Last week the Theology of Ordination Study Committee put together its final report to be presented to the General Conference Executive Committee, then Annual Council.
The committee’s report included three different proposals representing three different positions, with a one-page summary of each longer report.
The first of these proposals, "The Biblical Qualifications View," is so misleading that it led me to think of what might have happened at the Jerusalem Council when the question of the necessity of circumcision was discussed.
It is misleading for the following reasons:
1. In the first paragraph it states that the group’s position retains the scriptural practice of ordaining only qualified men to the office of pastor with the consistent examples of Christ, the apostles, and the Adventist pioneers as well as returning to the biblical practice of ordaining only men.
Such a statement could have been similarly made with regard to the maintenance of slavery. In other words, practices (such as slavery, moderation in drinking alcoholic beverages, and the subordination of women) that may change because of enlightened situations, should be supported by more than scriptural references, since they may simply reflect the situation of their times.
2. The paper states that “Allowing regionally established beliefs or qualifications for ordination would fracture the church, create confusion and disunity, and set a dangerous precedent.” This is misleading because it states as fact what is actually untrue. In some places, ordination is being tried, and the church has not fractured.
Where women have been ordained in unions of the North American Division the church has not divided, even though these conferences and unions have closer relationships to one another than divisions do.
At the Jerusalem Council, the delegates decided to allow the Jews to continue being circumcised and the Gentiles not to be circumcised. This did not lead to a division but instead led to greater unity and growth of the New Testament church. It was unity — not in spite of, but because of, diversity.
3. The paper implies that those opposing the authors’ view are going against the “plain” and “obvious meaning” of Scripture and using “‘higher criticism’” (Ed 227) or other methods of Bible study that gives the reader authority over the divinely inspired text (2 Tim 3:16; Lk 24:27).” This, to me, is the most misleading statement of all. This implies — or even accuses — a person like Angel Rodriguez, former chairman of of the Biblical Research Committee, Richard Davidson, and others who are recognized as leading conservatives but who are in favor of women’s ordination to be accused of using “higher criticism” and exercising “authority over the divinely inspired text.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Such claims should never be made by anyone in discussions of this kind.
Even the most conservative people can be on separate sides of the fence in some issues. To claim themselves to be biblical and the other nonbiblical, to claim to be using the right methodology, and the other higher criticism, to claim simply to accept biblical authority and the other cultural practices and human authority is to say that God is on their side while Satan is on the other side. It is the mentality that assumes that one position is always and absolutely right because God and the Bible is on their side and whoever opposes their side is on the Devil’s side.
At the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, the discussion centered around the question of whether Gentiles can become members of the Christian Church without being circumcised. Those in favor of requiring the circumcision of Gentiles had the Scripture on their side (Gen 17) and yet the apostles voted in favor of not requiring the circumcision of the Gentiles.
Peter spoke in favor of not requiring circumcision by witnessing to the fact that the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit and the cleansing of their hearts without circumcision and that they were saved by grace like we have. God has made no distinction between them and us. Paul and Barnabas also spoke against the requirement of circumcision and James capped it all by citing OT support for Gentiles joining God's church.
To show the misleading nature of the “Biblical Qualifications View,” I am setting forth what might have been proposed at the Jerusalem Council by those favoring the circumcision of the Gentiles before they could be accepted as full-fledged members:
To remain faithful to Scripture, to reaffirm and further promote the work among the Gentiles, we recommend the following for consideration by the Jerusalem Council in full session: (1) Reaffirm and encourage Gentiles whom God has called into membership of the New Israel; (2) Encourage them to continue the study of the Gospel; (3) Promote the development of their spiritual gifts in preparation for full membership; (4) Retain the scriptural practice of circumcision as commanded in Genesis 17: “You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. . . . Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh and everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (5) Conform to the biblical practice of allowing only circumcised men to be members of the covenant.
Support and Other Considerations:
God calls both circumcised and uncircumcised into membership of the New Israel. However, full membership can be granted only to those who are circumcised. However, the uncircumcised may attend the synagogue and are encouraged to live by the rules and regulations of the circumcised. Their attendance at the synagogue is strongly encouraged.
Although both circumcised and uncircumcised are encouraged to attend the synagogue, according to the Bible only the circumcised may become a regular member. This regulation, rather than being based on culture, is grounded by Moses in the requirements for covenant membership (Gen. 17).
Allowing Jews to continue to be circumcised and Gentiles not to be circumcised would fracture the church, create confusion and disunity, and set a dangerous precedent. It would remove an important protection from nonbiblical influences and move the church toward becoming an association of national churches instead of a united world church.
Global church unity can be preserved only by yielding to the “plain” and “obvious meaning” of Scripture (Gen 17), rejecting “higher criticism” or other methods of Bible study that give the reader authority over the divinely inspired text.
(Instead of “uncircumcised,” we could have substituted “slaves.”)
Sakae Kubo, in his long career beginning in the 1940s, taught at the Theological Seminary at Andrews University, served as Dean of the School of Theology at Walla Walla University, as President of Newbold College, and as Vice-President and Academic Dean at Atlantic Union College.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6044