First Step toward Consensus on Theology of Ordination Voted by Study Committee 86 to 8
by Adventist Today News Team
Full text of the statement as released added at the end of the story.
A consensus statement on the basic theology of ordination was released late Tuesday (July 23) by Adventist News Network (ANN), the official news service of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. The bulletin written by Mark Kellner, news editor of the Adventist Review, stated that the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) set up last year by the General Conference executive committee adopted the document by a vote of 86 to 8, "a 9:1 ratio." No indication was given by ANN as to why eight committee members voted against the statement, placing themselves outside the consensus.
The first paragraph of the statement acknowledges the traditional Protestant understanding that the church is made up of people who "through baptism [are] becoming a royal priesthood," seeming to foreclose one set of arguments against women's ordination; examples from the all-male priesthood in the Old Testament still existed at the time the New Testament was written. The same paragraph states that ministers are "called and enabled through the power of the Spirit and the gifts He bestows," and Adventists have from the beginning of the movement acknowledged that these gifts are present in both men and women.
The committee's consensus notes that, unlike the beliefs of some other Christian faiths, however, Adventist ordination “neither conveys special qualities to the persons ordained nor introduces a kingly hierarchy within the faith community.” It concludes that “the ultimate model of Christian ministry is the life and work of our Lord, who came not to be served but to serve.”
The document states that the original Greek and Hebrew words that are usually translated as "ordain" in English mean simply to select or appoint. It cautions that "over the course of Christian history the term ordination has acquired meanings beyond these words" which Adventists do not recognize as truly biblical. According to the statement, “Seventh-day Adventists understand ordination, in a biblical sense, as the action of the church in publicly recognizing those whom the Lord has called and equipped for local and global church ministry.”
"Ordained persons" in the New Testament include elders, deacons and "supervising elders" who "were itinerant and supervised greater territory with multiple congregations," the document says. Explaining the role of an ordained person, the statement continues: “In the act of ordination the church confers representative authority upon individuals for the specific work of ministry to which they are appointed. These may include representing the church; proclaiming the gospel; administering the Lord’s Supper and baptism; planting and organizing churches; guiding and nurturing members; opposing false teachings; and providing general service to the congregation.”
The approval of the document came on the second day of the second meeting of the committee this year. Artur Stele, a General Conference (GC) vice president originally from Russia and director of the denomination's Biblical Research Institute, is chairman. Geoffrey Mbwana, another GC vice president originally serving in Africa, is vice chair.
The consensus statement must be reported to the GC executive committee for approval and very likely will be a part of the draft document on this issue which will be presented to the delegates at the next GC Session in 2015. It is foundational to the committee's other assignment, the topic of extending ordination to women who serve as pastors, which has become controversial in recent years.
The GC Session in 1881 voted the concept of ordination for women clergy and the denomination began to issue ministerial licenses to a number of women, which is the first step in preparation for ordination in the denomination. Ellen G. White, one of the cofounders of the denomination, was recognized as an ordained minister throughout much of her life. But during the 1920s and 1930s almost all women were expelled from the denomination's ministry and when steps were taken in the 1970s to restore women to the ranks of pastoral ministry, objections were heard for the first time.
The subject has been debated among Seventh-day Adventists for years, with the GC Sessions of 1990 and 1995 declining to permit such ordinations as a threat to "unity," not on theological grounds. This committee is charged with producing material for discussion and making recommendations that will be acted upon at the church’s July 2015 world session, due to be held in San Antonio, Texas. This meeting of the committee continues today (July 24).
The ANN bulletin quotes Pastor Bill Knott, a committee member and the influential editor of the Adventist Review. “If the church can reach consensus on a common theology of ordination, it offers hope that it may also find a solution that honors the strongly held convictions on both sides of this issue.”
The full text of the statement follows as released by ANN:
Consensus Statement on a Seventh-day Adventist Theology of Ordination
In a world alienated from God, the Church is composed of those whom God has reconciled to Himself and to each other. Through the saving work of Christ they are united to Him by faith through baptism (Eph 4:4-6), thus becoming a royal priesthood whose mission is to “proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9, NKJV). Believers are given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18-20), called and enabled through the power of the Spirit and the gifts He bestows on them to carry out the Gospel Commission (Matt 28:18-20).
While all believers are called to use their spiritual gifts for ministry, the Scriptures identify certain specific leadership positions that were accompanied by the Church’s public endorsement for persons who meet the biblical qualifications (Num 11:16-17; Acts 6:1-6; 13:1-3; 14:23; 1 Tim 3:1-12; Titus 1:5-9). Several such endorsements are shown to involve “the laying on of hands.” English versions of the Scriptures use the word ordain to translate many different Greek and Hebrew words having the basic idea of select or appoint that describe the placement of these persons in their respective offices. Over the course of Christian history the term ordination has acquired meanings beyond what these words originally implied. Against such a backdrop, Seventh-day Adventists understand ordination, in a biblical sense, as the action of the Church in publicly recognizing those whom the Lord has called and equipped for local and global Church ministry.
Aside from the unique role of the apostles, the New Testament identifies the following categories of ordained leaders: the elder/supervising elder (Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Tim 3:2-7; 4:14; 2 Tim 4:1-5; 1 Pet 5:1) and the deacon (Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:8-10). While most elders and deacons ministered in local settings, some elders were itinerant and supervised greater territory with multiple congregations, which may reflect the ministry of individuals such as Timothy and Titus (1 Tim 1:3-4; Titus 1:5).
In the act of ordination, the Church confers representative authority upon individuals for the specific work of ministry to which they are appointed (Acts 6:1-3; 13:1-3; 1 Tim 5:17; Titus 2:15). These may include representing the Church; proclaiming the gospel; administering the Lord’s Supper and baptism; planting and organizing churches; guiding and nurturing members; opposing false teachings; and providing general service to the congregation (cf. Acts 6:3; 20:28-29; 1 Tim 3:2, 4-5; 2 Tim 1:13-14; 2:2; 4:5; Titus 1:5, 9). While ordination contributes to Church order, it neither conveys special qualities to the persons ordained nor introduces a kingly hierarchy within the faith community. The biblical examples of ordination include the giving of a charge, the laying on of hands, fasting and prayer, and committing those set apart to the grace of God (Deut 3:28; Acts 6:6; 14:26; 15:40).
Ordained individuals dedicate their talents to the Lord and to His Church for a lifetime of service. The foundational model of ordination is Jesus appointing the twelve apostles (Matt 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16), and the ultimate model of Christian ministry is the life and work of our Lord, who came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45; Luke 22:25-27; John 13:1-17).