In the Bible, along with promises of tender mercy for the repentant, are stern warnings for the rebellious. These warnings are to be delivered by those who understand the end of sinners.Read More
The following video is of Elder Ted Wilson on Sunday, July 29th, at the Columbia Union Conference's 2012 Special Constituency Meeting. The special meeting was called in regards to the motion of authorizing ordinations without regard to gender. Elder Wilson addressed the meeting before the vote. He appealed for unity and encouraged the delegates to wait for the new church study on this issue, which is scheduled to be completed in 2014. Using secret ballots, delegates passed the motion with 209 in favor, 51 opposed, and 9 abstentions.
For the Columbia Union's statements, video recording of the full session, and more, visit the official 2012 Special Constituency Meeting page.
Do different roles equate to gender inequality? Life is full of paradoxes. From “Jumbo shrimp” and the “Beginning of the end” to “If you didn’t get this message call me”, paradoxes don’t seem to make much sense on the surface. However, the point of a paradox is to illustrate a truth, even if the statements seem to contradict each other.
Men and women have been created equal but unique. At first glance this looks like just another paradox. However, my purpose in this article is to demonstrate from Genesis that both male-female equality and male headship were instituted by God at creation.
Genesis 1-3 lays the very foundation of Biblical manhood and womanhood. All other verses must be interpreted consistently with these chapters. Here, the twin principles of male-female equality and male headship are properly defined, instituted, and remain permanent beneficent aspects of human existence.
Equality. Man and woman are equal in the sense that they bear God’s image equally.
Male headship. In the partnership of two spiritually equal human beings, man and woman, the man bears the primary responsibility to lead the partnership in a God-glorifying direction. The model of headship is our Lord, the Head of the church who gave Himself for us. Right here is a distinction that many fail to make in our world. The antithesis to male headship is male domination. By male domination I mean the assertion of the man’s will over the woman’s will, heedless of her spiritual equality, rights and value. This article will be completely misunderstood if the distinction between male headship and male domination is not kept in mind throughout. Feminism acknowledges no such distinction.
Christian feminism argues that God created man and woman as equals in a way that excludes male headship. According to them, male headship was imposed upon Eve as a penalty for her part in the fall. It follows, in this view, that a woman’s redemption in Christ releases her from the “punishment” of male headship. What then did God intend for our manhood and womanhood at the creation?
Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He them; male and female he created them.”
Each of these three lines makes a point. Line one tells us how we got here. We came from God. Line two highlights the divine image in man. We bear a resemblance to God. Line three boldly affirms the dual sexuality of man. We are male and female.
Finally in verse 28, God pronounces His benediction on man. “God blessed them and said to them…” In His benediction, the Creator also authorizes male and female together to carry out their mission to rule the lower creation. To sum up, man was created as royalty in God’s world, male and female alike bearing the divine glory equally. Most Christian feminists would heartily agree with this paragraph. But Genesis 2 and 3 are more controversial. I must challenge a point of feminism before we move on.
As in verse 26 and 27 God refers to both male and female as man in Genesis 5:2. “He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them "man.”
This is a striking fact indeed. It demands explanation. After all, if any of us were Creator, would we after creating humans use the name of only one sex as a generic term for both? I expect not. Our modern prejudices could detect a whiff of “discrimination” a mile away. But God cuts across the grain of our peculiar sensitivities when He names the human race, both man and woman, “man.”
Why would God do such a thing? Why would Moses carefully record such a thing? Surely God was wise and purposeful in this decision, as He is in every other! His referring to the human race as man tells us something about ourselves. Let me suggest that it only makes sense against the backdrop of male headship. God did not name the human race “woman.” If “woman” had been the more appropriate and illuminating designation, no doubt God would have used it. He does not even use a neutral term like “persons”, no doubt to the dismay of the more politically-correct among us.
Genesis 2 So was Eve Adam’s equal? Yes and no. She was his spiritual equal and, unlike the animals “suitable for him.” But she was not equal in that she was his “helper.’ God did not create man and woman in an undifferentiated way, and their mere maleness and femaleness identify their respective roles. A man just by virtue of his manhood is called to lead for God. A woman just by virtue of her womanhood is called to help for God. The very fact that God created human beings in the dual modality of male and female cautions us in an unqualified equation of the two sexes. This profound and beautiful distinction is not a biological triviality or accident. God wants men to be men and women to be women. A man trying to be a woman repulses us, and rightly so. It is perverse. The same is true when a woman attempts be a masculine.
Must the male headship side of the paradox be taken as an insult or threat to women? Not at all. Eve was Adam’s equal in the only sense in which equality creates personal worth. Adoption into God’s family. In a parallel sense, a church member has just as much freedom and significance as a church elder. But the elder is to lead and the member is to support – no cause for offense there. I see this fallacy again and again in feminist argumentation. “Subordination = denigration” and “equality equals indistinguishability.” Where does this convoluted thinking come from? Was the Son of God slighted because He came to do the will of the Father? Is the church denigrated by its subordination to the Lord? Never. Subordination is entailed in the very nature of a helping role (Genesis 2:18).
Why then, do some fellow church members resist this teaching so energetically? One reason is incidences of male domination asserted in the name of male headship. I have seen examples of this, along with examples of hostile, dominating women. Both are wrong. When truth is abused, a rival position (in this case feminism) that lacks logically compelling power can take on psychologically compelling power. In short, feminism is an emotive reaction to male domination, driven by pain or pride. But male domination is a personal moral failure, not a Biblical doctrine.
If we define ourselves out of a reaction to bad experiences we will be forever translating our past pain into the present where it damages ourselves and others. We must define ourselves not by personal injury, or popular hysteria, but by the pattern of gender and sexual truth taught here in the Holy Scriptures. As the head, the husband bears the primary responsibility to lead their partnership in a God-glorifying direction. This is a Biblical principle that stands forever apart from changing cultures. And when we exchange Biblical principles with culture, we can go down all kinds of wrong roads—such as the July 29th vote by the Columbia Union Committee to “ordain” women in opposition to the expressed will of the world church.
Illustration: Christian feminism claims that Jesus’ selection of twelve men as His disciples was merely a cultural accommodation designed to avoid conflict in His missionary enterprise on earth. In others words, Jesus was acting culturally and not on divine principle. Such thinking has a difficult task before it. One, it fails to explain how the foundation of the Holy City itself is based on cultural accommodation (Revelation 21:14). And two, it makes the Godhead guilty of departing from principle in the selection of initial church leadership. It is astonishing that any professed believer could bring such a charge against Him. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, and allow that they simply haven’t thought it through.
The twelve foundations of the New Jerusalem are named after the twelve Apostles, and the gates are named after the twelve Tribes of Israel (Revelation 21:10-14). By permanently building cultural accommodation into the eternal foundation of the home of the redeemed, “christian feminism” makes the Lord guilty of immortalizing temporal cultural “exclusiveness.” This powerfully illustrates the bankruptcy of feminist theology. The Holy City rests solidly upon the principles of God, not upon the shifting sands of culture. Jesus’ selection of twelve men as His apostles was an intentional and principled choice by God (John 17:6).
Summary Male-female equality and male headship are woven into the very fabric of the Bible. Feminists themselves recognize this, to quote one writer “Feminist theology cannot be done from the existing base of the Christian Bible” (Rosemary Radford Ruether). This is the reason for the influx of current reinterpretations of Scripture to support their purposes. Yet it is wrong to wrest the Scriptures for any purpose. All of us have had the experience of discovering to our dismay that we have been making the Bible say what it doesn’t say. This can be turned around. To make such a discovery and then to repent is to grow in grace.
What might be the principle source of feminist angst to the Biblical text? Consider the following: there is no necessary relation between personal role and personal worth. Feminism denies this principle. To them, any limitation in role threatens or reduces personal worth. But why? Why must my position dictate my significance? Simple answer. Because the world reasons this way. But the gospel tells us that our glory, and our worth is measured by our personal conformity to Jesus the Christ. The absurdity of feminism lies in its irrational demand that a woman is not complete unless she occupies a position of headship. And what do we call something with two heads? A monster.
There is a growing consensus within the Christian community regarding the role and authority of the “Elder,” “Pastor,” and “Bishop”. Many people see these New Testament positions as simply different names for the same office. Comments such as the following are common:
“There is no distinction between a pastor, a bishop or an elder in the scripture. They all refer to the exact same office. . . To put it simply: A pastor is a bishop is an elder.”
“All three Greek words [presbuteros, poimen, episkopos] refer to the same men, the same work. Pastors, elders, bishops and overseers are the same. The Bible uses all six English words (bishop, overseer, elder, presbyter, shepherd and pastor) interchangeably to refer to the same men, and so should we.”
This study will attempt to show there is a difference between these offices, and that we should not conflate the terms. The proposition is that the Holy Spirit has used different words to describe distinct and separate roles within the church. Certainly there is some overlap between these offices, and we should expect to see some redundancy. However, an examination of the linguistic, lexical and relational usages seems to demonstrate unique differences.
The Greek word most often translated “elder” in the New Testament is “presbuteros” (pronounced pres-boo'-ter-os). Presbuteros is formed from the root word presbus. This word has the general meaning of:
- Old man, an older person, natural dignity of age, more advance in age, implying dignity and wisdom.
- Elder of Jewish/Christian Sanhedrin or Church, assembly of elders.
- Senators (Spartan Constitution)
- Local Dignitary
The overall meaning for the root word presbus can be summarized as: 1) an older person; 2) an ambassador; 3) administrative member of an assembly of elders; 4) involved with legislative and possibly judicial functions (senatorial position); and 5) a local dignitary.
When used to signify the comparative degree of a presbus (i.e.- “old man,” “an elder”), it is an adjective. When referring to a specific person, role or function (i.e.- a “leader” in the church), it is a noun. We will be looking at the noun for our study.
(The meaning of the Greek words in this study, is based upon their usage and common understanding from the time period when the New Testament was written. From now on, I will refer to this category by the technical term, “Lexical”).
The Lexical meaning of this word can be summarized as follows:
- Administered justice.
- Rulers of the people.
- Officials in councils - - presiding over assemblies. Management of affairs (members of the Sanhedrin.)
- Ranked superior in age- in terms of official responsibility. (“Representatives of the older generation as compared to the younger”)
- Representatives of the people
- Spiritual care, exercise oversight over, overseers.
- Leaders in Congregational settings, “committed the direction and government of individual churches”
- Teachers in church.
Several distinct definitions emerge from this list. The presbuteros function in an administrative (officials in assemblies), judicial (administers justice) and executive (congregational assemblies) roles within the church. They also serve as “teachers” and “spiritual care givers”; however, these duties do not uniquely define their position. New Testament scholar Gerhard Kittel makes the following insightful comment: “in the constitution of Sparta presbus occurs as a political title to denote a president of a college . . . Presbuteroi have administrative and judicial functions . . . . And are charged with supervision of the finances and negotiations with the authorities . . . [and] men belonging to the senate.”
Presbuteros is used 66 times in the New Testament. Regarding the administrative role, the presbuteros made managerial decisions—“assembled in council,” and “held consultation.” As executive leaders of the “church” they “persuaded the multitude”. Throughout Jesus’ ministry (and the Apostles’), they came with the challenge—“by what authority [power] do you teach in the temple?” Furthermore, they were involved in judicial activities—“they delivered Jesus to Pilate,” Jesus was “rejected of the presbuteros,” and was “accused of the presbuteros”.
In the Post-Resurrection era (i.e. the Christian Church), the functions of the presbuteros remained intact. The administrative capacity was seen when Paul and Barnabas came to Jerusalem and the presbuteros assembled “to consider the matter” of circumcision. Their executive decision was authoritative (in consultation with the Apostles), and their “decrees” were delivered to the churches. Their executive authority is seen at Ephesus, where Paul called the presbuteros together, giving them a mandate to “feed the church.” When relief was sent to the brethren at Antioch, it was sent to the presbuteros.
Their teaching responsibilities were affirmed as they labored in “word and in doctrine.” Their spiritual care can be seen in James’ call for the presbuteros to “pray over the sick. . . anointing them.” Both Paul and Peter addressed the presbuteros as “overseers”, showing that they fulfilled some of the same duties of the episkopos and the poimen (“bishops”, “pastors”).
In Titus 1:5-7 we see that the presbuteros and episkopos have overlapping roles. Paul exhorts the church to “ordain elders (presbuteros) in every city . . . For a bishop (episkopos) must be blameless . . .” Also, when Paul is addressing the “elders” (presbuteros) in Ephesus, he reminds them that “the Holy Ghost has made you overseers (episkopos)”. These passages affirm that a presbuteros CAN (and should) perform the duties of the episkopos but not the other way around. In a sense, the presbuteros must be a “master of all trades”—and the functions of the episkopos are included and incorporated into this office. Titus 1:5-7 confirms that the presbuteros is recognized as such through the ordination process. Furthermore, Paul calls for presbuteros to be ordained in “every city” and in “every church.”
The presbuteros were to be accorded double honor, and be “rewarded monetarily as is appropriate for the laborer is worthy of his wages.” Also, they “should not be accused unfairly or frivolously. An accusation should not even be received unless two or three gather to accuse and the ones who accuse are witnesses of the offense.” Interestingly, both Peter and John refer to themselves as presbuteros while Paul never does.
In conclusion, a linguistic, lexical, comparative overview shows that the primary functions of a presbuteros include administrative, legislative and judicial roles. Within the scope of their duties, are the functions of the episkopos (“overseeing,” etc.) and the “shepherding” roles of the poimen (“feeding,” “caring,” etc.). Dr. Mare summarizes these findings nicely: “Presbuteros is used in Christian contexts for leading officials in local (Acts 11:30; 14:23) and regional (Acts 15:2,4,6) ecclesiae (churches) to lead the church in doctrinal decisions (Acts 15:22f; 16:4), to be responsible for missionary endeavors (Acts 21:18,19), to supervise distribution to the physical needs of the congregations (Acts 11:30), and to guard churches from error (Acts 20:17-31). The position of presbuteros is confirmed through ordination, after a careful review of the qualifications by the church.”
The word translated “bishop” in the N.T. is episkopos (pronounced ep-is'-kop-os). Episkopos is made up of the words epi and skopos. The preposition epi has several definitions, but generally means: “towards,” “to,” “against,” “on,” “at,” “upon,” “near,” “for,“ etc. The root word skopos has the following meanings:
- Look, Peer into the distance at a goal, end, a mark.
- Examine, View attentively; look into one’s affairs- with reference to laws.
- Observer, Look out for, watch(er)- a hilltop or lookout-place, watch tower.
- Guardian, protector
- Spy, Scout, messenger sent to learn tidings.
The root word skopos has the general meaning of: 1) examining, looking attentively at; 2) watching; 3) guarding; and 4) scouting. Therefore, we could say that it refers to “looking towards,” “watching for,” “guarding at/near,” etc.
Episkopos is a masculine noun.
The meaning of episkopos is summarized as follows:
- Inspecting (an inspector sent to Athens by the states) (In Cynic philosophy- a “Cynic preacher tests men, whether their lives conform to the truth. . . [and] strives for perception of the truth as the basis of moral and rational conduct.”)
- Overseeing, a watch- one who watches over- a man charged with seeing that things be done properly. (In the Odyssey, an episkopos is an overseer over goods as the work of a ship’s captain or merchant”)
- Scout (In Homer’s writings, an episkopos means a “scout or a spy.”)
- Guardian (Office of guardianship within a group), Guarding the apostolic tradition, Protector (Plato asserts that the episkopoi is one who “sees to it that there are no transgressions.“)
- Superintendent- supervisor (In Athens, episkopoi were “supervisors sent to the cities. . . . And were in some sense governors.”)
- Judicial- There seems to be some judicial element to the function of the Episcopes (it seems a minor role as compared to the presbuteros). State officials seemed “to have discharged, or supervised judicial functions.”
In combination with the root word skopos, we see several unique definitions for the episkopos compared to those for presbuteros. While there are some overlapping qualities (overseeing, teaching), the core responsibilities are primarily supervisory, investigative and guardian. The definitions of episkopos imply the office has a more intimate contact with the laity than with the presbuteros, being less administrative and more personal (“inspecting,” “guarding,” “watching”).
Episkopos occurs five times in the New Testament, and confirms the basic Lexical meanings. Regarding the Guarding and Investigative functions—Paul reminds the bishop to be “vigilant.” He exhorts the bishop to “convince gainsayers, vain talkers, deceivers . . . .” He concludes by saying to “rebuke them sharply.” In 1 Peter 2:25, Jesus is referred to as the “guardian” (episkopos) of the soul. When speaking of supervisory function, Paul tells Timothy that the bishop must “rule his own house well. . . having his children in subjection.” He urges Titus that they “hold fast the faithful word . . . exhorting by sound doctrine,” while Peter commands them to “take the oversight . . . [and] feed the flock of God.” By extension, if the presbuteros is to be ordained as an episkopos, then an episkopos is also recognized through the process of ordination.
Other reasons why episkopos should be seen as a distinct role, 1) it is an “office”, “a man desires the office of a bishop”; 2) it is listed as distinct and separate with other offices, “with the bishops (Episkopos) and deacons”; and 3) the Apostles offices are included in being an episkopos, “his (Judas’) bishoprick (episkopee) let another take.”
In conclusion, the episkopos is a church officer whose roles include: “inspecting,” “overseeing,” and “superintending.” This Greek word was used specifically for those sent to conduct affairs of the state as a scout or watch of their jurisdiction. The position of episkopos is established through ordination. It is not a spiritual gift, and therefore there are objective criteria the church must evaluate before instating into position.
The word translated “pastor” in the New Testament is the root word poimen (pronounced poy-mane'). This masculine noun is akin to poia, which means “to protect.” It is related to the verb poimano, which has the general meaning of to feed or tend a flock, to keep sheep. It is also has a relationship with the noun poimne, which means a flock of sheep.
This word also has exclusive and inherent meanings that distinguish it from prebuteros and episkopos:
- Shepherd (Shepherd of sheep, oxen, people)
- Guardian, protector
- Tender care- nourishes, cherishes- not one who merely feeds
- Teachers of pupils
- Guide, leader of Christian communities
From a lexical standpoint, we can see that the word poimen contains several different meanings from the other two Greek words. This word specifies a position that is more nurturing and guiding. It does not have the administrative, judicial and executive meaning that presbuteros has, or the supervisory, investigative and oversight functions of episkopos. It does, however, include the teaching and protecting roles that are seen in the other two offices.
Poimen occurs 18 times in the New Testament, and the comparative survey confirms the preceding definitions. The nurturing function is seen in Matt. 9:36 and Mark 6:34, where Jesus has “compassion on the people.” The guiding role can be seen in passages such as “smite the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.” Peter elaborates on sheep that have gone astray, whom Jesus, “Shepherd (poimen) of the soul,” rescues. At the birth of Jesus, there were “shepherds in the fields, keeping watch over the flock by night.” John 10 refers to Jesus as the “Chief” poimen, and tells us that the sheep “follow” Him, and “hear His voice.” In Ephesians 4:13, we see that the poimen works with the church to promote the “unity of the faith,” “the work of the ministry,” and prevents “winds of doctrine from tossing” the church “to and fro”.
Interestingly, the role of poimen in the church is a spiritual gift. Unlike the prebuteros and episkopos, it is a position that is not established by a set list of “criteria” or confirmed by ordination. Rather, like other spiritual gifts, it is recognized or discerned by the church as a supernatural gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit. The qualifications for all spiritual gifts are those that involve the heart, and are given to those who are truly consecrated wholly to God.
A common mistake is to conflate the actions (verbs) of the poimen with the positions (nouns) of the presbuteros and episkopos. It is true that the latter two have responsibilities to “feed” the church of God and to “nurture”, but these actions cannot be construed to be the actual position itself.
In conclusion, we have seen lexically and comparatively that the poimen (translated as “shepherd” or “pastor”) fulfills the role of “guarding,” “teacher,” and “nurturer”. This position could include any role that does not involve judicial, administrative, authoritative, investigative, supervisory or managerial roles. The poimen is not a position which is established through ordination, but is a spiritual gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit. It is beyond the scope of this paper to enumerate all the positions or roles this could include.
The findings of this brief study reveal some interesting conclusions. We have seen that the functions and roles of the presbuteros (“elder”), episkopos (“bishop”), and poimen (“pastor”) are unique to each one. The presbuteros deals with executive, administrative and judicial areas, as well as teaching and supervising. The episkopos deals with supervisory, investigative and protecting areas, as well as teaching. The poimen functions primarily as nurturing, guarding and teaching. The presbuteros and episkopos are both recognized by external, objective criteria that the church evaluates, and then confirms them with ordination. The poimen, on the other hand, is a gift received from the Holy Spirit as a result of internal qualifications that the Spirit recognizes. The following table highlight the major findings:
|Mature (superior in age)||X||X|
|Leaders of Congregations||X||X|
So what? Why is this study important—or is it? There are two reasons why these findings are significant:
1) Many people today feel that they are “called to the office of pastor.” A common mantra is “the Holy Spirit has given me the gift of being a pastor—no one has the right to prevent the Spirit‘s calling in my life!” While it IS TRUE that the gift of the Spirit includes the poimen, it DOES NOT include the office of presbuteros and episkopos. As already mentioned, the latter two have specific objective, external check points that the church must evaluate before allowing anyone who feels “called” to fulfill their roles in the church. Scripture simply will not allow for a subjective, internal and gift-oriented rationale for becoming a modern-day presbuteros (“elder”) or episcopes (“bishop“).
2) On the other side of the coin, we shouldn’t be too quick to negate someone’s “calling” for the office of poimen. This spiritual gift is given by God, and it is to be used for His glory.
The Columbia Union and the Pacific Union both plan special constituency meetings at which there will be a vote on whether to authorize the ordination of female pastors. The Columbia Union constituency meeting is set for July 29, and the Pacific Union constituency meeting is set for August 19. The presidents of these unions have abandoned any pretense of neutrality, and are strongly urging their constituents to endorse women's ordination. Dave Weigley, President of the Columbia Union Conference, and Ricardo Graham, President of the Pacific Union Conference, have written editorials in favor of female ordination, and beyond that, both have dedicated the July issue of their respective union news outlets to arguing for female ordination.
Part I: The Columbia Union Visitor
In the July issue of the Columbia Union's monthly paper, The Visitor, Elder Dave Weigley sets out his reasons for supporting female ordination:
“Since we announced plans to hold a special constituency meeting July 29, I’ve discovered that many members, pastors and leaders support our request to authorize ordination of women clergy. They realize that although we continue to debate the issue theologically, it’s largely cultural.”
But is it a merely cultural issue? Paul based his teaching of male headship in the church on the history of creation and the Fall. (2 Timothy 2:11-14) Because the doctrine of male headship is rooted in facts of history that do not change and are the same for every culture, this apostolic mandate is eternal and trans-cultural.
Elder Weigley continues:
In his new book titled Where Are We Going? Jan Paulsen, immediate past president of our world church, writes, “The church has never taken the view that biblical teachings exclude the possibility of women being ordained to ministry on an equal footing with men. But global leadership has felt that local readiness and perceptions—heavily influenced by culture—have thus far kept us from moving forward on this as a global community.” (p. 12)
The first sentence quoted from Elder Paulsen is true: the SDA Church has not put this issue on a doctrinal basis. Given the clarity of Scripture, it should have done so long ago, but it has not. It seems very unlikely, however, that all opposition to female ordination is merely cultural and not scripturally based.
Elder Weigley, in what has become typical of liberal argumentation, appeals to the Holy Spirit in justification of what is not in accordance with the Scriptures the Spirit inspired:
1. I can no longer dismiss the evidence of the Spirit’s moving in China and other parts of the world where women are advancing the mission of the church as promised in Joel 2.
China is transitioning from the extreme persecution of Christianity to a more tolerant attitude toward faith. After communists took power in 1949, foreign missionaries were expelled and all ties were cut between Chinese Christianity and Christianity in other countries. Even today, no foreign ties are tolerated, hence the church in China has no connection to the world-wide Seventh-day Adventist Church. The practice of having women in leadership roles developed by necessity during times of persecution, when male pastors were often imprisoned. Frequently, “old uncles” guided the churches from the background. It is wonderful that God has used women to skirt persecution in China. It does not follow from the Chinese situation, however, that Christians who are free to practice their religion according to the dictates of conscience should set aside clear scriptural guidelines.
And of course the reference to Joel 2:28-29 is not persuasive:
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”
No one disputes that the gift of prophecy can be given to both men and women. The Bible affords several examples of female prophets (Judges 14:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Luke 2:36; Acts 21:8-9), and, obviously, a female prophet was crucial to the founding of this denomination. But the fact that women can be and have been given the gift of prophecy---a fact of which Paul was fully aware (1 Cor. 11:5)---does not set aside the apostolic mandate of male headship. To the contrary, in the very same passage in which Paul writes of women prophesying, he also notes that “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man . . .” (1 Cor. 11:3)
Elder Weigley continues:
2. In the early days, our church saw the value of encouraging both genders to serve according to their calling, and history tells of female pastors, missionaries, evangelists, conference presidents and General Conference treasurers (see pp. 16-17). In New York at the turn of the 19th century, for example, women won 60 percent of our converts.
Several of the examples are husband-wife evangelistic teams, not female senior pastors. Opponents of female ordination or female headship do not dispute that women have a vital and indispensable role to play in evangelism, soul-winning, bible work, social-welfare-charity outreach, etc. The issue is female headship in the church, which is not scripturally a woman's prerogative.
The rest of Elder Weigley's arguments are premised upon the assumption that opposition to female headship in the church is merely cultural, and that the issue is mere “policy,” rather than a scriptural or doctrinal principle:
- We already accommodate policy variances in some places for practical purposes, cultural sensitivities or to advance our mission, e.g., polygamy, labor unions, women’s ordination. In our cultural context, this issue has moral and ethical implications.
- Only recently has there been an attempt to have us walk lockstep in policy. Our pioneers would have been hampered by such uniformity.
- Mission should drive policy, not vice versa. As policies become outdated or problematic for the advancement of the gospel, we revise or abolish them, and/or create new ones.
In addition to Dave Weigley's editorial, several other articles in The Visitor advocate for female headship in the church, including: “Why We're Advocating for Women's Ordination,” “Understanding Ordination,” “11 Pioneering Women Ministers,” and “Time Line: The Road to Ordination.”
In “Why We're Advocating for Women's Ordination,” the authors address the concern that women's ordination will lead to acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriage as follows: “That's an unfounded leap because these topics are in no way related. The church's stance on marriage is doctrinal (See, Fundamental Belief # 23) and we, therefore, affirm it.” Later, in responding to the charge that the Columbia Union is rebelling against the world-wide SDA Church, they say, “If this were theological or even doctrinal, we would continue to deny the requests we receive for female ordination from our conferences. But this is an ecclesiastical practice that . . . holds no Biblical mandate.” And again, later in the article, “But this is a matter of practice, not doctrinal belief. We are united with the world church in doctrine, mission and Spirit.”
Clearly, the failure of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to have articulated, long before now, a scriptural doctrine of male headship has made it difficult to maintain discipline among the church's various administrative units on this issue. Had such a doctrine been articulated, the Columbia Union would, by its own admission, be compelled to abide by that doctrine. But because the issue has not been framed as doctrinal, the liberal unions call it a question of mere “policy,” and feel at liberty to ignore the repeated verdict of the world church in General Conference Session. It is crucial that the Church at the General Conference level articulate that male headship in the Christian Church is not mere “policy,” but Bible doctrine.
The Visitor also relies on the fact that the General Conference has already fatally compromised the principle of male headship by allowing the ordination of female elders in those divisions that want to do so:
“We are already united in our practice of ordaining both men and women to ministry at every level except one – pastoral. . . . To be commissioned as a pastor, she must be ordained as an elder first.”
Since the ordination of female elders violates the principle of male headship in the church, the Church, if it ever recognizes such a principle as Bible doctrine, will need to “walk back” the policy of ordaining female elders. Needless to say, such a reversal will be very difficult to accomplish. The advocates of female headship (but sadly not their opponents) were looking to the future when they achieved this compromise.
Part II: The Pacific Union Recorder
The Pacific Union Recorder also has devoted most of its July issue to lobbying for female ordination. The articles are “Our Praise Shall Ascend” (an editorial by Ricardo Graham), “The Campbellite and Mrs. White,” “What Haskell Said,” “A Pastor's Perspective,” and “Following the Heart of Jesus” (a condensed sermon by Ricardo Graham). In addition, a notice of the Special Constituency Session is posted, and the name of every delegate is listed (subjecting them to lobbying and importuning for a period of about six weeks, until August 19). The articles are all translated into Spanish, Elder Graham probably correctly anticipating that opposition to female headship will be stronger in the Spanish-language community than among English-speakers.
In the article “Following the Heart of Jesus,” Elder Graham argues that the trajectory of Jesus' teaching leads to radical equality between men and women:
“What is the bull’s eye? Equality and unity in the church. There can be no unity without equality and inclusion. The church must seek to follow the natural progression of Jesus’ trajectory, all the way to the mark.”
But the trajectory of Christ's teachings is best seen in His own actions, and Christ ordained twelve male disciples (Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16; DA 290-297) but not a single woman among His sizable cohort of female followers (Mark 15:40-41; Luke 23:27-30). Ellen White makes clear that the calling of the 12 male disciples included ordination:
“When Jesus had ended His instructions to the disciples, He gathered the little band close about Him, and kneeling in the midst of them, and laying His hands upon their heads, He offered a prayer dedicating them to His sacred work. Thus the Lord's disciples were ordained to the gospel ministry.” Desire of Ages, p. 296.
Elder Graham is essentially arguing that Christ would do things differently if He came to earth today, instead of two millennia ago, but we can use this uncabined rationale any time we find it inconvenient to follow Christ's example, and need a handy excuse not to do so.
Elder Graham acknowledges that Paul wrote, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:12), but counters this text as follows:
“We must remember that God spoke to and through a patriarchal, male-dominated society. The men in biblical times were, to put it bluntly, sexists. We should not, however, assume that because the society was sexist that God is sexist or that the modern church needs to be.”
Putting to one side the repeated use of the loaded term “sexist,” God did, in fact, create a patriarchal world. Adam was created first, and Eve was created out of Adam's rib, a suitable helper or “helpmate” for Adam. (Gen. 2:18-25) Adam was not created after Eve, to be a helpmate for Eve. Matrilineal societies are very rare, and true matriarchies probably non-existent (which gives some indication of the radical nature of the Western cultural elite's push toward a post-patriarchal society).
God also created a patriarchal religion. The pagan religions of the ancient world had multiple gods and goddesses. (See, e.g., Acts 19:27-28) Frequently, the same god had both a male and a female form, across several different cultures, and it was not rare for pagan religions to have female priestesses. But the God of Judaism and Christianity is always referred to by the male pronoun, and was never served by female priestesses. It is often remarked that Judaism was the first great monotheistic religion, but it is just as remarkable, though not as often remarked, that it was the first mono-gendered religion. When God was incarnated in human form, He came in the form of a man. And although Christ had followers of both sexes, as noted above He ordained only men. God is not “sexist,” but God did create sex differences and a sexual order, and He did specify differing gender roles in the home and in religious worship.
Part III: The Change to the Pacific Union's Bylaws is Not Limited to Ordination
It is important to examine the changes to its bylaws that the Pacific Union wishes its constituents to approve. The terms that are struck through are to be deleted, and the terms in brackets and in [bold] are to be added:
All[In general], the policies, purposes and procedures of this Union shall[will] be in harmony with the working policies and procedures of the North American Division and the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists."
As presently worded, the bylaws state that ALL Pacific Union policies, purposes and procedures SHALL be in harmony with NAD and GC working polices and procedures. There are NO exceptions. With this change, the Pacific Union would give itself permission to be out of compliance with General Conference and NAD working policies and procedures not just on female ordination, but on any issue it suits them to be out of compliance, as long as they “generally” or usually comply.
Obviously, the implications of this change go far beyond the issue of female ordination. Elder Graham acknowledges this in his article, “Our Praise Shall Ascend,” when he states, “It is important that we make the small changes in the bylaws, not just for the immediate discussion surrounding the ordination of women to the gospel ministry, but to provide room for the Spirit's leading in all that we do.” (emphasis added) The constituents may believe that they are voting on female ordination, but they are actually voting on whether to give the Pacific Union permission to ignore GC and NAD working policy whenever it wants to. By this change to its bylaws, the Pacific Union is making an astonishing move toward secession from the world church.
It is possible that this change could have a bearing on the origins pedagogy controversy at La Sierra. The Adventist Accrediting Association (AAA) exists to ensure that the Adventist philosophy of education is implemented at Adventist schools like La Sierra. And where is the Adventist philosophy of education articulated? In General Conference Working Policy:
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church recognizes that God, the Creator and Sustainer of the earth, and the entire universe, is the source of knowledge and wisdom. In His image, God created man perfect. Because of sin, man lost his original estate. Christian education, by perfecting faith in Christ, restores in man the image of his Maker, nurtures in man an intelligent dedication to the work of God on earth and develops in man a practical preparation for conscientious service to his fellow men.”
This creation-centric philosophy of education, articulated in GC working policies that the Pacific Union would like to give itself permission to ignore, is not being implemented at La Sierra, which teaches that the human race descended from an apelike hominoid. If the constituents pass the requested change to the bylaws, La Sierra can respond to AAA by noting that, as a Pacific Union institution, La Sierra does not have to abide by General Conference working policy in every particular, only “in general.” This might seem a stretch, but it should be noted that, pursuant to the incestuous system of interlocking boards by which the SDA Church is governed, Randal Wisbey is on the Pacific Union Executive Committee that wants these changes to its bylaws, and Wisbey is always two or three tactical steps ahead of the creationists who would like to return La Sierra to the Seventh-day Adventist philosophy of education. The requested bylaw change plays into Wisbey's hands.
The world leadership of the Seventh-day Adventists issued an “appeal for unity” to several union conferences that have either taken or are considering independent action regarding the ordination of women to gospel ministry. The request comes in a statement issued June 29, 2012.
An Appeal For Unity in Respect to Ministerial Ordination Practices
Since the beginning of 2012 several union conferences1 have recorded actions expressing support for, or commitment to, the ministerial ordination of women. The world-wide Seventh-day Adventist Church is currently engaged in a study of the theology of ordination and its implications. This study is scheduled for completion by the 2014 Annual Council of the General Conference Executive Committee. At that time the Executive Committee will determine the report which will be given to the 2015 General Conference Session along with whether or not any new recommendation should be considered by delegates to the Session. [Main News Story]
In the light of this current study and the actions of several unions, General Conference officers2, including presidents of the 13 world divisions, have unanimously communicated an appeal for unity in respect to ministerial ordination practices. The appeal calls: 1) for unity in respecting a global church action (i.e. the 1990 and 1995 General Conference Session decisions on ministerial ordination); 2) for each union executive committee to carefully review the far-reaching effects of pursuing a course of action that is contrary to the decisions of the General Conference in session; and 3) for each union to participate in the current study about the theology of ordination and its implication.
1. Respecting a global decision of the Church The world-wide Church recognizes the General Conference in Session as the highest ecclesiastical authority for Seventh-day Adventists. The 19903 and 19954 General Conference Session decisions with respect to granting ministerial ordination to women represent the current voice of the Church in this matter. The actions of certain unions indicate their desire to establish an alternative source of authority for a matter that already carries the authority of the world Church.
As currently understood in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, ordination to the gospel ministry is ordination to serve the global Church. No provision exists for a geographically localized ministerial ordination.5 Consequently the decision to change or modify ordination practices is a global one and necessitates a decision from the world body.
For any union to introduce a different ministerial ordination practice is seen, by the rest of the Church, as readiness to set aside a world Church decision and proceed in another direction. Such actions, taken at the very time when the world Church is engaged in a study and discussion of the matter, pre-empt the process and any decision that might come from it. This creates widespread confusion, misunderstanding as well as erosion of trust and also nurtures doubt about these unions acting in good faith as members of the world-wide family.
Some who would encourage unions to proceed with ministerial ordination for women draw attention to selected statements from a General Conference Executive Committee document.6 As used by these individuals, the statements would indicate that a union has final authority in matters relating to ministerial ordination. The intent of the document from which such statements have been taken is to emphasize the interconnectedness of Seventh-day Adventist denominational structure. The authority and responsibility entrusted to any entity of the Church is exercised within the context of beliefs, values, and policies of the entire Church. Being a part of the global Seventh-day Adventist Church obliges every organization to think and act for the good of the whole and to shun a spirit of autonomy and self-determination.
2. The effects of unilaterally pursuing a different course of action The significance of any union proceeding in a manner contrary to a global Church decision is not limited to the specific action involved (ministerial ordination in the present instance); it touches the very heart of how this Church functions as a global family. The essence of unity in Seventh-day Adventist organizational functioning is the mutual commitment of all organizations to collective decision-making in matters affecting the whole family—and the acceptance of those decisions as the authority of the Church. The action of any union in pursuing a different course of action represents a rejection of this key value in denominational life. Unless this value (i.e. collective decision-making and the acceptance of those decisions as the authority of the Church) is maintained, all other values that contribute to unity are seriously weakened.
For one entity to express its reasoned dissent with a global decision of the Church might appear to some as a legitimate course of action. However, the implications of acting contrary to a world Church decision are not limited to the one entity. Any organization contemplating a course of action contrary to a global Church decision must ask itself, “Is this the pattern of participation in Church life that we wish to establish and recommend for other entities to follow?” “How will we deal with the situation if an organization in our territory should decide to discontinue its participation in one or more matters under which it disagrees with the larger family of organizations?” Mutually agreed upon policies benefit the entire Church and keep it from fragmenting into independent, locally-driven units. They are the reflection of the Spirit-directed will of the body and allow each entity to look beyond itself for the good of the whole body of Christ.
3. Participation in the current study of ordination and its implications General Conference officers welcome and invite unions to participate in the global study of ordination. This study will be the most widespread and thorough study the Church has undertaken on this topic. Earlier studies have been conducted by commissions. This is the first time that a study of ministerial ordination engages the whole Church through the 13 divisions.
Biblical Research Committees in all divisions have been asked to conduct a study on the theology of ordination and its implications. In addition, during 2012, the General Conference Administrative Committee will appoint a Theology of Ordination Study Committee, with representation from all divisions, to oversee and facilitate the global discussion process and to prepare reports for presentation to the General Conference Executive Committee. The Annual Council 2014 will determine what action, if any, should be recommended to the 2015 General Conference Session. Careful thought is being given to ensure that the study and education process is conducted with fairness and thoroughness in respect to examining the theology of ordination and its practical implications.
All unions are welcome to submit their conviction as part of the global dialog on this question. Their voices, along with others, in this matter need to be heard. Now is the time for unions to share their position on ministerial ordination, and the rationale behind it. Doing so will ensure that various perspectives will be clearly understood by the world Church.
The appeal sent by the General Conference officers to certain unions also reflects this Church leadership group’s message to other unions that may be considering similar steps with respect to ministerial ordination practices. The communication concludes: “We have shared with you our deep concerns about the course of action you have chosen. We realize that sharply differing convictions with respect to ministerial ordination for women exist in our global family. We also realize that the passage of time without finding satisfaction for the tensions on this question can give rise to frustration and the erosion of confidence that a timely and mutually satisfactory resolution can be found.”
“We therefore earnestly appeal to you:
1. That your union continues to operate in harmony with the global decisions and global decision-making processes of the Church. 2. That until such time as the Church decides otherwise, your union refrains from taking any action to implement ministerial ordination practices that are contrary to the 1990 and 1995 General Conference Session actions. 3. That the union membership be informed concerning the implications for the entire Church in the event that one entity, for whatever reason, chooses a course of action in deliberate opposition to a decision of the whole Church. 4. That the union actively participates in the global discussion about the Church’s understanding and practice of ordination. The contributions of a union in this discussion can be forwarded to the Theology of Ordination Study Committee through the respective Ordination Study Committee set up by each division.
“Thank you for your willingness to receive and reflect on these things. We join you in diligently and prayerfully seeking to know the will, the blessing and the guidance of God in this and all other matters affecting our life together as a Church and our collective endeavor to advance His kingdom.”
______________________________ 1. At December 31, 2010 the Seventh-day Adventist Church had 60 unions with conference status and 59 unions with mission status 2. The group of 40 officers involved include officers from the Presidential, Secretariat and Treasury offices of the General Conference plus the presidents of divisions who, in additional to being presidents of their divisions are vice-presidents of the General Conference. 3. The 1990 General Conference Session approved that women should be given wide participation in all church activities, including soul winning and pastoral duties, but that “in view of the possible risk of disunity, dissension, and diversion from the mission of the Church” the Session also approved the Annual Council recommendation that ordination of women to the gospel ministry not be authorized. 4. The 1995 General Conference Session action denied the request of the North American Division that the Session adopt provisions on ordination as outlined below: "The General Conference vests in each division the right to authorize the ordination of individuals within its territory in harmony with established policies. In addition, where circumstances do not render it inadvisable, a division may authorize the ordination of qualified individuals without regard to gender. In divisions where the division executive committee takes specific actions approving the ordination of women to the gospel ministry, women may be ordained to serve in those divisions." 5. Information that a number of women serve as ordained ministers in China has been cited as justification, for unions elsewhere to proceed in a similar manner. It has been alleged that the Northern Asia-Pacific Division recognizes these ordinations and has therefore established a precedent for granting ministerial ordination to women. However, these ordinations were not authorized or conducted according to the policies of the Church. Nor are these ordinations approved or recognized/endorsed by the Northern Asia-Pacific Division. The Seventh-day Adventist Church does not have an officially organized structure in China that is comparable to other areas of the world. Government regulations do not permit outside involvement in church affairs within China. The practice, in China, of ministerial ordination for women is acknowledged as a reality that has arisen in China and is beyond the influence of the world-wide structure of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. 6. “The General Conference and Its Divisions”, General Conference Executive Committee, April 2012
ADvindicate is sponsoring a new website, Christ or Culture, to provide biblical, historical, and church support for this position and to address the challenges of the latest effort to compromise biblical truth in favor of social and cultural acceptance.