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Women’s Ordination and Authority Wars

Story:

When my wife started college she was sure that she was going to do music and be a performer when she grew up. Then people told her that she wouldn’t be able to make a living that way so she needed to do something else. She decided to study religion and thought that she might be able to be a pastor. But then people told her that it’s hard for women to become pastors in the Adventist church, so she switched her major to psychology. The problem was her gifting and calling was in music and ministry. She couldn’t ignore the way that God had made her so she switched back to studying religion and preparing for ministry. She was one of the top communicators in preaching class and she loved to love on people and care for them. She was clearly gifted for ministry…but what should she do when it came time to graduate? Would she be able to be hired as a pastor or as a music minister? Why is this such a hard thing to do in the Adventist church? Was it true that her church didn’t really want her?

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are your gifts and talents?
  2. What kind of ministry have you felt called to be a part of?
  3. Have you ever felt like God called you to do something and then the church shut you down?
  4. Have you ever felt like God called you to do something and the church made it a reality for you?
  5. Why or why not do you feel like you are wanted by the church?

 

The Issue:

The problem is multi-multifaceted and focused on the tricky word “ordination.” First there are strait-up practical/authority concerns when it comes to structure, payment, taxes, and tradition. Second there are biblical-hermeneutical-spiritual concerns that are being raised and the arguments are getting fierce…girl are they ever.

 

  • Practical/Authority Concerns
    • First lets think about the structural and practical side of the issue. Churches hire people in different ways. Some churches are what is called congregational, they hire and pay their pastors as a congregation with various degrees of oversight from some governing body.

      Some churches hire pastors as a denomination and place pastors in districts or churches with various degrees of input from the local congregation. So some churches ordain their pastors congregationally and some churches ordain their pastors organizationally depending on what level they are hired on.

      In the Adventist church pastors are most often hired at the local conference level and they are ordained by the local conference officers after a process of approval from the union level.
    • All churches have to think about how they are going to pay their pastor and they have to consider their non-exempt tax status with the government along the way. Ordained pastors have a unique status in the tax world of the government. As long as they have a ministerial license they are in a strange no-man’s land of partially hired and partially self-employed. This means they are able to get some tax benefits from self-employment, the most significant being parsonage exclusion.

      In the Adventist church there is also a level of pay increase once someone is ordained or commissioned. Basically all pastors in the adventist church before they are ordained or commissioned are considered to be interns and are only fully fledged pastors after ordination.

      Because the conference is the one who pays the pastors, the conference (via the union) has the authority for hiring pastors in the Adventist Church. They also therefore, for practical purposes, have the authority to ordain the pastors which they hire and by employment status give them the clergy tax status. (In reality the authority lies with the Union, but practically it is with the Conference)
    • A church body also has a desire to protect the organization from dissonant views and vision or what in the past is called heresy. Each church/denomination has a certain set of values and a certain message that it wants to be conveyed within its sphere of influence. Ordination is, therefore, a process of giving authority to the pastor to convey this message and values to the congregation(s). This serves as a certain level of vetting a person’s theology and practices.

      This was true in the 2nd Century when the church was trying to guard itself against systems of thought like gnosticism and it was true in the beginnings of the Adventist church when they were trying to present a clear message of the truths they had found. Early Adventist pastors were therefore given a card to carry with them, so that when the came to a local church the church would know that they had been given the authority to speak the message that was in agreement with the Adventist church.

      Ellen White was one of those in the beginnings of the Adventist church that was given recognized authority by the church to share the message and the values with local congregations.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been a part of your church getting a new pastor? Has you church ever done a local hire or has the conference always presented your church with pastoral options?
  2. What is the process like for your church?
  3. What did you think about the process? Was is fair? How did you feel about the process?
  4. What are the reasons on the practical level for why a pastor needs to be ordained?
  5. Does it make sense to you that the conference has the authority to hire/ordain the local pastor?
  6. Should the Division and/or General Conference have the authority to question or tell the Union/Conference whom they can or cannot ordain?
  7. Why is the protection of the message and values of a particular church a valid reason for ordination?
  8. Do you think it is valid, for practical/authority purposes, to continue the practice of ordination? Why or why not?

 

  • Biblical/Spiritual Concerns
    Let’s take a look at several important questions regarding the biblical and spiritual concerns of ordination and see what we might find out.

    • Is ordination explicitly biblical?
      The discussion of ordination is most certainly one that needs to be informed by scripture. But does this mean that the practice of ordination as the Adventist church does it today is something that is explicitly laid out in the bible?

      As was mentioned in the video there are various terms in scripture that have been translated as ordain. The words themselves however seem to have a stronger connotation of appoint, recognize, set apart, or commission for a specific missionary task. These tasks are various indeed they include: the craftsmanship and artistry of building the sanctuary in the wilderness (Ex 31:1-6); being an item of person used in the sanctuary system (Ex 40:9-13); going on a missionary journey (Acts 13:2-3); to hand out food to the greek widows (Acts 6:1-6). The practice of laying on of hands in scripture also has many different uses. Through the laying on of hands people were arrested, healed, commissioned, and received the Holy Spirit.

      It seems that idea of ordaining someone or something for the purpose of God was much broader than only for the role of becoming a pastor (a pastor according to scripture is a permanent/long term local church elder who oversees or shepherds the flock). There were various gifts and various roles that were set aside for the service of God. It seems that the closest possibility of being ordained to pastoral ministry might be the commissioning for a missionary journey or being appointed as a deacon or elder. But the process which the Adventist church now practices for the ordination of pastors is not specifically laid out in scripture.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does ordination really mean biblically?
  2. What kinds of things do you think people should be ordained for today?
  3. Do you think that ordaining pastors is a biblical practice? Why or why not?
    • Is there a spiritual change that takes place at ordination?
      So where did the ordination of pastors come from if it is not explicitly biblical? It started with the practical concerns that were mentioned previously. There were heresies in the early church like Gnosticism and Docetism which were confusing the people of the church. So the church decided to set up leaders knows as bishops who were teaching the correct things and then gave them even greater authority over the practices of the church. The sacraments for example were only given out by the bishop. People could only be baptized, receive the Eucharist, be married, confess their sins, etc. by going to the bishop.

      People began to believe and be taught that there was something supernatural about the elements of communion and the also magical powers of baptism. This meant that the person who is performing these supernatural things must also be special in someway. So the sacrament of ordination was incorporated. The priests and bishops of the church had to be ordained because it gave them an extra measure of grace. It actually transformed their soul in some way that they now had authority from heaven to transform the bread and the wine of the Eucharist into the actual body and blood of Jesus.

      But the bible doesn’t teach this. Paul and Barnabas, even though they were special guys called by the Holy Spirit, were not given some extra mark of grace on their souls. They were simply called and gifted by the Holy Spirit for the mission of taking the gospel on a specific missionary journey. In the NT all of the people who believed were given the gift of the Holy Spirit, it was not reserved for a special group of people.

      There were those like Stephen that were recognized as someone filled with the wisdom and the Holy Spirit and therefore appointed to the ministry of a deacon, but the appointing didn’t fill them with the Holy Spirit. They had this before.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think that pastors today have a special blessing from God that others do not have? Why or why not?

 

    • Who is it that actually calls a person to ministry?
      From the example of Paul, Barnabas, Stephen, and even the craftsmen of the sanctuary in the OT we can see that they were gifted and called by God and then appointed to the ministry. In other words, all that the church did by appointing/ordaining them was to recognize the gifts and call that the Holy Spirit had already given to these different people.

      Ephesians Chapter 4:11-12 says that some have been called to be apostles, prophets, teachers/preachers for the purpose of equipping others for the work of ministry so that the whole church can be built up. There are other various lists of the gifts of the Spirit that every member of the church has for the purpose of doing the ministry of the gospel together as a body. The bible is very clear that it is the Holy Spirit who gives those gifts out to those whom he chooses (Heb 2:4; 1Cor 12:4; Rom 12:6) . It is the Holy Spirit that calls a person to ministry not the church. All that the church can do is recognize the gifts that a person has be given and affirm them for this.

      Protestants realized this and made it part of the great reformation. The sacrament of ordination practiced by the Roman Catholic church was set aside and a more biblical view of the priesthood of all believers was established. This is what the Adventist church practices as well. When I was ordained to the ministry it was meant to be a recognition that I had been called by God and demonstrated that faithfully in the pastoral ministry.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. If ordination is actually supposed to be a recognition of the gifts and calling of the Holy Spirit, are there other gifts that should be recognized in this way?
  2. Would it be appropriate to ordain teachers, doctors, deacons, elders, personal ministries leaders, pathfinder leaders, the wonderful cooks in the kitchens of churches and homeless shelters? Why or why not?
  3. If it is the Holy Spirit who calls and gifts someone to ministry and the church chooses not to recognize this officially, what does that mean for that person?
  4. What is the responsibility of the church when someone has clearly been called or gifted by the Holy Spirit?
  5. How do we know if someone has been called or gifted?
    • Is Gender a qualification on who is called into ministry?
      The answer to this questions is clearly no. If every person is given some gifting for ministry by the Holy Spirit then both men and women are called and gifted for ministry. The more specific question that is being discussed right now is: Is gender a qualification for pastoral ministry? Can women be ordained as pastors?

      There are several objections to this, which George Knight brought up in his book that goes along with this video. One is that all of the priests in the OT were men. The problem with this is that all of the priests in the OT were also Hebrew and from the line of Aaron. Both the OT and the NT speak of a kingdom of priests or the priesthood of all believers so that does away with that exception. When the priesthood of all believers is mentioned in contrast to this idea, it explicitly includes male and female.

      The next objection to women as pastors comes from texts about elders and deacons as the husbands of only one wife. So do they need to be husbands or do they need to be monogamous? The NT seems to include women as deacons and elders so that one doesn’t work either. (See Priscilla throughout the NT and 1 Timothy 3)

      Next is the comments by Paul that women are not allowed to speak in church (1 Cor 14:34-35). Well there are cultural explanations for this that scholars will use. Like women were on one side of the church and the men were on there other so Paul didn’t want to them yelling across the church, or Paul was combating the pagan issues of priestesses or all number of things. There are many specific practices in the NT that we don’t follow today like following the instructions in the NT on slavery. Paul was writing to a people in a time when slavery was a part of their reality and he was giving instructions to slaves about how to respect their masters so that they might be won over to the gospel. Paul wasn’t baptizing slavery. (For more information on how to interpret the Bible, see https://www.adventistlearningcommunity.com/courses/43)

      A considerable issue for Adventists with the idea of women not speaking in church is Ellen White. Was she not allowed to speak in church? As George Knight cautions, using this kind of an argument has been used by others outside of the Adventist church to prove Ellen White as a false prophet and thus the Adventist church as a false movement. Be careful what you are proving with your agendas.

      Finally we come back to the issue of authority. A woman is not supposed to have authority over a man the man is the head of the woman (1 Tim 2:11-12). Therefore, we cannot have women pastors because this places them in a position of authority over the other men in the church. Some have responded that this doesn’t make sense because Paul was speaking of the the relationship in the home and not in the church. But wouldn’t it be confusing in the home if the wife was the pastor? Maybe it would be for some. Paul, however, is calling for mutual submission here (Eph 5:21-33). The wife and husband are to submit to one another the wife out of respect for the husband and the husband out of love for his wife.

      Paul also is clear that Christ is the only head of the church (Eph 4:15; 5:23; Col 2:9-10), so no pastor is the head of the church whether they are a man or a woman. Add to this that the nature of the pastoral role is that of a servant. Christ’s whole paradigm of ministry is that of service. Not lording authority over others but serving them. The purpose of someone serving a group of people for the mission of the gospel.

      Finally, if it is the Holy Spirit that calls and gifts a person for ministry and he calls and gifts a woman with those gifts, what is the church supposed to do? The church is simply the instrument of God on earth for the proclamation of the gospel. If the Holy Spirit calls a woman to the pastoral ministry and the church does not recognize this does this actually mean that the church is moving against the Holy Spirit? This is a serious matter if it is true.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are there different roles in life that fit a specific gender better than another? If so, which ones and why?
  2. In what ways does scripture support the involvement of all people groups in ministry?
  3. What should exclude someone from doing a particular ministry?
  4. How do we know if someone has a certain spiritual gift?
  5. What does it mean for the church if they are ignoring the spiritual gifts of a particular individual? Are they still following the lead of the Holy Spirit?

For more information on George Knight’s new book, paper, and call to action visit: www.equalityinministry.com

For more information and study on this topic take a look at the following references:

Darius Jankiewicz. “The Problem of Ordination: Lessons from Early Christian History” (2013)

Available at: http://works.bepress.com/darius_jankiewicz/25/

Darius Jankiewicz. “Phoebe: Was She an Early Church Leader?” Vol. 85 Iss. 4 (2013) p. 10 – 13

Available at: http://works.bepress.com/darius_jankiewicz/42/

Fortin, Denis, “Ellen White, Women in Ministry and the Ordination of Women” (2013). Faculty Publications. 133. http://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/theology-christian-philosophy-pubs/133

This site provides papers for the general issues concerned and various papers written on both sides of the debate: http://ordinationtruth.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/TOSCpapersLinked.pdf

If you would rather watch a presentation than read a paper check out Darius Jankiewicz’s presentation https://vimeo.com/71631295 or a shorter version https://vimeo.com/42298846

Ty Gibson. “A Closer Look At Women’s Ordination” (June 5, 2015) http://www.lightbearers.org/a-closer-look-at-womens-ordination/

Cory Wetterlin

Cory Wetterlin is a contract instructor for Andrews University in the distance learning program as well as general theology classes for the undergrad department in religious studies. He also is teaching as an online facilitator for the Seminary Online Learning Center at Andrews University Theological Seminary. Wetterlin is currently a PhD candidate, also at Andrews University, his emphasis in study is Systematic Theology with a cognate in New Testament studies. He is writing his dissertation concerning the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Wetterlin was born and raised in the Northwest of the United States, attending Upper Columbia Academy and beginning his higher education at Walla Walla University. He earned his Bachelors in Religion and Masters in Divinity from Andrews University. Wetterlin has spent the majority of his professional career, since 2001, as a pastor in various church settings including; Rocky Mountain Conference, Oregon Conference, and Indiana Conference where he currently serves as a local hire worship pastor for Calvary Road Community Church. His emphasis in ministry has been engaging the young minds of the next generation for both high school and young adult ministry. He plans to continue this passion for youth ministry through teaching in a university classroom.

Wetterlin has been a part of professional societies such as; the Adventist Theological Society, Society of Biblical Literature, and the Wesleyan Theological Society. He published an article with AUSSJ in January of 2016 concerning Ellen White’s understanding of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He has also contributed as one of the writers for the teacher’s edition of the Seventh-day Adventist Adult Sabbath School lesson for the fall quarter of 2017. Wetterlin Currently lives in Berrien Springs, MI with his wife Laura Whidden and their daughter Lorelai.

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. Very creative communication. My only observation is the reference to the Church Manual and GC authority which is based on Ellen White’s testimony. “God has ordained that the representatives of His church from all parts of the earth, when assembled in a General Conference, shall have authority.” (9T 260.2)

    The GC office leadership does not have “top-down” authority nor do any union or conference. It is the GC “when assembled” that has authority. She also says that this body lawfully assembled is the highest organized authority in the Church.

    The way is was presented in the video leaves out the assembly and it might cause some to assume that there is authority in a small group of officers at the GC offices.

  2. George Knight made a very impassioned presentation modeled after Luther’s posting of his 95 theses. I agree that we need to follow our conscience as we believe the Holy Spirit leads us. Those who support WO want to follow their conscience. That is good. But so did the delegates who voted against WO at the 2015 GC Session. Why are they being ridiculed and put down for having followed their conscience? This argument seems to break down at that point. Some people feel that because THEIR conscience leads them to support WO, that that is the ONLY conscience that needs to be followed. If other people’s (delegates) conscience caused them to vote against WO, then they don’t count!!! Doesn’t make any sense!!

    It comes down to this— see things my way and all will be good. But if you think differently from me and vote differently from the way I would have voted, then you are wrong!! This whole discussion and the totally unchristian way that GC leadership has been portrayed, is shocking! I don’t care if you have a whole string of initials after your name, if you are not treating others who have a different set of beliefs regarding this WO issue with love and compassion, your education level means nothing…..

    What would have happened if the 2015 GC vote had been to ordain women and then the anti-WO members started this whole discussion of why this is wrong and that they would campaign to overturn the vote. I believe that they would have been told to suck it up because the voting was done fair and square!! There is NO doubt in my mind that that is exactly what would have happened.

    I am not speaking for or against WO, but rather to process. At what point do we say, we have an organization that has policies and procedures, and because we are a part of that organization, we will follow our leadership? Here’s a very real example to consider— as you know the local conference specifies what the weekly church offering is designated for each Sabbath. The local churches are EXPECTED to follow that calendar. What if a local church board decides that they want all 4 Sabbaths’ offering to go to the local church budget? They tell they conference that “our conscience” tells us that we need to keep the money at our local church, and therefore, good luck, Conference…. If we follow some of the logic that has been put forth relative to the WO issue, what can the local conference do about this? Can they discipline the church for not following conference guidelines? I am sure that they would try to discipline/put pressure on the local church to conform to conference policy!!!

    Now, what is the difference between the GC enforcing its policies and the local conference enforcing its policies? I am just trying to figure out the logic or lack thereof in this whole discussion.

  3. This is a slick video made by someone who knows how to manipulate people feelings and turn them into thoughts– that would be propaganda. The agenda is not Bible driven, but driven by man. Interesting to see George use the illuminati triangle hand sign while rebelling in public. What does EGW have to say about shepherds who lead the sheep astray, and how it will be for them in the end and judgement.?

  4. This is lame. WO issue is a distraction from what the church needs to be focusing on during these times. We need to focus on giving the three angels’ messages to the world more than ever. The Vatican is moving very boldly to eradicate religious liberty and what are we as a church doing about it? Where is the church’s plan of action on this?

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