, based on the criteria set by the world Church. (1) 
   Starting in 2012, however, a few unions have, in effect, claimed the right to set criteria for ordination, disregarding the 1990 GC Session action not to allow women to be ordained to gospel ministry, (2) and the decisions of the 1995 and 2015 Sessions not to allow variances from this policy. Since the 2015 GC Session, some unions and conferences have diverged from GC Working Policy by discontinuing ordinations, and commissioning or licensing all new pastors; issuing ministerial licenses and/or commissioned-minister credentials or licenses to all pastors in their territories, including those previously ordained; and allowing commissioned or licensed ministers to function as ordained ministers. 
   This study articulates the world Church’s position on ordination, ecclesiastical governance, and church unity. It explores the relevant issues at a greater length than is possible in a summative statement. While it analyzes GC Working Policy and other governing documents of the Church, because Adventists hold that “the Holy Scriptures are the supreme, authoritative, and the infallible revelation of [God’s] will” and that the writings of Ellen G White “speak with prophetic authority and provide comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction to the church,” (3) it also considers passages from the Scriptures and the Spirit of Prophecy that provide important context for the provisions of denominational policy. Church organization and governance, like all aspects of church life, should be based on the Bible, as Ellen White indicated shortly after the landmark 1901 reorganization of the Church. (4) This study shows that there is a spiritual and theological dimension to policy compliance—that sometimes complying with church policies, is a matter of living according to biblical principles, and applying Christ’s commands to the life of the Church. The study sketches out important historical and contemporary principles of Adventist Church governance and in particular our practice and policies relating to church workers engaged in pastoral ministry. It makes the case that inspired writings, our history, and denominational policy all plainly indicate that unions and conferences should not unilaterally depart from what has been agreed by the world Church.




1. Anchor See “Unions and Ordination,” GC Secretariat Statement (Aug. 2015), available at https://www.


 2.Anchor  Fifty-fifth Session, July 11, 1990, Session minutes in GCC Minutes, 1990: 1039–40 (available at ). See below, n.160.

 3.Anchor  “Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists,” nos. 1 and 18. The Fundamental Beliefs are printed in the Yearbook (Seventh-day Adventist Church Yearbook 2016, 6–9), and are available

 4.Anchor  Ellen G. White, “Consumers, but not Producers,” April 25, 1901 (i.e., two days after the conclusion of the GC Session of that year), MS 35, 1901: “The Lord declares that His church is not to be governed by human rules or precedents. . . . I am oppressed with the thought of the objectionable human management seen in our work.” It should instead be a manifestation of “truth-loving, Bible-believing Christians” (emphasis supplied).


                                     Continue to next section II.  Unity and Policy​

Related Information

Study of Church Governance and Unity - Sept. 2016 3. Role of Policy II. Unity and Policy III - Diversity, Unity and Authority IV. Authority in Spirit of Prophecy V. Unilateralism VI. Application VII.  Conclusion