Early this year the North American Division study committee on women's ordination released its majority report. The report acknowledged that a literal reading of scripture does not support the desire of many to ordain women to ministry (GC TOSC Committee Women’s Ordination – A North American Division Report January 21, 2014, pages 3, 4 and 11). In the absence of a plain scriptural endorsement, the committee put forward a new method of biblical interpretation. The majority report characterizes the proposed change as an elevation of our methods of study to a “principle based” approach (GC TOSC Committee page 4), but in fact the opposite is the case. The “new” method is another not-so-subtle form of humanism manifesting itself again in Adventism.
I say “manifesting itself again” because human wisdom has been the norm in most Adventist institutions for decades. In our health and education institutions we see a pattern of infidelity that the main body of the church has fostered, much of it going back to the 1930's and earlier. Because of these clear departures, God has raised up and inspired men and women of faith to start other institutions independent of the church that would represent the work of the three angels correctly and would be the means of training and educating an army of youth. These institutions, though not perfect in themselves, have been the means of preserving the truth, and heaven credits them for the prolonged forbearance of God towards a rebellious people. This is not to say that the denomination has not had any faithful and productive workers who have also stood for principle. There have been faithful men and women. But it is time to frankly acknowledge that it has largely been the despised independent ministries that have, for Adventism, been the keepers of the faith.
A leader's role is to stand for principle when it's unpopular. This is his job. The "strength in numbers" concept originates with the world. If the current leaders were doing all in their power now to stem the worldly tide sweeping into the church, for example, if they had dealt faithfully with infidelity at La Sierra University, it would be a good omen. But when the leaders do not have that track record and are not doing all they can now, how can we expect a different outcome when the current issue on women's ordination is put before the world church in its 2015 conference? Where a doctrine is clear on a plain reading, it is presumption to refer an issue to study committees and then for a third time to put it to the world church. This signals a spirit of compromise and a failure to lead.
Real solidarity is based in diversity according to Ellen White. What Adventist Services and Industries, Outpost Centers International and the General Conference need to do now is to show leadership by publicly showing their own solidarity with those who have sacrificially proven themselves. Hartland Institute's recent decision to no longer accept tithes will have no impact on maintaining church standards or on unity. It will have the opposite effect. Requiring ministries to yield on a non-vital issue before the leaders of the GC, ASI or OCI endorse their work is the opposite of unity.
Some may say the above argument cuts both ways; the fundamentalists in the church need to stop making women's ordination a point of division. True, we need to look carefully at what issues the Lord wants us to stand solid on and, when it's His will, to bury our differences and press together. Is women's ordination a biblical issue worth the collateral damage it can cause? Is it on par with teaching evolution in our classrooms, “Christian” spiritualism, denial of the investigative judgment or pantheism? No, it probably isn't, and if it stopped there, maybe it is something that we could all live with. But women's ordination is a symptom of an underlying problem. And that problem, like an iceberg looming through the fog, is the issue of basic biblical interpretation. If the Bible does not mean what it says, if we cannot trust a plain reading of the Word, there can be no unity. Without the rudder of the Word, shipwreck is inevitable.
The critical question now is how the remnant are going to respond to this paradigm shift in how the Bible is interpreted. This involves questions of both unity and leadership. The true issue is who leads the church, the divine Word or the human word? If human standards overtly prevail within Adventism, (they have had the upper hand covertly for many decades) by openly changing the basis for interpreting the Word, how should the remnant respond?
Christ is our example in all things. Human wisdom and tradition had long had the upper hand in Jewish culture at the first advent of Christ. The rabbinical schools were, like our denominational schools now, unsafe places for the education of the youth. Disease and demon possession were common among God's professed people, and the people were in spiritual and literal bondage to the spirit of the age. How did Christ respond to the god of humanism in His day? Did he patronize the institutions of his day, attend Israel's schools and receive their honors? No, first He formed a small independent school of twelve unpromising, but willing, true-hearted (except for one), full-time students, supplemented by seventy part-timers and many women; then along with these he fulfilled a 3.5 year divine mission demonstrating the principles of divine wisdom. At the end of His mission he lay down His life to give a capstone revelation of the divine plan in stark contrast to the worldly policy that governed the church of His day.
But the blindness of the Jews was and is so dense that to this day only a remnant have seen the God of Abraham revealed in Christ. In rejecting Christ the Jews rejected and forfeited their identity as the corporate body of God's people. Amazingly, we're told in Romans 11 that they are still chosen and not cast off but blindness has come on them until the full number of the Gentile flock is received into the fold. Let's pray that God will be as gracious to Adventism. This has been the cycle ever since Adam fell. God entrusts the truth of the Word to those who obey and who willingly enter a covenant of faith with Him. When this group falls away through unbelief, a remnant always remains, the remnant of spiritual Israel, because the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Ellen White followed the example of Christ and was ready to make a break with the church that she gave her best years to if it perversely clung to its errors. Consider this statement given in the context of the rejection of the 1888 message by the members of the church:
As reformers they (Adventists) had come out of the denominational churches, but they now act a part similar to that which the churches acted. We hoped that there would not be the necessity for another coming out. 1888 Materials 356
Here's the point: After literal Israel rejected Christ, the remnant became spiritual Israel, the believers in Christ. Today it is the same.
When a church proves unfaithful to the work of the Lord, whatever their position may be, however high and sacred their calling, the Lord can no longer work with them. Others are then chosen to bear important responsibilities. But, if these in turn do not purify their lives from every wrong action, if they do not establish pure and holy principles in all their borders, then the Lord will grievously afflict and humble them and, unless they repent, will remove them from their place and make them a reproach. Ellen White, 14 Manuscript Releases, 103
In no uncertain terms, the remnant, the called-out ones, comprise the true root that actually remains. After their graduation from Christ's school of discipleship, the twelve Apostles, with Christ as the cornerstone, became the foundation of the remnant of Israel. They are honored as such in the New Jerusalem. Their twelve names are engraved on the twelve foundations of the city. These twelve together with Christ became the root and the believing Jews and Gentiles the branches. It is the same today: Jew and Gentile are grafted into their apostolic stock with Christ, the root of David, the cornerstone and the pillar of truth. Will the General Conference in session be the voice of God to the very end of time? Is literal Israel still the voice of God today? God will always have a remnant that will hear his voice. Will God deny the Word? No, that is not possible. It's imperative then that those who are preparing now for the return of Christ learn to discern His voice. And one of the primary ways of doing that is by following the example of the remnant of Malachi's day now and from here on until the end. This is where the voice of God has been and will always be heard:
Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not (Mal. 3:16-18).
And so today I make an appeal to leaders and laymen at every level of the church to follow this precedent from the days of Malachi and begin an ongoing, unceasing dialogue on how to finish the work of God according to His plans. But the faithful in Adventism will need to count the cost and nerve themselves for the scenario presented by Isaiah:
Hear the word of the LORD, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name's sake, said, Let the LORD be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed. (See the full passage. Isaiah 66:5-13.)
The essence of all of the inspired assurances of the final victory of the church is that the church is and has always been the remnant. Satan knows this. And so he wages war on “the remnant of her seed” (Revelation 12:17). Christ used another more endearing term to identify the remnant. He calls us His “little flock” and assures us that it is His Father's good pleasure to give us the kingdom. Luke 12:32. And this incredible statement of who the kingdom will be given to agrees with Isaiah 66 above and with Christ's sermon on the mount.
John the Baptist told the Jews the same. He warned, “Even now is the axe laid unto the root” (Matthew 3:10. RV).
When the Baptist stated that the unfruitful tree, Israel, was about to be cut down it wasn't inevitable. The message of John was given because there still was hope for the nation; Israel had not crossed the line. This is where Adventism is today. But before the church can effectively give the third angel's message, the church itself is given its own message, the message of the True Witness. We know that our track record regarding that message is not good and what the outcome is if that message goes unheeded: we will be spewed out. Friends, it is time to unitedly study Revelation 3:14-22 on our knees with fasting and prayer. It's time to humble our pride, put aside our prejudices, meet, pray and plan together and practice the “unity in diversity” that the Lord prayed for as He went to the cross for us.