Many articles and books have been written on the topic of ordination within the Christian church at large and within the Seventh-day Adventist Church in particular. As we continue studying this subject, it will be instructive to keep the divine purpose for ordinationi in mind.
We need to answer the “why” question: “Why did God institute the practice of ordaining specific people to specific positions of responsibility within His church body. What is the divine purpose for putting certain people in the position of leadership and service?”
Old Testament Example
First of all, let’s look at when God initially organized His Old Testament Church as they traveled in the Wilderness, even before they reached the foot of Mt. Sinai.
Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you (Exodus 18:21, 22).(1)
Even though the word “ordain” or “appoint” is not used in this passage, the concept is present. Men having particular spiritual and moral qualifications were to be chosen for positions of leadership and authority in God’s Old Testament Church (“let them judge the people”). Placing certain men in the position of leadership and authority in no way contradicted the priesthood of all believers!
Everyone (men, women, boys and girls) within the camp of Israel were chosen to be ministers of the gospel (Hebrews 4:2) delivered to them through Moses (“You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” Exodus 19:6)! The result of “appointing” leadership was remarkable. Notice the expected outcome of godly leadership: “and all this people will also go to their place in peace” (Exodus 18:23). The word in this passage for “peace” is the Hebrew word “shâlôm”(2) which means “safe,” “happy,” “friendly.” In other words, the purpose for selecting leadership is to maintain peace, harmony and unity within the body of Christ.
In order for peace, harmony and unity to exist within a large body of believers with so many varying opinions, the principle of self-sacrifice and self-surrender must be maintained by everyone–especially the leadership! Jesus is the greatest example of this type of leadership! His leadership, which was characterized throughout all eternity and especially while on this earth by self-sacrifice and self-surrender to the will of His Father, stands in striking contrast to the self-willed and self-exalted leadership of Satan.(3)
Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:1-9).
Unfortunately in the history of Israel, the chosen leadership did not always fulfill their divinely appointed purpose. Instead of humbly supporting God’s chosen leadership through Moses, selfish ambition got in the way and they rose up against it. Supposing that Moses was mistreating them, they accused him of not believing in the priesthood of all believers. They accused him of being self-exalted, when in reality they themselves were self-exalted. God made that perfectly clear in the end.
Now Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; and they rose up before Moses with some of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, representatives of the congregation, men of renown. They gathered together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” (Numbers 16:1-3).
Korah and his friends were actually following the example of the accuser of the brethren. When these leaders who were appointed to maintain peace and unity became divisive themselves, they turned into instruments of the adversary and the result for the body of Christ was disaster! About 15,000 people perished and likely lost their salvation as well.
The leaders were chosen for the purpose of maintaining unity and harmony within the church. Instead, some insisted on rebelling against the highest human leader in Israel. In rebelling against Moses, they were in reality rebelling against God and creating discord, division and chaos. God stepped in and again clarified who were to be chosen as priests and Levites (Numbers 17). The issue of leadership was crucial to the survival of Israel. The most difficult issues were to be settled by Moses. Korah (a chosen Levite) did not trust Moses to handle the affairs of Israel properly. He thwarted the divine purpose for his appointed office, causing God to remove him from that position.
A point in this story that must not be passed over lightly is that Korah and companions were guilty of the very thing they were accusing Moses of. Could it be that our world church leaders are experiencing similar treatment today from those who are unwilling to wait for the General Conference to settle the issue of ordination of women? General Conference (GC) leadership has implemented a careful process to address this issue by the next GC Session in 2015 with the goal of maintaining unity within the church. However, there are some ordained and non-ordained leaders who are saying that the GC leaders will “split the church” if they do not comply with their wishes to ordain women.(4) Korah and his company spoke much the same way. They abused their position of leadership. They demonstrated the opposite of self-sacrificing and self-surrendered leadership. They were following a leader with a different spirit than that of Jesus Christ.
New Testament Example
Another example of ordained leaders’ responsibility to maintain unity is found in the New Testament. God again was organizing His church – this time the New Testament Church. Jesus had ordained twelve men (Mark 3:14) to lead the church after His departure. However, they didn’t always trust Jesus to make the wisest decisions.
Jesus had been teaching and healing five thousand men (plus women and children) all day by the Sea of Galilee, but instead of sending them away hungry, He fed them from just “five barley loaves and two small fish” (John 6:9). The people quickly began planning to take Jesus by force and crown Him king of Israel (John 6:13). This would have created upheaval in Jerusalem, the Roman soldiers would have arrested Jesus, and the Jewish leaders would have legitimate reason to seek His execution. A crisis developed among the followers of Christ ending in a major shaking. What is interesting to note is who was involved in this rebellious uprising. Consider the following from The Desire of Ages, p. 378.
The disciples unite with the multitude in declaring the throne of David the rightful inheritance of their Master. It is the modesty of Christ, they say, that causes Him to refuse such honor. Let the people exalt their Deliverer. Let the arrogant priests and rulers be forced to honor Him who comes clothed with the authority of God.
In order to thwart their plans to crown Him king, Jesus acted quickly and decisively, sending the disciples to the fishing boat and dispersing the multitude to their homes (Matthew 14:22, 23; Mark 6:45, 46). That night as the disciples sailed across the Sea of Galilee, dark thoughts of doubt and unbelief about who Jesus was filled their hearts and minds (see The Desire of Ages, p. 380).
The fact that He refused to do what they demanded filled them with serious questions about His being the Messiah. Then a storm whipped the Sea into a frenzy which threatened their very lives. But Jesus had compassion on His wayward disciples. He kept His promise never to leave them nor forsake them, and He came walking on the water to where they were. That night, the faith of the twelve apostles was tested and tried to the utmost, but strengthened in the end. Ambitious Peter was especially humbled through those trying hours.
The next day some of the multitude who had been fed the day before found Jesus at Capernaum and fell into conversation with Him. As with the disciples, their hearts were filled with doubts and unbelief as a result of their foiled attempt at crowning Him king of Israel. Throughout that conversation Jesus repeatedly tried to reestablish their faith in Him, but with each attempt they rejected Him more until their rejection was final (John 6). The scriptures chronicle the sad results. “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6:66).
Again, many people lost their eternal salvation, and ordained leadership played a major role in this shaking. Instead of fanning the flame of rebellion, they could have (and should have) put a stop to the attempt to crown Jesus king. However, by joining the multitude and giving credence to their demands, the disciples laid the foundation for their ultimate rejection of Jesus as their Savior. Their pride had been aroused and then severely wounded. It was pride that caused Lucifer to fall in heaven (Ezekiel 28:17), and it was pride, encouraged and strengthened by the disciples, that caused the loss of many souls.
When chosen, ordained, supporting leaders rise up in rebellion against human or divine leadership in the church, the result is always devastating to the church and destructive to the salvation of many. Could it be that we are facing the same danger today within the Seventh-day Adventist Church in general and the North Pacific Union in particular?
Much has been said in recent years about the need to allow diversity within the Adventist church. When we turn to the scriptures we find that the only arena in which the issue of diversity of function is approved is in the context of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12). There are to be many different kinds of spiritual gifts manifest in the church through the power of the Holy Spirit. However, all the gifts are God-ordained to work for the purpose of establishing “unity of faith” within the family of God and to keep “the whole body joined and knit together” through “love” (Ephesians 4:11-16).
There has been much more discussion about diversity than there has been about unity, yet the purpose of the different gifts is to maintain unity–not to lead in divergent directions–not to create a schism in the body. “Satan will invent every device to separate those whom God is seeking to make one.”(5) In order for this unity to take place, the surrender of self is required. The example of Jesus must be followed. There is no other way for Christ’s prayer for His church to be maintained! And it is the role of the ordained leaders to establish and maintain that unity!
I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me (John 17:20-23).
The disunion that is striving for existence among those who profess to believe the last message of mercy to be given to the world, must find no place; for it would be a fearful hindrance to the advancement of God’s work. His servants are to be one, as Christ is one with the Father; their powers, illuminated, inspired, and sanctified, must be united to make a complete whole. Those who love God and keep His commandments are not to draw apart; they are to press together.(6)
Throughout the Bible, God established leadership for the purpose of maintaining unity in organization. This is true for secular governments as well as for the church. Paul says in Romans 13:1, 2 “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained(7) of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation”(KJV). If this is true for the corrupt Roman government of Paul’s day, how much more should it be true of the governing powers of the church?
Notice the authority invested in the leadership of the early church: “And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem” (Acts 16:4). Even though God had led the Jerusalem Counsel in making its decisions, there were those who refused to accept those decisions and fought against them for many years to come. And the book of Acts chronicles how devastating this was to the work of the gospel. This same attitude is no less devastating for the church today.
Lacking the Strength of Biblical Support
One prominent article promoting the ordination of women states: “. . .the overall bent of the New Testament is clear. Women are to be acknowledged fully and celebrated as ‘fellow workers’ for the Gospel (Romans 16:3; Philippians 4:2-3).”(8) Consider the passages cited in support of this statement.
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus (Romans 16:3).
I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life (Phillipians 4:2, 3).
There is nothing about ordination in these verses. Priscilla and Aquila are a married couple who hosted a church in their home. The issue of women being involved in ministry is not and never has been the issue at stake. Women are essential in the ministry of the church. However, there is never even a hint of women being ordained to pastoral and/or organizational leadership positions. Euodia and Syntyche were obviously two ladies who needed the help of the ordained leadership of the church at Phillipi (Philippians 1:1) to be united and to put away their differences. When the ordained leaders served faithfully, unity prevailed in the church. Just because it says that these two ladies “labored with me in the gospel” does not mean that they were ordained by Paul or anyone else. Every believer is “ordained” to the ministry of the gospel at their baptism. They are initiated into the ministry of the priesthood of all believers, a ministry without regard to gender. This, however, is not an appointment to organizational leadership.
The article previously referred to goes on to defend the ordination of women into organizational leadership by stating the following:
In the NT, women participate fully in worship by praying and prophesying (1 Cor 11:5). Just as do men, they receive the gift of prophecy as part of the eschatological outpouring of the Holy Spirit, whose descent upon ‘all flesh’ signals Christ’s exaltation and coronation (Acts 2:18; cf. 2:33-36). Some women become known for possessing and exercising the gift of prophecy (Acts 21:9).(9)
This is all true and we must praise the Lord for choosing men and women to receive the gift of prophecy. However, there are no hints in Scripture of any prophets (men or women) being ordained by the church. Prophets are chosen by God, not the church. Even Ellen White was never ordained by the church.(10) There are only occasional examples of prophets also holding positions of leadership within the body of Christ. Moses, David, Peter, John, Paul are some of those examples, but it is evident that women are absent from this group.
Again the article states,
Women are the leaders/patronesses of churches (Acts 12:12; Rom 16:1-2, 3-5; 1 Cor 16:19). They are the first proclaimers of Christ’s Resurrection (Matt 28:1-10; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:11-18). They are teachers (Acts 17:24-26).(11)
(This last reference is actually a typographical error; it should read Acts 18:24-26.) In the footnote following this sentence the author refers to the name of “Junia” found in Romans 16:7. Note his admission that “the gender of the name and the precise meaning of the phrase are contested.” Again, the arguments are weak. It is clear that there is nothing solid on which to base their position.
The article concludes stating, “We see no biblical teaching that prohibits the church from appointing women to any position of ministry or leadership and much that suggests such actions to be entirely appropriate.”(12) This appears to be a strong conclusion without corresponding strong Biblical support.
The Biblical foundation for ordaining women with full pastoral and administrative authority is extremely weak at best. And to use those arguments to override the overwhelming call for unity within the church is unthinkable. It is very similar to the foundation of Korah’s complaints against Moses, and is about as appropriate as the call of the twelve disciples and the multitude to take Jesus by force and crown Him king.
Oh, how Satan would rejoice if he could succeed in his efforts to get in among this people and disorganize the work at a time when thorough organization is essential and will be the greatest power to keep out spurious uprisings and to refute claims not endorsed by the word of God! We want to hold the lines evenly, that there shall be no breaking down of the system of organization and order that has been built up by wise, careful labor. License must not be given to disorderly elements that desire to control the work at this time.(13)
Not an Issue to Split the Church Over
The present campaign to ordain women clearly lacks the strength of a solid Biblical foundation. It therefore lacks the logical reason for the North Pacific Union to hold a special Constituency Session to bring this issue to vote, risking splitting the church and fracturing the unity of the work of God on earth. This is especially true in light of the following instruction the Lord has sent us.
I have often been instructed by the Lord that no man’s judgment should be surrendered to the judgment of any other one man. Never should the mind of one man or the minds of a few men be regarded as sufficient in wisdom and power to control the work and to say what plans shall be followed. But when, in a General Conference, the judgment of the brethren assembled from all parts of the field is exercised, private independence and private judgment must not be stubbornly maintained, but surrendered. Never should a laborer regard as a virtue the persistent maintenance of his position of independence, contrary to the decision of the general body.(14)
If the North Pacific Union moves ahead with current plans to hold a special constituency meeting and votes to ordain women contrary to General Conference policy which was voted in 1990 and again in 1995, our Union would join three other Union Conferences who have done the same thing. The difference between our Union’s actions and the others is that we would be doing it even more defiantly, in the face of the following urgent appeals:
In the light of this current study and the actions of several unions, General Conference officers, including presidents of the 13 world divisions, have unanimously communicated an appeal for unity in respect to ministerial ordination practices. The appeal calls: 1) for unity in respecting a global church action (i.e. the 1990 and 1995 General Conference Session decisions on ministerial ordination); 2) for each union executive committee to carefully review the far-reaching effects of pursuing a course of action that is contrary to the decisions of the General Conference in session; and 3) for each union to participate in the current study about the theology of ordination and its implication.(15)
The General Conference Executive Committee appeals to all organizations—local churches, local conferences/missions, unions, institutions and divisions—to consider thoughtfully the impact and implications of decisions beyond the boundaries of each entity’s territory of operations. General Conference Working Policy, the Church Manual, and General Conference Session decisions are designed to assist the Church in demonstrating the unity for which Jesus prayed and at the same time to provide a structure that advances the gospel commission in every part of the world.
This appeal is also addressed to individual Church members everywhere. Drawing upon Paul’s analogy of the Church as a body (1 Corinthians 12) it is a call for all parts of the body to perform their individual service, to express their unique giftedness with the realization that each is part of something much larger—a worldwide family that seeks to do all things in the name of Jesus (Colossians 3:17).(16)
The General Conference leadership including the 13 Division presidents has appealed to all Union Conferences for unity in regard to ordination policies. These appeals have primarily come subsequent to the decisions of the Unions who have taken a independent action regarding women ordination. However, if the North Pacific Union proceeds with full knowledge of these appeals, it will clearly demonstrate an attitude of rebellion. This is not superficial. It is not something to be taken lightly, because it carries profound implications for the future of the entire Seventh-day Adventist Church body. And if history tells us anything, this behavior could be very devastating for many leaders and members.
God’s purpose for ordaining leadership in the church is to promote and maintain unity and peace within the body of Christ. If ordained leaders within the church push a non-Biblical issue to the point of fracturing that unity and peace, they have violated the purpose of their ordination. Therefore, I appeal for the leaders of the North Pacific Union to take the following three steps of faith:
- Rescind the vote to “1) inform and educate Northwest members of the rationale toward biblical church leadership without regard to gender; 2) engage and encourage constituents in structured conversation and discussion on women in ministry; and 3) call a special session of the NPUC constituency to address ministerial ordination without regard to gender.”(17)
- Call for special prayer that God will lead the world church committee which is currently examining the theological basis of ordination in order to present a report in 2014.(18)
- Stand strong for unity within the body of Christ!
I pray that the following scriptures will mean much to all of us at this time, especially to those of us who are ordained to maintain unity and peace within the church body:
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-3).
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; For there the LORD commanded the blessing—Life forevermore (Psalm 133:1-3).
Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind (Philippians 2:1, 2).
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10).
Biographical Note: Pastor Wayne Kablanow has served the Seventh-day Adventist Church for many years. He is presently serves in church planting in Spokane, Washington.
- All Scripture quotations from NKJV unless otherwise noted.
- SHALOM SHALOM.
- See John 5:19, 30; 6:38; 8:28; 12:49; 14:10; Deuteronomy 18:18; Luke 22:42; Hebrews 10:9, 10; Ezekiel 28:12-19; Isaiah 14:12-17.
- One example of this is “An Open Letter To: Pres. Ted N. C. Wilson” by Leona G. Running (retired professor of Hebrew at Andrews University), August 22, 2012. Speaking of the ordination of women she says in this letter to Ted Wilson “if you try to stop what the Holy Spirit is leading to be accomplished, you will split the Church!”
- Ellen G. White, Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 165.
- Ibid. pp. 174, 175.
- (tas’-so), to appoint, determine, ordain, set.
- John McVay, “Reflections on the Theology and Practice of Ordination.”
- Ibid., p. 6.
- Ellen G. White Biography, vol. 3, pp. 237, 377 (See also Daughters of God, pp. 248-255, and http://www.whiteestate.org/issues/egw_credentials/egw_credentials.htm).
- McVay, p. 6.
- Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers, p. 489.
- _________, Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 260.
- General Conference Appeal June 29, 2012, “An Appeal for Unity in Respect to Ministerial Ordination Practices” (http://www.adventist.org/assets/An%20Appeal%20for%20Oneness%20in%20Christ.pdf).
- PRE/PREXAD/GCDO12AC/12AC to TNCW, 132-12G Statement on Church Polity, Procedures, and Resolutions of Disagreements in the Light of Recent Union Actions on Ministerial Ordination, October 16, 2012 (http://news.adventist.org/en/archive/articles/2012/10/16/after-debate-annual-council-votes-statement-on-church-polity).
- Gleaner Online, NPUC Opens Dialogue on Ordination without Regard to Gender–UPDATED 11/19/1211.
- See Gleaner Online, Special Topics: Ordination, January 2013.