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Our GC Delegation Sessions (Part III)

1934 – Fourth General Conference Session

Budapest, Hungary, September 25–28, 1934. The session was opened with 21 delegates present. Membership in 1934: over 7,000 members.

To the happy surprise of the delegation, the membership report in 1934 revealed a considerable increase over the figure reported in 1931–about 40 percent.

GC delegation, fourth session, Budapest, Hungary, 1934.

The joy of our delegates was expressed in these words:

"We thank the Lord with all our heart for the blessings that we have received these last three years. He has blessed the work of reformation beyond our petitions and expectations. In the financial field He has helped us in all our needs. But we thank Him especially for His aid in our spiritual work. It is the conversion and harvest of souls that fills our hearts with thankfulness toward Him. He aroused these souls. He prospered the work. He guided and protected the laborers. He shielded us everywhere from numerous dangers and helped us out of manifold difficulties during these last three years. And amid the troubles which are in the land, and the still greater afflictions which are before us, our earnest prayer to God is that He will be our defense and that He will soon visit us with the latter rain."

A certain number of questions which had to do with our beliefs were put on the agenda for discussion–questions dealing with health reform, occupations inconsistent with our faith, rebaptism, the marriage institution (questions regarding divorce and remarriage), and the loud cry. Answers were sent to the Union Conferences, in the form of resolutions, in harmony with the light that our delegates had from the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy writings. Our previous decision to lift up the principles was reenforced with emphasis on the need to insist on thorough preparation of candidates before baptism.

The delegates were much concerned over one of the greatest problems which is worrying us today more than ever before: "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few," and the time of probation is running out. Besides, there were signs that the world was preparing for a new conflict. This brought additional uneasiness to them. Their anxiety was well expressed in these words:

"During all our council meetings we were fully impressed with the seriousness of this time, and one and all were thoroughly convinced that only a few days remain in which we may proclaim the gospel message. It is therefore our aim to labor earnestly today, that we may be found faithful stewards."

New officers: W. Maas, president; A. Rieck, secretary.

1948 — Fifth General Conference Session

From 1934 to 1948–because of growing political impediments, because of the war (1939–1945), and because of the devastation caused by the war and the unsettled situation prevalent in Europe during the first few years after the war—it had not been possible to hold a regular General Conference session for fourteen years. And since June 1938, when the GC Committee brethren met in Budapest, Hungary, there was no committee meeting until the leading brethren came together in Holland in 1948. Circumstances beyond the control of the leadership of the work made it impossible to give direct attention to the Unions and Fields. Many things accumulated during this long period of time. Each Union and Field, each State Conference and local church had problems, needs, and questions which demanded urgent attention. Under these conditions, the work of the General Conference delegation (July 5–15, 1948) at The Hague, Holland, was not an easy job. Due to existing restrictions, several countries were not able to send their delegates, but they sent in their written proposals, questions, and requests. Brother C. Kozel explained why the session of 1948 was legal in spite of the fact that only a partial delegation was able to come:

GC delegation (plus visitors), fifth session, The Hague, Holland, 1948.

"The representatives from the Balkan states–Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Hungary–were not able to come due to their political circumstances. But they were represented in writing because they sent in their reports, their recommendations, and their proposals. Only the brethren who live in Russia were not represented, either directly or indirectly."–C. Kozel’s 23-page bulletin, Allgemeiner Bericht der Generalkonferenz (General Report of the General Conference), p. 7.

At the beginning of the session, clouds of worry rested upon the 24 representatives present. After a few days, however, these clouds were lifted and rays of renewed hope, assurance and courage penetrated their hearts.

The reports and experiences shared at the session brought great joy and showed that our brethren, scattered in many parts of the world, had worked hard, fighting the good fight of faith successfully.

Among the points discussed by the delegates, there were:

1. Doctrinal points: Some of the leaders had doubts about our Principles of Faith (marriage institution and health reform). The delegates decided that no change should be introduced to weaken the principles, but that they should be set forth in a clearer light. Nevertheless, some of those who were opposed to one or more points of the principles did not change their minds, but caused a great deal of trouble.
2. Missionary needs: To promote the work, these steps were regarded as deserving priority: to establish missionary schools, to conduct Bible seminars, and to send out missionary families to new fields.
3. Administrative issues: The need to give more attention to church order and discipline as important factors in the development of the work (Early Writings, pp. 97—104) became evident to all.
One of the important administrative decisions had to do with the transfer of the General Conference headquarters to the United States.

There were also some sensitive issues that had to be tackled. One of these was resultant from the strained relations that existed between the leaders of the American Union and the outgoing GC president, A. Mueller. It was for this reason, apparently, that the American Union did not send their delegates to the 1948 session. And many brethren said that the partial delegation, in 1948, without listening to both sides, was biased to pronounce an unfair sentence against the American leaders.

Another sensitive issue was an administrative problem that had been smoldering between C. Kozel and the Brazilian Union because the Unions and Fields were required to send substantial financial contributions to the South American Division, of which Brother Kozel had become the president, while the Division had no legal existence. This matter was now brought up for discussion before the delegation. The delegates did not approve the existence of Divisions, as J. Adamczak, chairman of the 1948 GC session, explained in his report, and, for a while, the problem seemed to be settled. Nevertheless, as Brother Kozel, after the session, insisted on maintaining the South American Division, which had not been confirmed by the delegates, this created tension between him and Brother Lavrik, the president of the Brazilian Union.

In 1948, the work was organized in sixteen Union Conferences and Mission Fields, with over 10,000 members.

GC Committee elected in 1948: these six plus one brother from Romania.

New General Conference officers: C. Kozel, president; A. Mueller, vice president; D. Nicolici, secretary.

A certain number of questions which were not dealt with by the delegation were placed into the hands of the incoming GC Committee. There were two delicate questions from the Romanian Union. One of these had to do with the articles of incorporation of the Union, which had already been published in an official paper with some unauthorized changes introduced by government officers who accepted these articles for publication. Because of this publication, the SDA Reform Movement was accused by some leaders of the SDA mother church. Brother Kozel reported on this issue:

"Concerning the [SDA] publication against us, where they refer to a wrong publication that was made, contrary to our principles, by our Romanian leadership, in the Romanian official paper Monitor Oficial of March 5, 1947, we admit that this was true. But we must testify that, until the General Conference session in Holland, July 1948, the General Conference Committee [the leading body] knew absolutely nothing about that document handed in to the Romanian government in opposition to our principles and to our leading body. I am the first competent witness [to what I am saying here]. . . . On that occasion I was elected GC president. And the General Conference was to be transferred from Europe to USA; so Brother D. Nicolici was placed by my side as secretary. . . . Shortly before the [GC] Committee dispersed, Brother Nicolici. . . informed us about that wrong document, which shocked all of us who were on the Committee (most of the delegates had already left). It was annulled, and the necessary correction was made right away by a Committee resolution signed by myself as the new president."–Sabbat-Waechter, September 1, 1971.

The other question from the Romanian Union was concerning a minister who had been disfellowshiped because of adultery and had later been restored to membership through rebaptism. The question: Could he also be reinstated in the ministry? Normally, there was no need for such a question, because our position, based on the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, had been very clear from the beginning. But an answer had to be sent. And the answer was a positive "No." The GC Committee members signed that answer. It happened, however, that one of the cosigners was a morally disqualified minister who should have been disfellowshiped, but who had just been put on the GC Committee while our two most responsible leaders knew about his situation, because he himself had informed them.

Later on, other leading brethren, members of the GC Committee, heard about this problem and also found out that this was not the only case of official tolerance toward immoral ministers. Worse than that. They were surprised at the arguments used by some of the highest leaders who tried to justify the toleration of guilty pastors, allowing them to remain in their offices. This proved that there was a strong tendency to introduce a new standard, lowering the discipline of the ministry and thereby encouraging more corruption. The new controversial issue testified that the leadership was divided over a fundamental principle.

To aggravate the situation, a unique setup in the organizational structure of the Reform Movement was unwisely accepted by the GC delegation at the end of the 1948 session. The GC presidency and treasury were entrusted to the same person. This arrangement led to the creation of new problems. Irregularities in the financial administration (such as GC funds kept in personal bank accounts) became a sore spot in their experience and increased tension among the leaders.

There was also a great deal of authoritarianism and arbitrariness in the GC administration, about which the leaders of the American Union had to protest most vehemently, as can be seen from their letters and circular letters. And they were not the only ones to resent this unfortunate situation.

History proved once more that even good men, thinking that they are doing the right thing, can be honestly mistaken. Serious mistakes committed by main leaders, if not admitted and corrected without delay, generally cause a reaction, and may involve the whole church in a controversy. It was the interaction of these factors that prepared the way for the crisis which reached its climax in May 1951.