By Dean Waterman, July 8, 2015: As a denomination, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has always spoken highly on the value of prayer, quoting not only Scripture, but also Ellen White. If there was ever a time to be seeking the Holy Spirit in prayer, the upcoming vote by delegates, regarding women’s ordination, would be the time. The prayers offered should be for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and influence on the vote, and perhaps more so for the responses to the vote, whatever the outcome. Unity is the desire, but beyond unity, a Christ-like response to the “winning” side.
As the delegates face the question on women’s ordination, the greatest need is not more debate, but more prayer. In Christian Leadership (page 4), Ellen White wrote: “The path of men who are placed as leaders is not an easy one. But they are to see in every difficulty a call to prayer. Never are they to fail of consulting the great Source of all wisdom.” If there was a ever a difficult course to navigate for the Adventist Church, women’s ordination and the response to the outcome of this vote qualifies. As delegates prepare to vote this week, Ellen White’s call to prayer and to consult God’s will is an important word to heed. We’ve spent thousands of dollars in debate, committees, print, travel, and media time, with most individuals firmly planted where they started five years ago. No further debate will change minds and the final outcome, but determined prayer very well could.
As a pastor and life-long member of the Adventist Church, I want to see our church make the right decision on women’s ordination, according to God’s will and purpose. I also hope to see our church continue to be unified in God’s work to reach the world, no matter the outcome. What I and others fear is the negative responses and actions from those who didn’t get the desired “Yes” or “No” they hoped for, which could distract us as a church from focusing on God’s mission. Those reactions could be minimized, and perhaps non-existent, if everyone had assurance that leadership laid personal opinions aside and sought to know God’s will rather than further their own, on the matter of women’s ordinations. The only way for that assurance to be given is less debate, and more intentional prayer.
To this end I make a proposal to the seated delegates on the floor of the Alamadome. As the business session begins Wednesday, and the consideration that would allow Divisions to determine individually if they will ordain women commences, may one delegate present a motion to have no further debate on the stated issue, but ask for a call to corporate prayer among the delegates. This motion may ask all the delegates present to spend time in prayer with each other, specifically those who are of opposite opinion, and also from other Divisions outside their own. This motion must be seconded, and brought to a vote. The subsequent vote on this motion will make one thing crystal clear: God’s will is most important, or human opinion is. If the motion passes, the chair may then ask delegates to circle in pairs, or small groups of three or four, spending five to ten minutes in prayer together, before finding another prayer partner or group and repeating the process of prayer. Pray for personal opinions and directives to be laid aside, and clear direction of the Holy Spirit to be made evident. Make this focus of prayer singular, and in place of continual debate. When sufficient and significant time has been spent in prayer, then place a motion on the floor to proceed with the vote on women’s ordination. If we as a church place an emphasis on prayer, then let the delegates make prayer their most important priority before the women’s ordination vote is completed. Whatever the outcome, be it “Yes” or “No,” if we may have the assurance God led in the process, and not the singular opinions of mere humans, the final decision could be respected, even if not agreed upon by all. I believe many would accept the final outcome more readily if they trusted the will of God was considered most important in the decision process.
In 1863 the leadership of the Adventist movement needed to make a critical decision regarding organization of the church. Individuals on both sides of the issues held strong opinions on officially organizing the church; both sides believed the worst would happen if the opposition won. Ellen White gave reflection of this momentous decision, and the process in which the final outcome was determined: “The First-day Adventists were opposed to organization, and most of the Seventh-day Adventists entertained the same ideas. We sought the Lord with earnest prayer that we might understand His will, and light was given by His Spirit, that there must be order and thorough discipline in the church—that organization was essential.” (Christian Teachings and Experience, page 143) The difference in the outcome, and response to the outcome? Prayer. It was men and women with determination in their hearts to know God’s will in the matter. Their earnestness in prayer not only revealed God’s will, but gave confidence to all that God’s will, and not man’s opinion, led to the final decision. Unity and forward movement was the result.
As we approach one of the most crucial votes of this generation, may our history give us direction for the present, and may prayer be the centerpiece of the decision on women’s ordination. If prayer is made a priority, and not personal opinion and perspectives, the final outcome and the response to that outcome will reflect God’s purpose for us and bring healing which can be found in God alone.
Pastor Dean Waterman is a regular columnist for Adventist Today. He works in the Potomac Conference, which includes the State of Virginia and the District of Columbia, as well as suburban counties in Maryland, in the United States.