When the Theology of Ordination Study Committee met in Baltimore in July 2013, its purpose was specifically to consider the ordination of women. On the first morning of the session there was a presentation of a “Consensus Statement on a Seventh-day Adventist Theology of Ordination” that had been prepared and presented at a previous session, revised by a special reading committee and slightly revised again in the session before being approved. (Read the consensus statement here.) The statement uses gender-neutral language, so as not to prejudice the conversation regarding women’s ordination.
Next, the committee turned to 17 individuals for papers on history within and without the Adventist church, hermeneutics, scriptural overviews and analysis. Ten of the 17 presenters were from the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary at Andrews University. Two women presented, one in favor of ordination and one against.
All of the papers and devotionals can be read in their entirety at the Adventist Archives, Statistics, and Research website.
What follows is a listing of the individual papers, (as well as two devotionals), each author and a sentence or two about the papers.
1. The devotional by Esther R. Knott tells the moving story of her father’s conversion to Adventism and its effect on the lives of his family.
2. “The Ordination of Women in Seventh-day Adventist Policy and Practice,” by David Trim. Demonstrating that there is always more than one way to look at history, he concludes: “To sum up, there is no persuasive evidence that any woman has ever been set apart to gospel ministry with the sanction of the Seventh-day Adventist Church—not even in the nineteenth or early twentieth centuries. It was not our pioneers’ practice to ordain women to ministry.”
3. “Women’s Status and Ordination as Elders or Bishops in the Early Church, Reformation, and Post-Reformation Eras,” by P. Gerard Damsteegt. In this presentation, his third presentation to the committee, Damsteegt says, “The same biblical passages that the early church fathers, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley used to define their attitude on objecting to having women function in headship roles in the church were used by the Adventist pioneers. Today’s discussions will reveal whether the Seventh-day Adventist Church will continue to follow this understanding of the Bible on the involvement of women in ministry.”
4. “The Ordination of Women in the American Church,” by Nicholas Miller. In addition to presenting a historical account of the experience of other denominations regarding ordination of women, Miller expands his assignment. His explanation for doing so was that, “Both sides on the ordination discussion in the Adventist church have made various claims about the impact of ordaining women on both church growth, as well as on the likelihood women’s ordination leading to biblical liberalism, including the acceptance of homosexual behavior within the church.” So he tracks both in his 31-page paper, followed by seven pages of charts that appear both at the end of his article and in a separate file.
5. “Trajectories of Women’s Ordination in History,” by John W. Reeve, recounts the stories of women leaders in the New Testament and then tells the effect that the early church fathers had on the role of women. At the end, he says, “A vexing question is now commanding Adventists attention: Can we co-exist with those who do not share our exact conclusions on women in ministry?” He sees positive things in our recent history. “We have thrived in the last forty years in a world-wide fellowship of great diversity. We have done well in terms of church growth, including evangelism and missions as we near 17 million members. We have grown strong in the area of education both in discipleship training and educating for lifelong service in our dozens of colleges and universities. Our 31 institutions and administration are effective and well respected. Whereas we are not without struggle or challenge, we are a larger and stronger church today than we were four decades ago, all while having great diversity in thought and action on women as local elders.”
6. “Back to Creation: Toward a Consistent Adventist Creation—Fall—Re-Creation Hermeneutic,” by Jiri Moskala. The dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary at Andrews University opens the session on hermeneutic principles and speaks forcefully for equality. He argues against male headship, and concludes, “In this time of the closing of this world’s history, God calls His remnant to go back to Creation (see Rev 14:7) and reestablish the ideals of God’s original plan of equality between men and women. The Advent movement should be an example of this true human relationship and genuine worship. The last-day people should be a model for the rest of the world and should assume a leadership role in this issue by fully demonstrating the true meaning of the theology of Creation. Even though men and women are biologically different and have thus different physiological functions, the spiritual role for both genders is the same: to be the leaders in God’s church today.”
7. “Paul, Woman, and the Ephesian Church: An Examination of 1 Timothy 2:8-15,” by Carl Cosaert. To begin, Cosaert acknowledges Nancy Vyhmeister’s study of this text that appeared in the book “Women in Ministry.” Cosaert paints an extensive picture in his 37-page paper. He concludes by saying, “The concern of this passage is not about women serving in the ministry or as local church elders, much less about ordination, since these were not issues in the congregations of Ephesus. While the sparseness of information and the complex construction of the passage make it difficult for modern readers to know precisely what Paul had in mind, it is clear that he was addressing a current concern that Timothy and the Christians in Ephesus would have readily understood. Furthermore, to take as eternally normative the limited prohibition of women’s teaching (v. 12)—when in other passages Paul clearly approves female participation in teaching, praying, and prophesying—does violence to the hermeneutical principle of the unity of Scripture. Likewise, to determine from v. 13 that priority in creation gives males the right to rule over women goes beyond sound biblical interpretation.”
8. “Biblical Hermeneutics and Headship in First Corinthians,” by Edwin Reynolds. In his 46-page paper, Reynolds concludes, “Following the biblical hermeneutic clearly outlined in the MBSD, this paper has shown that there is a clear principle of headship taught in 1 Cor 11:3 that was established by God based on the pattern set within the Trinity by the headship of the Father in relationship to Christ, which is an eternal headship grounded in differences in function rather than in essence.”
9. “Adam, Where are You?” by Ingo Sorke. In his 70 plus-page paper in the hermeneutic portion of the program, Sorke gives an extensive presentation on the Pauline texts regarding women, and supports them with many quotations from Ellen G. White. In conclusion, he puts forth a proposal for the church that:
- ministerial ordination in the Seventh-day Adventist church should be reserved for male elders and pastors; current eldership of women should be revoked. It is the failure of a generation to deal with this issue clearly and practically.
- at the same time, the apostolic role of the pastor should be reassessed, since pastors today function much as elders should. The missionary core must be recovered to counteract the current stagnation in many congregations.
- the functions of elders and deacons needs to be reactivated for churches to operate again in their particular role as the remnant preparing the world for the Second Coming through the Three Angels' Message.
- the role of the male in the household needs to be more clearly delineated and supported.
- the dangers of women’s ordination, on the basis of a false equality, should be shown in relation to the equally perilous danger of opening the floodgates of an increasingly emboldened homosexual agenda within the church.
- the lost concept and safeguard of a biblical intra-gender and cross-generational ministry needs to be re-introduced to the church for the well-being of the next generation.
- the practical implications and consequently the process of implementations of the above dynamics deserves considerable contemplation and discussion.
10. “Man and Woman in Genesis 1-3: Ontological Equality and Role Differentiation,” by Paul Ratsara and Daniel Bediako. In the first presentation by anyone from the African divisions, Ratsara and Bediako take issue with Richard Davidson’s view of equality in Genesis 1-3, and argue, ”that man and woman are fully equal, but that such equality is ontological (i.e., equality in nature/essence/being) with functional complementarity (i.e., difference in role/responsibility). They conclude their 65-page paper by saying, “The unity of the church is not grounded in changing policies but in the unchanging and infallible word of God. A decision to ordain women as pastors can be made only outside the bounds of Scripture.”
11. “Women of the Old Testament: Women of Influence,” by Laurel Damsteegt. After telling the stories of several women from the Old Testament, she concludes, “The stories of these women are instructive examples of faith and unfaith. These were women of influence, all. Not priests, not elders, but yes, they were women of influence for good or evil.”
12. “A Study of 1 Peter 2.9, 10 and Galatians 3.28,” by Stephen Bohr, begins with Bohr stating that his assignment to write about headship in the New Testament is an almost impossible task, because the subject is broad and legions of books have been written on it. He decides to focus on just the two texts of the title of his talk. Along the way he comments on hermeneutics, Ellen G. White and the Adventist experience. Finally, he concludes, “We have examined 1 Peter 2:9, 10 and Galatians 3:28 and have found that neither of these texts is dealing with leadership roles in the home or in the church. Both are dealing with events that occur at the beginning of the Christian walk when a believer is baptized and not with leadership roles in the church which come later. We have examined explicit statements from Paul to the effect that it is still God’s plan for men to be the head in the home and in the church. We have examined the cases of Phoebe, Junias, and women prophets and have found no basis for the ordination of women to positions of leadership in the church as elders/overseers.”
13. “Headship, Gender, and Ordination in the Writings of Ellen G. White,” by P. Gerard Damsteegt. Returning to the microphone for the fourth time during the meetings of the TOSC, Damsteegt takes up the subject of headship in Ellen G. White’s writings, and concludes, “This study shows that Ellen White fully supported the headship principle of the man in the home and in the leadership offices of the church throughout the Old and New Testament. Both the Bible and the writings of Ellen White support the view that women do not meet the Bible standards for the spiritual authoritative office of an overseer, elder, or minister.”
14. “Ellen White, Ordination, and Authority,” by Jerry Moon, repeats the equal but separate findings of other presenters and recommends:
- The church could affirm gender equality by having one pay scale for men and women, regardless of ordination.
- The church could affirm gender uniqueness in ministry by continuing to use the term “ordination” for the appointment ceremony of men in ministry, while using a different term (such as “commissioning”) for the appointment ceremony of women in ministry. Both ceremonies would include the “laying on of hands,” but to different offices and different levels of authority. Both genders would be affirmed, but not to identical roles. Interdependence reinforces unity. Sameness, making male and female roles interchangeable, makes one or the other unnecessary.
- The church could affirm the interdependence of men and women in ministry, by reserving to men in ministry the “full ecclesiastical authority” to administer baptism and organize new churches, while also recognizing that the highest evidence of ministerial effectiveness is not the performance of water immersion, but the spiritual birthing, nurture, instruction, and other aspects of discipling in which women are said to have “a power that exceeds that of men.” Just as neither gender can become a biological parent without the other, so no one is a soloist at soul-winning. A male minister may hold the authority to baptize, but the work of his female colleague is in some respects a work he “cannot do,” hence it is equally essential. Finally, Ellen White particularly endorsed husband-and-wife ministerial teams. This avoids the problems of inappropriate bonding that can result from extensive time of association between male and female colleagues who are not married to each other.”
15. Devotional by Carmen Perez, “A Journey of Discovery or Paralysis of Analysis.”
16. “Should Women be Ordained as Pastors? Old Testament Considerations,” by Richard M. Davidson. Given his lifetime of publications about the Old Testament, Davidson is the person with whom many of the other presenters argued over the correct interpretation of Genesis 1-3. After 60-plus pages discussing the Old Testament, Davidson summarizes his thoughts in 14 points, the 14th of which points to the New Testament. Then he says, “The NT announces and describes the initial realization of this inspired OT vision of social revolution ‘back to the beginning’ with the coming of Jesus and during the time of the NT church. Will the Seventh-day Adventist Church in these last days allow God to complete this upside-down revolution in our midst by recognizing and affirming, yes, ordaining, all those—including women— gifted by the Spirit for positions of leadership?” Twenty-three pages of footnotes follow.
17. “Shall the Church Ordain Women as Pastors? Thoughts toward an Integrated NT Perspective,” by Teresa Reeve. In the introduction of his remarks about the Old Testament, Davidson says that his work in the Old Testament would be complimented by Reeve’s work in the New Testament, so it comes as no surprise that Reeve sees no problem in ordaining women. She says, “Neither in the Gospels and Acts nor in the Epistles is any individual human given ultimate authority over another, for a fundamental principle of God’s government and of Christian behavior is respect for free will (e.g. Josh. 24:15; Philem. 8, 9, 17). When Paul wrote to churches, he never addressed his letters to a single individual or leadership group within the church. His exhortations, and even the difficult issues that needed to be cared for, were always addressed to the whole church, with individuals made mention of only in brief greetings at the end of the letter.”
18. “Ellen White, Women in Ministry and the Ordination of Women,” by Denis Fortin. Coming after so many other papers that have examined the writings of Ellen White, Fortin acknowledges the challenge he faces in saying anything new. However, the stand that he takes differs from several that had been made during the TOSC session. He says, “What I would like to offer in this paper is that a careful consideration of Ellen White’s thought on the role of women in the church, taken in its nineteenth-century context, her understanding of the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist church, her counsels regarding ministry and its many functions taken in historical context, and her non-sacramental understanding of ordination and early Seventh-day Adventist practice of ordination, can support the case for allowing the ordination of women today.”
19. “Authority of the Christian Leader,” by Darius Jankiewicz. With a simple graphic, Jankiewicz begins his presentation on authority. Then he lays the responsibility for changing the manner in which Christian authority is exercised at the feet of early church fathers such as Ignatius, Tertullian, Cyprian and Augustine. He says that they made Christian authority hierarchical, sacramental, elitist, oriented towards male headship. He contrasted their view of authority with Jesus’, showing that in the New Testament church, things were the opposite of what developed under the Christian fathers. As he did in his January presentation, Jankiewicz closes with a question, “Are we going to follow culture, both secular and religious, which has taught us a hierarchical and elitist understanding of authority? Or, are we going to follow Christ, who said, ‘Not so with you!’?”
Read Bonnie Dwyer's summary of the papers presented at the TOSC's January 2013 session here.
Graphic: from presentation by Darius Jankiewicz.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5449