Viewpoint: Make 2017 the Adventist Year of Conscience and Religious Freedom

Five hundred years ago, as of 31 October, 2017, Martin Luther wrote his famous Ninety Five Theses to his ecclesiastical superiors in the university town of Wittenberg, Germany. He hoped to invite debate concerning the abusive practices of the church. It was his invitation for the church to reform according to the Scriptures. The document got Germany talking. And the Protestant Reformation was born.

Luther became a courageous Bible scholar. Three and a half years later in April 1521 at the Diet of Worms he provided Christendom with a case study of the nexus between conscience, the Word of God, church policy and Councils. Here, in his reply to the demand of the Diet that he recant his reformed beliefs and teachings, he asserted his need to be “convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes or councils, for they have contradicted one another - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.” Notice for a moment the emphasis Luther makes on the fact that his conscience was captive to the Word of God and must be educated by the Word of God! Unfortunately, the princes and the prelates in Luther’s day didn’t take him up on this challenge.

Two current happenings in the Adventist world and beyond shine a more contemporary light on the sacred nature of individual conscience and of individual religious freedom. The first of these happenings has to do with the upcoming release of the blockbuster movie, Hacksaw Ridge, about Desmond Doss. This movie promises to be a positive and sympathetic portrayal of the most famous and most decorated military conscientious objector of all time. He just happens to be Adventist. If the rapturous reception at the Venice Film Festival given this movie means anything at all, it may mean that many in society will pause, perhaps for the first time, to reflect on the sacred nature of individual conscience and of individual religious freedom.

The other reason to focus on issues of conscience and religious freedom arises from the current stalemate in many Adventist circles concerning the ordination of women. Perhaps if we choose to see this issue through the particular prism of conscience and religious freedom we may yet see a greater consensus emerge on this topic. That’s why I urge the Adventist communion, to give serious consideration to the idea of designating 2017 as the Adventist Year of Conscience and Religious Freedom! 2017 should then be used to highlight these sacred features of our faith to our Adventist members and society at large. Also, Adventist members should focus their efforts on educating themselves in the Scriptures on matters of conscience and to achieving a Spirit-led unity and re-formation as we do this. There is much for all to do!

Theological & Ethical Convictions Are Matters of Conscience

The live ordination issues within the Adventist communion are issues where the minds of many, though not closed, are settled. Many of these people have settled on the theological high ground, believing that the Scriptures prohibit women from being ordained. Others have settled on the ethical high ground, believing that the Scriptures teach that it is less than ethical to continue to deny women ordination.

The attempt to solve a conundrum of this nature by majority vote will always be destructive. A majority vote should not be allowed to quash conscientiously held theological convictions. Nor should it be allowed to quash conscientiously held ethical convictions. However inadequate and incorrect these theological and ethical convictions may prove to be in the end, they must be respected. And both these theological and ethical convictions are believed to arise from Scripture. A stifling of minority dissent on such issues is not countenanced by Scripture and for good reason.

TOSC in all of its study did not reach a consensus on whether women could be ordained. In the end, they handed down three approaches to the issue. The 2015 San Antonio GC Session specifically rejected a proposed change in church policy to allow each of the thirteen world regions to decide for themselves whether to ordain women or not, thus creating their own selection criteria for ordinands. The vote in San Antonio did not concern the Scriptural stance on the ordination of women though people may have used their own understanding of the issue to guide their vote on the specific proposal before them. But the bottom line was that TOSC was unable to make a consensus pronouncement on women’s ordination.

Keeping Individual Conscience Captive to the Word of God While Maintaining Unity In the Adventist Communion

This is our twin task! These are our twin priorities! First, we will seek every opportunity to educate our conscience according to the dictates of the Scriptures. Such study can never be solely individual study. It must always be complemented by the input of our fellows, globally. We must never imagine that the heavenly gifts of knowledge, wisdom and discernment are only operational in America, or in Africa, or in Europe. We must press together in this regard! Second, our growing, corporate understanding of Scriptural truth and of the will of God for His church and its practices will have as its aim a mission-driven unity. In my humble opinion, Adventists can’t hope to avoid turning again to the Scriptures, seeking thereby to educate their consciences and to maintain unity. It is to be an ongoing process.

Understanding Our Need of a Reformed Paradigm Concerning Adventist Leadership and Ordination

The TOSC process was a helpful and much needed process in seeking to engage each corner of our global Adventist communion in searching for a united understanding of the nature of ordination and what that means for the potential ordination of women. People from various areas of the world field came to understand something of the importance of these issues for others in other parts of the world. Some pled for more time to get on board and for more answers to their questions. Many in other places just wanted action without further discussion. There are certain features of the discussions of ordination that have not been highlighted to any significant extent in any discussion or study. This task is undertaken below.

It is easy to believe that in the Adventist world ordination means the same thing the world over. However, this is not the case. Our understanding of ordination and our practice of it is colored by our culture. For example, for many in America, to be ordained in the Adventist ministry is to be granted professional endorsement. For many in Africa, to be ordained is to become an ecclesiastical chief of sorts. In China, it may be that Adventist ordination is a pragmatic pledge that the ordained individual will co-exist in some sort of working relationship with the civil powers.

However much our specific culture may color our understanding of ordination, it is also true that the wider religious world can also colour our understanding of it. Much of the Christian world understands ordination according to a sacramental model to some degree. Adventist theology, at its best, does not! Hence, Adventists can’t import arguments for or against the ordination of women wholesale from other Christian bodies. There are several pointers to this fact.

First, Adventists who have been ordained are not regarded as a reverend clergy class, with a special connection with God and separate and distinct from the laity class. Adventist ordination doesn’t impart the dominicus character enabling the ordained person to act as a mediator between God and humanity. Adventist leaders are an important part of the laos, the whole people of God.

Second, Adventist ordination doesn’t create additional bridegrooms of the bride of Christ, other than Christ himself. We do not believe in male headship in the ecclesial context. Some Christian clergy wear a ring symbolizing their marriage to the Bride of Christ. Many wear vestments and dog collars signifying their membership of the distinct clergy class. Adventist leaders do not for they understand, in their best moments, that they are part of the laos, the whole people of God.

Thirdly, Adventist ordination isn’t the sole identifying mark of those who have been “called” by God to serve and minister in His name. The New Testament emphasis is that all saints are “called” by God to serve and minister in His name. The “calling” by God of every individual saint to serve him is enfolded in the specific spiritual gifting of that believer. God’s saints are all his believer-priests serving him in His temple. Adventist leaders are an important part of the laos, the whole people of God.

Protestant Reformers undid some of the accretions of power and lordly spiritual authority that had accrued to the priestly/clerical class in the centuries before them. Adventist pioneers, in their turn built their polity and gospel order in a pragmatic fashion, borrowing much from other Christian groups around them. This polity and gospel order has, for the most part served Adventists well. However, the almost inevitable drift toward institutionalisation and clericalisation may well have created subtle, even sinful changes in attitudes and modes of operation which are best addressed by a studied renewal and re-formation of our gospel order.

“Ordination,” if we like that term, has an important theological character we can derive from the Scripture. However, we must also acknowledge that cultural elements have also been overlaid on the theological core of this rite.

Towards a Consensus on a Reformed Paradigm of Adventist Leadership and Ordination

At San Antonio on 9 July 2015, Pastor David Ripley, then the Ministerial Association Secretary of the Northern Asia-Pacific Division spoke to the assembled delegates in the aftermath of the ordination vote. He stated that “One of the things that it [the vote on ordination] showed us is that we have a world church looking at the same Scriptures and coming up with very different interpretations. I think that points out that this church has very divided hermeneutics or rules of interpretation.” Ripley wants to make a motion to the effect that “the world church will take time to study and to help us come together what our hermeneutic really is, because we’re using two very different ones.” The following day word came from the Steering Committee of the General Conference Session that this request had been received favourably, and that action would be taken through the BRI to address the issue. We are yet to see how comprehensive such a study on Adventist hermeneutics will be. It may be little more than the publication of their findings in a revised second edition of the book currently available on biblical interpretation. Ripley was calling for something more. In essence, he called for the application of newly refined hermeneutical principles as Adventists globally search for a biblical solution to our present impass concerning ordination.

In my prayerful study of the issues involved, if this study of Adventist hermeneutical principles is to have any positive impact on creating greater understanding and unity concerning our theology and practice of ordination the following two elements must feature in the study. First, the question as to the relationship of freedom of conscience to the whole hermeneutical enterprise must be addressed. How are the conscientiously held theological and ethical convictions of others to be allowed to impact the expression of my own convictions? How can these varying convictions be refined and made to contribute to unity among believers? Second, the relationship of culture to biblical interpretation must be studied. Principles that guide our understanding of the impact of culture on biblical interpretation must be defined. In these things the input of both Adventist religious liberty experts and Adventist missiologists should not be overlooked.

Concrete Steps Toward the Creation of a Reformed Paradigm of Adventist Leadership and Ordination

A greater consensus on the theology and practice of ordination can yet be reached through employing a streamlined, global study process of helpful hermeneutical principles. Such a study process need not detain us long but it must be pursued with real purpose! A renewed and more biblically adequate paradigm for the theology and practice of Adventist leadership and ordination can yet be devised, as Adventist reach for greater global unity on this issue. In the end, it may be agreed that absolute uniformity is neither achievable nor desirable. Agreement may be reached that cultural sensitivity in the design and implementation of ordination rites will be a blessing to the global Adventist communion. Such cultural sensitivity may assist the expression of the core principles underlying our theology of ordination and its practice.

Here, in brief, are the four concrete steps toward the creation of a reformed paradigm concerning Adventist leadership and ordination.

  • Seek a more united and a more biblically adequate Adventist hermeneutic that can help us understand more of the religious freedom and cultural dimensions associated with the theology of Adventist leadership and ordination.
  • This would provide a really helpful foundation for a comprehensive theology of Adventist leadership, ministry and mission as well as the theology and practice of “ordination.”
  • Foundational ecclesiological principles guiding our practice of Adventist leadership, ministry and mission including “ordination” could be established from such a theology. (I have critiqued the currently accepted foundational principles underlying the theology and practice of ordination elsewhere).
  • With the above three steps in place, Adventists may move confidently into a renewed phase of policy development concerning ordination and credentialing.


I dream that one day soon the Adventist communion which I love will awaken to the potential of a new paradigm for Adventist leadership and the practice of ordination. There is good promise that we will leave aside a hierarchical, elitist paradigm of Adventist leadership, ministry, mission and ordination. And there is every hope that we will embrace a new culturally sensitive, lateral and role-oriented paradigm of the same. Let’s move creatively into God’s future empowered by his Spirit. The proposed Adventist Year of Conscience and Religious Freedom could well serve to focus our attention on this possibility lying within our reach.

Peter Marks served in the Adventist ministry in Australia and New Zealand (1983-1995). He was a professor of English at Sunchon National University (2005 - 2007) and Sahmyook University (2008-2009). Both these universities are in Korea. He has an MA (Religion) degree from the Newbold College Campus of Andrews University (1989) and a Master of Information Management - Librarianship degree from the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia (1998).

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

IF there’s an SDA version of the The Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross, I want to belong to that church…

Enjoyed reading your article, Peter. Thanks.

@bronwynreid @tony


I have not done any in-depth study of the WO issue in the SDA communion because I can see no spiritual enlightenment likely to come from so doing. I respect the intellectual power and comprehensive Bible knowledge of a man such as Ted Wilson, our leader, so when I realized that he seemed willing to go to the limit with his anti WO stance, even to the point of risking a split in the membership of the worldwide Church, I figured he may well have undeclared reasons for his fortress mentality stance. Since he has not, at least so far, demolished his critics with Biblical arguments/references in favour of his position , In assume he has none that can be a game-changer. Women have always been prominent in in religious organisations , After all even Paul married the first child of Jesus, a woman named Phoebe, who became a powerful preacher and missionary. My take is that our leadership may well be taking a historical view the present imbroglio. For a period of time the feminine mystique had men in thrall. Matriarchy was the order of the day, and men gravitated to their mother-in-laws’ household after marrying a daughter. There were Temples of love where priestesses highly trained in the erotic arts seduced both men and gods with their skills and therefore influenced politics and social life to an inordinate degree. Even as late as the days of the Roman church, licentiousness ran rampant to the degree where it threatened to demolish the Church and therefore destroy the very structure which the Italians had put in place as an immortal structure to replace the temporal structure of the Empire. Much as Jesus did with the Nazarene/ Christian Church rather than establish himself as a warlord Messiah. The Roman Church decided the only way out was to establish celibacy of the Priesthood. The problem is that even the most demure female is a walking sex object. Women are regarded as “sexy” because her physical body displays her role in nurturing life in utero (flaring hips) and for the NEONATE(Mammaries) among other qualities. Men therefore are attracted to females because of their indispensability in these processes. They huddle in strip clubs to again ogle what they have at home. If able they COLLECT. Solomon it is said collected 800 females and don’t believe these were only due to ;political reasons. NOW Modern Adventist women are indeed monogamous and so I don’t believe history should override common sense and current lifestyle,; but then I can say what I want . I do not have the fate of 20 million depending on my decisions.

there is no evidence That TW is a scholar in any sens of the word. He is a polished politician. What he fails to understand is that the Z North American Divisin is his major screw o cash… He wants to kill the cash cow.


Indeed! My prayer is that we are able to keep active our trajectory toward truly “protestant” and “reformed” Christianity by refusing the headship doctrine that some are so eager to attach to the Adventist practice of ordination.


Just a few hours ago I rediscovered a paper presented by Dr Jan Barna to the Adventist Society for Religious Studies in Baltimore, MD, 21 November 2013. It is titled “Ordination of Women and the Two Ways to Unity: Ecclesiastical and Biblical.” Jan is a Senior Lecturer in Systematic and Biblical Theology in the Department of Theological Studies at Newbold College of Higher Education, UK. It is available at

The paper traces the attempt within the Adventist communion to achieve unity with regard to the issue of the ordination of women by a combination of TOSC and voting church policy. He then contrasts this “ecclesiastical” route to unity with his preferred route - the so-called biblical way. This biblical way involves a real attempt to heal the deep interpretative division that lies at the base of the divisions within Adventism concerning the ordination of women. Barna asserts that “the smaller the biblical-interpretative divide the more effective the ecclesiastical pragmatic solution … will be.” He provides a really useful discussion of the rising issues for Adventist hermeneutical dialogue. He critiques Adventist scholarship for not proceeding deep and broad enough in our hermeneutical approach in that we often assume that our hermeneutical principles were a “ready made gift from Reformation times.” He asserts that “most [Adventist] books and articles on women’s ordination have not really examined the fundamentals of hermeneutical thinking.”

Barna makes a specific proposal for the much needed hermeneutical dialogue. He believes that the message of the Bible should be viewed holistically from the perspective of its own central theme. Further, Ellen White certainly believed that such a view of the unity of the Scripture was achievable hermeneutically, as Bible students make the effort to view individual parts of Scripture in relationship to “the grand central thought of Scripture.” And it is Bertil Wiklander who has done the most work in this fashion to interrogate the Scripture for answers concerning ordination, according to the interpretative framework of the mission of God.

I believe that we should follow the lead of people such as Barna and Wiklander as we seek for a hermeneutical solution to our current dilemma concerning the ordination of women. But let the student and the scholar beware. This kind of study has led Wiklander and me, among others, to see a whole new paradigm for Adventist leadership, ministry, mission and “ordination” emerge!

@efcee @rohantocharles


What a contrast is suggested that is exactly opposite to the simple approach taken at the very beginnings of Christianity: No coercion, but Peter, through the Holy Spirit blessed each group to follow their own conscience.

The former Jews who had accepted Christ were not rejecting Him but simply following God’s instructions to them from centuries earlier. The new gentile believers, likewise, were given no new burdens other than abstaining from food offered to idols, blood, and fornication. Neither group were opposing their conscience. This was the only way for the new church to flourish.

Had the Jews prevailed, the gentiles would have left as circumcision was too large a stumbling block. The church would have died in its very infancy had this simple method: “Let each man be persuaded in his own mind” not been followed.

The answer is not in more hermeneutical studies; it is right there in the New Testament.


Bringing WO into a discussion about religious freedom, while also criticizing Ted Wilson is a bit of a stretch. Since next year is the 500th anniversary of the event which really kicked off the Reformation, I would encourage anyone who can, to distribute Walter Veith’s series on Rekindling the Reformation. It is shocking how few true Protestants there are nowadays. Luther would be squirming in his grave if he knew how his followers capitulated to the RCC.

Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them, or something like that. A corollary to that is that those who do learn the lessons of history and doomed to suffer because of those who haven’t learned those lessons.

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After Paul spent almost all of his first letter to the Corinthian church making every possible effort to sort out what knowledge, spiritual practice and prophecy could do to help the amazingly dysfunctional congregation come together, he in essence gives up, and takes a deep breath before writing, ‘And yet I show you a more excellent way.’

And we get 1 Corinthians 13, in which Paul concedes that knowledge, spiritual practice, and prophecy all are unreliable, because they all end before we die. And in their place he offers faith, hope and love as uniquely enduring our very death.

We will not likely settle for this as a church as it will despoil any sense of historical and biblical uniqueness we cling to. What will we possibly do with the Three Angels Message?

What if our personal attempt to know good and evil denies the everlasting Gospel declared by the First Angel of Revelation 14 and evidences a clinging to Babylon’s hybrid salvation after Babylon’s collapse? What if persistence is the antithesis of the patience of the saints?

What if faith, hope and love really is the one unique contribution Seventh-day Adventism will come to make in the world of not only Christianity, but the world as a whole? The world described in Revelation 14.

What kind of hermeneutic would this take?

Perhaps the same hermeneutic the Angels of Revelation 14 use.


That is the only possible answer, because this is hopeless and otherwise unsolvable, Bill.

To the messenger of the church in Laodicea, write: The amen, the witness who is faithful and true, the source of God’s creation, says:

I know what you have done, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot.

But since you are lukewarm and not hot or cold, I’m going to spit you out of my mouth.

You say, ‘I’m rich. I’m wealthy. I don’t need anything.’

Yet, you do not realize that you are miserable, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.

I advise you: Buy gold purified in fire from me so that you may be rich.

Buy white clothes from me. Wear them so that you may keep your shameful, naked body from showing.

Buy ointment to put on your eyes so that you may see.

I correct and discipline everyone I love.

Take this seriously, and change the way you think and act.

Look, I’m standing at the door and knocking. If anyone listens to my voice and opens the door, I’ll come in and we’ll eat together.

I will allow everyone who wins the victory to sit with me on my throne, as I have won the victory and have sat down with my Father on his throne.

Let the person who has ears listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.



Thanks to all who are contributing to this useful discussion - even to Groucho.

Truly Groucho I am loathe to criticize Ted Wilson. I don’t know him. I have shaken his hand and sat in the same short VIP row as him in a concert. I anticipate that he is working in conjunction with a team of administrators and policy experts. What I have said, and want to say loudly is that like Martin Luther, our conscience must be bound by the Word of God, and it is the privilege of every saint to have his/her conscience enlightened and informed by that Word. Sometimes this happens in the quietness of one’s own mind and heart. Other times, God uses others to reason from the Scriptures, thereby educating our convictions and our conscience. Luther’s challenge to the princes and prelates to do exactly this. Unfortunately no one took him up on this.

Dr Jan Barna, presently a Senior Lecturer of Systematic and Biblical Theology at Newbold College of Higher Education, UK [my alma mater] wrote of "Ordination of Women and the Two Ways to Unity: Ecclesiastical [Policy and Church Councils] and Biblical [Hermeneutical] in 2013. Here he suggested that "If it turns out that thelevel of disagreement is mostly technical - a matter of policy, then the solution is an obvious one. If it turns out that the disagreement is fundamentally biblical or hermeneutical, then the solution may not be just a new policy… It may well follow that the wider the biblical divide is, the less effective the ecclesiastical solution will be, and visa versa. The smaller the biblical-interpretative divide is, the more effective the ecclesiastical pragmatic solution in 2015 [or beyond] will be. The question is, what is the proposition between the two?"

It therefore behoves administrators to have some understanding of the depth of division and lack of unity in both the pragmatic/ policy and the biblical-hermeneutical arenas within our global communion.

Barna knows something of the depth of the biblical-hermeneutical divide in Adventist attitudes to the ordination of women. He wrote his doctoral thesis on this subject. Meanwhile, the policy divide and potential solutions to this divide within Adventism has been open for all to see, to a great degree anyway. [We still must be careful not to misinterpret policy issues within the denomination].

At a time when policy matters connected with this issue have the potential to create more heat than light and unity, and at a time when policy development tends to be more divisive than unifying, it is important, I believe that we turn again to potential biblical-hermeneutical solutions to disunity.

Thankfully, we have some trail blazers who have gone ahead of us. Let me mention some of these people:

  1. The East-Central African Division Biblical Research Committee who frankly admitted in 2013 that they believed that they saw “no light in ordaining women as pastors under the current praxis of understanding and practicing ordination.” They urged “further studies until the Church is convinced that ordaining [of either men or women] under current modalities is biblical.” Further, they freely admitted “the unhealthy nuances which need undoing in order to facilitate servant leadership.” Such nuances arise from the traditional worldview. But it is hard to assume that other unhealthy nuances do not exist in every other culture on earth. The ECD BRC Report to TOSC called for cultural sensitivity in the design and implementation of ordination practices, This Report, more than any other single factor, makes me trust that Adventists from surprising corners of the world really want to engage in this biblical-herneneutical process of building a new ordination paradigm. People like these need partners from other parts of the world who will engage constructively in such a biblical-hermeneutical process. They don’t want ready made answers, though these answers may have been fashioned in a vastly different culture over a period of more than 40 years. The ECD BRC called on the denomination to reconsider their use of the term “ordination” because it carries so much historical and cultural baggage.
  2. Dr Darius Jankiewicz, Professor of Historical Theology at the SDA Seminary recently authored a journal article published in the Journal of Adventist Mission Studies Vol 12, No 1 (2016) [available online. In the article he contrasted two groups from antebellum America - those supporting the slave trade and slave ownership and those opposed to it. Interestingly, as Jankiewicz discovered, both groups drew major support for their arguments from the Scriptures. Those in favor of slavery reasoned according to the plain reading of Scripture. Scripture, they said rightly, never condeming the owning or trading of slaves. In fact, the Lord gave much instruction on the compassionate care of slaves. Neither OT or NT state in unmistable terms their opposition to slavery. Those opposed to slavery in antebellum America remained convinced that the principles of love for our neighbour and Bible teachings such as the fact that humanity was made in the image of God, and the purpose of the gospel is to restore humanity to fully reflect that image. In summary, there was a tustle in antebellum America between a plain reading of Scripture and a principle-based interpretative framework for Scripture. Jankiewicz did not suggest this. I will however. The truth is that we face an almost identical tustle today concerning the ordination of women. Hence, there is value in talking across the biblical-hermeneutical divide and educating ourselves and others according to Scripture and plain reason.
  3. Both Jan Barna and Bertil Wiklander, the immediate past president of the Trans-European Division have reconsidered ordination.These gentlemen were the two delegates from the Trans-European Division to TOSC. In their own study they both have seen that what was missing is a biblical theology of ordination based on the Bible as a whole. Wiklander has sought to fill this gap by creating a hermeneutical framework that embraces the whole of the Scriptures as a basis to answer the questions Adventists have concerning ordination. Barna has been very much involved in building this hermeneutical framework. But it is Wiklander who has proceeded beyond this framework in his book “Ordination Reconsidered: The Biblical Vision of Men and Women as Servants of God.” This book moves from a discussion of the mission of God, after sin entered our world, to re-establish his everlasting kingdom on earth through his chosen people, through the Davidic dynasty, through great David’s greater Son, Jesus Christ, and then through His kingdom building whole people of God composed of believer-priests and servant-ministers who have all been called to serve this great mission of God to transform our world and to bring restoration to people everwhere. Wiklander urges his readers to consider just nine principles that arise from his biblical-hermeneutical study. These principles if adopted by Adventists will involve the denominational in refining their paradigm of Adventist leadership, mission, ministry and ordination.

I should stop. But this is exactly why I believe a renewed study of Adventist hermeneutical will help us bridge the current impasse concerning the ordination of women.

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Peter, thank you for the analysis and proposal. I find much merit in it.

I don’t have time to contribute more, but I find the quote just above highly applicable to our current situation. I personally wrestle with the framework for interpretation. Take just one text as an example. I Timothy 2:12. “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”

To me, this text merely describes Paul’s practice. He tells what he does and doesn’t do in his ministry. In other times and other circumstance, he might adopt a different practice. In other times and circumstances, other followers of Jesus might adopt different practices to be effective where they minister.

To others, this text is a timeless command that women should not speak, teach or have authority in the church setting. Period. In other words, any action taken or any precedent set in the first century CE are binding forever.

Two different interpretational approaches. Both interpreters think they are right.

The problem for Adventists with the latter interpretation of the text I mention is that Ellen White spoke incessantly. In writing and speaking from pulpits, she spent decades passing along authoritative messages to men and women alike. It seems so incongruous to me that there are those in Adventism who hold her ministry in high regard will also engage in mental pretzel formation and hair splitting in order to preserve their notions of male headship. Perhaps God called a woman to that prophetic ministry in order to open our minds to that very possibility.

My fear, Peter, is that a serious dialogue about hermeneutics will evidence the same divisions we have now without resolving differences or coming to a common understanding. Perhaps we could get there. It would be very helpful.





Thanks for your thoughtful response! This website needs more of it!

Your fear, Ed, that serious dialogue about hermeneutics will evidence the same divisions we have now without resolving differences or coming to a common understanding is unfounded, I believe. God will not excuse us if we do not try and merely try to enforce somewhat ill-conceived policy. God is not in the business of excusing our laziness here!

Fernando Canale, surely no liberal but a respected theologian in our church from South America, argues for a much deeper understanding and appreciation of our hermeneutical task as Adventists. We must move beyond to a discussion of the theological issues and philosophical principles underlying Adventist interpretation of the Scriptures.

Lest we be discouraged that such a process will be an never-ending task without conclusions may I encourage you that Canale has been able in recent years to give voice to the vision and mission that such a hermeneutical framework project for Adventists.

Canale’s work is, in my mind, beautifully complemented by the work of both Jan Barna and Bertil Wiklander who both appeal to Adventists to begin once again to understand the meaning of the Bible as a whole. Our hermeneutical endeveavors must equip us to view the message of the Bible holistically from the perspective of the Bible’s own central theme. To do this is to view the practical outcome of the important concept of unitas scripturae.

Barna suggests that "Adventist ‘hermeneutical’ DNA [has] several specific aspects: (1) In its strong focus on the unity of Scripture - unitas Scripturae; (2) Inits fundamental belief in Scripture as such - sola scriptura; (3) In its practical exploration of Scripture first over other sources - prima scriptura; (4) In its systematic use of the whole Bible - tota scriptura; (5) In its belief in the possibility of understanding Scripture - claritas Scripturae.

All these are fundamental overtones of Adventist hermeneutics, but they are mostly principal statements that need not only additional theoretical clarification, but crucially more practical outworking." “Ordination of Women and the Two Ways to Unity: Ecclesiastical and Biblical, 13.”

Interestingly, it was Ellen White herself that promoted this style of the study of the Scriptures to see the relationship of its various parts to what she called the “great central thought” of Scripture. She commends this study of the “great whole” of Scripture as the highest study humanity could engage in. (Education, 123-126). In the book Education Ellen White outlines this hermeneutical framework that has rarely been followed by Adventists.

However, Bertil Wiklander in his book Ordination Reconsidered: The Biblical Vision of Men and Women as Servants of God (Bracknell, Berks, UK: Newbold Academic Press, 2015) allows a theology of Adventist leadership and of ordination to rise from a careful consideration of the mission of God/ mission of Israel/ ministry of Christ/ ministry of the church which he regards as the great central thought of Scripture. And from his study he outlines a new paradigm for Adventist leadership and ordination.

The willingness of the ECD to study ordination issues further till they have answers to their questions about the nature of ordination encourage me to believe that people in various corners of the globe is a very positive sign for me. It seems to me that they are anticipating a new paradigm of ordination.

It also appears to me that the Northern Asia Pacific Division, based on Korea, China and Japan would likely embrace such a mission-driven paradigm of ordination.

What we must not do is to imagine that this kind of study will produce even more division than exists now.

Thank you, @petersomerset for your very timely essay.

I would like to highlight what you implied… The question of ordination is just one example for a far bigger issue we could be taught by the reformation. Though you linger on WO with insights you might have gained at Newbold some 30 odd years back (the line of argument certainly sounded familiar), it is NOT just about WO. Protestantism means that we have to be true to our conscience - each one of us - not a “unified church” as a whole. Thus the most recent developments in the Adventist church go back to a pre-reformation stage, when “unitity” or universality (the Greek word is “καθολικός” as in catholic) is to be reached in a subjugated conscience (submission to the majority of a worldwide church) rather than in Christ.

Some people - like @blc - seem to enjoy the backward move. The argument and advertisement for the conspiracy theorist Veith seems to suggest that Luther’s Reformation failed … see what happens, if you allow for free conscience… Therefore, aren’t we lucky that we have a beloved leader who leads us away from all this, forward to a brighter past… Okay - and I always thought we were heirs of the reformation.

This year of Reformation just started indeed is an invitation to become truely protestant.


Thanks Andreas! Yes, it is no accident that my discussion of WO is framed in a much larger context. My talk of religious freedom which includes freedom of conscience is central to my argument and to the logic of a fruitful way forward out of our present impasse.

I remember once travelling with Dr Andrew Mustard and fellow Newbold student, Billy Leonard from Newbold College to Gloucester Church. We were speaking together of the ordination issues and Andrew reminded me that we cannot make this issue to be a conservative-liberal issue. Unfortunately Dr Billy Leonard, then a most promising Irish man of the cloth is now a rising star for Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA and a specialist in peace studies.

Wouldn’t personal psychoanalysis for each delegate be beneficial too? After all, no matter how much learning is provided to each delegate, a person wearing blue glasses will see his world tainted blue notwithstanding what color of light there is.

The Adventist Risk Management should be able to fund this initiative especially with all the financial contributions received from the SECC albeit without its president’s signature.

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Wouldn’t it have been beneficial to psychoanalyze Ellen White? Just sayin’:wink:


It is 40 years too late to say that solving this dilemma cannot be done by vote. And don’t you think it has been studied to death??

The problem is that those who now say that it is illegitimate to do so, campaigned and pushed to convince the whole to adopt their position and vote to approve WO.

How can it possibly be in good conscience to do that and then to say that we can’t vote on this?

What if TW had allowed for a vote, as he did, WO passed, and then he stood up at the end of the meeting and said, I am sorry, I have thought about this, and we can’t vote on it, and therefore I am going to direct the divisions to disallow any ordination for women, and there will be grave consequences for any who do?

You had won the vote! Could he in good conscience get up and say such a thing?

Of course not. He would have to abide by the vote.

In the same way, it is unconscionable for WO advocates to have taken full. and I might add intense, part in the process and then to ignore this vote and continue to do WO. It is against all that is fair and just in governance.

It shows great disrespect for he process and all those who thought you were going to be honest about participation.


Your logic leaves out one glaring fact: The church’s governance systems leaves out representation for 60% plus of its membership. Because males dominate (and women have not been eligible for) membership on voting committees, decision-making bodies, and General Conference delegate distribution, the representative voting that you constantly refer to as a fair process, is hopelessly broken. Until women are eligible to be equal in decision making in administrative and governing processes, your arguments fall flat. To belittle those who in good conscience vote to be gender inclusive with a threat of “grave consequences” for acting according to conscience and the New Testament principles reveals even further the threats now towards honest governance and respect towards women and the process.

This process will be neither fair nor honest until the Church’s governance processes include a wider representation of women, and youth, specifically missing in representation at G.C. 2015.

Just another viewpoint in contrast to your “everyone-had-a-chance-to-be-heard-and-vote-and-we’ve-already-done-this-so-you-are-not-honest-or-respectful” view.



Worthy issues for discussion from Allan Shepherd!

Its 40 years too late to say that solving this dilemma can’t be done by vote!

You are absolutely correct! We have struggled for 40 years to achieve some sort of united path forward on this issue but without success. What does this tell us both, Allan. It tells me that this is the wrong strategy. I think we just should acknowledge the obvious.

I do not wish to achieve WO in future years through a process of attrition, where the voting pattern for and against WO is the reverse of what it is at present. But this is exactly where we are headed if we do not design and implement a new strategy to solve this issue. Actually, I only first really understood this in the aftermath of the vote. Something else I had never really understood up until that time was that people were voting to quash the conscientiously held convictions of others. If religious freedom and freedom of conscience for all means anything, then it demands that the denomination stop from engaging in such voting folly. Voting on such deeply held, conscientiously maintained matters should be abhorrent to every clear thinking Adventist who cherishes freedom of conscience for all.

The Issue of Ordination has been Studied to Death!
Please Allan, not so fast! It is true that within the NAD the issue of WO has been studied and debated ad naussum. However, I do not live in the NAD. I happen to live in the South Pacific Division. Long ago, that part of the world put in place a defacto policy of not discussing WO in any official forums of the church, and also only allowing a very muted and muzzled discussion of WO in the official media of the church. The TOSC process was probably the first time our scholars from all over this widely scattered Division had been asked to discuss it.

It also occurs to me Allan that the Lord has never encouraged his people to stop studying. He encourages them to examine themselves when they discover that they are ever learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

The SPD has not had a unique experience in this regard. People in many divisions of the world have done even less discussion of the issues as the SPD have done. The East-Central Africa Division for example have stated that they wanted more time for study of the issues, as they had never understood the importance of the issues for other world regions. They have noted questions that they wish for clarity on. They have also noted that they are of the opinion that our current ordination practices are inadequate in biblical terms and until such practices are changed to become more biblical adequate they are not interested in extending these practices to women. I accept what they say in full.

Yes, Americans do have a different rights culture from that of Australia. On many fronts including WO and the gun culture Americans have often proved themselves much more aggressive than the laid back Aussie.

Those who now suggest that it is illegitimate to vote on such an issue, are the ones who have campaigned and pushed for others to adopt their position and vote to approve WO. This can’t be done in all good conscience!

Let me be absolutely clear. To me, the vote on the WO issue is illegitimate for a very specific reason. Such a vote is illegitimate because the nature of the issue doesn’t lend itself to being decided in this fashion. When anyone seeks either to vote an issue of conscientiously held convictions up or down, and while such an issue remains as an issue where people hold widely differing conclusions, then the denomination may know that such an issue is not amenable to be decided by a vote. Yes, to be honest, I have been slow in coming to this conclusion. This conclusion was starring me in the face in the immediate aftermath of the 2015 vote.

Rather than talk in general terms, let me be specific as I quote from my own experience in response to your concern here. Allow me to outline what I have done in the last 10 years in support of WO. For a long period I have been of the opinion that I was not in any sense supportive of the status quo where women in leadership ministry were refused the affirmation and the authorization of the denomination as they approached their specific challenges of leading the people of God. Neither was I supportive of the rush to provide women in leadership with affirmation and authorization as their specific tasks were undertaken, without first observing that the model of ordination as practiced by our denomination was not much able to uphold and reinforce an accurate paradigm of leadership.

Therefore I have for many years now sought to identify and implement a third way, where no one who serves in church and congregational leadership is left without the blessing of an appropriate rite. Such a third way has become increasingly clear to me. I have used this particularly blog to promote my ideas and dreams for the church in this regard. I’m not exactly certain of the number of people who read this website but it probably punches above its weight. I had one prominent individual from the GC, known to me personally, congratulate me for what I say on the blog. He encouraged me to keep contributing.

I have also written several letters to the RECORD, the general church paper from the SPD. In 2011, I was awarded the Hanson Award for the best Letter to the Editor in 2011. It was about the ordination issue. Early in June 2015, I wrote an open letter to the Officers of the GC. I also contributed my voice on Facebook in making a 3 minute appeal to others to accept their responsibility to affirm and authorize women as well as men.

I produced a study paper for the SPD Biblical Research Committee about the subject but once again may I repeat myself by saying that the SPD doesn’t not look favourable on open discussion of these issues. The SPD has put these study papers into a book! It was published just a few weeks before the 2015 vote. It has been advertized as for sale in the RECORD. It was produced just in time for the 2015 GC Session. But promotion of its ideas in our Division has been muted at best!

You may judge for themselves whether you really call such work real activism.