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The Illogic of Ordaining Women Elders


I would like to expand the third point that John Brunt made in a July blog post for Spectrum on the ordaination of women as pastors. Logic, I believe, is the weakest link in the argument against woman’s ordination and the greatest reason why it is certain to fail. John’s point is crystal clear. We ordain people because we recognize that they can fulfill the function of ministry. But we allow women to function as ministers because we recognize that they can fulfill the function of ministry. But then we say that women cannot be ordained. He says, “There is no way to make sense out of this.” It is this kind of  illogic that spells the defeat of opponents of woman’s ordination. You cannot continue to argue against a position which you have in effect given in to.

Let me give several other examples of lack of logic in the argument against woman’s ordination. Opponents of woman’s ordination cite Pauline passages where Paul states that women ought to be subordinate to men. Note this statement from Adventists Affirm:

“What does the New Testament actually say about women in elder-pastor leadership roles?
‘I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent'(1 Timothy 2:12). ‘If anyone aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, . . . an apt teacher’ (1 Timothy 3:1, 2). ‘This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you, if any man is blameless, the husband of one wife . . .'(Titus 1:5, 6). ‘As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. . . . If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 14:33-37). There are more New Testament directives on this subject than there are about tithing or footwashing or the Sabbath. These New Testament passages are examined in this issue.”

It is interesting to note that these passages commanding women not to speak are not specifically dealing with the question of ordination but simply their role in the church. Opponents of woman’s ordination then are not simply opposed to the ordination of women in church but to the general role of women as being subordinate to men. If such is the case, they should oppose every circumstance where this happens in the church. However, that is not the case. Their full effort has been to oppose the ordination of women but they should oppose every instance where women serve in a position which implies equality with men. They recognize this is the case with regard to the ordination of local women elders and logically oppose this though their opposition is somewhat muted. Notice what they say regarding women as local elders: 

“Does the Bible clearly teach that a church elder should be a man and not a woman?
Yes. In the lists of qualifications for an elder in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, specific reference is made, among other things, to the fact that an elder must be a husband (Greek aner , man or husband) of one wife. The elder, then, is to be a married man loyal to his wife. Whether we like it or not, the specifications require males.
The very structure of the passage in 1 Timothy supports this conclusion. The qualifications for the office of elder (3:1-7) include being “an apt teacher.” They follow immediately after the prohibition of women as teacher-elders (2:11-15). This placement of the qualifications for eldership (including fitness for teaching) immediately after the prohibition respecting women reveals explicitly that women should not be elders. Making them elders would cast them in a type of teaching role that Scripture specifically prohibits to them.

Does the New Testament distinguish between the office of elder and that of pastor?
No. The term ‘pastor'(Greek poimen) is used only once in the New Testament (Ephesians 4:11) and it refers to leaders of the congregation better known elsewhere as elders, overseers, or simply as leaders. Such leaders, however, were clearly seen as ‘pastor/shepherds,’as indicated by the use of such picturesque expressions as to ‘shepherd the flock’ in describing the work of elders (1 Peter 5:1, 2; Acts 20:17, 28; John 21:16).
In view of the fact that the term ‘pastor’ is seen in the New Testament as descriptive of the shepherding function of elders, the present policy of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to allow for the ordination of women as local elders but not as pastors is based on an artificial distinction between the two offices, a distinction which does not exist in the New Testament. Even the church’s ordination practice underscores the Biblical unity of the two offices: We often read the same Bible passages for both ordinations.

Why not ordain women as local elders? Doing so wouldn’t mean we would ordain women later as pastors, would it?
We have no right to approve a practice that Scripture forbids in principle. Further, the ordination of women as elders will be used as a lever to pressure the church into ordination of female pastors. Though many people now claim that the two issues are unrelated, they exhibit a strong sense of urgency to ordain women elders in as many churches as possible, before the General Conference Session in 1990. If widespread, the practice will be a power base from which to point out that Biblically there is no difference . Then the argument will be, Since we are already ordaining women as elders, how can we justify denying them ordination as pastors? Fidelity to God’s Word is always best for God’s church. It is our strength. Compromise on God’s Word brings confusion and weakness.

This is not a question of logic since they are logical here though a bit inconsistent in not opposing it as vehemently as they do the ordination of women to the pastoral ministry. The same scriptural argument is used against ordination of local elders.  Here the practice of the church is illogical. If the same arguments hold against one as the other, then neither should be allowed.  The General Conference should oppose this as vehemently since the world church has not approved this. This kind of inconsistency cannot be maintained.  Sooner than later women will have to be ordained to the pastoral ministry.

These statements of Paul to be consistent should be applied not to the ordination of woman alone but across the board where women function in a leadership roles under which men are present. Let me mention some of these.

  1. Even in Sabbath School Paul’s counsel would not permit women teachers where there are men in the classes.
  2. In a church school where there are men and women teachers, only a man can act as principal
  3. In a college or university setting, no woman should teach classes where there are male students.
  4. It goes without saying, that any officer of a college or university should be a male.  There should be no woman as chair of a department where there are man teachers.  There should be dean over a college or university except in a women only division such as nursing.  Obviously no women should be president of a college or university. 
  5. Paul would be shocked to find Seminary professors who are women.  These teachers of ministers should all  be men.
  6. No officers on the local, union, division, and General Conference should be women except where their leadership is over women’s departments. 
  7. Of course, no woman ought to serve as minister.

You can see from this list, how inconsistent the church has been in its practices.  The Trojan horse has already entered the city of Troy.  It is only a matter of time before Troy is taken.  The church will not be able to undo what has been done.  In order to  be consistent, it has to allow women to be ordained.  It just doesn’t make sense. 

In  previous articles, I argued that scriptural arguments are countered by other scriptural arguments (the case of circumcision) and the reality of what was happening and that the Bible was written in many different cultures and that as time moved  on cultures changed, e.g., our views on slavery.  One of these cultural elements, I believe is the subordination of women.  As civilization advances it saw the evil of slavery and now it sees the evil of the subordination of women. It is time that we come to recognize the full equality of the sexes. We, in fact, have come to that recognition as I’ve indicated above but for some reason we still continue to  be inconsistent by forbidding the ordination of women. 

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