Part 1: Introduction
The debate over the ordination of women to the gospel ministry continues to generate controversy and division within the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Those advocating ordination of women, commonly called egalitarians, teach the full equality of men and women ontologically (their essential being), along with identical functional roles. Essentially, in this view, there are no gender or role differences except for pro-creation of child-bearing.
Complementarians, by contrast, understand that the Bible teaches full equality of men and women ontologically (their essential being), but that the two genders have different functional roles based on the principle of authority and voluntary submission (1). This same concept of ontological equality and functional role differentiation is reflected in the Godhead (2).
Recently strenuous efforts have been put forth to refute the concept of authority and submission within the Divine Trio (or Trinity), by conflating the principle of authority and submission with eternal subordination of the Son to the Father (3). But it must be emphasized that when Seventh-day Adventists speak of authority and submission (4) within the Godhead, they always refer to voluntary submission and not inherent involuntary submission, the latter which can be considered identical to eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. The idea of eternal subordination within the Godhead, which assumes involuntary subordination, can immediately lead to ontological non-equality within the Godhead where subordination of Son to the Father is inherent in their ontological being. Seventh-day Adventists who embrace complementarianism reject the idea of eternal subordination, unlike some of our evangelical brethren.
Even though some evangelical advocates for gender differentiation and male headship claim ontological equality and role differentiation (5), when they use the term eternal subordination (6) it can reasonably be argued in some cases, even recently, that they are essentially embracing ontological non-equality or a modified form of the historic heresy of subordinationism connected with Arianism. This modified form of subordinationism has been labeled “neo-subordinationism” by one Matthew Tinkham (7). Advocates for women’s ordination, including Tinkham, conflate the concept of submission with “neo-subordinationism.” They fail to recognize that “submission” is a voluntary act of a free will. As a result, they accuse all complementarians of neo-subordinationism and label them as “neo-subordinationists.” Thus, complementarians are accused of teaching an argument, according to Tinkham, “that grounds the permanent (8) functional subordination of women to men ontologically in the being of God” in which “women are ontologically equal but functionally subordinate to men because of a prescriptive hierarchical order that exists in the immanent Trinity and is recognizable through the economic Trinity.” (9)
However, with the genuine concept of authority and voluntary submission there is only one thing that is permanent, and that is the voluntary choice to be submissive to loving authority. In other words, the “permanence” is conditional on free will. Permanence is a choice of those who are willingly and voluntarily submissive to authority. All attempts to conflate voluntary submission with neo-subordinationism—which implies permanence—cannot be justified.
This series of articles will attempt to answer the question: Are the functional roles of authority and voluntary submission within the Divine Trio independent of the ontological nature of their Being? Indeed, the concept of authority and voluntary submission is a fundamental principle of the heavenly realm, not only within the Godhead but also among the angels (10) and all created intelligent beings, which can be violated by inherent free will or freedom of choice. Voluntary submission is a choice of a free will and is not integral to the ontological being.
1. Complementarianism: male and female are ontologically equal with different (complementary) functional roles.
2. See my Theology of Ordination Study Committee paper for supporting evidence in Genesis 1-3. https://www.adventistarchives.org/restoration-of-the-image-of-god-headship-and-submission-john-peters.pdf The apostle Paul uses the creation order of Adam and Eve to establish the headship of Adam (1 Timothy 2:13; 1 Corinthians 11:8-9).
3. Angel Rodriguez https://www.adventistarchives.org/evaluation-of-the-arguments-used-by-those-opposing-the-ordination-of-women-to-the-ministry.pdf; Andrews Seminary Paper on Unique Headship https://www.andrews.edu/sem/about/statements/9-19-14-updated_web_version-unique_headship_of_christ_final.pdf; Matthew Tinkham http://www.academia.edu/34969929/Neo-subordinationism_The_Alien_Argumentation_in_the_Gender_Debate or see Tinkham at http://www.atsjats.org/site/1/docs/2016/papers-triune-god/Tinkham%20-%20Neo-Subordinationism%20-%20ATS%202016.pdf
4. See J. W. Peters Note 2; Jerry Moon, https://www.adventistarchives.org/ellen-white,-ordination,-and-authority.pdf Edwin Reynolds, https://www.adventistarchives.org/biblical-hermeneutics-and-headship-in-first-corinthians.pdf
5. Wayne Grudem, Wayne Grudem, ed., Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood (Wheaton, IL, 2002), 83. See also Bruce Ware, Tampering with the Trinity: Does the Son Submit to the Father?” http://cbmw.org/wp-content/uploads/2002/04/Ware6-1.pdf
6. The term “eternal subordination” reasonably implies an involuntary subordination.
7. Matthew Tinkham, Neo-Subordinationism: The Alien argumentation in the Gender Debate; Access article at: http://www.academia.edu/34969929/Neo-subordinationism_The_Alien_Argumentation_in_the_Gender_Debate see also http://www.atsjats.org/site/1/docs/2016/papers-triune-god/Tinkham%20-%20Neo-Subordinationism%20-%20ATS%202016.pdf
8. Emphasis mine.
9. Idem, Tinkham
10. Jerry Moon, “Ellen White, Ordination, and Authority,” Theology of Ordination Study Committee, July, 2013, 3.
Elder John W. Peters served the Pennsylvania Conference of Seventh-day Adventists as a local pastor before his recent retirement. He and his wife Elizabeth now live in Port Charlotte, Florida.