by Adventist Today News Team
For the fourth time in two weeks an executive committee within the Seventh-day Adventist Church voted yesterday (March 22) to move the denomination toward the ordination of women who serve in pastoral ministry. The action taken sounds like a small, even bureaucratic step. “To remove the term ‘Ordained-Commissioned’ and replace it with the term ‘Ordained’ on all ministerial credentials, regardless of the gender of the credential holder.”
In fact, it moves over the line from urging higher levels of the denomination to resolve the concern for denying full pastoral status to women into taking action. Since its beginnings the Adventist denomination has first issued a “Ministerial License” to a person entering pastoral ministry and then had a service with the “laying on of hands” in prayer after about five years, and after that giving the individual a “Ministerial Credential.” The Ministerial License has generally been seen as a first step toward ordination to the gospel ministry.
Starting in the 1880s, women working as ministers and evangelists were issued the Ministerial License. At least one woman—Ellen G. White, a cofounder of the denomination—was repeatedly issued the Ministerial Credential over several decades. These facts are clearly documented in the annual Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook.
After 1990 when a study commission was unable to come to a decision on whether the Bible permits or prohibits the ordination of women, denominational leaders decided to end the practice of issuing the Ministerial License to women clergy and introduced a new category of “Commissioned Minister.” This new category was designed to be parallel to the ordained minister in order to treat women in ministry with equality to men.
Leading up to the 2005 General Conference Session there was discussion among church administrators about another attempt to resolve the issue. When a decision was made to again set it aside, a number of local conferences in at least two regions of North America began the practice of issuing an “Ordained-Commissioned Minister Credential.” The Southeastern California Conference was one of those conferences.
The governing body of this conference has now voted to take the step of removing what some observers have called a “half way” measure and simply issue the Ordained Minister Credential to all its pastors, including the women. “The committee believes this step will enable all pastors to better fulfill the conference’s mission statement, which is the expansion of God’s kingdom through preaching, teaching, publishing and living of the everlasting gospel throughout the cross-cultural communities of its territory,” said a statement issued by Enno Mueller, interim communication director.
The Southeastern California Conference includes five counties encompassing the major metropolitan areas of San Diego, San Bernardino and Riverside. It has more than 70,000 members in 156 local churches and is home to a number of major Adventist institutions. More than 10 women are employed as pastors in the conference. Since the 1980s, it has repeatedly asked the General Conference to provide for equity between men and women in ministry.
“This may create the kind of confrontation that I have hoped and prayed to avoid,” a retired denominational leader told Adventist Today. Another source pointed out that the General Conference has permitted the Adventist Church in China to move ahead with the ordination of women. In 1995 when a number of local churches ordained women serving as pastors, the North American Division officers sidestepped a confrontation by taking the position that a local church only has authority to ordain local elders, so this must be what these churches had done. Under the General Conference Working Policy the authority to authorize ordination belongs to union conferences, although local conferences issue the actual credentials.