by Cindy Tutsch
By Cindy Tutsch, February 10, 2014
“I will lead blind Israel down a new path, guiding them along an unfamiliar way. I will make the darkness bright before them and smooth out the road ahead of them.” (Isaiah 42:16, NLT)
The Seventh-day Adventist church is not the first to debate important issues that impact the global church. Many Protestant churches have studied the issue of women’s ordination in recent years, and many which have brought the issue to a vote have split. I don’t think Adventists need to follow that divisive path. Consider the situation in the early church as described in Acts 15. The “General Conference” of Jerusalem was convened over the issue of whether circumcision should be required for the newly converted Greeks. Many had earlier opposed even their inclusion in ministry (sound familiar?!). Ultimately, after hearing the testimonies of the fruits of the Greek’s ministry (Antioch Christians had “gone ahead” and permitted the Greeks to teach and preach) and after extensive deliberation, the Jerusalem Council was ready for a vote.
We can only imagine the heated dialogue. Should the Greeks be required to be circumcised? Circumcision had been central to Jewish identify for thousands of years. In fact, some doubtless argued that circumcision was an ongoing sign of God’s covenant to be kept for all generations. Some could not conceive of this drastic change of policy and tradition. In the end, it was decided that each area could decide what best promoted the mission for their field. Greeks could be circumcised, or not, as the local circumstances dictated.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could follow the lead of the Jerusalem Council, and allow Divisions to ordain women where it would promote the mission of the church, and where such ordination would not be helpful for the church’s mission, they would not be “required” to ordain women? Acts 15 gives the example of unity in diversity. Splitting the church is not necessary, and is, in fact, tragic.
The Seventh-day Adventist church has been raised up for a specific mission—the propagation of the 3 Angels’ Messages of Revelation 14. God has trusted this Adventist movement to help the world understand that the Law of God is and always will be a revelation of His character of love. This does not make us holier or better or more loved by God than are others! But it does leave us with a specific mission. To me, the important thing in all of this is to allow the Holy Spirit to anoint whom He will for the task He has chosen and to get “all hands on deck” to proclaim the gospel to all the world.
There are parts of the world where there would be less prejudice against this wonderful message if we were not so protective of the old order of things and allowed women who are called to pastoral ministry to receive the same special blessing that men who are called to ministry receive. Young adults are especially sensitive to this inequity. Let us not be stumbling blocks to others in our desperate effort to maintain the “status quo.”
Many Seventh-day Adventists who with all their being love Jesus and the 3 Angels’ Messages believe “To ordain or to not ordain women is an opinion, an interpretation. Theologically conservative Adventist scholars on both sides of the issue find biblical support for their views. It is not an integral doctrine, like the Sabbath, the immortality of the soul, creation, or the sanctuary. It is not part of our fundamental beliefs. There is room for persons who believe in WO, and there is room for those who do not believe in it. Both are good Adventists.
Like the teaching on the human nature of Christ, this issue is not a matter of core doctrine. The Holy Spirit has not yet brought consensus about it, even as we have not found consensus on the nature of Christ. We have said there is room in our church for both views. We should similarly see this issue of ordination not as a point worthy of church division, but a matter of personal opinion. The church should not legislate universally on this.”
If it is true that the issue of women’s ordination is not worthy of splitting the church, and I believe it is true, then the heart of Jesus must have broken at this hallway Q & A at the TOSC: “Rigid all-or-none legislation on this topic would split the church. Do you think it is worth that price?” A: “Yes, it is part of the shaking. God will have a pure church.”
To me, this view does not portray the attitude of our Jesus—redemptive, unifying, Shepherd of all His people. Could it be that God has a third way, a new path? Not a “yes” for women’s ordination to be mandated in all places, not a “no” to women’s ordination in ANY place, but rather, how would the work of God be best promoted?
Many of those who oppose WO fear that were women ordained, this would be the proverbial slippery slope to reinterpreting the Adventist teachings on homosexuality, creation, or even, as I have heard said, the Sabbath! That apprehension seems grounded, however, on fear mongering and not on logic or reason. We have a doctrine—part of the 28, in fact!—on sexuality, creation, and the Sabbath. We do not have a doctrine of ordination. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is far more danger of a “slippery slope” to reinterpretation of Adventist doctrine from those who promote male headship on the basis of the eternal submission of Christ to the Father than there is from the ordination of women! The eternal submission of Jesus denies the full godhead of Jesus. It would make Adventists polytheists and change our whole concept of the atonement from Adventist economical trinitarianism to a Catholic ontological Trinity.
How would the variance practice of WO be “a new path”? Well, what if the Seventh-day Adventist church became among the first Protestant denominations to vote on this issue and not split? What if we could say together, “There’s something more important to us than splitting over women’s ordination, and that is to allow the Spirit to choose the gifts through which the messages of the three angels will be proclaimed?” What if we could be the church who brings full justice to those who have been wronged, the church that does not stop until truth and righteousness prevail throughout the earth, even in distant lands beyond the sea? (See Isaiah 42:1-4.)
What if we ordained women, and in ten years we were not ordaining homosexuals? What if we ordained women, and in ten years we were proclaiming literal Creation more unitedly? What if we ordained women, and the whole earth were lighted with the glory of God in the Loud Cry? Or better yet, What if we ordained women, and God smiled, and said, “At last! My people, no longer blinded by tradition, understand my principles and have finally broken down the last walls of partition. They have pressed together, restored the relational state of Eden, and now they are ready to come home.”
What if we, together, found that “new path”?