I have shared in the past about the two-year Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) efforts to understand what ordination is and whether or not it is appropriate to ordain women to the gospel ministry in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Unfortunately, when the blog site was suddenly shut down a few months ago we lost several years of archives and I’m not sure we can recover the series on ordination (written in 2012) without re-posting the whole series, which I may choose to do.
The hope in 2012 was that TOSC would first of all come to a consensus on the meaning of ordination and then on the question of ordination of women. Failing to attain consensus on the latter question, the request was that the committee bring suggested solutions to preserve the unity of the church when it is divided over the interpretation of the Scriptures.
By a vote of 86-8 TOSC voted (on July 23, 2013) a theology of ordination statement that affirmed that ordination is the public recognition of those the Lord has called to local and global church ministry. Ordination confers “representative authority” rather than “special qualities” or a role in a “kingly heirarchy.” The official report can be found at http://news.adventist.org/en/all-news/news/go/2013-07-23/study-committee-votes-consensus-statement-on-theology-of-ordination/. The statement itself can be found at http://www.adventistarchives.org/consensus-statement-on-a-seventh-day-adventist-theology-of-ordination.pdf. Based on these points, the question before TOSC became whether or not “the Lord has called” women in the Adventist Church to local and global church ministry and whether women can represent the church in such roles.
When it comes to women’s ordination, the bottom line is that the Bible NEVER addresses the question. No Bible writer ever raises the question. That means that arguing the case for or against women’s ordination is always an extrapolation based on Scriptures addressing other issues. As a result, it is rare for anyone to change their mind on the subject based on Bible study alone. If the Bible does not truly address the subject, then the conclusion will be driven more by culture and providence (the sense of God’s working in a particular context) than by Scripture. An example of such an occurrence in the Bible is Acts 8-15. Before Acts 8 Christians assumed that the church was a subset of Judaism and would include only Jews. But then Philip met the Ethiopean, Peter met Cornelius, and Peter had a dream. By Acts 15 it became apparent to the majority in the church that the Spirit was working with Gentiles and bringing them into the church. The church then took a fresh look at Scripture and saw possibilities there that they had missed before (see Acts 15:13-19). The mission of the church demanded the inclusion of the Gentiles and the church learned to read the Bible differently as a result.
As TOSC continued, the North American Division of the Adventist Church produced an amazing and persuasive document in favor of ordaining women: http://static.squarespace.com/static/50d0ebebe4b0ceb6af5fdd33/t/5282a08be4b0b6e93a788acc/1384292491583/nad-ordination-2013.pdf. By way of contrast, divisions of the church opposed to women’s ordination seem to have done little fresh study. The one exception to this was the minority report of the North American Division (pages 193-208 of the NAD document linked above), which broke some new ground, suggesting that male “headship” was a core element of biblical theology that limited ordination only to men. This was a new theological approach that had never been seen in Adventism before the mid-1980s (Sam Bacchiocchi) or even in Christianity generally before the 1970s. That doesn’t make it wrong, but it does raise questions as to whether such a reading of the Bible is compatible with historic Adventist theology, for example (headship arguments were used against Ellen White in the 19th Century, for example). The faculty of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary has concluded that headship theology takes a dangerous turn away from Scriptural principles and I agree with them. You can see the Seminary statement at https://www.andrews.edu/sem/unique_headship_of_christ_final.pdf.
Instead of one “solution” to the division in the church, TOSC came up with three. A summary of each can be found at https://www.scribd.com/doc/228366133/TOSC-Final-Papers. In short, the first proposal denies ordination of women to the gospel ministry and rescinds the ordination of women to positions of local elder. If accepted this proposal would return the church to the position it was in before 1970. The second proposal was to affirm that the Bible supports ordination of women to the gospel ministry, but that it should not be imposed on church bodies that would find ordaining women detrimental to mission in their fields. The third proposal affirms the Bible exhibits a pattern of male leadership, but that such biblical patterns are often adapted to changing circumstance, so entities of the church that feel mission requires the ordination of women could apply to do so.
What to do? What to do? In the next blog I humbly offer my solution to the potential division in the church.