The Seventh-day Adventist Church and Its Corporate Entity
By Matthew Peinado
Globally, the Seventh-day Adventist church has an expansive repertoire outside of church ministry. Education, hospitals, international mission work, and other programs are all funded and run by the SDA church. To accomplish this diverse portfolio of ministry, the SDA church is comprised of two separate entities: the church, which handles the ministerial aspect, and “Adventist Inc.,” a figurative term used in this article to represent the aspect of the church that handles the legal, economic, and corporate responsibilities. Pastor Andreas Beccai, head pastor at Walla Walla University Church, and Randy Robinson, North American Division treasurer and CFO, offered their input on the issue.
Without the organization, funding, and practical aspects of Adventist Inc., it would be impossible for the church to operate with the level of efficiency and breadth of scope it currently does. Randy Robinson said, “[The church and corporation] can be in tension, but are always working together in order to accomplish the broader goals of the church.” 
However, Adventist Inc. has its shortcomings.
Any religious organization with a corporate structure can run into the serious danger of commodifying the gospel.
Pastors like Kenneth Copeland, an popular American televangelist, have used the message of Jesus to amass personal fortunes.  They turned the gospel into a commodity, a tool for profit. Although no individuals profit from the SDA church, there is still a serious danger in using the gospel as an economic tool.
Pastor Beccai stated, “There is a way there can be a commodification of the gospel [in the SDA church]. I think that comes when we want to put the bottom line at quote-unquote ‘winning souls’ over following the gospel…That is when the gospel has been just railroaded.” 
Pastor Beccai shared stories he heard from older pastors about people who knew nothing about the SDA church or the gospel being pulled into the church and rapidly baptized to meet a quota. This was done regardless of the individual’s spiritual well-being, commitment to the church, or relationship with Jesus.
Although this practice is virtually unheard of today, the sentiment can remain the same: the gospel being sidelined in an economic pursuit.
Despite Adventist Inc.’s control over many administrative aspects of the church, it lacks an iota of authority or influence in toxic church communities.
Though Adventist Inc. operates as a business in many ways, churches are not franchises. Pastor Beccai stated, “There are no quality control inspectors.”  There is nothing to stop church communities from falling off the rails and nothing that can force them back on track if they do.
Adventist Inc. always has an economic motivation to keep churches happy. This can lead to conferences giving churches what they want rather than what they need to grow spiritually.
“When we send staunchly hard-edge conservative pastors to already hard-edge conservative churches or the opposite with liberal, does that actually help the health of the church? I don’t think it does… Most people will just say ‘let’s just send someone [to toxic churches] with a similar philosophy and just hope we don’t get too much trouble from them.’ To be honest, I don’t think that’s the best way to do it. In theory, I think the best way would be to say ‘you are an unhealthy church and you are doing material damage to the gospel of wholeness and healing… we’re going to shut you down…’” said Pastor Beccai. 
Although Pastor Beccai recognized the challenges and dangers that would come with this level of power given to the conference, his frustration was clear. Adventist Inc. most often does nothing when churches turn toxic because they can’t do anything, leaving members to get caught in the crossfire.
Another issue some Adventists take with Adventist Inc. is how it distributes tithe.
Pastor Beccai described, “This is something I hear about often from church members… people will say ‘If I give my money here that means this goes to you right?’ and we’re like, ‘No it doesn’t…’ For every one dollar you give, only something like seventeen cents stays local.” 
In reality, the amount of money that is redistributed back to local churches is greater than 17 cents for every dollar. 
After tithe is collected every Sabbath, the church treasurer sends all the money to the local conference. The local conference sends a portion of it to the union. The union sends a portion of the money to the division. Lastly, the division sends a portion to the world church headquarters.  Ultimately, without this distribution of funds, many of the SDA church’s ministries could not continue to operate.
In contrast, an individual church operation would have essentially 100% of the money that is given to the church stay local, however this would virtually eliminate funding to many of the church’s ministries like the Adventist Development and Relief Agency. 
Adventist Inc. perhaps most notably fails when the church itself does something wrong. Pastor Beccai emphasized that this problem exists throughout all of Christianity.
Pastor Beccai postulated, “When there is a case of sexual abuse, when there is an abuse of pastoral power, when there is financial misconduct, what happens? The spiritual arm always sees this stuff and says ‘oh my word that is awful.’ But at the same time, there is this competing impulse to protect ourselves.” 
When people in the church do something wrong, the corporate wing will try to protect the church from legal repercussions and protect the church’s image.
“In the midst of it, you think ‘well what does the gospel call us to do?’ The gospel calls us to repent, to acknowledge our wrongs… but to do these things is antithetical to what the corporation is trying to do for the organization,” said Pastor Beccai. 
As Adventists, our purpose is to live the gospel as Jesus did. When Adventist Inc. acts in ways that do not reflect the message of the gospel, it is the responsibility of Adventists to call attention to and correct the shortcomings.
- Interview with Randy Robinson, 10/8/21.
- Goodstein, L. (2009, August 15). Believers invest in the gospel of getting rich. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/us/16gospel.html.
- Interview with Pastor Beccai, 10/7/21.
- Seventh-day Adventist Church. (1985, October 14). Use of tithe. Adventist.org. Retrieved from https://www.adventist.org/guidelines/use-of-tithe/.
- Seventh-day Adventist Church. (n.d.). Tithes and offerings. Washington Conference of Seventh-day Adventist. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonconference.org/give/tithe-offering.
- Interview with Pastor Beccai, 10/7/21.