The Liberal-Feminist Campaign Continues
Today the leading organization most active in championing the cause of women's ordination is the Association of Adventist Women (AAW), an organization that was begun as a committee of the Association of Adventist Forums (the liberal organization that publishes Spectrum magazine) and has since 1981 being operating as an independent entity. Among other things, the status of the Association of Adventist Women as an independent organization has had the advantage of masking its liberal-feminist agenda.
Besides its activities as an association, the Association of Adventist Women has spawned several separate entities, all of which embrace the pro-ordination agenda. 29 The General Conference Ministerial directors, the North American Division Women's Ministries department, and the Women's Resource Center , a pro-ordination center at La Sierra University, are also promoting the mission of the Association of Adventist Women. All three entities are working closely with each other to advance the agenda for women's ordination. 30
In adopting the image of a mainstream (or conservative) Adventist organization (rather than a liberal-feminist one), the Association of Adventist Women is simply doing what other North American pro-ordination women's organizations have done since 1995 (when the church rejected women's ordination at the Utrecht GC session). In the words of one Adventist historian, Instead of using the early popular term women's liberation,' Adventist women chose the more positive title, women's ministries' to describe their movement. It conveyed that their overarching objective was not just liberation from a male-dominated system but rather to provide opportunities for women to minister to the needs of people. 31
For the Association of Adventist Women, this objective to provide opportunities for women to minister to the needs of people is to ensure that the church places women in leadership roles by ordaining them as elders and pastors. In this way it seeks to make women full partners at all levels of the church. This fact is made very explicit in the Association's Mission Statement which available on its website: The Association of Adventist Women seeks to develop and promote women as leaders in Seventh-day Adventist organizations, congregations, and communities. The same point is emphasized again when it tries to style itself as an international association:
The mission of the international Association of Adventist Women is to foster the participation of women in varied leadership roles in Seventh-day Adventist organizations, congregations, and communities.
At its annual conferences, the Association of Adventist Women formulates its recommendations to specific entities within the church. These recommendations are then tracked to monitor their implementation. While some of these recommendations deal with legitimate concerns of salary equity, preventing and correcting women's abuse, and avoidance of stereotyping in children's Sabbath School materials, there are others that go contrary to the Bible's teachings regarding spiritual leadership in the church.
For example, among its 12 major initiatives, the following four clearly set forth the pro-ordination agenda of the Association in the coming years:
4. The NAD [North American Division] union presidents to reaffirm and implement their statement Commitment to Women in Gospel Ministry' as voted by the NAD union presidents on October 13, 1995, and to educate the laity about this issue in accordance with their document. [This is the document outlined in the previous section under A Well-Orchestrated Strategy.]
5. The world church to recognize that women's ordination is an essential step in the growth and development of the SDA church.
6. An increase in the employment of qualified women pastors.
7. The establishment of a women's resource center. [Among other things, these centers are designed to push women: women elders, women pastors, and women clergy.]
8. An increase in women in decision-making roles at every level of the church organization with at least one woman GC vice president by 2005 [the year for the General Conference session in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.]. 32
The Association of Adventist Women has almost become the forum for pro-ordination groups to plan and strategize how to domesticate women's ordination in the church. It also provides the blueprint, inspiration, and incentives for church institutions, conferences and unions, and certain departments of divisions and the General Conference.
An example of how the Association of Adventist Women strategizes and pursues its agenda is reflected in the far-reaching recommendations it adopted at its annual business meeting held on October 19, 2003. The following is a summary of those recommendations it addressed to different entities of the church: 33
1. All Seventh-day Adventist colleges and universities: that each Adventist college or university in North America : [a] Choose women student leaders to send expenses-paid to the Annual Meeting of AAW, at least one per college or university, and
[b] Choose a woman faculty member to attend the Annual Meeting of AAW at the expense of each of the colleges or universities.
2. All divisions of the world church: that [a] congregations throughout each division elect, encourage, and empower women to serve as elders of their local churches;
[b] Wherever possible, purchase and use gender-inclusive language Bibles for Scripture readings and responsive readings in all public gatherings; and
[c] Seek out and employ women pastors to serve the pastoral needs of Adventist members, both women and men.
3. The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists: [a] that in those areas employing men and women in leadership and pastoral ministry, the church grant a common ministerial credential to them. . . .
[b] that administrators at all levels of church governance be proactive and intentional in educating church members regarding the appropriateness of recognizing God's call to qualified women to ministry. . . .
[c] that the church affirm the work of a majority of the scholars and faculty members at the Andrews University Seminary by widely distributing copies of their book, Women in Ministry: Biblical and Historical Perspectives . Published in 1998 it is largely unknown to most Adventists [the controversial book whose conclusions have been soundly refuted in Prove All Things: A Response to Women in Ministry ]; . . .
[d] that the position of director of women's ministries (in conferences, unions, and divisions) be recognized as part of the church's organizational structure and outreach by providing full salary, benefits, and voting privileges as is accorded to directors of other departments;
[e] That local conferences, unions, and divisions, make provisions for these directors to participate in annual meetings of the Association of Adventist Women and the pre-session , Women & the Word.
[f] To provide continuing education for women pastors and administrators in local conferences and unions, it is recommended that these entities assist those employed in these responsibilities to attend Women & the Word and the annual meetings of the Association of Adventist Women, when these events are held in their geographical area.
[g] To more clearly indicate that women are valuable members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church along with men, it is recommended that the church hymnal be revised with gender-inclusive language in the hymn lyrics and in the responsive readings.
4. The North American Division: As the number of effective women pastors and leaders increases throughout the division, It is recommended that the North American Division recognize the significant work of Dúane Schoonard and expand the office she holds of associate ministerial secretary to a full-time, paid position.
It is also requested the division leaders revisit the recommendations of the 1996 NAD President's Commission on Women in Ministry and implement the 34 recommendations made.
Finally, as an incentive for leaders and church institutions to promote the women's ordination agenda, the Association of Adventist Women offers commendations to individuals, organizations, and church entities that have fulfilled some of the objectives of the Association. It also names certain leaders as Champions of Justice for promoting and advancing its causes at administrative levels. 34 Which church leader wouldn't be flattered when women accord them the title of Champion of Justice?
By means of these kinds of carefully coordinated efforts by the Association of Adventist Women and pro-ordination church institutions, the General Conference Ministerial department, and North American Division's department of Women's Ministries, the agenda of women's ordination is being pursuedcontrary to the official position of the church at two General Conference sessions. Often church-sponsored events (e.g., women's retreats and General Conference session events) are hijacked for the liberal-feminist agenda of women's ordination, with many members unaware of what is really behind them.
So, what began as a church leaders' attempt to enjoy United States IRS considerations has plunged the church into a theological crisis. Unwilling to turn back from its wrong course, the church is attempting to revise its theology along liberal feminist egalitarian lines, by embracing questionable reinterpretations of Scripture and Adventist history. And today, as the campaign continues, some institutions of the church are being employed to push an un-Biblical agenda.
The new phase of the campaign seems to be to make the practice of women elders, women pastors, women clergy, women leadership, etc., so prevalent that somehow error will become truth. It seems that the carefully orchestrated women's leadership training, seminars, conferences, and certification programs that seek to empower and advance women are actually designed to domesticate women's ordination in the church, and make the practice irreversible without risking another General Conference negative decision. But can error be made truth by repetition? We are told:
No error is truth, or can be made truth by repetition, or by faith in it. Sincerity will never save a soul from the consequences of believing an error. Without sincerity there is no religion, but sincerity in a false religion will never save a man. I may be perfectly sincere in following a wrong road, but that will not make it the right road, or bring me to the place I wished to reach. ( Selected Messages , bk. 2, p. 56.)
The practice of ordaining women as elders or pastors, as we have shown in an earlier chapter, is contrary to Biblical teaching. 35 Therefore following that wrong road will not make it a right road. And yet today women's ordination is being urged upon the church as a moral imperative or part of the Spirit's leading. How should we respond?
A Seriously Flawed Concept of Moral Imperative
For the Christian, there is a moral imperative always to trust and obey Biblical truth. If, however, the Christian is compelled to believe and practice error, that imperative is not moral; it is coercion. In the light of our evaluation of the Biblical and historical arguments for women's ordination (in related chapters on this Web site), we are now better prepared to judge whether there is a moral imperative for women's ordination, as claimed for instance, in Women in Ministry .
As we have shown, the arguments put forth to justify the ideology of women's ordination are Biblically and historically deficient; if employed in other areas, they could easily be used to undermine the relevance of many other Biblical teachings. Since the Biblical and historical arguments for ordaining women as elders and pastors are seriously flawed, the moral imperative argument as presented in Women in Ministry , the book's concepts of equality, women's rights, justice, fairness, and character of God, and its appeals to the Holy Spirit's leading to meet the needs of a growing church cannot be sustained as ethically credible bases for ordaining women as elders or pastors . 36
In fact, what has taken place in the Seventh-day Adventist Church over the past two or three decades suggests that the so-called moral imperative argument could easily be used to coerce those who refuse to surrender to this un-Biblical ideology of ordaining women. Let me explain.
When church leaders initially agreed that women could be ordained as elders, it was with the understanding that there would be liberty of conscience for those who could not accept the practice either because of Biblical reasons or because their cultures were thought to prevent them from moving in that direction. In many places, however, this could be policy for women's ordination has already developed into an understanding that women should be ordained. With the questionable moral imperative argument being proposed in Women in Ministry , we are coming into a phase that says women must be ordained, not only as local elders but also as pastors.
In other words, if the moral imperative argument is accepted, the ideological legislation that was originally permissive will become compulsory! Those who are found to be in disagreement with the ordination of women and who believe for Biblical reasons that they cannot participate in such ordinations or allow women to be ordained will be looked upon as out of harmony with church policy and possibly considered unfit for employment in areas where the ideology has become entrenched. This serious situation will inevitably take away the right of individual conscience.
Whenever error is legislated as a moral imperative, such legislation inevitably leads to the persecution of those standing for truth. Already in certain places where the moral imperative argument has been embraced, it is very difficult for Adventists who oppose women's ordination to be hired or retained. The policy is usually unwritten, but those familiar with several situations can testify to the intolerant attitude toward, and sometimes the a priori exclusion of, those who uphold the long-established Adventist positiona position that, by the way, is embraced by an overwhelming majority of the world church, as demonstrated through official General Conference session votes.
The only moral imperative the church should embrace is that which is founded on truth. The Christian's obligation to such an imperative is to trust and obey it, regardless of intimidation and persecution from those who demand compliance with error.
A Fanciful View of Holy Spirit's Leading
In a final effort to support their Biblical, historical, and ethical arguments for ordaining women as elders or pastors, the authors of Women in Ministry appeal to a mistaken understanding of the Holy Spirit's leading. They urge the Seventh-day Adventist Church to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit as He calls upon us today to change our patterns of ministry in response to the pragmatic needs of a growing church. Writes the editor in her summation chapter: If circumcision, based on divine [Old Testament] mandate, could be changed [by the apostles, elders, and believers, together with the Holy Spirit, at the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15], how much more could patterns of ministry [ordaining women as elders and pastors], which lack a clear Thus says the Lord,' be modified to suit the needs of a growing church?
By this innovative argument, the Women in Ministry authors add their voices to those within our ranks who also are invoking the name of the Spirit to justify their questionable reinterpretations of Scripture. 37 But can we make Scripture mean anything we desire, and then give the Holy Spirit the credit? Christians must always seek the Spirit's guidance to understand Scripture. But should they invoke the Spirit to circumvent the Bible's explicit teaching on male-female roles in both the home and the church or to invent some new theories to justify certain egalitarian ideologies, as Women in Ministry seeks to do?
Bible-believing Seventh-day Adventists have always insisted that those who seek to live under the authority of the Spirit must be willing to bow before the teachings of the Wordthe Spirit's authoritative textbook. To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them (Isaiah 8:20; cf. Galatians 1:8, 9). The Spirit was not givennor can [He] ever be bestowedto supersede the Bible; for the Scriptures explicitly state that the Word of God is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested ( The Great Controversy , p. vii).
As we have attempted to show in the preceding chapters, besides the misleading and erroneous claims regarding early Seventh-day Adventist beliefs and practice and the seriously flawed concept of moral imperative, the arguments for ordaining women as elders or pastors in Women in Ministry are based on questionable reinterpretations of Scripture. Hence, following the kind of Spirit's leading proposed by the book will spawn in the church an uncontrollable subjectivism in which interpreters select only the Scriptures pleasing to them and that fit their fanciful interpretations. This is a sure recipe for contradictory doctrinal views in the church (theological pluralism).
Moreover, because the Holy Spirit does not leave us to wander aimlessly without a sure compass, unless our interpretations are in harmony with the Bible, what we may assume to be the Spirit's voice could actually be echoes from the loud noises within our cultures. Thus, the so-called Holy Spirit's leading would be nothing more than promptings from our unrenewed human experiences or feelings. Ellen G. White explained why faith must be established on the Word of God, not on one's subjective experience or feeling:
Genuine faith is founded on the Scriptures; but Satan uses so many devices to wrest the Scriptures and bring in error, that great care is needed if one would know what they really do teach. It is one of the great delusions of this time to dwell much upon feeling, and to claim honesty while ignoring the plain utterances of the Word of God because that Word does not coincide with feeling. . . . Feeling may be chaff, but the Word of God is the wheat. And what, says the prophet, is the chaff to the wheat? ( Review and Herald , November 25, 1884.)
In short, new light of ordaining women as elders or pastors in Women in Ministry is foreign to the Bible writers and the studious Bible-believing Seventh-day Adventist pioneers, including Ellen G. White. Since this new light contradicts Biblical teaching on gender role differentiation, the authors' attempt to claim the Holy Spirit's leading should be dismissed as a fanciful effort to make scholarly ingenuity seem more important than fidelity to the Bible's text and context. The following statement by Mrs. White, referring to the distinctive truths of Seventh-day Adventists, is also appropriate in this regard:
When the power of God testifies as to what is truth, that truth is to stand forever as the truth. No after suppositions contrary to the light God has given are to be entertained. Men will arise with interpretations of Scripture which are to them truth, but which are not truth. The truth for this time God has given us as a foundation for our faith. One will arise, and still another, with new light, which contradicts the light that God has given under the demonstration of His Holy Spirit. . . . We are not to receive the words of those who come with a message that contradicts the special points of our faith. ( Selected Messages , bk. 1, p. 161.)
What Should a Local Church Do?
The strategy of those pushing feminism's gender agenda seems to be to ordain as many women elders as possible, in the hope that the issue of women pastors will be a moot point in the future. Readers should, however, note that there is no difference between elder or pastor. Thus, if women can be ordained as local elders, it is equally valid for them to be ordained as pastors. But by the same token, if the practice of ordaining women as local elders is un-Biblical, it is also un-Biblical to ordain them as pastors.
So the question really facing the church is this: Is ordaining women as elders Biblical? If it is, we must continue the practice and extend it to include ordaining women as pastors. On the other hand, if ordaining women as local elders is not Scriptural (as we have shown in related articles on this Web site), we must reconsider previous church council actions in order to come into harmony with the Bible.
What then should a local church (church board, nominating committee, etc.) do when influential leaders and feminist groups are forcing the matter of women elders upon them? Here are some suggestions:
1. Insist that the whole church first read the 1984 Annual Council action; this will give them the justification to call for a full Biblical study of the subject.
2. Once the local church in business meeting approves the need for such a study, both proponents and opponents of the practice should be encouraged to submit Biblical positions on the subject. Church members should insist that the arguments be Biblical (and supported by the Spirit of Prophecy). This will enable the church to have opportunity to read and evaluate both sides of the arguments.
3. Thus far, the most capable presentations of both views are found in Women in Ministry (for) and Prove All Things (against). I believe that all objective, Bible-believing Adventists will have no difficulty making up their minds on the issue once they read the arguments on both sides. 38
4. Once the local church has had opportunity to review the Biblical arguments, the church members should be reminded that before their church goes ahead with the practice, the Guidelines of the 1984 Annual Council (the council meeting that adopted the compromising position of women elders) stipulates that a clear majority of the voting members of the local church must be in favor of the action and that the action should result in unifying the members and not be the source of divisiveness or alienation.
I'm sure that if we follow these steps, few congregations will go along with the un-Biblical practice of ordaining women as elders. I am also confident that when Bible-believing church members study the issue, very few of them will embrace the arguments contained in the controversial book Women in Ministry . Even those who have in the past embraced women's ordination will be forced to reconsider their position in the light of the Bible (as I myself did). 39
29. The Association of Adventist Women's Web site lists the following entities: (a) Time for Equality in Adventist Ministry (TEAM), which is an advocacy group for the ordination of women to pastoral ministry and helps SDA women throughout the world attend SDA seminaries by providing scholarships, (b) Adventist Women's Coalition, whose mission is affirmative action for SDA women both in relation to the church structure and in relation to the law of the land, and (c) a committee on abuse.
30. See, for example, the May 23, 2004 minutes of La Sierra's Women's Resource Center (WRC) Board, which details how General Conference Ministerial Directors, James and Sharon Cress, seek to expand the activities of the WRC around the world through its mailing list. The minutes also indicate that: 2. James Cress invited the WRC directors to oversee a portion of the GC Ministerial Association booth (and share appropriate WRC materials), along with other entities under its umbrella, at the 2005 GC session in St. Louis . 2. Sharon Cress invited WRC to join with her and Dúane Schoonard of the NAD Ministerial Association, in hosting a lunch for women clergy at the 2005 GC session. The minutes were accessed on March 21, 2005 at the Women's Resource Center 's Web site: http://www.adventistwomenscenter.org/wrcboardmembers.html , downloaded as BoardMinutes052304.pdf.
31. Richard W. Schwarz and Floyd Greenleaf, Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church , p. 470.
32. Helen Thompson-Zober, What Is the Association of Adventist Women? http://www.aaw.cc/GetAcquainted/WhatIsTheAAW.html , accessed on March 21, 2005.
33. Association of Adventist Women 21 st Annual Meeting: Recommendations and Commendations, http://www.aaw.cc/GetAcquainted/RandC.html , accessed on March 21, 2005.
35. See my article Does the Bible Support Ordaining Women as Elders or Pastors? on this Web site.
36. Randal Wisbey, SDA Women in Ministry: 1970-1998, Women in Ministry (abbreviated as WIM ) , p. 251; Walter Douglas, The Distance and the Difference: Reflections on Issues of Slavery and Women's Ordination, WIM , p. 394; Alicia Worley, Ellen White and Women's Rights, WIM , pp. 367-370; Roger Dudley, The Ordination of Women in Light of the Character of God, WIM , pp. 413-415; Nancy Vyhmeister, Epilogue, WIM , p. 436.
37. In my In the Spirit of Truth (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Berean Books, 1997), I have briefly addressed a proposal similar to the one presently offered by the authors of Women in Ministry . Readers interested in a detailed treatment of the Holy Spirit's role in Bible interpretation may want to consult my PhD dissertation, The Role of the Holy Spirit in Biblical Interpretation: A Study in the Writings of James I. Packer (Andrews University, 1998). This 410-page work explores how the relationship between the Spirit and the inspired Word has been understood by major theological figures and movements since the sixteenth century Reformation and culminating in the works of one of contemporary Evangelicalism's most widely respected theologians.
38. Those who desire brief materials showing what is at stake in women's ordination and a Biblical response will find the following materials very valuable: Questions and Answers on Women's Ordination, Adventists Affirm , Spring 1987, available at the Web site: http://www.adventistsaffirm.org/proveallthings/A.01appendix.html ; An Appeal to the World Field Regarding the Ministry of Women in the Church, Adventists Affirm , Fall 1989, available at: http://www.adventistsaffirm.org/proveallthings/B.01appendix.html ; An Appeal for a Biblical Stand on Women's Ordination, a document prepared for delegates at the 1995 Utrecht GC session, available at: http://www.adventistsaffirm.org/proveallthings/C.01appendix.html ; and A Very Significant Development Regarding Women Pastors, which includes the entire [NAD] President's Commission on Women in MinistryReport, Adventists Affirm , Fall 1998, available at: http://www.adventistsaffirm.org/proveallthings/D.01appendix.html.
39. See my Must We Be Silent? , pp. 127-129.