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Gregory Matthews

Church Manual vs. Creed

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The Wanderer
On 6/28/2018 at 6:29 AM, Gregory Matthews said:

The following article gives some history of the development of the SDA Church Manual.  It contains both pro and con aspects of this.

https://spectrummagazine.org/article/2018/06/27/adventist-pioneers-and-problem-policy-non-compliance

I thought that for brevity I would quote a brief section of the article with the view in mind of further discussion:

Quote

 

There were six specific dangers along the path the Church would enter upon if it adopted a Manual, explained the President. The church in session had determined that it needed to stop now for the end result would surely be "the formation of a creed, or a discipline, other than the Bible." Butler listed the dangers.

1. The danger of moving away from the Bible as the "word of counsel" and the Church's only creed and discipline. Session delegates felt it would be inevitable that the manual would eventually take the role of shaping the Church instead of the Bible. The Church had already successfully surmounted the "difficulties" associated with adopting a formal, structured organization without the aid of a manual. Would not the adoption of one make further growth and development more difficult rather than less difficult?

2. The danger of formalism. Church members and ministers would tend to rely on the manual instead of on their individual God-given powers of judgment and the direction of the Holy Spirit.

3. The danger of trying to define, too closely, things upon which the Bible is silent. If God had wanted the Church to have a manual containing such instruction about church life, the Spirit would have left one "with the stamp of inspiration upon it."

4. The danger of insisting on uniformity. Circumstances vary. Individual problems should be dealt with on merit. "Union" already prevailed throughout the body. "Uniformity" was not necessary.

5. The danger that the document would become a test of orthodoxy. Although, of course, not intended "to have authority or settle disputed points" nevertheless, because the document would be approved by the General Conference and be issued under its "auspices," it would inevitably carry "much weight of authority." It would become prescriptive of what must be done, not just descriptive of what generally had been done. Those who did not follow would be considered "out of harmony with established principles."

6. The danger of the slippery slope: Where does one stop? Churches in the past, feeling the need for uniformity, had prepared documents to "guide the inexperienced." These had grown in number and authority until they had become "authoritative." It was best not to start down that road and give "even the appearance of such a thing."

Butler was so certain of the strength of these reasons for the Church not being bound by a Church Manual but being open to the Spirit that he thought it "probable that it [the question of having a church manual] will never be brought forward again."8

He was wrong. Fifty years later, a manual was adopted, and it has been immensely helpful. But in his other assertions, Butler seems to have been right. The manual would eventually become prescriptive – not just descriptive. It would be used as an instrument of establishing uniformity. It would eventually be the basis of formulating a punishment for those who believe they are following the Spirit rather than just replicating past practice — and that may be the more perilous problem of all. Butler’s explanation of the dangers of seeking compliance and uniformity are worth reading, and the full text of his article is included in the appendix.

 

Question: should it ever be used to establish a) uniformity, b) conformity, or c) authority?

Personally, I think the answer could sometimes be a yes, but not always. Item #2 above has always made me wonder whenever people bring it up. "Formalism" in all of it's cold-blooded forms was already well-established before any church manual was written. In my understanding, "formalism" has always existed. And yet, we still have people saying this.It sounds very Catholic to me when I hear this line of reasoning regarding "formalism." And please do not misunderstand me here. I am in NO WAY intending to disparage Catholics when I say this, but it just sounds a lot like what they say.

As soon as we start talking about putting something in writing, then we get people coming out of the wood work and giving voice to their concerns regarding "formalism" as they like to call it, and yet the very Bible they get that from is in writing too. So why isnt that "formalism?" I dont see anything inherently "wrong" with putting things in writing, although, perhaps, there is room for us as a cooperative body of believers to have further discussions on how to interpret, utilize, and put into practice written documents put out by the church.

IThe most current version of the church manual is from 2010 I think. Has there been any subsequent editions to that?

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The Wanderer

PS I was going to say that although the Church manual is not scripture, per se, I have sometimes used it to help me research what the Bible or EGW actually does say about certain subjects. It is a great resource for that. IMHO

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Gregory Matthews

Each General Conference normally votes changes to the Church Manual.  So there is typically a revision that is published after the GC meets.

Therefore, the 2010 edition is not the latest edition.

 

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Narcah

I’ve been beat over the head with the church manual, and in essence I can say with authority it is not inspired to the degree the Bible or SOP is.

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Gregory Matthews

If I were  writing I would have posted as:  ". . . it is not inspired."

 

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