Editorial: "I Opposed Him to His Face"

I was born into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. My parents and each of theirs were Adventists. I have been a member for over 50 years now and a product of 13 years of Adventist education. After going to law school and becoming a lawyer and then an entrepreneur I have been a local Adventist school board chairman, Sabbath School superintendent, Sabbath School teacher and charitable contributor to Adventist institutions.

I love that my church rejects the teaching of the vast majority of the Christian consensus concerning Hell. I continue to find it amazingly astonishing that our indefatigable co-founder, Ellen White, called her church to embrace the deep truth that “God is love.” Those are the both the very first and last words of her signature book, The Great Controversy.

I mention these few details in partial explanation for why I am not at all ready to concede easily that I don't know what authentic Adventism is.

As a member of the Adventist Forum board (and signatory of the unanimously-approved Statement in Support of Yes) my position concerning Women's Ordination has been clear. The vote at San Antonio is also clear: There were more No votes than Yes. I believe this is a tragic mistake and our church would have been much better positioned to energetically focus on and carry out our Mission if our president would have made the speech I suggested in my last editorial.

But after the great disappointment settles in, we must turn to the fact that life continues and consider what we can learn. My reflection has led me to contemplate something quite startling and much more horrific than simply losing a political vote: I fear that large swaths of Adventist leaders and members are apparently comfortable with an understanding of God's character that is at odds with what the New Testament says to me. If my fear is accurate, this has profound implications about our Mission. But it is not new and there is a directly pertinent experience in the New Testament that speaks powerfully to me.

More than 10 years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Bible includes a story about Peter that seems applicable to our times now:

“When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back… When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?’” Galatians 2:11-14 (NIV)

Here we have dear Peter who lived with Jesus for three years, was deeply converted after the Resurrection, was anointed with the Holy Spirit and led out initially in taking the Gospel to the Gentiles yet he was “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel.” The thing that continued to have such a hold on him was connected to what he had been taught as a child to be God’s requirements and how his Jewish subculture overwhelmingly lived. But those norms were now in conflict with the Gospel of Jesus. In this story we learn how powerful our own culture or subculture can be in our lives. We also learn that the Gospel can call us to something completely different than our subculture embraces because Jesus shows a new way forward.

What was the “truth of the gospel” that eluded Peter on this occasion? I submit it was the radical inclusiveness that Jesus announced. In God’s sight there was no longer a wall of separation between Jews and non-Jews in salvation terms. There were no longer Jews and non-Jews in terms of mission or ministry. Today we find it nearly incomprehensible I suppose that the Jewish world found this so radical and hard to believe. But here we have Peter, dear Peter, who at times could backslide into his old comfort zone on just this point!

What was so bad about this that Paul felt compelled to oppose him to his face in what must have been a very tense situation? My answer is that Peter’s behavior publicly misrepresented God’s character, and that is very serious indeed. How does this relate to our situation today?

Ellen White has told us that “The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of His character of love. The children of God are to manifest His glory. In their own life and character they are to reveal what the grace of God has done for them” (Christ’s Object Lessons, 415). If that is the final work then in order to do such work we must be very clear about the nature of God’s character in order to communicate it to others. Most of the time after Pentecost Peter was clear, but not always.

The question of how the church should relate to women seems similar to me as the question 2,000 years ago of how the church should relate to Gentiles. In each case, powerful elements of society both within and without the church had a traditional view that was less than equality. Peter folded under pressure and separated himself from eating with the Antioch Gentiles. Just eating! Paul thunders that this is not in line with the gospel.

In our day the pressure is to exclude women from aspects of full equality of gospel ministry. This pressure is from the largest Christian organization, the Roman Catholic Church, some protestant denominations, the Later Day Saints, as well as from broad elements within our own denomination. This is true even though our own seminary experts in church history like Dr. George Knight and Dr. Darius Jankiewicz agree that ordination (which is the status around which the dispute revolves) is not even a biblical concept but was a pagan Roman concept dealing with authority that was extended to the church when the empire became “Christian” about 300 years after Jesus ascended to heaven.

I have heard the most superficial and silly arguments used to justify refusing to “ordain” women. Perhaps the most shameful is that Jesus did not appoint any woman to be one of the 12 disciples so our church should not ordain women today. Jesus did not appoint any Gentile to be among the 12 either. Nor any black man or Chinese, Spanish or Anglo-Saxon man. But where are the outraged proponents of using such an example to prohibit ordaining such men today? A similar argument is that only men were priests in the Old Testament. You know the reply!

In the 1st century Peter’s great post-resurrection failing was in not eating with some people. Perhaps in the 21st century our church’s failing is in refusing to be fed by some people. In both cases, there is an overt failure to accurately and adequately reflect God’s character to the watching world. President Wilson clearly desires a powerful mission of evangelism in these next five years, but if that evangelism is not a clear and accurate revelation of God’s character it will not be the last message of mercy that must eventually be given.

The great encouragement is that Peter, after Paul’s strong rebuke, saw the error of his ways and returned with renewed vigor to his mission. This was given as an example for us. The mistake can be fixed. Whether this time it will take a Pauline approach or something else remains to be seen. In the end God’s true character will be revealed.

Ken Peterson is a board member of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum Magazine.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7056
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The times “they are changing” Brother Petersen is correct in stating:
"The question of how the church should relate to women seems similar to me as the question 2,000 years ago of how the church should relate to Gentiles. In each case, powerful elements of society both within and without the church had a traditional view that was less than equality"
We need a REALITY check on the subject of women being ordained as ministers in the Adventist church.
First off, Women’s ordination to gospel ministry will be eventually be acceptable in most Seventh-day Adventists churches in North America, in some places sooner rather than later. There are four distinct realities that are in place right now and cannot be changed by GC policies or administration:

  1. Churches are businesses and follow trends, money and contextual culture.
  2. Most people agree with the equality of women in ministry. The practice of respecting and ordaining women has been successful. There have not been any major negative consequences to WO.
  3. People go to churches that preach what they believe.
  4. Pastors make their living based off the tithe and offerings of their congregation.

Therefore, if a doctrine or teaching offends the vast majority of the congregation, the congregation is likely to leave, taking their money with them. So, over the next few years as the practice of ordaining women gains more acceptance, the churches will conform to the opinions of its congregations. I think this will be true of most paid ministries over the next decade or two.

There are “peripheral” subsidiary issues, of church authority and governance, connected to the WO issue, that will be impacted by all of the reactions that are being expressed. The fairness and common sense of treating women with the respect they deserve will prevail if the leadership of the church does as it has done on every major decision that it has faced in the history of the church. (see steps 1-4 above).

There is plenty of precedence, too. It used to be an “abominable sin” in most churches for Adventist church members to wear rings, earrings, and assorted jewelry. Now it’s either fully supported, tolerated, or mildly discouraged in most Adventist churches. If any person had predicted years ago that Loma Linda Health would be soliciting , accepting, and thanking openly (including Ted Wilson personally) the San Manuel Indians (who derive their income from casino gambling operations in Southern California) for a $10 million gift, it would have sounded wild and untrue.

What seems impossible and improbable one day somehow becomes possible and doable the next. Let’s all take that collective breath, all together!

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The problem with analogizing the Jewish disdain for the non-Jew with the Adventist embrace of patriarchy is that the latter does not exist. Adventist sub-culture is not patriarchal, and in fact patriarchy seems wrong to modern Adventists in the developed world. The larger culture is militantly post-patriarchal, and that exerts more influence on us than our own religious sub-culture. But the Adventist religious subculture has always been relatively anti-patriarchal, I think in part because we are accustomed to accepting the prophetic authority of Ellen White; her enormous influence over the doctrine and practice of the church is keenly felt. Even the larger religious milieu of Adventism is not particularly patriarchal, because we relate as closely to Methodists and Presbyterians, who have female clergy, as to Southern Baptists, who reject it.

So there’s no real cultural opposition to radical egalitarianism in the Adventism of the developed world. The opposition is based upon Scripture, which apparently restricts the office of elder/overseer/bishop to men. Does this view of Scripture somehow defame God’s character? God created both men and women in His own image, but he created them male and female. So the created sexual bifurcation, which extends beyond anatomy to roles and functions (Eve was created after Adam as his suitable helper) reflects the image of God. What are we really saying about God when we insist that His created sexual order should have no practical effect or consequences? Aren’t we really saying that God made a mistake by creating two sexes, and that we now know better?

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Just an editorial point. “God is love” is the first and last phrase of the entire Conflict of Ages series. Second, the last line of second paragraph needs the word “the” before “both” taken out.

Thank you for those good corrections.

You are most welcome. I would have said something privately, but I am not sure how to do that. Appreciate the thoughtful article, though.

Ken, if I read you right, you are saying that the stance from the RCC and other Churches on Women in ministry influences our leadership and many others as to WO?

If that is true, and I have never explored that idea, then we may never ordain women. The RCC seems pretty locked in to their Church structure. This is really something I need to think about.

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Thank you for your reflections. I might agree with your point, David, that historically Adventists have been “relatively anti-patriarchal” and probably because of Ellen White’s influence. Unfortunately, today’s refusal of the global church to endorse the possibility of full inclusion of women through ordination where it is culturally acceptable IS the Adventist embrace of patriarchy, I would argue.

I also agree that the opposition to ordination tries to use Scripture to support its view, at least in the same way that Christians use Scripture to support eternal torment in Hell. But in the context of Hell Adventists have always taken the position that we should try to understand what the “apparent” support really means. What defames God’s character is when the “apparent” is not the “actual.” In this case I am persuaded that Paul is not setting forth a universal, non-context dependent law of God requiring all women in all time to be silent in church (no story-time, no special music, no mission story reading, no prayer, no scripture reading, no Sabbath School teaching, no homily, no preaching, no organizational responsibility).

The argument from the “created sexual order” is also problematic. Just as someone can say that Adam was created “first” it is equally true that he was created “next to last”. Eve was the last created, but in a creation order of “from lesser to greater” this must mean she was the greatest! Thus, to build a persuasive case for the universal rejection of women in certain leadership roles in the post-Resurrection church because Adam was created next to last just cannot be done with a straight face it seems to me. Of course, people can certainly use such “apparent” things to justify their cultural or personal propensities.

One final thing and perhaps most importantly. The TOSC found consensus in saying that “ordination” is merely supposed to be a matter of human recognition for the call that God has made (loosely paraphrased). Adventists don’t believe as Roman Catholics do that ordination is something “magical” that invests the person with divine power because of the ceremony. So those who reject ordination of women are in effect saying that God cannot call a woman; that God is limited in who He uses for His glory. Under this view, God is limited by man’s imagination, but I don’t remember the Bible supporting this limitation.

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Pastors, males or/and females, as we have them in Adventism is unbiblical. Churches can thrive and prosper in every sense of the word with elders, deacons and deaconesses in positions of servant-leadership. All leadership responsibilities at Conference, Union, Division and General Conference levels can be run by spirit-filled and competent men and women. None need to be ordained, although all could be, without exception.

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I am intending to only point out a casual, not necessarily a causal, connection. I am just noting that an anti-ordination position is not unusual in the larger Christian community which forms part of the cultural context we find ourselves in. I do think it is something to think about.

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I see those who use scripture to defend their position on ordination to be for the most part very sincere. As are those who use scripture to defend ordination. For me your best point is the great difference between how the RCC and the SDA’s view the meaning.

Frankly I don’t see this as a test of fellowship. Not a doctrinal issue. And only serves to provide a divide that leads to closed minds.

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My Isuggest that studies be done about those men and their chracter (or personality) who object WO in our western World ? When I look around here : Some just are obedient to the “mainstream” given by the GC - and some - are just weak in their self esteem. They need the idea of male superiority for their self understanding. They find humbl, meek, pale, cookie - baking wives and have cute little children - - - hey are the five - books - owners in a two - book congregation, so they are “schlars” - - -

And some cute petty ministers or also lay patriarchs wives after years woke up, grew up and showed their potential for leadership - - and divorced out of the ,doll house" .

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the basic compelling force in Adventism is not Love but doctrine perfection. That egotistic position drives all other issues and relationships. The true spirit of Adventism was on display in S.A. Two issues made that crystal clear–Recent means 6000 years and the reception of a former G.C. president.

The word Love has no relationship to either leadership or group dynamics in the context of the remnant church. All else is hell bound so treat them as bound for burning. I still shudder at the evangelistic challenge to my dearest Uncle and Aunt, firm Calvinists who at my father’s encouragement attended all of an Adventist Effort. the Evangelist made a house call the afternoon of the final session. In short he said, "I will make a call tonight.If you answer that call you will inherit eternal life if not you are hell bound because you have heard the whole Truth and have rejected it. my Uncle praise his name said–I expect you plan to be in Heaven? the reply was yes of course, My Uncle said in that case I prefer Hell. Now please leave my house. Tom Z

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Ken, I believe you misunderstand both the Biblical rationale for the classic Adventist doctrine of hell, as well as the Biblical rationale for the doctrine of spiritual male headship.

The reason Seventh-day Adventists reject the doctrine of eternal torment is because the language of Scripture, when compared with itself, does not support this doctrine. Such passages as Jude 7, which speaks of Sodom and Gomorrah suffering “eternal fire,” when compared with other passages which speak of God turning these cities to ashes (II Peter 2:6), make it clear that the word “eternal” so far as hell is concerned is about purpose rather than process. The same holds true for Jeremiah 17:27, which states that the fire consuming the gates and palaces of Jerusalem “shall not be quenched.” When compared with II Chronicles 36:19-21, which describes the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy, it is clear this fulfillment too place through the total destruction of Jerusalem, not in terms of a process of never-ending torment.

It is most dangerous to develop a concept of the divine character apart from the inspired writings and then impose that concept on the inspired writings as a presumably higher measure of truth. Only the consensus of Inspiration can determine what God’s character is like, not a single portion of that consensus cut off from the rest and then imposed on the rest as the presumed norm.

As with the doctrine of hell as taught by Scripture and reflected in Seventh-day Adventist beliefs, the doctrine of spiritual male headship is likewise based on the inspired consensus. By themselves, the facts you cite regarding Jesus ordaining only male apostles and the Old Testament authorizing an exclusively male priesthood, do not make a complete case. But when we also consider the exclusive maleness of all the Old Testament patriarchs (starting with the pre-Fall Adam), all the anointed and appointed rulers of the faith community, all the priests, and then in the New Testament all the apostles, elders and deacons—in addition to such clear New Testament declarations as I Corinthians 11:3 and I Timothy 2:12-13, which connect spiritual male headship both to the Godhead and the original created order—the case becomes clear.

The capstone of this case, as I have said so often and which cannot be stated often enough, involves the spiritual headship of Adam so evident in both Genesis and the New Testament. Not until Adam sins do the consequences of sin fall on Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:7), and when the two of them hide from the presence of the Lord, it is to Adam, not Eve, that the Lord calls (verse 9), this despite the fact that Eve was the first one to sin. It is on this basis that Adam, not Eve, is identified in the New Testament as the one through whom sin and death entered the world (Rom. 5:12-19; I Cor. 15:22), this again despite the fact that Eve sinned first. This helps explain why the Second Person of the Godhead came to earth as the Second Adam, not the Second Eve.

No substantive rejoinder to this argument has been produced by anyone in the pro-women’s ordination camp.

Regarding the issue of female silence in church which you raise, again the Biblical consensus defines the Bible’s vocabulary. In I Timothy 2:12, where Paul admonishes women to be “in silence,” we see in the context of this verse what Paul means, when he writes of Christians living “a quiet and peaceable life” relative to civil authority (verse 2). Is Paul here saying Christians should never utter a word to civil authorities? Obviously not, as Paul and his colleagues communicated with civil authorities quite often. The issue here is a spirit of yielding and submission, not vocal silence.

We see this again in Peter’s admonition that women cultivate “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit” (I Peter 3:4). Again the context explains the apostle’s words, as Peter says in verse 1 that unbelieving husbands may be “won by the conversation of the wives.” Obviously Peter, like Paul, is not telling women never to talk, but simply to cultivate a spirit of yielding and submission.

The bottom line with both of the doctrinal issues you raise—the punishment of the wicked and spiritual male headship—is to permit the Biblical consensus to define our position.

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This is a commonly suggested error. The text refers to husbands, not to men. So the rest of your post is moot.

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I believe this is a false analogy. Peter had eaten with Gentiles at the home of Cornelius, so he was not opposed, in principle, to eating with them. But he knew he would be criticized by the Judaizers in the situation referenced by Paul–and he succumbed to temptation. This is not at all like our current situation. Peter did not base his dissimulation on Scripture, but on his own fear of criticism. When it comes to WO, the issue is Scriptural authority, for or against. I don’t know anyone who is “refusing to be fed” by women. Women can minister in many ways which are beneficial to the church, just as un-ordained men can. Ellen White says that women can do a work which man cannot do, thus bring blessing to folks who would otherwise not benefit.

No, this is more about trying to be “culturally relevant” at the expense of Scripture, than it is about discrimination.

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Ken Peterson’s thoughts are profound for they, laser like, focus on the gospel in verity; the truth about our heavenly Father. For too long many have circumvented the revelatory, trust-healing, exemplary ministry of Jesus Christ, in favor of feudal invention evolving up out of Anselm’s thinking, supported by Constantine’s. Thanks, Ken Peterson, for writing and to SPECTRUM for your efforts in advancing the gospel, which is the very last message to be given.

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Your view would be that of TOSC’s Position 2. On your “suggested error,” you will remember that North American Division leaders chose to employ a modified form of William J. Webb’s “redemptive-movement hermeneutic” and “trajectory” theory to argue their case, which relied heavily on what NAD’s Kyoshin Ahn referred to as the “principle-based. . . historical-cultural” reading strategy (PBHC). And as you may also recall, once the PBHC method is used on key women-in-ministry texts, “no conclusive evidence prohibiting the ordination of women can be found in the Bible” (Hermeneutics and the Ordination of Women, 25). As is obvious, then, the NAD needed a more flexible hermeneutic, shall we say, than what Rio’s historical-grammatical presuppositions had to offer. In any case, if you’re interested to know more about the NAD’s new hermeneutic, scholars D.A. Carson, Thomas R. Schreiner and Wayne Grudem took turns deconstructing Webb’s higher-critical approach.

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There is an important psychological reason why Seventh-day Adventist opponents of women’s ordination debase the character of God: they are worried that they might rebel as Lucifer rebelled. Consequently, they refuse to rule out a vision of Heaven and New Earth in which there are social classes, as follows: (a) the Son and Holy Spirit are eternally subordinate to the Father; (b) angels are stratified among various classes; © distribution of land to the saints is based upon their respective levels of righteousness; (d) women are consigned to subordinate roles and functions; and (e) black people cheerfully serve the needs of their white masters. Opponents of women’s ordination reason that if you think Heaven and the New Earth will be better than this, and you happen to be in the slightest bit wrong, then you are already harboring complaints about God. You are already rebelling as Lucifer rebelled. You are already demonstrating that you could not be happy living in Heaven and the New Earth. Therefore, a prophylactic concern for your salvation mandates that you never dream that God is more glorious than He actually is.

I perceive from Stephen Bohr’s sermons and writings that this dark psychology has deeply affected him. If women are denied opportunities, experiences, and blessings that are reserved to men, he would be OK with that. And if black people are denied opportunities, experiences, and blessings reserved for white people, he would be OK with that, too. The logic for him and his like-minded colleagues is compelling: if God can deny opportunities, experiences, and blessings to a tree or a toad, how can anyone argue that He is unjust or unfair if He denies opportunities, experiences, and blessings to women or black people?

We have ruefully observed that anyone can hopscotch through Scripture and make a case for anything, even something as absurd as opposition to women’s ordination. We have ruefully observed that one can be an ordained minister in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and possess a crippled and prejudiced understanding of the character of God. And we have ruefully observed that interpretation is often more a commentary on the interpreter than the text.

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Thank you for participating in the conversation. I am delighted that we agree on Hell not being eternal conscious torment for the wicked, Kevin. This is not the Christian consensus at all, as you know. But I must fully disagree with you that I misunderstand the “Biblical rationale” for Hell and Male Headship. Thankfully, we again fully agree that it would be “most dangerous to develop a concept of the divine character apart from” the Bible (at least I am assuming that is what you mean by “inspired writings”).

You then make an astonishing statement that “No substantive rejoinder” to your male headship argument has been made. I say this is astonishing because, for one, our seminary at Andrews University produced less than a year ago a substantial document on this exact topic of headship in the church. It is accessible from the front page of the seminary’s website I believe. If you are not aware of it I would urge you to study it prayerfully as it directly addresses some of the points you briefly mention. In short, neither the Adventist Church, nor its theologians, administrators, ministers or members has ever adopted a consensus view on human male headship in the Church. Christ is the only Head of the Church. Period. I trust we agree on this.

I am encouraged by your comments about women and silence in church and how you will search the context and other Biblical passages to get a full understanding. Those are the same sort of habits I employ with respect to ordination. So far we still come to a different understanding, but the difference is NOT that you have a Biblical understanding and I do not. It is that our understanding of the same Bible does not agree on the ordination issue although we do agree on Hell, even though we are outside of the larger Christian consensus on Hell.

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