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The Seventh-day Adventist Church faces a dilemma over women’s ordination. Consensus escapes us. God’s people are found in “no,” “yes,” and “let each division decide” camps. The 2014 Annual Council elected not to recommend any of those positions to the 2015 General Conference (GC) session. Their chosen recommendation to the session is:
After your prayerful study on ordination from the Bible, the writings of Ellen G. White, and the reports of the study commissions, and; After your careful consideration of what is best for the Church and the fulfillment of its mission, Is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry? Yes or No.
Should the motion receive a “no” vote, advocates of women’s ordination will be very unhappy, perhaps even openly rejecting the decision. Therefore the conflict would not be ended. It would only spread.
Should the motion receive a “yes” vote, then each division will go through the process of making the decision that the General Conference did not make. Each will have to decide for their territory whether to allow women’s ordination or not. This creates potential for conflict in each of the thirteen divisions. On a division by division basis, most likely, each division will allow each of its unions to decide “yes or no.” Ultimately, each conference would have to make that decision. And so, a “yes” vote at the 2015 GC Session would not end the crisis, but spread it to the entire world field.
It has been reported that the discussion of this topic at the Annual Council was cordial and Christian in tone. Will this be replicated throughout the world field? One hopes so. The potential for conflict will be great.
The Annual Council’s vote carries with it the following two stipulations:
1. “After your prayerful study on ordination from the Bible, the writings of
Ellen G. White, and the reports of the study commissions, and;
2. “After your careful consideration of what is best for the Church and the fulfillment of its mission,”
If my analysis is anywhere close to correct, the answer to the second stipulation is clear. It could be destructive to the church and therefore to the success of its mission as well. The reality is that whichever decision the 2015 GC Session makes (either “yes or no”) the church will suffer! Admittedly further analysis of this second stipulation is needed, but for the sake of brevity in this article that will be reserved for another time.
The first stipulation is what this article attempts to address. The first stipulation makes it very clear that the issue of women’s ordination is a “theological” issue. The “study commissions” were titled “Theology of Ordination Study Committee.” The “prayerful study on ordination from the Bible, [and] the writings of Ellen G. White” also makes it clear that this is a “theological” issue, and recognized as such by the 2014 GC Annual Council. It is clear then that this issue is not just an “ecclesiastical” and/or “administrative” issue.
Some think that if this were a “theological” issue, then it would have to become the 29th “Fundamental Belief.” Let me remind readers that the Adventist Church has taken many “theological” positions which are not part of our list of “Fundamental Beliefs.” Here are a few examples: the little horn of Daniel 7 and the first beast of Revelation 13 represent the Papal power, the second beast of Revelation 13 represents the USA, and the image to the beast is the uniting of church and state to enforce the Papal institution of Sunday worship. None of these are found in our statements of “Fundamental Beliefs,” yet they are well established in our official church publications.
So, if the women’s ordination question is a “theological” issue, where could we go to find a clear, concise answer to the dilemma we find ourselves trapped in? Has God been caught off guard? Has He failed to give clear directions for how His Church might handle such a divisive issue? Is it His fault that His Church is on the verge of splintering? Or, did He give clear direction millenniums ago?
“Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary; Who is so great a God as our God?” (Psalm 77:13).
The sanctuary is not just a unique doctrine of the Adventist Church. Instead, it is THE teaching of Scripture that presents “a complete system of truth, connected and harmonious” (The Great Controversy, p. 423). All of our doctrines, all of the teachings of Scripture, are rooted in and grow out of the sanctuary. It is all about Jesus in His entirety and completeness.
Our 24th Fundamental Belief embraces the fact that since 1844 we have been living in the time of the “Day of Atonement”—the time when Jesus is ministering in the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary. This should direct our attention to Jesus and the only article of furniture in that compartment—the Ark of the Covenant. This is where Jesus is today!
Could it be that Jesus knew thousands of years ago that His Remnant Church would be faced with a splintering dilemma, and therefore placed inside the Ark the answer to our current need? Could it be that He placed it inside the Ark to indicate:
1. That God knew that His Church would be facing this issue during the time of the “Day of Atonement” when Jesus would be ministering in the Most Holy Place before the Ark of the Covenant in the heavenly sanctuary?
2. That God placed the answer inside the Ark of the Covenant to indicate that it is based on just as much of an eternal principle as the Ten Commandments, and it is just as holy as the law of God itself? How could there be any more of a holy place than inside the Ark itself?
So, what, inside the Ark of the Covenant, could give us the answer to our dilemma regarding women’s ordination? Perhaps you have already guessed it!—Aaron’s rod that budded!
Inside the Ark three items were placed: the Ten Commandments written by the finger of God on tables of stone, a pot of manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded (Hebrews 9:4). What is Aaron’s rod that budded doing inside the Ark? It is easy to understand why the Ten Commandments are there, because it was during the time of Jesus’ ministry in the Most Holy Place that the Sabbath was re-discovered! It is also easy to see why the pot of manna was there because it speaks of both Sabbath observance and God’s promises to provide for our needs during the time when all human support is cut off (i.e. the time of trouble)!
But what about Aaron’s budding rod? Why is it there inside the Ark next to the Law of God? We turn to Numbers chapters 16 and 17 to find the story. As we review this story, the answer to our present dilemma will jump out at us! This is the story of the rebellion of Korah, the cousin of Moses and Aaron. There are not very many things considered a “sign” in the Bible—the rainbow is one, circumcision is another, and the Sabbath is also a sign. However, Korah and his company are considered a “sign” (Numbers 26:10).
Korah and his company of two hundred and fifty leaders (by far in the majority) came to Moses and Aaron with an accusation:
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 16:3)
Their accusation contained a mixture of truth and error (what’s new?). “All the congregation” was holy! God had declared it so (Exodus 19:5, 6)! And God had made it clear that He was “among them” (Exodus 29:45, 46)! They were only quoting Scripture! How could they be wrong? And so it was only logical for them to say “Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” In their minds, Moses and Aaron were trying to be “holier than thou!” And they had Scripture to back them up!
So when Moses heard it, he fell on his face; and he spoke to Korah and all his company, saying, ‘Tomorrow morning the LORD will show who is His and who is holy’ (Numbers 16:4, 5).
The word “holy” carries the connotation of being set aside for God’s special use. God declared the Sabbath to be “holy” not because there is something intrinsic about that particular day except He declared it so. And so it was with whom He declared to be “holy” or especially chosen to serve as His spiritual leader of Israel.
To get the full picture, we have to realize that Korah was a Levite just as Moses and Aaron were. Remember, they were cousins! In this context Moses’ next words to Korah are significant:
Then Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: Is it a small thing to you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the work of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to serve them; and that He has brought you near to Himself, you and all your brethren, the sons of Levi, with you? And are you seeking the priesthood also? (Numbers 16:8-10 emphasis added).
Korah and company had been called of God for a special task, but they were not satisfied with His calling, and they set about to seek a position He had not called them to. No doubt, they “felt called” to the position they sought. And we can be certain that they could point to many experiences seeming to present very convincing evidence for that fact. By all human reason, they were called and used of God just as much as Moses and Aaron. Their testimony was so convincing that two hundred and fifty leading representatives of the church aggressively sided with their cause! Two hundred and fifty against two!
Without realizing it, Korah and company had actually “gathered together against the Lord” (Numbers 16:11). They were convinced they were doing the best to promote God’s work, but they were not! They were actually doing Satan’s work and they were calling God’s work the work of the devil. When we call the work of God the work of the enemy, we are in danger of committing the unpardonable sin (Matthew 12:31, 32; Luke 12:8-10). This is what Korah and group had done, and the judgment of God came swiftly upon them. The ground immediately opened up and swallowed Korah and those close to him and then fire came and consumed the two hundred and fifty who had sided with them (Numbers 16:28-35).
One would think that this would have settled the issue for all the camp of Israel. It did not. The next day the whole congregation accused Moses and Aaron of killing “the people of the Lord” (Numbers 16:41). Again, they were so deceived that they were calling God’s work of the devil. Judgment began to be poured out upon the entire congregation in the form of a plague. Were it not for Aaron’s intercession, the whole congregation would have perished. As it was, 14,700 died of the plague (Numbers 16:45-50).
Do we begin to grasp the significance of the story? God is clarifying His principle of chosen leadership. The leaders of each of the twelve tribes were asked to bring their rods to the sanctuary.
Then you shall place them in the tabernacle of meeting before the Testimony, where I meet with you. And it shall be that the rod of the man whom I choose will blossom; thus I will rid Myself of the complaints of the children of Israel, which they make against you (Numbers 17:4, 5).
It is interesting to note that Aaron’s rod not only budded, but it produced full blossoms and ripe almonds. God wanted to remove every shadow of doubt! He wanted to express clearly that for His people He had determined a particular order for leadership.
And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Bring Aaron’s rod back before the Testimony, to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put their complaints away from Me, lest they die’ (Numbers 17:10).
Aaron was not chosen because he was more spiritual (remember the golden calf!), nor was he chosen because he was a more capable and talented leader and spokesman. Could it be that he was chosen as a test for the other leaders and the congregation at large? As they submitted to God’s order of leadership, they were submitting to God Himself! Aaron’s rod was kept with the Ten Commandments in the Ark of the Covenant as a perpetual reminder that God has a chosen order of leadership and when we rebel against that leadership, we are actually rebelling against God Himself.
All of this comes from long ago. Didn’t the cross put an end to the Levitical Priesthood? Yes (Hebrews 7:11-19)! Are not all of God’s people part of His priesthood (male and female)? Yes (2 Peter 2:9; Galatians 3:26-29; Exodus 19:5, 6)! All of God’s people are to be His witnesses and ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but as in the Old Testament, does the New Testament have specific requirements regarding leadership within the church? That will be the subject of part two of this study.
BIOGRAPHICAL INFO: Wayne Kablanow has pastored and planted churches throughout the Northwest. He presently pastors Airway Heights and West Plains churches in the Spokane Washington area and serves as church growth coordinator for the Upper Columbia Conference of Seventh-day Adventists