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By the Council of Adventist Pastors
In San Antonio, Texas, July 2015, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in General Conference (GC) session will make a global decision on the question of women’s ordination. Six retired leaders (Charles Bradford, Alejandro Bullón, William G. Johnsson, Jan Paulsen, Calvin B. Rock, Angel Rodriguez) have prepared a website and video they have distributed via the Internet. They favor the proposal to let each division executive committee decide whether or not to ordain women.
Through the lips of a retired GC president, they state that “those parts of our global family, for whom time and culture have come” should be permitted to ordain women. They are calling for the church to let those units which choose follow the lead of culture. Contrast this with the message of Elijah, “How long will you falter between two opinions?” (1 Kings 18:21). The church is being urged to take disunity a step further. If women’s ordination is not permitted, they warn the church of judgment and fracture. The time has come, they say.
This is not a Bible solution. It is compromise.
Ordination solved or a divided church?
They also state that the question of women’s ordination has been solved. How? By determining that it is “a matter of personal opinion”! “What is now being requested by those who support the ordination of women to the ministry is that the church’s acceptance of different opinions on the topic be taken a step further by allowing women’s ordination in those segments of the world where ordaining women to the ministry would not negatively impact the church.” But is ordination, by which the church appoints to global authority, merely a matter of personal opinion?
Why do they make ordination a matter of personal opinion only? Because supposedly the Bible is not clear about the topic. But if this is so, then there is no clear biblical basis supporting women’s ordination. And if even their “the Bible doesn’t clearly oppose women’s ordination” position relies upon methods of biblical interpretation alien to the longstanding approach of God’s people, then permitting the new practice imperils the church globally. Then it weakens its loyalty to Scripture globally.
We have to ask, Where is there a segment of the world field where ordaining women to ministry would not negatively impact the church? One place where women’s ordination is hotly debated is the North American Division (NAD). The unilateral adoption of women’s ordination within the NAD by certain units, in defiance of the world church, has shattered unity in this Division. The current president of the Division, rather than preventing this behavior, provoked it.
There is absolutely no consensus by workers or members in this Division favoring the ordination of women. The majority of members certainly oppose it, while possibly the majority of administrators approve of it. Unity? There is not a decision at this time that could be more destructive to mission in the NAD than for the General Conference in session to be bullied into approving the ordination of women.
The practice of the world church must transcend personal opinion for the very reason that the work is global. Personal opinions don’t count. This practice involves the church globally. This is a Bible question.
These six men no longer serving at the global leadership level surprisingly claim that “This is not about rejecting or modifying any of our biblical doctrines. This is not a doctrinal topic but a matter of tradition.” In one and the same breath they appeal for the church to adopt what is in effect limited pluralism. Limited pluralism is a mirage.
Pluralism means the embrace of conflicting doctrines and practices. The practice of pluralism in a church is an admission that either the Bible was unable to guide the church, or, that the church was unwilling to be guided by the Bible. There is coded language mixed in this pot. “Not doctrinal” = “plural.” And in such discussion often the word “mission” stands in for “cultural.” But the Word of God clearly advocates certain practices and prohibits others. Scripture stands in man’s way.
And so, advocates of practices for which they cannot provide clear Bible guidance turn on the smoke machine. Destructive ideas are delivered under the noble rubric of unity. Motivated by good intentions, corners are rounded-off for purportedly evangelistic purposes. Soon a pluralistic church is born. Such a body is always a dying one. It has passed its time of impact for Christ. Decay sets in. Once the surrender begins, the downward march continues unrelieved. When the Bible is no longer determinative, everything else becomes determinative. Everything else is culture. Has the Adventist Church reached that time?
Strongest arguments of the elder statesmen
Consider briefly the actual arguments offered by these elder statesmen:
- “We didn’t come to this moment hastily . . . we had commissions over forty years.”
- “The church needs women at all levels, and in all phases of its ministry.”
- “Unity is not unison.”
- “In this day and time when that gift is accepted, in places where it is accepted, should be recognized.”
- “The secret of unity is the equality of all the believers.”
- “I believe the Spirit is leading us there.”
- “There is enough in the Bible to support the position that it is fine to ordain women to the ministry.”
- “The whole ordination question boils down to . . . does this person have the gift? And . . . if so, who are we not to recognize it?”
- “This is my vision for the church: a church of true equality, all working together.”
- “I want the church to be bold, to be open, to be free, and to receive the future as it comes to us.”
- “I want my granddaughters to grow up and see in the pulpit a female pastor feeding them, nurturing them. I want their children, if the Lord doesn’t come before, to sit there and to listen to the word of a male or a female pastor. I want them to be baptized by a male or female pastor, because the Lord is the One who elects those He wants to use in the ministry.”
- “We need everybody, everybody.”
Arguments very similar to these have been used to support gay and lesbian ordination in mainline Christian churches.
Second Wave Feminism took Western culture by storm in the 1960s and 70s. Then, it is true, the church began to have study commissions. And today those denominations then first in embracing radical secular egalitarianism are the most “advanced” in promoting a homosexual agenda. And what do those denominations trumpet? The placement of practicing homosexuals at the highest levels of church leadership.(1)
Disunity is redefined as unity (“unity not unison” or “unity not uniformity”) . The movement of the Holy Spirit is claimed. The same is seen in other churches which have surrendered to culture.(2)
In many denominations which have embraced current cultural practice, their elder statesmen led in gaining denominational approval. Three thousand years ago at the incident of the golden calf, Aaron called for unity. The solution was to blend the worship of the holy God with the worship of the golden calf. God could be worshiped many ways. Culture had come. Leadership proposed compromise and followed Egyptian culture.
Even Time magazine sees the theological question
The same theology that seems to neutralize the blockading texts so that women’s ordination can proceed against the grain of Scripture, also neutralizes the texts opposing other unbiblical behaviors. To approve women’s ordination is to pre-approve homosexual practice. Even Time magazine has pointed out that
“So far no Christian tradition has been able to embrace the LGBT community without first changing its view about women. The same reasoning that concludes that homosexuality is sin is also behind the traditional evangelical view that husbands are the spiritual leaders of marriages and men are the leaders in church.”(3)
The women’s ordination question is pivotal because decisions made about interpretation here impact every issue awaiting the church downstream. When the witness of Scripture is silenced through hermeneutical operations, the Detector of error is effectively removed. Error is no longer deflected.
In the absence of God’s revealed will in Scripture, the church wanders separated from Christ. It makes is own determinations about truth. Her conflict with culture is neutralized. Changes are made for the purpose of mission. Noble motivations lead to ignoble compromise. God tells His church His design. A faithful church seeks a thus saith the Lord for its practices and obeys; an unfaithful church claims that Heaven has not forbidden a practice and forges ahead in apostasy.
A retired GC president makes a carefully worded statement on the website:
My plea to our church in areas of the world with the most rapid growth is: Have understanding in this matter and for what must happen elsewhere so that we can move forward in global unity! If that understanding is not obtained in San Antonio, I fear fracture. The ripple effect is likely to do damage to other areas of the life of our church.
My prayer is that we will say Yes. If we do not, both history and the Lord will, I fear, judge us severely.
“Must” the church adopt the practice of women’s ordination? He says yes. “If that understanding [letting division executive committees decide for themselves on women’s ordination] is not obtained in San Antonio, I fear fracture.” His public words on the website are an echo of similar statements being made by prominent women’s ordination advocates today in private.
What he has not mentioned is the inevitable ensuing ripple-effect should the church actually approve women’s ordination. (Make no mistake: letting each division decide for itself is de facto approval of women’s ordination.) If the leadership of the NAD and of a few other divisions where the authority of Scripture has been deeply eroded now have their way, NAD membership will surely adjust its financial giving patterns in line with its convictions. Convictions will not be changed by a Yes vote in San Antonio that is not clearly supported by Scripture. Those favoring women’s ordination openly admit they have no Bible warrant for the proposed change.
Bullying the world church with the claimed necessity of granting women’s ordination by warning of the potential for “fracture” ignores the fact that approving women’s ordination would almost certainly mean substantial reduction in ability to fund the church in other divisions. Should present NAD leadership be reappointed, it will certainly plow forward with women’s ordination in a Division sharply divided on the question. The result is predictable. There will be a significant change in funding levels. North American dollars will decrease. Financial outflow from NAD to other Divisions will also decrease.
No denomination that has approved women’s ordination or gay/lesbian practice has grown in its Western territories, let alone seen an influx of dollars to spend overseas. There are no exceptions. This will be the ripple effect should the church set its supposed intellectual riches above Scripture.
The six elder statesmen speak of how vitally important it is to vote Yes now or else the church will split. That’s why, as their video repeatedly proclaims, “it’s time.” They foresee imminent fracture if those clamoring for women’s ordination are not given their way. The question is, Why would there be fracture? Who would cause it?
The only answer can be, it would be initiated by those calling for women’s ordination! The six men are telling us that certain fields will say that they’ve had enough with global church policies and protocol. Those units will adopt women’s ordination even if it means that the new practice will split the church. So, where exactly is the disunity coming from? The only possible cause of fracture would be if the outcome of the GC vote would be No and then the pro-women’s ordination party itself would create the crisis of which they now warn the church.
In actuality it is the Yes vote which would be the dis-unifying step. After it, no longer would there be one global policy on ecclesiastical or hermeneutical questions. No more would each worker and each field humbly submit to God’s leading of the entire body. From then onward, the precedent would be set. Each unit would consider the possibility of doing as it pleases. Such a result is fracture already.
The only way out of this crisis is for each person to humbly surrender his own opinions and subject his views to the entire body of Christ.
A Yes vote would mean that the world church now believes it is time to introduce this new practice. That is, that the Holy Spirit is moving His church to embrace new light and engage in new practices without any clear guidance in support of said practice from the Bible or the writings of Ellen G. White. This seems irreconcilable with God’s consistent operations throughout history: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).
What will the Seventh-day Adventist Church now do?
The dividing line is before us: submission to the God who designed men and women, or, submission to the forces of culture. The Seventh-day Adventist Church standing on the creation institutions of Sabbath and the divine design for humanity, can continue to stand on those truths. Or, it can join the flight from creation and embrace the new order now under construction. The new ideological tower is rising. The hour of divine response hastens.
The time is come to decide. May God strengthen hearts. May He find us loyal citizens, not to statesmen, but to King Jesus Himself.
(1) Some examples are the election of Gene Robinson to bishop in the Episcopal Church USA in 2003, the election of R. Guy Erwin to bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in 2013, and the election of Gary Paterson as moderator (essentially GC president) of the United Church of Canada in 2012. All three men “married” other men.
(2) Not many months ago when the Presbyterian Church USA approved same-sex marriage, Alex McNeil, executive director of “More Light Presbyterians” said “Today is a historic day in the PC(USA). After study, discernment, conversation and the movement of the Holy Spirit we have affirmed that all loving and committed couples are capable of being married in our church, and ministers can officiate at those wedding ceremonies without fear” (http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/06/19/3451183/nations-largest-presbyterian-denomination-now-allows-same-sex-marriage/, accessed 2015-05-05).
(3) Time magazine, January 26, 2015, p. 47.
NOTE: The Council of Adventist Pastors (CAP) is a group of Seventh-day Adventist Pastors serving in the North American Division. Additional detail concerning the pastors, including a list of participants, is available on the http://www.ordinationTruth.com website. The October 25, 2013 News Release at the following link also describes CAP’s origin and goals: