How Money Got Us Into Trouble
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How Money Got Us Into Trouble
The Complaint of the IRS
Now, in 1965 the United States tax people (the Internal Revenue Service, or IRS) began to complain that young Seventh-day Adventist ministers who had been designated “licensed ministers” and hadn't yet been ordained were not really ministers and so were not eligible for the parsonage allowance.

But if the licensed ministers were to be classed legally as ordinary employees rather than as self-employed persons (like ministers), the church would have to pay half of their Social Security obligation. With about 850 licensed ministers at the time, the total cost to the church in the United States loomed large.

For twelve years denominational leadership stalled the IRS, hiring lawyers to persuade the government to change its mind so the church could save all this offering money. Eventually, when it became evident even to the lawyers that the IRS was not going to change its mind and was, in fact, about to seize conference properties in lieu of taxes and penalties, the leaders asked the IRS what they could do to convince the government that licensed ministers really were ministers (and so were eligible for the parsonage allowance and self-employment status).

The IRS answered that if the denomination voted that licensed ministers were authorized to perform weddings, the IRS would be satisfied. So the denominational leadership voted (1976) that in the NAD licensed ministers were empowered to do what they had never been empowered to do, namely, to perform weddings and baptisms, provided only that they were ordained as local elders and that their conference committees approved.

This decision to make licensed ministers virtually equal to fully ordained ones was not voted without protest. In particular, some of the General Conference treasurers, the men most particularly concerned about finances, argued that it was wrong to reduce the value of ordination merely in order to save money, even to save offering money. Speaking for himself and for some of his associates, Robert Osborn, as assistant General Conference treasurer, wrote earnestly to the NAD leadership: “There is a definite detected feeling that it is hardly becoming to alter our attitude toward our licensed ministers for tax considerations in a particular country [the U.S.A. ].”

But the response of the top leadership was that “the difference between the functions of the licensed and ordained ministry is not a moral or theological issue, but a matter of church policy,” and that “the process by which the church trains its ministers obviously is not a matter of theology nor doctrine, but one of methodology, policy.”

In this way, for the sake of saving money, the denomination deprived ordination of much of its distinctiveness. No longer did the General Conference look on ordination as a calling whose nature was determined by Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy. No longer was the work of the ordained minister a matter for theological study; instead, it was a matter for committee action and administrative policy. And this view appears to be the reflected in the NAD's official position today in regard to the role of women.
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