Every five years delegates from the world Seventh-day Adventist Church around the world gather in a General Conference Session to hear reports of the work of the church and to make decisions for the further operation of the mission of the church. An important part of these five yearly meetings is to choose new office bearers to lead the church for the following five years. This year, 2015, has been the year for the 60th General Conference Session, just held in San Antonio, Texas, USA. It is always a stimulating and inspiring experience to attend such an event, where approximately 70,000 people of like profession of faith congregate. The delegates gather to make decisions affecting the world-wide church. Other people attend to exhibit the products and methods they have developed to share the gospel throughout the world. Still others, like ourselves, attend to look for resources and tools to help in the work of promoting the gospel message in their various regions of the world.
This year at this particular General Conference, the number one topic to be addressed by the delegates was the ordination of women to the gospel ministry. This has been the subject on many minds and lips in the build up to the General Conference Session. Many were waiting with baited breath to learn the outcome of the vote. Well, all can now let go their breath and breathe. The discussion, the debating, the voting and the counting are all in the past with the results public within seconds of the announcement.
The topic of women’s ordination to gospel ministry in the Seventh-day Adventist Church came up for discussion on the Wednesday morning, July 8, commencing at 10.00am. The three possible options resulting from the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) were read to the business, followed by secretarial notes and reports.
A summary of the three possible options were as follows;
“In an effort to better understand the Bible’s teaching on ordination, the church established the Theology of Ordination Study Committee, a group of 106 members commonly referred to by church leaders as TOSC. It was not organized to be proportionately representative of the world church, but simply to carry out a two-year study. Special Biblical Research Committees in each of the church’s 13 world divisions contributed to the study process and were represented from TOSC.
A main goal of TOSC, which finished its work in June, was to determine whether it could find a consensus on women’s ordination, but it did not. Members split into three camps, known as Position Nos. 1, 2 and 3:
Position No. 1 emphasizes the biblical qualifications for ordination as found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and the fact that never in the Bible were women ordained as priests, apostles or elders. Therefore, it says, the Adventist Church has no biblical basis to ordain women.
Position No. 2 emphasizes the leadership roles of Old and New Testament women such as Deborah, Huldah, and Junia, and biblical passages in Genesis 1 and 2, and Galatians 3:26-28 that stress all people are equal in God’s eyes. Therefore, it says, the biblical principle of equality allows the Adventist Church to ordain women to positions of church leadership wherever possible.
Position No. 3 supports Position No. 1 in recognizing a biblical pattern of male leadership in Israel and the early Christian church. But it also emphasizes that God made exceptions, such as the case of granting Israel’s desire for a king. It says women’s ordination is a matter of church policy and not a moral imperative and, therefore, the Adventist Church should allow each field to decide whether or not to ordain women.
Elder Ted Wilson urged church members to examine all three positions, which were presented in the final TOSC report.”Be sure to look at all presentations and to understand how God is speaking to you from the Word and your daily walk with Him.”
Careful of Distractions
Although TOSC itself did not reach a consensus on women’s ordination, its members did approve a consensus statement on the theology of ordination and, in a separate statement, affirmed that they remain “committed to the message and mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as expressed through the 28 Fundamental Beliefs.”
Elder Ted Wilson said he hoped that all church members would embrace a similar willingness. ”If we’re not careful, the devil will sidetrack us into controversy that will create a diversion from what God intends for his last-day remnant church to accomplish, and that is to proclaim the three angels’ messages and gladly share about Christ’s soon coming,” he said. “The bigger question is how will we relate to the ongoing mission of the church.” – Ordinationtruth.com
As the deliberations took place during the day, the motion was put forward, “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.
To vote Yes, would give authority from the world church body to allow each of the 13 divisions to make their own decision within their particular division to give the go-ahead to ordain women into gospel ministry.
To vote No, would be to deny the authority from the world church body to allow each of the 13 divisions to make their own decision to allow women to be ordained into the gospel ministry.
The delegates participated in a lively debate. Points of order were taken and decided. The chair alternated delegates speaking for the motion, with delegates speaking against the motion. The chair strongly enforced the requirement that attending observers refrain from applause. This requirement was set to avoid tensions between each side of the debate. The auditorium remained well behaved throughout the discussion time.
Going to the Vote
The vote was to be taken on the motion at 4.30pm, after allowing the full business day to be given to this topic. At 4.30pm discussion on the motion was halted, the vote was taken by secret ballot and counting started. Within about an hour, the results were announced;
Total number of votes counted – 2363
Total number of votes for YES – 977
Total number of votes for NO – 1381
Balance abstained – 5
Shortly after the announcement was made, Elder Ted Wilson addressed the delegates and Church. Even though there were strong sentiments on either side, he pleaded that the Church stay as one body, that we respect each other regardless of opinions, and stay united with our mission.
After the deliberations had concluded and the vote taken, it was evident that the happenings were sinking in to peoples minds. Everywhere we went we briefly overheard people talking about the events of the day.
A number of significant decisions have been made since that meeting. The very next day the North American Division made a statement that it will respect the decision of the General Conference world Church body, but will continue as it has been, to ordain female elders, bring more women into the role of ministry and leadership and will commission women to the gospel ministry while refraining from ordaining.
The Netherlands Union Conference, also stated it has already been ordaining women and will continue to do so regardless of the decision made at General Conference level.
Two days after the vote was taken, the incoming President for the South Pacific Division, Pastor Glenn Townend stated to the SPD delegates, “We want to affirm our women in ministry. We also need to think about how to move forward. This includes how we speak to those who don't understand the diverse cultures comprising our world church. I am fully in support of women in ministry, and from my understanding from Scripture and the writings of Ellen White, there is no reason they should not be ordained. We don't all agree and I respect that too. Every time the church has addressed this issue, it is getting closer to yes. I'm disappointed, and I know some people are disappointed.”
Pr Townend then initiated a prayer session to support all women in pastoral ministry, women in ministry more broadly, and women feeling the call to ministry. The delegates gathered into five groups and prayed for God's blessing, His leading and His healing.
“I feel really good now,” said Pr Townend after the prayer. “Because we have been in the presence of God, and there is such a spirit of unity. I hope this support will be communicated to all our women in ministry, not just those here in San Antonio.” – Record.net.au
Lack of Biblical Evidence
The Bible is the foundation of our faith. As we have observed for some time, it is apparent that the practice of ordaining women to the ministry lacks solid Biblical and Spirit of Prophecy support. Advocates for women’s ordination claim that the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy are silent on the subject and use that silence as a basis for ordaining women.
Now as individual Divisions and Unions declare their directions and intentions, some questioning the vote of the World Church. It will remain to be seen if disciplinary measures will be meted out to divisive parties.
Need for Careful Consideration
Brethren and Sisters I plead with you to be careful to consider whether it is presumption or faith to proceed upon flimsy evidence. Just because God is silent on a matter does not give automatic license to proceed. Go to the Bible, give thought to the example when one woman became dissatisfied with her role and wanted to become equal in leadership. Moses was clearly elected by God to be the leader of His chosen people out of Egypt into the promised land. Aaron and Miriam decided they also wanted equal status to Moses in leadership, so they confronted Moses with their challenge. When God stepped in, He made the decision for them by manifesting His power in favour of His choice. Sadly Miriam didn't receive favour to be leader, or co-leader with Moses, she didn't even gain priestly status with Aaron, she finished up with leprosy! Draw your own conclusion to this serious matter, study for yourselves.
“In the creation, God had made her (Eve) the equal of Adam. Had they remained obedient to God--in harmony with His great law of love – they would ever have been in harmony with each other; but sin had brought discord, and now their union could be maintained and harmony preserved only by submission on the part of the one or the other. Eve had been the first in transgression, and she had fallen into temptation by separating from her companion, contrary to the divine direction. It was by her solicitation that Adam sinned, and she was now placed in subjection to her husband. Had the principles enjoined in the law of God been cherished by the fallen race, this sentence, though growing out of the results of sin, would have proved a blessing to them; but man's abuse of the supremacy thus given him has too often rendered the lot of woman very bitter, and made her life a burden.
“Eve had been perfectly happy by her husband's side in her Eden home but, like restless modern Eves, she was flattered with the hope of entering a higher sphere than that which God had assigned her. In attempting to rise above her original position, she fell far below it. A similar result will be reached by all who are unwilling to take up cheerfully their life duties in accordance with God's plan.” – Adventist Home p.115
God has given specific details on male leadership. Twenty six times within the first chapters of Genesis, there is specific direction for the male to take responsibility and lead, plus reconfirming that right through Scripture including the twelve tribes; in the priestly lines; in the disciples; through to 1Timothy chapter 3, and Titus chapter 1; in the counsel of setting up the New Testament church, just to name just a few, the elder is to be the “husband of one wife”. Are not theses simple few words enough to convince the reader of God's intent for filling roles in leadership?
Forty Years On
From Molhaven in 1973 when this issue first started to raise its head, right through to TOSC in and around 2013, we have 40 odd years given to this subject. Over that time, there have been many attempts to have the world church accept women’s ordination to the gospel ministry. But just as many times as the attempts have been launched , they have been resisted and voted down. Should not this evidence alone after these repeated tries, tell those proponents for women’s ordination that the world church doesn't want it? But Pr Townend's comment that every time the issue comes up, it gets closer to a 'yes', may indicate the subject is not over yet.
In conclusion, it need be emphasised that the motion that was voted on was in regard to the ordination of women into gospel ministry. It does not affect women elders which was voted a 'yes' back in Indianapolis in 1990. Neither does it affect the commissioning of women to pastoral ministry. Yes, one may wonder what Biblical evidence was presented 25 years ago at those meetings!
Ultimately, we are in a battle between the emotion and culture of today and a “What saith the Lord.” My admonition is we stay with “What saith the Lord.”