We now come to the matter of conference administration. In the scriptures already cited, we find that the churches were united as a general church body, and representatives were selected to conduct the business that concerned the church at large. That principle has been carried out in the organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I quote from "Acts of the Apostles," page 164: "The Lord in His wisdom has arranged that by means of the close relationship that should be maintained by all believers, Christian shall be united to Christian [church fellowship], and church to church." That is conference fellowship. This is the Lord's arrangement.
Thus, the local church is the organization that provides for the union of individual believers; the local conference is the organization that provides for the union of the churches; the union conference is the organization that provides for the union of the local conferences; the General Conference is the organization that provides for the union of all; and the divisions are sections of the General Conference by which it gives detailed oversight and administrative care to all parts of the world field. In this whole arrangement will be seen the unity of belief and action that begins with the individual believer and runs through church, conference, and union conference relationships until the entire body of believers is united in one common body in the General Conference.
Suppose we have six concentric circles. The first circle—the large, outer one—represents the individual members the world around. How are they bound together in fellowship with fellow believers?—In the church. The local church is therefore represented by the next inner circle. The local churches are bound together in fellowship by conferences, which are represented by the next circle. The local conferences are bound together by the unions, which are represented by the next circle. And the next circle represents the divisions, which are a part of the General Conference. Then comes the General Conference, which is the center of all.
When you think of the General Conference, do not think of an office building in Washington, D.C., but remember the whole world-wide body of believers. That is what I like to label this circle, the whole world-wide body of believers. The organization in Washington is simply the administrative end. But the whole world-wide body of believers is really the General Conference.
Fundamental Principles of Relationship
In a field I was visiting a few years ago, several men asked to have a meeting with the General Conference representatives who were there. These men had been disfellowshiped for good reasons, and had organized an independent church made up mostly of people of their own sort. They presented a formal request that we arrange for their church to be recognized directly by the General Conference, as they did not want to have anything to do with the local organization or union organization. They said, "We have organized ourselves into a church, and we want to be received directly into the General Conference."
What kind of answer could I give them? They wanted the General Conference to administer the work of their church direct, and to ignore all the intermediate organizations which the General Conference has set up to secure the world-wide unity of all our believers. The General Conference cannot establish that unity by ignoring the local conference organization or the union. If this group could not have fellowship with others locally, how could they be united with the world body through the General Conference? I explained to those men the steps in the plan of organization, and showed them that in order for an individual to be a member of the world-wide body of believers, he must be a member of a local church. Also that the local church must be a member in good standing in the local conference or mission, which in turn must be a member in good standing in the union, and thus in that way they could be a part of the world-wide body of believers making up this movement. I advised them to disband their church organization, and then to go to the local Seventh-day Adventist church and apply for membership.
They replied that the church would not accept them as members. Then I advised them to confess their sins and to make right their wrongs. I pointed out that when they convinced the brethren that they were truly repentant, they would be accepted, and would then be members of the world-wide body of Seventh-day Adventists. I could not give them any other advice. I do not know of any other way for an individual to become connected with the General Conference, or with our worldwide body of believers in this message, than to start at the beginning as an individual, unite with the church, and so go through the successive steps.
Indispensable Qualifications for Leadership
May I now refer to the qualifications that those holding office should possess. I recall that in one local conference, the office of president was vacant, and there was to be a meeting of the executive committee to fill the vacancy.* A lay member wrote a letter to the conference telling what kind of man he thought should be chosen, and listed all the qualifications he thought a president should have. I give you his list. He thought a conference president should be : honest, truthtelling, dependable, not a Modernist, not erratic, stable, not intimidating, not threatening, not domineering, not a self-seeker, a Christian gentleman, fair-minded, without an ax to grind, desirous of serving all the people, considerate, kind, patient, faithful, true to Seventh-day Adventist principles, able to avoid cliques, without favorites.
Do you think that any of these qualifications are unreasonable or out of place ? Other qualifications should, of course, be added. A very important qualification that should be mentioned is proper attitude, When one is called to serve in any office of the church, conference, or institution, his (or her) fitness for such office will be indicated by his attitude toward the office. I use the word. "attitude" in its defined meaning: "Any habitual mode of regarding anything; any settled behavior or conduct, as indicating opinion or purpose regarding anything." We might ask, What is an officeholder's attitude with regard to the following questions:
Does he regard the office as belonging to himself, or does he consider it a sacred trust?
Does he manifest a spirit of self-importance, or does he feel humbled by his responsibilities?
Does he attempt to control others and dictate what they shall do, or does he work with a spirit of cooperation and counsel?
Does he demand that every will shall yield to his, or does he recognize that in a multitude of counselors there is safety"?
Does he insist on having his own way in everything, or is he willing to see good in the plans of others?
Does he manifest an attitude of autocracy, or is he mindful of the statement made by Jesus that "all ye are brethren"?
Does he set aside the opinions of his board or committee, or does he abide by their decisions? Does he attempt to dictate the policies for all the organizations in his territory, or does he seek to divide responsibility with and develop strength in his associate workers?
Does he lord it over the church or conference, or is he an example to the believers of the principles laid down in the word of God?
You may add many more questions to this list illustrating what is meant by attitude. A man's fitness for office, or his unfitness, does not necessarily consist merely in his own inherent goodness, but in the attitude he manifests toward office. If his attitude is that indicated in the first part of each of these foregoing specifications, then I would say he is entirely unfitted to hold any office. Our plan of organization is not intended to centralize power, but just the reverse—to distribute authority, control, and responsibility. It is not to exalt the leader, but to provide a way for carrying forward the work. I quote from "Acts of the Apostles :"
"The greater the responsibilities placed upon the human agent, and the larger his opportunities to dictate and control, the more harm he is sure to do if he does not carefully follow the way of the Lord, and labor in harmony with the decisions arrived at by the general body of believers in united council." —Page 199.
The teaching of the Scriptures is that there are to be no lords over God's heritage. 1 Peter 5:3. Jesus taught the same truth in Mark 10:42, 43. Sometimes I hear men talk about their authority. But all the authority a church leader has is derived or delegated. It is a trust and not a possession. Authority is inherent in the church or the organization, and not in the person holding the office. He exercises it, not for himself, but for the organization he serves. This is a principle we ought to recognize and remember.
Any officeholder, whether his office be that of church elder, conference president, or any other office, if he assumes personal authority, is overlooking the prime essential. Such a manifestation of authority is unseemly, and does not pertain to him. He uses his authority best who uses it the least. Real leadership does not reveal itself in an atmosphere of arbitrary authority that seeks to compel or to suppress in others everything that does not agree with the leader's ideas. One evidence of a true leader is his ability to work with those who do not agree with him or see light in his plans. A leader who thinks it necessary to talk about his authority is not yet a real leader. Real leadership does not advertise itself. It is very much like love, It "is not puffed up ;" it "doth not behave itself unseemly."
* There is a difference between the functions of a conference executive committee, and those of a church board in the filling of vacancies. As pointed out before, the church board does not fill vacancies in the offices of the church. But according to our recognized constitutional provisions, a conference executive committee does fill vacancies in the conference. It is executive in its functions. A church board is not executive to the same extent.