Study discussions over, now on to solutions, says chair of theology committee
Artur Stele, second from right, chairs a plenary session of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee on Wednesday, January 22 in Columbia, Maryland, United States, after the group had met in smaller discussion groups. The committee is comprised of more than 100 members from throughout the denomination, including pastors, professors, lay people and members of supporting ministries. [photo: Ansel Oliver]
More world regions would be open to women's ordination in some areas
January 28, 2014 | Columbia, Maryland, United States | ANN staff
At least 10 of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s 13 world division Biblical Research Committees say they would either recommend the ordination of women to ministry or would allow it in some world regions without the matter harming church unity.
The recommendations were unveiled at last week’s Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC), which was the third study meeting of the committee.
The denomination is in the midst of a five-year process of studying the biblical foundation of the theology of ordination and how it relates to gender and its implications if women were to be ordained. The Adventist world church does not ordain women as ministers.
The five-year process was established following a pledge at the denomination’s General Conference Session in 2010 to examine ordination. Each of the Adventist Church’s 13 world divisions has formed its own Biblical Research Committee and delivered its recommendation to the TOSC. The committee has previously held two week-long study sessions, and a fourth and final meeting is scheduled for June.
Last week’s meeting, from January 21 to 25 in Columbia, Maryland, featured presentations on theology and descriptions of options for moving forward in worldwide unity regarding ordination as it relates to gender. Much of the discussion focused on the issue of “headship” as is found in 1 Corinthians 11. Papers from all meetings are available to view on the website of the Office of Archives, Statistics and Research.
Artur Stele, TOSC chair and director of the denomination’s Biblical Research Institute, told delegates on Friday that the time for researching and studying of the issue had come to an end.
“From now on we’re going in a new direction. From now, including the June meeting, we’ll be looking for solutions,” Stele said.
Discussions have at times turned intense but have been conducted with respect and in a congenial manner.
“These meetings have featured frank—even very frank—descriptions of the positions on both sides of this matter,” Stele told the Adventist Review. “I believe that everyone who has participated in this process has come with a genuine desire to find out what the Word of God teaches, and how we can identify solutions that allow the church to stay focused on its worldwide mission. I’ve been gratified to see a growing sense of camaraderie and understanding as we’ve moved through this process.”
At the final TOSC meeting in June, it’s expected that the committee will make recommendations for the denomination’s Executive Committee meeting at Annual Council in October. From there, a recommendation will likely be made for the agenda of the 2015 General Conference Session.
TOSC Vice Chair Geoffrey Mbwana said regardless of what is ultimately decided, there is a sense of unity among TOSC members.
“All divisions have indicated they are willing to work with whatever is decided and to go forward with the mission of the church,” Mbwana said. “That has really comforted us.”
ANN has previously reported on several of the divisions’ Biblical Research Committee recommendations. Below is a summary of each division BRC recommendation to the TOSC last week. Each position is presented by quoting directly from their own report and is offered in thorough and concise form:
East-Central African Division: “After thorough examination of Scripture, the Writings of Ellen White, and the scholarly papers that are for the ordination of women and those that are against, there is still not light as to whether [women] may be ordained as pastors.…The committee is almost convinced that there are two possibilities: A. Both sides of the debate on women ordination do not really understand the New Testament passages which read like women ordination should not be considered; B. The whole church has not given much thought as to what women may do uniquely and be affirmed to advance the redemptive ministry and mission of God. So, before there is complete clarity about the authentic Scriptural intent about the issue, [our Biblical Research Committee] says ‘not yet’ to the ordination of women.… Our committee is convinced that the church needs to continue to ‘seek understanding’ so that the delegates to GC in [San Antonio] in 2015 may produce good results by voting intelligently.”
Euro-Asia Division: “[T]aking into account the cultural context in which the church is to fulfill its service in Euro-Asia Division, and keeping in mind the church’s missiological interests, the [division] Executive Committee discourages the practice of the ordination of women to the pastoral ministry.”
Inter-American Division: “There is no explicit mandate in the Bible for the ordination of women to church leadership, yet there is no command against the same….The Inter-American Division is willing to accept the ecclesiastical decision taken by the [Seventh-day Adventist Church] in plenary session.”
Inter-European Division: “Since ordination does not contradict the teachings of the Bible and might foster the mission of the church, we think that there is room for the church to ordain women for pastoral ministry.…Whatever decision is considered, a basic unity of the worldwide church in faith and practice should be preserved."
North American Division: “In harmony with our biblical study, we recommend that ordination to gospel ministry, as an affirmation of the call of God, be conferred by the church on men and women….The committee humbly recommends that the North American Division support the authorization of each division to consider, through prayer and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, its most appropriate approach to the ordination of women to gospel ministry.”
Northern Asia-Pacific Division: We recommend that the World Church place “Mission First” as a priority and that we focus on sharing the three angels’ messages with the world. This means that we recommend that both men and women should be encouraged and recognized by the church through ordination to the pastoral ministry.... We further recommend that the implementation of ordination of women will be determined by each division taking into consideration its impact on mission and unity within its territories.
South American Division: “[W]omen should not be ordained to the pastoral ministry….“The church should further investigate the possibility of the ordination of men and women to ministries other than the pastoral ministry.”
South Pacific Division: “The Biblical Research Committee of the South Pacific Division does not see any scriptural principle which would be an impediment to women being ordained….The calling of the Holy Spirit needs to be recognized for both men and women. There is a sense of injustice that needs to be addressed….The mission of the church is a primary determinant of praxis, both in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and in its climax as the Holy Spirit is poured out on both men and women during the latter rain.”
Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division: “The Old Testament and New Testament demonstrate that no women were ordained….Since there is no biblical support for the ordination of woman pastors, then the ordination of women elders should also not be considered.
Southern Asia Division: “We recognize that there is no direct teaching in the Scriptures or the Spirit of Prophecy that either prescribes or prohibits the ordination of women to the pastoral ministry. …In the absence of direct teaching in inspired writings we accept the authority of the church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to take a decision. … We have no objection if the world church takes a decision to allow certain areas of the world to ordain women to pastoral ministry.”
Southern Asia-Pacific Division: “[The Southern Asia-Pacific Division] will follow the voice of the Spirit and the world church upon its voted decision in July 2015 at the GC Session.”
Trans-European Division: “We propose that a recommendation be brought to the General Conference Session in 2015, that it approves a revised policy in which unions, whose constituency meetings in session have voted approval and whose division committee has voted approval, be allowed to maintain an inclusive pastoral ministry which removes all gender distinctions within the work of the church in that union territory."
West-Central Africa Division: “The West-Central Africa Division by consensus does not recommend the ordination of women into ordained pastoral ministry. However, if at the General Conference Session the world church votes in favor of women’s ordination, [the division] will not threaten the unity of the church despite its disagreement to such a decision. Instead, we will consider women’s ordination as a matter of conscience, and will continue to study and pray for light on the subject brighter than there is now.”
—The full report from each division’s Biblical Research Committee will soon be available on thewebsite of the Office of Archives, Statistics and Research.