Currently (2012) the Seventh-day Adventist church worldwide is involved in a discussion involving ordination of women as pastor unlimited equal to male pastors. This discussion, the ordination of women as elder/pastor is not new. It is at least 40 years in process. Some claim even longer.
We read about this in Seventh-day Adventists publications and in “Letter to editor” of these publications. Let me state clearly what you are going to read is my experience over the years with this issue and is not to undermine or diminish women ministry. There is plenty of room for female members to work in the church and take a position for which no ordination is requested. The question is about church-headship. You will read my mind on this issue and what I have found regarding this matter. I claim copyright, but if you want to share it, you may feel free.
In Adventist Review dated October 1, 2012 a timeline is printed giving an overview what happened during that period of 40 years starting in 1972. In that year the first woman was ordained as local church elder and this took place in the Potomac Conference of the Columbian Union of Seventh-day Adventists. This was done without any official world church action.
In that same year I was attending a General Conference Annual Council as a GC committee member representing the Northern European West Africa Division (Now called the Trans European Division). The ordination of women as local church elder was discussed, but no action taken. The meeting took place in the Takoma Park SDA church opposite the old GC office. No Biblical reason was given why this should happen. When I asked for a reason it was because women graduating from a theological course and being employed could not get the USA parsonage allowance for ordained ministers. But if ordained as church elder and commissioned to act as an ordained pastor they would get the allowance. The late church historian Dr.Mervyn Maxwell published a documented paper regarding this issue. Money was the catalyst to start the women ordination debate, not a Biblical finding.
In 1975 during a spring council of the General Conference, action was taken in regard to ordination of women as local church elder. Better would have been to take such an action during a full five yearly General Conference session.
In 1990 during the General Conference Session in Indianapolis the matter of women ordination was brought to the vote and voted down. This was done late Friday afternoon. I attended as delegate for the South Pacific Division. After the vote was taken a motion was presented from the floor to take a vote for the purpose of reversing the action of women ordained as local church elder. The chair found it was too late to continue the meeting and if the motion could be amended to refer this point to the General Conference Committee. By general vote this amendment of the motion was accepted. We left the session with the impression that this matter would be discussed by the GC committee and a report to be given during the next GC session.
The Utrecht General Conference Session again had on the agenda the ordination of women as pastor. It was again voted down. After it was voted down the question was raised if there was any report on the motion of the 1990 GC session to have the ordination of women as local church elder reversed.
The chair answered, that he had no report. Apparently it was never discussed by the GC committee during the period in between the two sessions, 1990-1995.
Now in 2012 we are back again to discuss the same issue of ordination of women as pastor in an unlimited position as male pastors. Are we looking for
favourable and Biblical reasons to support this issue which may have been overlooked in previous Biblical studies and research? Or are we by all means and reasons trying to push something through in order to be politically correct and in harmony with a changing culture outside the church and be like what other churches are doing? Not all churches outside the Seventh-day Adventist faith community do favor women ordination as elder or pastor. When you do a Google search you will be informed regarding which churches.
We are well aware of the fact that the outside world and society is changing and that many churches have changed, but is that a reason for the Seventh-day Adventist church to do likewise? Don’t we have to adhere to what the apostle Paul wrote in Rom.12:2 “not to be conformed to this world” (KJV & NASB). There are more scripture passages which do discourage us to take the world as an example and how we should handle church issues.
As far as church leader-/headship is concerned the apostle Paul again has not left us in the dark. 1Tim.3:1-5 and Titus 1:5-9 do give us clear cut instruction regarding who should be head or elder of the church. The indication is clear towards a male (husband) direction. They must give evidence of having been able to govern their own family properly, unmarried persons who have not that kind of experience are excluded and females.
Do not use 1Tim.2:11, 12 to counteract what the apostle writes in 1Tim.3 and Titus 1. 1Tim 2:11, 12 deals with another issue and I will not touch on it in this article. Also do not use Gal.3:28 to support women’s ordination. Here also we have another issue. The point here is salvation in Christ or belonging to the seed of Abraham. Yes at the foot of the cross we are all equal sinners and in need of salvation, but when we become members of the body of Christ, of which He is head we must look to 1Cor.12:12-23. Here the body of Christ or the church is likened to a human body, which has different organs. While operating in one body as a unit they do not have the same function. So it is with the body of Christ of which He is the head and His body operates through different functions, each part operating in its own place and having its own responsibility.
The Seventh-day Adventist church believes in the Testimony of Jesus (Rev.12:17), which is the Spirit of Prophecy (Rev.19:10). We also believe that this was and is manifested in the ministry of Ellen G.White and her writings which are still among us. The autumn council of the General Conference conducted in Rio de Janeiro in 1986 stated “Seventh-day Adventists believe
that God inspired Ellen G.White. Therefore her expositions on any given Biblical passage offer an inspired guide, to the meaning of texts without exhausting their meaning or pre-empting the task of exegesis.” This was published in Adventist Review 22.1.1987 and also published by the South Pacific division.
This is also in harmony with number 18 in the book “Seventh-day Adventists believe” and found on page 247 of the 2005 edition. On that page we read about Ellen G.White that “her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction and correction”
In the book THE GREAT CONTROVERSY page 595, by Ellen G.White we read that we should accept the Bible and the Bible only and for all we should ask a ‘Thus saith the Lord”.
Now the question do we have something in her writings which can help us to understand Biblically the relationship between male and female? We think we do have. We turn to Test.vol.1 page 421. Here we find that she writes: “The scriptures are plain upon the relations and rights of men and women.” If it is plain it should not be difficult to find. But she has more. She leads us to the beginning of things to find out these relations between man and woman. For most of its teachings, nearly all, Seventh-day Adventists turn to the beginnings, for the Sabbath, the state of the dead,salvation,sanctuary,marriage, what to eat and more. For the relationship between male and female we must also go the beginning. That is what the messenger of the Lord does. We find in Manuscript Releases vol.3 page 184 the following:” The Lord calls upon all to study the divine philosophy of sacred history written by Moses under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The first family placed upon earth is a sample of all families will exist till the close of times.”
Here we have the beginning and the word of the Lord or a Thus saith the Lord. What was the relationship in that first family? Adam was the head and Eve was made to be a help meet for Adam (Gen.2:20-22). Eve did not become Adam’s associate in headship of that first family but his helper and thus it should exist till close of times. We cannot use Gen.1:27, 28 and conclude that both Adam and Eve were given equal mandate over the Earth. Genesis 2:20-22 fills in the details and that Eve was Adam’s helper. In that first family there was only one head, not two. So it should be till the close of time.
We also find in Eph.2:20 that the church, the household of God is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. This can only refer to the 12 apostles ordained by Jesus Himself, (Mark 3:14 KJV). Jesus did not ordain any from His female followers. Prophets may refer to those who wrote the 39 books of the Old Testament among whom there is also no female who has left us with any holy scripture. Only the writings of male prophets have been used to complete the Old testament an giving us the foundation for knowing who the Messiah would be,the Chief Corner Stone of the household of God, the Church.
Moreover when we come to the end of the Bible and are Introduced to the structure of the New Jerusalem we are told that the names of the twelve tribes of Israel and the names of the twelve Apostles are part of the city, Rev.21:12-14.It must become clear that divine equality regarding male and female is of a different nature than the human equality of 21st century. We now have to decide what we will choose the divine or the human.
The church, the body of Christ is modelled after the human family. Christ the head. (Eph.5:23-25). Let this remain so even in the 21st century. The male carries headship of the church the female functions as helper. We may even say, here we have a clear word from the Lord by the pen of His messenger.
Pastor Jan T Knopper
Cooranbong December 2012
Revisited August 2013