by AT News Team
"In a few days [the Bible study papers on women's ordination] will be available online for everyone,” Dr. Artur Stele, is quoted in a story released July 25 by the official Adventist News Network (ANN) and written by Mark Kellner, news editor of the Adventist Review. Stele is chairman of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee appointed by the General Conference (GC) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to seek a solution to the denomination's controversy about women serving as ordained clergy. He is a GC vice president and director of the denomination's Biblical Research Institute.
The committee released a short consensus statement earlier last week providing a general overview of the topic of ordination with no mention of the gender issue. The ANN story includes a few, selected pieces of the debate in the committee. Those who support the ordination of women and those opposed to the practice were given equal time and opportunity during the July 21-24 meeting to review biblical evidence supporting their positions, as well as materials from the writings of Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White.
In a paper on hermeneutical principles, Dr. Jirí Moskala, newly-appointed dean of the Theological Seminary at Andrews University, told the committee, “There is no theological hindrance” to ordaining women. “On the contrary, the biblical-theological analysis points in that ultimate direction, because the Spirit of God tears down all barriers between different groups of people in the church, and gives freely His spiritual gifts to all, including women, in order to accomplish the mission God calls all of us to accomplish.” He pointed out that there is no statement in the Bible commanding: “Ordain women to ministry!” Nor is there one urging: “Do not ordain women to ministry!”
Taking a contrary viewpoint, Dr. Gerard Damsteegt, an associate professor of church history at the seminary, cited the Wesleyan-Methodist tradition which led to Adventism, as well as Catholic fathers and Protestant reformers, to oppose women’s ordination: “If we look as the Adventist pioneers on women’s involvement in the mission of the church,” he said, “we notice that their position is very similar to that of Wesley and Methodism. These pioneers strongly encouraged female participation, excepting in the headship offices of elders and ministers.”
Pastor Stephen Bohr, also arguing against women’s ordination, said that Ellen G. White’s role involved her being “set apart by God to be a prophet, not an elder/overseer. To say that because Ellen White was a prophet she had the right to be an elder or pastor would be like saying that because I am an elder, I have the right to be a prophet! The conclusion simply does not follow the premise!”
Dr. Richard Davidson, seminary professor of Old Testament at Andrews, focused the committee’s attention on the Biblical passage at the heart of the debate: “In the modern discussion over whether women should be ordained as pastors the foundational passage for both those who affirm and those who oppose women’s ordination is Genesis 1-3.”
Davidson pointed to the roles given Adam and Eve at creation: “According to Genesis 1:27-28, both the man and woman are equally blessed. Both are to share alike in the responsibility of procreation, to ‘fill the earth.’ Both are to subdue the earth. Both are given the same co-managerial dominion over God’s non-human creation.”
Illustrating their very different reading of the same Biblical text, Pastor Paul S. Ratsara, president of the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division and Dr. Daniel K. Bediako of Valley View University in Ghana, asserted “God created man and woman as equals and with role differentiation. In the church, men are to lead.” They maintained that if women’s ordination is permitted, either globally or on a regional basis, the church’s influence and theological unity would be diminished. “A decision to ordain women as pastors can be made only outside the bounds of Scripture,” they concluded.
Additional presentations contrasted Biblical concepts of authority with models built on “elitism” and “hierarchy,” and explored the views held by Adventist co-founder Ellen White on the appropriateness of women serving in various ministry roles. Urging the committee to disavow models of male authority and headship that he maintains are rooted in post-apostolic Christianity, Dr. Darius Jankiewicz, chair of the seminary’s theology department, maintained that “if anything apart from commitment to Christ and His church, spiritual gifting and maturity determine fitness for various functions in the church, then, whether we intend it or not, we create an elitist community.”
Dr. Edwin Reynolds, a New Testament scholar at Southern Adventist University, underlined a very different view of how authority should function in the church. “Spiritual headship and teaching authority seems to be vested in the roles of apostle and elder in the [New Testament],” his presentation noted. “These roles would not seem to be appropriate for women to seek under the principle of submission to male headship.”
Dr. Teresa Reeve, a New Testament scholar at the Andrews seminary and one of several female presenters, reached an opposite conclusion: “The New Testament practice of ordination as the formal appointment and endorsement of an individual for a ministry task or role gives no impediment to the ordination of suitably qualified women to serve as pastors.”
Dr. Denis Fortin, a church historian, offered a detailed summary of Ellen White’s perspective on women serving in ministry: “Ellen White understood ordination as an ordinance at the service of the church to commission people in various kinds of ministry and responsibilities, and to ask God’s blessing on their ministry. There is no indication in her writings that the rite of ordination should be limited only to men or that it should be used to establish some kind of church hierarchy. She emphatically encouraged the involvement of women in all forms of ministry.”
The committee will meet again in January 2014 for five days to share evaluations of the papers presented and to chart the path ahead for the study process. The committee will also receive reports from each of the church’s 13 division Biblical Research Committees that are concurrently studying the issues at a regional level.
“We are now at the point that [the] two groups have presented the hermeneutical issues, the principles. They have illustrated it, and they have given all the facts, all the findings, they have found for both positions,” said Stele. “The next step, based on what was presented, [is] to try to see if we can find a common ground, whether we really can come up with one position” on the ordination issue. If that can’t be done, he said, “then we would have to prepare two different reports, and concentrate on what solutions we would suggest.” He concluded, “We have seen a good spirit, which was a big blessing. Both groups, although having different views, have really demonstrated respect for each other, and it was a very friendly atmosphere, a very open atmosphere.”
A total of 17 papers with Bible and historical study on the topic of gender as it relates to ordination were presented last week. Stele stated that they will be available on line in the near future and ANN supplied this web address as the location where these papers will be available: https://www.adventistarchives.org/ordination#.UfKFY228CzB