NPUC Gleaner: Learning From History?
By Engel Yoder
The March 2017 NPUC Gleaner editorial titled “Protest” likens the NAD union presidents who are opposing the authority of the General Conference (GC) to the German princes who opposed the authority of the papal church at the Diet of Spires in 1529 (1). By making this analogy, the editorial further insinuates that our GC leaders can be likened to the papal leaders whose authority the princes protested against. The editor then asks, “What could the princes of long ago teach us by example?”
It is difficult to put into words just how offensive such an editorial is. And that it has been printed in an official church publication shows just how incredibly disjointed church leadership is in the NAD. But not only does this reveal how disconnected NAD leadership is from the rest of the world church, the history the Gleaner editor suggests that we learn from has nothing to do with our current church crisis.
When we consider what the princes of long ago can truly teach us, we find they held to two principal points. Regarding the Diet of Spires we have this historical summary:
“The principles contained in this celebrated Protest . . . constitute the very essence of Protestantism. Now this Protest opposes two abuses of man in matters of faith: the first is the intrusion of the civil magistrate, and the second the arbitrary authority of the church. D’Aubigne, b. 13, ch. 6” (2).
Obviously, the intrusion of civil authorities is not an issue in our current situation, but neither is the arbitrary authority of the church. Can any thinking Adventist actually contend that the source of the current controversy—the 2015 GC Session vote regarding women’s ordination—was an exercise of arbitrary church authority? Never in our church history has there been so much time and study invested in a single question as this one. Every world division fully participated and expressed itself. And once the ultimate body of church authority, consisting of over 2300 duly appointed representatives from around the world, made its decision, can anyone seriously say that this decision was an arbitrary one? Or that this decision was made by the exercise of so-called “kingly” or “popish” power?
But the historian continues by going beyond identifying what the Protest at Spires opposed and identifies what it affirmed:
“. . .Protestantism sets the power of conscience above the magistrate, and the authority of the word of God above the visible church. In the first place, it rejects the civil power in divine things, and says with the prophets and apostles, ‘We must obey God rather than man. . . .’ But it goes farther: it lays down the principle that all human teaching should be subordinate to the oracles of God” (3).
As the Gleaner editorial correctly points out, the papal church claimed to have authority above that of Scripture, and this claim the princes at Spires vehemently denied. But never has Protestantism claimed that all believers would interpret Scripture in precisely the same way. The myriad of Protestant denominations attests to this fact. Actually, the principles of Protestantism purposefully grant anyone who in good conscience cannot accept the teachings and practices of a particular denomination to be entirely at liberty to go to, or even to start, another church or denomination that is more to his liking. But to expect that one can abide within a faith community while openly defying the authority of that community is to embrace the principles of the papists at Spires, not the German princes. Indeed, this expectation reflects the spirit of the one who caused war in heaven when he desired to retain his place there while defying the authority of heaven’s Sovereign.
If the editor of the Gleaner wants us to learn something from history, I suggest we begin with the editor’s own history as a four-year old and learn that a duly authorized “No” means “No.” If someone cannot accept and respect that answer, then that person, like a mature adult, should pack his soap and toothbrush and go. I sincerely hope, however, that he would choose to stay, and that he would reconsider the moral principles upon which he stands. They just may not be as solid as he thinks. He may then be reassured that the General Conference in Session remains God’s ordained authority on earth (4), that this authority is to be respected even if its judgments are not entirely understood at the moment, and that our Father’s house is truly the safest and most secure place to be in all the world.
1. http://GleanerNow.com/news/2017/03/protest, accessed March 20, 2017).
2. The Great Controversy, p. 203).
4. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, pp. 260, 261.
Biographical Note: Engel Yoder has recently retired after 33 years of denominational service with Christian Record Services for the Blind. He lives in Kansas and serves as an elder in his local church.