Options for Unity

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.”


13 thoughts on “Options for Unity

  1. Owen Bandy

    This is the very conclusion I came to several years ago. I have sought to stay out of the polarities of the debate and take a position on this “tradition” of ordination that maintains unity. There is still room to embrace all that Paul says on the rolls of males and females, in context, and at the same time defend the dignity of both. Thanks for sharing this John.

  2. Denise

    I would only amend that to be unions and conferences deciding, and strike divisions from the decision. Instead specify that divisions be allowed to accept and support all those voted on by the union.

  3. DJ

    …simply stated, God’s word is not schizophrenic, in reference to the statement “let each division decide”, ijs

  4. John Wallace

    So will South Pacific Division have a case if they asked the world Church to allow Sunday-keeping by Seventh-day Adventists in certain circumstances? Like women’s ordination the practice exists already.

  5. Francisc

    I consider unfair to push a policy for approval that has been denied twice by the General Conference Session.

    Actually the Bible addresses the issue of ordination (laying on of the hands). As far as I am concerned the New Testament speaks only about male elders and mentions nothing about female elders and pastors are actually elders who represent the conference (although some wish for more). Do we need a “thou shalt not ordain female elders” to be sure that this is Gods way of working?

    A yes may consider the years of study on this topic, but not the plain truths of the Scriptures.
    A yes will recognize and validate a violation of the church policy by some people.
    A yes on this topic will show our ignorance regarding the character of God who never changes. (Please give reliable facts of one ordained woman, I couldn’t find any plain example.)
    A yes will allow the mission of the church to flow, but not the mission God has given us. One needs not the ordination of the church to be a missionary, to shine the light from God in this world. Ordination is simply for the inside not for the outside.

    Dear Jon Paulien, the Bible does not tell people not to smoke, but it gives enough counsel not to practice this. Some people mentioned in the Bible who followed the Lord were drinkers, some had more than one wife, but this was not the plan for them (and neither for us).

    I find though interesting that we as professed christians are so eager to understand only what fits us.

    P.S. could you please tell me where din Ellen White so often said that circumstances alter cases? (and hopefully where the context applies to the current situation)

    1. DeeDee BIndernagel

      But while we present these methods of work, we can not lay out an undeviating line for every one to follow. Circumstances alter cases. God will impress those who are longing for guidance. He will say to His human agent, “Speak to this one or that one of the love of Jesus.” No sooner is the name of Jesus mentioned in love and tenderness than angels of God draw near, to soften and subdue the heart. {MC 37.2} (Manual for Canvassers 1902)

      I send this matter to you so that you shall not make a mistake. Circumstances alter cases. I would not advise that anyone should make a practice of gathering up tithe money. But for years there have now and then been persons who have lost confidence in the appropriation of the tithe, who have placed their tithe in my hands, and said that if I did not take it they would themselves appropriate it to the families of the most needy ministers they could find. I have taken the money, given a receipt for it, and told them how it was appropriated. {2MR 100.2}

      The question was asked, if brother and sister Salisbury are not especially needed in the school, and are needed elsewhere, should not they be permitted to go? I told them that circumstances might alter cases; but all the light given me is that a mistake is being made in planning for members of your faculty to go to Europe to engage in the school work. {SpM 198.5}

      God wants us all to have common sense, and He wants us to reason from common sense. Circumstances alter conditions. Circumstances change the relation of things. {3SM 217.2}

      Often the professed followers of Christ are found with hearts hardened and eyes blinded, because they do not obey the truth. Selfish motives and purposes take possession of the mind. In their self-confidence they suppose that their way is the way of wisdom. They are not particular to follow the path that God has marked out. They declare that circumstances alter cases, and when Satan tempts them to follow worldly principles, they yield, and making crooked paths for their feet, they lead others astray. –Manuscript 135, Oct. 31, 1902,

      1. Francisc

        I know the quotes :). I was asking for a quote that really sustains the current discussion, which deals with the same principle.

  6. Brent King

    This is about giving our brothers who don’t agree with us space. It is about inclusion instead of exclusion. Gordon Bietz, President of Southern Adventist University, makes it very clear why a YES vote is so important:

    “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.”


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