“Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Romans 14:5 “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned.” Galatians 1:8
What are we to make of Paul? Is there room for differences of view on important matters depending on what each individual is convinced of? Or are we eternally condemned if we don't see things exactly as Paul tells us? I have been wrestling with these two perspectives on the issue of whether Divisions should be permitted to determine whether women may be ordained within their territories.
The recent release of a video showing several “Adventist Elders,” including the most recent past-president of the General Conference, speaking on this issue has made clear that some certainly view the issue from the vantage point of Galatians 1. A comment on one website urging a "No" vote was very disappointing to me in expressing hope that “these treasonous leaders” can be removed “from the Body of Christ altogether so they can go their own way and form their own denomination.” This sounds so harsh and un-Christlike to my ears, but reminds me of the Paul of Galatians 1 talking about eternal condemnation.
The commentary on Galatians presented by E. J. Waggoner at the 1888 General Conference is helpful here. He notes, “The Galatians were being seduced from God by something that promised them life and salvation but by a power other than that of God. . . they were trusting to supposed human power, their own power, for salvation.” In other words, the gospel was being perverted and distorted. “Paul's brethren were in mortal danger, and he could not waste time on compliments” ("The Glad Tidings," pg. 16, 17). What this means to me is that there is a time to clearly call out the fundamental error of changing the good news to be human-centered instead of God-centered. Paul says even if an angel were to preach this “other gospel” it would not matter because there is only one real gospel and only that gospel is the power of God. (Romans 1:16)
Is the issue of whether to allow Divisions to decide whether to ordain women within their territories “preaching another gospel”? I don't think so. Part of my reasoning for this conclusion is because of some of the poor arguments raised in this debate by those favoring the status quo. For example, the Biblical Research Committee of the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division presented the following as reasons supporting their No vote position: “The Old Testament and New Testament demonstrate that no women were ordained.” Assuming arguendo that this is true, what does it prove? Christ's twelve disciples were all Jewish men, but surely that Division ordains Africans, Indians and Caucasians, among many others. None of the original twelve were college graduates, but surely that is not how we determine who to ordain today. This argument is so silly, in my view, that it simply cannot be the basis to join Paul in a Galatians 1 condemnation on this issue.
Further research shows I am not alone. During the TOSC process the West-Central Africa Division voted “not to recommend the ordination of women into ordained pastoral ministry. However, if at the General Conference Session the world church votes in favor of women’s ordination, WAD will not threaten the unity of the church despite its disagreement to such a decision. Instead, we will consider women’s ordination as a matter of conscience, and will continue to study and pray for light on the subject brighter than there is now.” The Southern Asia Pacific Division also said it would follow the decision of the GC Session even though a majority of the Division's Biblical Research Committee believed women should not be ordained. If this issue were equivalent to “another gospel” I have every confidence that these Divisions would not allow even the GC to bring it in with a majority vote. Just as Paul would not.
So that brings us to the Paul of Romans 14. Here some very serious and apparently divisive issues were being argued. Rather than say that one or the other side was to be “eternally condemned,” Paul instead says that people should be fully convinced in their own minds and then act accordingly. I take this to mean that one mind might be convinced differently than another on some issues and yet we can still practice in accordance with our convictions without being condemned.
In its TOSC presentation in January 2014, the North American Division reported that one consensus statement it could make was that “An individual, as a Seventh-day Adventist in thorough commitment to the full authority of Scripture, may build a defensible case in favor of or opposed to the ordination of women to the gospel ministry. . .” Their report also quoted a statement from Ellen White on the topic: “We cannot then take a position that the unity of the church consists in viewing every text of Scripture in the very same light. . . Nothing can perfect unity in the Church but the spirit of Christlike forbearance.” That to me sounds like the Paul of Romans 14.
As we approach San Antonio my prayer is this: That we can possess the discernment to determine whether the issue of Divisions deciding on women's ordination in their territories is a Galatians 1 issue or more of a Romans 14 issue and act accordingly. In this case, I strongly believe Christlike forbearance can perfect unity.
Ken Peterson is a member of the Spectrum / Adventist Forum Board of Directors.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6806