Linthicum Heights, Maryland, United States | Mark A. Kellner, Adventist Review

Members of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee rounded out three days of meetings with presentations from a variety of viewpoints on questions related to women’s ordination, a controversial question for the Seventh-day Adventist Church worldwide.

Those who support the ordination of women and those opposed to the practice were given equal time and opportunity during the July 21-24 event to marshal biblical evidence supporting their positions, as well as statements from Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White, whom Adventists believe exercised the biblical gift of prophecy during more than 70 years of public ministry.

“We are now at the point that [the] two groups have presented the hermeneutical issues, the principles.  They have illustrated it, and they have given all the facts, all the findings, they have found for both positions,” said TOSC chairman Artur Stele, a general vice president of the world church and director of the Biblical Research Institute at Adventist world church headquarters.

“[The presentations] are in printed form [and] we have heard them.  We hope that in a few days they will be available online for everyone who would like to study and research,” he added. The papers will be archived online, officials indicated.

Stele added that “the next step, based on what was presented, [is] to try to see if we can find a common ground, whether we really can come up with one position” on the ordination issue. If that can’t be done, he said, “then we would have to prepare two different reports, and concentrate on what solutions we would suggest.”

He concluded, “We have seen a good spirit, which was a big blessing. Both groups, although having different views, have really demonstrated respect for each other, and it was a very friendly atmosphere, a very open atmosphere.”

Among the papers presented during the July TOSC meetings there was a historical summary of women’s ordination “in Seventh-day Adventist policy and practice” presented by church archivist David Trim. A total of 17 papers were presented during the three days.

In a paper on hermeneutical principles, Jiří Moskala, newly-appointed dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, told delegates there is no statement in the Bible commanding: “Ordain women to ministry!” Nor, he noted, is there one urging: “Do not ordain women to ministry!”

Moskala concluded: “There is no theological hindrance” to ordaining women. “On the contrary, the biblical-theological analysis points in that ultimate direction, because the Spirit of God tears down all barriers between different groups of people in the church, and gives freely His spiritual gifts to all, including women, in order to accomplish the mission God calls all of us to accomplish.”

Taking a contrary viewpoint, Gerard Damsteegt, an associate professor of church history at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, cited the Wesleyan-Methodist antecedents of Adventism, as well as early church fathers and Protestant reformers, to oppose women’s ordination: “If we look as the Adventist pioneers on women’s involvement in the mission of the church,” he said, “we notice that their position is very similar to that of Wesley and Methodism. These pioneers strongly encouraged female participation, excepting in the headship offices of elders and ministers.”

Adventist pastor Stephen Bohr, also arguing against women’s ordination, said that Ellen G. White’s role involved her being “set apart by God to be a prophet, not an elder/overseer. To say that because Ellen White was a prophet she had the right to be an elder or pastor would be like saying that because I am an elder, I have the right to be a prophet! The conclusion simply does not follow the premise!”

Richard Davidson, seminary professor of Old Testament at Andrews, focused the committee’s attention on the Biblical passage at the heart of the debate:  “In the modern discussion over whether women should be ordained as pastors the foundational passage for both those who affirm and those who oppose women’s ordination is Genesis 1-3.”

Davidson pointed to the roles given Adam and Eve at creation:  “According to Genesis 1:27-28, both the man and woman are equally blessed.  Both are to share alike in the responsibility of procreation, to ‘fill the earth.’  Both are to subdue the earth.  Both are given the same co-managerial dominion over God’s non-human creation.”

Illustrating their very different reading of the same Biblical text, Paul S. Ratsara, president of the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division and Daniel K. Bediako of Valley View University, a Seventh-day Adventist institution in Ghana, asserted “God created man and woman as equals and with role differentiation. In the church, men are to lead.” They maintained that if women’s ordination is permitted, either globally or on a regional basis, the church’s influence and theological unity would be diminished. “A decision to ordain women as pastors can be made only outside the bounds of Scripture,” they concluded.

Additional presentations contrasted Biblical concepts of authority with models built on “elitism” and “hierarchy,” and explored the views held by Adventist co-founder Ellen White on the appropriateness of women serving in various ministry roles.

Urging the committee to disavow models of male authority and headship that he maintains are rooted in post-apostolic Christianity, Darius Jankiewicz, chair of the seminary’s Theology and Christian Philosophy department, maintained that “if anything apart from commitment to Christ and His church, spiritual gifting and maturity determine fitness for various functions in the church, then, whether we intend it or not, we create an elitist community.”

Edwin Reynolds, a New Testament scholar at Southern Adventist University, underlined a very different view of how authority should function in the church.  “Spiritual headship and teaching authority seems to be vested in the roles of apostle and elder in the [New Testament],” his presentation noted.  “These roles would not seem to be appropriate for women to seek under the principle of submission to male headship.”

Teresa Reeve, New Testament professor at the seminary and one of several female presenters, reached an opposite conclusion:  “The New Testament practice of ordination as the formal appointment and endorsement of an individual for a ministry task or role gives no impediment to the ordination of suitably qualified women to serve as pastors.”

Denis Fortin, a church historian, offered a detailed summary of Ellen White’s perspective on women serving in ministry:  “Ellen White understood ordination as an ordinance at the service of the church to commission people in various kinds of ministry and responsibilities, and to ask God’s blessing on their ministry.  There is no indication in her writings that the rite of ordination should be limited only to men or that it should be used to establish some kind of church hierarchy.  She emphatically encouraged the involvement of women in all forms of ministry.”

Adventist world church President Ted N.C. Wilson, an ex officio member of the committee, commended the event’s cordiality: “The Holy Spirit provided a setting during the committee for a respectful and courteous atmosphere in which to study what the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy have to say on the subject,” he said, asking members to “please pray for all those involved as they seek to follow God's guidance.”

TOSC members will reconvene in January 2014 for a five-day session to evaluate the papers presented and to chart the path ahead for the study process.  The committee will also receive reports from each of the church’s 13 division Biblical Research Committees that are concurrently studying the issues at a regional level.

--Click HERE to view the commission's presentations and papers.