Recently one of the most frequently raised questions is whether or not the Dutch church of Seventh-Day Adventists operates according to guidelines as set forth by the World Church in the so-called Working Policy of the General Conference.
The question at hand may draw one to think that there is a certain suspicion concerning the Dutch policy, and may also suggest that the Dutch church has carved a way for itself, with absolute discard for the guidelines of the World Church.
Quite the contrary!
In the Netherlands there is a strong tendency and attempt to operate as much as possible according to the guidelines set forth by the Church. These guidelines are annually reconsidered at the so-called Annual Council, and when it is deemed appropriate, updated. At the same time, we need not to forget that the policy of the World Church is highly based on American setting and society. It is formed based on the American judicial system on one hand, and on the American societal trends on the other. This sometimes give other fields in the world major challenges in terms of application.
Consider for example the fact that an ordained elder may conduct all church related ordinances, except for that of conducting a wedding. This is because in the United States, and some other countries, the wedding ceremony conducted in church is a civil, judicial ceremony. In such instances, pastors in those particular countries are licenced to legally conduct and affirm the marriage, whereas elders are not.
In the Netherlands we do not have such a situation, because a wedding conducted at church is not tied to that of civil marriage, the latter being the legally recognised one. Pastors in the Netherlands are simply not licenced by the government to legally conduct and affirm a marriage.
So, coming back to ordained elders in connection to conducting a wedding: you may wonder if the rule that they are not allowed to conduct marriage ceremony in the Netherlands still holds value, when you take into consideration that both pastors and elders are not licenced by the government to conduct a wedding.
Yet, even in the current situation, the Dutch church of Seventh-day Adventists adheres to the Working Policy by still not allowing elders to conduct weddings. The Dutch church must operate first and foremost according to its own constitution and bylaws. Our constitution and bylaws were voted at a constituency meeting held in 1997, and in its current state diverges in a number of places from that of the Model Constitution as proposed by the World Church.
The main reason for these divergences is because the Model Constitution has been significantly revised since 1997, and because on the other hand the Dutch society and situation in the country had a strong need for a specified constitution for the local field. But the constitution was not brought to the constituency meeting in 1997 to be voted, before it was first sent for approbal to all levels of the church’s organisation, and approved by the General Conference. Only then was the current constitution voted. In the case of the ordination of women to the Gospel ministry, we may have deviated somewhat from the guidelines of the World Church, but we never stepped outside the boundaries of our own constitution. All decisions made are fully in tune with our own constitution and bylaws.
Aside from that, our hands are tied by the constitution of the Netherlands which demands for policies to be non-discriminatory. While it is true that one may appeal to the right of religious freedom, but the minute individuals are employed in similar positions, they meant to be treated equally.
The delegates at the Union constituency meeting of 2012 felt strongly that equality was of greater importance than upholding the ideals of the World Church to keep postponing the ordination women pastors.
Does this single deviation mean that we are not loyal to the World Church? Absolutely not, because wherever possible, the Dutch church has and will always adhere to the wishes of the World Church, even when by applying certain regulations will be viewed as being odd in our own society. Yet, there will be extremely rare situations that call for a divergent choice, because our conscience and local laws will demand that from us. This is a situation that not only occurs in the Netherlands, but also in other parts of the world in which deviations occur due to inapplicable regulations of the Working Policy for that particular field.
The conclusion can only be that the Dutch church of Seventh-day Adventist is- and wishes to be- loyal to the World Church. The Working Policy is both respected and wherever possible applied. The soon-to-be voted newly revised constitution of the Dutch church of Seventh-day Adventists, will be in tune with the Working Policy on an even greater scale than is currently the case.
It is by no means the case that the church in the Netherlands would not want to adhere to the policies of the World Church.
At the same time, there should always be room for circumstances in the local mission that will demand for minor deviations from that of the American model.
It is for that particular purpose that about 100 years ago, Unions were created. Unions were not created to work against the World Church, but rather to cooperate with the World Church. At the same time, it is entrusted to Unions to make provisions for employment, local needs and mission within their own territory. This is exactly what is currently being practiced in the Netherlands. This is also the message that will be communicated with great conviction to the leaders of the World Church.