TOSC’s Eugene Prewitt discusses the question about whether the word “ordained is found in the Bible.
TOSC’s Kevin Paulson discusses Genesis and pre-fall headship, as well as 1 Timothy chapter 2, and the topic of women’s ordination.
Dear Seventh-day Adventist worldwide family,
I wish to somehow send my voice to you, that you may know that I am one among many within the North American Division who do not agree with the consensus from the few at the top who are pushing women to be pastors and elders. I am a Seventh-day Adventist, 33 year-old woman, and it is clear to me from the Bible, our firm foundation, that God has not chosen women to be pastors or elders. I feel that I am not being represented correctly by the current Seventh-day Adventist leadership in North America. As you are in a position of responsibility in the church and with the potential to be among those who will vote on serious issues at the next General Conference session, I am writing this letter to encourage you to be faithful to the word of God. I am saddened to witness the politics and rebellious spirit here in the Pacific Union and the North American Division at large behind the movement for women to be ordained as pastors and elders. It is my plea for you to not be moved by the unseemly politicking in the church, to not be moved by the current culture of this corrupt world, to not be moved by threats or fears alike, but please, please, please, be moved by the Bible.
I can’t help but see the chilling similarity of this current power struggle to the one given us as an example in the word of God – the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. The fearful consequences of their push for the leadership unassigned to them ended in tragedy, and I pray that tragedy is not also our end in the Seventh-day Adventist church over the same issue. If this issue of women’s ordination is unclear to us, it is because our hermeneutics have evolved into that which can erode any of the pillars of our faith, including the truth about the Sabbath. The same hermeneutical principles that have allowed some to embrace women’s ordination will lead to embracing Sunday sacredness as well.
The discourse in “Prove All Things, A Response to Women in Ministry” thoroughly points to the clear Biblical evidence of God’s will to have women very much involved in ministry, but not in the roles of pastor and elder. In a much abbreviated summary, the subsequent Biblical evidence seems more than enough to make this matter clear.
In the creation account alone—before the fall—there is abundant evidence that God put man as the leader and head. God created Adam first (with which God denotes headship – Exodus 22:29, Numbers 3:12), He created woman out of man, He created woman for man to be his “helper,” and Adam named Eve before and after the fall (“woman” and then “Eve”). One wonders, why didn’t God make Adam and Eve at the same time? Man’s headship is directly affirmed in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 11:3, 8, 9, “…the head of the woman is the man… for the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.” God gives us the order and manner of the (pre-fall) creation of man and woman as the reason that “the head of the woman is the man.” To reject the New Testament interpretation of Genesis 2 is not taking precept upon precept and line upon line, but it is in fact rejecting the internal witness of the Bible.
God even cemented role distinctions into our very physical being at creation. It is absolutely impossible to carry on the human race without recognizing role distinctions God has created in us, as a woman cannot reproduce without a man and a man cannot bear the child. Our very physical nature reflects role differentiations.
After the fall, although it was Eve who sinned first and led Adam into sin, God holds Adam responsible. Why would He do that if Adam was not the leader of both? God reaffirms and adds to man’s headship by telling the woman that “he shall rule over thee” (Genesis 3:16). God rejected woman’s attempt to take on the leadership role at the fall. Man’s headship is also reaffirmed in the New Testament in Romans 5:12, “Sin came into the world through one man.” Why doesn’t it say “sin came into the world through one woman”?
We are also familiar with the texts in 1 Timothy 2 that describe women professing godliness—women that are in “subjection,” women who do not “usurp authority over the man.” And what are the reasons given? The order of creation, and the account of the fall. “For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” (1 Timothy 2:13, 14).
How can a woman meet the Scriptural requirements for congregational leadership as listed in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6, that an elder must be “the husband of one wife”? Certainly Paul could have been generic here in regard to gender had he been inspired to by the Holy Spirit. And, although the New Testament church is described as “a royal priesthood” in 1 Peter 2:9, God’s Old Testament church was also described as the same in Exodus 19:6, “a kingdom of priests,” yet God still had men, not women, in leadership of the congregation. All believers are to work for the salvation of others, but not all are to lead in this work.
A question with no logical answer is begged, how can a woman “submit” herself (as it says in Ephesians 5:22 and Colossians 3:18) to her husband at home, but then as soon as they walk into church on Sabbath morning, he is to submit to her leadership? Is she not his wife at church also?
Even just these few Scriptures are more than sufficient to thoroughly convince me that ordaining women as pastors and elders is wrong and not in God’s order; for to come to the opposite conclusion would mean to deny these direct and clear texts. And, in further study throughout the rest of the Bible, in studying the spirit of prophecy and Adventist history, it is affirmed again that ordaining women as pastors and elders is wrong and not in God’s order.
This issue is bigger than we may think, for the same hermeneutics that twist these plain texts of Scripture to ordain women as pastors and elders are the same hermeneutics that will lead us right out of the church in embracing Sunday as sacred. Please, let us not follow the example of Satan who aspired to a position higher than he was assigned by God. Please, let us not follow the example of Eve who, “like restless modern Eves, she was flattered with the hope of entering a higher sphere than that which God had assigned her. In attempting to rise above her original position, she fell far below it” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 59). Please, let us not follow the example of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram who were dissatisfied with the roles God had given them and sought the priesthood also.
I am one voice among the many in the North American Division who disagree with the few that are misrepresenting us. I feel that I am not being represented correctly. With the many others who are being misrepresented by the pro-women’s ordination push, I believe there would not have been such a consensus among the North American Division leadership and other Union and Conference leadership were it not for the politics and unfairness practiced in making these decisions. Please know that there are many Seventh-day Adventists in the North American Division who do not agree with the rebellion manifested in the manner the issue of women’s ordination is being pursued, nor with the very movement itself to ordain women to the office of pastor and elder.
Complete obedience to following anything the Scriptures command is the key to understanding them (John 7:17). Are we willing to be obedient? Please don’t make your decision on this issue as a political decision, nor by the corrupt culture of this world, nor employ the consequential reasoning that leads to compromise, but let your decision be based on the word of God, our firm foundation.
With love and respect,
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Eugene Prewitt, a member of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee, discusses the Bible, slavery, and women’s ordination.
The following is the one page TOSC “Way Forward” statement made by the 32 persons opposing women’s ordination and arguing for a position consistent with the biblical qualifications.
To remain faithful to Scripture, to reaffirm and further promote women in ministry, and to preserve Bible-based unity in the Church, we recommend the following for consideration by the General Conference in full session: (1) Reaffirm and encourage women whom God has called to gospel work by public recognition and licensure; (2) Provide specialized educational opportunities for women in gospel work and ensure fair and just treatment upon their placement in ministry; (3) Promote the greater development of various lines of ministry for women, according to their spiritual gifts, including but not limited to personal and public evangelism, teaching, preaching, ministering to families, counseling, medical missionary work, departmental leadership, etc. While increasing opportunities for women in ministry, we also recommend that we (4) Retain the scriptural practice of ordaining/commissioning only qualified men to the office of pastor/minister throughout the world church in harmony with the consistent example of Christ, the apostles, and the Adventist pioneers; and (5) Return to the biblical practice of electing and ordaining only men to the office of local elder throughout the world church, while allowing women to serve as unordained church leaders under certain circumstances.
Support and Other Considerations
- God calls women to both full- and part-time ministry (Daughters of God, pp. 20, 110; Evangelism, p. 472). The lines of service in which women may work are broad and far-reaching (Exodus 15:20; Judges chs. 4-5; Acts 9:36, 39; Romans 16:1-12; Titus 2:3-5; Testimonies, vol. 9, pp. 128, 129; Christian Service, p. 68). For its mission, the Church must make full use of the indispensable role of women in the ministry of the church. Women “can do in families a work that men cannot do, a work that reaches the inner life. They can come close to the hearts of those whom men cannot reach. Their work is needed” (Christian Service, p. 27). The Church should issue an appropriate license with equitable compensation to qualified women “although the hands of ordination have not been laid upon” them (Manuscript 22, 1892; Evangelism, pp. 491-493; Manuscript Releases 12, p. 160; Gospel Workers, p. 492).
- Although both men and women are called to various lines of ministry, the Bible consistently assigns the office of local elder or pastor/minister to faithful men who satisfy the scriptural requirements. See the examples of Jesus and the early church as well as Paul’s instruction (Mark 3:13; Acts 1:21-26; 6:3; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). This assignment, rather than being based on culture, is grounded by Paul in the male spiritual leadership role established at Creation and reaffirmed after the Fall (1 Timothy 2:13, 14; 1 Corinthians 11:3, 8, 9). While spiritual gifts include pastoral care, this is not equivalent to the biblical office of elder that is today referred to as “pastor.”
- Ordination involves a call from God (Acts 13:2) and recognition by the church regionally (acts 13:3) in harmony with the church globally (see Sketches From the Life of Paul, p. 43). Ordination to the office of pastor/minister (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:1-9) grants full ecclesialastical authority to establish new churches, ordain local elders, baptize converts, and lead out in the ordinances of the church in cooperation with the local conference (Acts of the Apostles, p. 160). In certain circumstances, a woman may serve as a local church leader (Church Manual, pp. 75, 76) without being ordained as an elder (Manuscript releases 19, p. 56).
- Allowing regionally established beliefs or qualifications for ordination would fracture the church, create confusion and disunity, and set a dangerous precedent. It would remove an important protection from non-biblical cultural influences (Acts of the Apostles, pp. 95, 96) and move the church toward becoming an association of national churches instead of a united world church.
- Global church unity can be preserved only by yielding to the “plain” and “obvious meaning” of Scripture (The Great Controversy, pp. 268, 599, 521, 54), rejecting “higher criticism” (Education, p. 227) or other methods of Bible study that give the reader authority over the divinely inspired text (2 Timothy 3:16; Luke 24:27).
- Jesus is our example of servant leadership. His life expresses the loving authority and submission that exist in God’s family in heaven and on earth (1 Corinthians 11:3; 15:28; Matthew 6:10).
After some 18 months of work, the 106 member Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) concluded deliberations with a June 2-4, 2014 meeting. The TOSC study group was appointed as a result of the 2010 Atlanta General Conference session request made by the North American Division (NAD) that the Church consider women’s ordination yet again. It is now possible to look more broadly at what TOSC (not an NAD but a General Conference committee), has revealed.
Key outcomes from the 2013-2014 TOSC process now concluded include:
- The committee agreed that the Seventh-day Adventist practice of ordination was valid (some had urged the practice was unbiblical).
- The committee agreed that women should be involved in ministry. This was never in dispute although some favoring women’s ordination (WO) had suggested it was.
- As meetings progressed it became apparent some supporters of WO were proposing the use of methods that seriously diverged from the longstanding Seventh-day Adventist use of the historical-grammatical approach to biblical interpretation. Advocates of WO unveiled an “adaptation” of the historical-grammatical method and a “major” (2013 NAD Report, p. 24) plan for biblical interpretation they called the “principle-based, historical-cultural” (PBHC) method. This approach they placed on a continuum between the historical-critical and historical-grammatical methods! (Ibid., p. 8). This modification in approach, they said, was “required” in order to address certain “difficult passages” (Ibid., p. 31). Fortuitously for those favoring WO, the use of the PBHC method eliminated from the Bible “conclusive evidence prohibiting the ordination of women” (Ibid., p. 25). The NAD study committee report here quoted from, far from supporting the historical-grammatical method as claimed (Ibid., pp. 7, 8, 14-20) actually treated the 1986 “Methods of Bible Study” document advocating it selectively at best, even criticizing it (Ibid., pp. 23-25).
- Several biblical passages touching the question of Headship were studied in TOSC. Although the committee as a whole was divided, many found the exploration of the Scriptures on this point stimulating and useful.
The spirit of the meetings remained positive, but TOSC closed with no consensus. Participants remained sharply divided over women’s ordination.
The results of the TOSC process will in due course be made available in its final report, which includes the positions and recommendations suggested by groups in the committee. This material will be forwarded to General Conference ADCOM (Administrative committee) this month. At Annual Council this October the General Conference will review TOSC’s advisory recommendations and determine how the women’s ordination question will be processed at the 2015 General Conference session in San Antonio, Texas, USA.
In the concluding meeting, a third distinct group developed. This group felt it necessary to concede that the Church should let each division decide the women’s ordination question for itself. While holding that the office of the ordained minister should ideally be carried out by males, this group’s overarching stated concern was unity. And so, as God permitted Israel to choose for itself a king against His will, the Church should let each division decide the women’s ordination question for itself—even if the decision to ordain women was wrong.
A straw poll was taken on the last day of the meeting. Thirty-two persons voted for the biblical-qualifications (anti-women’s ordination) position. Forty committee members favored women’s ordination. And 22 persons voted for the let-each-division-decide-independently option. Imagine! Here we stand on the very borders of the heavenly Canaan, and the best we can do is agree to disagree?
The straw poll seemed to show that the participating majority of the committee would approve of having each division decide the matter of women’s ordination for itself—yet this was not so. In fact, the “Biblical qualifications” (anti-WO) and the “A proposal for an accord on Women in Ministry” (pro-women’s ordination) positions were very firm. Thus, the majority of the 95 polls returned (73) were NOT interested in the compromise position as their first option. (But as many as 12 who favored women’s ordination could have included the compromise position as their second option). But the straw poll also showed (32 + 22) that more than half of those participating understood male headship/leadership to be the biblical position. The compromise position garnered 22 responses as first choice, yet of those 22 almost as many, 19, were willing to accept another option. Thus, the compromise position lacked deep commitment. In contrast to these, zero of the 32 participants marking the “biblical qualifications” (anti-WO) position were willing to mark either alternative as second choice, while two did have a distant third option they preferred to the other. And so, a more nuanced look at the poll results shows that rather than being fluid, the positions are rather firmly locked.
Some favoring women’s ordination will overstate the significance of the straw poll results, but in actuality, there is little in the TOSC process for them to rejoice in. TOSC has revealed the most fundamental point in the whole matter. Namely, that should the world church adopt women’s ordination, it will have to change its approach to biblical interpretation in order to lend support for the new practice. It is no news that some are ready to change how we interpret the Bible in order to prevent “division” of the church. Yet the facts remain: the church is divided as never before.
TOSC has not created the divide. It has only more clearly revealed it.
Everything turns on the Adventist approach to biblical interpretation. Encouraging each division to act unilaterally on women’s ordination would set the precedent that in future, every division would decide on same-sex marriage or any other overly controversial matter. In essence, this course of action would mean abandoning global coherence as a church body. We would become a gaggle of disagreeing units each doing what was locally felt to be the right. Can a church thrive or even persist in existence when it values unity even at the sacrifice of God’s ideal, more than that unity founded on the authority of “the Scripture of truth”? Another denomination might survive that approach for a time; the Seventh-day Adventist Church would not.
TOSC could not have been more successful in revealing that the Church now stands at a monumental crossroads in biblical interpretation. Whatever is decided in San Antonio, it will be impossible to turn back.
Resolving the question of women’s ordination
By Many Hands
The church faces an enormously significant decision, one that above all others in our lifetime will determine its future. What will the church do about women’s ordination?
Stop, you say! How could that be such a monumental question? Aren’t there much larger issues?
There are. But women’s ordination is the linchpin-question bringing the more significant and truly fateful inquiries in its train. How this question is answered determines how much authority we grant to culture; it reveals how far we are and are not willing to go in being shaped by God’s Word; and, it brings to the front the single, most baseline of all factors: how will the acceptance of women’s ordination change how Adventists interpret Scripture?
Consider the three options the church faces in deciding how to address women’s ordination.
The first path
One path would be to follow a pro-biblical qualifications plan. That is, the Church takes a deep breath and looks to the Bible. With determination it seeks to follow the qualifications there outlined for leadership in the church. Many who have studied these issues on a Scriptural basis hold that women are not called to serve as elders or pastors leading congregations. On a biblical basis, they can not be qualified to serve in these offices.
Under this plan, women would continue to serve in many active roles in the church, but in ways harmonizing with what Scripture reveals. This would take seriously the Adventist commitment to the historical-grammatical method of biblical interpretation. It would sustain the decision concerning that method voted by the church almost 30 years ago.
The second path
Another path is to ordain women as pastors. This would change the practice which has prevailed from the beginning of this Church until now. If this path is taken, women would be ordained to lead congregations and serve as presidents over conferences, unions, and divisions. It would mean the practice of “female” headship, with the adoption of (already proposed!) systems of biblical interpretation that locate the meaning of Scripture in readers rather than the Bible itself.
The interpretation aspect is the most significant. It raises the question to a new level. Many who might have been willing to accept the practice (could a convincing biblical case for women’s ordination be made), are immovably opposed to the abandonment of the Seventh-day Adventist use of the historical-grammatical method. Make no mistake; such abandonment would be required in practice if not in word. Only by changing our approach to interpretation can a case for the practice be said to be attained via an appeal to the Bible.
The third approach
A third approach, the most dangerous of all, yet which some might deem a “moderate” path, would be to let each of the 13 divisions of the world church decide on women’s ordination for themselves. This would go further toward dissolving global unity than any other action in the past century. It would reallocate authority away from the church as a world body, to numerous theologically self-determining local regions. This decision would mark an unprecedented fracturing of the Church.
This course of action would pave the way for localized decisions in other matters including the granting of ecclesiastical legitimacy to homosexual “marriages” and the ordination of clergy engaging in same-sex activity. Many favoring women’s ordination will balk at the claim, but other churches have already traveled this path and the results are only too clear. To advance in this direction is to walk directly into that storm with eyes open to the yet more serious controversies just ahead along that road.
Furthermore, in divisions where the leaders may support women’s ordination, many pastors and other members do not. To name one example, in the North American Division where many in leadership support the change in practice, many remain sharply opposed. Many pastors in the division oppose women’s ordination as insupportable from the Bible. Many of our church members likewise oppose the practice. Letting each division decide for itself, rather than decreasing conflict, will only make it more heated.
Some practices are seen as being non-negotiable. Even if they would be permitted by Adventists in different organizational jurisdictions, that would not render these practices acceptable. If the Trans-European Division, for example, would approve same-sex unions or same-gender sexual relationships, many Seventh-day Adventists in America, Africa and elsewhere will withdraw their membership from the church so as not to be associated with that practice.
It must be pointed out that a decision to let each division choose for itself would in effect be a declaration that the world church in General Conference session now agrees that women’s ordination is not a matter involving the Scriptures but only a local, cultural concern. Such a decision would mark the catastrophic surrender of the Church to culture.
Simply put, should the church choose the pro-women’s ordination or the let-each-division-decide-for-itself pathway, it would mean material movement on those larger questions, propelling the church toward dissolution.
Canary in the coal mine
Already the Theology of Ordination Study Committee process has disclosed urgent realities. Calling on those advancing women’s ordination to explain the approach they bring to Scripture in support of the practice has been revealing. Like workers bringing along a canary with them into the coal mine and watching whether it swoons to see if life-threatening gases are present, the principles standing behind the advocacy of women’s ordination have been revealed.
The degree to which alien, non-Adventist interpretational assumptions have filtered into the church among trusted scholars is coming to light. A significant segment of Adventist scholarship has already embraced postmodern interpretational principles that contradict the Scriptural foundations upon which this Church was built.
Women’s ordination itself is not the ultimate question. This is not like questions concerning salvation, Jesus, or the Atonement. But the loudly pounding footfalls following in its train include the giant questions outlined above.
The future determined
How the church decides the question of women’s ordination at the 2015 General Conference in San Antonio will determine the Adventist future. The stakes are that high.
Readers of OrdinationTruth.com know that we have a Seventh-day Adventist Church focus. Still, happenings in other churches often forecast what we will face as a body. The United Methodist Church is now in disarray over issues of same-sex marriage and church polity. Hundreds of their pastors are acting in insubordination toward their General Conference, and in several jurisdictions, leading Bishops are refusing to support their GC prohibition on conducting same-sex “wedding” ceremonies. There is now very open talk of separating an already divided church into separate bodies.
There are groups of Methodists seeking to set in order these matters, yet with little success so far. In peeking into the present battle within Methodism, we hope that are not seeing a near Adventist future. The following links will give readers a flavor:
Above: Yet another take on the volatile current Methodist situation.