Our world church is experiencing a crisis that could potentially split the Seventh-day Adventist movement. On May 9, 2012, the Pacific Union Conference executive committee voted to table a motion that would make the ordination of ministers a gender-neutral issue. This is more than just a departure from the traditions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church; it is a departure from biblical Christianity. Moreover, the Pacific Union and numerous other conferences and unions have dissented from the position of the General Conference, placing them in open opposition to the world church.
The Pacific Union set forth seven points within the preamble of its resolution to ordain ministers without regard to gender; however, the biblical support for these points is tenuous at best. The following is a point-by-point rebuttal of the same:
Whereas Scripture is clear that the end-time Church is blessed precisely because men and women preach God’s message (Joel 2:28, 29 and Fundamental Belief 17);
We don’t have to guess or wonder what the fulfillment of Joel 2:28,29 will look like. The apostle Peter tells us in Acts 2:16, 17, that the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost was a fulfillment of Joel 2:28, 29. There were 120 men and women gathered in the upper room, all of whom were filled with the Spirit for ministry. See Acts 2:1–4.
This fulfillment in Acts 2 made no change to God’s design for men to fill rolls of spiritual leadership. Immediately before the outpouring of the Spirit, the disciples chose a replacement apostle for Judas. He is chosen from among “these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us” (Acts 1:26). They prayed that God would show them which of the two men He would have replace Judas. Matthias was chosen.
The end-time church is also blessed with both men and women who can share the gospel, but this is not to be confused with the appointment to church leadership. The passage in Joel also emphasizes the inclusion of “all flesh” being called to minister for Christ—but this does not conflict with God’s Word regarding leadership. Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthian church: “I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God,” which implies that a woman is to submit herself to her husband as to the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:3; also Ephesians 5:22). Equally important, the husband as the spiritual head in the family is to submit himself to the Lord (Ephesians 5:23; 1 Corinthians 11:4).
Whereas we are commanded to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8);
Their second point utilizes Micah 6:8, which in context demonstrates how believers are to come before the Lord—humble and submissive, fully obeying His commandments and statutes. Nothing in this passage suggests that a woman is to be appointed above a man in formal church leadership; therefore, it is not useful in determining whether women’s ordination is or is not biblical.
Whereas “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28);
Using Galatians 3:28 to support their position is to take the passage out of its theological context. In his letter to the Galatian church, Paul writes about the universality of the gospel and how all—regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, creed, or gender—may come to God. In so doing, they become one in Christ and, therefore, Abraham’s seed and heirs to the promise of eternal life. Thus, the verse relates expressly to salvation; it speaks nothing of church leadership or ordination. To read anything more into this text is an error of eisegesis. In understanding Galatians 3:28, remember its author also wrote this: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (1 Timothy 2:12–14 NKJV).
Whereas “differences between male and female must not be divisive among us” and “we are to serve and be served without partiality or reservation” (Fundamental Belief 14);
The church’s 14th fundamental belief is about ministry and our collective responsibility to embrace the great commission (Matthew 28:19, 20). This point, of course, is not in dispute; both men and women can receive the same spiritual gifts and all those in Christ have been called to minister within the priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:9), yet the Lord has expressly reserved formal leadership to men alone (1 Timothy 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9). Although we might not fully understand the Lord’s reasoning behind this edict, we must fully trust in His sovereignty and wisdom.
Whereas the Seventh-day Adventist Church is co-founded by a woman, Ellen G. White, who remains an authoritative and guiding voice;
Although Ellen White was present during the formation of the Seventh-day Adventist movement, she was not a part of its formal church leadership. Moreover, in Acts of the Apostles, she made it clear: “Pastors are needed—faithful shepherds—who will not flatter God’s people, nor treat them harshly, but who will feed them with the bread of life—men who in their lives feel daily the converting power of the Holy Spirit and who cherish a strong, unselfish love toward those for whom they labor” (526.1, emphasis added). To incorporate Ellen White’s influence and prophetic mission as justification for women’s ordination is an unfaithful presentation of her legacy.
Whereas the Pacific Union is enriched by Spirit-filled women who are responding to God’s call in our schools, churches and conferences;
The opposition to women’s ordination is a biblical one that does not advocate restricting women from ministering or holding professional office within the church; rather, it is to merely establish the proper biblical division with respect to male and female positions. Scripture teaches the complementary positions of men and women. The church is indeed comprised of men and women who are all equal in the eyes of God; women’s ministries are integral to a functioning church. The question is not about whether a woman should or should not be ordained, but rather where she can best minister based upon biblical mandate. To that end alone, the positional distinctions set forth in Scripture for both the home and the church must be honored. Men are to serve as heads of the family; some will also serve as appointed heads of the church. In turn, the church structure must support the family pattern and vice versa. An attempt to appoint women to serve as pastors or elders is analogous to appointing them to be fathers of a family, which the epistles of Paul clearly state should not happen. Therefore, the action by the Pacific Union to ordain women undermines God’s expressed plan for the family and His church.
Whereas the Seventh-day Adventist Church assigns Unions the final decision-making authority and responsibility with respect to ordination (NAD Working Policy L45 05 3, Spring Council 2012 116-12G Report); Whereas the Pacific Union Conference voted its full commitment to Women’s Ordination, August 30, 1995 (reaffirmed May 12, 2010 and March 15, 2012);
Although the unions are assigned the final decision-making authority and responsibility with respect to ordination, it is important for Unions to honor the General Conference’s position on women’s ordination for the sake of unity and clarity. Ellen White said that while we might have opinions that differ with the decisions the church has made, we are to follow the church’s decisions until such time they are rescinded or changed.
On the Charge of Sexism
The reasons for restricting the role of pastor/elder to men are theological, not biological, social, or cultural. This cannot be overemphasized. From both an academic and a biblical perspective, women are not to be appointed as pastors/elders of a congregation because they are positions reserved to males; it is not because of a lack of ability. The homogenization of male and female roles in either the church or the home is absent in Scripture. In qualification descriptions of pastors/elders in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–7, attention is given to “man” (ei tis), being distinct from “woman” (gyne). Further, a man was to rule his own household, a position that could not be held by a woman. This conclusion is further supported by the texture of the passage in 1 Timothy, where Paul describes the qualifications of an elder immediately following the prohibition of women teaching as church leaders (2:11–15). This suggests the two concepts are part of the same ideology. Having explained why women should not instruct men, Paul then dictates what kind of men are suitable for such an office.
New Testament arguments concerning women’s roles reveal they could serve as teachers but not as elders—the two were viewed as separate; the former is a gift and the latter an appointment. The elder’s appointed function was to exercise a fatherly authority over both men and women within the congregation (1 Timothy 3:4, 5; 5:17), a role never prescribed to women sacramentally or representatively. This was not because of man’s superiority; rather, it was how the Lord established different roles for the sexes. From a socio-cultural standpoint, the creation account teaches the priority and authority of man over woman—at times called “ontological equality”—which is affirmed in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. An attempt to view Scripture having a bias toward men in sole receipt of God’s favor denies the purpose of God creating man and woman in His image, after His likeness (Genesis 1:26), and subjects the Almighty to human fallibility.