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Theology or Ideology?
Background, Methodology, and Content of Women in Ministry

Samuel Koranteng-Pipim


D. Women in Ministry: Theology or Ideology?

As we have noted earlier, the initiative for Women in Ministry came from some leaders in the North American Division in response to pressure from a relatively small but influential group which has been pushing for women's ordination during the past thirty or more years. Initially, advocates convinced church leaders at the 1975 Spring Council meeting to approve the biblically-compromising practice of ordaining women as local elders in the North American Division if "the greatest discretion and caution" were exercised. Later, they succeeded in persuading church leaders at the Fall 1984 Annual Council meeting to re-affirm and expand the 1975 decision, voting to "advise each division that it is free to make provisions as it may deem necessary for the election and ordination of women as local elders."61

Thus, even though the 1975 provision departed from the New Testament model of church leadership which assigns to men, not women, the headship roles of elder or pastor, and even though the world church had not formally approved of the provision at a General Conference session, in 1984 ordination of women as elders was extended from North America to the world field.

Emboldened by their success in influencing church leaders to allow "women elders," pro-ordination advocates proceeded then to urge the world church in General Conference session to ordain women as pastors, at least in divisions favorable to it. However, at the General Conference sessions both in 1990 (Indianapolis) and 1995 (Utrecht), the representatives of the world church overwhelmingly rejected the pleas to ordain women into the gospel ministry. The votes were 1173 to 377 (in 1990) and 1481 to 673 (in 1995). In spite of these decisions, proponents of women's ordination determined upon an all-out campaign, including unilateral ordinations in some influential North American churches and institutions. At the same time that these rebellious ordinations were taking place, advocates were also employing a tactic that had served their cause well in the past--namely, working through church leaders to legislate the unbiblical practice.

Without doubt, the most subtle, and yet most ambitious, effort by pro-ordinationists to overturn the worldwide decision is the proposal contained in the North American Division's document "President's Commission on Women in Ministry--Report." The document was voted during the October 7-10, 1997 year-end meeting of the North American church leaders (see Appendix D of this present volume). If fully implemented, it will allow women to occupy the highest headship positions of church leadership, including local church pastor, conference president, union president, division president, and even General Conference president.

I summarize below the major strategies which the document outlines, offering possible reasons behind some of its provisions. Readers familiar with what is going on will recognize that advocates are already energetically implementing these strategies in church publications, print and video media, schools, local churches, conferences and unions.

  1. To make "women pastors" a common fixture in the church, conferences are encouraged "to hire more women in pastoral positions"; they are also requested "to set realistic goals to increase the number of women in pastoral ministry in their field [sic] during the next three years [culminating in the year 2000--the year of the Toronto General Conference session]";
  2. To enlist young people and their parents and teachers in the pro-ordination campaign, Adventist colleges and universities in North America are encouraged "to recruit young women who sense a call to pastoral ministry to pursue ministerial studies";
  3. To get people used to the concept of women serving in same roles as men, "the NAD edition of the Adventist Review and other general church papers [are to] be asked to publish profiles of women serving in pastoral ministry several times a year";
  4. To ensure that church members become accustomed to seeing "women pastors," the latter must be given "multiple exposures . . . in congregations throughout the NAD," including the "use of print and video media" and "indirect portrayals of women with men in creative approaches to pastoral ministry";
  5. To legislate or make official the ordination of women in the Seventh-day Adventist church without risking another General Conference session defeat, the document encourages the world church "to modify the language" in relevant sections of the current Church Manual and North American Division working policy so that wherever the words "ordain" or "ordination" occur they will be replaced by "ordain/commission" or "ordination/commissioning"; this modification makes "commissioning" the functional equivalent of "ordination."
  6. To implement modifications suggested in the Church Manual and North American Division Working Policy, unions and local conferences are encouraged "to promptly conduct commissioning services for those women who are eligible";
  7. To skillfully quiet opposition to women's ordination/"commissioning" at both the local and higher levels of the church, "the Ministerial Association and/or any appropriate structure" should appoint "an `ombudsman'--a person with insight in the system and denominational policies who can provide feedback and guidance when women in ministry encounter conflict with employing organizations, as well as provide mediation if necessary";
  8. To ensure that pro-ordination views are constantly carried in materials produced by the church, "more of the advocacy for women in ministry [should] be channeled through the union papers and other media of mass distribution"; "preparation and dissemination of educational materials in multiple media designed to raise awareness about women in pastoral ministry and the role of women in the church" should be carried out;
  9. To silence or censor views opposing women's ordination, "the Church Resources Consortium [should] monitor and audit all NAD-produced and endorsed materials for compliance with a gender-inclusive model for ministry";
  10. To make dissenting church members feel as though they are out of harmony with the Bible or the official Seventh-day Adventist position, "the division president [should] issue a clear call to the church for gender-inclusiveness at all levels of the church--boards, committees, pastoral assignments, etc."
  11. To ensure the eventual possibility for all conference, union or division pastors to be guided by a "woman pastor," the North American Division is urged to "move with a sense of urgency to include a woman with ministerial background as ministerial secretary or an associate ministerial secretary";
  12. To give biblical and historical justification for the women's ordination agenda, there should be "(i) multiple articles in denominational periodicals" and "(ii) a hermeneutics conference by the NAD and/or the GC" to "clarify" the church's understanding of biblical interpretation towards the "goals for gender inclusiveness in church organization."

Actually, most of these strategies had been in operation for many years prior to the voting of the document. Advocates had employed them as they had worked through church leaders in their campaign for ordaining women as elders. But now, for the first time, the document puts these strategies clearly into print.

Of the twelve strategies listed above, the last one seems to be the most daunting. This is because an overwhelming majority of Seventh-day Adventists in North America and other parts of the world are theological conservatives--Bible-believers. As such they will strongly oppose the pro-ordination campaign, unless advocates are able to come up with ways to interpret the Bible (hermeneutics) to justify the ordaining of women as elders or pastors. This is one reason why some North American leaders approached the Seminary, urging it to "do something about Utrecht."

The rest is now history. As requested, the Seminary's "Ad Hoc Committee on Hermeneutics and Ordination" has carried out its assignment, producing the book Women in Ministry. And consistent with the strategies already outlined in the North American Division's "President's Commission on Women in Ministry--Report," the book has been one-sidedly promoted in church publications and widely distributed around the world. Its producers and promoters believe that they have offered the long-awaited reasons for the "new light" urging women's ordination as a "moral imperative." The question I will address in later chapters is this: Are the book's methods and conclusions biblically and historically valid? A response to this question will reveal to what extent Women in Ministry is part of a well-orchestrated campaign to legitimize an unbiblical ideology.



"Doing something about Utrecht" is what Women in Ministry is all about. It is an attempt by well-meaning scholars to provide a much-desired biblical and historical justification for the ordination of women as elders and pastors. Their motives are noble. But are their conclusions biblical?

While a majority of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist church has twice voted against women's ordination, a majority of scholars at the Seminary is believed to favor the practice. How should a theological institution of the church conduct itself when the "scholarly" opinion conflicts with the "churchly" decision? Should an ideological majority at the Seminary exclude opposing views on theological questions they contend are unresolved?

The authors of Women in Ministry "do not claim to speak for the others, either at the Seminary or in church administration." Yet the resources, name, and influence of the Seminary at Andrews University have been employed to publish and promote their privately-held opinions. Is this appropriate? Should a church institution allow its prestige or resources to be used by some church leaders (or even some influential individuals or ideological organizations) to promote controversial views that run contrary to positions taken by the worldwide church?

These questions bring into focus the role we must accord to the opinions of scholars, the voice of the majority, political pressure from some church leaders, and the decisions of church councils, whenever we are called upon to decide on unresolved theological issues.

Ellen G. White reminded us that "God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms. The opinions of learned men, the deductions of science, the creeds or decisions of ecclesiastical councils, as numerous and discordant as are the churches which they represent, the voice of the majority--not one nor all of these should be regarded as evidence for or against any point of religious faith. Before accepting any doctrine or precept, we should demand a plain `Thus said the Lord' in its support" (The Great Controversy, p. 595, emphasis mine).

Heeding the above counsel, in two later chapters I will attempt to evaluate the biblical and historical evidence marshaled by Women in Ministry in support of ordaining women as elders or pastors. As I mentioned earlier, if the book's conclusions are proven to be valid, they should be incorporated into the Seventh-day Adventist church's Bible-based beliefs and lifestyle. And the church should be encouraged immediately to rectify its 150-year-old practice of ministry and ordination. On the other hand, if the evidence and reasoning in the volume are found wanting biblically and historically, then the campaign during the past two or three decades by a few influential scholars and leaders to impose women's ordination on the worldwide church should be rejected as a tragic mistake and a misguided endeavor. Only as we "prove all things," examining "whether those things are so," can we fully decide whether the determined effort to "do something about Utrecht" is inspired by biblical theology or political ideology.

Chapter 1, Part 3

Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, Ph.D., is Director of Public Campus Ministries for the Michigan Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

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