Alright, Haystack readers, I want your help with this one. With all of the recent conversations on Seventh-day Adventist media outlets and blogging websites regarding women’s ordination, one of the main arguments that keeps surfacing is one that denounces the General Conference’s decision to reopen the women’s ordination question for further discussion. Many feel there’s no finality to the decisions that have been made in the past, so how can we hope for finality in decisions to be made in the future? It’s a fundamental issue that goes much deeper than the discussions on women’s ordination. At what point do we question long-held practices and traditions, and at what point do we draw a line in the sand? How much finality should there be in church decisions?
While it’s a justified question, it’s also a question that tends to make people uncomfortable. We aren’t so certain about change. And, that’s rightfully so. Change can threaten the purity of the church. By changing practices, will we eventually come to change beliefs? Too much change can even threaten the church’s very existence.
By changing practices, will we eventually come to change beliefs?
When looking at this issue, it’s hard not to think of this question in relation to the Israelites as they struggle through the wilderness and in their Promised Land. Do you know what strikes me every time I read Exodus-Judges? Each time the Israelites begin to incorporate practices from the other people groups around them, they eventually come to take steps away from God. It’s like they can’t let outsiders in without muddying their own religion. If we just had the example of the Israelites, it would be easy. We’d try to do right where they failed and never alter long-held practices. We’d steer clear of new ideas altogether.
However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, it’s difficult not to think of the Jewish leaders in the New Testament. They were so afraid of letting change in that they hardened themselves to love. They no longer looked to the needs of their fellow man. They became so focused on keeping themselves pure that they eventually took steps away from God. With two extreme examples of God’s people on both sides of the question, what is the modern Seventh-day Adventist church to do? While we certainly don’t want to change our beliefs to the extent of losing sight of our mission and message, we simultaneously don’t want to harden ourselves so much that we forget God’s calling to love both Him and our neighbors.
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I believe a deep part of the human heart thirsts for a sense of finality. We want there to be an overt answer. Yes, even in a post-modern culture, we still crave absolutes. Of course we do. It’s only natural. Our world was never intended for such chaos. We prefer our answers to come in black or white. We don’t want to go near any shades of grey. Who knows what may happen in grey areas? At times, it seems preferable to just avoid the grey areas completely. But, if we always avoided grey areas, what new heights would we be able to reach? How would we ever share the incredible message that God has given us?
Pay close attention here. I’m not advocating for a lack of truth or a shifting truth. I believe in truth. I believe in absolute truth. I believe in absolute biblical truth. I’ve said it before, but I’m certainly not afraid to say it again. I am a Seventh-day Adventist Christian because I believe the truth that I find in my Bible most closely correlates with Seventh-day Adventism. As long as that remains true, I will always be a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. At the end of the day, I believe God empowers people to work for Him. I trust my church leadership. The church leaders are in the positions they are in because God allowed their placement there. However, while I believe that church leadership, structures, policies, and principles are divinely instituted, I do not believe that the church leaders, structures, policies, or principles are divine in and of themselves.
Why is that important? There’s a huge distinction between the two. If the church itself were divine, there would never be any need for it to change. It would have had all of the tools it ever needed from the onset and every decision would be final. However, the church is not divine. The church leadership is divinely established. Thus, God chooses to work through living people, present situations, and current environments. This means that though many church decisions are final, they are not all infinitely final.
Don’t believe me? Our church’s history is filled with incredible individuals who have been willing to ask difficult questions to determine what decisions are based on the Bible and what decisions are based on tradition. Martin Luther went against the grain of church tradition to reassert the Bible as sole authority. Ellen White and her family were willing to question their faith tradition in search of greater truth. After that, the disappointed Millerites were willing to take yet another look at their beliefs and their “church” to figure out what they had missed. And those were doctrines! Ordination isn’t even doctrine. How can we not be willing to even open up dialogue about it?
So, here’s the thing. Because of this distinction between being divine itself and being divinely placed, the church has to be willing to continually study and reevaluate interpretations on theological issues and ecclesiological practices. The church as an institution, a movement, and a body of believers needs to be able to grow. We have to be willing to question the way things have always been done. I’m not saying that doing so will necessarily bring us to a point where anything changes. I am saying that something is wrong if you are afraid or unwilling to open up dialogue on a particular question. We may have truth, but we don’t have all of the answers. We have to continually be willing to go to God and search for those particular answers with the truth that He has given us.
I’m not advocating for rebellion. I’m advocating for fresh, critical thinking.
Does there come a point in time when we have to go against the grain of what has always been done? I’m not advocating for rebellion. I’m advocating for fresh, critical thinking. I’m advocating for a willingness to put aside our prejudices and individual perspectives to evaluate the way it’s always been done. Though the church manual is important, the church manual is not divine. It cannot be used in place of the Bible. They are not the same. While the church manual is an authoritative source, it is not absolute. It’s open to discussion and interpretation. It’s changed and edited as the years go by. Words have to be altered. Ideas need to be expanded.
Let’s be clear here. The Bible does not change. God does not change. However, I’d like to think our capacity to understand the Bible and to know God more deeply has no limits. I’d like to think that every time I open my Bible, I’m opening myself up to learn more. I’m opening myself up to learn anything fresh that God plans on teaching me. If that were not the case, what would be the point? Why would we continue to read the Bible if we weren’t open to reevaluating our finality on certain practices?
This is the deal. It may not be time for a revolution, but it is always time for some serious rethinking. How can you deny that? The members of the church are ever-changing, and the environments that those members are living in are not the same. While some decisions are permanent, some decisions are appropriate for a period of time. With every new challenge, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but we do have to see how the wheel fits with the current model.
So, what do you think? Where do you draw the line? Right now, the question is women’s ordination. Tomorrow, an entirely different issue may arise. At what point is it rebellion and at what point is it merely standing up for what’s right?
I’d love discussion on this post, however, I do ask that we show both sides of this conversation respect. Godly people are on both sides of these discussions. Let’s not correlate our beliefs with any sense of superiority. All opinions, thoughts, and/or comments are welcome here.[/box_holder]