To watch Wednesday afternoon’s business Session, you can watch the YouTube replay here.
One of the most significant decisions to come out of General Conference (GC) Session 2022 was made at Wednesday afternoon’s business session (June 8), with delegates voting in favor of adding a Spirit of Prophecy Coordinator position to the Church Manual.
Now, local churches have the opportunity to appoint an individual to this role. While some churches will regard this as an exciting and positive development, others may be hesitant or harbor concern. While the rationale behind this new position is positive—to bring Ellen White’s writings back to the forefront, which have become increasingly overlooked in many Adventist churches—it also has the potential to be misused.
As such, before making a decision to appoint an individual to this position, it’s important to understand some of the concerns that were raised during Session, and how these can be mediated in practice.
This article will recount the primary events and opinions shared at Session, as well as some recommendations and practical ideas of how to best navigate this decision making process.
ORIGINAL MOTION, CONCERNS & SUPPORT
Proposed as an addition to Chapter 8 of the Church Manual, the original motion was read at Session as follows:
SPIRIT OF PROPHECY WRITINGS
The Scriptures testify that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and we believe it was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White. Her writings speak with prophetic authority and provide comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction to the Church. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested. (Num. 12:6; 2 Chron. 20:20; Amos 3:7; Joel 2:28,29; Acts 2:14-21; 2 Tim. 3:16,17; Heb. 1:1-3; Rev. 12:17; 19:10; 22:8,9).
Spirit of Prophecy Writings Coordinator—The church elects a Spirit of Prophecy writings coordinator with the responsibility of promoting the importance and right use of the Spirit of Prophecy writings, in collaboration with the publishing ministries coordinator.
After reading the statement, business session chairperson, GC vice president Artur Stele, opened the floor for comment. Of the 12 substantial opinions shared, four (one third) supported the motion, while eight (two thirds) expressed hesitancy or explicitly stood against the motion. Yet, when voting took place, the opposite was true—943 voted YES in favor of the motion (66.3%), while 480 voted NO (33.7%).
Every delegate who stepped forward to comment began by stating their appreciation for Ellen White and her writings. Most commonly, their concerns were not directly about her writings themselves, but about their context, and specifically them being considered superior to scripture.
Generally, concerns fell into three main categories: Ellen White’s writings being idolized and misused, the need for greater education and training, and the need for better Bible literacy.
Idolizing and misusing Ellen White’s writings
“Not only wrong things, but right and good things can be idolized,” said Andreas Bachmann (EUD), who took to the microphone to emphasize that although Ellen White’s writings are valuable and can be a blessing, that a Spirit of Prophecy officer may not have the intended effect. He emphasized how Ellen White’s writings are easily and freely available online, and that a church officer may have little effect in igniting enthusiasm. “Almost certainly it will feed prejudice among our fellow Christians, that we claim sola scriptura but don’t really mean it,” he said.
Steve Goods, president of the Western Australian Conference (SPD) agreed, highlighting how Ellen White’s work is often used in an unbalanced way, despite the fact that “EGW herself was a very balanced writer, a very balanced person. Unfortunately, I believe this is not going to help the church move back to that balanced position,” he said.
Ted Huskins from the Northern New England Conference (NAD) agreed, highlighting how his experience growing up in the church didn’t inspire courage in how representatives would enforce this new position. “Many well-meaning saints take on the words of the prophets and make themselves little prophets and prophetesses, but they lack the call or understanding.”
That being said, Clinton Wahlen (GC) drew to the delegates’ attention that the wording of the position specifies the “right use” of Ellen White’s writings. Nevertheless, Sandra Colon from Central California Conference (NAD) feared that people would “trample freedom of conscience as to how others would view their ‘right use’”, Wahlen emphasized the importance of education in executing this correctly.
Need for training and education
“If the church decides to create this office in the local church, I urge us to reflect upon how we can bring the proper education and qualifications to those who will serve in this office,” said Anthony Bosman (GC), who highlighted how Andrews University have a graduate certificate in Ellen White and Adventist Studies helping students to use her writings in balance. “We should partner with other institutions to create that balance so everyone can enjoy them for the gift they are,” he said.
Australian Union Conference (SPD) president Terry Johnson made a similar statement during Thursday afternoon’s business session, which although not in order, spoke to this same point. “Without clarity, local church leaders could interpret this new initiative differently and that could lead to increased disunity from one church to the next, even though they may be neighbors. I move that the Biblical Research Institute and the Ellen G. White Estate produce a document forthwith that will serve as a guideline about what constitutes proper and improper use,” he said.
Need for increased Bible literacy
While increased education and understanding of Ellen White’s writings specifically was a concern, another was the lack of Biblical literacy in general, and how a discrepancy between reading the Bible and reading Ellen White’s writings may reflect the Church’s priorities.
Initially raising this concern was Kayle de Wall (TED), an associate professor at Avondale University, who spoke from his experience in the Adventist education system for more than a decade. He said, “Evidence tells us that most young people don’t know their Bibles. They don’t know the basic scriptures of the gospels, Paul’s writings. Even people training for ministry! Do we have a ‘reading the Bible’ coordinator in the church manual?”
Clinton Wahlen (GC) counteracted this point by suggesting that “we actually do have Bible reading coordinators in every church, just under a different name—the Sabbath school coordinator.”
Later on, Randy Roberts (NAD), who made the final comment before voting, also expressed concerns about Bible literacy, saying, “I would really like to encourage our members to stop reading about the Bible, and to start reading the Bible,” arguing that prioritizing the reading of EGW has lead many Adventists away from reading the Bible itself.
Main concerns & practical fixes for local churches
While the motion to add a Spirit of Prophecy coordinator to the Church Manual was ultimately passed, some churches may still feel hesitant to fill the position, or believe that there are no means to mediate their concerns. However, there are practical measures that local churches can take to ensure that the position be used as healthily as possible, to be a blessing to members.
i. Take it to prayer
Pray that the Holy Spirit will guide you to select the best possible person to fill the role in your congregation. Pray both individually and corporately, and be willing to put aside biases and follow His leading.
ii. Understand correct principles of interpretation
The importance of education and training to properly understand Ellen White’s writings cannot be underestimated. Gratefully, the Ellen G. White Estate have a valuable resource outlining these principles that every Spirit of Prophecy coordinator would benefit from reading: https://whiteestate.org/legacy/issues-herm-pri-html/
Alternatively, your local church could sponsor the Spirit of Prophecy coordinator to take a subject or course at a local Adventist college or institution, if there is one available, or you could contact your local Conference to set up training for all the churches in your area.
iii. Host a business meeting
If your local church is unsure about how to move forward, holding a business meeting could be beneficial. Encourage a wide range of people to attend—especially young people, who may be statistically more hesitant toward Ellen White’s writings, and allow everyone to voice their opinions equally. See if you can come to agreement on how the Spirit of Prophecy coordinator role might best benefit your members, and be implemented in your local church.
iv. Appoint a Bible reading coordinator
If your church is worried about the balance of focus between Ellen White’s writings and the Bible itself, it may be valuable for you to invest more resources and time into assisting the Sabbath School coordinator, or to appoint someone to be a “Bible reading coordinator”. Reigniting small groups ministries is also a great way to encourage people to become readers of the Word.