by Tapiwa Mushaninga, May 26, 2015: As a lay member in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I too have seen many controversial issues in the church. 10 questions have been posed, challenging those who reject women’s ordination, and I feel I must respond to these questions raised by Pastor Tom Hughes. This issue is important to me because I believe that compromise on how we read the Bible, interpreting it to suit popular culture, will send us down a path away from God. Biblical fidelity must be upheld at all times, as any deviation from it will only lead to ruin eventually.
First Question: Do you believe in the priesthood of all believers, or the Levitical priesthood and Catholic concept of ministry in the New Testament?
I believe the question is based on two erroneous presuppositions. One of the presuppositions is that the Levitical priesthood was replaced by the priesthood of believers, and the second is that the priesthood of believers is a New Testament concept. I disagree entirely with both of these presuppositions, as they are based on extremely faulty theology. The Levitical priesthood was replaced by Christ’s ministry in the sanctuary, as he is the true high priest. This is why the priesthood system ceased to function after the cross, where type met antitype. I also have a problem with the question’s assumption that the priests and Levites were the only ones who exercised religious leadership, when there were other leadership structures that ran parallel to the priesthood. Take the 70 elders of the Israelites who were all men, the judges set up by Moses after heeding the advice of Jethro. Then you have the judges of Israel, i.e., Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, etc. You also have the kings of Israel. An important note would be the fact that the priesthood and these other leadership structures were predominately overseen by men. These structures were basically set up in a time when other religions and cultures had female priests, mediums, monarchs, etc. I do not think that these cultures were more enlightened than the Israelites or had a better understanding of gender equality – or maybe they did?
The second presupposition that I believe is not faithful to the biblical consensus is the belief that the priesthood of believers is a New Testament concept. Its patent falsity is shown by this verse: Exodus 19:6: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
We clearly see here that every Israelite man, woman and child was designated as a priest, and that this privilege extends to all believers in the New Testament, as they are the spiritual Israel. Peter was not formulating a new doctrine when he said that we are a royal priesthood, but was simply reiterating the Old Testament and extending the privilege to gentile believers. I am not sure I can answer this question, as it is based on false premises and is setting up a false choice. I definitely believe in the priesthood of believers but this does not negate the biblical principle of male headship in the church and home.
Second Question: Do you believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit but I also believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible with regards to Church hierarchy and order.
Third Question: Do you believe that the gifts of the Spirit are gender-specific?
I believe this question is elaborating on the second question; I will focus my response here. Again, this question is designed to trap opponents of women’s ordination into a false choice. The question is not and was never about the giftedness of women but rather the capacity in which these gifts may be used in the church. I will be the first to concede that the Bible is silent on the gender-specificity of the gifts of the Holy Spirit; I have no issue there. Where I have an issue is the capacity and the extent to whom and how these gifts are to be used in the church. The Bible makes it abundantly clear the leadership of the church should be male-based, and this is what proponents of women’s ordination deny. Again, the issue is not spiritual gifts but on how gifts are regulated by the Bible with regards to leadership.
Fourth Question: Why are you trying to exclude the gift of pastoring from women?
No one is trying to exclude the gift of pastoring from women per se but the issue I have is with women exercising roles that are clearly disallowed in the Bible. I do not make the rules; I simply live by them. Every single Adventist made a conscious decision to join the Adventist church knowing that it does not ordain female pastors. The exclusion of female ordination is not some new phenomenon but has been with the church since its inception. My question for proponents of ordination is why they consciously joined a church that they knew did not include women in the leadership role of the pastor. I would implore proponents of women’s ordination to redirect this question to God; only He can give a reason why He set up things the way they currently are. In the Bible many beings/people have felt excluded from some sort of ministry they felt they deserved: Lucifer, Eve, Korah, Dathan, etc. I sincerely hope the proponents do not find themselves unwittingly in this list.
Fifth Question: Do you believe women can have the gift of prophecy?
Of course I believe women can have the gift of prophecy! There are many examples of women in the Bible who had the gift of prophecy, e.g., Miriam, Deborah, the daughters of Philip, etc. I feel there has been a conflation of two gifts, namely prophecy and pastoring. They are not the same gift and serve different functions for the church. Ellen White was a prophet but she did not serve in the capacity of a pastor; she did not baptize, conduct weddings or ever refer to herself as a pastor. I feel this question is digressing from the real issue of whether women should serve as pastors, as I see a wave of women and their supporters clamoring not for the office of the prophet but for the office of the pastor. Women have demonstrated that they can be given the gift of prophecy and many other gifts but this does not translate into role interchangeability.
Sixth Question: Why are you contradicting her plain statement endorsing colporteuring as training ground for ministers, including women, to be pastors who wear the yoke of Christ?
I am not sure why this question was asked. It gives the impression that those opposed to women’s ordination deny colporteuring as a training ground for ministers. I believe that would be stretching the truth. It is true that Ellen White suggests that women can be pastors but we need to fully understand the context of what she meant.
Here is an excerpt from an article by White Estate associate director William Fagal in 1989:
“In the above statement about women who should labor in the Gospel ministry, she describes that labor as we would the work of a Bible instructor. She associated this work with care for (visiting) the flock of God. This statement may provide a key to understanding more clearly a statement published a short time later in an article entitled, “The Canvasser a Gospel Worker”:
‘All who desire an opportunity for true ministry, and who will give themselves unreservedly to God, will find in the canvassing work opportunities to speak upon many things pertaining to the future, immortal life. The experience thus gained will be of the greatest value to those who are fitting themselves for the ministry. It is the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit of God that prepares workers, both men and women, to become pastors to the flock of God.’
The remainder of the paragraph describes the character-building benefits of engaging in the canvassing work.
Was Ellen White here calling for women to be appointed pastors of churches, and therefore perhaps even to be ordained to that ministry? There are several indications that she was not.
First of all, when Ellen White wrote about ordained church pastors, she typically referred to them as ministers rather than pastors. In cases in which she used the term pastor she seems to have done so with a specialized meaning in mind, using the term to refer to a person doing personal labor in the nurture of the flock, rather than a particular church office or position.
For example, she wrote about an Elder H who “would tell the poor sheep that he would rather be horsewhipped than visit. He neglected personal labor, so pastoral work was not done in the church and its borders. . . . Had the preacher done the work of a pastor, a much larger number would now be rejoicing in the truth.”1
Speaking of ministers who devote excessive time to reading and writing, she said: “The duties of a pastor are often shamelessly neglected because the minister lacks strength to sacrifice his personal inclinations for seclusion and study. The pastor should visit from house to house among his flock, teaching, conversing, and praying with each family, and looking out for the welfare of their souls.”2
She again expressed her concern for personal care for the flock this way: “Responsibilities must be laid upon the members of the church. The missionary spirit should be awakened as never before, and workers should be appointed as needed, who will act as pastors to the flock, putting forth personal effort to bring the church up to that condition where spiritual life and activity will be seen in all her borders.”3
In each instance, the concept of pastor is associated with the function of personal work for the flock of God, even when it is done by members of the church other than the minister. One who visits families, who teaches and prays with them, who shows personal care and interest, is doing pastoral work.
If Mrs. White intended to open the regular pastoral ministry to women, we might well expect her to give strong emphasis to the point rather than simply mentioning it as an aside in an article focusing on the canvassing work. Also in volume 6 of the Testimonies we find an article entitled, “Women to Be Gospel Workers.”4 Its focus also is on personal work in families and with other women, with no mention of the workers being ordained ministers.
The same volume also includes a chapter entitled “Young Men in the Ministry,” in which, after saying that the Lord calls for more ministers to labor in His vineyard, she adds, “God calls for you, young men. He calls for whole armies of young men.”5 18 The whole chapter is a call for men to enter the ministry, with no mention of women doing so. The same sort of gender-specific call for the ministry of men also appears in the chapter The Need of Educational Reform.6 It seems only natural to expect these articles to urge women also to join the ranks of ministers if Mrs. White believed that women canvassers were preparing for ordination.
It seems that Mrs. White did not envision men and women doing the same work of ministry. Rather, she called for women especially to undertake a personal ministry of visitation and instruction in the home. Such a work was necessary, important work, and was in the line of ministry, though often neglected by the men. The work of these women would complement rather than duplicate the regular ministry of the men.
And there is no call for ordination connected with it.”
Seventh Question: Why are you being so harsh, unkind and attacking in your language and demeanor?
I do not believe that this behavior is representative of all the opponents of women’s ordination, and I do not feel that proponents are exempt from this accusation either. I have encountered many proponents of women’s ordination who have been mean, elitist and even racist but I recognize that they are not representative of the larger group and thus I would also welcome the same courtesy from those who disagree with me/us on women’s ordination. I do, however, agree that we should converse in a polite manner with the Holy Spirit aiding us.
Eighth Question: Why do you deny the truth of Romans chapter 16?
I will not give an in-depth Bible study of Romans 16, but I will focus on whether Junia was an apostle. here is a major debate in theological circles pertaining to the gender of Junia/Junias. There is currently no consensus as to whether the person aforementioned is in fact male or female. There is also a debate on whether verse 7 indicates the person was highly regarded by apostles or was a prominent apostle, although the majority of scholars believe it means the latter. Then there is the context of Roman 16 itself.
At least four inferences drawn from Romans 16 militate against the understanding that Junia/Junias was an authoritative apostle, whether man or woman. First, Andronicus and Junia/Junias are buried amidst a number of greetings that Paul extends to members of the Roman church. It seems odd and interesting that Paul would not refer to two apostles until well into his greetings; one would think that they would be more prominent among the individuals mentioned. The fact that he mentions Phoebe, Prisca and Aquila, and others first suggests that Andronicus and Junia/Junias were not as prominent in his mind. Second, Andronicus and Junia/Junias do not receive the extravagant praise that these others, such as Phoebe, Prisca and Aquila, do. Why would two prominent apostles be given less praise? Third, if we are to understand the gender of Junia/Junias to be feminine, the fact that she is mentioned second to Andronicus suggests that she may have been less prominent than he was (cf. the order in v. 3, where Prisca is mentioned first). The fact that Junia/Junias is mentioned second suggests a subordinate role, or at least one of less prominence. Finally, the fact that Paul refers to the “apostles” in the third person suggests that he was not himself among this group. This means that he was either referring to the first group listed above, the Twelve, or to the third group. Since the former is not possible, it must be the latter. All of this evidence suggests that Andronicus and Junia/Junias were not among the first or second groups called “apostles,” but rather among the third group, the “messengers.” As such, Paul was not using the term in a technical, distinctly Christian way, but rather generally, as it was used in the culture at large. Are we to believe that Paul here thinks of Andronicus and Junia/Junias as standing out amidst the company of Peter, James, John, the rest of the Twelve and, not least of all, Paul himself? I think this highly unlikely; Paul is using the word ‘apostle’ in a non-technical sense here.
In conclusion, I do not believe that Romans 16 gives the impression that Junia/Junias were prominent among the apostles. We have to wonder how some can assert that Andronicus and Junia/Junias were prominent, authoritative apostles, when they never appear again in any other verse in Scripture. Our verse says that they were Christians before Paul was, and yet we have not the slightest hint of them in Acts or anywhere else in the New Testament.
Ninth Question: the Bible clearly teaches that the gift of pastoring and the gift of elder are the same office. These are gifts of the Spirit and a calling of God. Why do you deny they are the same gift?
This is a good question and it underscores the importance of not compromising on principle. I agree that they are the same gift, and here in Africa we treat them as the same gift, so we do not have female elders or female pastors. I would be interested to find out how females in other parts of the world became ordained elders.
Tenth Question: we have allowed women to teach and minister as elders for decades in the Seventh-day Adventist church. Why are you trying to deny this gift and remove them from office and stop their ministry?
As I stated earlier, we are only seeking to remain faithful to the Bible and we are not arbitrarily looking to “purge” the clergy of women. Sometimes we do not fully understand why God asks us to do certain things or to do them in certain ways. We should always seek to ask God to empower us to do His will regardless of how uncomfortable, unpalatable it may seem. God never calls people contrary to His Word, Korah and company had to learn this the hard way. It is my wish that women fulfil their calling but according to God’s word.
The issue of women’s ordination has a much bigger issue at stake; i.e., how we read the Bible. We should not allow sentiment, emotion, human opinion, or vagaries of personal experience to determine our policy; only the Word of God. A misguided sense of equality can have unintended and devastating consequences on the church and I am sure we all want what is best for the church. Let us not be like Israel, who wanted a leadership structure like that of other cultures and religions. God took it as a rejection of himself. Let us remain people of the book and not people of popular culture or human-based morality.
Tapiwa Mushaninga is a member of the Avondale Seventh-day Adventist Church in Harae, Zimbabwe, where he is employed as a project manager. He has a university Honors Degree, although it is not in Biblical studies or Biblical languages.
1Manuscript Releases, vol. 9, pp. 343f.
2Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 266.
3Gospel Workers, p. 337.
4Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 114-118.
5Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 411.
6Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, pp. 126-140.