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BRI: Wrong and Right Reasons in the Women’s Ordination Debate


Ekkehardt Mueller, a key member of the General Conference’s Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC), has published a piece in the latest newsletter from the Biblical Research Institute, of which he is deputy director.

Called “Some Wrong and Right Reasons in the Women’s Ordination Debate,” Mueller takes us through a list of arguments for and against women’s ordination and tells us how they are flawed. He says that “some arguments in favor of women’s ordination misrepresent Scripture or do not take it seriously. Arguments opposed to women’s ordination likewise reveal similar flaws.”

He wants to discredit arguments that “do not represent Scripture well” and arguments that “have not much to do with Scripture and therefore are either false, weak, or of a secondary nature only.”

The first list is headed “Ordination for Wrong Reasons” and gives eight “reasons,” each followed by Mueller’’s explanation as to why the argument should not be used. The second list is “Non-Ordination for Wrong Reasons,” again listing eight arguments, each debunked by Mueller.

Many of the “reasons” listed are so simplistic, it isn’t even necessary to read Mueller’s explanation as to why the reason is flawed. But the exercise does offer an interesting insight into the debate, and some of the “reasons” and following arguments are worth paying attention to.

Under the “Ordination for Wrong Reasons” heading:

4. “The ordination of women is necessary because it is unethical not to ordain women.”

Viewed with the eyes of this generation, the issue is an ethical one, at least for many, and it may be so indeed. However, the Bible does not contain a command to ordain women to pastoral ministry. Therefore, it must be clarified first whether or not the Bible allows for or implicitly suggests the ordination of women. Having clarified this issue, one can talk about ethics. Otherwise, it could be argued that from a biblical perspective it may not be morally wrong to withhold ordination from women and that refusal to do so by no means violates the divine command, as there is no violation of a divine command by not ordaining Sabbath School teachers.

Under the “Non-ordination for Wrong Reasons” heading:

5. “Ordination of women is unacceptable because it is opposed to the traditional understanding of the role and functions of women. It militates against family relations that are described in terms of submissiveness.

This argument is not necessarily true. Many proponents of women ordination would still maintain that within the household women should be submissive to their husbands and husbands should love their wives with the love of Jesus. However, they would not accept that each and every woman must be submissive to each and every man. On the other hand, even if this argument were true, it cannot be used to prevent change, if Scripture would imply change.

At the end of the article, a short section talks about the “Right Reasons,” and reiterates the need to put Scripture first in the debate. “We take seriously the biblical principles and make a distinction between biblical descriptions and biblical prescriptions,” Mueller says. “We also trace developments within Scripture.” He notes that Scripture must remain “first and foremost” and after this “some of the secondary arguments may provide some additional support.”

TOSC is due to meet for its second of four meetings this month. The study committee is set to conclude its work in June 2014. It is tasked with reaching consensus on as many points as possible, and developing and recommending a Seventh-day Adventist theology of ordination to recommend to the 2014 Annual Council for consideration.

Read Ekkehardt Mueller’s article in its entirety here.

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