Book Review: Bertil Wiklander's "Ordination Reconsidered"

Dr. Bertil Wiklander Ordination Reconsidered: The Biblical Vision of Men and Women as Servants of God Newbold Academy Press, June 2015 Available through Amazon (in print and as e-book)

Ordination of men and women in the light of the mission of God

This book about ordination in general and of female pastors in particular, breaks new ground in the debate that for decades has been raging in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and has greatly intensified in the months before the General Conference session in San Antonio. But the author, Dr. Bertil Wiklander, is not just providing a well-argued answer to the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question, whether women may be ordained as pastors. Wiklander looks at the topic of ordination in a much broader perspective—more than most (or all?) other studies have done thus far. The publication of this work is, therefore, an important contribution to the ordination-discussion in the church. It will help the readers to see this wider context, which many may thus far have missed. The overall context is, according to the author, the mission of God.

Wiklander was asked by the Executive Committee of the Trans-European Division of Seventh-day Adventists to undertake a detailed study of the Women’s Ordination (WO) issue, which might, after approval by the Committee, be submitted to the GC-initiated, international committee that studied the question of women’s ordination (TOSC). This was done, but, due to the length of the originally report (over 800 pages), the author decided re-write it a much shorter verse in a more easily accessible form. The fascinating page book (with a little more than 300 pages) that has now been published by The Newbold Academic Press is the result. No doubt, it will serve as an important source in the discussion about ordination issues, that certainly will not end with the forthcoming session in San Antonio.

Bertil Wiklander recently retired from the presidency of the Trans-European Division, after having served in that capacity for nineteen years. He has a scholarly background, with particular expertise in Old Testament studies and biblical languages. He was rewarded his PhD in 1983 by the famous Swedish Upsala University. This fact, and his gift to write methodically, but lucid, qualifies him, no doubt, to write a book such as this. He deals in his book with the issue of Women’s Ordination by thoroughly exploring the general topic of ordination—biblically, theologically, linguistically and historically (general church history and Seventh-day Adventist history). He concludes after carefully looking at all relevant evidence that ordination, as it is practiced in contemporary Adventism, actually has rather poor biblical credentials. Wiklander pays close attention to the biblical instances of the laying on of hands. He is convinced, that the findings do not point in the direction of something that is linked to what church officials do in the context of choosing and appointing people to a particular church office. In most cases it had other connotations. In fact, calling people to a particular position is primarily a charismatic occurrence and the divine call may be affirmed by the church, without any biblically prescribed ceremony. This is a thread that runs through the entire book.

Another thread is the Bible’s unambiguous support for gender equality as a principle that is basic for the fulfillment of God’s mission. It rejects any difference, in principle, in status between clergy and laity. All together—men and women—form the New Testament priesthood of all believers. The ‘problem’ texts that some feel suggest an unequal status (‘submission’ of the woman, ‘headship’ of the man, etc.) are dealt with thoroughly and convincingly. Many details of Wiklander’s arguments hinge on linguistic choices. Bertil Wiklander’s expertise as a scholar in these areas is everywhere apparent and, therefore, his arguments should receive due—and wide—attention. His explanations are quite easy to follow and are quite convincing.

In this context the short referral to the various cultural milieus in which the Bible originated (and to similarities in other cultures) is very helpful. Wiklander argues that many aspects of these cultures were contrary to God’s original missional plan. Although God temporarily ‘tolerated’ certain aberrations among his people (such as patriarchy and other forms of male dominance, and such phenomena as polygamy and slavery), he never abandoned the ideal of full equality of all people and, in particular also, of full gender equality—in the home, in society and in the church.

His study of the biblical and all other evidence leads the author to the logical conclusion that the ordination of women should not only be permitted in the Adventist Church, but is actually required, in view of the mission of the church, and in view of the fundamental, and eternal, biblical truth that all believers are ‘a kingdom and priests’, regardless of gender. This leads Wiklander in an appendix to suggest a number of ways in which the current ordination practice in the Adventist Church might be revised, in order to make it more biblical.

A statement on the back of the book cover is a concise but fitting description of this interesting, thorough and well-structured study, that, in spite of its academic level, is very readable—also for readers without any advanced theological and linguistic background:

For many decades the Adventist theology of ordination has been in desperate need of a biblical revision and clarification. Dr. Wiklander’s book offers a comprehensive and innovative discussion and a thoughtful re-assessment of the current theology and practice of ordination in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The newly founded Newbold Academic Press is to be congratulated with this superb publication. Unfortunately, the book comes a little late, in view of the fact that the General Conference session in San Antonio is now only days away. But it will be available in the GC Book Center and in various other places (e.g. the Newbold College booth) in the exhibition hall at the conference center.

Reinder Bruinsma is a retired pastor and administrator, who remains active with teaching and writing assignments. He has written numerous books, his most recent being "Present Truth Revisited."


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6880
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Perhaps the reasonable conclusion (from this study) would be to abandon the practice of ordination altogether rather than to inflict women with the same “poor biblical credentials” as men. Can one accept the “priesthood of all believers” and still find hierarchical ordination (or, “…ordination as it is practiced in contemporary Adventism”) to be a legitimate practice? I would like to see a movement to abandon the ordination practice as we know it, assume all believers to be on an equal footing of priesthood, and accept the laying-on of hands as the specific practice of “dedication/blessing/setting apart of candidates for specific roles of christian service”.

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Probably those who are “selectively” against WO would rather eliminate the whole ordination procedures from the Church than allow women to have the same rights as men have now. Anything but recognizing women as worth the same value as men.
The power of discrimination is something really awful!

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It is at this point that it gets very interesting, the development of ekklesia. The early church was about lives changed by the gospel, the salt which savored the whole, the leaven which caused the whole lump to raise. Once Constantine marched his troops through the river and declared them and the state ‘Christian’, the church became catholic, universal. The clergy determined the laity could not fulfill the gospel and mutated it from life-transforming to belief-altering. Metanoia and parousia became the realm of mystics which were shuffled off to monasteries where they could not infect the ignorant masses.

The Protestant Reformation did little to eliminate clerical elevation. And this heresy continues within SDAism. Though it was not so at the outset as the early subscribers were lay men and women seeking to understand what had gone wrong in 1844. Yet, as they convinced more and more of their interpretation of the mishap and its causes, introducing further novel doctrines, they became more decisive in constraining the SDA message, and ultimately constructed a hierarchy after the manner of the beast to enforce it.

As long as SDAism persists in regulating the ordination process rather than recognising the gifting of the Holy Spirit it continues the catholic order in relegating the general membership to automatons of mere belief and proscribed performance without the change of heart that is evidenced in those which are of the kingdom of heaven.

Trust The BEing!

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I agree. Ordination is not a Biblical practice and as I’ve said before this is all mute.

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It sounds like an important book. I’m just sorry that it is only now available. But I do feel more encouraged as the days go by that the Holy Spirit is guiding the church in the right direction, in spite of those who are opposed.

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I wonder if British subjects who promote the headship doctrine are critical of their queen for accepting the position of Supreme Governor of the Church of England? (I confess my ignorance of the direct relationship of other European monarchs to their state religions.)

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Michael, I don’t think there are many British Adventists promoting the headship ideology. At least in Germany, this is new and very foreign to us, even to the very conservative part of Germany.

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@website_editor: the book is also available in electronic format on Amazon, at http://www.amazon.com/Ordination-Reconsidered-Biblical-Vision-Servants-ebook/dp/B00ZJRQC9M/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1435236623&sr=1-1&keywords=wiklander. It can be downloaded starting from the 2nd of July (the vote is scheduled for the 9th).

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As long as the church also discontinues requiring ordination for specific roles and offices, then I am all in.

On the other hand, I get a feeling like being a the new kid that shows up to play a game already in progress. They existing players don’t want the new kid to join. Eventually they give in and just as the new kids starts, the rest walk away because they no longer want to play if the new kid is there.

I see two different kinds of ordination: The ordination practiced in the SDA church, with it’s rights and responsibilities and official ordination certificate… Then there is the spiritual calling and spiritual ordination which is another thing all together. This ordination is available for anyone who accepts the call and is recognized by their fellow believers. This is also the kind of ordination Ellen White received. No one had to lay hands, She was called, she answered the call and her church recognized her calling.

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I understand why those “respecters of persons”; those coveting power and prestige, etc. would want to walk away, but those who have given themselves to service don’t walk away until there is nothing left to do.

The practice of equality, as a virtue, is not specific to the gender issue and it never has been.

If the practice of ordination itself is at odds with the concept of a “priesthood of ALL believers”, then the ideal of across-the-board equality remains compromised whether we choose to ordain women or not, i.e., we’re still treating one disciple-maker, teacher, preacher different than another. We’re still allowing some of the followers of Jesus to baptize, plant churches, etc. and then forbidding others to do that very work to which they have been called. Jesus calls ALL of his followers to go forth and make disciples, baptize, and to teach - not just a select few. This may seem a shocking concept to those who have been steeped for centuries in a culture of man-made hierarchies, but this truly is the radical nature of the gospel.

My view is that if we, as a church, are determined to continue on with (what I believe to be) a faulty concept of ordination, then the least we should do is remove gender-specificity from the practice. But the ideal is to fully embrace and truly practice a “priesthood of all believers.”

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Indeed … I happen to know the efforts that have been made to get it out before San Antonio… NAP worked hard. But as to the timing perhaps two comments are in order:

  1. The excellent table of contents allows for a quick reading of particular areas of interest. This may be helpful for those addressing specific arguments.
  2. Whatever the vote will bring … the book will be helpful in the healing process. It certainly is a passionate plea, but not one based on an emotional hype in support of one “camp”, but on solid argument carefully reconsidering the whole idea of ordination. Thus the ecclesiastical challenge of the book will be unfolding well beyond San Antonio.

Thanks.

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Dr. Wiklanders study has been available in a full and a condensed version for quite some time. It can be downloaded here.

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Oh, the contradictions go even further. The church officially approved women being pastors, preaching, teaching, baptizing, planting churches, etc.—but we can’t ordain them.

The false gospel of male headship is replacing the Good News. Pastoring is being confused w/ male headship. Ordination is being conflated w/ a recognition of male headship.

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My husband and I decided to to go to an outport of Newfoundland after he graduated from optometry school. The conference built a clinic in a small town on the south coast and went looking for professionals to fill it. They, of course wanted to make it an introduction for the church to the area. We decided to go. Coming from the east coast, Philadelphia at the time, the culture shock was pretty sharp. When we arrived, church was held in the builder-turned-pastor’s trailer home, to the sound of guitars and and an accordion. That was one of the drawing points to our deciding to go. The intimacy of those worship times was the high point in our experience, along with the great people that liver there.

Once the clinic was built, however, it was decided to put a church in its basement, including a platform, and a crude pulpit. An attempt was made to “hold church” with the builders family and ours, and sporadically, a neighbor or two. As soon as that pulpit went up the character of worship changed - became petrified somehow, losing its spiritual impact and turning into a weekly exercise. Ultimately a church building was erected, complete with a school in its basement - so I guess it worked, but now it’s just another little church that goes through the motions. Here’s hoping the spirit still lives - there, on the rugged shore of Newfoundland.

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