Read part 1 here.

by Dan Appel

“Change is the only constant.  What matters is whether it is the right change, at the right time, in the right way.”

Now that we have a practical model for evaluating any change that is proposed in the Church, let’s see how it works applied to a real life change that is under discussion, often heated and divisive, which is roiling Adventism around the world,, to see if the model “works” in the real world.

With this model we have a basis for determining if a given change is good or bad, what is essential and what is not. We can agree on what constitutes the essentials and what should never change and what can and should be changed for the good of the body of Christ,  the comfort of his people or our effectiveness in reaching others. And with this model we have a basis for determining if a given change is good or bad and what is essential and what is not. We can agree on what constitutes the essentials and what should never change and what can and should be changed for the good of the body of Christ,  the comfort of his people or our effectiveness in reaching others. With just a little thought any proposed idea or change can be placed in the appropriate area of the chart.

What happens when we apply what we have learned to the topic of the ordination of women.  Maybe the model can inform people of all persuasions how to approach the question and help us to establish common ground for understanding what the real issues are.

I know of virtually no one who would say that ordination, much less the gender of who is ordained, is one of the core values of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It has never been. The current controversy over the ordination of women is not based on any longstanding teaching, major, minor or peripheral, of the Church.  In fact, one searches in vain for a published stand on the subject by the Church until the 1960s – unless it would be the results of the several studies commissioned to study the subject at various of the earlier stages of our history and which, when they recommended that women be ordained, or at least allowed to be ordained, were “deep sixed” or shelved and never heard of again until the recent resurgence of interest in the subject. As a matter of ecclesiological practice in our church It is at best a recent addition by some without any historical precedent who are looking, stretching some would say, for some way to impose their will on the church.

Whether it is a tradition or a method is open to debate, but it has aspects of both.  In parts of the world where it was expedient to ordain women, China and Finland during WWII come to mind, we did.  In most of Africa, Asia, Mediterranean Europe and South America where it was culturally anathema it was avoided at all costs. And in North America it was recommended a number of times through our existence by the appropriate General Conference committees then stone-walled by those in the hierarchy who had a problem with it.  Even the woman who most Adventists consider a prophet and one of two or three primary founders of our church was listed as being an ordained pastor, but apparently felt that her ordination from God was sufficient and superseded any ceremony mere mortals might conduct, and to the best of our knowledge never formally had the hands of ordination by humans laid on her head.

I know of virtually no one who would say that ordination, much less the gender of who is ordained, is one of the core values of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It has never been. The current controversy over the ordination of women is not based on any longstanding teaching, major, minor or peripheral, of the Church.

So, if the issue of ordination isn’t a core value of the Seventh-day Adventist Church or even one of it’s traditional teachings until some have elevated it to that status in the past few years, what is so important about this subject that some in the higher echelons of our church’s leadership are willing to risk splitting the church by dissolving Union Conferences, to threaten multiple times administrators at all levels of the church who refused to support their efforts to block the idea of allowing administrative units of the world church to decide whether or not to ordain women in their area of influence, and to subvert voting procedures at the recent General Conference Session to prevent it from happening and then lie about it?

The answer lies in a one of the most basic and fundamental aspects of human character.

The Underlying Issue in the Debate About Ordination of Women

Church history provides us an example that can help us see through the smoke and mirrors and determine what is really going on.

Most, if not all of the major controversies in the history of the Church were about power and control, about the efforts of one group to dominate another. At the same time, most were clothed in religious language because, as mentioned above,  it just doesn’t seem that spiritual to be fighting over power.  For instance, the Crusades were fought under the banner of the Cross, but were in reality wars for control of the Holy Land. The decimation of the Church of the East by the Western Roman Church, although couched in terms of fighting various heresies, were in reality the Western Church’s attempts to destroy any resistance to its preeminence.  The same could be said of most of the smaller battles in the Church.  And, it would apply to most of the battles that rend denominations, Conferences and local congregations.

The real issue dividing the Adventist Church right now is not over values or even long standing teaching as our chart readily reveals.  It is all about power and control!

Once one realizes that behind all of the religious jargon the issue is not a Biblical one, you realize that different tactics are necessary for dealing with the issue.

What we have is not a theological discussion.  We are in the midst of a “power encounter” by a group who feel that the Church, to one degree or another, is in or headed for apostasy and who feel that it is there duty to bring it to heel.  Therefore, all of the most powerful religious arguments in favor of the ordination of women will have little or no effect – because they miss the point.  The battle is not over ordination – that is just the excuse to exercise what Church founder Ellen White described as “Kingly Power.”

Tragically, if the current President of the General Conference and his allies are victorious, it will be a pyrrhic victory because they will have laid the foundation for the destruction of the Church they lead.  Just as Shakespeare’s Macbeth destroyed himself and those around him, so the current General Conference president’s lust to exercise control and to force uniformity and conformity in place of unity is sowing the seeds of a great tragedy.

The American psychologist, William Glasser, established that the strongest human drive is the drive to control – our immediate environment, others and circumstances, so that we feel safe or powerful.  

As a corollary he showed that control destroys relationships in ways nothing else can – a fact visibly being demonstrated in churches and the structure of the church around the world.  The relationships that form the fabric of the church are being rent and the seeds of its fellowship are being destroyed.  The unity Jesus prayed for his Church in John 17 is being demolished in the current drive for uniformity.

So, how are we to deal with the current situation.

  1. By beholding, it is extremely difficult not to become changed ourselves.

One of the hardest realizations we who are frustrated almost beyond belief by what is currently happening in our church must come to is that by beholding, we are in grave danger of becoming no better than those we oppose.  As Friedrich Nietzsche the German philosopher said it so well, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

Jesus in Luke 6:41,  urged us to get our priorities right before we begin to deal with this difficult situation. “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye, he said, “when you have a log in your own?  How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”  The American musician, Eric Clapton summarized what he said when he sang, “Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself.”

We must refuse to sink to the level of our opponents – we cannot make our position any greater attempting to make our opponents smaller by using the methods and means they are inclined to use. We must ask ourselves the honest questions about our own attitudes and methods before we dare to look at others.

  1.  We must resist the siren call of theological debate and deal with the actual issues.

The American philosopher Henry David Thoreau is quoted as saying, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”  The most basic principle used by magicians is to get you to look at, but not to see, what is happening – to get you to focus on one thing when what is really happening is another.

All too often in the current debate over the ordination of women, we have been drawn into looking at what appears to be a theological discussion and then to believe that if we can just somehow show those who oppose it their error they will join us.  In doing so, we have been fighting the wrong battles.  Sun Tsu, the Chinese general, in his treatise “The Art of War” counseled that you have to know what the battle is about before you can effectively fight it.  “Victorious warriors win first,” he wrote, “and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”  In another place he wrote, “And therefore those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him.”

Whether it is in the local church, in the jockeying for position between various factions in the larger church or in the machinations by the current leadership in the General Conference, the underlying issue is ecclesiastical, it is all about  power and control and whether a particular group can exert their dominance over the thinking, position and policies of the Adventist Church.

Ellen White wrote much of the tendency of those in the highest echelons of our church to begin to amass “Kingly Power” and to lord it over others.  That is the real battlefield in our current war and it is only there, recognizing the lay of the land and carrying out our battles accordingly that what is right will triumph.

Which means that if the Church is to survive, we must hit the iceberg of the drive to exert power and control by the current General Conference President and his most ardent followers head on – in love and grace but with great firmness and resolve.  To use the gambling term, “We must be willing to call a spade a spade” – again in love, but with honesty.

  1.  Recognize that those who see things differently are often sincere and deserve respect and grace.

Reading Adventist blogs and web sites, one cannot help but wonder what God thinks of the discussions he reads – the innuendos, the outright slander, the name calling, the criticism the, one-up-man-ship, the arrogance, the pride of opinion, the “I am right and you are wrong-man ship.”  More than once I have been told that if I don’t like someone’s ideas or opinions, I should just leave the church.  If there is anywhere where civil discourse should be in evidence, it should be in the church.  Where is the spirit that should lead me to listen to respect to the ideas of others, to consider them with an open, Spirit led, mind, and then to love them – not just in words but in action?  

I used to have a German Shepherd who would roar up to the chain link fence, snapping and growling and barking whenever anyone walked by – because she was afraid.  We all reveal our fears and insecurities by how we relate to those who are different than us.  Snide, angry, sometimes even vicious ripostes may feed our ego, but the often show just how insecure we are in the very things we believe that we are defending.

Respect is not something that is earned, it is a gift we give to others – whether they deserve it or not.  I may strongly disagree with much of what the current world leadership of our church does and is trying to do – but I only earn the right to criticize their actions when I afford them as individuals the respect and grace Jesus evinced for even his worst critics and enemies.  When I choose to treat my General Conference President, as a person, with respect, I then earn the right to challenge his ideas and actions – whether or not he chooses to reciprocate.

  1.  Bathe it in prayer

The only way we can truly see our own hearts and minds is to ask for God to enlighten us, because our hearts are “deceitful beyond all things.” Surrendering our lives and will to God – body, mind, heart and soul we can then go forward with confidence that He will keep his promise that when we commit our ways to him, he will direct our paths and give us wisdom beyond anything that we can generate on our own.

I would hope that our Conference,  Union and North American leadership will be bathed in a “concert of prayer” leading up to Fall Council and during the meetings.”  When that happens, God will work in the same miraculous manner that he did during the First and Second Great Awakenings.

  1.  Realize that while at times it may look hopeless from a human point of view, God promises to take care of us.

Sometimes it looks like the ship is going to sink.   But, we need to remember that God promises that the boat won’t sink if Jesus is in it. Having faced plenty of Goliath’s in my life, I know that sometimes it looks like the giants are going to win.  But the story of David reminds us that one man plus God equals an army that will not be defeated.  So, don’t lose heart!  It’s what the devil wants you to do.

  1.  Carefully study Jesus’ and Ellen White’s example.  

Neither was afraid to face issues head on when the situation called for it.  And, they refused to be dragged into side-issues and kept the focus where it belonged.  They excelled at keeping the important thing the important thing. Again, the issue at hand is whether the General Conference’s current leadership has a God-given mandate to use questionable tactics to accomplish their own personal agenda.  Ultimately, the Church must decide if God wants unity or uniformity. We, all of us, are the Church – not any administrators.  It is up to us to be the church and to face what is happening head on.


 

Dan M. Appel is a published author and retired pastor living in Magalia, California.  He is a deeply committed and sometimes passionate follower of Jesus who loves being a layman, and trying to live in the marketplace that he has encouraged others to do for so many years.

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