Moving Beyond the Feminist Ideology
As we noted in an earlier chapter, for more than 100 years the Adventist position on the ordained ministry claimed the support of Scripture as expressed in the teaching and practice of the Adventist pioneers, including Ellen G. White. By the 1970s, however, this established position began to be reversed in favor of ordaining women as elders and pastors.
This new trend was created by the converging interests of feminism; liberalism; church leaders' desire to enjoy United States tax law benefits to ministers; questionable church policy revisions and Church Manual alterations allowing women to serve as elders; calculated attempts by some influential North American churches unilaterally to ordain women as pastors; the silence of leadership to this defiance of two General Conference (GC) session votes against women's ordination; a well-orchestrated strategy by influential thought leaders and pro-ordination groups to domesticate the practice in the church; a determined effort by some church scholars to reinterpret the Bible and early Adventist history to justify the practice (as, for example, is contained in Women in Ministry ); the systematic and aggressive lobbying by liberal and feminist groups for the church to issue unisex ordination credentials for ordained and nonordained employees of the church; the hijacking of official church publications, institutions, departments, and certain other organs and events of the church for pro-ordination propaganda; and the silencing, coercion, or persecution of individuals who challenge the un-Biblical practice of ordaining women as elders or pastors.
Our Assessment of Women in Ministry . Women in Ministry currently offers the best arguments that Adventist proponents of women's ordination can find to present to a Bible-believing, conservative Seventh-day Adventist Church . It is being aggressively promoted in certain quarters of the church, and has recently been translated into Spanish.
How do we assess the Biblical and historical research provided by our pro-ordination authors? Does the book's new light offer a sound theological basis to depart from nearly 150 years of Seventh-day Adventist belief and practice? Can this work be used legitimately at a future time to overturn the General Conference session decisions at Indianapolis (1990) and Utrecht (1995)? 40
A supporter of the book correctly states, If the basis of our decision is going to be in our interpretation of Scripture, we must do it well. 41 The simple question we must ask, therefore, is: Did the twenty authors of Women in Ministry do their job well?
The editor of the book believes they did. 42 An author of one of the chapters (who seeks to make Women in Ministry the official view of the Seminary and the position of virtually all of its faculty) thinks that this work will demonstrate that the Seminary faculty stands for sound Biblical and historical scholarship on this contemporary and controversial issue. 43
Some influential promoters of the book are applauding it as the product of skillful exegesis of Scripture and careful examination of relevant E.G. White materials, 44 a volume that presents a powerful argument and an impressive array of evidence for the ordination of women, 45 and one which brings together a wealth of material and deserves to be taken seriously. 46
With all due respect, we disagree with these opinions of learned men ( The Great Controversy , p. 595). Heeding the Bible's command to prove all things; [and] hold fast that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21), and accepting the invitation from the book's editor for responses by those who may disagree with their findings, we examined the above claims. Our analysis and evaluation call into serious question what the authors and promoters are saying. 47
Contrary to their claims, Women in Ministry , like its forerunner The Welcome Table , does not present a cogent and defensible way to neutralize the witness of the Bible and the historical precedent of early Seventh-day Adventism. As I have attempted to show in my evaluation, Women in Ministry is built largely on: (1) ambiguity and vagueness, (2) straw man arguments, (3) substantial leaps of logic, (4) arguments from silence, (5) speculative interpretations, (6) questionable reinterpretations of the Bible, (7) distorted Biblical reasoning, (8) misleading and erroneous claims regarding Adventist history, (9) a seriously flawed concept of moral imperative, and (10) a fanciful view of the Holy Spirit's leading. 48
The editor of Women in Ministry may have had these shortcomings in mind when she stated in her prologue that at times clear evidence may be lacking, thus making necessary the use of sanctified judgment and imagination to resolve questions and issues associated with women's ordination as elders and pastors. 49 Given the fact that there is no clear evidence in Scripture for ordaining women, we can now understand why the authors of Women in Ministry often resorted to sanctified judgment and imagination, and why the committee needed two long years of animated discussions, writing, rewriting, editing, and cross-referencing to produce their 438-page volume. Ellen G. White's observation is pertinent:
Numberless words need not be put upon paper to justify what speaks for itself and shines in its clearness. Truth is straight, plain, clear, and stands out boldly in its own defense; but it is not so with error. It is so winding and twisting that it needs a multitude of words to explain it in its crooked form ( Early Writings , p. 96, emphasis mine).
Despite the good intentions and best efforts of the authors of Women in Ministry , their book falls short of its goal. It does not provide a sound Biblical and historical basis for resolving this contemporary and controversial issue. Perhaps a future work by some other proponents may be able to make a more judicious use of Biblical and historical data to provide the much-desired justification for women's ordination. But I doubt it, because the basis for women's ordination as elders or pastors simply doesn't exist, either in the Bible or in the writings of Mrs. White.
Perhaps here is where the Seminary Ad Hoc Committee has provided its greatest service. After two years of hard work and prayer, they have produced a 438-page book that reveals, when carefully examined and tested, that there is no support in either the Bible or Mrs. White's writings for ordaining women as elders and pastors. Those of us who have for a long time cautioned against this practice gratefully respond, Thank you, Ad Hoc Committee.
Some Important Implications. To the extent that my conclusions about the book are valid, I would say the following:
1. Acting upon any advice that is contrary to Scripture ultimately leads to disobedience of God's Word in general. The very beginning of the great apostasy was in seeking to supplement the authority of God by that of the church. Rome began by enjoining what God had not forbidden, and she ended by forbidding what He had explicitly enjoined ( The Great Controversy , pp. 289, 290).
True faith consists in doing just what God has enjoined, not manufacturing things He has not enjoined ( That I May Know Him , p. 226).
2. No one can disobey God's Word without experiencing destructive consequences. Because our Lord is merciful and patient, not willing that any should perish, the consequences of our disobedience are often slow in coming. But consequences always follow. Thus, the legislation of any secular ideology instead of the proclamation of sound theology will surely have consequences.
Already the worldwide church is harvesting some of the baneful results of the push to ordain women as elders and pastors. For example, there are tensions and divisions in churches where the ideology of women's ordination is being forced upon loyal members; strained relationships and broken homes where the erroneous doctrine of total egalitarianism or total role interchangeableness has been accepted; mistrust in and loss of credibility by church scholars and leaders who are perceived as pushing upon the church an alien agenda; disillusionment among dedicated women in ministry, who are made to believe that the church is quenching their desire to be part of the soulwinning work or is discriminating against them; vilification of scholars and leaders who have courageously stood up against women's ordination; erosion of confidence in the Bible and the writings of Mrs. White as dependable sources of answers to today's perplexing questions; and the unwitting laying of a theological foundation for pro-homosexual theology, when we reject God's Creation order of gender or sex roles in marriage and in the church.
3. These consequences will continue as long as we do not renounce our errors and embrace God's truth: The teachings and restrictions of God's Word are not welcome to the proud, sin-loving heart, and those who are unwilling to obey its requirements are ready to doubt its authority ( Steps to Christ , p. 111).
Instead of being faithful to the inspired writings of Moses, David, Isaiah, Matthew, Peter, or Paul, those set on their own ways would rather cling to the opinions of their self-appointed expertsbe they pastors, professors, parents, or personal acquaintances. In so doing they forget the warning by Ellen G. White: Satan is constantly endeavoring to attract attention to man in the place of God. He leads the people to look to bishops, to pastors, to professors of theology, as their guides, instead of searching the Scriptures to learn their duty for themselves. Then, by controlling the minds of these leaders, he can influence the multitudes according to his will ( The Great Controversy , p. 595).
4. We can, however, avert these destructive consequences by turning away from our errors. In view of the Biblical teaching that only qualified men may legitimately serve in the headship role of elders or pastors, we can take the following specific steps:
(a) Church leaders should call for an immediate moratorium on ordaining women as elders and also initiate proceedings to rescind the Biblically-compromising 1975 Spring Council and 1984 Annual Council actions that permitted women to be ordained as elders, actions that have brought the church to the straits we are in now; the leaders should also resist the attempt to issue unisex (or common) credentials to ordained and unordained workers in the ministry;
(b) Church scholars and editors should renounce ideological proclivities, temptations, or pressures to justify or promote the divisive and un-Biblical practice of ordaining women;
(c) Church institutions and departments should resist the attempt to be hijacked by liberal-feminist groups for their pro-ordination agenda;
(d) Women ordained as elders should willingly and courageously give up that office, bringing their practice into line with the Bible (Acts 17:30, 31);
(e) Women laboring in the ministry should serve in accordance with God's Biblically prescribed will, resisting ideological attempts to transform women's ministry into feminists' ministry;
(f) Church members should respectfully, but courageously, demand a plain thus saith the Lord whenever and wherever vocal groups, scholars, leaders, pastors, or even committees urge them to ordain or accept women as elders or as pastors; insisting upon a prayerful, unbiased, and Biblically sound investigation of the issue is both a right and a duty of every church member.
Retracing our erroneous steps, as evidence of genuine repentance, may be uncomfortable, humiliating, even costly. But what is more costly than what it cost Jesus to save us? Loyalty to Christ may cost us our pride, but it will surely give us a free conscience.
God does not require us to give up anything that it is for our best interest to retain. In all that He does, He has the well-being of His children in view. Would that all who have not chosen Christ might realize that He has something vastly better to offer them than they are seeking for themselves. Man is doing the greatest injury and injustice to his own soul when he thinks and acts contrary to the will of God. No real joy can be found in the path forbidden by Him Who knows what is best, and Who plans for the good of His creatures. The path of transgression is the path of misery and destruction ( Steps to Christ , p. 46).
Light or Darkness? Ellen White warned about the danger of holding onto error, after knowing the truth:
If rational beings really desire the truth, God will give them sufficient light to enable them to decide what is truth. If they have a heart to obey, they will see sufficient evidence to walk in the light. But if they in heart desire to evade the truth, He will not work a miracle to gratify their unbelief. He will never remove every chance or occasion to doubt. If they honestly, sincerely grasp the light, and walk in it, that light will increase until lingering doubts will be dispelled. But if they choose darkness, their questioning and caviling over the truth will increase, their unbelief will be strengthened, and the light which they would not accept will become to them darkness, and how great will be that darkness! It will be as much greater than before the light came, as the light which was rejected was clearer and more abundant than the light which first shone upon them. Thus it was with the Jewish nation; thus it will be with the Christian world in every generation. The rejectors of light treasure up to themselves wrath against the day of wrath. There are those who walk amid perpetual doubts. They feed on doubts, enjoy doubts, talk doubts, and question everything that it is for their interest to believe. To those who thus trifle with the plain testimonies of God's Word, and who refuse to believe because it is inconvenient and unpopular to do so, the light will finally become darkness; truth will appear to the darkened understanding as error, and error will be accepted as truth. When thus shrouded in error, they will find it perfectly natural and convenient to believe what is false, and will become strong in their faith ( Advent Review and Sabbath Herald , January 5, 1886).
The Choice We Face. In presenting their book to the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church , the twenty scholars of Women in Ministry stated: We hope and pray that this volume may assist individuals, leaders, and the community of faith at large in deciding how to deal with the issue of ordination and, more specifically, the relationship of ordination to women. 50
If the Biblical, theological, and historical perspectives elaborated in Women in Ministry are all that these professors can present to the church, then the decision on how to deal with the issue of women's ordination as elders or pastors is not a difficult one to make. Their well publicized and widely distributed volume offers compelling evidence against the practice. It is one more proof that the campaign waged during the past two or three decades by a few influential scholars and leaders to impose women's ordination on the church is a tragic mistake.
In light of this fact, we must ask: What should be our individual and collective responses to the teaching of Scripture regarding the ordination of women to the headship office of elder or pastor? Should we go beyond the legitimate role of women in ministry by ordaining them as elders or pastors? 51 Should we risk the displeasure of God by doing what seems right in our own eyes? Or should we seek a Scriptural basis for empowering women for ministry, and bring an end to the present divisiveness and disunity, embarrassment, and dishonor upon this church that we love? 52
No Turning Back? Ten years ago in the Adventist Review (February 1995), the retired president of the North American Division described the church's situation of ordaining women elders but not women pastors as untenable. He confessed his difficulty at explaining the reason for this to those who inquired. He offered no theological justification for ordaining women elders, stating only that we had crossed the theological bridge when we began to do so. Inexplicably, he asserted that there could be no turning back. 53
But I join the editor of Prove All Things in responding:
If we have embarked on a practice which violates the teaching of Scripture, why should we be reluctant to turn back? In our evangelism, we call people who have conscientiously kept Sunday all their lives to turn back when they see what the Bible actually teaches about the Sabbath, even if it should cost them their jobs, friends, and family. Are we unwilling to turn back when we find what Scripture actually teaches about the role of women in the church? Such change is not without pain and cost, but should these concerns prevent us from bringing our practice into line with the Bible? We see no end to the division and disunity which rack the church today on this issue, short of coming into harmony with the Word of God. Obedience to the Word is our only strength. Shall we be reluctant to take hold of it?
We believe the church should take a strong, decided stand to obey God, following Him and Him only. We believe the church should stop ordaining women locally and internationally, whether as elders or pastors, and it should not place them in leadership roles which Scripture calls on men to fulfill. Only fully consecrated men who are doing God's will and demonstrating their commitment by their lives should be ordained to the leadership of the church. It is time to trust God in faith and humility. May God help us to see clearly His will for His children and to walk willingly in it. 54
Worthy Examples. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the church's Head and the true Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, has set us an example that we should follow (1 Peter 2:21, 25). In the face of the ultimate test of obedience, He could say, Not My will, but Thine, be done, a decision that was immediately rewarded with help from Heaven (Luke 22:42, 43).
His Own mother, Mary, also leaves us an example of complete submission to the will of God. In becoming the Messiah's mother before she was married, she faced circumstances that would bring her abuse and derision; yet she said, I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said (Luke 1:38, NIV). Later, though she was highly favored of the Lord and a faithful disciple of Christ (Luke 1:28, 30; Acts 1:14), in the upper room she submitted to the Biblical guidelines for the choice of a male apostle to be added to the eleven (Acts 1:20-26). 55 Mary speaks to all of uswomen and menon this issue of women's ordination, as well as on every other issue, when she says, Whatsoever He [Christ] saith unto you, do it (John 2:5).
Finally, the apostle Paul leaves us an example of total surrender of our aims and ambitions to the cross of Christ. If, like him, we allmen and women, church leaders and members, professors and studentsalso reckon ourselves as crucified with Christ and seek to live by the principle, Not I, but Christ (Galatians 2:20), our spirit will be like his. When we are called upon to make decisions of costly discipleship, the kind suggested when we seek to do God's will on the role of women in the soulwinning ministry, the spirit of Paul must always be ours:
Paul had no ambitions [for himself]and so had nothing to be jealous about. He had no reputationand so had nothing to fight about. He had no possessionsand therefore had nothing to worry about. He had no rights'so therefore he could not suffer wrong. He was already brokenso no one could break him. He was dead'so none could kill him. He was less than the leastso who could humble him? He had suffered the loss of all thingsso none could defraud him. 56
May this spirit of faithful, obedient surrender to Christ and His Word inspire us not only to resist attempts at legitimizing and legislating cultural ideology , but also to trust and obey the sound theology from God's Word.
- 1. When we walk with the Lord,
- In the light of His Word,
- What a glory He sheds on our way!
- While we do His good will,
- He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
- Trust and obey,
- For there's no other way
- To be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey.
- Not a cloud in the skies,
- But His smile quickly drives it away;
- Not a doubt nor a fear,
- Not a sigh nor a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.
- Not a sorrow we share,
- But our toil He doth richly repay;
- Not a grief nor a loss,
- Not a frown nor a cross,
But is blest if we trust and obey.
- The delights of His love,
- Until all on the altar we lay,
- For the favor He shows,
- And the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.
- We will sit at His feet,
- Or we'll walk by His side in the way;
- What He says we will do,
- Where He sends we will go,
Never fear, only trust and obey.
40. In the prologue of the volume, the authors submit their work to the church as a resource tool for decision making, a euphemistic expression for the overturning of the previous General Conference session decisions. An admiring reviewer of the book adds, The ultimate purpose of Women in Ministry is to provide information for informed decision making, a clear indication that there is a decision to be made. In so doing, the book calls the church to do some serious Bible study. If the basis of our decision is going to be in our interpretation of Scripture, we must do it well. See Beverly Beem, What If . . . Women in Ministry? Focus , Winter 1999, p. 31.
42. Vyhmeister, Prologue, WIM , p. 5; idem, Epilogue, WIM , p. 436. In a letter accompanying wide distribution of Women in Ministry to church leaders around the world, the authors express the belief that they have provided the church with carefully researched information that will foster dialogue.
43. Roger L. Dudley, [Letter to the Editor Regarding] Women in Ministry , Adventist Today , January-February 1999, p. 6.
44. Calvin Rock, Review of Women in Ministry , Adventist Review, April 15, 1999, p. 29. In his glowing review, Rock offers special kudos to the Seminary Ad Hoc Committee for providing a deeply spiritual, highly reasoned, consistently logical approach to the issue of women's ordination. In his opinion the book provides incisive arguments for those who believe in women's ordination, and a thoughtful, thorough treatment of the major aspects of the women's ordination question (ibid.).
45. Beverly Beem, What If . . . Women in Ministry? Focus , Winter 1999, p. 31.
46. Fritz Guy, Review of Women in Ministry , Ministry , January 1999, p. 29.
47. See four related articles on this Web site. My detailed response to Women in Ministry is contained in Must We Be Silent? , pp. 125-289.
48. Therefore, Seventh-day Adventists who wish to believe in women's ordination should do so on the basis of evidence and methods superior to those found in Women in Ministry . And the attempt to put the Seminary's imprimatur on a work that is patently biased and arguably defective in Biblical and historical scholarship holds the potential of damaging the credibility of the Seminary as a place of sound teaching. Similarly, the attempt to legislate women's ordination as a moral imperative could lead to and institutionalize intolerance and persecution of those who uphold the Biblical teaching of role relationships in the church. In my opinion, it is a tragic mistake for the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary to have financed the publication of this book, when the pro-ordination scholars could have published the same work independently. In this respect, the Seminary has set an unfortunate precedent by opening its door to those who may be seeking ways to commandeer the name and resources of our church's leading theological institution for their own ideological agendas.
49. Vyhmeister, Prologue, WIM , p. 5.
51. In an earlier work, I have articulated the legitimate role of women in ministry thus: Notwithstanding male leadership in the church, (1) the fact that men and women are equal, having a complementary relationship between them, and (2) the fact that Scripture calls women to labor in ministry suggest that: The Seventh-day Adventist Church should make provision that will encourage a greater participation of women in ministry. This may include stronger support for their training at the Seminary, adequate and fair remuneration of women for their labor and, in some cases (such as in team ministries), their being authoritatively commissioned for roles and duties that are not in violation of Biblical teaching. Of the many lines of ministry, women could be encouraged to participate in the study, teaching, and preaching of the Gospel in personal and public evangelism; to be involved in ministries of prayer, visitation, counseling, writing, and singing; to labor as literature evangelists, health evangelists, to raise new churches, and to minister to the needy; to serve in positions of responsibility that do not require ordination as elders or pastors, serving as colleagues in partnership with ordained men at the various levels of the church organization; to teach in our institutions and seminaries; and above all, to minister to their children at home. But I do not believe that the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy permit women to be ordained elders or pastors (see my Searching the Scriptures , pp. 88, 89).
52. Alfred C. McClure, NAD President Speaks on Women's Ordination, Adventist Review , February 1995, pp. 14, 15.
54. Mercedes H. Dyer, ed., Prove All Things: A Response to Women in Ministry , p. 354.
55. For more on this, see my Searching the Scriptures , pp. 56-58.
56. Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1959), p. 173, cited in Stephen F. Olford, Not I, but Christ (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1995), pp. 55, 56.