Something More in the Way of Organization: Seventh-day Adventist Ecclesiastical Polity in Historical Perspective

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"Seventh-day Adventists early in their history recognized that proclamation of the gospel is helped, not hindered, by effective structure. For this reason, they formed conferences in 1861, created the General Conference in 1863, and, from 1893–1901, established and eventually embraced unions: all for the purpose of proclamation and mission. In the words of Daniells, Adventists needed “more . . . organization to expedite our work.21 Structure was not an end in itself. As Ellen White put it: “The church is God’s appointed agency for the salvation of men. It was organized for service, and its mission is to carry the gospel to the world.”22

How do unions contribute to this goal? This is something church members and pastors often misunderstand. The crucial point is that, in Adventist ecclesiastical polity, unions are not merely components of the General Conference; they constitute the General Conference. Adventists tend to use “GC” merely for the headquarters; but it is much more: it is the sum of its constituent parts. Therefore, when the General Conference makes a decision, it is not something unions can depart from (though some church members or church leaders may not always agree with those decisions) because the General Conference, in a real sense, is not distinct from the unions. Decisions of General Conference sessions or, in constitutionally delegated areas, of the GC Executive Committee, are not the expression of something other than the unions but, rather, the collective voice of the General Conference’s members. Because all have contributed to decisions, all have an obligation to carry them out."


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Church History