by Monte Sahlin

From ANN, September 24, 2014

In a statement released Wednesday, Pastor Ted Wilson, top officer of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, appealed to members to study for themselves the theology of ordination. In October the denomination's governing body will have its annual meeting at which a decision will be made about what recommendations, if any, are to be made on the topic for the General Conference (GC) Session next summer when delegates from all over the world will assemble in San Antonio, Texas.

Since the 1970s there has been a discussion about whether or not to extend clergy ordination to women serving as pastors for the denomination. Adventists in China began to do so in the 1980s and in 2012 units of the denomination in North America and Europe voted to do so. The statement released this week asked members to pray for the Holy Spirit to guide the proceedings both in October this year and in July next year.

Individuals wishing to understand what the Bible teaches on the issue should start with the "Way Forward" statements produced by the Theology of Ordination Study Committee which has completed an unprecedented, two-year study, said Dr. Artur A. Stele, the GC vice president who chaired the committee and serves as director of the denomination's Biblical Research Institute (BRI).

The three statements from the committee's final report cite Bible texts and passages from the writings of Ellen G. White, one of the denomination's co-founders. Each statement is about three pages in length.

"Look to see how the papers … were based on an understanding of a clear reading of Scripture,” Wilson said. "I would encourage each church member, and certainly each … who will be delegates to the General Conference Session, to prayerfully review those presentations and then ask the Holy Spirit to help them know God’s will.”

Wilson said Adventist leaders are committed to “a very open, fair, and careful process” on the issue of women’s ordination. Wilson added that the most crucial question facing the denomination is not whether women should be ordained but whether church members who disagree with the decision on ordination, whatever it might be, would be willing to set aside their differences to focus on the church’s mission.

Three Different Opinions on Women’s Ordination

The committee on the theology of ordination finished its work in June. It had the goal of finding a consensus on women’s ordination, but it did not. Most of the denomination's world divisions did indicate that they are willing to accept a position that permits other areas to ordain women pastors if they choose to do so. The Bible scholars on the committee split into three different views.

Position 1 emphasizes the qualifications for ordination mentioned in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and the fact that there is no specific record in the Bible of women being ordained as priests, apostles or elders. Those who took this view say that means the Adventist Church has no biblical basis to ordain women.

Position 2 emphasizes the leadership roles of Old and New Testament women such as Deborah, Huldah, and Junia, and the Bible texts in Genesis 1 and 2 and Galatians 3:26-28 that stress all people are equal in God’s eyes. Those who take this view say the biblical principle of equality requires the Adventist Church to ordain women to positions of church leadership wherever possible.

Position 3 attempts to overcome conflict. It supports Position 1 in recognizing a biblical pattern of male leadership in Israel and among early Christians. But it also emphasizes that God made exceptions, such as the case of granting Israel’s desire for a king. Those who take this view say women’s ordination is a matter of church policy and not a moral imperative and, therefore, the Adventist Church should allow each area around the world to decide whether or not to ordain women pastors in their territory.

Wilson urged church members to examine all three positions. “Look at all presentations and understand how God is speaking to you from the Word and your daily walk with Him,” he said.

Although the study committee did not reach a consensus on women’s ordination, the members did approve a consensus statement on the theology of ordination. All the members affirmed that they remain “committed to the message and mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as expressed through the 28 Fundamental Beliefs.”

Stele said church members could influence the discussion in several ways, including by speaking with the delegates who will represent them at the GC Session next summer. Wilson said church members could share their convictions with their pastor and conference president, but he asked that any conversations or letters be respectful and Christ-like.

The position statements, the committee's 127-page final report and all of the study papers by the Bible scholars working with the committee can be downloaded from this official web site:  www.adventistarchives.org/gc-tosc#.VCSK8GPu1et

The Adventist News Network (ANN) is the official news service of the denomination.