Continuing a series on the Bible, ordination, and the upcoming General Conference in San Antonio.
That leaves two options for attaining unity. One is being proposed by David Newman. He asserts that ordination as generally practiced is a tradition inherited from the Middle Ages. The word “ordination,” after all, is derived from Latin, it is not found in the Greek of the NT. Given that reality, Newman suggests we not ordain anyone and solve the problem in that way. I could live with such a position, but since the Adventist pioneers adopted ordination as a practical necessity rather than a biblical mandate, something like “ordination” is probably needed in the church.
I suggest, therefore, one other option. The simplest approach to honor the Bible and yet preserve unity is to affirm that the Bible does not directly address the question of women’s ordination. It neither mandates the ordination of women to the gospel ministry nor forbids it. Neither party would have to give approval to a theology they disagree with. Let’s just agree that the Bible doesn’t directly address the question and that, therefore, differences of opinion on how to apply the Bible to ordination today are to be expected. When differences like this are the norm, unity requires that decisions about ordination be driven by other evidences than the direct teachings of Scripture. Divisions and unions should be allowed to ordain women or not ordain them, based on the leading of the Spirit and the demands of mission in those territories. Circumstances alter cases.
Some might ask: Won’t such a policy itself destroy the unity of the church? Similar differences in policy did not destroy the unity of the New Testament church. Another question. What will happen if an ordained woman is called to a union that doesn’t ordain women? The same thing that happens now with female church elders. If an ordained female elder moves to a church that doesn’t ordain females as elders, she should not expect to be an elder in that church (for better or for worse). If an ordained female pastor receives an invitation to pastor in a union or division that doesn’t ordain women, she should understand that her ordination will not be recognized there, and respond to the invitation with that in mind. If an unordained female pastor is invited to a region that ordains women, she should not be compelled to accept ordination. While there will be relational challenges in the process, the overall unity of the church need not be destroyed on the basis of such an arrangement. Practical arrangements in one local church need not affect arrangements in another. Circumstances alter cases.
The good news is that this very outcome is a real possibility this coming July. According to the document recommended unanimously by top church leadership and voted overwhelming by the Annual Council, the delegates to the GC session can vote to allow “division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry.” A “yes” vote on this question respects the years of study that have failed to settle the question on the basis of the Bible. A “yes” vote on this question recognizes that the church in many parts of the world already calls women to fill pastoral roles, recognizing the Holy Spirit’s call to them. A “yes” vote on this question acknowledges that the Bible often allows circumstances to alter cases. A “yes” vote on this question allows the mission of the church to flow in each territory, while respecting the differences in the way we read Scripture. As Ellen White herself often said, “Circumstances alter cases.”