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.

toscstrawpoll

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.

The Council of Adventist Pastors operates an email mailing list. The list announces new articles, videos and features offered on OrdinationTruth.com. Participants may also discuss and study these matters back and forth over the list.

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This presentation marks the conclusion of Pr. Mike Lambert’s six part series especially focusing on women’s ordination and church unity. In this conclusion, Lambert summarizes and focuses on the larger issues. Twelve action-steps are offered, including a call about the proposed NPUC special constituency meeting” and also about women elders. Pr. Lambert also deals with the argument that “the church crossed this theological bridge long ago and cannot now turn back.”

At the Stateline Church, near Milton-Freewater, Oregon, Pastor Mike Lambert presents part five of his six-part series on “A gender agenda.” The message addresses Deborah’s behavior in relation to headship in Judges 4, Phoebe and Junias in Romans 16, Ellen White’s “ordination” credential, and finally and very importantly, some of the urgent larger issues.

Mike Lambert, pastor of the Stateline, Oregon, Seventh-day Adventist Church, delivers the first of six presentations—all of which we shall post online over the next few weeks, from his series titled “A gender agenda.” In the series, Pr. Lambert addresses the cluster of texts and arguments favoring and opposing women’s ordination, with associated issues. In this first part, Elder Lambert begins to address Galatians 3:28 but also provides a quick but careful walk through the historic developments of the issue in the Seventh-day Adventist church from its beginning right up to the present. Stateline Church is located immediately south of Walla Walla/College Place, WA.

Our pastors have given thought to an article recently published on the internet and offer this little response. The article in question proposes that the Seventh-day Adventist Church not follow the path of other churches by not splitting over the question of women’s ordination. We certainly desire that the church not split! But what is the truly pivotal question, the one which determines whether we are united or divided? And why does the author avoid it? We address this in “A New Path?” FIND IT HERE.

Exactly one year ago on February 4, 2013 the OrdinationTruth.com website went live. Much has happened this past year. Reflecting on the past orients us for the future.

The attempt to introduce women’s ordination (the practice of women and men in the Church serving interchangeably in positions of spiritual authority) has a history in our midst. The emphasis as it has developed in our lifetime has its rise in the 1960s. The ordination of women as local elders was introduced at 1986 Annual Council.

In due course, the ordination of women as pastors with full global authority was addressed at two General Conference sessions (1990 and 1995). Decisions were made at the highest level of church authority. The Church refused to take the step of ordaining women to these positions of spiritual authority. Our brothers and sisters were not convinced that the practice was reconcilable with Scripture.

By 2009, North American Division (NAD) leadership remained urgent to proceed. They targeted the Church’s E-60 policy. This world church guidance forbade women from serving in male headship positions such as conference and union president. But General Conference (GC) leadership upheld the decisions of the GC sessions (exactly what did NAD leadership expect?).

After an extended interaction between the NAD and GC, NAD leadership saw they could not prevail by following the rules; GC policy was too clear. The result? In early 2012 the NAD president wrote to the leaders of NAD Unions inciting them to action with directions such as the following:

“The North American Division and its Unions and Conferences (as local circumstances permit) must become more intentional in the development of pathways to ministry for female pastors. We must also develop intentional methods of mentoring women who can take on executive leadership positions within our conferences. . . . We must continue to move this matter forward throughout the North American Division” (Quoted in the E-60 link above).

The division president told them that in order to bring change they would have to make it happen at union and conference levels.

The result of this astonishing move came with speed. By midyear NAD’s Columbia and Pacific Unions had held special meetings and voted themselves their own variances, placing themselves in opposition to the world church. They denied the authority of the 1990/1995 General Conference sessions. They even acted in the face of earnest appeals by the General Conference administration which sent our current president to these meetings to plead that they not act in disunity.

It should not be passed over that these actions were undertaken even as the current GC administration was responding to the 2010 General Conference session request to revisit the question of women’s ordination by forming the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC), a gathering of more than 100 scholars, laypeople, pastors, and administrators representing all 13 world Divisions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And yet, even as that process was beginning, these Unions exceeded their authority and began to “ordain” women.

When we in the North Pacific Union Conference (NPUC) learned from our union paper, Gleaner, that the NPUC had created an ad hoc committee to study these matters and that our Union would now “educate” church members concerning the basis for “ordination without regard to gender,” after which it would hold a special session as Columbia and Pacific Unions had, we knew forces were converging which might lead to the same insubordinate outcome as those Unions. It became necessary that we investigate further for ourselves, and then seek to aid our Union and if possible influence it not to join itself to the example of the other NAD Unions.

Appeals were forwarded to NPUC leadership. We pleaded that the proposed steps not be taken. We are thankful that until now the NPUC has not held a similar session.

Surveying the situation, we saw that issues were not contained to the NPUC, and heard from many from across the NAD who were as alarmed as ourselves at actions now manifesting in the North American field. Because the NPUC continued to send mixed signals, our initially chosen name (“NPUC Supporting Pastors”) made unclear what we did and did not support. Growing interest throughout the NAD and a desire from others outside our Union who wished to participate led us to change our name to the Council of Adventist Pastors (CAP). Now pastors throughout the North American Division territory could participate.

What the NAD president and Columbia and Pacific Unions had begun continued to bear its fruit. In October 2013, the Southeastern California Conference constituency, in opposition to its world church, elected Ms. Sandra Roberts to serve as its president in direct violation of E-60 and GC session decisions.

This was not all. Each Division invited to be involved in TOSC had been asked to study the issues surrounding women’s ordination. NAD leadership appointed itself a committee, too. Its committee released a 249 page report pleading that the world church permit it to ordain women.

Most astonishing of all was that—at last—the unavoidable issue of hermeneutics was placed front and center. The NAD admitted in its report that in order to neutralize the Bible evidence opposing the ordination of women, it was necessary to use a plan of biblical interpretation they called the “Principle-based, Historical-cultural” method.

This method is said to be intended only for selective use. It is to be applied especially in the interpretation of what the NAD called “difficult” New Testament “headship” texts. The NAD-proposed method exactly contradicts the longstanding Seventh-day Adventist approach to biblical interpretation called the Historical-grammatical approach, voted by Annual Council in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1986.

We commend current NAD leadership for their lucid admission that this change in interpretive methodology is required to make possible the achievement of their purpose. But is the church ready to lay aside the Historical-grammatical approach that Scripture interprets Scripture? Is it ready to discard the one methodical approach to the Bible which has led to our unity on a worldwide basis in embracing the seventh day Sabbath, and our adherence to the literal, physical, visible, audible Second Coming of Jesus with kindred truths?

We believe that every church member within the North American Divisions would be blessed by the NAD’s Minority report.

Another development of interest coming from TOSC has been that some in our world divisions have called for a return to biblical fidelity on the issue of women elders, that the practice be discontinued.

“There is a lack of biblical precedence for the appointment of female elders…. there is no biblical support for the ordination of woman pastors. The ordination of women elders should also not be considered. That implies that as from the action date, women shall no longer serve as elders” (Summary of the South Africa-Indian Ocean Division Biblical Research Committee on the Ordination of Women, pp. 1, 3, at
http://www.adventistarchives.org/brc-southern-africa-indian-ocean-division-presentation.pdf, accessed 2014-02-04).

Other Divisions have also found the desire to ordain women as pastors having global authority biblically unsustainable. For example, consider these notes from fellow believers in the South American Division:

In the New Testament, the preeminence of male spiritual leadership is seen in the role of the husband at home (Eph 5:22-33; Col 3:18-19; 1 Cor 11:3), in the leadership of the apostles, the elders and the deacons in the Church (Acts 6:1-6; 17 14:23; 15:6, 22; 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 2:20; 4:11; 1 Tim 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9), and in the ministry of the prophets, the pastors-teachers, and the evangelists (Acts 13:1; 21:8; 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11). . . . The New Testament plainly presents the qualifications required for someone to become a bishop/presbyter/pastor (1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). According to these texts, the pastoral ministry seems to belong to a distinctive area of male spiritual leadership in the Church. Faithfulness to biblical teaching predicates the need to follow this orientation. There is no clear biblical basis, therefore, to ordain women to the pastoral ministry” (South American Division Summary and Report on its Study and Proposal on the Ordination of Women to the Pastoral Ministry, pp. 3, 4, http://www.adventistarchives.org/brc-south-american-division-presentation.pdf, accessed 2014-02-04).

We find ourselves much in agreement with these initiatives which would help restore consistency and unity and help revitalize as a global people our faithfulness to the Bible.

Looking to developments anticipated between now and 2015, we remain alert. Columbia and Pacific union leadership remain in place, and those Unions are presently “ordaining” women in opposition to the General Conference session determined position of the world church. Those Unions are presently operating in flagrant defiance of the world church. They have substituted their authority for the authority of the General Conference.

Another trend we already see is pro-WO advocates urging that the General Conference is illegitimately gathering power to itself, centralizing its authority. We anticipate that these unfounded charges will be broadcast ever more loudly by those who insist on acting in contradiction to the appeals for unity which have been offered on behalf of the world church.

TOSC is set to complete its study process this year and forward its report to 2014 GC Annual Council. The NAD’s proposed “Principle-based, Historical-cultural” method is now public knowledge and Adventists are only just beginning to process the implications that would follow its adoption. Shall the Seventh-day Adventist Church endorse the ordination of females to male headship roles? Possibly. But if so, it is clear now that it will be at the cost of the most primitive, basic issue of all—how we interpret Scripture.

It is urgent that we count the cost now before we buy the product in 2015. If we are going to charge women’s ordination on the Seventh-day Adventist hermeneutical credit card, we must first consider what it will cost in the long term.

Although we have had an enormous response to our continuing study and website, many Seventh-day Adventists—even some pastors—remain unaware of this website or of the existence of the Council of Adventist Pastors. We encourage all readers to share this blog post link with fellow Adventists and especially with your pastors who, in this one post, will have a sample of links and materials the scores of pastors who are CAP have shared. Maybe your pastor would like to participate?

And now: Let OrdinationTruth.com year two BEGIN! . . .

Recent days have found some of us in communication with participants in the Theology of Ordination Study Committee. Thus, it has been interesting when several persons not present in that meeting have urgently sought to post in links and comments copies of certain news reports to OrdinationTruth.com. (Indeed, one significantly slanted report has been quietly withdrawn.) We have read these reports, comparing notes with some present at TOSC. It is even being reported that the chair of the committee feels most of the divisions are willing to accept women’s ordination and that the time for study has passed.

Whether or not this individual is being quoted in context we do not know. We do know this: the Seventh-day Adventist Church will determine whether or not to ordain women in the 2015 General Conference session. It will not be determined by TOSC or any news network, website, conference, union, or division.

We also know that current deliberations are of necessity conducted in an atmosphere of biases, influences and threats. Some articles in print and online with women’s ordination under discussion have included reminders that funding supporting church mission in overseas divisions is, in measure, dependent upon North American dollars. Neither are we unaware that for the past several decades, pro-WO North American Adventist academic opinion has been exported round the world through an influence traceable to Andrews University international students. Therefore, it is no surprise to us if the current dominant North American academic perspective has filtered into the leadership ranks in places far afield.

The January 2014 TOSC included a more significant and contentious discussion of hermeneutics than previous meetings. Positions on hermeneutics within TOSC at present are in sharp disagreement. This is no surprise, since proposed changes to how the Church interprets Scripture would be unparalleled in our history, and have the most far-reaching impact on its ability to maintain a distinct Seventh-day Adventist identity and mission going forward.

Never before in Seventh-day Adventist work have changes contemplated been so significant. This situation seems an unlikely time to discontinue investigation. If the goal of this most extensive study is an enduring solution for the Church, the issue of hermeneutics cannot be avoided. It is impossible to envision any unifying solution with the church markedly divided over methods of interpretation. The Church has long agreed that the Historical-grammatical approach be used while avoiding even a modified use of methods that approach the Scriptures from a critical standpoint. The North American Division is asking the church to embrace hermeneutical pluralism, to approve the practice of a method of interpretation in direct contradiction to the Historical-grammatical.

Is this the path to unity?

When the Council of Adventist Pastors began publishing this website a year ago, we stated that a part of the reason for its operation was as an alternative resource for church members where information provided might sometimes be at odds with “officially” presented news and views. None should be surprised when OrdinationTruth.com chooses not to echo lines that have been predetermined to sustain certain preferred perspectives.

God has His hand on the wheel. A world church is considering these matters. Issues are becoming more sharply defined. The Holy Spirit is working. Pray for all as the Church seeks to follow the lead of He who is still its Head, Jesus.

This video continues the Council of Adventist Pastors (CAP) interview by Pr. Jim Brackett of Pr. Larry Kirkpatrick. Part 1 was posted separately yesterday. This is part 2, and immediately follows part 1 to complete the full segment. Part 1 had concluded with a restatement of the longstanding Seventh-day Adventist principle of not judging Scripture with independent human reason, but letting Scripture judge our reason. The above video compares this with the NAD’s “Majority Report” proposal. NAD asks that the church make its authority an imaginary future point after the New Testament where God’s ideal will for male and female roles would reach fruition. Comparisons continue to the end of the segment.