The Seventh-day Adventist Church is currently engaged in a global discussion about the practice and parameters of women’s ordination. This discussion began in Battle Creek, Michigan in 1881 at the General Conference Session.1 In October 2018, in Battle Creek, the Annual Council of the General Conference Administrative Committee met to discuss various issues, including a document2 that addressed the need for compliance to the GC’s voted actions.
Union and Division leaders from around the world gave stirring speeches for and against the proposed document. The Danish Union president even shaved off half his bushy beard to make a point about compliance and non-compliance! However the debate was not limited to our church representatives at Battle Creek. Discussions on social media and other online forums have revealed robust, vigorous, and diverse opinions, with many perceiving the compliance document to be an attack on the movement towards Women’s Ordination.
Recently the proponents of each view have begun to take increasingly antagonistic positions towards each other. Church leaders and church members suddenly have black-and-white opinions on this issue. “You are either with me, or against me” is the reverberating battle cry.3 In response, the General Conference has just made the unprecedented move of producing a video which calls all church members to respect and submit to the decisions made by the “church family.”4
Church members and leaders should always be able to share their thoughts and opinions on any topic. No individual has a monopoly on the truth, and we should all be willing to listen and learn from the experience and expertise of others. While some views may not align with ours, we should never let these views become so divisive among us that we begin to ridicule and belittle others, or tell them to submit to our views.
As Adventists, we have one magnificently beautiful truth that we can all rally around: The Word of God. Flowing majestically out of this, are our 28 Fundamental Beliefs that all reveal beautiful pictures of God and His love for humanity. I see the Word of God as a sparkling diamond, and our Fundamental Beliefs as shimmering sides of this diamond — they are all connected, and all reflect the central reality that “God is love.”5
Women’s Ordination is not a Fundamental Belief of the Adventist Church. It is not a core teaching of our church, and neither is it a core teaching of the Bible. If you search the Scriptures, you won’t find a “thus says the Lord” for or against Women’s Ordination. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one for ordination in general, in the form we use it today. As this 137-year-old debate has shown, there are a variety of views that can be formed based on the Scriptures. Some conclude that the Bible firmly teaches that women cannot be ordained. Others conclude that women can be ordained.
It would seem that the issue of Women’s Ordination is going to polarize and divide the Adventist Church. But before extreme positions are taken, and comments are made that cannot be withdrawn, I would like to call all Adventists to keep things in perspective.
Women pastors are nothing new. Between 1878 and 1915 there were 30 Adventist women besides Ellen White who were “licensed to preach.”6
Since then, the numbers of female pastors around the world continued to increase, and in 1989, the General Conference Annual Council voted to “commission” female pastors. This commissioning gave them the official authority to lead a local church, which among other things involves:
• Preaching, teaching, giving Bible studies, running Sabbath School classes.
• Running board meetings, business meetings, and other church meetings.
• Performing baby dedications, baptisms, marriages, anointings, and funerals.
Commissioning also “qualified” women pastors to serve as Departmental leaders at Conference, Union, and Division levels.
Since 1989, female pastors have been able to do 99% of the tasks that a male pastor does as a local church pastor. Despite the current debate about Women’s Ordination, the authority to do the tasks listed above has not changed. It is vitally important that we recognize this. In recent years, some people have tried to rewind the clock and argue whether women should even be pastors. If this is their position, then I suggest that they are out of compliance with the worldwide Adventist Church which approved the commissioning of female pastors 29 years ago!
The current discussion is not whether women can be pastors. It’s about whether women can be “ordained” pastors. In addition to the tasks listed above, an ordained pastor can:
1. Sign the paperwork to form a new church.
2. Sign the paperwork to unite two (or more) churches into a single church.
3. Sign the paperwork to close a church.
4. Ordain church elders or deacons.
5. Be employed as a Conference, Union, Division, or GC president.
This is what the current debate is over!
I personally don’t know any pastor — male or female — who joined the Gospel ministry with the sole purpose of doing any of these things! Every pastor I know joined the ministry because 1) God called them to be a pastor, and 2) they have a burning desire to use their God-given abilities to win others to Christ. If any individual joined the ministry specifically to perform one of those five duties, I would be the first to question their suitability for the role. But I am yet to find any pastor for which this is true.
The big question is: Should women be able to perform those additional duties? Surely it’s a matter of social justice! Of equality! Of fairness!
What do you think?
Ultimately what matters is that you have used your freedom of choice and your God-given talent and ability to study the issue for yourself, and come to a considered conclusion. Don’t give up your freedom to prayerfully think, study, wrestle with ideas, and make decisions for yourself. Don’t give in to the “popular” view held by those in your faith community. And certainly don’t give in to whoever shouts the loudest or makes the latest YouTube video.
Use your freedom of choice to make your own decision. And once you have made your decision, continue to respect the decisions of others. All of our thoughts and opinions develop and mature over time. Perhaps we can be more patient with others who are still wrestling with these ideas, and continue to reflect on how we can share the Gospel truths with them in increasingly relevant ways. I often wonder if we shared the Sabbath in the same way that we shared our thoughts on Women’s Ordination, if anyone would become Sabbath-keepers! Instead, may we all speak the truth in love, and speak in ways that build up the body of Christ.7
Finally, to all the members of our Adventist Church family: There is not a single good reason for our church to be divided over the current debate. We serve an incredible God who died to save us all. His infinite love extends to every individual, even those you disagree with. May God’s love fill your heart so that when you stand in heaven next to someone you bitterly disagreed with on earth, you can still smile, and be amazed that God saved a sinner just like you.
Notes & References:
2. “Regard for and Practice of General Conference Session and General Conference Executive Committee Actions”
3. For example, Dan Jackson’s November 5 statement: https://spectrummagazine.org/news/2018/hooey-and-credulity
4. “This video was created by lay members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and was produced in partnership with the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qni-B8emmjs
5. 1 John 4:8
7. Ephesians 4:15
Jared Martin holds degrees in Construction Management and Ministry & Theology. He currently works as an Associate Pastor at Mt Gravatt SDA Church and Brisbane Fijian SDA Church in the South Queensland Conference, Australia. In his spare time, Jared helps develop a Sabbath School app for Apple and Android which is available in 37 languages: https://sabbath-school.adventech.io/
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