What Do I Hope Will Happen? (AC18-11)

I trust the collective wisdom of church leadership, but voted decisions of the church have not always proven to be good for the church. The 2014 decision to put an up or down vote on the floor of the San Antonio session has in retrospect proved to be a big mistake with escalating consequences. And 2014 is far from the first such mistake. Ellen White spoke about this in Testimonies, volume 9, page 278: “Many matters have been taken up and carried by vote, that have involved far more than was anticipated and far more than those who voted would have been willing to assent to had they taken time to consider the question from all sides.” When documents are so controversial that they split the leadership of the church down the middle (GCDO’s recent 32-30 vote to put these documents on the floor of GCEC), I am very uncomfortable seeing these documents voted and implemented. When nearly half of those at the heart of the mission do not approve the danger of this being a mistake that will cause serous unintended consequences is high.

The reality is that the early church did not operate by vote, they operated by consensus. The only vote mentioned in the Bible (to my knowledge) is mentioned in Acts 26:10. There we are told that Paul cast his vote in the Sanhedrin in favor of punishing Stephen (who ended up stoned to death). The early church operated by consensus, talking things over until a solution appeared that most or all of the leaders could agree with. This is what happened in Acts 15. Having said that, it is probably impossible to govern a voluntary organization of 20 million members by consensus. But there is an alternative. Making all substantive actions dependent on a super-majority of two-thirds or even 75%. If 75% are needed to approve something, leaders will have to work hard to find common ground and will be less likely to push actions that can split the church. But that is a discussion for another day.

So what happens if these documents are approved? I would hope that they would be implemented on the Gamaliel Principle. In Acts 5:29-39, the Sanhedrin determined to execute the apostles for preaching Jesus as the Messiah. Gamaliel, one of the most respected members of the Sanhedrin, warned against that. He indicated that if the apostles work was of God, it would succeed regardless of what the Sanhedrin did with the apostles. If their work was not of God, it would fail. In other words he was saying, “Put these differences in God’s hands. Let Him demonstrate that this new direction has His blessing. Don’t put yourselves in the place of God.” Such an approach would allow for some reprimand and even punishment, but in the end allow the diversity to live and prove itself. Coercing the conscience does more harm than the behavior you are trying to control.

But what if these documents and procedures don’t pass, what if they are rejected? Are we doomed to have drama every Fall until the Lord comes? Surely there is a better alternative. If these documents fail (it looks to me as if it could go either way), I suggest members on all sides lay aside pride and go back to 2010 in spirit. In sports this is sometimes called a “do over.” Knowing what we know now, what would we have done differently? Do we love each other enough to respect the consciences of all? Is there a way to treat women equally without ordaining them? There are proposals out there that accomplish that. Perhaps with both sides tweaking such proposals we can come to a consensus that frees all consciences to pursue the mission of the church without reservations. We can respect the biblical convictions of both sides and find a way forward together. Ordination, after all, is not a biblical concept (the 2015 document voted in San Antonio stated exactly that) and adds no power or prestige to a pastor. It merely indicates that the person has the church’s approval to speak in its behalf. In a practical sense the church has already given that approval the day it hires a person. So ordination is more of an honorary element than a functional one. Would we split the church over who gets a badge of honor and who does not? Seems rather silly when you put it that way. In my view, the way out of the current impasse is to reverse the actions all have taken since 2010, at least in theory, and see if there is a middle road that we could have chosen then. Perhaps it is not too late to choose it now.

In conclusion, let me briefly reflect on some research I did a few years ago on the leadership language of the New Testament. I studied many books and articles on the subject and did my own wrestling with the New Testament (I ended up with more than a hundred footnotes). What fascinated me in this study was that there are only three passages in the New Testament that give specific principles on how church leadership should function. One of these was more localized, Acts 20:17-35. The other two are core to everything, Matthew 20:25-28 and John 13:13-15. I will close with these two passages, which are self-explanatory. Matt 20:25-28 (context James and John– parallel Mark 10:42-45): “But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” John 13:13-15: “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

11 thoughts on “What Do I Hope Will Happen? (AC18-11)

  1. Karl Leukert

    Thank you for this balanced and thoughtful way forward. May the Holy Spirit lead our church leaders in the paths of scriptural action.

    Reply
    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      The four-page document that accompanied the yes or no vote made that point. “Since the Bible neither mandates nor requires women to be ordained, shall we allow divisions. . .” That document should be available on the GC web site.

      Reply
  2. Denise k Bindernagel

    Is there a way to treat women equally without ordaining them?
    —————-
    Yes we could use the Scandinavian Solution and ordain NO ONE. How do you think it would fly if we said we could treat blacks or Hispanics equally without ordaining them? You know, separate but equal. Is there any way anyone who refuses them ordination is acknowledging and supporting these women God has called, gifted, and sent us? For me it is a matter of telling God, “No.” Since ordination is a recognition of God’s calling (see the TOSC report), to not ordain is a denial of God’s calling and I just can’t do that.

    From where I stand the stakes are very high. I believe one of the reasons we have not seen the Latter Rain we have prayed for most fervently, is because God knows that we would not accept it in the vessels He has said in Joel 2 and Acts 2 that He would send the Rain in.
    ______________________________
    There are proposals out there that accomplish that. Perhaps with both sides tweaking such proposals we can come to a consensus that frees all consciences to pursue the mission of the church without reservations.
    ————-
    If in other places people choose to limit who they will accept from God or if God knows a woman could not best accomplish His work and so sends none to them, that is for there. I know when the SDA church accepted Ellen White many left and some still deny her ministry. I know that in China where I would never have guessed women could be effective there is great evidence of God giftedness. I wonder what would happen if women were more accepted even here in Cali? What souls, what spiritual development are we cheating ourselves out of?
    ___________________________________
    We can respect the biblical convictions of both sides and find a way forward together. Ordination, after all, is not a biblical concept (the 2015 document voted in San Antonio stated exactly that) and adds no power or prestige to a pastor. It merely indicates that the person has the church’s approval to speak in its behalf.
    ————-
    It MERELY indicates that the person has the church’s approval to speak in its behalf? Doesn’t that mean that someone who is refused this doesn’t have that?
    I am a teacher with two master’s degrees. Because of those degrees there are some people who listen to what I have to say in the fields of special education and educational technology. The truth is though, that my time in the classroom is where I got the knowledge and insights to pass on. Nevertheless, my degrees are often what have gotten me entrance into conversations and work. And there are more positions than presidencies that often want an ordained person leading: schools, evangelistic events, and prayer anointings come to mind.
    I have heard many pastors talk about how special their ordination day was. We deny those we refuse to ordain that sense of God and the church’s full support and approval.
    ______________________________
    In a practical sense the church has already given that approval the day it hires a person. So ordination is more of an honorary element than a functional one. Would we split the church over who gets a badge of honor and who does not? Seems rather silly when you put it that way. In my view, the way out of the current impasse is to reverse the actions all have taken since 2010, at least in theory, and see if there is a middle road that we could have chosen then. Perhaps it is not too late to choose it now.
    —————–
    Besides the fact that the other side does not want to go back to 2010 but to 1950 or before, that they want to get rid of ordained elders, women preachers, there is no way I could support going back to 2010. At 68 it is too late to make a difference in my life but it is way past time for freeing up the over half of the work force who need to know they can and should follow God wherever He leads them.

    Reply
    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      I loved all of your points. A clarification or two. If no one is ordained, then all are being treated equally. Is it possible to roll ordination back for males? They did it in Scandinavia, so it is possible. Is it likely worldwide? No. Muddling forward may be the best the organized church can do right now.

      I was ordained with Ted Wilson, so I have some sense of how special it can be. But that specialness was not based on a biblical view of ordination, I was treating it more special than maybe it should have been.

      Reply
  3. Malsomi sailo

    When the entire church should use all our resources preaching the 3 Angels messages for which this church has been formed, it’s really heartbreaking to see that our leaders are sweating over this ordination issue. We need God to swiftly intervene and I’m sure He will soon

    Reply
  4. Ian Fraser

    The vote passed 185 to 124. We now have a committee selected by Ted Wilson that can police the church from top to bottom.
    From Adventist Today

    Reply
  5. Kent Johnson

    I’ve always appreciated your balanced approach to the issue of WO. I am wondering though how you determined Saul voted to have Stephen punished? EGW says Saul was made a member of the Sanhedrin after the death of Stephen. Would not the vote in Acts 26:10 be against other Christians after he became a member? Still not a good thing to vote on.

    It looks like the vote yesterday was two thirds in favor so probably need to make it 75% in order to pass something if we didn’t like the outcome of this vote.

    Reply
    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      EW may or may not have a clearer picture of when Saul became a member of the Sanhedrin. I was just going from his own testimony, whatever that meant. Maybe he meant “gave his voice in favor.”

      Reply
  6. John Gilmore

    Dr. Paulien–Thank-you for all your effort to help us understand this situation–its the day after and I also appreciate your comments today–your former colleague Dr. Tonstad had some thoughts both last nite and this morning that you might be interested in. They are pastoral and helpful–you can find them on the FB page on ‘I support the ordination of women in Adventism’ –Also Disruptive Adventism podcast from last week interviewing David Hamstra is excellent as well–again Thank-you

    Reply

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