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Book Review: Bertil Wiklander’s “Ordination Reconsidered”


Dr. Bertil Wiklander
Ordination Reconsidered: The Biblical Vision of Men and Women as Servants of God
Newbold Academy Press, June 2015
Available through Amazon (in print and as e-book)

Ordination of men and women
in the light of the mission of God

This book about ordination in general and of female pastors in particular, breaks new ground in the debate that for decades has been raging in the Seventh-day  Adventist Church and has greatly intensified in the months before the General Conference session in San Antonio. But the author, Dr. Bertil Wiklander, is not just providing a well-argued answer to the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question, whether women may be ordained as pastors. Wiklander looks at the topic of ordination in a much broader perspective—more than most (or all?) other studies have done thus far. The publication of this work is, therefore, an important contribution to the ordination-discussion in the church. It will help the readers to see this wider context, which many may thus far have missed. The overall context is, according to the author, the mission of God.

Wiklander was asked by the Executive Committee of the Trans-European Division of Seventh-day Adventists to undertake a detailed study of the Women’s Ordination (WO) issue, which might, after approval by the Committee, be submitted to the GC-initiated, international committee that studied the question of women’s ordination (TOSC). This was done, but, due to the length of the originally report (over 800 pages), the author decided re-write it a much shorter verse in a more easily accessible form. The fascinating page book (with a little more than 300 pages) that has now been published by The Newbold Academic Press is the result. No doubt, it will serve as an important source in the discussion about ordination issues, that certainly will not end with the forthcoming session in San Antonio.

Bertil Wiklander recently retired from the presidency of the Trans-European Division, after having served in that capacity for nineteen years. He has a scholarly background, with particular expertise in Old Testament studies and biblical languages. He was rewarded his PhD in 1983 by the famous Swedish Upsala University. This fact, and his gift to write methodically, but lucid, qualifies him, no doubt, to write a book such as this. He deals in his book with the issue of Women’s Ordination by thoroughly exploring the general topic of ordination—biblically, theologically, linguistically and historically (general church history and Seventh-day Adventist history). He concludes after carefully looking at all relevant evidence that ordination, as it is practiced in contemporary Adventism, actually has rather poor biblical credentials. Wiklander pays close attention to the biblical instances of the laying on of hands. He is convinced, that the findings do not point in the direction of something that is linked to what church officials do in the context of choosing and appointing people to a particular church office. In most cases it had other connotations. In fact, calling people to a particular position is primarily a charismatic occurrence and the divine call may be affirmed by the church, without any biblically prescribed ceremony. This is a thread that runs through the entire book.

Another thread is the Bible’s unambiguous support for gender equality as a principle that is basic for the fulfillment of God’s mission. It rejects any difference, in principle, in status between clergy and laity. All together—men and women—form the New Testament priesthood of all believers. The ‘problem’ texts that some feel suggest an unequal status (‘submission’ of the woman,  ‘headship’ of the man, etc.) are dealt with thoroughly and convincingly. Many details of Wiklander’s arguments hinge on linguistic choices. Bertil Wiklander’s expertise as a scholar in these areas is everywhere apparent and, therefore, his arguments should receive due—and wide—attention. His explanations are quite easy to follow and are quite convincing.

In this context the short referral to the various cultural milieus in which the Bible originated (and to similarities in other cultures) is very helpful. Wiklander argues that many aspects of these cultures were contrary to God’s original missional plan.  Although God temporarily ‘tolerated’ certain aberrations among his people (such as patriarchy and other forms of male dominance, and such phenomena as polygamy and slavery), he never abandoned the ideal of full equality of all people and, in particular also, of full gender equality—in the home, in society and in the church.

His study of the biblical and all other evidence leads the author to the logical conclusion that the ordination of women should not only be permitted in the Adventist Church, but is actually  required, in view of the mission of the church, and in view of the fundamental, and eternal, biblical truth that all believers are ‘a kingdom and priests’, regardless of gender. This leads Wiklander in an appendix to suggest a number of ways in which the current ordination practice in the Adventist Church might be revised, in order to make it more biblical.

A statement on the back of the book cover is a concise but fitting description of this interesting, thorough and well-structured study, that, in spite of its academic level, is very readable—also for readers without any advanced theological and linguistic background:

For many decades the Adventist theology of ordination has been in desperate need of a biblical revision and clarification. Dr. Wiklander’s book offers a comprehensive and innovative discussion and a thoughtful re-assessment of the current theology and practice of ordination in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The newly founded Newbold Academic Press is to be congratulated with this superb publication. Unfortunately, the book comes a little late, in view of the fact that the General Conference session in San Antonio is now only days away. But it will be available in the GC Book Center and in various other places (e.g. the Newbold College booth) in the exhibition hall at the conference center.

Reinder Bruinsma is a retired pastor and administrator, who remains active with teaching and writing assignments. He has written numerous books, his most recent being “Present Truth Revisited.”

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