The pathway to unity in regard to ordaining women who serve in ministerial roles is simple. But not easy. Why?
Intentional and carefully structured study groups commissioned by the church have repeatedly come to no consensus regarding a biblical mandate regarding the matter. Therefore, we as a global church have not taken a position that the Bible prohibits the ordination of women. So the question is not resolved theologically. That is exactly why it is not easy.
It is not easy because we do not like to admit that culture trumps theology. But culture has taken primacy over biblical positions among people of faith time and time again.
Can we simply (and humbly) admit our humanity? For many around our shared globe culture is a huge barrier in the question of ordaining women in ministry. For others it is a matter of moral conscience analogous to faithfulness and integrity. The pathway to unity requires us to acknowledge our humanity, recognize and respect variances in culture, and go on living in peace. For people relying on the grace of Jesus, we would wish that could be easy.
Would that mean we never discuss the matters that distinguish us? Of course not. But if we are to be a global church, and experience unity in the process, we need to act with respect for each other. That means we will listen, dialogue, study, and pray together. But to assert our cultural preference in matters of policy breaks that unity.
Yes, the church voted. And the doctrine of church authority comes into the discussion. My assertion here is that when the church asserts authority apart from a clear biblical position formed in consensus through prayer and study throughout the body it (the authority of the church) is weakened. A better path is to define unity around those matters that the scripture is clear on - not on cultural positions or decisions.
How do we go forward? Note variance to policy in audit reports. Where conferences or unions are out of compliance with the 2015 vote, their constituents should be reminded through those audit notations. But leave it there. Weak? Well, just how strong is a position that rests on culture rather than scripture? How strong are we when our security requires us to insist on global agreement on matters of culture?
Skip Bell is Professor of Church Leadership in the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.
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