Is the Church Already Unified on the Issue of Women’s Ordination?


(Spectrumbot) #1

One of the most serious issues in the discussion of women’s ordination that has been taking place in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the last few years has been the issue of the unity of the world church. It has been intimated by concerned church members and leaders that the unity of the world church is under threat due to the opposing views that different world divisions have on this topic. Since Jesus, in His John 17 prayer before His crucifixion, prayed to the Father for unity of His believers and suggested that unity would only come by a study of the Word and uniting under the banner of truth (v 17), it could appear that all who deviate from the consensus opinion of the General Conference world policy are a threat to the fulfillment of the plan of Jesus for His church by not becoming “sanctified by truth.”

So, the question becomes, “How do sincere believers in Christ in different parts of the world come to divergent views on any given topic that is not expressly prescribed in Scripture?” Is it possible, as some claim, that there are groups of people, almost whole world divisions, who are unfaithful to Scripture and have to some degree apostatized from the true biblical faith? It could be true, but before we accuse whole sections of the world church of unfaithfulness to God’s Word we should probably look at one of the largest factors of how all of us come to decisions: culture.

What does culture have to do with unity?

Some might be thinking, “What does culture have to do with the unity of the church? Shouldn’t we just follow the plain teaching of Scripture and not worry about cultural norms?” While this supposition has a pious ring to it, it will not serve us very well in the discussion of women’s ordination. For those of us who have worked in various divisions of the world church it is naïve to think that culture doesn’t influence us or didn’t influence the Bible writers and their views.

Shame/Honor vs. Guilt/Innocence

The scope of this article does not allow for an in-depth discussion of the main cultures of the world, but a word must be said about the main culture of the West (the main culture of Christianity) and the main culture of the East (the main culture that the Bible was written in). In the West, Christian Europe and North America, the main culture is guilt/innocence. The dominant value in Western culture is innocence and “rightness.” Christian denominations have proliferated over doctrinal and social issues based on people’s perception of what is right and wrong. Elaborate court systems are set up to determine who is right/innocent and who is wrong/guilty.

The Bible, however, was drafted in cultures that were predominately shame/honor cultures. These cultures did not place their main values on law and rightness (probably why God added the laws of Deuteronomy and Leviticus to the Israelite culture); they valued predominately the honor or shame that was received from the surrounding community. The “rightness” of an action wasn’t as important as the perceived results to reputation and standing in a community. Therefore, Western Christianity has been theory-based while the Bible was written in a relationship-based culture.

Shame/Honor and Women’s Ordination

So what does the shame/honor culture have to do with women’s ordination? First, we must understand that there isn’t a clear mandate from God to define “rightness” in Scripture on the issue. There is not a “Thus says the Lord…” quote condemning women’s ordination or condoning it. We must look at principles from Scripture on this issue and use our reasoning to come to a conclusion, much as we do with the issue of polygamy.

Our Western right/wrong mentality must be tempered with the understanding that the Bible is sometimes, on some issues that don’t relate to God’s express law or revelation, concerned with the honor of God and His people and not always the “rightness” of their behavior according to our modern standards (an example of this is God’s failure to expressly condemn the polygamy that many of the heroes of faith of the Old Testament practiced).

When one looks at how the New Testament writers portray Christ and the church it must be noted that Christ and the church are honorable — they are caring, help heal people, care for the poor, teach, are forgiving and understanding in relationships, tell the truth, etc. The authors also portray the unbelievers as just the opposite — don’t care for the poor, commit all types of sins, rely on lies, and eventually fight against those who uphold the truth. The epistles of Paul, Peter, and James are primarily concerned with the behavior of the church and the subsequent honor that they should receive from those who observe them and ultimately honor from God on the Day of Judgment after becoming followers of Jesus.

This is the context of the New Testament writings in regard to women and their role in the church. The greater culture at the time of Paul was a very conservative one in regards to the role of women in society. Thucydides in the 5th century B.C. wrote that the most honorable woman is the one that is the least talked about by men (Hist. 2.45.2).1

Six hundred years later, Plutarch states basically the same thing: a woman should be seen in public with her husband but remain hidden at home (“Advice on Marriage,” 9).2 Plutarch adds that a woman’s words should not “be public property” but instead guarded from strangers; she should only speak to and through her husband (“Advice on Marriage,” 31-32).3

These pieces of advice seem archaic to most modern Western Christians but they were strongly rooted in the overall cultural understanding of women. Women at that time were not viewed as independent entities; their personhood was embedded in the identity of their closest males, either a father if she were single or a husband if she were married. Because of this, women were viewed as a vulnerability to a male’s honor. If a woman engaged in shameful behavior this didn’t affect just her, but also her father or husband. Because of this, Ben Sira (2nd century BC) viewed the birth of a daughter as a liability to a man (Sira 42:9-14).4

Could these views have affected the views of Paul when he addressed the role of women in 1 Corinthians? It certainly appears that they did. He argues that one reason all women should pray or prophesy with their heads covered (and have long hair — and if a woman didn’t want to do that she should have her head shaved) is that the “head of the woman is man” (11:2) and that a “woman is not independent of man” (11:11). In chapter 14 he continues and states that all women should not even speak in church; rather, they should talk to their husbands at home who could then later speak for them in public.

In verse 35, Paul uses the Greek word for “disgraceful” or “shameful” to describe the thought of a woman speaking in church. His language appears to be in step with the non-Christian theories of the time and his usage of the word “shameful” appears to show his desire to prove to the unbelieving public that the Christian community was an honorable one. Did Paul really believe that it was “wrong” for a woman to speak in church or pray at any time with her head uncovered? Judging from his egalitarian conviction that there is no “male or female” in Christ in Galatians 3:28 it wouldn’t appear so.

We must keep in mind that Paul was an evangelist at heart and his main desire was to spread the gospel of Christ to the world (1 Corinthians 9:22). This desire would necessarily inform his views of public behavior that the nascent Christian church should approve of. Given the culture of the time can we really blame him? What would have happened had all the new Christian women converts been “liberated” and thrown off all restraints by tossing their head coverings in the trash and speaking up loudly in public meetings and associated with men other than their husbands or fathers? Would Paul have been able to convince unbelieving men to join this group? Would he have even been able to convince other women to join the group knowing that they would risk shaming the males and extended families in their lives? Based on a study of the existing culture at the time, Paul’s position on women in church doesn’t look so anachronistic as it might to a modern Christian who doesn’t understand what the culture was at the time.

How should this affect the discussion of unity in the church?

Given this understanding of Paul’s position on women in the church what would Paul say to the modern Adventist church in Europe or North America? What would he say to the church in Africa or South America? Would he have the same position for the entire world church as he did for the church in Corinth in the 1st century AD? What would Paul have counseled Ellen White who blatantly violated his advice to the Corinthian sisters in the faith by not covering her head and speaking in church services? If we understand that Paul was attempting to take the biblical position of equality in Christ (tempered with the bestowal of the authority of the family to the man found in Genesis 3) and crafting a policy that would bring honor to the church, we can assume that his position might change based on the culture he is dealing with.

In reality our church better hope that this is the case because not one world division follows all of Paul’s counsel in regards to women! There is not one division in the world church that forbids women to speak in church and cover their heads while attending worship services with the threat of shaving their heads as penalty for disobedience to this policy. We are all in violation of Paul’s counsel and if his positions are the express will of God for behavior in the church we are all in need of grace and should approach this issue very humbly.

The irony of looking at the question of women’s ordination in this way is that this might actually point to the fact that the world church is already united in their position on women’s ordination by virtue of having different positions on the topic. You might be wondering how this is so. In the West many Adventists argue that not ordaining women is discriminatory. This argument is brought forth in a cultural context where there are laws that forbid an employer from not hiring or promoting someone based on their gender. In this cultural context a policy that forbids women from a position appears anachronistic, unfair, and even bordering on the illegal. It has been argued that this is one reason in the West why young people leave the church when they see that it is discriminatory. In other words, we could say that Westerners are concerned that the church will appear in a shameful light to outsiders and young people. Adventists in Eastern and/or traditional cultures (which are more similar to the biblical culture) argue that ordaining women goes against biblical teaching and doesn’t support the traditional roles of gender in society. This is also very sensible for those living in cultures where outsiders would frown upon a woman pastor.

One can make the argument that because the world divisions have different positions on this topic it could mean that as a world church we are already united: we are united in trying to do our best to present God’s church before the world in the most honorable way we can in our own cultures. It certainly doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that each world division doesn’t deviate very far from the position on the role of women in society that the greater culture holds.

So, instead of seeing this issue as a potential threat to the future of the unity of the church, maybe we should look at the issue through the prism of honor and shame, and relate with understanding to all of God’s people who find themselves in different circumstances and cultural milieus and are doing their best to present their faith as an honorable element of their society. Maybe we are more united than we think.

Notes & References:

Doug Hardt is an SDA pastor in northern Minnesota of 5 churches. He and his wife, Tatiana, served the world church 8 years in the former Soviet Union and Middle East before moving to Minnesota with their two children, Nicole and Michael.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9294

(Robert Lindbeck) #2

Thanks Doug for a very balanced look at the WO issue. If for a moment we can stop looking at the trees, we may just see the beauty of the forest. The fact that we are looking at the same trees, albeit from differing directions, suggests our positions are much closer to unity than disunity.

Now, if only we could stop being so dogmatic about looking at the trees from the same side…


(EdZirkwitz) #3

The reality is that because the SDA church has so much dysfunction in it this focus on unity and compliance is just a distraction.


(Carlo Schroeder) #4

Communication would be helpful, because when there is intentionally bad communication it leads to disunity, because who can be trusted. When one issue is focused on, yet others continue, we create disunity. It is true, our cultural heritage and history and environment forms the way we think, but that doesn’t define us. Something our understanding might be different, but that doesn’t mean that we should be critical of others, even condemning them, because they see the world differently.
But me return to communication, fortunately, I speak three languages, and can read a few more, but good, but I get the meaning. So I was reading the Adventist org website the other day, and discovered that the information displayed on the subject of meetings where not the same, the English said one thing, and the French, Spanish and Portuguese, said something totally different. That is how one intentionally creates disunity. I screenshot all those page, so show people I attend church with.


(Steve Mga) #5

Jesus prayer for unity for the most part was for his disciples to be able to
fellowship together, to love each other, for the purpose of one Goal.
The Gospel of His Kingdom to all the world.
Jesus NEVER gave a List stating WHO CANNOT tell the Good News of
His Kingdom, of repentance, of baptizing believers.
If we look at the HISTORY of the Church when it became a Denomination,
it was THERE and THEN that we have MEN making RULES.
These Rules outlined various distinct STRATA of Believers. And was difficult
for believers to move from one strata to another.
Spiritual WOMEN who wanted to, like the MEN, spread the Good News, were
told – You take up a life of PRAYER. Here is a many room Castle to live in. You
wear a special garb – black and covering from head to toe – so God will take
even MORE special love to you and hear your prayers.
The Men said, WE will keep the KEYS to your locked doors. Never worry.
It was then that women were begun, by men, prevented to preach the Good News.
IF ANY WOMEN escaped notice, and began preaching as in North Italy and surrounding
areas, they were chased from place to place by the “Religious Police”. Death could be
the Penalty for Preaching without Permission.
Our Seventh day Adventist MEN since the 1880’s, and 1890’s began appropriating
this same Doctrine regarding WOMEN that our Early Catholic brethren developed.
And has been WITH THE SDA CHURCH ever since. And this is 2019 in a few days.


#6

When the core Christian values (2 in number) are personally embraced and implemented within one’s own sphere of society there will be diversity in actions and efforts. Those who are truly so inclined will self-identify as brothers and sisters in Christ’s Unity with other like believers, irrespective of their additional personal convictions of theological beliefs and preferences for particular worship styles.

That Harmony of Unity in Christ is attacked when Uniformity is attempted to be imposed. Uniformity should only rightly exist where preferences are freely and openly selected or where tolerance for other’s preferences are freely and openly accepted.

Unity comes from understanding what are the Truly Fundamental Beliefs.


(Thabani) #7

While I see a lot of positives in the article,I see a lack with regards to inspiration: culture Vs inspiration
Was he influenced by culture or by inspiration?
The 21st century brings interesting insights: the majority vote is no longer important to the church because it’s contrary to “western culture” for almost two centuries the world church has been directed by western ideologies (because this was where the majority vote was) that becomes a huge racist statement because all along things were adopted by the church though to a large extent some issues were clearly disadvantageous to the African continent one example being polygamy: converts were forced to separate with their spouses for them to be accepted in this faith
We shoot ourselves in the foot like you rightly said: women do not cover their head worldwide yet when it comes to what we favour ,then scripture must apply
How many deacons do we have that are not " HUSBANDS OF ONE WIFE"? HOW MANY YOUTH DEACONS? When it suits us then we reason against the clearly written word of God?
I don’t think that the issue is about preaching as you alluded,I think it’s about ordination and my take is: WE ARE LAODECIA,WE THINK WE HAVE MORE LIGHT YET WE ARE BLIND,LET US GO BACK TO THE EPHESUS CHURCH AND SEE HOW THEY DID IT
We don’t use the silence of the bible to ordain ,we follow what is written for it is for us and our children and it was written for an example to us who live in the last days
Eve cannot be a priest
Eve wanted to be God in Eden today she wants to be Adam
You don’t need to be ordained to preach the gospel,who ordained John the Baptist?


(Robert Lindbeck) #8

That would be the Holy Spirit, the same as all the other prophets.


(Robert Lindbeck) #9

There are two ways to write a law and how to view laws. Laws can be written “exclusive” or they can be written “inclusive”. An exclusive law is one which defines a behaviour and permits you to do that specific behaviour, anything not specified is forbidden. An inclusive law says you can do anything unless it is included in this forbidden list.

The big issue comes when people start reading an inclusive law as an exclusive law. Much of the Bible is written as inclusive law but is interpreted by many as exclusive law - if God did not specifically say it is OK, you can’t do it. God’s first commandment to A&E was inclusive…“You can eat anything except…” The ten Commandments are inclusive laws. God told us what we can’t do…He didn’t say this is the only thing you can do. The common argument against WO is that there is no “Thus says the Lord…” commanding WO. On this issue we are dealing with an inclusive law…


(Peter) #10

“…not one world division follows all of Paul’s counsel in regards to women!” Take an honest look at Paul. Not one Adventist, including Ted Wilson, follows all of Paul’s counsels on numerous topics. Women cut their hair. They don’t cover their heads in church. We don’t “drink a little wine for the stomach’s sake”. It is amazing that our church is in such controversy over just one thing Paul said while ignoring many other things he said. It is also amazing that we are being torn apart by something Jesus never mentioned!

Could it be that by calling a woman - Ellen White - to speak to our church, God showed us a new importance and acceptance in the ministry of women? Only a convoluted, previously prejudiced response explains why it was acceptable for Ellen White to have ordination papers and preach but not other women!


#11

Re any woman preaching without permission was not only for the women, men without permission had the same problem in various places in the old world. Was that an endemic gender issue, or a “unauthorized” issue? I would suggest it wasn’t a gender issue until the latest band of gender supporting police got busy. So what’s your point in that point?


#12

Well spoken. That is where the rubber meets the road.


(reliquum) #13

Well spoken, like a SeventhDayJihAdventist might.
I suspect it’s wackbards, though.

ADAM has played God from the beginning, and is afraid Eve might out-stage him.
ADAM failed to husband the garden, failed to husband Eve, domineering both, failing to nurture and “take dominion” (this is a synonym for “responsibility”)-something God always models but ADAM always distorts (first covering for, then blaming his “unequal underling”, until, with final hubris, blaming God himself, as if ADAM were an equal with Divinity).

ADAM has “been in charge” of politics, education, society, religion, etc etc for 99% of recorded human history. Women were not afforded God-given self evident freedoms we take for granted, under the thumb of ADAM. For purgatory sake they were not even counted as members of society, until the past century and change…in most countries (but, sadly, still not all).

There are a thousand overarching meta-narratives we dismiss, in our ADAM-like ascension to “our throne”.


(Dan Springer) #14

Absolutely RIGHT on! as always, it takes time to see the gold through the dross.


#15

That sounds like the old whisper a phrase around the circle of people game used at parties when I was a child. Someone would tell someone something, that person would repeat it to the next person who would whisper it in the ear of the third person and so on around the circle until it came back to the first person…the phrase would have a very different meaning after going through all the people than what it had at the beginning.

Maybe making sure the TOSC findings were clearly and fairly presented not to a committee, but the general public of the church, might be the best idea at this time…maybe…if all the translations were equal in their presentation.


(George Tichy) #16

What a prejudiced comment this is. So unfortunate.

What could then possibly be the force behind men’s insistence on being ordained? Shouldn’t they all dismiss the concept of being ordained? But they don’t, they insist on them being ordained and women being not-ordained. Baffling, isn’t it?


#17

Of course she can! The priesthood of all believers instituted at Christ’s death means that all Christians are part of the new priesthood.

Show me. It’s untrue and unfair.

Are you acquainted with Adventist female pastors? You won’t find a more God-focused, Godly, humble group, dedicated to bringing Christ to the people. They use their Holy Spirit-given gifts of the Spirit for the glory of God.


(Kevin Seidel) #18

Hebrews is quite clear that Jesus was not a priest of the old covenant. He was not a decedent of Aaron. That is why He is a priest of the order of Melcezadek and of a new covenant. The new covenant does not restrict the priesthood to men. Rather everyone who believes is a priest.


(ROBIN VANDERMOLEN) #19

Pastor Hardt,

Thank you for a very insightful, perceptive analysis of how culture impacts the question of women’s ordination.

I have always been persuaded that the whole reason for the perceived “disunity” has been a cultural divide.

I even wrote in a prior Spectrum blog, quoting the undisputed fact, that among the 54 countries on the continent of Africa, few have had female presidents or prime ministers. (in contrast to countries in Europe with a plethora of hierarchical female figures )

Some observed that I was being racist with this observation.

I was merely articulating that Africans, being patriarchal, are distrustful of female authority figures and therefore their political leaders are almost exclusively male. This transfers to church politics where again, males are expected to be the exclusive leaders.

I agree that Paul was writing letters to the Asia Minor churches, which were mired in the misogyny of the time, and so his messages were steeped in misogyny.

HOWEVER THIS IS A HUGE THEOLOGICAL PROBLEM FOR ME
It has become a question for me, of God’s inspiration of Scripture.

The entire Christian population in the mid first century AD cannot have been more than one hundred thousand Let us be optimistic and call the membership in the original seven Asia Minor Christian churches half a million ?

If God is truly omniscient, would He not have known that in 2018 there would be nearly EIGHT BILLION humans on the planet— many of them egalitarian and democratic in their cultural outlooks?

Why would God expect that Paul’s misogynistic edicts, directed at a tiny cultural demographic in the mid first century AD, should apply to the ensuing, yet to be born, future billions of humans?. — Many with entirely different customs and attitudes than first century Christians in Asian Minor?

MY QUESTION

When the Apocrypha was not included in the biblical,canon, why did God not also eliminate those unfortunate, bigoted, discriminatory comments from Paul,? Or why would an all knowing God allow them in the first place?

Did a supposedly all knowing God, not perceive the huge moral dilemmas these statements ( applicable to a narrow original demographic ) would create for enormous future generations , far more sizable than the membership in the original seven churches in Asia Minor?

Again this issue calls into question for me whether Scriptire is inspired by a supposedly loving God.

If the New Testament was meant to be applicable to the BILLIONS of humans born in the two millenia after it was written, why was it not tailored to be more suitable for those future generations of believers ??

Did God not know Adventists would exist in the 21sr century??

Did an omniscient God not foretell the future problem of women’s ordination?? Did He not foresee that Paul’s comments would provide fodder for opponents of WO?

Did an omnipotent God not understand that some of Paul’s remarks would fuel the heinous heretical headship dogma?? Why would a supposedly loving God deliberately foster hurtful discrimination ?? He had the choice to include Paul’s Epistles in the biblical Canon or to exclude them as was done with the Apochryphal scriptures!

Would any tholeogians out there clarify these questions for me ??


#20

Perhaps you aren’t aware that “male headship” was established by GOD immediately after sin entered this world. Again, this was not an Adam taking over. This was a God ordained position. You will have to ask God why he did that someday. But please don’t accuse Adam of having anything to do with it.
And the male headship has been in place since that time long before there was any “culture.” God has never changed it just like he has never changed His Ten Commandments. Jesus could have changed it while here, but He did not.
That says a lot to me.