The seminary at Andrews University has posted a statement on its website refuting the doctrine of “male headship” in Adventist church leadership. Titled “On the Unique Headship of Christ in the Church,” the statement asserts that the headship of Christ is “non-transferable” to either men or women.
The seven-page statement begins:
We, the faculty of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, affirm that Christ is the only Head of the Church (Eph 1:22; 5:23; Col 1:18). Therefore, while there exists legitimate leadership in the Church, no other human being may rightfully claim a headship role in the Church.
It goes on, referencing heavily the Old and New Testaments as well as Ellen White, to discuss God’s moral law of love, the great controversy between Christ and Satan, and reasons why the headship of Christ is unique and non-transferable headship.
According to Scripture, Christ is the only Head of the Church and the human members of Christ’s Church collectively (male and female) make up the body of Christ (Eph 1:22-23; 5:23; Col 1:18; 2:19; cf. 1 Cor 11:3; Col 2:10)
Since Christ is the only Head of the Church, no other can be head of the Church. That is, headship in the Church is unique to Christ and is non-transferable. . .
Accordingly, the role of “head” in the home (Eph 5:23) is not transferable to the realm of the Church. Indeed, the idea that the role of “head” in the home would or should transfer to other realms is a fallacious non sequitur (that is, the transfer from one realm to another does not follow logically). For example, one’s role in the home obviously does not translate into a similar or analogous role in one’s workplace.
Beyond the logical problems inherent in the move from head of the home to headship in the Church, two demonstrably biblical rationales exclude such a transfer. First, as already noted, Christ is the only Head of the Church. Any attempt at proliferation of “heads” in the Church is thus unacceptable for it is a step toward usurping the unique headship role of Christ, who is the only mediator between God and humans. It is unscriptural to speak of any kind of headship in the Church apart from that of Christ.
The seminary affirms the democratic, rather than autocratic, form of church government that has always been a hallmark of the Adventist church.
The authority of those leading the Church is conveyed to them by the Church. This authority is delegated by Christ to His Church and implemented through its representative system. Thus appointed leaders become stewards of a power that should be exercised on behalf of Christ and for the benefit of those they lead. The functionality of authority does not negate equality among the members given to the Church by Christ. As the Spirit leads the body of Christ, not just the few in leadership, those leading out should seek to allow their decisions to be guided, insofar as possible, by the wisdom and insight of the group. As a Church, we thus give decision-making authority not to any single president or chairperson, but to committees, where those that lead the group are seeking the wisdom and, where possible, consensus of the group.
The statement specifically refutes the theory that male headship, though not God’s original ideal, became the church’s model after the fall of Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Although various interpretations of Gen 3:16 have recognized some kind of post-Fall disruption of this pre-Fall egalitarian ideal, the Bible consistently calls us back to God’s original plan for full equality without hierarchy (Song 7:10; Isa 65:17, 25; cf. Gen 1:29-30). Paul’s writings, though often misunderstood (2 Pet 3:16), maintain this Eden model (Eph 5:21-23), affirming with the rest of Scripture the Gospel ideal of the ultimate restoration of the Eden model (cf. Matt 19:8; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 3:28). Ellen White also underlines this redemptive paradigm: “Woman should fill the position which God originally designed for her, as her husband’s equal” (AH 231).
The statement concludes, just before a list of eight “Affirmations and Denials”:
In sum, any form of headship claimed by a mere human, whether male or female, usurps the sole headship of Christ over the Church. Christian service, including Church leadership, is to reflect but never usurp Christ’s leadership. Thus, while Christ’s manner of leadership is to be reflected by believers, Christ’s particular role of leadership is unique and not to be encroached upon by any mere human. Christ alone is the Head of the Church body, of which all Christians are members and submitted to Him.