Amidst the avalanche of material that has been written on women’s ordination in the past several years, the North American Division Report presented this past week distinguishes itself as a comprehensive document that covers all the important aspects of the topic, includes material from multiple viewpoints and presents a way forward for the church.
The NAD Executive Committee voted overwhelmingly to accept the report and approve its recommendations.
The committee’s most significant finding comes pretty quickly. In the summary report, on page 6, the statement is made: We believe that an individual, as a Seventh-day Adventist in thorough commitment to the full authority of Scripture, may build a defensible case in favor or in opposition to the ordination of women to the gospel ministry, although each of us views one position or the other as stronger and more compelling.
The prime example of differing positions can be seen in the discussion of headship. While agreement can be found on the equality of men and women in the Bible, it breaks down over headship. Those who would stop short of ordaining women as pastors take issue with appointing women to positions that place them in spiritual authority over men. “Others believe,” the report says, “that biblical headship does not apply to church leadership roles but is limited in application to the husband’s role as servant-leader in the home. Still others contend that headship is not even a biblical concept, but rather a relatively modern term, and that the original Greek word for head (kephale), denotes source, not leader.” (p.9)
This disagreement on headship, however, is not a sign of disunity according to the NAD Committee. “Because a scripturally based, reasonable case may be made in favor of or opposed to the ordination of women to pastoral ministry, a world-wide mandate is nether practical nor necessary,” the report says (p. 9) “It is the conclusion of the study committee that differences in opinion and practice on this issue do not constitute disunity in Christ nor in the Church.”
The five-page report summary, present by chair of the NAD’s study committee Gordon Bietz, is the first of the articles that we will feature as we work our way through the various documents associated with the Theology of Ordination Study Committees in the weeks between now and 2015 when the issue will be addressed at the General Conference session in San Antonio. Our plan is to share at least one document a week over the next 19 months. We look forward to the conversation about this material which the church has worked so diligently to produce. Here is how the report begins:
This report is the product of our assignment by the North American Division to conduct a comprehensive review of the theology of ordination—its theory and practical implications—and to present our conclusions and recommendations for action.
Since May 2012 our diverse committee of pastors, theologians, and administrators has been engaged in a thorough exploration of ordination, identifying current policy and practice and considering the appropriateness of ordaining women to pastoral ministry in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
In addition to studying Scripture, we considered numerous papers, books, and resources, and we undertook various assignments for in-depth research. We exercised accountability to each other by reading drafts together aloud, discussing our findings, and incorporating peer feedback in revisions. And we prayed together, inviting the Spirit to govern our process and guide us into all truth. The unified desire of our hearts has been to bring glory to God and to obey His will.
Definition of Ordination
We understand all believers to be called and equipped—anointed—by God for service. Individuals are imbued by the Holy Spirit with spiritual gifts in order to edify the body of Christ and fulfill the gospel commission, and in this general sense all believers are “ordained.”
The committee agreed on the following statement as a common point of reference:
Ordination is a formal acknowledgment and authentication of one’s call to service ministry by God. Authentication should be understood as ratifying what only God can dispense. Ordination neither supersedes God’s call nor enhances it. Ordination affirms the genuineness of the call as having borne the proper fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work. God initiates the call and equips the recipient for enacting it. God’s person accepts the call. God’s people affirm the call.
While the recommendations in this report represent the position of the overwhelming majority of the committee, not all concur; however, the committee stands in unanimous agreement with respect to the following statement:
We believe that an individual, as a Seventh-day Adventist in thorough commitment to the full authority of Scripture, may build a defensible case in favor of or in opposition to the ordination of women to the gospel ministry, although each of us views one position or the other as stronger and more compelling.
As a culmination of our study, the committee submits the following recommendation for North American Division action:
RECOMMENDATION 1: In harmony with our biblical study, we recommend that ordination to gospel ministry, as an affirmation of the call of God, be conferred by the church on men and women.
Because the Bible does not directly address the ordination of women, and because the principle-based evidence is neither complete nor irrefutable, it can be expected that differing conclusions may be drawn by equally sincere and competent students of God’s Word. We believe the interpretive approach adopted by the Seventh-day Adventist Church as explained in the “Methods of Bible Study” document may allow Bible-believing members to have differences of opinion on this issue. In light of this, we submit this additional recommendation:
RECOMMENDATION 2: The committee humbly recommends that the North American Division support the authorization of each division to consider, through prayer and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, its most appropriate approach to the ordination of women to gospel ministry.
What follows in this report is a summary of the key points of our study, including evidences from Scripture and the writings of Ellen White, which we regard as overwhelmingly supportive of ordaining women in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In-depth analysis of the major themes, as well as a minority report, are provided with this report.
Click here to read the remainder of the summary report.