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. Scripture affirms that “all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40).
Adventist Church co-founder 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 for the Church, Volume 3, page 445).
But church leaders did not quickly produce a book of
rules for church governance, even though the General Conference
met annually in session during the church’s early
years and delegates voted on matters of church order and
life. Finally, in 1882, the General Conference in session voted
to have prepared “Instructions to church officers, to be
printed in the Review and Herald or in tract form” (Review
& Herald, December 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 20 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 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
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.
CHURCH MANUAL CORRECTION
It has come to our attention that part of an amendment
to the Church Manual voted in July of 2015 was unintentionally
excluded from the revised Church Manual. The section
which appears on page 127 should read: “Who May Conduct
the Communion Service—The communion service is
to be conducted by an ordained/commissioned pastor or an
ordained elder. Deacons or deaconesses are not permitted
to conduct the service.” (The words italicized were voted by
the 2015 GC Session, but inadvertently omitted in the latest
edition of the Church Manual.)