Women’s Ordination: Keeping Things in Perspective

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is currently engaged in a global discussion about the practice and parameters of women’s ordination. This discussion began in Battle Creek, Michigan in 1881 at the General Conference Session.1 In October 2018, in Battle Creek, the Annual Council of the General Conference Administrative Committee met to discuss various issues, including a document2 that addressed the need for compliance to the GC’s voted actions.

Union and Division leaders from around the world gave stirring speeches for and against the proposed document. The Danish Union president even shaved off half his bushy beard to make a point about compliance and non-compliance! However the debate was not limited to our church representatives at Battle Creek. Discussions on social media and other online forums have revealed robust, vigorous, and diverse opinions, with many perceiving the compliance document to be an attack on the movement towards Women’s Ordination.

Recently the proponents of each view have begun to take increasingly antagonistic positions towards each other. Church leaders and church members suddenly have black-and-white opinions on this issue. “You are either with me, or against me” is the reverberating battle cry.3 In response, the General Conference has just made the unprecedented move of producing a video which calls all church members to respect and submit to the decisions made by the “church family.”4

Church members and leaders should always be able to share their thoughts and opinions on any topic. No individual has a monopoly on the truth, and we should all be willing to listen and learn from the experience and expertise of others. While some views may not align with ours, we should never let these views become so divisive among us that we begin to ridicule and belittle others, or tell them to submit to our views.

As Adventists, we have one magnificently beautiful truth that we can all rally around: The Word of God. Flowing majestically out of this, are our 28 Fundamental Beliefs that all reveal beautiful pictures of God and His love for humanity. I see the Word of God as a sparkling diamond, and our Fundamental Beliefs as shimmering sides of this diamond — they are all connected, and all reflect the central reality that “God is love.”5

Women’s Ordination is not a Fundamental Belief of the Adventist Church. It is not a core teaching of our church, and neither is it a core teaching of the Bible. If you search the Scriptures, you won’t find a “thus says the Lord” for or against Women’s Ordination. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one for ordination in general, in the form we use it today. As this 137-year-old debate has shown, there are a variety of views that can be formed based on the Scriptures. Some conclude that the Bible firmly teaches that women cannot be ordained. Others conclude that women can be ordained.

It would seem that the issue of Women’s Ordination is going to polarize and divide the Adventist Church. But before extreme positions are taken, and comments are made that cannot be withdrawn, I would like to call all Adventists to keep things in perspective.

Women pastors are nothing new. Between 1878 and 1915 there were 30 Adventist women besides Ellen White who were “licensed to preach.”6

Since then, the numbers of female pastors around the world continued to increase, and in 1989, the General Conference Annual Council voted to “commission” female pastors. This commissioning gave them the official authority to lead a local church, which among other things involves:

• Preaching, teaching, giving Bible studies, running Sabbath School classes.

• Running board meetings, business meetings, and other church meetings.

• Performing baby dedications, baptisms, marriages, anointings, and funerals.

Commissioning also “qualified” women pastors to serve as Departmental leaders at Conference, Union, and Division levels.

Since 1989, female pastors have been able to do 99% of the tasks that a male pastor does as a local church pastor. Despite the current debate about Women’s Ordination, the authority to do the tasks listed above has not changed. It is vitally important that we recognize this. In recent years, some people have tried to rewind the clock and argue whether women should even be pastors. If this is their position, then I suggest that they are out of compliance with the worldwide Adventist Church which approved the commissioning of female pastors 29 years ago!

The current discussion is not whether women can be pastors. It’s about whether women can be “ordained” pastors. In addition to the tasks listed above, an ordained pastor can:

1. Sign the paperwork to form a new church.

2. Sign the paperwork to unite two (or more) churches into a single church.

3. Sign the paperwork to close a church.

4. Ordain church elders or deacons.

5. Be employed as a Conference, Union, Division, or GC president.

This is what the current debate is over!

I personally don’t know any pastor — male or female — who joined the Gospel ministry with the sole purpose of doing any of these things! Every pastor I know joined the ministry because 1) God called them to be a pastor, and 2) they have a burning desire to use their God-given abilities to win others to Christ. If any individual joined the ministry specifically to perform one of those five duties, I would be the first to question their suitability for the role. But I am yet to find any pastor for which this is true.

The big question is: Should women be able to perform those additional duties? Surely it’s a matter of social justice! Of equality! Of fairness!

What do you think?

Ultimately what matters is that you have used your freedom of choice and your God-given talent and ability to study the issue for yourself, and come to a considered conclusion. Don’t give up your freedom to prayerfully think, study, wrestle with ideas, and make decisions for yourself. Don’t give in to the “popular” view held by those in your faith community. And certainly don’t give in to whoever shouts the loudest or makes the latest YouTube video.

Use your freedom of choice to make your own decision. And once you have made your decision, continue to respect the decisions of others. All of our thoughts and opinions develop and mature over time. Perhaps we can be more patient with others who are still wrestling with these ideas, and continue to reflect on how we can share the Gospel truths with them in increasingly relevant ways. I often wonder if we shared the Sabbath in the same way that we shared our thoughts on Women’s Ordination, if anyone would become Sabbath-keepers! Instead, may we all speak the truth in love, and speak in ways that build up the body of Christ.7

Finally, to all the members of our Adventist Church family: There is not a single good reason for our church to be divided over the current debate. We serve an incredible God who died to save us all. His infinite love extends to every individual, even those you disagree with. May God’s love fill your heart so that when you stand in heaven next to someone you bitterly disagreed with on earth, you can still smile, and be amazed that God saved a sinner just like you.

Notes & References:

Jared Martin holds degrees in Construction Management and Ministry & Theology. He currently works as an Associate Pastor at Mt Gravatt SDA Church and Brisbane Fijian SDA Church in the South Queensland Conference, Australia. In his spare time, Jared helps develop a Sabbath School app for Apple and Android which is available in 37 languages: https://sabbath-school.adventech.io/

Photo by Naassom Azevedo on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9249



Woman are capable to do the 6 things listed for ordination without question. It will be totally impossible to bring the various aspects of the church into compliance.

This whole issue is a “ storm in a teacup “

The additional prerogatives that ordained ministers have over “commissioned “ clergy are so minor,the whole issue is one of SEMANTICS.

Could the English professors at our universities come up with some substitute word for “ordained “. Then let us jettison the term “ordained “ and apply the new NEUTRAL word universally, unequivocally and without regard to gender, to ALL who wish to be ministers in Adventism.

Actually there is one MAJOR difference between “commissioned “ ministers and those who are ordained — the former have a “glass ceiling “ that permanently hinders advancement to any level above that of being a local church pastor.

The UNITED METHODIST CHURCH has been ordaining their clergywomen since 1956.

The Methodist church I now attend, not only has.a senior women pastor, but their weekly worship bulletin lists their conference president as a clergywomen as well as their “bishop” — comparable,to our union conference president.

Clearly the Methodists have demolished that “glass ceiling “ , allowing those with the most competence, to rise like cream in a milk jug, to fill roles of competence and leadership.

We need to change the old adage : MAY THE BEST MAN WIN ,


I agree 100%. Now we have to (only) find a way to make Ted Wilson and his “associates” to understand it. His obsession with the anti-WO view is consuming the GC’s staff’s time and the Church’s resources. Just TOSC was a waste of $1mi because it didn’t reach the conclusion TW expected/wanted.

No, they are NOT going to understand this. They are obsessed with it. The only solution is “Repeal & Replace” the whole team. Fast!!!


And the result? Women are totally excluded from decision-making at conference, union, division levels and the GC levels where ordination is required for election.

What a loss to our church!


Great analysis of the current situation Jared - glad to be a neighbor in ministry. If all adopted the attitude you are propounding there would truly be a unity of Spirit justaposed to the uniformity currently demanded


I agree with your description of the entrenchment we’re seeing on this issue from both sides, but I’m far less optimistic about resolving it. The problem, I think, can be found in these two quotes.

No individual has a monopoly on the truth, and we should all be willing to listen and learn from the experience and expertise of others.

Ultimately what matters is that you have used your freedom of choice and your God-given talent and ability to study the issue for yourself, and come to a considered conclusion.

In my opinion both of these statements are antithetical to the predominent trends in Adventist culture, and have been for at least a few generations. Adventist theology clearly positions the church as the special chosen people of God, with a unique message and truth to share with the world.

There’s a reason SDAs are one of the few Protestant denominations to proselytize to other Christians. In common practice, and perhaps even in explicit theological terms, Adventists DO believe they have a monopoly on the truth. Adventists believe they have a special prophet with a unique message, a unique calling to the three angel’s message, a special revelation about the investigative judgment and a unique and important commitment to the Sabbath. Those unique beliefs set Adventists apart, and more than that, make Adventists feel SUPERIOR and chosen of God.

At times I hear liberal Adventists talk about common beliefs with other denominations, but it’s the exception to the rule in my experience. Far more often (and in every evangelistic meeting ever held) the focus is on the unique beliefs of Adventism. In other words, Adventists actually take pride in emphasizing the differences in belief, rather than the common points. Of course, anyone who understands what it takes to have unity and harmony in complex groups of individuals will know that unity demands an emphasis on what we can agree on, not what makes us unique or different. Especially when many seem to believe that rejection of these unique beliefs may actually keep people out of the kingdom. This means that not only do Adventists see themselves as unique, but also fundamentally morally superior and closer to the will of God.

I grew up in the church feeling intellectually and doctrinaly superior to all other Christians. And if others disagreed with my views, I did not respect their “freedom of choice and God-given ability to study” issues for themselves. Instead, I pitied them for how mired they were in error, and tried to get them to see the REAL truth that Adventists could offer. Perhaps my experience was unique or unusual, but I don’t think so.

This trend toward dogmatism, insular closed-mindedness and uncritical elitism seems to be obvious if we step back and take a thoughtful look at SDA habits and culture. With that background and culture, should any of this conflict be surprising? Of course both sides tend to believe they are being led by the Holy Spirit and the other side is under the influence of the Devil, that’s exactly the paradigm set up by SDA theology. Few members, outside of communities like Spectrum, seem ready and willing to consider the real possibility that they could be wrong, or that God could reveal new “present truth” to his people. The roots of this schism are deep. I don’t think the dogmatism and judgmental elitism is going anywhere soon. It’s in the DNA.


I would raise that the reason consensus cannot be reached in regard to handling the issue of WO (as opposed to consensus on the issue of WO itself) is because there is a much bigger problem that has been around for a long time. And that is the ‘culture’ of/within Adventism as an institution/organisation that has been around since at least the 1880’s.

I recall an earlier article that suggested that Eschatology influences Methodology. I would broaden this to Theology influences Methodology. You may think I am being too strong when I say that Adventism, as a denomination/organisation, essentially holds to a view of God who, at the end of the day, will allegedly punish/destroy all those who exercise their God-given freedom to disagree with Him and His ways. And so does most of Christianity I might ad.

Belief in this view (and even in much milder versions of this view that nevertheless share the same core tenet) cultivates and supports a culture where one side is justified in taking an ‘authoritarian’ stance against the other.

Now what I have said could be easily misperceived. I am not advocating for anarchy or that all ‘truths’ are equal. I am trying to raise awareness of the option of an alternative culture that actually reflects God’s ways as opposed to Satan’s ways (of coercion that he has worked tirelessly to misportray as being God’s ways).

I would propose that God actually does leave each of us free, at the end of the day, to choose our choice and then lets reality take its course rather than imposing punishment/destruction of those who are ‘wrong’. Have a look at Rm 1: 18, 24,26,28 as one example expressing this principle.

Essentially, I believe that God knows of the ‘Gamaliel principle’ embedded within reality - that there is a way of being and living that will lead to life, and a way of being and living that will lead to death. That is why God’s overarching way is to leave the wheat and tares together until the end where each will be discerned by its manifested by character and will ‘reap’ its inherent, rather than imposed, outcomes. I believe there is a reason for the specific use of the word “perish” in texts such as Jn 3:16,17 and 2 Pet 3:9. Perishing has a different connotation to being destroyed. The former conveys the connotation (which is in the Greek as a valid interpretation option) of the source of ‘destruction’ arising solely and sufficiently from within, whereas the latter conveys the connotation that destruction is initiated from without and would not have otherwise occurred.

This is related to Adventism having become established on a narrow conception of ‘right doctrine’ as mental ascent rather than lived out in life.

Put the 2 factors together and you have an culture/environment where being ‘doctrinally right’ is legitimately backed up by use of coercive methods against those deemed to be ‘doctrinally wrong’. An alternative is a culture where there is diversity of ideas being explored because critical thinking is encouraged (where people are nurtured in the development of the power invested in them by The Creator, the power “…to be thinkers and not mere reflectors of other men’s thoughts…”, EGW Education pg 17) and ‘doctrine’ is more about manifesting Christlike character than mere mental ascent.

Just my observations and reflections…

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Although I’m certain that this is not the intention of its author, this article runs the risk of trivializing the theological issues, the important differences in what ordained and not ordained pastors can do and the pure-hearted people on all sides of this debate who have come to prayerful, studied and unalterable positions.

I believe that the way forward is not to make these issues and people less important but to make them more so.

We need to face the fact that on this matter (1) we differ deeply, widely and unalterably; (2) neither side has enough influence to conclude the matter in its favor; (3) neither side is going to leave; (4) neither side should leave and (5) it is structurally impossible to “split” this denomination.

We are warring ecclesiastical conjoined twins.

There is a solution that has swiftly come to mind with every youngster who has asked me about this. It is to ordain women where this would be helpful and not ordain them where it wouldn’t.

This is precisely where we will land up. The only question is how long it will take us to get there and how many casualties there will be along the way.

This is difficult because some believe that in God’s good time their convictions will become the entire denomination’s and that this will be a part of its spiritual maturation.

This is not going to happen.

The number of SDAs around the world and in the General Conference who are this extreme is not large. The “sensible middle” is taking over and it is only a matter of time, and not very much of it, before this issue will be as far behind us as are the formerly intense debates about the “King of the North.”

Big of good cheer! My father often said that the last 10% of a project often takes as much time and effort as the first 90%. He was right and this is where we are. Don’t falter with the end so close in sight!


Where there any women performing baptisms, marriages, and anointing during EGW days in the SDA church?

After reading this, I can conclude that the biggest problem we have as Sda, is not women’s ordination. The problem is us willing to guide ourselves in stead of letting the Holy Spirit to do His work in us. I’m not good in terminology, but the Bible clarifies that the pastorship is a gift from God(Ephesians 4:11), and not something earned. So if God declares you Pastor, what kind of ordination do you need? The men made pastors will always differ until they submit themselves to Christ to be leaded. In the same way, I would like to know the difference between the biblical pastor and the biblical elder of the church. Becouse in 1 Timothy, the Bible tells us that, contrary to the pastor, someone may desire to be a bishop and they list the conditions the desiring person has to fulfill. Among them, the bishop must be a husband of one wife, so excluding the women to the eldership of the church. Contrary to this, it is unbiblical. This might be the Genesis of the conflict, not cultural. Just my view

Outstanding context here!

So the statement that needs to be voted up or down at the 2019 Annual Council is this:

In light of the 1989 Annual Council having authorized the commissioning of women as pastors worldwide, and that women have been serving as pastors in full for 30 years, we now affirm that commissioned pastors world wide will hence forth be authorized to take also serve in these specific denominational roles:

  1. Sign the paperwork to form a new church.

  2. Sign the paperwork to unite two (or more) churches into a single church.

  3. Sign the paperwork to close a church.

  4. Appoint by ordination church elders or deacons.

  5. Accept a constituency’s request that they serve as a Conference, Union, Division, or GC president.

This will, finally, make ordination the symbolic question it has always been. Perhaps then, it will be able to be answered in the affirmative. Hopefully.


Thank you @bill. Execellent Motion. Only suggest that I might add to that is each (1-5) roles are line-item voted. This way it narrows down the offending “job” and prevents voting against the motion if the voter is against one job description.

For example, was the most recent motion at GC in session about
A) moving from the Union to the GC divisions the responsibility of ordination or
B) Women’s ordination or
C) Confuse and Delay because the motion was baffling or
D) A and B
E) A and C
F) B and C
G) None of the above

Simple Line-item motions are the best option since Seventh-Day Adventists are flummoxed when it comes to pork-barrel concepts.

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Debate will solve nothing when the mind and heart are convinced of their position. Just two points.The Lord used women in high places in the Old Testament. Commissioning and ordination are just semantics with nonsensical limitations in male turf.The main question is Where is the Gospel in all thisnonsense?


So maybe the better question is why does any one person have those abilities (other than President, Please God lets only have one of those) In fact all of those things would be better done by the direction of the church board. End all this pastor authority via ordination nonsense. Give the church back to the people and stop following in the Roman Catholic tradition. Change this simple thing and you will change the whole bureaucratic structure of the denomination. Give women the ability to do those things and we really don’t change anything at all other than fulfilling a hazy notion of so called social justice!


Not at all what happened. This was a well planned out incident. See: https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/local/blogs/moonblog/2015/11/29/bus-boycott-took-planning-smarts/76456904/

From the article:
“The Boycott didn’t happen by accident,” legendary civil rights attorney Fred Gray said during a recent interview. “It took meticulous planning and thought. It wasn’t something that came together overnight. It took discipline and smart people.”

Gray was one of the primary figures in that planning, and he served as Parks’ attorney after her arrest. The reality, Gray said, was that civil rights leaders, led by the local chapter of the NAACP, were looking for a place to make the most noise with a peaceful protest.

But to generate a successful stand against the Jim Crow laws that governed the deep South at the time, and to produce results when facing long odds and unrelenting intimidation, there would need to be a volatile situation. There would need to be resolution and anger."

Actual history is not pedantry. Neither is the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand just one bullet fired by a Serb!

Thought this might be applicable to the conversation


Commissioning has other differences of time and scope. You are only commissioned for a certain place and job New place or job requires new commission.

If you take into consideration fb 14 and the resistance by many leading antiWO voices to all women in any leadership ministry, you might understand why i consider this answer is overly simplistic. I could go on and on but it has all been said before.

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