The Columbia Union Conference Executive Committee has called for a historic Constituency meeting to discuss and vote on a recommendation coming from the Columbia Union Executive Committee to consider ordination to the gospel ministry of any qualified candidate without regard to gender. Our members have received a copy of the July issue of the Columbia Union Visitor magazine with a full coverage of this session’s agenda.
As the President of the Pennsylvania Conference, I have heard from some of our dedicated and committed Adventist members with their convictions or questions on this matter.
Although I have prayerfully come to certain spiritual convictions regarding women in ministry and what could be appropriate in recognizing the role for them, I will share a few observations here and then open my heart to all our constituents as to my current perspective on this upcoming Columbia Union Constituency Session. And I will share how I am being led to approach this Session.
While many people seem to have an opinion on this subject, it appears that very few have a knowledge or an experience in some of the history and research of the Adventist Church on this matter.
Without referring to the early Adventist Church which licensed over 20 women to preach in Ellen White’s day, or her statements on ordination, let me refer the reader to a gathering of Adventist scholars and theologians in 1985. Three of those at this Symposium were and still are highly respected, conservative Adventist theologians.
Dr. Gerhard Hasel was a pre-eminent Old Testament scholar recognized around the world outside of Adventist circles for his brilliant exegesis. He had quite an influence before his untimely death in an auto accident, for maintaining the integrity of scripture in an academic world that was and is drifting Biblically. Especially noteworthy was his comprehensive work on the Remnant motif, in which he developed the theology of the remnant all through scriptures, laying a foundation for the existence of a remnant church in the last days. He was a solid conservative Adventist scholar and the Dean of the Andrews Theological Seminary. I had coursework from Dr. Hasel while attending the seminary.
Frank Holbrook was an outstanding New Testament, Greek and Apocalyptic scholar at Southern Adventist University. In addition to that, he also authored a monthly column in the “Signs of the Times” magazine published by Southern Publishing Association, entitled, “Frank Answers” where he answered a plethora of theological and scriptural questions from Adventist and non-Adventist readers alike. Among the four years I was at Southern Adventist University, Elder Holbook taught me two years of Greek, New Testament theology, Apocalyptic Theology and several other classes.
Dr. Raul Dederen was a prominent theologian at the Andrews University SDA Theological Seminary, and like many of my peers, I took every class I could from him, including Revelation and Inspiration and Roman Catholic Theology, in addition to others. He was originally from Belgium and had converted to Adventism at an early age and well knew what it meant to be a true Adventist in a non-Adventist and a secular environment.
Each of these men were solid, conservative, committed Seventh-day Adventist theologians and scholars, and have never wavered in their commitment to the Scriptures and the Adventist calling and beliefs.
It is interesting to me, with the current concerns over the Columbia Union special constituency session, to go back and read research papers they presented through the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist Biblical Research Institute (BRI) in 1985 regarding women in ministry and ordination. I write of these three men because I knew them personally, observed their life and teachings over the years, and can attest to their commitment to Adventism and to honesty in holding and treating the scriptures with integrity.
As you read their presentations and findings, you will find that in 1985, they showed from scripture and from Adventist theology, no prohibition for women in ministry, and no prohibition to withhold ordination from women serving in ministry anymore than men serving in ministry. These are 3 top-flight Adventist Bible scholars.
(To read their presentations, go to the PA Conference website, on the front page click on “Women in Ministry Articles and Resources,” then click on “Research Papers on the Role of Adventist Women in Ministry”, then click on “BRI — After Mohaven 1985 — Role of Women in the Church”) I can only assume that because their work was not widely publicized among the Conference ministerial forces and church members, it has not been well known and considered into conversations and by local members in our day. Their presentations even answer some of the same concerns and objections presented today by those who do not believe it appropriate for women to serve as pastors or be ordained. Today there are a number of Adventist theologians who are continuing to carry on solid, Biblical research and theological study on this topic with similar conclusions as these Adventist theologians did in 1985. It is not for a lack of evidence and Biblical research on this topic, it is a lack of awareness of the solid work done by godly men evaluating and trusting the Word of God.
All of this brings us to the Columbia Union Special Constituency Session. Different people have asked me how I will vote, and if I will be representing “Their” perspective/position, since we are a representative church. I will indeed be keeping the perspective of our Pennsylvania Conference members in mind as I attend, and if given the opportunity, will even voice the perspective of our constituents. At the same time, I fully intend to prayerfully listen to God as I search for His will in my prayers, and to listen to all of those in attendance and see where the leading of the Lord is for the entire body that has been asked to come together to consider this issue.
I am concerned that the World-wide Church has debated this issue and seemingly held to national/regional and cultural backgrounds to form opinions, or has not adequately conducted a theology of ordination, but has more frequently been swayed by individual’s personal convictions from personal perspectives on various scriptures. I have listened to the discussions on the floor of General Conference Sessions (1995, 2005 and 2010, observer in 2000) as a delegate, so I have a first-hand history of this. At the 2010 General Conference Session, I had the privilege as a delegate to go to the microphone and place before the entire General Conference Session the motion that the entire World Church conduct a Theology of Ordination and draw from the entire world field the research in order that together as a world church, we have a unified Theology of Ordination. This motion was not gender based at all, but called for a Theology of Ordination, period. I stated on the floor that we did not want a position on ordination based on tradition, since we were not Roman Catholic. We did not want a theology based on what was cultural, since cultures are quite varied across the world. We did not want a theology based on what was “politically correct,” since what is politically correct frequently changes based on whoever is the most influential at the moment. We are Adventists, and we need a Biblically based theology. We presently have too many people giving what is their own personal perspective and claiming that their perspective is the true and only Adventist perspective!
The World Church made the decision at the 2010 General Conference Session to conduct a world-wide research from all Divisions of the General Conference on the Theology of Ordination and render a report on or before the 2015 General Conference Session. And if you think that everything is “already cut and dried” at Conference or Church meetings, one of your Pennsylvania Conference delegates at the General Conference session was able to influence the World Church and seek resolution on this matter.
Where does that leave us in regard to the Columbia Union Session?
There are two things that I am wistful about as I approach this Special Constituency Session.
1.) We as an Adventist Church have been willing to recognize that God can and does call women into the gospel ministry to serve as Pastors, Evangelists and Spiritual Leaders. However, as a world-wide church we seem to make an unnatural distinction between their calling and that of a male spiritual leader, by commissioning and not ordaining. I am having difficulty recognizing the distinction and I am having difficulty finding any Biblical injunction against God’s ability or desire to call a woman into Spiritual ministry or leadership in the Church or a Biblical injunction against us as an Adventist Church to so recognize that calling. I see our Union Executive Committee struggling with no clear Biblical injunction against proceeding to ordain women for ministry and with the sense that it is not morally right categorize women in ministry as second-class pastors, while the World Church has not acted on this matter.
2.) The Columbia Union Executive Committee, in its effort to affirm women in ministry, is bringing this action forward at this time, while the World Church is taking steps toward a Theology of Ordination. While we do not know what the results of this World Church study/action may lead to, I do have some reservations about a Union action in this way, at this time. I have been participating in some of the committees in preparation of this Special Session of the Union, and have counseled that it would be best for the Union Executive Committee not to take an action on their own authority (which they were prepared to do) but rather have the combined consideration of the entire Constituency if an action was to be considered. We need to be sure that there is a clear urging of God for the Union to have reasons to move ahead without the World Church.
In the meantime, for several weeks now I have been committing this to prayer and invite your continue prayers as all the delegates from across our Columbia Union meet together on Sunday, July 29.