by Stephen Ferguson  |  20 May 2019  |

I have just finished reading the 128-page Theology of Ordination Study Committee Report (TOSC Report) – better late than never. I am naturally inclined towards supporting women’s ordination (WO) and mostly agreed with those arguments. However, I surprisingly found the anti-WO position was not entirely without merit.[1] It was therefore not completely illogical for delegates in prayer to deny Division executives the authority “to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry.”[2]

Yet I was equally struck with the thought that perhaps God, through the TOSC Report, was not simply saying “no” to the idea of gender equality among our ministers. Rather, He was saying “no” to the idea that our clergy are ministers even in need of ordination – whether male or female. It seems madness that the Adventist Church appears to do it all backwards in that it permits women to be ordained as elders, but not as clergy.

To avoid any doubt, as a government lawyer involved in developing legislation and policies, I recognize how hard producing a report with 106 committee members must have been! I am also not so naïve as to think all GC Session delegates actually read the TOSC Report. Nonetheless, if I can be bold, I think there are five major problems with how all sides of the TOSC generally approached this subject.

Problem #1 – Presuming elder, minister, pastor and clergy describe the same thing

What repeatedly struck me when reading the TOSC Report was an underlying presumption that: “the biblical office of elder today is often referred to as ‘pastor.’”[3] Even the pro-WO side seemed to assume our clergy – that is to say our pastors or ministers – are elders.[4]

As a result, a disproportionate amount of time was spent by all sides on exegeting the “husband of one wife” proof texts (Titus 1:5-9; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; 1 Peter 5:1-4). But what if our clergy are not elders and, as such, those texts aren’t directly relevant to the discussion?

The problem, as I see it, is no side really did enough to define what a minister, elder, pastor or clergy is exactly, and whether these terms do indeed all describe the same thing. In fairness to the TOSC members, the New Testament (NT) itself is a mishmash of descriptors. The evolving nomenclature of early Adventism was much the same.[5]

For example, the terms minister and deacon are the same word in Greek, although today we consider one a paid professional and the other a lay helper.[6] The term elder can refer to any older man or a formal ecclesiastical role, and there is no evidence every apostle was also an elder.[7] The word apostle is synonymous with the English word missionary,[8] a point rightly emphasized by the pro-WO contributors.[9]

Curiously, for a discussion about women in ministry no side discussed the question of widows. The term widow literally means any “barren” woman, so could also encompass a woman who had never married.[10] Furthermore, it could also refer to the order of widows, an enrolled office (1 Tim. 5:9).[11]

And importantly, in all cases, none of these terms ever meant priest, a separate and specific word associated with temple rites.[12]

This problem has extended throughout Christian history and into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Our Seventh-day Adventist pioneers avoided the term bishop due to its Roman Catholic baggage, even though it does have biblical heritage.[13] Meanwhile, they instead used minister, despite its potential confusion with deacon. They also adopted pastor, which both sides of the TOSC seemed to admit was an imprecise term.[14] Confused?

For those appealing to Ellen White, she too is of limited assistance when it comes to ecclesiastical taxonomy. For example, Sister White was rather imprecise in the use of the word “deacon” in connection to the appointment of Stephen and the first seven.[15] The anti-WO contributors acknowledge her imprecision here too, as Mrs White alluded to an office that did not exist at that time.[16]

Sister White likewise gave instructions for “women to become pastors to the flock”[17] and for women to do pastoral labor” (emphasis added)[18]. Anti-WO advocates have no choice but to contend Mrs White meant pastor in only a loose functional sense and not an office.[19]

Also consider how Ellen White described herself. She didn’t deny she had the spiritual gift of prophecy but did not like the designator prophet. It did not describe her office. She believed her role was more expansive than that description commonly implies.[20] Her preferred title was messenger,[21] which is arguably closer to the NT idea of apostle.[22]

Rather than tie ourselves up in knots over titles, we may need to adopt the approach of Robert M. Johnston, Emeritus Professor of Andrews University.[23] He argues the NT establishes two streams or orders of leadership, with much flexibility in labels between each:

  • Charismatic: “spirit-filled” and chosen by God-alone according to inward qualities rather than human election, utilizing charismatic gifts, mostly itinerant, and corresponding to the Twelve – especially Matthias.[24]
  • Appointed: “appointed” through public election according to outward public qualifications, engaged in a more practical ministry and administration, mostly locality-fixed, and corresponding to the Seven – especially Stephen.

All sides of the TOSC affirmed this basic idea of a two-stream leadership model.[25] So does history.[26]

The question I ask myself then is, which stream do our clergy actually belong to? What about our elders and deacons? Why would we assume they all belong to the same stream?

Problem #2 – Failing to adequately define church “office”

A second major problem is a failure by all sides to adequately define church office. The anti-WO side, especially, spent a significant amount of time distinguishing between spiritual “gifts” and ecclesiastical “offices.”[27] In contrast, the pro-WO side argued that there were no such hard distinctions.[28]

On that question, I actually find myself in agreement with the anti-WO side:

“Unfortunately, in the ordination debate, some Seventh-day Adventists are confusing the gift of pastoring with the office of elder/minister, contrary to the biblical pattern” (emphasis added).[29]

While pro-WO delegates argued:

Every follower of Christ is a minister… Any form of clericalism” (emphasis added).[30]

The problem with the pro-WO position is that I think it actually undermines the role, status and authority of women, as it allows detractors to downplay the calling of women, not merely to a gift but to an actual office. I was equally confused whether pro-WO TOSC members believed the Apostle Paul held an office, and what this office might be, or merely a spiritual gift.[31]

Nevertheless, the anti-WO TOSC members don’t adequately define what, biblically speaking, a church “office” is either. They do try to outline the office of elder – but not “office” more generally. They even, bizarrely, claim Ellen White held no office,[32] contrary to her own words.[33] Blasphemy – call for a compliance committee!

Does a church office confer an exclusive entitlement to the ceremony of laying-on of hands, full-time employment, and getting paid? They don’t really say.

Starting with the laying-on of hands ritual, all sides agree this broadly equates to the biblical notion of ordination.[34] Importantly, even the anti-WO side recognizes women in full-time ministry have the right to receive this ceremony:

“The laying-on of hands sets these women apart for a specific ministry that will strengthen the church” (emphasis added).[35]

As for employment and money, the Bible suggests anyone who works full-time in ministry deserves to get paid (1 Cor. 9:14). This applies to apostles (1 Cor. 9:4-18; 2 Cor. 11:8), elders (1 Tim. 5:17-18) and even widows (1 Tim. 5:9).[36] Ironically, money and employment seem least in dispute, as even our anti-WO brethren affirm Sister White’s counsel that women can be remunerated from the tithe.[37]

If the ritual laying-on of hands, full-time employment and a wage from the tithe are not in issue, I am left wondering what this dispute is even about.

Problem #3 – Presuming this debate is about who can perform priest-like rites

From what I can see, appealing to the example of Ellen White, the anti-WO delegates argue women cannot perform Christian ceremonies, stating:

“Nor did she ever perform a wedding, organize a church, or conduct a baptism” (emphasis added).[38]

This is what this issue is really about. That is, denying women equal status and honor as men in the world, given it seems the world associates the clerical office with ritual performances (Mark 12:39; Rom. 13:7).

Presuming the statement about Ellen White is factually correct,[39] there are, of course, a range of reasons why she may have not performed rites.[40] In any event, this leads to our third major problem, that of equating a church “office” with the function of a priest. This seems contrary to the Protestant notion of a “priesthood of all believers” (1 Pet. 2:5-9; Heb. 7:26-28).

To this end, the NT is essentially silent on who can perform a dedication, baptism, funeral, wedding or communion.[41] The NT is clear both the Apostle Peter (Acts 10:46-48) and Deacon Philip[42] carried out baptisms (Acts 8:38). Mrs White observed this too and made it clear ordination was not a prerequisite for performing rites.[43]

The pro-WO TOSC members do draw attention to Mrs. White’s statement here, noting the anti-WO position is basically the Roman Catholic view of rites’ equaling sacraments.[44] However, I feel the pro-WO side later undermined that point in agreeing to the Consensus Statement, which seems too limited, in saying:

“In the act of ordination, the Church confers representative authority… include representing the Church, proclaiming the gospel, administering the Lord’s Supper and baptism, planting and organizing churches…” (emphasis added).[45]

So I left wondering, can women perform rites? If not, why not?

Problem #4 – Presuming there are no modern apostles or other spiritual offices

The fourth problem with the TOSC Report, on all sides, is perhaps a lack of clarity on whether there can be apostles or other spiritual offices in the modern age. I would reject such a Cessationalist presumption.

The Bible gives no indication that any spiritual office would suddenly end. In terms of corroborating historical evidence, the 1st– to 3rd-century “church manuals” (the Didache and Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus) point to itinerant apostles, prophets, healers and teachers existing in addition to, and acting quite apart from, local bishops (senior elders) and deacons well after the Apostolic Age.[46]

The idea that there can be no more spiritual offices left, including apostleship, is a Roman Catholic myth perpetuated during the failed Montanist Revival of the 3rd century.[47] Again, I think the pro-WO side undermined its own ultimate goal by downplaying the distinction between spiritual gifts and spiritual offices.

I believe the major flaw on all sides of the TOSC is they have confused the twelve apostles (disciples) with apostleship and other spiritual offices generally. The NT lists a range of apostles other than the Twelve: Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:14,4), Apollos (1 Cor. 4:6,9), Silas (2 Cor. 1:19), Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25) and the infamous Junia (Rom. 16:7). We should also remember the Apostle Paul never physically met Jesus on earth – only in vision (Acts 9:1-5).

I would likewise question the presumption by the TOSC as a whole that Timothy and Titus were itinerant elders – not apostles.[48] Conversely, there is also a fascinating proposition that James, the brother of Jesus, was a type of elder, and also not an apostle.[49]

Thus, I would respectfully challenge the TOSC Consensus Statement’s presumption that any NT office other than the Twelve was “unique” – whether elder, apostle or prophet.[50] A cornerstone question in my mind, therefore, is why we have naturally assumed our Adventist clergy are types of elders and not apostles or some other spiritual office.

Problem #5 – Failing to adequately define what “ordination” is exactly and who needs it

The fifth and final problem is a lack of clarity as to what ordination is exactly, and who needs it. I found this was particularly a problem for the anti-WO side, who, as noted above, are seemingly okay with women receiving the laying-on of hands ceremony.

It seems the anti-WO contributors believe the ritual becomes “ordination” when it bestows a church office.[51] Again, the problem of defining “office.”

While the ritual of laying-on of hands is biblical, the vocabulary we use is of pagan origin.[52] The closest biblical equivalent is probably cheirotoneo, which is the Greek word usually translated by Bible scholars into “ordain”, but usually refers to selecting someone by voting.[53] Not surprisingly then, we find biblical references to cheirotoneo often associated with examples of democratically represented leadership, such as elders and deacons (Acts 14:23; 2 Cor. 8:19).

By contrast, it seems other spiritual offices, such as apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers, could have the ritual conferred on them, but as a boon – not a prerequisite. Paul and Barnabas are examples here (Acts 13:1-3).[54] Even the anti-WO contributors acknowledge this.[55]

Why should we be surprised then that Ellen White, or other female leaders in Adventist and biblical history, were not ordained? Even after the Apostolic Age and as recorded in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, a bishop (or senior elder) was “ordained as a bishop, being chosen by all the people,” while for a prophet or healer, “hands are not laid upon such a one, for the matter is obvious” (emphasis added).[56] Note the word obvious.

Ordination seemed particularly important for leaders whose “office” was not obvious, but rather, in doubt. Thus, as to why those appointed to the elected office of elder or deacon were ordained, but those to unelected spiritual offices were not, early church expert Jonathan Hill explains:

“Appointed leaders were chosen and appointed by their community (rather than simply turning up and exercising their charismatic powers)” (emphasis added, see Acts 6:1-3).[57]

This possibly explains why Paul was also providentially ordained, even though he was an apostle. Apparently his apostleship might otherwise be challenged (2 Cor. 11:5).[58]

Compare Paul to, say, Matthias, who replaced Judas as the twelfth Apostle (Acts 1:17, 26). Importantly, Matthias was chosen by casting lots. This is possibly the origin of our term clergy, from the Greek word kleros for “a lot or inheritance.”[59] By leaving the final decision to lots, it emphasized an undemocratic truth that God alone made the choice – the Church did not choose (Acts 1:23-26). The anti-WO contributors acknowledge this too in noting apostles were called by the Holy Spirit “according to His will” and not by ordinary, public qualifications.[60] This is why I actually like the terms cleric and clergymen.

Critically, there is no biblical record of Matthias being ordained.[61] The whole congregation prayed on behalf of the two candidates before the final selection, Joseph and Matthias both, where thereafter:

“The lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:26, emphasis added).

So, recognition does necessarily mean ordination.

Consequently, I am left wondering if allowing women to be in full-time paid ministry while also being denied ordination, ironically only suggests that their position is not in doubt. And truth be told, all the women in ministry I know are fairly amazing. Their spiritual credentials from God are obvious, even if certain men in Silver Spring refuse to recognize it.

Implications for the 2015 “no” vote – Should we just get over it?

Let me just say I believe we do need to respect the 2015 Session vote.[62] I don’t think we can blame the Russians. This might mean reluctantly conceding to the anti-WO side’s exegesis of the “husband of one wife” proof texts about the gender qualification of elders.

But here’s the rub: maybe our clergy, as theologically-trained spiritual experts, aren’t the household-ruling elders to which those gender-restrictive “proof texts” even apply. Maybe like Matthias or Ellen White, our clergy, whether male or female, don’t need ordination at all! Maybe the Adventist Church is currently doing it all backwards!

We should continue to advocate biblical truths, many of which were agreed upon by all sides of the TOSC. Namely, that women can be, and are, called by God:

  • to be employed in paid ministry;
  • to be paid from the tithe;
  • to receive the ritual of laying-on of hands;
  • to have their spiritual offices recognized as an “office”;
  • to perform Christian rites such as dedications, baptisms, communion, weddings and funerals; and
  • to be recognized as “clergy,” even if they are not considered “elders.”

These allowances would not undermine or abrogate the 2015 Session vote, and Church policy should be amended to reflect this fact.

Feel free to disagree. As long as you are willing to relook at some of those underlying presumptions, which I believe nearly everyone took for granted.

And take heart, my amazing sisters! Maybe God wasn’t saying “no” to you. He simply said “no” to the questions we foolishly asked. Perhaps we just need new and better questions.

Dear Adventist Today readers: I’m inserting this note to tell you that we are right now conducting our spring fundraiser. Adventist Today is largely a volunteer organization, but if we’re going to continue to provide you with stimulating news—often news you get nowhere else—and fascinating commentary by some of the best writers in the denomination, we do need some financial support. If you want to see us continue to do the journalism that you’ve been accustomed to from Adventist Today, become an AT member now or or give us a one-time gift. Loren Seibold, Executive Editor, Adventist Today website and magazine.


[1]Position 1 was the “traditional” anti-WO viewpoint, against women’s ordination. Position 2 supported women’s ordination. Position 3 was a hybrid, agreeing with Position 1 on the basic premise of male headship, but somewhat supporting women’s ordination in Position 2 by holding scriptural precedents of biblical “exceptions,” which allowed women in church leadership on occasion as circumstances warranted.

For ease of writing, when in this article I say “all sides” or “both sides” I always mean Positions 1 and 2. However, I may or may not always mean to include Position 3.

[2]Where the specific question asked entailed, “Is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry? Yes or no.” A helpful summary is provided at: <https://spectrummagazine.org/views/2018/womens-ordination-truth-about-real-position-13-divisions-seventh-day-adventist-church>

[3]TOSC Report, p.49.

[4]The particularly offending part is found in the Consensus Statement which reads, “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)”: “Consensus Statement,” TOSC Report, p.21.

[5]“In the early decades of Adventist work, only the itinerant preacher, or evangelist, was ordained, and he was referred to as an ordained minister or “gospel minister.” Ministry in that time period was focused on the work of the evangelist. With time, however, other kinds of tasks or functions became part of what ministry consists of. The work of Bible workers, literature evangelists, educators, publishing house editors and workers, and other administrators began to be included in the work of ministry for the church. And men in these functions, who at first were not ordained, started to be ordained”: “North American Division,” Theology of Ordination Study Committee, Nov 2013, p.102.

[6]Strong’s Concordance at [1249].

[7]Ibid., at [4245].

For example, Paul was an apostle who appointed elders, but there is no evidence he ever considered himself one or would satisfy his own criteria for that position. It would also be hard to see on what basis Paul, as a celibate man with no wife, no household to rule over and no children (whether faithful or rebellious), would satisfy Paul’s own criteria for eldership.

The same can probably be said for young Timothy, who is often – wrongly, in my view – said to be an elder, when in fact the Bible seems to suggest he was an apostle who appointed elders (1 Thes. 1:1; 2:6).

Peter was an apostle but he calls himself an elder (1 Pet. 1:5), although the context suggests he meant older person and not the office. This is evident in that his address and counsel to elders is immediately followed by an address and counsel to “you who are younger.” This suggests Peter was addressing a community in a loose functional sense by age groups – not by classes of office-holders.

Similarly Acts 15 refers to a council of apostles and elders – not apostle-elders.

[8]Strong’s Concordance at [652]. The Greek word apóstolos (ἀπόστολος) was translated by Western Christians into Latin as missiō, which in turn entered English as missionary. The pro-WO contributors also made this point in the TOSC Report.

[9]“In the New Testament, the term “apostle” is also used to designate what appear to be missionaries (e.g. Acts 14:14; 1 Cor 4:6, 9; 1 Thess 1:1, 2:6)”: TOSC Report, p.81.

[10]Strong’s Concordance at [5503].

[11]If you haven’t guessed, the position of widow was essentially abolished or subsumed when early Christianity became the Roman Catholic Church, who instituted various orders of nuns. Yet the absence of almost any discussion by Protestants of this biblical office seems curious. The closest to any discussion by the TOSC is by the pro-WO side, who observe:

“Again, this instruction identifies a moral attribute that also qualifies women since Paul also teaches that a faithful elder-widow is a ‘wife of one husband’ or ‘a one-man woman’ (1 Tim 5:9, ESV)”: TOSC Report, p.86.

[12]Strong’s Concordance at [2409].

[13]Ibid. at [1985].

[14]“In the New Testament there is no office of “pastor.” In Ephesians 4:8, 11, 12, “pastor” is spoken of as a gift of ministry”: TOSC Report, p.48.

See also Strong’s Concordance at [4166].

[15]In Acts of the Apostles at page 88, Sister White describes the appointment and selection of the Seven as seven deacons. The chapter title is even “The Seven Deacons.” Stephen is called the “foremost of the seven deacons.”

Coupled with the twelve apostles, these two streams of ministry are, according to White, to be “a model for the organization of churches in every other place.” Yet the Bible never actually calls them deacons – just the Seven. In fact, they may well have been the first elders, as the pro-WO contributors note, “Although the word “deacon” (diakonos) does not occur in the book of Acts, “elder” (presbyteros) appears several times, both accepting funds for distribution (11:30) and acting in a leadership role with the apostles (15:2-4, 22; 21:18)”: TOSC Report, p.82.

It isn’t a problem, if we realize White wasn’t intending to be precise here. Christian tradition called the Seven deacons and it would have just distracted her audience to use anything but this popular descriptor. But it illustrates the danger of reading taxonomic titles into passages where such classification was not the author’s intent.

[16]“The second major step in church organization took place with the ordination of the seven ‘deacons’ [note their quotation marks] …Although this passage does not explicitly name the office to which the seven were appointed, the Greek words used for “serve” (diakoneō, Acts 6:2) and “ministry” or “service” (diakonia, Acts 6:1, 4) have the same root as the word for “deacon” (diakonos). It appears that Luke, as a careful historian, avoided designating these men as “deacons” because the name for the office arose a little later”: TOSC Report, p.46.

[17]Testimonies, 6:322, 321-322.

[18]Ibid., 4:390.

[19]“The gift of shepherding or pastoring can be manifested by persons who work in other callings, professions, or ministries that are benefited by aspects of caring. Ellen G. White used ‘pastor’ and ‘pastors to the flock’ in this way, as when she wrote that ‘responsibilities must be laid upon the members of the church’”: TOSC Report, p.48.

[20]“During the discourse, I said that I did not claim to be a prophetess… My work includes much more than this name signifies”: Letter 55, 1905; quoted in Selected Messages, Book 1, pp.35, 36.

[21]“I regard myself as a messenger, entrusted by the Lord with messages for His people”: Ibid.

[22]Strong’s Concordance at [652].

[23]Robert M. Johnston, “Leadership in the Early Church During the First Hundred Years,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 17/2 (Autumn 2006): 2–17.

[24]Where Professor Johnston uses the word “charismatic” in its original biblical meaning of spirit-filled, not modern Pentecostal appropriations of the term.

[25]From the anti-WO position they acknowledge, Apostleship was a spiritual gift distributed by the Holy Spirit according to His will (1 Cor 12:3-11; 28-31). Elders and deacons were to be carefully chosen according to clear qualifications (1 Tim 2:10–3:13)”: TOSC Report, p.54.

From the pro-WO position go to even greater lengths with separate headed sections on “The Twelve Apostles” compared with “Beginning of Appointive Leaders”: TOSC Report, pp.81-82.

[26]As Professor of Christian History at Oxford University, Diarmaid MacCulloch similarly explains that the “late-first-century Church: a mobile ministry included those known as apostles and prophets, the local ministry in particular places consisted of a grade known interchangeably as bishops or presbyters, together with a separate grade of deacons”: Diarmaid MacCulloch, A History of Christianity (London: Penguin, 2009), p.131.

[27]“Those who occupy offices are ordained, appointed, or chosen based on explicit qualifications (Acts 6:3; 14:23; 1 Tim 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). Gifts, however, are bestowed according to the will of the Holy Spirit without any stated qualifications (Eph 4:7; Rom 12:6; 1 Cor 12:11, 18, 28). Though every believer has at least one gift, not every believer has an office (Eph 4:7; 1 Cor 12:7, 11; Rom 12:4)”: TOSC Report, pp.49-50.

[28]“Gifts and offices should not be drastically distinguished because elders were appointed to their office on the basis of having received gifts that qualified them for this specific position”: TOSC Report, p.82.

By saying “their office” it seems the pro-WO contributors are admitting some people do indeed have “offices,” and these are distinguished from spiritual gifts. It is just that they do not find the distinctions particularly “drastic.”

[29]TOSC Report, p.49.

[30]Ibid., pp.79-80.

[31]The problem is found in Position 2 of the TOSC Report, pp.81-82. It begins with a section on “The Twelve Apostles.” It seems the pro-WO contributors recognize The Twelve had “offices” of a sort in noting, “He entrusted to these individuals the exercise of authority in the church.” Note the word authority. Paul is obviously not one of the Twelve.

The next section is entitled “Specialized Gifts.” It mentions “various individuals called and endowed by God with certain gifts of the Holy Spirit that allowed them to function in specialized avenues of leadership. Referred to as apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.” Presumably someone like Paul would have fit into this latter, larger group of apostles who were not members of the Twelve. But the context is unclear, and the heading suggests that the pro-WO side is simply saying those in these positions operated with “spiritual gifts” and not with the same level of formality. While they are described as “leaders” there is no reference, for example, to their “authority.”

Finally, there is a later section entitled “Beginning of Appointive Leaders,” about the first deacons-elders called “the Seven.” There are multiple references to “apostles” in this section but it is not clear whether the authors mean the Twelve or a larger group of apostles too – the context suggests mainly just the Twelve. There is also reference to their “leadership” but not “authority.” Finally, there is a reference to Paul and Barnabas here, which confusingly suggests the contributors imply Paul was an elder-deacon in addition to, or instead of, an apostle.

The point being, I was left mightily confused as to what office the Apostle Paul actually had! It isn’t clear to me whether other readers or Session delegates faced the same problem.

[32]“As messengers of the Lord, they did not hold an office as such…”: TOSC Report, p.44, fn 5.

[33]“The call to prophetic office is in the hands of God, who knows what He wants and when, where, and why He wants it at any given time”: BHP, 33.1

And also, “There is no indication that a man called to the prophetic office could henceforth speak only the words given him by the Lord, or that other men could take it for granted that everything said and done by the prophet was done so under divine inspiration”: APAY, p.393.1.

Furthermore, in talking about Elisha’s taking up the mantle from Elijah, Sister White observes, “Called to the prophetic office while Ahab was still reigning, Elisha had lived to see many changes take place in the kingdom of Israel”: Prophets and Kings, p.254.

Moreover, as the pro-WO contributors also point out, there are other examples in the Bible of prophets who clearly held offices. This includes Judge Deborah (Judges 4:4) and Huldah, who resided in the prophetic college (2 Kings 22:14-20). Both prophetesses clearly held “offices,” although no one said they were “priests” or even “elders.”

[34]“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”: “Consensus Statement,” TOSC Report, p.21.

[35]TOSC Report, p.50.

[36]We should not imagine widows sitting at home enjoying a church pension, but rather, they are essentially out there, engaged in fulltime ministry.

[37]“Further, she [Ellen White] advocated that women who devote their full time and talents to ministry should be paid from the tithe”: Position 1, TOSC Report, p.27. Citing Mrs White’s statement that, “the tithe should go to those who labor in word and doctrine, be they men or women”: 1 MR 263.

[38]TOSC Report, p.44, fn 5.

[39]I believe there is some question as to how much she helped officiate at her son Willie’s wedding, including officiating a special blessing-prayer over the couple. To what extent she simply prayed for the couple as a mother, or was in fact performing a rite in her capacity as a prophet, is an interesting question.

[40]For example, perhaps Ellen White did not want to overshadow various men with their egos. Perhaps she was simply showing caution, given that prophets anoint priests and kings, so any rite she was involved in risked serious misinterpretation. However, the most likely reason was the cultural circumstances of Mrs White’s times. A wedding ceremony performed by an officiating woman may have caused too many legal and social problems with society-at-large, notwithstanding no strict biblical impediment.

[41]The one exception I might mention here is the ceremony of anointing the sick, which the Bible says is to involve elders. However, the need for the elders seems to arise precisely in the absence of an apostle or other spiritual leader with the gift of healing.

[42]Philip and the first seven deacons may in fact have been the first seven elders. Luke certainly only calls them the Seven. The pro-WO contributors make a similar point in their position statement of the TOSC Report, pp.81-83.

The anti-WO also agree noting, “The second major step in church organization took place with the ordination of the seven ‘deacons’ [note their quotation marks] …Although this passage does not explicitly name the office to which the seven were appointed, the Greek words used for ‘serve’ (diakoneō, Acts 6:2) and ‘ministry’ or ‘service’ (diakonia, Acts 6:1, 4) have the same root as the word for ‘deacon’ (diakonos). It appears that Luke, as a careful historian, avoided designating these men as ‘deacons’ because the name for the office arose a little later”: TOSC Report, p.46.

[43]“Brother Tay, [who] went to Pitcairn as a missionary to do work, [but] that man did not feel at liberty to baptize because he had not been ordained. That is not any of God’s arrangements; it is man’s fixing… Philip was not an ordained minister, but when the eunuch began to inquire about this matter, Philip opened to him the Word, and then what? He says, ‘What doth hinder my being baptized? Sure enough, what did hinder? It was not considered that anything hindered, and Philip went down and baptized him’: MS 75, 1896, emphasis added.

See also John Skrzypaszek, “The Lord has ordained me”: Ellen G. White’s Perspective, Avondale College of Higher Education, December 2012.

As noted above, it seems Ellen White did help officiate at her son Willie’s wedding.

[44]TOSC Report, p.91.

[45]Textual references removed, TOSC Report, p.21. Of course, ordination can confer authority to do these things, as Sister White had stated on similar occasions. However, the agreed passage here seems to imply a narrowing of what ordination does.

[46]Didache (11:1-4; 15:1); Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (2:1,3; cf. 14:1).

[47]‘The chief effect of Montanism on the Catholic Church was greatly to reinforce the conviction that revelation had come to an end with the apostolic age, and so to foster the creation of a closed canon of the New Testament’: Henry Chadwick, The Early Church, Revised Ed. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993), p.52.

[48]See the cases of Timothy (1 Thes. 1:1; 2:6) and Titus (2 Cor. 8:23).

[49]James, the brother of Jesus, is an interesting question. However, nothing really turns on this debate over the issue. If he was an elder, not an apostle, this would actually better support the anti-WO position.

This James was not one of the Twelve, yet Paul later calls him one of the “Pillars,” along with Peter and John (Gal. 2:9). The question is whether the reference to “I saw none of the other apostles – only James, the Lord’s brother” (Gal. 1:19) suggests James was also an apostle or the opposite, that he was not one of the apostles.

James seems to function as essentially the head of the Jerusalem “Mother Church.” He also comes from nowhere to preside over the Jerusalem Council mentioned in Acts 15. He seems to be the one in charge – not Peter.

Later mentions of him in the Book of Acts suggest he isn’t moving around like Peter, Paul and the other apostles, noting apostleship fundamentally means being a missionary. He seems to be very rooted in Jerusalem. Does this mean he was really a type of elder? As the Lord’s brother and not one of The Twelve, there is a good chance he obtained that position due to his election by popular vote, which again is consistent with eldership, rather than apostleship.

To adopt Adventist terminology, does this perhaps mean James was the first Conference President? It is an interesting thought then as to whether women – if they can be clergy but not elders – can be Conference Presidents. Spiritual leaders like Peter – yes. But Conference Presidents like James – no.

James’ role in turn raises questions as to whether our Conference Presidents, as elders, should come from theological backgrounds at all. In my experience, the most effective Conference Presidents have a background in administration, not necessarily theology.

[50]TOSC Report, p.21.

[51]“Although ordination of persons to the biblical leadership office of elder or deacon is accompanied by the laying-on of hands, not every instance of the laying-on of hands is equated with ordination to church office. In a well-known example, Ellen G. White wrote, ‘Women who are willing to consecrate some of their time to the service of the Lord should be appointed to visit the sick, look after the young, and minister to the necessities of the poor….’ Some have interpreted this to mean that women should be ordained to the gospel ministry. However, White does not speak about ordination but about setting these women apart for a particular work or ministry”: Ibid.

[52]Darius Jankiewicz, “A Short History of Ordination (Part I),” Memory, Meaning & Faith (Andrews University: Andrews Theological Seminary, 5 Apr 13).

[53]Strong’s Concordance at [5500].

[54]Robert M. Johnston, “Leadership in the Early Church During the First Hundred Years,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 17/2 (Autumn 2006), p.2.

Note when the ordination in Acts 2 occurs: first comes the calling of the Holy Spirit in verse 2; then – and only then – comes the public recognition through Church ordination in verse 3.

[55]“Inasmuch as Paul and Barnabas ‘had already received their commission from God Himself,’ the ceremony ‘added no new grace or virtual qualification. It was an acknowledged form of designation to an appointed office and recognition of one’s authority in that office’”: TOSC Report, p.47.

[56]Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (2:1,3; cf. 14:1).

[57]Jonathan Hill, Christianity: The First 400 Years (Oxford: Lion Books, 2013), 64.

[58]This also explains why similarly in the OT Joshua was “ordained” but Moses was not. Or why the Levitical priests (whose special office was challenged in the Korah rebellion) were ordained but, say, the 70 elders were not.

“Only two instances, however, can be interpreted as precursors of the NT rite of laying hands on leaders: (1) the induction of the Levites (Num 8:10) and (2) the commissioning of Joshua (Num 27:23). Both instances utilize the Hebrew phrase samak yad (literally, “pressing the hand/s upon”)”: TOSC Report, p.83.

[59]“Or else it is from the use of the word in Acts i:17”: Online Etymology Dictionary.

See also Strong’s Concordance at [2819].

This link between the idea of apostle and the idea of lots, which is to say our “clergy,” is as old as Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), who also acknowledged this biblical link: Everett Ferguson, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, 2nd ed. (New York: Garland Pub. Inc., 1998), p.265.

Moreover, while we saw the word kleros is associated with Matthias’ selection to the Twelve by lots, it is also a Greek-Christian euphemism for the Levitical priesthood, given the tribe of Levi had no inherited land like the other tribes did.

“Klēros was used by early Greek Christians for matters relating to ministry, based on Deuteronomy 18.2 reference to Levites as temple assistants: ‘Therefore shall they have no inheritance among their brethren: the Lord is their inheritance’”: Online Etymology Dictionary.

Thus, Matthias’ method of selection suggests apostles – not elders – are NT equivalents to OT priests. This matters when the anti-WO contributors argue: “the [Levitical] priest represents the closest parallel to the leadership offices of the NT church”: TOSC Report, p.44.

The problem is, if our ministers are akin to elders (because we think apostleship died out), then in truth we probably don’t, or shouldn’t, have a professional clergy. Someone had better tell the IRS! Indeed, some churches have come to that exact same conclusion and thus only have lay leaders (e.g., Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses).

[60]TOSC Report, p.54.

[61]This is a key point noted by early Methodists (forbears to Adventists) as to why we can reject the papal idea of Apostolic Succession – laying-on of hands generation-to-generation –

“When Matthias was elected an apostle in place of Judas, no hands were laid on him by the eleven”: Edward Wesley Hare in The Exclusive Claims of Ordination Examined and Rejected, Manchester, 1815, p.47.

[62]Noting the various debates about whether the GC in Session is or is not the “voice of God” pursuant to Sister White’s statements, including, “God has invested His church with special authority and power which no one can be justified in disregarding and despising, for in so doing he despises the voice of God”: Testimonies, vol. 3, p.417.

But then at other times she seemed to say the very opposite, “This is the reason I was obliged to take the position that there was not the voice of God in the General Conference management and decisions”: Ellen G. White manuscript 33, 1891.


Stephen Ferguson is a lawyer from Perth, Western Australia, with expertise in planning, environment, immigration and administrative-government law. He is married to Amy and has two children, William and Eloise. Stephen is a member of the Livingston Adventist Church. 

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