The Church Manual
What Scripture has to say regarding the Church Manual
— Genesis to Revelation
What the Spirit of Prophecy has to say regarding the Church Manual
— Ellen G. White Writings
What the Early Church Pioneers had to say regarding the Church Manual
— Historical SDA Documents
What Various Authors have to say regarding the Church Manual
— Present Day SDA Research
“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” —John 8:32
NOTE: The idea of a Church Manual was unanimously rejected by the SDA church in 1883. The first Church Manual that was officially introduced into the church was in 1932, contrary to the earlier resolution in 1883. Therefore, I must ask why this happened…
The following statement is from the CHURCH MANUAL, Page 1 and 2 (emphasis added):
“Resolved, that the highest authority under God among Seventh-day Adventists is found in the will of the body of that people, expressed in the decisions of the General Conference when acting within its proper jurisdiction; and that such decisions should be submitted to by all without exception, unless they can be shown to conflict with the word of God and the rights of individual conscience.” — Review & Herald, Vol. 50, No. 14, page 106
Acts 5:29, “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”
Luke 4:4, “And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.”
Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”
There is no mention of the need of a Church Manual in Scripture!
Scripture alone is sufficient to define our duty!
Ellen G. White (Spirit of Prophecy)
ecclesiastical |iˌklēzēˈastikəl| — adjective —
of or relating to the Christian Church or its clergy : the ecclesiastical hierarchy.
The idea of a Church Manual or “church legislation” is spoken against in the Spirit of Prophecy!
Scripture alone is sufficient to define our duty!
Early Church Pioneers (Historical Documents)
NOTE: DJVUE Reader Required to read above documents. All pertinent docs are shown as pictures below.
General Conference Votes Against Church Manual
Back in the early 1880’s some of the leaders felt a need for a church manual. At the General Conference of 1882 a committee was appointed to prepare a manuscript for a manual which was to be presented at the General Conference the following year. The Year Book for 1883 and the Review and Herald of November 9, 1883 tell what took place regarding the question of putting out a manual. Some of the key portions of the minutes of the meetings dealing with the question are contained in the following extracts:
Picture of the resolution from the Year Book for 1883 p. 29:
“Fourth Meeting. After prayer by elder H. W. Decker, the minutes of the previous meeting were read and approved. At the last annual session of the Conference it was recommended that a manual of instructions to church officers be prepared, and a committee was appointed to consider the matter and report at this session. W. H. Littlejohn, the chairman of the committee, reported at this meeting that the committee had prepared a series of articles containing instructions to church officers which had been printed in the Review first, in order to give opportunity for examination and criticism before the matter should come up for final action at this session. After further remarks upon the subject by Elders S. N. Haskell, George I. Butler, H. A. St. John and Brother W. C. White it was “voted that the chair appoint a committee of ten to act with General Conference Committee in the examination and consideration of the Church Manual.” This committee was announced as follows: W. C. White, H. Nicola, J. H. Cook, S. H. Lane, O. A. Olsen, M. H. Brown, R. F. Andrews, J. B. Goodrich, A. H. Hutchins, W. H. Decker…
Picture of the Year Book for 1884 – Fourth meeting p. 33:
“Seventh Meeting: the committee appointed to consider the matter of the Church Manual, made in substance the following report.
“It is the unanimous opinion of the committee appointed to consider the matter of the Church Manual that it would not be advisable to have a Church Manual. We consider it unnecessary because we have already surmounted the greatest difficulties connected with church organization without one; and perfect harmony exists among us on this subject. It would seem to many like a step toward the formation of a creed or a discipline, other than the Bible, something we have always been opposed to as a denomination. If we had one, we fear many, especially those commencing to preach, would study it to obtain guidance in religious matters, rather that to seek for it in the Bible, and from the leading of the Spirit of God, which would tend to their hindrance in genuine religious experience, and in knowledge of the mind of the Spirit. It was in taking similar steps that other bodies of Christians first began to lose their simplicity and become formal and spiritually lifeless. Why should we imitate them? The committee feels, in short, that our tendency should be in the direction of the policy and close conformity of the Bible, rather than to elaborately defining every point in church management and church ordinances.”
“On motion, this report with reference to Church Manual was accepted. It was then also Voted, That the President of the General Conference be requested to write an article for the Review, explaining the action of the Conference on the subject of the manual.” — Review and Herald, November 20, 1883; Year Book, 1883, pp. 33-36
Picture of the Year Book for 1884 – Seventh meeting p. 36:
Elder Butler’s article, a copy of which follows, was printed in the Review of November 27, 1883.
No Church Manual
“The writer was requested by the recent General conference to make a brief statement through the Review of the action taken in reference to the proposed manual. Four or five years past, there has been with some of our brethren a desire to have some manual of directions for the use of young ministers and church officers, etc. It was thought that this would lead to uniformity in all parts of the field, and afford a means of instruction to those who are inexperienced, and be very convenient in many respects. Steps were taken several years ago to prepare a manual, but for a time it was left unfinished. Last year at the Rome Conference the matter came up for consideration, and three brethren were appointed a committee to prepare a manual, and submit it to the Conference this year for its approval or rejection. During the past summer the matter they have prepared has appeared in the Review, and had doubtless been well considered by its readers.
“At the recent Conference a committee of thirteen leading brethren were appointed to consider the whole subject, and report. They did so, and unanimously recommended to the Conference that it was not advisable to have a Church Manual. Their reasons were briefly given in the report of Conference proceedings given in last week’s Review. The conference acted upon this recommendation, and quite unanimously decided against having any manual. In doing this they did not intend any disrespect to the worthy brethren who had labored diligently to prepare such a work. They had presented much excellent matter, and gave many valuable directions concerning church ordinances, holding business meetings and many other important questions, and had done as well, no doubt as any others would have done in their place. The reasons underlying this action of the Conference were of a broader character. They relate to the desirability of any manual whatsoever.
“The Bible contains our creed and discipline. It thoroughly furnishes the man of God unto all good works. What it has not revealed relative to church organizations and management, the duties of officers and ministers, and kindred subjects, should not be strictly defined and drawn out into minute specifications for the sake of uniformity, but rather be left to individual judgment under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Had it been best to have a book of directions of this sort, the Spirit would doubtless have gone further, and left one on record with the stamp of inspiration upon it. Man cannot safely supplement this matter with his weak judgment. All attempts to do this in the past have proven lamentable failures. A variation of circumstances requires variation in acting. God requires us to study important principles which He reveals in His word, but the minutiae in carrying them out, he leaves to individual judgment, promising heavenly wisdom in times of need. His ministers are constantly placed where they must feel their helplessness and their seeking God for light, rather than go to any church manual for specific directions placed therein by other uninspired men. Minute specific directions tend to weakness rather than power. They lead to dependence rather than self-reliance. Better to make some mistakes and learn profitable lessons thereby, than to have our way marked out for us by others, and the judgment have a small field in which to reason and consider.
“When brethren who have favored a manual have even contended that such a work was not to be anything like a creed or a discipline, or to have any authority to settle disputed points, but was only to be considered as a book containing hints for the help of those of little experience, yet it must be evident that such a work, issued under the auspices of the General Conference, would at once carry with it much weight of authority, and would be consulted by most of our young ministers. It would gradually shape and mold the whole body, and those who did not follow it would be considered out of harmony with established principles of church order. And really, is not this the object of a manual? And what would be the use of one if not to accomplish such a result? But would this result, on a whole, be a benefit? Would our ministers be broader, more original, more self-reliant men? Could they be better depended on in great emergencies? Would their spiritual experience likely be deeper and their judgment more reliable? We think the tendency all the other way.
“The religious movement in which we are engaged has the same influence to meet which all genuine reformations have had to cope with. After reaching a certain magnitude, they have seen the need of uniformity, and to attain it, they have tried to prepare directions to guide the inexperienced. These have grown in number and authority till, accepted by all, they really become authoritative. There seems to be no logical stopping place, when once started upon this road, till this result is reached. The history is before us; we have no desire to follow it. Hence we stop without a church manual before we get started. Our brethren who have favored such a work, we presume, never anticipated such a conclusion as we have indicated. Very likely, those in other denominations did not at first. The Conference thought best not to give the appearance of such a thing.
“Thus far we have got along well with our simple organization without a manual. Union prevails throughout the body. The difficulties before us, so far as organization is concerned, are far less than those we have had in the past. We have preserved simplicity, and have prospered in so doing. It is best to let well enough alone. For these and other reasons, the church manual was rejected. It is probable it will never be brought forward again.” — Written by G. I. Butler, 1883 General Conference President
Pictures from the Review and Herald – November 27, 1883: