In a move almost certain to invite the scrutiny of evangelical apologists, the 57th General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church voted July 2 "to intensify efforts to inform all church members, especially young members, about the gift of prophecy through the ministry of Ellen G. White."White, who was one of the leading figures in the founding of the church, has remained a controversial figure in Adventism since her death in 1915. While describing her own writings as "the lesser light" leading to the "greater light" of the Bible, the promotion of her writings by the church has stirred charges of cultism against the group. According to a report by the Adventist News Network, several delegates registered discomfort with the resolution: "Is there any resolution with similar wording that deals with the Bible?" asked Jurrien den Hollander, an Adventist pastor from the Netherlands. Hollander's motion for such a resolution was voted and referred to committee.And, said Don C. Schneider, a 57-year-old Adventist leader from Berrien Springs, Mich., who was just elected to head the church's North American Division, while some outside the group may question the resolution's meaning, Adventist church leaders line up behind the Bible as their source of doctrine."There's a very clear understanding here that Seventh-day Adventists believe in the Bible, and our faith comes out of the Bible," Schneider told CT in an interview. "There's no question among the group here."Schneider, who had been in charge of one of church activities in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, added that he would gladly explain the group's position to any apologists or others who have questions."I'd be most pleased to tell anyone about my priorities of the Bible ahead of anyone else," he said.Meanwhile, church leaders reported impressive church growth numbers: Every 28.91 seconds, someone becomes a Seventh-day Adventist, while every 4.73 hours, a new Adventist church is organized. The church, which hit the 10 million member level last year, now has more than 11 million members, with more than 91 percent coming from outside of North America.According to G. Ralph Thompson, outgoing secretary of the group's General Conference, its worldwide administrative body, the Adventist church gained 1,090,848 members in 1999. While not reporting a number for those leaving, church officials said that for every 100 members who joined in the last five years, 24 left.The church is growing fastest in the countries of Bhutan, India, Maldives, and Nepal, where membership jumped 63. 19 percent between 1994 and 1999. In addition, China now has 250,000 baptized members and 2,600 congregations; due to the government allowing churches to be built with outside funding. Of the group's 12 global divisions, only the Trans-European Division, which covers Western Europe and much of the Middle East including Egypt, Israel and the Gulf States, reported a decline of. 35-percent. However, that region also reported a bright spot: the number of Seventh-day Adventists in Israel has grown from 50 in 1985 to 500 today. Though not confronting the kinds of divisive issues, such as the blessing of same-sex unions, that other denominations such as the Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians are facing, the Adventist session has had its challenges. A key question, decided early, was the election of a General Conference president. In March of last year, Jan Paulsen of Norway was tapped to succeed Robert S. Folkenberg, who resigned after reports surfaced of a lawsuit against him and the church.Paulsen was voted in for a five-year term, and told delegates, "The Church must never forget its mission of spreading the gospel and confronting individuals with God's offer of salvation. We also need to look at ourselves, and make sure that the Church is a place to feel at home—a warm and friendly community of faith."Additionally, the group voted to change language in its manual to refer to those expelled from the church as being "removed" from membership rather than "disfellowshipped." Using "removed" is "less loaded with negative implications," a church vice president, Lowell Cooper said.
For an Adventist take on its conference, see the church's official site .Earlier Christianity Today coverage of the Seventh-day Adventist Church includes: Besieged President Resigns (Apr. 5, 1999) Adventist Doctor Targets Smoking (Mar. 2, 1998)
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