Sean Pitman Responds to Spectrum’s “Witch Hunt”

seanResponse to Magazine’s article: Unraveling a Witch Hunt: La Sierra Under Seige:

So we’ve started a “witch hunt”? You know, I’m wondering what the response must have been when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the front door of the Church at Wittenberg? I wonder if his tactics or methods weren’t questioned? If he wasn’t accused of breaking the advice of Matthew 18 (as per the suggestion of Dr. John Jones). Or, perhaps he was even charged with “persecuting” those who happened to hold differing views from his own? Yet, I wonder if the wrongs addressed in his 95 theses would have ever been taken seriously or actually resolved at all had he not gone so public with his concerns for the public missteps of the Church of his day? – missteps which involved and interested a great many people?

But hey, if the SDA Church wants to make public policy such that its own fundamental doctrinal positions are really nothing more than 28 nice suggestions, that’s fine. It just should be publicly stated that way so as to avoid any semblance of false advertising. It should be clearly stated that the SDA Church really takes no definitive stand on anything as an organization and that its own paid representatives are perfectly free to say and do anything they please without any sort of remonstration on the part of the Church leadership or “government” whatsoever – especially when it comes to those “suggestions” that form the very basis of the name of the SDA Church itself. After all, as long as everyone loves everyone else, the actual basis of the Christian hope in the future or the discovery of new doctrines or the maintenance of old foundational doctrines are really of no consequence – right? After all, everyone wants complete “academic freedom” – right?! It sounds sooo good! Who could vote against freedom?!

After all, didn’t our early Church founders wish to avoid the problems of doctrines and “creeds” which are set in concrete as unmovable mountains? Didn’t John Loughborough argue, in the Review and Herald in 1861 that, ““The first step of apostasy is to get up a creed, telling us what we shall believe. The second is to make that creed a test of fellowship. The third is to try members by that creed. The fourth is to denounce as heretics those who do not believe that creed, and fifth, to commence persecution against such.”

Yet, the authors of this Spectrum article who quote Loughborough forget what Loughborough later said regarding the basis for Church order and discipline:

Consider again the following comments and quotes by JN Loughborough in his The Church, Its Organization, Order and Discipline(1907):

“When those who back in the “sixties” [1860s] witnessed the battle of establishing church order now hear persons, as conscientious no doubt as those back there, utter almost the identical words that were then used by those opposing order, it need not be wondered that they fear the result of such statements as the following: “Perfect unity means absolute independence, – each one knowing for himself. Why, we could not have outward disorganization if we all believed in the Lord. . . . This question of organization is a simple thing. All there is to it is for each individual to give himself to the Lord, and then the Lord will do with him just what he wants to, and that all the time. . . . Our only safety, under God, is to go back to the place where God is able to take a multitude of people and make them one, without parliamentary rules, without committee work, without legislation of any kind.” – General Conference Bulletin of 1899.

God Requires Rules:

“Superficially considered, this might seem to be a blessed state, a heaven indeed; but, as already noted on a preceding page, we read of heaven itself and its leadings that “the god of heaven is a god of order, and he requires all his followers to have rules and regulations to preserve order.” – “Testimonies for the Church,” No. 32, page 30.

“As our numbers increased, it was evident that without some form of organization, there would be great confusion, and the work could not be carried forward successfully. To provide for the support of the ministry, for carrying on the work in new fields, for protecting both the church and ministry from unworthy members, for holding church property, for the publication of the truth through the press, and for other objects, organization was indispensable.”

As it turns out, the leaders of the early SDA Church at first thought that no enforcement of any kind was needed to keep the Church from fragmenting. This was true as long as the Church was small and made up of originally like-minded people. However, as the Church grew larger, this view soon became obviously untenable. Loughborough was one of the main proponents of this sort of church order and discipline – along with James White.  Very quickly all of the early Church leaders changed their minds regarding Church order and discipline when they saw that their original ideas of completely hands-off freedom of Church representatives were quickly failing to do what they thought they would do. So, the leadership started issuing cards of commendation signed by James White or John Loughborough.

Of course, those who were not considered to accurately represent the views of the Church did not receive these cards of commendation. And what was the attitude of such persons? – according to Loughborough?:

“Of course those who claimed “liberty to do as they pleased,” to “preach what they pleased,” and to “go when and where they pleased,” without “consultation with any one,” failed to get cards of commendation. They, with their sympathizers, drew off and commenced a warfare against those whom they claimed were “depriving them of their liberty.” Knowing that it was the Testimonies that had prompted us as a people to act, to establish “order,” these opponents soon turned their warfare against instruction from that source, claiming that “when they got that gift out of the way, the message would go unrestrained to its `loud cry.'”

One of the principal claims made by those who warred against organization was that it “abridged their liberty and independence, and that if one stood clear before the Lord that was all the organization needed,” etc. Upon this point, when church order was contested, we read: “Satan well knows that success only attend order and harmonious action. He well knows that everything connected with heaven is in perfect order, that subjection and thorough discipline mark the movements of the angelic host. . . . He deceives even the professed people of God, and makes them believe that order and discipline are enemies to spirituality; that the only safety for them is to let each pursue his own course. . . . All the efforts made to establish order are considered dangerous, a restriction of rightful liberty, and hence are feared as popery.” – “Testimonies for the Church,” Vol. I, page 650.

Sounding familiar? Be careful when you use Loughborough to try to support the notion of pure “academic freedom” within Church schools and a hands-off approach to Church government. Not only does there have to be at least some very specific direction and discipline within the Church government to maintain order and viability, as with any viable organization, it turns out to be a truly loving path to travel as well. A Church without discipline and enforcement of rules on its own representatives, like a home without discipline, is a very unhappy, even angry, Church and family.

One more thing. I just want to thank Spectrum Magazine for this article. I think it helps to highlight a very important issue in our Church today and is relevant to a great many people who are either directly or indirectly affected by it within the SDA Church. And hey, there’s no such thing as bad publicity – right? ; )

Sean Pitman

P.S. By the way, wasn’t Einstein a college dropout? – and Bill Gates too? ; )

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