The Wedding Ring Ruling
The recent North American Division vote to require Adventist pastors to baptize prospective members with their wedding rings-has become a firing order in the hands of some conference presidents. They are using it to demand that the faithful pastors in their conferences lay aside their scruples instead of having the Bible-study interests lay aside their rings -and baptize them anyway-or else be discharged from the ministry.
One of these pastors recently spoke with this writer by phone. Because of his refusal to baptize some interests before they remove their rings, his conference president has threatened to kick him out of the ministry.
After that telephone call, this writer prayed most earnestly about the entire matter for some time-and then the following fact flashed vividly to his mind:
The NAD change in jewelry standards-is in flagrant violation of one of the most basic denominational policies: Matters affecting the local churches must be printed in the "Church Manual,"-and all changes affecting the local churches can only be voted by the local churches or by a majority of the delegates at a General Conference Session.
This was not done in the matter of the new wedding ring ruling. Directly affected are the standards whereby new members are taken into the local churches in North America-and yet both the local churches and the General Conference delegates were by-passed in making this important change that will affect the beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists for years to come.
You see, a small group of men, meeting in Washington D.C, in November 1986 at the "Year-end NAD Meeting," do not have the constitutional right to change Seventh-day Adventist beliefs or standards.
By its very nature, a standard is a type of belief. It is part of our tenets of faith. And a North American Division small committee tried to change it. Now, until very recently, no significant NAO meetings were held-for it is widely known that, unlike the other world divisions, the North American Division is only an extension of the General Conference itself. And neither the North American Division headquarters, nor its committee meetings, counts for much-for both are merely a rubber-stamp of General Conference wishes. But now certain men have decided that they will try to use such meetings, far removed from interference by the local churches-to restructure the beliefs and patterns of those local churches.
And yet neither the General Conference, nor any world division, nor any local union, or conference committee has been endowed with the authority to define or change Seventh day Adventist beliefs or standards.
Indeed, -the truth is that, in the eyes of God, not even the local church nor the General Conference in Session has a right to change our beliefs or standards! When the Bible and Spirit, of Prophecy clearly speak in regard to any religious matter, the issue is settle thereafter and is not subject to change by any group of men anywhere in the world field. Only the God of heaven has such authority.
Very obvious and plainly-stated Spirit of Prophecy statements (quoted in our earlier tract, "The Adventist Wedding Ring" (WM-156]) reveal that this decision made in November by the NAD was wrong. That the NAD would enact such a doctrinal change was both wrong in principle and illegal according to their policy books.
History has often shown that it is far better to live according to God's Word than by policy books. For those who begin placing policy above God's Word-eventually reach the point where they violate their own policies in order to achieve their coveted ends. He who will not revere Scripture will not be honest even with his own policies.
This NAD action was carefully worded. Several friends of ours, who read the first paragraph or so of it in the "Adventist Review" for December 4, 1986 (page 9), then skipped over the rest and said, "Well, it looks like the Church is tightening its standards on the wearing of jewelry." But not so. Under what appears on the surface to be an appeal for higher standards in the wearing of jewelry, this action states-for the first time in Seventh-day Adventist history-that wedding rings do not come under that category, and that those wearing them must henceforth be accepted into the Church without question by all our evangelists, Bible workers, pastors, and church members.
According to the book, "The History and Poetry of Finger Rings" (a condensed copy of which is obtainable from this publisher-, Roman Catholic priests made the sign of the cross over the wedding rings in order to dedicate them to the Church, Now the Seventh-day Adventist Church is baptizing those sacred circlets, bequeathed us by ancient paganism, along with the incoming members!
Pastors in North America are being threatened with discipline and firing-because they refuse to go along with this high-handed violation of a fundamental steno of historic Adventism and a clear-cut Spirit of Prophecy standard.
Ten or fifteen years of such lowered standards will mean the ruin of the Church. If administrators wish to enforce a non-Adventist requirement on those of our pastors that are still faithful,-then some of the members need to write those administrators and tell them that they will henceforth send their funds elsewhere as long as that conference requires allegiance to the NAD marriage ring ruling. For that ruling stands in violation of God's Written Word and submission to it is a sign of rebellion to His authority.
Giving is a two-way street. If religious leaders desire support, they in turn must give also. They must give their support to Inspired Writings that form the foundation of our Church. They must uphold the historic standards and beliefs that constitute us the people of God (for a church organization separated from those standards and beliefs is separated from Him), and, of course, never are they to forbid pastors or laymen who are trying to uphold those standards or beliefs.
Sounds too strong? If we let them kick out the faithful ministers, who will we have left? Repeatedly, our Church is entering upon new avenues that violate clear Bible-Spirit of Prophecy principles. Every time we do this, we are moving a decided step closer to total apostasy. We can know this: The faithful will have to protest - because no one else will. And those who have left the Church don't bother to. They forget about it and turn their eyes to other things.
Call sin by its right name, even though it may sound better to call it "a church decision."
Only last week this writer learned that over a year ago a meeting at the highest level of the General Conference commissioned a certain General Conference research writer to prepare a study on why the Seventh-day Adventist Church should now reconsider and accept the wedding ring as a fine Christian principle. Having completed his pre-concluded study, that writer was then sent on a speaking tour to a number of the local conference ministerial retreat: in North America to prepare the way for the forthcoming NAD rubber-stamp action. At those meetings, in which conference officers discussed the urgent need of increasing our membership rolls in order to achieve the "Harvest '90" numerical baptismal goals outlined by Elder N.C. Wilson at the 1985 New Orleans General Conference Session, the research writer then explained to the assembled pastors that wedding rings were all right after all,-for the very reason that the people emotionally needed them and it would be inconsiderate to deprive them of something that they felt that they could not seemingly live without.
The conclusions drawn by that General Conference researcher, form the basic arguments for wedding rings as stated in the November 1986 NAD ruling, as it is written.
Ellen White has written that it is a fearful thing when people are buried alive. She is referring to instances in which individuals were baptized into the Church without having first died to sin and the worldliness they should have left behind them.
Thus, there was a lengthy period of preparation that preceded this November 1986 North American Division vote in regard to the wearing of wedding rings by church members and new converts.
But the surprising news that a softening-up action was taken for over a year to prepare the Adventist ministry of North America for this change in one of our Church standards, dovetails into a larger, more startling picture. Many of our readers will not remember a news disclosure we made in the June 20, 1985 issue of "Checkpoints." At the time when we made it, none of us clearly understood what it meant. But now we are beginning to understand.
The long-range objective has been in operation at least since 1981.
First, I will reprint the nine paragraphs in this "Checkpoints" report, and then we shall discuss it:
VERY IMPORTANT! -The issue is simple enough-but ominous: Our Church has doctrines and it has standards. The following letter indicates that in 1981 the standards were moved out of the body of the "Church Manual" to an appendix in the back. Now the plan is to eliminate the appendix! As you may know, the governing code of our local churches is supposed to be the Bible or the Spirit of Prophecy,-but in reality it is the "Church Manual." This forthcoming scissors-work will remove all standards requirements from our local churches!
("Doctrines" = concepts such as the Second Advent, the Sanctuary Service, Conditional Immortality, "Doctrinal standards" = Seventh-day Adventist members should refrain from jewelry, theater attendance, dancing, card-playing, liquor drinking, cigarette smoking, gambling, etc.)
Read this letter:
"Dear Vance: I wonder if you are aware of an important change in the "Church Manual' that is being contemplated. It will be voted on at General Conference Session in New Orleans. I feel that the best way to make it known is to let YOU know, but I am afraid it will be too late to get the word out. I would appreciate your not using my name.
"Until 1981 there was a doctrinal, instruction section in the main body of the "Manual. " When the "Manual" was revised the last time, that section was moved to the Appendix. In its place, there is a paragraph referring to "Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists" to use as instruction for candidates for baptism. There is also a statement referring pastors, etc., to the Appendix for more information for doctrinal instruction.
"The problem lies in the fact that the Christian standards we have believed and taught for years-such as theater attendance, jewelry, movies, dancing, etc.-are only in the Appendix now. But this places it outside the basic beliefs in the main part, which is used as the official standard.
plan is to remove this Appendix from the "Manual" at this
coming General Conference Session! By doing this, they will effectively
eliminate the doctrines that deal with our standards. This would certainly
accelerate the liberalization of our Church.
understand that there are memoranda at the General Conference that
indicated this is the plan. I hope it can be stopped in time.
"-Somewhere in the United States.
We are told that it will be the Constitution and By-laws Committee at the General Conference Session, which will be in charge of making sure that this agenda item comes to the floor of the Session for a yes-vote.
The letter (quoted in italics) in the above "Checkpoints" reprint, was written by a top-flight Seventh-day Adventist denominational worker whose name nearly all of you are familiar with. It was written to this writer prior to the 1985 New Orleans General Conference Session, so that we could alert others to what might take place at that Session. Whether or not our alert helped, we cannot say, but the fact remains that the removal of the "standards" section from the "Church Manual" was not approved at New Orleans.
Now, why did certain leaders want the standards removed from the "Church Manual'? Well, back in 1985, it seemed to us that the objective was to get them out of the way in order to cause less friction among members in our local churches. With no more standards, there would be no more problems. At least that is how the worldlings in the Church of God down through the ages have always viewed the matter.
But there was another issue that we did not recognize at the time, one that is now coming closer to fruition: By eliminating the standards it will be easier to bring in new church members almost as easily as do the other denominations! And do note that the long-range objective is to remove BOTH the standards AND and the doctrines from the "Church Manual"! That fact is of crucial importance. Please do not forget it. Keep thinking about it in the days ahead. Cling to our precious Bible-Spirit of Prophecy standards and beliefs. Stand for them. Be willing to die for them. And you will be safe in the days ahead. Men may dislike you for it; they may cast you out for it. But fear not, the God of heaven approves of your faithfulness to His Written Word.
(But please, I would personally urge you: Misguided men may cast you out for obeying God's Word, but do not just walk away from the defense of truth-and ask that your name be removed. Let them do the removing. When they do it, you can say, "This is your hour, and the power of darkness" (Luke 22:53), but let them initiate the action.)
The Word of God, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. Let this be your motto from now unto death or translation.
But with that, make sure you are personally obeying that Word. Not only defend the Word, live it in your daily life. And whatever comes, keep sharing your faith and the printed truth with those who do not know the Third Angel's Message. Do not become a dried-up prune by crawling off into a corner and living unto yourself. God has a special work for you to do until the close of human probation-in giving the last-day messages to a dying world.
For two pages of Spirit of Prophecy quotations, see WM-156 ("The Adventist Wedding Ring"), pages 3-4. The following is excerpted from that compilation:
"Are we to follow the Word of God, or the customs of the world? Our sister decided that it was the safest to adhere to the Bible standard [and remove her ornaments] . Will Mrs. D, and others who follow a similar course [in continuing to wear them] be pleased to meet the result of their influence, in that day when every man shall receive according to his works?
"God's Word is plain. Its teachings cannot be mistaken. Shall we obey it, just as He has given it to us, or shall we seek to find how far we can digress and yet be saved? . .
"Conformity to the world is a sin which is sapping the spirituality of our people, and seriously interfering with their usefulness. It is idle to proclaim the warning message to the world, while we deny it in the transactions of daily life." Evangelism, pages 270-272.
"Have not our sisters sufficient zeal and moral courage to place themselves without excuse upon the Bible platform? The apostle has given most explicit directions on this point: 'I will therefore .. that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamfacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.' Here the Lord, through His apostle, speaks expressly against the wearing of gold. Let those who have had experience see to it that they do not lead others astray on this point by their example. That ring encircling your finger may be very plain, but it is useless, and the wearing of it has a wrong influence upon others."-4 Testimonies, page 630.
WEDDING RINGS-The following letter came from an Adventist wife in California:
"A good question to ask ministers, those who formerly asked their people to take their rings off at baptism: Will these ministers now go back to those earlier candidates and members and tell them it is now okay to wear them?
"When I became an Adventist 18 years ago, I was asked to remove my rings and to SELL them. They [the rings] meant a lot to me, but I took them off and sold them. Now this change of standard by the North American Division-that wedding rings are now okay even in the baptismal pool, says that the former instruction was only the will of some church leaders and not the 'will of God'!
"At the time of our wedding, I was not affiliated with any church, and we spent $1,500 on our set. They were sold for $350. However, I say that when an individual joins a church, and the standard for 150 years has been, 'no jewelry,' then that person should know what is expected of him before he joins the club! And now it's different.
"To fire pastors for upholding an official standard that leadership no longer wants to abide by-is unchristian and unethical. Many would defend pastors who follow their convictions and uphold what have always been the historic teachings of the church."--California.
MORE ON THE WEDDING RING-The recent North American Division Committee action okaying the wearing of wedding rings by all our church members is creating far more problems than it is attempting to solve.
wedding ring is a problem in our little church, and since, because of this
new ruling, some are now boldly displaying theirs, others are beginning
to put theirs back on. We are studying with a lady who recognizes this as
a problem to be resolved before baptism. What are our people to
There are church leaders among us who are faithful in trying to find ways to bring in more members into the Church, but are far less interested in upholding the historic beliefs of our people. This is not as it should be. Fifteen years of that kind of leadership attitude can ruin the North American Division as it 1962-1977 ruined the Australian and New Zealand part of the Australasian (now South Pacific) Division.
The whole scheme is paradoxical, for the underlying objective is to increase membership in order to increase offerings; but such a course of action is resulting in bringing into the Church a class of people who have little interest in paying offerings-and offending those who formerly paid them devotedly.
"NOW WE CAN WEAR RINGS!"-The following letter comes from a location east of the Mississippi:
"Praise the Lord, I finally found someone who agrees that the new law about wedding rings is a big mess-and really from the devil.
"I want your tracts, 'The Power and Magic of Finger Rings,' and also 'The Adventist Wedding Ring,'-and anything else you have on this subject. [The most recent tract, before this one, is "Illegal: the Wedding Ring Ruling"] .
"I have two precious grand-daughters at --- Academy. They came on a home leave and said, 'Oh, we can now wear wedding rings!' I was shocked. They have not been wearing ANY jewelry at all. Their mother has talked against it all these years. Now all that she has worked so hard to impress on their minds will be broken down. What a pity.
"Some of our supposed-to-be leaders are sure following Satan's ways and leading many in the ditch. I was baptized in the early '40's and they wouldn't baptize with rings then. I took mine off and never wore them since. I have no desire to and never will wear them again.
"If I had a weakness for it though, I could now say, 'Just think: all those years I could have worn my rings.' I could sue them for false teachings. I'm thoroughly disgusted (righteous indignation). Mainly concerned for my grand-daughters, for I'm afraid as they SEE others wearing rings (not just the wedding ring), they will be wearing the engagement ring too (many already are).
"Another girl in school has a weakness for ear rings, so now she thinks a ring is a ring; 'I can wear them anywhere even to church-and she really is right. Jewelry is jewelry, no matter what kind.
"Please send several copies of the ring tracts."-Eastern U.S.A.
TELEPHONE CALL FROM A GENERAL CONFERENCE-LEADER-Last week a high-ranking General Conference leader decided on an impulse to telephone this writer and plead with him to stop writing in protest about our falling church standards and doctrines. In response, he was told that we would be deeply happy to stop doing so. Preparing missionary tracts and books for distribution to non-Adventists is far more satisfying. -But warnings have to be given; pleadings have to be made. Members and workers must be aroused by some means before it is forever too late and probation has forever closed.
"For example, there is this matter of wedding rings," I said. "Our faithful members and pastors have for years upheld clear, God-given Spirit of Prophecy statements on this point. The Inspired counsels teach that no matter how plain the wedding band may be, it is still a wrong influence and should not be worn."
To this, the General Conference representative solemnly replied with deep-toned authority: "Brother Ferrell, you do not understand the situation. We here at the General Conference must deal with many perplexities, and this new wedding ring ruling was very much needed. Our people needed it. We studied the matter at great length, and this was a wise decision. If you only could be there on the committees as we wrestle with these weighty problems, you would understand. Brother Ferrell, please, you do not have the understanding of this that the brethren here in Washington D.C. have. Lacking this understanding, you should yield your judgment and abide by their decisions."
At this, I thought, "Well, what is this deep problem that only approval of wedding rings for all of North America could solve?"
I then spoke to this kind gentlemen about the importance of upholding our historic Bible-Spirit of Prophecy standards, no matter what perplexities might arise.
To this, the General Conference officer was adamant that I simply lacked a clear understanding of the weighty issues at stake in such matters, and if I had that understanding, I would be able to see why the brethren who lead out in the work must vote as they do.
"What was the reason underlying this; why did they vote to approve wedding rings?" I inquired, expecting him to respond with what I consider to be the real reason: the need to increase the number of baptisms into the Church throughout the United States and Canada.
"My dear brother, we wrestle with the weightiest of problems and we have dedicated men who are deeply concerned that our Church adhere to the standards. That which you do not understand is that we have workers who come here to North America from Europe. Please understand: Over there they have worn wedding rings all their lives, and when they come here they are confused. They have always worn wedding rings in Europe, and yet here they are not permitted to do so. And this has brought great perplexity to our European workers. This was a serious problem; it had to be dealt with in the right way, and our leaders here in Washington did so. They voted to approve the wearing of wedding rings so that these faithful workers would no longer have to be embarrassed. Brother, if you had been there, you could have seen how serious this matter was."
At such a reply, I nearly fell off my chair. A handful of workers from Europe entering the United States or Canada, and we must lower the standard-no, eliminate the standard in regard to wedding rings, in order to assuage the feelings of some denominational immigrant workers from Europe!
"But, my brother," I protested, "Why were they wearing those wedding rings in Europe!"
"Oh, it is the custom there; everybody does it. And they did it also. You must understand, Brother Ferrell, the feelings of our workers in Europe. They are used to wearing wedding rings there. It is expected of them. If you were there, you would understand. And we studied this problem for some time, and this solution was__."
"But, brother, the solution is not to lower the standard in America, but to raise it in Europe. The standards given by Heaven to our people are for our people everywhere, not just here or there."
"Oh, but they must wear the rings over there; it is the custom, you know. It is expected of them."
"But they did not need to wear those rings in Europe. I personally know a couple that has lived in Europe for nearly seven years now. On a recent visit to America, they stopped by here,-and I asked them about wedding rings in Europe. The husband said, 'Vance, over there nearly all the Adventists wear wedding rings. Because the workers do it, the members do it also. But some do not, and they experience no difficulty in their own communities or when traveling. My wife and I have never worn wedding rings and we have traveled all over Europe because of the type of work I do.'
" 'But have you ever met with any kind of trouble for not wearing them?' I asked him. 'European workers at the Seminary back in the '50's told me that they thought it necessary to wear wedding rings on the Continent and in England in order to give a good appearance. They thought they had to have them; at least that is what they said.'
"And he answered, 'No, my wife and l have traveled together all over Europe, and I have gone alone to France, England, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and the Scandinavian countries. Never did any hotelkeeper question why we were not wearing rings. And no one else ever questioned it either. It is NOT necessary to wear rings in Europe!' "
At this, the General Conference officer seemed somewhat taken aback by my words, but spoke resignedly, determined that he must take his stand in defense of the action.
"Brother Ferrell, this action was necessary for the best interests of the work; that is all I can say. You just don't understand, and because you don't-you really shouldn't have written what you did about the matter. I appeal to you, brother, to realized the gravity of what you are doing."
My reply may have seemed simplistic to any reader well versed in high-level committee action, but speaking directly to the point, basing one's thoughts on obvious cause-effect relationships, is what life is all about on the practical every-day level that common folk live on.
"Elder __, in relation to the number of Seventh-day Adventists in the U.S. and Canada, the number of incoming European workers is few. Few; very few. The embarrassment of removing their rings over here is the pain of moving up to a higher Scriptural standard. This is what our baptismal candidates have undergone for decades. We used to call it 'sacrifice for Jesus' sake,' but now when it applies to incoming foreign workers, we term it 'embarrassment.'
"But the ramifications of this action are more far-reaching than I believe you grasp, our people in North America are experiencing it right now. And in the long-term it will have a devastating effect on the jewelry and adornment standards of Adventist churches, small and large, all over America and Canada.
"We have received letters from church members that are suffering as a result of this problem. And pastors have contacted us also. For example, one pastor that I personally know to be a very faithful Adventist minister telephoned me. That man is an earnest Bible student, and one who loves the Spirit of Prophecy writings. There is no television set in his home. He studies the books and gives powerful Scripture-filled sermons. His members respect him and follow his lead. Wherever he goes, local churches are helped by his personal example.
"And so he calls me on the phone, depressed. 'What's wrong?' I ask.
"'My conference president told me this past week that my job is on the line.' 'Why?' 'Because I won't baptize three interests till they take their rings off.' He [the conference president] told me that that "Church Manual" standard had been recently rewritten by the North American Division Committee-and I wasn't to urge it any more.'
"'He told me to shape up or ship out. He said he can get all the men he wants from Andrews, and that he's found that some of the new ones coming in seem more willing to adapt.'
"Now, Elder __, the brethren in Washington may have the best of intentions, but, personally, I think that this new action was more concerned with increasing North American church members than with appeasing some European workers. But, either way, the result is going to be termination of employment for some godly pastors, and confusion and disgust by a lot of church members-the very church members who in the past had been the most faithful in paying in their tithes and offerings."
A long silence and then a sigh.
"Brother Ferrell, I did not know that it was affecting our faithful pastors in this way." Another pause, and then, "But you brought up the wedding rings; I didn't."
With that he turned to another topic, but the tone of his voice seemed more purposeless now. And soon the conversation ended.
There are solutions, but they lie in humbling our hearts before God, confessing our sins, studying His Word as carefully as though we had never read it before,-and then resolutely obeying it.
There is no other workable solution to the problems in our individual lives, our homes, and our churches.
And there is no other way to be saved.