Changes are in bold dark red type
Chapter 1: Why a Church Manual? page 17
Why does the Seventh-day Adventist Church have a Church Manual?
God is a God of order as evidenced in His works of creation and redemption. Consequently, order belongs to the essence of His Church. Order is achieved through principles and regulations that guide the Church in its internal operations and in the fulfillment of its mission to the world. In order for it to be a successful ecclesiastical organization at the service of the Lord and humanity, it needs order, rule, and discipline.
Ellen G. White pointed out such needs in 1875: “The church of Christ is in constant peril. Satan is seeking to destroy the people of God, and one man’s mind, one man’s judgment, is not sufficient to be trusted. Christ would have His followers brought together in church capacity, observing order, having rules and discipline, and all subject one to another, esteeming others better than themselves.”— Testimonies, Vol. 3, page 445.
But Church leaders did not quickly produce a book of rules for Church governance, even though the General Conference Session met annually during the Church’s early years and delegates voted on matters of church order and life. Finally, in 1882, the General Conference Session voted to have prepared “instructions to church officers, to be printed in the Review and Herald or in tract form.”— RH, Dec. 26, 1882. This revealed the growing realization that order was imperative if organization was to function effectively and that uniformity in order required its guiding principles to be put into printed form.
However, when the proposal to place the articles in permanent form as a church manual came before the 1883 General Conference Session, delegates rejected the idea. They feared a manual might formalize the Church and take from its pastors their individual freedom to deal with matters of order as they desired. But this fear—doubtless reflecting the opposition that had existed twenty years before to any kind of organization—evidently soon lessened. The annual General Conference Sessions continued to take actions on matters of order.
Though the Church officially declined to adopt a manual, leaders from time to time gathered together in book or booklet form the generally accepted rules of church life. Perhaps the most impressive was a 184-page book ( page 18 ) published in 1907 by pioneer J. N. Loughborough entitled, The Church, Its Organization, Order and Discipline, which dealt with many of the topics now covered by this Church Manual.
As the Church worldwide grew rapidly in the early twentieth century, it increasingly recognized the need for a manual for worldwide use by its pastors and lay members. In 1931 the General Conference Committee voted to publish a church manual. J. L. McElhany, later president of the General Conference, prepared the manuscript, which was published in 1932.
The opening sentence of the preface of that first edition observed that “it has become increasingly evident that a manual on church government is needed to set forth and preserve our denominational practices and polity.”
Note the word preserve. This was no attempt to suddenly create and impose upon the Church a whole pattern of church governance. Rather it was an endeavor first to preserve all the good actions taken through the years and then to add rules required by the Church’s increasing growth and complexity.
The Church Manual has existed in its current format since 1932. It describes the operation and functions of local churches and their relationship to denominational structures in which they hold membership. The Church Manual also expresses the Church’s understanding of Christian life and church governance and discipline based on biblical principles and the authority of duly assembled General Conference Sessions. “God has ordained that the representatives of His church from all parts of the earth, when assembled in a General Conference, shall have authority.”— Test, Vol 9, page 261
Since then, the content of the Church Manual is divided into two types of material. The content of each chapter is of worldwide value and is to be followed by every church organization, congregation, and member. Recognizing the need for variations in some sections, additional explanatory material, presented as guidance and examples, appears as Notes at the end of the Church Manual. The Notes have subheadings corresponding to chapter subheadings and page numbers of the main text.
The standards and practices of the Church are based upon the principles of the Holy Scriptures. These principles, underscored by the Spirit of Prophecy, are set forth in this Church Manual. They are to be followed in all matters pertaining to the administration and operation of local churches. The Church Manual also defines the relationship that exists between the local congregation and the conference or other entities of Seventh-day Adventist denominational organization. ( page 19 ) No attempt should be made to set up standards of membership or to make, or attempt to enforce, rules or regulations for local church operations which are contrary to these decisions adopted by the General Conference in session and which are set forth in this Church Manual.
The General Conference through the years voted important changes concerning the Church Manual. Realizing the importance of conducting the worldwide work of the Church “decently and in order,” the 1946 General Conference Session voted that “all changes or revisions of policy that are to be made in the Manual shall be authorized by the General Conference session.” General Conference Report, No. 8, p. 197 (June 14, 1946).
In 1948, recognizing that local conditions sometimes call for special actions, the General Conference Committee voted that “each division, including the North American Division of the world field, prepare a ‘Supplement’ to the new Church Manual not in any way modifying it but containing such additional matter as is applicable to the conditions and circumstances prevailing in the division; the manuscripts for these Supplements to be submitted to the General Conference Committee for endorsement before being printed.”—Autumn Council Actions, 1948, p. 19.
The 2000 General Conference Session authorized the reclassification of some existing Church Manual material, into the Notes sections as guidance and examples rather than mandatory material, and approved the process for making changes. Changes in the Church Manual, except for the Notes and editorial changes, can be made only by action of a General Conference Session, where delegates of the world Church have voice and vote. If a local church, conference, or union conference/ mission wishes to propose a Church Manual revision, it should submit its proposal to the next constituent level for counsel and study. If that level approves the proposal, it submits the suggested revision to the next level for additional evaluation. If the various levels approve the proposal, it eventually comes before the General Conference Church Manual Committee, which considers all recommendations. If the Church Manual Committee approves a revision, it prepares it for presentation at an Annual Council and/ or General Conference Session.
Revision of a Note follows the same procedure. The General Conference Executive Committee may approve changes to the Notes at any Annual Council. The Church Manual Committee reports proposed non-substantive editorial changes to the main content of the Church Manual to an Annual Council ( page 20 ) of the General Conference Executive Committee, which may give final approval. However, in the event the Annual Council determines by one-third vote that an editorial change substantively alters the meaning of a passage, the proposed change must go to the General Conference Session.
At the final Annual Council of a quinquennium, the General Conference Executive Committee reviews all changes to the Notes and coordinates the changes with any proposed amendments to the main content of the Church Manual.
A new edition of the Church Manual is published after every General Conference Session. The most recent edition should always be used. This edition incorporates amendments made at the 2010 General Conference Session.
Church officers and leaders, pastors, and members should consult with their conference for advice pertaining to the operating of their congregation or on questions arising from the Church Manual. If they do not reach mutual understanding, they should consult with their union conference/ mission for clarification. Changed from 17th edition, page xxii
Church — For editorial and printing economy, “Church,” with capital “C,” in these pages is used in place of the full term Seventh-day Adventist Church and refers to the overall Church organization rather than to a local church or congregation, with the exception of when it is referred to within a quotation.
Conference, mission, section, delegation, field, union of churches — For purposes of editorial and printing economy, “conference” in these pages means “conference, mission, field, section, delegation, or union of churches,” as the administrative context indicates. Generally, each congregation is a member of the sisterhood of churches known as a conference, but until the local organization achieves conference status, under General Conference Working Policy it may be identified as a mission, section, delegation, or field. In some world divisions, unions of churches in a particular country function as a conference for local-church purposes and as a union conference for other Church organizational purposes. (See Chapter 3, Church Organization.)
Pastor and minister—Most areas of the world Church use “pastor” to identify a member of the clergy, so that term is used in these pages rather ( page 21 ) than “minister,” regardless of the responsibilities assigned by the local conference. Use of the term here is not intended to mandate that usage where the custom is to use “minister.” Pastors referred to in this manual are those who have been appointed by the conference to oversee the affairs of the local church or district.
Abbreviations of Ellen G. White’s books follow the “Key to Abbreviations” found in the front of most of her books and are listed in the Spirit of Prophecy Index on p. 179.
Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated, with the exception of when referred to within a Spirit of Prophecy quotation.
Continue to Chapter 2: Church of the Living God
Return to Church Manual Changes page