Women’s Ordination: Some Overlooked Realities

By admin On June 24, 2015 Under Uncategorized

“He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In!”
– Edwin Markam, from his poem Outwitted


handsFor years Seventh Day Adventists have debated whether women should or should not be ordained. However, somewhere in the discussion, we have overlooked some key realities regarding this issue, realities that should bring us together regardless of our polarized positions. What follows will underscore these.

A Matter of Semantics

The decision before the SDA church on women’s ordination is operational and ecclesiastical. Our modern system of “ordination” bears little resemblance to the biblical practice (see Ty Gibson’s article on this, linked in the next quote).

“Many well-meaning, modern Seventh-day Adventists assume they’re standing up for a biblical model of ‘ordination’ when, in reality, very little about our version of ‘ordination’ is biblical at all!” – Ty Gibson, Women’s Ordination: Is the Church Free to Act?

Many misunderstand what the vote will decide at the General Conference Session in San Antonio. Much of the current debate is needless because the vote is not going to decide whether women should be ministers. Women pastors were already fully authorized by the General Conference as “commissioned” ministers in 1990. They already perform the same functions and have the same role as ordained ministers. They will continue to so, regardless of the vote. The only difference between men and women ministers is the word (“commissioned” instead of “ordained”) that is printed on their certificate after the ceremony.

When you boil it all down, the only real issue now is whether the individual world divisions can choose to call these female pastors “ordained” instead of “commissioned.” It is a matter of semantics.

The Spirit of Prophecy uses the terms “commissioned” and “ordained” interchangeably. They mean the same thing. There is no reason not to use the word “ordained.” When viewed this way, it becomes clear that it is not really a theological issue. It is a question of semantics, and there is no logical (or theological) reason to continue discriminating between the term “commissioned” and the term “ordained.”

39 years ago, the General Conference Biblical Research Institute concluded that “if God has called a woman, and her ministry is fruitful, why should the church withhold its standard act of recognition?” Their point is still valid today: we have no good reason to call a woman “commissioned” instead of “ordained.” The world church has already dictated God’s will on the issue. God is now calling us to step forward and gently implement it.

“If God has given His stamp of approval to women in ministry (through the General Conference policy of 1990), who are we to withhold official recognition?” – William G. Johnnson (retired Adventist Review editor)

Women’s Ordination Does Not Threaten
Fundamental Theological Unity

Listening to all the arguments, I wonder how many of us have actually gone and looked at our 14th Fundamental Belief. We should!

28-fundamental-beliefs-1-638SDA Fundamental Belief #14:

The church is one body with many members, called from every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. In Christ we are a new creation; distinctions of race, culture, learning, and nationality, and differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us. We are all equal in Christ, who by one Spirit has bonded us into one fellowship with Him and with one another; we are to serve and be served without partiality or reservation. Through the revelation of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures we share the same faith and hope, and reach out in one witness to all. This unity has its source in the oneness of the triune God, who has adopted us as His children.

We have studied women’s ordination for years without consensus. This Fundamental belief is probably all I really needed to post here.

Unity Comes Down To This

Gordon Bietz, President of Southern Adventist University, brings it to where the rubber meets the road:

“Disunity will come to the church when the majority seeks to impose convictions on the minority in areas that are not defined by the 28 Fundamental Beliefs. Ordination should be a policy determined at the division level; it cannot become Fundamental Belief No. 29, because there is no consensus on the issue in the Church. The worldwide unity of the Church will be assured when the focus is maintained on Jesus and our shared mission outlined in the 28 Fundamental Beliefs. Disunity will result when all are required to come to an agreement on issues over which we have developed no consensus…We must avoid the temptation to continue to more narrowly define the truth so as to exclude those who have a different perspective.” – Gordon Bietz, Is Ordination of Women a Threat To Our Unity?

Unity In Diversity

Ellen White seconds the point (although I guess it was she that made the original point):

“The connection of the branches with one another and with the Vine constitutes them a unity, but this does not mean uniformity in everything. Unity in diversity is a principle that pervades the whole creation. While there is an individuality and variety in nature, there is a oneness in their diversity; for all things receive their usefulness and beauty from the same Source.”                                                             – Ellen White, SDA Bible Commentary

“Those who do labor together should seek to be in perfect harmony. No one should feel that he cannot labor with those who do not see just as he sees, and who do not in their labors follow just his plans. If all manifest a humble, teachable spirit, there need be no difficulty. God has set in the church different gifts. These are precious in their proper places, and all may act a part in the work of preparing a people for Christ’s soon coming.”

– Ellen White, Gospel Workers 92

Scripture and Brotherly Love Implore Us Not To Draw a Line in the Sand

The following two quotes by Ty Gibson need to be read by every Seventh Day Adventist in the world.

“The crucial point is this: the Bible does not expressly command or forbid the ordination of women. Scripture contains no explicit statement, explanation or mandate regarding the matter either for or against. And this is precisely why the church should refrain from dictating a universal rule on the matter. It is not a matter of doctrinal orthodoxy, nor is it a matter of moral imperative, to ordain or not to ordain women. Therefore, it does not constitute a test issue that determines fellowship.

guntohead“Where Scripture makes no command, neither should we. We simply cannot draw a line in the sand where Scripture draws no line. We should be aiming for maximum freedom and minimum restriction in matters that involve no heresy and no sin. Women’s ordination is simply one of those matters concerning which we must say, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5), and that includes women.”

– Ty Gibson, A Closer Look at Women’s Ordination

“Those who insist that Paul, in 1 Timothy 3, is setting down a timeless moral rule of male-only ordination are faced with a fact that should give them humble, respectful pause: there are numerous equally committed and conscientious Adventist scholars, pastors, leaders and laity that do not agree with their interpretation of the text. This reality, alone, is sufficient reason to refrain, in brotherly love, from making the women’s ordination a test question worth dividing the church over.”

– Ty Gibson, A Closer Look at Women’s Ordination

And one by David Asscherick:

“It’s quite simple, really: the reason that there is disagreement on this subject is because it is not as clear as some seem to think it is. The truth is that reasonable cases can be made on both sides, and this is why there are committed, God-fearing, biblically-literate Seventh-day Adventists on both “sides.” You’ve never heard me say, nor will you, that if someone doesn’t share my position on this issue that they are evil or liberal or Jesuits or in apostasy etc. This is plainly a Romans 14 issue, so I wouldn’t worry too much about the fact that good people see it differently. Ty’s basic point, and mine, is that we shouldn’t be voting an absolute and universal mandate on a disputable and non-fundamental issue. Be at peace, brother! God is still on the universe’s throne.”

– David Asscherick, from his Facebook wall

Called to Liberty

We are called to liberty in areas outside the fundamentals of the gospel. I believe, with Ty, that Scripture bears out that the church is free to act with a “yes” vote this summer. His appeal is my appeal:

“Even if you believe that it is not ideal for women to be ordained to the gospel ministry, surely you can see that it is far less ideal to lose the confidence of many women, men, and young adults who find that they can only perceive a rule against women’s ordination as unnecessarily restrictive and hurtful to the cause of God. Surely, in the absence of an express biblical proscription or prescription about “ordination,” it is better to be largehearted and gracious, to extend affirmation to our sisters, rather than vote down their sense of calling.

On this matter, I believe Scripture bears out that the church is free to act.

Will we?”

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