New Movement to Prohibit Non-Jewish, Uncircumcised Gentile Clergy, from Ordination at Next General Conference Session in 2020
by Stephen Ferguson, July 16, 2015: Like many Adventists, I was disappointed by the recent vote at the General Conference Session in San Antonio 2015, which resulted in a “no” decision to the following resolution concerning women’s ordination: “Is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry? Yes or No.”
It seems the majority of the Adventist world believes my female minister friends don’t deserve full equality with their male counterparts. Now let’s be honest. Those who oppose women’s ordination raise a number of very sincere and plausible biblical arguments.
They rightly point out there were no female Levite priests in the Old Testament Sanctuary. They rightly point out Jesus only ever chose male apostles. They rightly point to texts about the right of men to rule over women as a question of God-given headship. They rightly explain that those texts suggesting equality between male and female are only talking about equality of salvation in Christ – not equality for leadership roles. They rightly point out that references in the New Testament to female leaders are somewhat inconclusive, such as the Apostle Junia (a female name). They rightly conclude by pointing to an absence of ‘Thus saith the Lord’ that would positively authorise the ordination of female ministers.
I have to say in the past I never quite accepted these arguments. However, the majority of the world Church has voted, so perhaps those arguments do in fact represent the biblical truth – or at least the ‘present truth’. It has though on reflection made me question whether the majority who voted “no” are reading the Bible consistently, rather than being hypocrites risking God’s judgment. Nonetheless, I have faith in our delegates and I’m quite sure that wouldn’t be the case.
In particular, the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that if women cannot be ordained as female clergy, then neither can uncircumcised Gentile men. Both the Old Testament and New Testament are, after all, far more concerned with the distinction between Jews and Gentiles than between males and females. As far as scripture is concerned, we might be focusing on the gnat and missing the proverbial camel. Just think about it logically and apply the same principles espoused by opponents of women’s ordination to the question of uncircumcised Gentile clergy.
For example, there were no uncircumcised Gentiles priests in the ancient Sanctuary. Women were not allowed into the Holy Place either, but at least they had the Court of Women, which was further inside. Non-Jewish men were stuck the furthest away in the Court of the Gentiles. Similarly, in New Testament times women may have been segregated as to their spot inside the synagogue, but at least they were allowed inside – unlike Gentile believers who often had to look in through a grill in the wall.
Jesus also chose no uncircumcised Gentiles to lead His Church. Presumably if He intended for there to be uncircumcised Gentiles in leadership He would have chosen at least one. In fact, there is a greater case for women apostles than Gentile ones, given women were at least in Jesus’ inner circle. Jesus did at least appear first to women, who in being the first to tell others about the resurrection of Jesus (literally the good news or gospel), made them the first apostles (if we take the original Greek idea of apostleship being ‘to be sent forth’).
There also isn’t much evidence for uncircumcised Gentile leadership in the New Testament either. Someone will of course mention the uncircumcised Titus, the sole potential example, but his standing and circumstance is as inconclusive as Junia’s. Yes, there are some vague biblical passages where Paul instructs Titus to appoint elders, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Titus was an apostle himself. Likewise, just because Samuel anointed David didn’t make Samuel a king. As opponents of women’s ordination like to point out, you can’t develop an entire theology for a new innovative practice based on scant evidence from the Bible.
Finally, some will point to the biblical principle of male headship over females. Possibly true, but weren’t Jews equally chosen by God as leaders over non-Jews? Doesn’t Paul even acknowledge in Romans 11 the continued place for those remnant Jewish-Christians, as having a superior and more natural place than those Gentile-Christians merely grafted in as wild shoots?
As the husband has God-given authority over the wife in the Church (and not it seems just in the home, according to women’s ordination opponents), doesn’t the Jew likewise have God-given authority over the Gentile believer? As Paul tells us men have natural authority over women because man was made first, so too doesn’t Genesis 10 tells us Shem (the ancestor of Israel, hence the concept of an ‘anti-Semite’ being a hater of Jews) was the oldest son of Noah?
Sure there can be exceptions, such as the way God made Ellen White an exception from those gender restrictions about male authority. Likewise, God can invoke exceptions to the first-born principle, such as appointing Jacob over Esau, or giving the priesthood to the tribe of Levi rather than first-born. But the Bible clearly shows a principle of first-made headship. It applies not just in gender relations of male over female, but in racial relations of Jew over Gentile. That is, if we argue for such headship principles applying to the New Testament Church.
Otherwise, how can we claim the doctrine of headship but not Jewish dispensationalism? How can we claim equality of race but not gender? Again, it would seem we need to read the Bible consistently. If gender was not abolished in terms of Christian leadership, then how can we say it still applies in the case of gender? And I haven’t even mentioned the third trifecta of Christian equality found in Galatians 3, which is equality of status – that proverbial slave versus free.
With these thoughts of consistency in mind, today I am launching a new movement to have all uncircumcised Gentile clergy stripped of their ordinations, and a new prohibition imposed on any new candidates for ordination who are not both Jewish and circumcised. I am hoping to have this motion placed on the next agenda of the General Conference Session in 2020, in Indianapolis in five years’ time.
Naturally I am expecting all those who opposed women’s ordination to support me. Otherwise, that would potentially make those who recently voted “no” a bunch of hypocrites, and I have complete confidence that is not the case. As the current vote against the ordination of female pastors was easily defeated, I am likewise expecting some pretty smooth sailing for my proposed motion.
I do expect some opposition, though – mostly annoying liberal types. Some of these theological hippies will no doubt say it is madness to disenfranchise such a huge number of current and potential future candidates from the professional ministry. I understand that sentiment, but we have after all just disenfranchised over 50% of our current recruitment pool on the basis of gender.
The Church of Jesus’ day and the original apostles was a predominantly Jewish one. It was led by Jewish men who were circumcised. We cannot let the fact that today almost all Christians are Gentiles change the way we read the Bible strictly in its original context. Otherwise, we might as well say the feminist movement in the last fifty years can change the way we read the Bible. We either apply its original 1st-century context, without any room for cultural divergence, or we don’t.
What really matters instead is upholding a strict and literal reading of the Bible, prohibiting anyone from a position of Church leadership unless there is a clear ‘Thus saith the Lord’. And there is no such proof text positively authorising the ordination of uncircumcised Gentiles as members of the clergy, just as there is scant support for the positive ordination of women ministers.
In conclusion, my fellow Adventists, we can’t afford any more of these Korah-like rebellions. It doesn’t matter that most of our current male clergy won’t make the cut. There is a greater principle of truth at stake here. Men might feel called by the Holy Spirit to Christian ministry, but they should have thought of that before being born a non-Jew. I know many have said something similar to our female ministers, who make the ridiculous claim that they are called by God. In both cases, it seems the lack of appropriate genitalia trumps any supposed calling by the Holy Spirit.
But don’t fret. We’ll still have Clifford Goldstein and Doug Batchelor, who are both Jewish-Adventists.