We are heading into the final days before the discussion and vote at the General Conference on the ordination question facing the world church. There is really nothing more to be said about the substance of the underlying issues of gender and ordination. Enough articles, papers, books, sermons, and videos have been created on both sides of the question to sink a battleship, or two. I have contributed my share to this tsunami of opinion, and I do not plan to add to it here.
But what has not been discussed sufficiently, in my opinion, is the posture in which this issue is being brought before the General Conference. Can anyone else remember a time where a significant issue of church practice and belief has been brought to the floor of the GC with no recommendation from a body responsible to examine the issue?
The GC in session is just not a workable forum in which to deal with an issue from the foundation up. Can you imagine a topic relating to creation, the Sabbath or the state of the dead, coming to the floor of the GC, with no recommendation from an appropriate study body or group? All the other substantive theological issues coming to the floor this time, such as creation, the authority of Scripture, and homosexuality, come as proposed changes that have been reviewed and recommended by a number of committees, including Annual Council.
But, we are told, on the issue of ordination, no consensus or mandate was achieved by any responsible group. The whole matter is being given to the delegates with no recommendation from any body or group, whether the TOSC, the BRI, or Annual Council. This itself would seem to indicate that the question being reviewed is primarily one of church policy, and not centrally a theological issue. But more than this, what we are being told simply is not true: the TOSC did provide a mandate, a super majority as to how the church should move forward on the ordination question.
As a member and active participant of the TOSC, I am particularly concerned and disturbed that the truth of this matter is being obscured. When the church prays for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, spends hundreds of thousands, and even millions of dollars, contributes thousands of man-and-woman hours of its scholars and leaders on a process, and then denies or ignores the results of that process, we are in danger of denying the leading of the Holy Spirit.
For whatever reasons, the administrators leading out in how this question is being framed for the GC are choosing to ignore the following fact about the TOSC: A super-majority of TOSC delegates, more than two-thirds, came to agreement on the following two points:
- The world church should affirm the special role the Bible assigns to men as spiritual leaders, responsible for their homes, providing loving, self-sacrificing, servant leadership for their wives and children, and in the role of ordained minister in the church; but
- The world church should also recognize that biblical spiritual leaders were chosen to further the mission and unity of God’s people, and that biblical examples and principles reveal that if unity and mission can be better met by female spiritual leadership, including in the office of ordained pastor, then Divisions should be allowed to do this in those Unions that deem it necessary, while protecting the religious liberty of those churches and conferences that differ.
This remarkable super-majority mandate was reached by combining the votes of group three (who agree on the ideal of male leadership, but also desired to allow a variance for female leadership) with group one (who supported male leadership) to achieve a 2/3+ support for point one. Then, the votes of group three combined with group two (who desired to allow for a variance) achieved a 2/3+ support for point two.
Thus, the super-majority consensus of the TOSC was that the church recognize a default position of male leadership in the office of ordained minister, but that it permit Divisions to allow Unions to ordain women ministers where it would further the unity and mission of the church.
Various groups within the church perhaps have vested interests in ignoring or overlooking these clear recommendations from TOSC. The bridge building work of group three is simply not reflected in the actual motion that is being voted on by the delegates. The irony is that all three positions will be read and described, but then the vote will come down to a choice between positions 1 (no allowance for women ordained ministers) and 2 (allow Divisions to decide to ordain women).
PRESERVING HERMENEUTICAL PRINCIPLES RELATING TO MARRIAGE, FAMILY AND THE SABBATH
Some will argue that there is no difference between the outcome of positions 2 and 3, but this is simply not true. Position 2 allows any Division to choose to ordain women whenever they desire. Position 3, on the other hand, creates a presumption of male ministerial leadership. Unions will need to provide a clear showing of need to their Divisions to change this. It is an approach that, unlike position 2, preserves important hermeneutical principles that relate also to marriage, family, and the Sabbath.
For this reason, delegates should be allowed to vote to support either position 1, 2, or 3, and give direction to the General Conference committee to make policies consistent with the position laid down by the most widely supported position. Otherwise, church leadership is engineering a vote that does not allow the consideration of the position to which the Holy Spirit led TOSC.
To ignore the leading of the Holy Spirit is a dangerous posture for anyone, but especially for leaders of God’s church, as it will cause great harm to the body of Christ. We pray that even now steps can be taken to bring the TOSC mandate before the delegates gathered at the General Conference, and that a fair vote on all three positions be permitted.