by Cindy Tutsch
I watch him stand at the microphone and begin a speech that simultaneously assaults my ears and raises my hackles. Beside me sits an extraordinarily gifted female pastor whose spiritual journey I’ve followed closely since she committed all her spirit, energy, and talent to her Lord Jesus at age fourteen. The next year, before I baptized her at Sunset Lake, I asked the Spirit to anoint her for kingdom service and enable her to identify His gifts.
Over time, I’ve watched this young woman graduate from academy and college, marry, earn an MDiv, and as a pastor, lead scores of individuals to Jesus, mobilize hundreds of multi-cultural young adults for evangelism and service, preach life-altering sermons at her home church and at the General Conference Session, provide team-building leadership to initiate sustainable urban ministries, including literature evangelism, organic community gardens, tutoring, and cooking schools, ably and systematically mentor pastoral interns, lead evangelistic campaigns and mission trips, serve articulately on commissions and boards at every Church level, and plant churches!
And now the speaker is declaring emphatically that the Church must apologize to pastors who are women for ever calling them into pastoral ministry in the first place!
My growing indignation is stifled mid-course with his next words.
“I’ve dedicated my life to this Church, because I believed the Church held Scripture as authoritative, that it was not to be reinterpreted to accommodate culture or historical criticism.”
Now his voice shakes with emotion as he pleads, “Is this still my Church? Am I now to watch it slide into higher critical interpretations that alter the plain teaching of the Word of God?”
Suddenly, instead of the elderly man at the microphone, I see my dad. Both courageously chose Adventism mid-life at great personal sacrifice. Both gave themselves wholeheartedly to the cause of God, working in education and ministry for the Church they serve loyally with every fiber of their beings. Though outwardly aging, both wait with inner expectant joy for Christ’s Second Advent.
I wanted to call out to this dedicated, God-fearing saint, “Don’t paint us all with the same brush! Most of the people in this room who support gender inclusive ministry also hold a high view of Scripture. We affirm the authority of the Word of God, the sacredness of the family, and the centrality of missions. We believe strongly in a literal Creation week, a pre-Advent judgment, the inspiration of Ellen White, biblically defined marriage and sexual activity confined to a married man and woman. We support and participate in the proclamation of Revelation’s Three Angels. We support inclusiveness because of biblical mandates, including Ephesians 4 and Acts 11 that show it is the Spirit who calls and anoints men and women to pastoral ministry and Church leadership. Lay down your fears! We are not your enemy! Together, with every wall of partition broken down, we will become together that ‘army with banners’ that proclaims the Loud Cry through the agency of the Holy Spirit in Latter Rain power.”
I worried for my young pastor friend, the only committee member under the age of forty, lest she become disillusioned hearing an ecclesiology that limits, rather than expands, her ministry, that condemns, instead of affirms, her sacred calling.
I needn’t have worried.
Our elderly brother approached my friend after the committee adjourned.
“I apologize to you for this great injury the Church has done you by calling you into pastoral ministry,” he began. Gently, her young face radiating the love of the God she serves with passion, she declared, “I cannot accept your apology. It is the Lord Jesus who has called me to be a Seventh-day Adventist pastor. It is He whom I serve, and who gives me joy in my ministry. What God anoints, no human being can annul.”
My heart goes out to them both.
Humanly speaking, it seems that The Divide is too great. In our humanity, we can never cross it. But God is in the business of interrupting human history with acts beyond our frail human-driven solutions.
Just as Peter was shocked by the message of inclusiveness he learned from the vision of motley creatures in a sheet, so we too may one day be startled by a message to church leaders from God Himself.
I pray for the day we all understand that the cross of Christ is the bridge over The Great Divide we have dug with our own inert ideas and understandings. I pray that we meet at that cross together as one “melded humanity,” united in our mission and believing and living our oneness in the Spirit. I pray that we return to the roots of our Adventist movement, with no hand held back that could be carrying out the calling which God Himself has given.
Because while we again spend time, resources, and energy to quibble about who is authorized to dispense the water of life, those who are dying of thirst cry desperately for rescue.