Theme of Leadership Summit
“The Spiritual Necessity of Church Unity and Biblical Authority to Accomplish God’s Mission” was the theme at the 11th annual Adventist Global Leadership Summit, held on February 6, 2018, in Lisbon, Portugal.
In his keynote address, Elder Ted Wilson, president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, pointed repeatedly to the importance of 1) a biblical base and 2) the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as well as 3) the Spirit of Prophecy, as the foundation of true unity:
In the process of listening to God’s will, we must have great respect for Him and His Word.”
When the Word of God is held paramount.”
The church is governed by the leading of the Holy Spirit and the biblical beliefs and mission we accept from God’s hand . . . outlined in God’s Holy Word and the Spirit of Prophecy.”
The backdrop of the keynote address is clearly the current challenge of the Church after the San Antonio vote on women’s ordination in 2015.
It is definitely encouraging that Wilson stresses the importance of the Bible as paramount when it comes to unity. The Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) consisting of 106 carefully appointed members, were appointed to the task of "reviewing and analyzing data from the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy” (#1 Term of Reference).
The Adventist Biblical Understanding
TOSC did not succeed in producing a consensus concerning ordination of women. What biblical understanding is then the basis for the Church in this current challenge? The introduction to the 28 Fundamental Beliefs gives vital information:
Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as their only creed and hold certain fundamental beliefs to be the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. These beliefs, as set forth here, constitute the church’s understanding and expression of the teaching of Scripture” (Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, p. 162).
The 28 Fundamental Beliefs must be the starting point to find the biblical understanding of the Church. Fundamental Belief number 14 tells us that “distinctions of race, culture, learning, and nationality, and differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us.”
Fundamental Belief number 17 makes it clear that “the Holy Spirit . . . apportions to each member as He wills, the . . . abilities and ministries needed by the church to fulfill its divinely ordained functions” including “such ministries as . . . proclamation, teaching, administration” and that “some members are called of God and endowed by the Spirit for functions recognized by the church in pastoral, evangelistic, and teaching ministries.”
Male Headship Theology, which seems to be the elephant in the room, is incompatible with Fundamental Beliefs 14 and 17 and finds no support in Fundamental Beliefs 6, 7, 12, 22, and 23.
San Antonio and TOSC
In dealing with the issue in San Antonio, the biblical basis was not focused on. The question to the delegates was this:
Is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry? Yes or No.”
While no consensus on women’s ordination came from TOSC, a 2/3 majority of TOSC said yes to open up for women’s ordination on a regional basis. That fact was not mentioned for the delegates as the issue was introduced at the GC Session in San Antonio. TOSC did extensive studies in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. A 2/3 majority gave strong support for Fundamental Beliefs 14 and 17 as the expression of the biblical base for equal treatment of male and female pastors.
Female Pastors and Non-discrimination
Unions that have employed female pastors in line with current regulations in the Church have in the 28 Fundamental Beliefs a solid base for a non-discriminating practice of female pastors. In the Fundamental Beliefs that are described as “the church’s understanding and expression of the teaching of Scripture,” non-discrimination is clearly expressed.
Identifying non-discrimination of female pastors to fit Ellen White’s description of “individual” or “private independence”/“private judgement” is missing the target. The Church has taken a stand on non-discrimination and has accepted that spiritual gifts are distributed by the Holy Spirit to both males and females. Voted actions of the Church cannot overrule the enabling and the calling of the Holy Spirit.
The Adventist Church and Acts 15
More than 40 % voted yes in San Antonio. The Church is faced with an issue that is dividing the Church in two major blocks. Unless the model of Acts 15 is closely followed, the Church is facing a serious schism. Letting the Holy Spirit speak through the testimony of Peter, Paul, and Barnabas was vital in solving the crisis in the early church. The Holy Spirit has used female pastors to establish Adventist churches in certain areas of the world. None of them were invited to give their testimony when the current issue was up for discussion in San Antonio.
Do to Others as You Would Have Them Do to You
Jesus underlined the guiding principle concerning how to deal with others: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31, NIV). James elaborates on this principle with these words: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, (Love your neighbor as yourself), you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers” (James 2:8-9, NIV).
Discrimination of women is a global challenge. The GC Working Policy has a bold and clear principle: “The Church rejects any system or philosophy which discriminates against anyone on the basis of race, color, or gender.” (GC WP BA 60 05 Basic Principles). Voted actions that are not in harmony with biblical principles alert us to Jesus’ words to the Pharisees: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (Mark 7:9, NIV)
Female Pastors are Vital to the Mission of the Church in Some Areas of the World
In some areas of the world, female pastors are vital to the mission of the Church. Joel’s prophecy makes it clear that God will be using both men and women in the proclamation of the gospel: "I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28, 29, NIV).
Reflections on the words of Gamaliel might be an eye opener in the ongoing challenge:
Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men…in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:35-39, NIV).
Force is Contrary to the Principles of God's Government
Let us give heed to Ellen White’s words in commenting on the greatest of all conflicts, Lucifer’s breaking of the law in heaven: “The exercise of force is contrary to the principles of God's government; He desires only the service of love; and love cannot be commanded; it cannot be won by force or authority. Only by love is love awakened” (DA 22).
Finn F. Eckhoff is Executive Secretary of the Norwegian Union.
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