“As our numbers increased, it was evident that without some form of organization there would be great confusion, and the work would not be carried forward successfully. To provide for the support of the ministry, for carrying the work in new fields, for protecting both the churches and the ministry from unworthy members, for holding church property, for the publication of the truth through the press, and for many other objects, organization was indispensable.”
~ General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. (2005). Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, 17th edition. Retrieved from http://www.adventist.org/beliefs/church_manual/Seventh-day-Adventist-Church-Manual-17th-edition.pdf.
The Seventh-Day Adventist Church organization is “representative” – that is, it recognizes that the authority in the church rests in the church membership which have representatives serve in church governance. While it is a centralized government, it is essentially a weak centralized government.
“Every member of the church has a voice in choosing officers of the church. The church chooses the officers of the state conferences. Delegates chosen by the state conferences choose the officers of the union conferences, and delegates chosen by the union conferences choose the officers of the General Conference. By this arrangement every conference, every institution, every church, and every individual, either directly or through representatives, has a voice in the election of the men who bear the chief responsibilities in the General Conference.”
What can we learn from our theological cousins? What are their fruits?
1. The organization, although highly structured, allows a lot of leeway for doctrinal beliefs. For example, many of them celebrate Christmas, while others shun it and keep the Biblical holy days.
2. As a consequence, they promote an atmosphere of tolerance towards differences of opinion to a degree unknown in most COGs. Admittedly, this can be a two-edged sword, but it forces them to respond with graciousness towards those who differ with them.
3. They place an emphasis upon evangelism, both corporate and personal. As a consequence, they equip their members to be able to give coherent answers to theological questions and give a verbal witness to others. They are a larger and more well known organization.
4. They organize to build hospitals, schools, etc. They are well known for their good works, which can also be used as an evangelistic tool rather than causing a concern for “wasting money”.
5. Hungry people, uneducated people and sick people are not as likely to respond to the Gospel message.
6. People in general will respond to kindness. People in general will stay in an organization where they feel loved and welcome.
7. Because of all of the above, they have been very effective at shrugging off attacks and criticisms of being a cult.