No organizational structure of the Seventh-day Adventist Church exists in China. Nevertheless, there is news from the Northern Asia-Pacific Division, Chinese Union Mission field, relating to women’s ordination. Approximately two dozen women workers there had been assigned a status of “ordained” on the basis of Chinese government rules. However, it is reported that those women who had received “ordained” credentials from the Chinese government have voluntarily turned them in and received Commissioned minister credentials in their place.
The main reason women are more prominent in ministry in China is because men are expected to work, even on Sabbath, while women have more freedom to be at home. This results in more flexibility for women to do the work of ministry. Neither the Bible nor the Adventist Church approve of secular labor during the Sabbath.
Men who do not work are considered suspect unless they are ordained by the Three-Self Movement. If they receive state-sponsored ordination they are monitored and controlled by the Chinese government. It is difficult for men to become pastor of a house church (secret congregations which are not recognized by the government) unless the men are very old and are retired. Thus women fill the gap left by men’s general unavailability for the work of ministry in this unique field.
Women in unusual situations may step in to fill a void, but God’s plan is for men to assume the spiritual leadership role (1 Timothy 2:9-13; 3:2; Titus 1:5). Although these Adventist women had been “ordained” in China in the past, they have decided to accept replacement of their ordination credential with the commissioned minister credential. One such female worker said, “It isn’t about titles over here. It’s about getting the work done! We don’t want any distractions from ministry and this really isn’t even an issue over here.”
In San Antonio, Texas, at the 2015 General Conference session, the assembled delegates of the world church voted not to permit Divisions to make independent provision for the ordination of women in their fields. The Seventh-day Adventist Church maintains a unified world practice of appointing spiritually-qualified men to congregational leadership. World practice should not be based on side-cases and anomalous situations. Still, the decision of these workers is a step forward for unity in the world church.
We will update this article with corrections and added information as it becomes available.