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This past July 1, I retired after 40 years of service as a pastor. In those years I saw a number of things take place; many changes, many challenges. But the current situation involving unity in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, has to be one of the most serious yet seen. It has the potential to drastically divide and weaken God’s Remnant Church.
In spite of the votes of not one but two General Conference sessions, the same topic has returned a third time. Even the current energy going into the restudy of the issue, with input from a wide-ranging group of scholars and theologians, and a careful process, has not prevented some from moving ahead on their own to vote the ordination of women. All this, in spite of an urgent appeal from our General Conference President not to do so!
I have been thinking lately about the story of Balaam recorded in Numbers 22 – 24. While all the details of this story do not parallel the current situation we face with unity and ordination, there is one attitude which prevailed with Balaam similar to what I’m concerned could be happening now. It is simply this: Balaam had been told by God not to proceed with Balak’s request—to stay where he was at. But: “He did not seek to do the will of God, but chose his own course, and then endeavoured to secure the sanction of the Lord” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 440).
Sounds like his attitude was basically, “Lord sanction (or bless) me anyway.”
Could it be that as we face the issues surrounding unity and ordination, this attitude is coming to the fore once again? “Lord, bless Us Anyway”?
I don’t know people’s hearts—that is God’s department. I am convinced that there are sincere people wanting to see women’s ordination go thr ough who really want to do our Lord’s will and are truly seeking His blessing. But could a strong desire overshadow some warnings and cautions that the Lord has given in His Word? I know from my own experience that I have sometimes made poor decisions under pressure (not always even under pressure!), with the attitude, “I hope God can bless me anyway.”
May I list some areas where it could be possible for this kind of thinking and acting to prevail? Especially as it relates to these current issues?
1. Lord, we know that we are to press together and that you gave us a system of governance so that we could move together and not gravitate towards congregationalism or fragmentation. But the General Conference has been sitting on this question long enough. We need to take things into our own hands and do something.
We know about the statement:
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. . . God has ordained that the representatives of His church from all parts of the earth, when assembled in a General Conference, shall have authority” (Testimonies, vol. 9, pp. 260, 261).
But we feel that this counsel is irrelevant here, and that the time has come to push this issue through—whatever it takes! So Lord, Please bless us anyway.
2. Lord, we know that we are to take the Bible just as it reads and that it is to be our ultimate authority for making any decision or doing anything. But we’re not sure that the Bible is really clear on this issue of headship/leadership/ordination. We feel that we need a Bible relevant for our current culture and circumstances here. You know, Lord, how women have made great strides in liberation and are now able to fight up front with our men in battle and also leave the care of their children with some one else so they can climb the corporate ladder. We don’t really believe that 1 Timothy 3:2 and other texts are talking about the ordination of Bishops and Elders as men. We have ways of understanding and explaining this differently now. And it fits better with the push and pressure that we are all feeling today. So Lord, Please bless us anyway as we move forward.
3. Lord, if we look closely at the context of Galatians 3:28 we see that it is talking about how we all (both, men and women) are “children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” It teaches that there is equal opportunity for salvation and we all can become “Abraham’s seed.” This is definitely not a mandate for ordination or how roles should be distributed. But so many Scholars and Theologians have used this text to push women’s ordination and we are beginning to feel it fits nicely here. So Lord, Please bless us anyway.
4. Lord, watching other denominations move in this direction of ordaining women to leadership positions as Elders and Bishops, we have not seen the corresponding advances in evangelism and church growth they hoped for. We have even noticed that some practicing homosexual individuals have now been ordained. But we are confident that nothing like this could ever happen to us and that our results will be different. So Lord, Please bless us anyway.
5. Lord, in a paper entitled “The Theological Basis for Women Serving in the Ministries of the Church”, the author stated: “This outline will not deal with ordination of women. That too is a very volatile subject. However the question about ordination should find a logical conclusion, as we discover a sound Biblical/Theological answer to the concern about the appropriateness of women in pastoral ministry.” He seems to be saying; if women serve in ministries of the church as pastors, that they should automatically be ordained. But then, he uses Miriam as an example and leaves some real questions!
He said: “Miriam was an acknowledged prophet of God with equal recognition as Moses and Aaron.” He probably should have read Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 382-386 more carefully where he would have discovered the rest of the story and the truth of the matter.
In the affections of the people and the honor of Heaven she stood second [emphasis mine] only to Moses and Aaron. . . If Miriam’s envy and dissatisfaction had not been signally rebuked, it would have resulted in great evil. . . The judgment visited upon Miriam should be a rebuke to all who yield to jealousy, and murmur against those upon whom God lays the burden of His work.
Lord, we know that it is very serious for a Miriam or a Korah—or any of us—to murmur about our position or those in leadership. Leprosy was inflicted upon Miriam. Korah was destroyed with the earth opening up. All this, to check the spirit of discontent and insubordination. But Lord, someone needs to do something and change this; no matter what examples are used–no matter what the General Conference has said in the past or what they will say in the future. Lord, bless us anyway.
Friends, the truth of the matter is this. The blessing of the Lord is conditional. The blessing of God only comes when we are obedient to His Word and respectful of His authority (Deuteronomy 11:26-28). “Let the believers heed the voice of the angel who has said to the church, ‘Press together.’ In unity is your strength. Love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous. God hath a church, and Christ hath declared, ‘The gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” (Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 69).
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Lonny and Gerita Liebelt have served in pastoral ministry in the Carolinas, Indiana, California, Wyoming, Washington, and Montana. They presently live near Libby, Montana.