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Moving Adventist Thought and Policy Forward!


Embracing the Collegiality of All Believers!

The term, “the collegiality of all believers” may be new language for Adventists. Yet it simply seeks to express a commitment to seek out the implications of what it means for all believers to engage in a new set of relationships – those that Christ himself taught when he said, “All of you are brothers and sisters.” The quality of these relationships is especially on display in the relationships those in pastoral leadership have with the rest of the people of God.

Counterfeits of a Genuine Collegiality of All Believers1

In the early centuries of the Christian era, the Church for the most part modelled its organization on the secular structures of authority. Ecclesiastical relationships often became distorted by imbibing the following characteristics to whatever degree:

A. Hierarchical Authority: Such authority consisted of a chain of command and two distinct classes of individuals, clergy and laity, the clergy having undergone the rite of ordination. The hierarchical ladder had at its head, a monarchical bishop-pastor with complete control over local church affairs. The bishop was the decision maker for the church. No rite of the church could be conducted without him. He was surrounded by elders, and deacons who were at the bottom of the hierarchy.

B. Sacramental Authority: The OT priesthood was often regarded as a type of Christian ministry. Thus, the ordained Christian clergy were enabled through the rite of ordination and the reception of a special seal to function as mediators between God and their people in the mass. The salvation and spiritual life of their people depended on the priest. The existence of the church itself depended on the ordained ministry.

C. Elitist Authority: Gradually, it was accepted that the rite of ordination, and all it signifies, separates the ordained from the unordained. Only members of this elite group can occupy the office of pastor.

D. An Orientation toward Male Headship in the Church: The Christian Church has always taught that Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. The NT represents him as the male bridegroom of the Church which was his bride. The Church came to view those separated for special ministry by the rite of ordination as having assumed this position of headship in the place of Christ. Two widely used Latin phrases express this belief – in persona Christi Capitis (in place of Christ the Head) and Vicarius Filii Dei (in place of the Son of God). In such theology, the rite of ordination confers such headship powers in a marriage ceremony of sorts in which the church becomes the priest’s spouse. This theological orientation therefore can’t entertain the notion that women should be ordained. Rather, they must be in hierarchical submission to male pastors.

Jesus contrasted the exercise of lordly authority with his mission of service and sacrifice as he recommended this mission of service to his followers (Matthew 20: 25-28). One may either cling to old structures of power and domination with its worldly kingdom and institution-building or follow our Savior in his humble mission of service to humanity. How will the church embrace a genuine collegiality of all believers? What will this renewed vision look like?

A Renewed Vision of Truly Charismatic Adventist Ministry and Mission

The heavenly kingdom building ministry and mission of Christ was truly Spirit-filled as He led people to find abundant life and eternal salvation in Him. Christ was truly gifted by the Spirit for that mission and ministry. On the day of Pentecost, Christ as our newly inaugurated High Priest sent his Spirit to believers. They were gifted to continue and ultimately complete his mission and ministry.

The call of God to engage in Christ’s ministry and mission is enfolded within these gifts of God which the Spirit imparts just as he wills. Thus, each believer within the people of God has a Spirit-initiated call to be engaged in that work. Some individuals are called to serve in pastoral leadership. Every believer is called by their individual gifts to serve in some role. Christ calls His people to engage in a process of discernment by which they identify those who will serve in every role in its mission and ministry.

A renewed vision will give attention to a genuine collegiality of all believers and find expression in at least four areas of church life. Each of these areas is treated below:

A. A Renewed Vision of Adventist Church Organization

Adventist church organization has often been envisioned as hierarchical in nature. Here the General Conference President is conceived of as the “first minister.” Hierarchies lend themselves to thought of power, domination, and status-seeking.

A Lateral or Clockwork Model of Church Organization

Changing our model of church organization may assist in cultivating a different set of relationships among us. A helpful analogy here is that of the mechanics of an analog watch, with the multitude of cogs and gears, nesting within each other. Each of these parts has its own function and its specific sphere of influence, whether large or small. Each part is essential to the smooth operation of the whole.

The emphasis now is on the specific purpose of each part, not on so-called higher or lower levels of organization and on the authority to serve. The set of relationships here can be very different than in the command and control mechanisms of a hierarchy.

B. A Renewed Vision of Global Partnership and Collaboration in Adventist Ministry and Mission

For many years, personnel, resources, ideas, and strategies flowed from the home fields of North America, Europe, and Australia/New Zealand to the mission fields in most other world regions. Any mission strategy like this is increasingly inadequate. For more than a generation now, Adventist mission strategy has evolved into a unified and intentional global mission strategy. Increasingly, personnel, resources, ideas, and strategies have been flowing from everywhere to everywhere in the global Adventist world. People from all sectors of our world must be heard!

Meanwhile, a multitude of cultural perspectives increasingly seek to add to the discussion of how to contextualize the gospel within every culture. A global partnership and collaboration and grassroots education must be initiated. We must recognize that while the process of disciple-making aims to form and norm the worldview of believers according to the Scriptures, the role of culture in shaping worldviews cannot be discounted.

One telling example of where such global partnership and collaboration was not well executed can be seen in the discussions and debate surrounding the role of women in ministry and the associated topic of ordination. These discussions have been happening for fifty years now but until the last five years, people from outside North America and Europe have rarely been included as partners and collaborators. The discussions and debate has primarily reflected the needs and concerns of North America, the unspoken assumption being that other parts of the world would catch up if North America leads the way. Meaningful channels for discussion and education have been curtailed in many places.2 Is this the way to initiate truly global progress? Comments made at the TOSC meetings by one African group of scholars were to the effect that the global discussion and debate was had with people talking past each other and engaging in a dialogue of the deaf. Perhaps we hardly have begun to listen to other cultures and their perspectives!

Apparently then, it has proved easier to share personnel, resources, and strategies on an “everywhere to everywhere” basis than to embrace truly global theological discussion and gospel contextualization. It is an essential feature of “the collegiality of all believers.”

C. A Renewed Vision of God’s Right to Gift and Call Individuals of Both Genders to Pastoral Leadership and Service to All

Appointing people as Adventist pastoral leaders is not driven by a “man’s right” to be the head of a congregation. Neither is it about a “woman’s right” to serve in pastoral leadership. Rather it is about “God’s right” to gift whomever he wishes for leadership. And if God’s calling is enfolded in his gifting, who are we to resist his will in this regard and blunt his plan and purpose? This must be our emphasis.

This is vastly different from an emphasis on gender equality and the achieving of a status not accorded to one gender or another up till now. Such status seeking, whether by depressing the status of women or by an attempt to elevate the status of women to an equality with men, is wrong-headed.

Darius Jankiewicz has written concerning this issue,

True Christian ministry is not about status, rank, gender, equality, rights, or having ‘spiritual authority’ over others; it is about being slaves of Christ and his people; it is not about ruling over others but about being examples, and through the witness of our lives, wooing others to follow Christ.3

Does our practice of the “collegiality of all believers” truly incorporate such service and ministry?

D. A Renewed Vision of a Casteless and Indivisible People of God

I respect those who are in pastoral leadership as under-shepherds of the flock of God. I honor those among us who have been ordained to serve and am certain the rite of ordination is a blessed experience. I remain committed to the development of a new paradigm concerning rites of appointment of pastoral leaders and thus the development of revised credentialing policies.

However, this is far different from accepting the terms “laity” and “clergy” as useful or even accurate terms within our Adventist context. This thinking is not new to me!4 Recently I discovered a helpful summary of my thinking about developments in the early centuries of the Christian era. This summary was written by Hans Kung.

The fellowship of believers, the collegiality of all believers, of all those who had charisms and fulfilled their own ministries … gave place to the collegiality of a special ministry within the community; the collegiality of the leaders of the community, the episkopoi, or elder, who increasingly began to see themselves as distinct from the community, from the “people,” this is where the division between “clergy” and “laity” begins.5

Over a period of several centuries a sacramental/institutional model of ecclesiology developed in place of a dynamic and Spirit-filled model of ministry and mission. Nowhere is the character of such a sacramental/institutional model better illustrated than in the development of this clericalism. The Protestant reformers undid some of the accretions of lordly spiritual authority that has accrued to the clerical class. These accomplishments were adopted by Adventists and have served us well. However, given that there is an almost inevitable drift toward clericalism via subtle, even sinful changes in attitudes and modes of operation this is a subject to which we may profitably turn our attention.6 The best way to address this issue is through a studied renewal and re-formation. And many studies have already been done – the TOSC studies, for example.

The issue of whether or not there is a distinction between that status of clergy and laity is important.7 Such a distinction is easily drawn in a sacramental view of ordination of Roman Catholic theology where the priest receives an indelible seal on being ordained and thus is enabled to represent Christ and dispense grace. There is no biblical precedent for this, however. At least three lines of evidence argue against this:

The Priesthood of All Believers: 1 Peter 2:9 proclaims the priesthood of all believers. Their individual calling as believers is to be lived out in service and ministry to others according to their specific gifts. Clergy are not to act in the place of Christ while others do not. All are to continue the ministry of Christ to our world.

The Derivation of the Terms “Clergy” and “Laity”: The Greek word klerosfrom which we derive the word “clergy” is used in the NT but always to describe the entire group of Christian believers. It is never used to describe a group of leaders. (I Peter 5:3; Acts 26:18; and Col. 1:12). The Greek word laosfrom which the word “laity” is derived has several meanings in the NT. At times, it describes a group of people, or more specifically the nation of Israel. At other times the Christian community as a whole is embraced by this term. The distinction between the clergy and laity emerged over a long period in the early centuries of the Christian era, especially as the hierarchical structures of the church developed. The term “clergy” became colored by status and sacerdotal function while the term “laity” took on its more restricted meaning.

NT Vocabulary Doesn’t Reinforce any Distinction between Ministers and Members: Three Greek terms (“arche”; “archonand time”) are variously used in the NT in association with authority and rulership in secular contexts, and at times to refer to Jewish leaders, supernatural powers, and even Christ. They are not used for leaders in the NT church. In this way, the NT doesn’t reinforce the idea of any distinction between ministers and members.

Genuine “collegiality of all believers” will be brought much closer to reality as we dispense with language and concepts that would seem to support any status differences between pastoral leaders and other members of the church.


A focus on experiencing the genuine “collegiality of all believers” within an Adventist context may contribute to real revival and reformation. Believers may yet embrace a truly charismatic view of ministry and mission. This will lead to a new vision of at least four areas of church life according to biblical mandates.   

Specifically, we may reform our thinking as to the nature of authority. This will result in a new vision of ecclesiastical structure that eschews hierarchical thinking. And also, a new vision of global partnership and collaboration in ministry and mission will be established. Then too, our emphasis will be on God’s right to choose the necessary pastoral leadership, thus dispensing with discussion about status, and about a man’s right to be head, or a woman’s right to equality. Lastly, a new vision of a casteless and undivided people of God will provide the Spirit of God room to move on the hearts of all believers to continue the ministry and mission of Christ in our world.


Notes & References:

1. This section of the paper was suggested by the work of Darius Jankiewicz, ‘The Authority of the Christian Leader,’ in South Pacific Perspectives on Ordination, eds. Humble, Graeme and McIver, Robert (Cooranbong, NSW, Australia: Avondale Academic Press, 2015), 158-163.

2. Examples of such lack of both openness and biblical education are easy to find. The South Pacific Division have maintained a virtual official denominational black-out on such activity. Also, the East Central Africa Division Biblical Research Committee Report to the TOSC presented early in 2014 strenuously invited ‘grass-roots’ education on issues concerning ordination before the San Antonio General Conference Session vote in July, 2015. This didn’t happen.

3. Ibid., 179. The previous paragraph was suggested by Darius Jankiewicz.

4. My beliefs on this subject are outlined in ‘Temple of God Ecclesiology and an Adventist Theology of Ordination,’ in Ibid, 254 – 270.

5. Hans Kung, The Church, (London: Search Press, 1968), 410 as quoted in Harold Hill, Leadership in the Salvation Army: A Case Study in Clericalization, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006), 8. The term ‘collegiality of all believers’ was first suggested by this quotation.

6. One such illustration of this process is provided by the experience of the Salvation Army who having deliberately chosen a to be a theology and movement without ordained clerics at their very foundation in 1878, found themselves drifting toward such a theology. They began the practice of both commissioning and ordaining their officers in 1978. See Leadership in the Salvation Army mentioned in the previous footnote.

7. I am following the reasoning of Wendy Jackson, ‘Should Ordination Be Considered a Sacrament in the Seventh-day Adventist Church? An Evaluation in the Light of the Biblical Data,’ in South Pacific Perspectives on Ordination, eds. Humble, Graeme and McIver, Robert (Cooranbong, NSW, Australia: Avondale Academic Press, 2015), 180 – 206.


Peter Marks has taken early retirement from a lifetime of denominational service in Australia, New Zealand, and the Republic of Korea as a pastor/evangelist and as an English Professor. He is a graduate of Avondale College of Higher Education (BA Theology), of Newbold College (MA Religion), and the University of New South Wales (Master of Information Management – Librarianship).

Image Credit: Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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