Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Mark A. Kellner, News Editor, Adventist Review/ANN

A series of proposed revisions to the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, which outlines an Adventist understanding of Christian life and church governance based on Biblical principles, was voted by Annual Council delegates this week.

The changes, many clarifying or amplifying various terms and conditions of church membership and governance, are expected to be presented to delegates at the 59th General Conference Session -- the church's quinquennial business meeting -- in Atlanta, Georgia next summer.

Until then, the current edition of the Church Manual, ratified at the last session in St. Louis, Missouri, in 2005, remains in effect.

Some of the editorial changes and additions to the manual included language that would limit "ascending liability," something that occurs in nonprofit organizations such as the Seventh-day Adventist Church, when one organization is held responsible for the financial liabilities of another. Other changes include the use of the New King James Version of the Bible when Scripture is quoted in the manual; the notification of members when a period of censure has ended; and emphasizing that every church must have a church board.

However, somewhat contentious questions involving the ordination of deaconesses and whether a local conference president "shall" or "should" be an ordained pastor, will wait for resolution at a special meeting of the world church's Executive Committee on June 23, 2010, a day before session begins. The issues were moved to that time to allow additional discussion and resolution of the issues. The goal, world church president Jan Paulsen said, is to ensure that the Church Manual and the "Working Policy" of the movement are in sync.

"We have many women in our church that make a huge contribution to the leadership in our church," Paulsen told delegates October 13. "We have them in many different assignments, in many different parts of the world. And I would say that without the engagement of women -- who constitute over half of the membership of our church -- the church would be seriously crippled in its outreach and flexibility to care for the needs of the congregation."

Paulsen added that, as church leaders, sending the "right signals" and making the "correct provisions" in church documents is "extremely important."

At its 1990 and 1995 General Conference sessions, the church considered the issue of women's ordination, concluding on both occasions not to do so.

While the topic is not on the planned agenda for the July 2010 session in Atlanta, some delegates from Europe, North America and Australia have periodically voiced their hope that a plan may emerge that would allow their regions to move forward with ordaining women to ministry.

Only in China, where ordination is a function of both the regional Adventist authority and the government-led Three-Self Patriotic Movement, have female Adventist pastors been officially ordained.

Paulsen's statement, and a vote to rescind a change in wording about conference presidencies from "should" to "shall" pending further review, came after an afternoon of spirited debate, with delegates lining up on each side of the issue. While North American delegates including regional president Don Schneider and Pacific Union regional president Ricardo Graham each noted that a woman currently serves as a conference executive secretary and, Graham said, "the time will come when she will be considered for [conference] president," others dissented.

Central African Union Mission president Allah-Ridy Kone called for "unity in the church" and claimed there were no biblical grounds for women's ordination. Church archivist Bert Haloviak asserted that Ellen G. White, a pioneering co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, interpreted Isaiah 61:6 -- "And you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God" -- as applying equally to women and men.

"In some parts of the world, ordination is good for our churches. In other places, ordination is not good for our churches. I appeal to you not to make this into an issue," Paulsen told delegates.

With the ordination question momentarily put aside, other proposed changes to the Church Manual were moved forward and placed on the agenda for next summer's General Conference session.