Unfellowship

Posted Oct 13, 2011 by Gary Hullquist in Adventist Issues Hits: 8,195

August 7, 2011 the local Seventh-day Adventist church that we have been attending for the past 12 years here in northern Georgia voted to disfellowship me and my friend, James, both elders in the church, the church of my childhood in which I had been a member for 54 years. Why? This was done not because we denied “faith in the fundamentals of the gospel” for we gladly believe God so loved this world that He sent His Son, the Son of God, who became the Son of man, lived by the indwelling of his Father a perfect life, tempted as we are but without sin, who died innocently and voluntarily to redeem us from death and the power of sin, to save us from our sins (not in them), and who comes to us and lives in us by His Spirit, giving us victory over sin, and who will soon return to take us home to be with him and his Father.

Nor was it taken because we were worshipping idols, stealing, or practicing profanity, gambling, Sabbathbreaking, lying or committing murder; not for immorality, fornication, promiscuity, incest, or homosexuality; not for exhibiting physical violence or engaging in fraudulent activity, nor disorderly conduct; not for the use, manufacture, or sale of alcoholic beverages, tobacco, narcotics or other drugs—all of which are listed as reasons for disciplinary action on page 195 of the latest SDA Church manual.

Rather a group of 35 local church members some as young as 10 years old voted against 24 to remove our names from membership in the world-wide body of Seventh-day Adventist believers because we were charged with denying faith in one of the current cardinal doctrines of the church, Fundamental Belief number 2, the Trinity.

This action was taken because we had studied the issue for over four years, engaged with two previous pastors over a number of months in presenting over 400 PowerPoint slides of Scripture and Spirit of Prophecy statements detailing the original position of the Adventist pioneers who believed in the literal Son of God, begotten of the Father in eternity, and because we discovered fellowship with other Adventist brothers and sisters who had come to the same understanding.

Although we were accused of being divisive (because nearly half the church membership found joy and encouragement in knowing “the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He had sent”), we were sensitive to the need for maintaining a quiet profile, not making our beliefs prominent  within the church, nor criticizing the General Conference or its leadership. This attitude was strengthened when we discovered Adrian’s website and became acquainted with the performance-relationship value system, the channel of blessing, and the Fountarian Covenant which we quickly embraced. We discovered a whole community of like believers around the world and soon began to talk of plans to meet together in Australia. This culminated in the Port Macquarie Conference in September, 2010.

During those meetings with Terry Hill and Corey McCain, we wrote a letter of appeal to the newly elected General Conference president, commending him for his position on the literal reading of God’s Word and upholding the historical beliefs of the Adventist pioneers.  I had initially hoped to personally deliver the letter to Elder Wilson at Fall Council, but instead had to settle for a meeting with Dr. Gerhardt Pfandl, an associate director of the Biblical Research Institute in the General Conference which was scheduled for November 8, 2010. So I overnighted the letter to our GC president, listing a long list of supporters from around the world field with my name and address for the contact.

The meeting with Dr. Pfandl was a pleasant and spiritual experience which I still treasure. He graciously received me into his office and was most interested in my background as a missionary and having just visited Avondale in Australia where he once taught. I discovered that he had been given the letter I had sent to Ted Wilson but had not read it yet. He promised to respond after he had a chance to review it. We discussed many aspects of our pioneer faith and the changes that have occurred. He was quite interested in the series of texts in John’s gospel which spoke of Christ coming out of the Father and promised to study this more.

During this time we made several appeals to invite our new pastor to also investigate our findings and help us understand and explore the Scriptures together.  He declined to meet personally, but offered to exchange emails as a way to make thoughtful well-prepared discussions. Yet after two email exchanges his responses ceased.

Our pastor had begun to promote several new initiatives: a Baptist book which we were to study on Wednesday nights, Natural Church Development, dual projectors and a special presentation program which he believed would greatly enhance “church growth.”  When the pastor suggested that the church form several small group meetings, we eagerly participated and a group of nearly a dozen participants continued to meet weekly for over six months.

Shortly after returning from Australia, we began to plan for another conference that could be held in the US. In November we made arrangements with a local state park to reserve cabins and a meeting hall for a weekend six months later.  In January Adrian contacted Dr. Pfandl, who had been one of his professors at Avondale, and arranged a meeting with him that would shortly follow the close of the April conference here in Georgia where he would be the featured speaker.

It was in early April of this year that we gathered with others from around the country and Australia to hear a number of presentations from Adrian and others plus testimonials on how Christ’s inheritance and the channel of blessing from his Father brought value and victory to our lives. That weekend had a profound effect on the lives of all who attended. But Amicalola also became a focus of contention.

Though the conference had been scheduled 6 months earlier, a few weeks before the meetings were to occur we saw that communion was also scheduled for the same weekend.  We made arrangements for others to cover for us and notified the church board that we would be on vacation that weekend.  We had not promoted the meetings at church, but when our pastor learned that we were going to be at a religious retreat, we invited him to come and even offered to provide him a room in one of the cabins we had reserved for those attending.

He came Sabbath afternoon but only for one hour and left even though the next speaker was to discuss reaching Muslims, which we thought would be of special interest to our pastor since he often spoke of his student missionary experience in Indonesia and what a challenge it was living in an Islamic community. We were disappointed that he did not experience more of the content of the meetings.

On Tuesday, April 12, we flew up to Washington, D.C. for our scheduled appointment with Dr. Pfandl at the General Conference headquarters. Sadly, he informed us, when we emailed him to confirm our appointment, that he was having a flair-up of a chronic ailment and would not be able to meet with us the following day. Again, we were very disappointed.  The following day I received an email from Ekkehardt Mueller, another associate at the BRI with a document he had written in response to the “coming out” texts I had introduced to Gerhardt. It, too, was disappointing in making no mention of any Adventist authors but rather quoted a dozen other Protestant and Catholic authorities. We continued on our tour of Historic Adventist sites in New England including William Millar’s Chapel in New York.

We had made arrangements with the caretakers to have Sabbath services in the chapel which is actually owned by the first day Adventists but graciously provided for SDA’s to use on Sabbaths. We enjoyed a sermon by Adrian on William Millar’s Rules of Interpretation and the historical context in which they were developed.  We then had communion and foot washing, after which the caretakers inquired about how such a diverse group (from Maine, New York, Georgia, and Australia) had come together.  We tried to avoid discussing anything controversial, rather expressing our interest in Adventist history. But they were persistent and seemed eager to know more about the basis of our connections through the internet.

After returning back home, I was on the schedule for giving the Sabbath School lesson, the Nursing Home sermonette in the afternoon, Weight Loss program presentation Monday evening, Small Group discussion Tuesday evening, and when Wednesday night prayer meeting had me scheduled for that as well, I gladly accepted the offer by one of the conference attendees who was still visiting to give a Bible study on the 144,000 that evening. It was a welcome relief!

His talk was primarily from Scripture and a couple SOP quotations including “We are to look to the man Christ Jesus, who is complete in the perfection of righteousness and holiness. He is the author and finisher of our faith. He is the pattern man. His experience is the measure of the experience that we are to gain. His character is our model.”  Then she said, “Let us strive with all the power that God has given us to be among the hundred and forty-four thousand” (RH March 9, 1905).  {7BC 970.10}

At this, the head elder strongly voiced his disapproval of “striving” and that we could not be saved by works. He had heard nothing but legalism from 144,000 fanatics and he was not going to tolerate this in his church. We were quite surprised at his reaction and tried to assure him that even Jesus said, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate” Luke 13:24.

It was soon after this that our pastor informed us that the General Conference had received complaints that we had misrepresented ourselves as real Seventh-day Adventists at the William Miller chapel and asked for a statement of what we believed.  I provided him with a set of the Theos magazines.

Then we began to receive emails from the pastor requesting that we not share our theological opinions with others, that this was causing “division in the church.” This was surprising as we had no intension of causing trouble but sensed that a case was being built to justify some future action. We had not been passing out any literature except to those who asked for it. We approached none of the church members but only answered those who approached us. I decided that we needed to have a meeting of the six church elders as three of our group were elders and it would be good to have an open discussion rather than unilateral background comments being made—a certain recipe for division!  So at the beginning of May I suggested that we have a meeting of the elders to personally discuss our relationships and understandings.

This occurred on May 22.  We were told that our version of Jesus robbed him of his power as being an eternal, self-existent person in the Godhead. Furthermore, if our theological position should continue to expand within the local church the conference would most certainly come and close the church doors. Our pastor repeatedly used the terms “divisive” and “tearing up the church.” Again, we were stunned by the implication that these words portrayed.

Our pastor requested by email that we present a written, detailed, explanation of what we believed concerning the Godhead by June 12 so that the elders could have time to study it prior to the next meeting which he scheduled for June 19. I emailed him and all the elders back and suggested that it would be beneficial if all the elders participated in preparing a written statement of their own beliefs.  My email of May 24, 2011 read:

 

Brethren!

As we prepare a written summary of belief, it occurred to me that this would be a benefit to every one of us. We can only be blessed in drawing closer to the Word and seeking to know Him, whom to know is life eternal.  Let me therefore encourage you all to join us in a very profitable exercise of each one confessing his faith and like the Bereans "with all readiness of mind, searching the scriptures, to see whether those things were so" Acts 17:11.

Blessings to you all,

Gary

 

On June 12 we submitted our one page list of purely Scriptural references which our small group had assisted in assembling. We then read the Bible texts together as a group and signed our names to the sheet. I gave the document to our pastor on Sabbath, June 11.  He responded that it was only a list of texts. He wanted something more detailed and explanatory.  So, I prepared a 30 page annotated expansion commenting on each of the 110 Bible references.

This was brought to the June 19 Father’s Day meeting at which we were surprised to see the Georgia-Cumberland Conference ministerial director.  He brought with him the SDA Church Manual and a one page document listing Fundamental Belief No. 2.  The meeting, which was agreed would last only 1 ½ hours went an hour longer.  Numerous inaccurate characterizations of what the pioneers believed had to be addressed with specific statements by them. Most alarming were the suggestions that we start our own church or join another church like the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Finally, sensing the strategic statements being made that would support action against us, I stood and said, “Brethren, let us pray.”  After prayer, I announced that my son was waiting to have lunch with my wife and I (now nearly 3pm). I invited the ministerial director to come again and study the Bible with us some more. After leaving, the elders voted to send a recommendation to the church board for our disfellowship. It was also later reported that we walked out of the meeting!

Two days later we each received an email from the pastor which began:

The board of elders voted to recommend to the church board your disfellowship
for the following reasons stated in the church manual:

1.  “Denial of the faith in the fundamentals of the gospel and in the cardinal
doctrines of the church or teaching doctrines contrary to the same” and,
2.  “Adhering to or taking part in a divisive or disloyal movement or
organization.”

I am sorry it has come to this, but your theology is clearly different than what
our church teaches and your actions have undermined the unity of the church…

I appeal to you that if you cannot in good conscience accept the fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church that you withdraw your membership and save yourself and the Jasper congregation from the painful process of disfellowshipping you.

The Church Board also voted to recommend our disfellowship to the church in general session at a church business meeting scheduled for August 7, 2011.  During the 7 weeks leading up to this, every sermon was a lecture on the purported errors we believed: Gnosticism, Greek philosophy, Arianism. We had a visiting professor from Southern University lecture us on the correct interpretation of monogenes. We had one of our own Southern University students give a sermon on the importance of keeping our baptismal vows, again suggesting that if we no longer believed them, then we should be honest and break the relationship we are just pretending to keep.

Also during this prelude, church attendance noticeably grew as curious and recently solicited members who had not been seen in many months suddenly appeared.  One particular elder was seen visiting many church members. We merely continued to meet with our small group for regular weekly Bible study.

Sunday evening, August 7, the church was filled; probably the best attended meeting in my 12 years at this church. James and I wore our Sabbath best. The pastor distributed a sheet on which the agenda for the evening was printed. We quickly saw that we would be given 5 minutes each to make any comments. The pastor, on the other hand, spoke for nearly an hour reviewing the subject material of his last three sermons and detailing the history, the reasons, the case for why we should no longer be accepted into church membership. He then called on two witnesses: the previous pastor and past head elder. They related the many weeks they had spent with us in studying the mass of material supporting the begotten Son of God the Father and their Spirit. The previous head elder mentioned Shepherd’s Rods and the second witness testified that after studying many weeks with us we had agreed to not teach this to others but that “clearly this advice was not heeded.”

It was startling to see such animosity to the use of the terms “Father” and “Son.”  During the hour that was allocated to the members in which each was given 2 minutes to speak, how often it was mentioned that “every time he would say ‘Father and Son’ in his Sabbath School classes and sermons he was spreading his heresy.”  Two referred to us as paralleling the example of Lucifer who drew away to himself a third of the angels of heaven, and look here, “these two have taken almost half the church!”

How sad. The most endearing words of our heavenly Father, spoken in love, wishing only to draw the minds of His children to the infinite grace of heaven is received with violent and hostile opposition.  Such is not the spirit of God. The Conference ministerial director spoke not a word during the whole three hour meeting. He sat on the front row silent.

When it came time for my 5 minutes, I read the Baptismal Vows from the 1951 Church Manual, the edition that was in print at the time of my baptism. The 22 Fundamental Beliefs were the same as those first introduced in the 1931 Yearbook where the Godhead consisted of the Eternal Father, the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, that great regenerating power. Then the Fundamentals for Baptismal Candidates list them as the true and living God, our heavenly Father and his Son, the eternal Son of God, and the Holy Spirit, Christ’s representative on earth.

Finally, I read the Baptismal Vows which identify God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The scripture used to support these beliefs begin with 1Cor 8:6—a text no longer featured in today’s 28 Fundamentals. I said that once again I wanted to publically confess my belief in these statements of faith that can be clearly supported by Scripture.  I then read the well-known quotes from our publications that admit that the Trinity can only be “assumed”, “implied”, “inferred”.  I said I chose to believe the Word of God and accept the Bible as it reads.

I held high my Bible and encouraged all to read this book, keep your eyes on Jesus.  There were many amens.

We now enjoy the fellowship of like believers in the faith of our pioneer fathers who stood united on the platform of truth.  We continue to pray for our Seventh-day Adventist church leadership, that our Father in heaven will hear our prayers and reach their hearts and answer our appeal to worship the God of our fathers and His divinely begotten Son, "the Son of the Father in truth and love."

God has a church. It is not the great cathedral, neither is it the national establishment, neither is it the various denominations; it is the people who love God and keep His commandments. ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Matthew 18:20). Where Christ is even among the humble few, this is Christ's church, for the presence of the High and Holy One who inhabiteth eternity can alone constitute a church.”  Letter 108, Oct 28, 1886; The Upward Look, p. 315