My Thoughts on the Present Conversation Regarding the Ordination of Women

by David Asscherick  |  October 24, 2014

I am admittedly surprised to hear over and over again that the current conversation and study the Seventh-day Adventist Church is having regarding the theology of ordination, generally, and of the ordination of women to pastoral ministry, specifically, is a “distraction” or even a “deception” of the enemy.

Prayerful Bible study in the context of a respectful, if vigorous, dialogue is a good thing. A very good thing. It should be affirmed in the strongest possible language.

I am disappointed to see that many of those with the strongest and most strident opinions about this subject are often not in possession of the basic facts surrounding the current study and dialogue.

Though this may sound hard to believe, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has never really had a properly articulated and systematized theology of ordination. Though formed all the way back in 1863, it wasn’t until 2013/14, with the convening of TOSC (Theology of Ordination Study Committee), that the church formally and officially addressed the subject of the theology of ordination (I encourage you to go there, read up, and poke around a bit. Familiarize yourself with the process and some of the papers.)

It was, in large degree, the ongoing conversation and controversy about the specific issue of the ordination of women that brought the larger issue of the glaring absence of a well-studied and well-defined theology of ordination into focus. So in that sense, the agitation of the subject of women’s ordination has been a blessing in disguise, as it’s forced us all to go back to Scripture and study.

This commitment to Bible study is at the very heart of what it means to be a Seventh-day Adventist. It is in our historic DNA to study, pray, wrestle, dialogue, and even, yes, debate. Some of the issues that have historically sent us to our knees and to our Bibles are things like: the starting time for the Sabbath, clean and unclean meat distinctions, Revelation’s trumpets and various other prophetic details and identities, the humanity of Christ, revelation and inspiration, the Shut Door, evangelistic contextualization, and more.

And believe me, at times tensions were every bit as high, or higher, with some of those issues as with the current conversation about ordination.

But it goes back even further. Acts 15 tells the story of the apostolic church wrestling with the thorny and seemingly-impossible-to-navigate issue of the expansion of a thoroughly “Jewish” message—the gospel of Jesus Christ!—into the various Gentile contexts of the day. The epicenter of the debate was circumcision, which was both a theological and methodological issue. Don’t underestimate how tense this was or how polarized the perspectives were. Things looked grim.

But the Holy Spirit prevailed! (See Acts 15:22, 28) The church was slow to fully implement and appreciate the changes that were initiated and instituted that day. It was a process. Today, we look back and it all seems so simple, so clear. But to those back then, it was anything but.

As an almost unbelievable case in point, consider Peter. It was he who had received the three-fold vision and admonition to “rise, Peter; kill, and eat.” It was he himself who confessed in the presence of Cornelius and his assembly, “God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. . . In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:28, 34). It was he who argued vigorously against the necessity of circumcision for Gentile converts (Acts 15:7-11). And, astoundingly, it was also he who refused to sit with the Gentiles when James and his company arrived in Antioch (Galatians 2:11-21).

Yikes! So, yeah, let that sink in.

I hear the worried warnings of those who think this issue will split the church and even that it constitutes the beginning of the shaking.

I say, No way!

The word “ordination” doesn’t even appear in our 28 Fundamental Beliefs. The pillars will remain firm, no matter which way the church goes on this issue. Saturday will still be the Sabbath. Death will still be a sleep-like state. The high-priestly ministry of Jesus Christ in the sanctuary above will continue unabated.

Whether or not you’re willing to admit it, the facts are that there are wonderful, godly, committed, converted, biblically-literate, reputable, and brilliant Seventh-day Adventists that see this issue of ordination differently.

Don’t believe the hype. The church will endure this. More than this, I am convinced that the church will be better off because of this study and conversation. Not everything in Scripture is simple and easy. There are difficult passages and difficult applications. Wrestling with the text is an essential and necessary part of being the remnant.

And the answers aren’t always as neat and tidy as we’d like them to be.

Whether or not you’re willing to admit it, the facts are that there are wonderful, godly, committed, converted, biblically-literate, reputable, and brilliant Seventh-day Adventists that see this issue of ordination differently. And here’s a crucial point to grasp: both “sides” base their case on Scripture. You may not like this. But the facts are what the facts are.

I like to say it this way. If TOSC has taught us anything—and surely it has!—it is this: clearly, this issue is not as clear as some would lead us to believe.

The fact is that in TOSC more than 100 people met for hundreds of hours over a two-year period to pray, study, listen, and dialogue and when it was done one-third felt this way, one-third felt that way, and another one-third felt another way. (Note: it wasn’t exactly divided between three groups of one-third. I’m using this as an approximation to make the simple point that there wasn’t a resounding consensus. Though there was, I am told, a majority who saw the issue in a particular way.)

Now, again, you may not like the outcome. I’m sorry that the facts don’t always fit so nicely into our preconceived categories of reality. It looks like we may just have to tolerate those who differ with us. And maybe that’s the best thing to come from the debate. Maybe, in fact, that is precisely what we need in order to really be like Jesus.

Actually, we need to do more than tolerate them. We need to celebrate. Freedom is essential to the Gospel. We should celebrate the right that we all have to be “fully convinced in [our own] mind” (Romans 14:5), particularly regarding issues that aren’t viewed unanimously and which don’t possess that written-with-the-finger-of-God-on-tablets-of-stone-clarity we all prefer. Paul called these issues “disputable matters” (Romans 14:1, NIV).

And women’s ordination may well fit snugly into this category, as there is no guarantee that continued study will produce consensus.

We should celebrate the right that we all have to be “fully convinced in [our own] mind”

You may be tempted, like some clearly are, to demonize, disparage, or diminish those who are on the other side of the aisle. You would do so at your own peril. Rather, you should esteem them, their sincerity, and their commitment to Scripture and the church to be greater and better than your own (Philippians 2:3). In fact, it is your Christian responsibility and privilege to do so.

My good friend, and esteemed Light Bearers colleague, James Rafferty was a member of TOSC. Knowing that men and women of James’s caliber were on that study committee gave me confidence in the process. I had many other friends who were also members, but let me dwell, in closing, on James.

I have known James for many years and have had the privilege of working alongside him as a co-director (also with Ty Gibson) at Light Bearers for three years. The guy is a true Christian, a man of integrity, and a friend. Just this year, at the annual Light Bearers convocation, we stood side-by-side in the rushing and refreshing waters of Oregon’s Willamette River and baptized soul after soul in the name of the Father, the Son—Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. It was a glorious and beautiful occasion which heaven, no doubt, took supreme interest in.

When James left for the first TOSC session, we disagreed on the finer details of the issue of the ordination of women. But this never, for a moment, caused us to question the other’s sincerity or commitment to Scripture, the church, or Jesus Christ.

It never even crossed our minds.

And it shouldn’t cross yours either.

So here’s my advice on how you should relate to this issue and to the conversation surrounding it. I hope you’ll take these suggestions to heart.

  1. Pray for the church. Pray that God will continue to guide us to unity of purpose, identity, and spirit.
  2. Resist the temptation to demonize or disparage those with whom you disagree. Claim the promise of Philippians 2:3. Pray this prayer: “God, you urge me to esteem others better than myself. Since your biddings are enablings, I’m asking you to empower me to do this. Give me confidence in the sincerity and commitment of others. Knowing that ‘love believes all things and hopes all things’ (1Corinthians 13:7), help me to believe the best about those who see this issue differently than me.”
  3. Don’t think of this situation as a “distraction,” but as an opportunity to study, pray, and learn from others. Bible study is not a “distraction,” plain and simple. It’s an essential part of being the remnant in the modern age. We are called to wrestle! Don’t whine about it. Accept it.
  4. Don’t promote a political or fear-mongering perspective. Though it may not move as fast as some of us would like, the church is addressing this issue in a careful, responsible, and systematic way. Trust the system. Trust the church. Remember, you are the church! And, most importantly, trust that Jesus Christ has not taken leave of the throne of the universe nor of the supervision of His church. Recall His promise: “the gates of hell shall not prevail against [the church]” (Matthew 16:18). The process may be slow and seemingly laborious, but remember this is a global community of faith with a representative system of government. Sometimes, slow is good. Trust. Wait. And, again, pray.
  5. Keep the big picture in mind and heart. Purpose in your heart that no matter which way this issue goes organizationally, that you will remain committed to God’s end-time church that has been prophetically anticipated (Revelation 10-12) and called to preach His end-time message (Revelation 14:6-12) in its proper and beautiful gospel context of the covenantal faithfulness of God manifested in the righteousness of Christ.Jesus is coming soon!

Peace all.

David Asscherick Speaker
Light Bearers
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  • Randy

    So pleased to read this article. Definitely good counsel.

  • I love your positive outlook David.

  • Amen! Yes study and pray for God’s wisdom regarding this and as you wait upon the Lord, whether you’re a man or a woman, go out and preach the Gospel!

  • Great article David. I always appreciate your thoughtful Christ centered perspectives.

  • Jack Barrow

    A refreshing and needed perspective. I continue to study all sides of this issue.

  • Tinus Pretorius

    I am so glad that I read your article David. It gave me confidence and peace of mind to know that trusted people have and are studying ‘ordination’.

  • Flynn

    I agree; we as an end time, commandment keeping people (not for salvation, but because of it) should pray for Gods leadership. If God is for us, who can be against us? In the reading of Acts 2 we have the greatest example of unity of believers recorded in the new testiment (my opinion). Perhaps we as a people might reflect upon this. The brotheren and sisteren had “all things in common”; they had one mind (let this mind be in you…). Yes I agree bible study is good; it will lead us to God and He is so awesome.
    However, ( you knew there had to be one- right?) in 1888 the holy spirit was insulted and Gods message for his people was rejected. How can the spirit of God impart more light to his people if we haven’t owned our mistakes and asked for forgiveness? EG White is a little old lady that had some great ideas in our church, but she isnot on par with Gods bible, is how many in Gods remnant church look at Gods modern day prophet. We are so priviledged to have her testimonies to us and she so applifies God’s word. How is it we and those in her own time, value her so little?
    Yes, pray ye all, that God will not spew us out of his mouth. Let us all praise the Lord for his love and mercy. Let us sing songs of thanksgiving, unto God for his love endures forever.

  • Lettie Steyn

    Amen!

  • Daryl Williams

    Refreshing, well balanced and scriptural. May we all spend more time in Bible study and prayer and if this disagreement is what it takes Amen! We should remember there is no church after Laodicia. God is and will continue to lead this church!

  • claudinec

    Thank you David. I am sure the H. spirit will guide the church, as He allways has. We need to pray and spread the Gospel. God bless

  • Stevan Mirkovich

    Not only do we not have an adequate reflection on ordination, but an even more basic reflection on ecclesiology is sorely missing and has been treated in rather perfunctory way. Ordination follows ecclesiology not the other way around. The reason we struggle with issues of organization (segregation, hierarchy, bureaucracy, change management, etc) stems directly from our initial inertia that stood in opposition to organizing. To become an organized religion/denomination was to join Babylon. In light of those sentiments, we only do as much thinking and organizing as we have to in order to get by.

  • Eve

    This is a topic of gravity. Disagreements are everywhere and tensions are high, even to the point of conflict within the church, let’s admit it, the dialogue is painful.. Whether it should have this effect is another issue.

    Let us not be quick to give our opinion without earnest prayer, study on the matter, and prayerful examination of the evidence presented for or against because our opinions will have their influence. What is vital is God’s will made plain through His word.

    Pray, pray and pray. We are discussing here the feeding of the flock of God for the fulfillment of the Gospel commission” Go ye therefore and make disciples…. Pastors are up front and center, teaching and watching over the little flocks that has been given them by God, it is an awesome responsibility.

    When seeking to fill the office of Judas, the scene looked like this, ” And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell….Acts1: 24,25

    What is necessary here is for us to realize that we don’t have the answer but God does. When we reach that place of unity, that only God has the answer and pray in that manner, perhaps then we will hear a resounding reply from Him.

    May God bless us with His answer as we wrestle with so vital a topic as to who is best suited to feed the flock of God.

    In the meanwhile, may the other gifts of the Holy Spirit be fully utilized to bring God’s church to maturity and make disciples of all nations. Grace and peace to you.

  • Ian Hartley

    The difference between dialogue and debate is the demonizing of those who differ with us. In dialogue we respect and attempt to understand the other’s viewpoint. In debate we must prove the other wrong. Well done David for eloquently promoting dialogue. Intense dialogue is part of the kingdom of God. Divisive debate belongs in the kingdom of this world.

  • Megan Johnson

    Thank you for re-posting as a blog! Bookmarked! : )

  • I certainly appreciate your comments on this subject. Thank you.

  • Part of the reason we get so divided is because we do not understand the principles contained herein. I find wisdom and profitably instruction here. Amen, David! Thank you for expounding on how we are to think as a church rather than tell us what we are to do as a church! This fits God’s kind of “evolutionary” process. Thanks for the nudge into deeper waters!

  • Beautifully written DA! By the grace of God, if we could just get a closer glimpse in the face of Jesus, this issue would be resoundingly clear. This issue, as with most, is simplified when we look into the character traits of the Savior. Nevertheless, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

  • Wendell Downs

    David, I liked your summary advice. Regardless of the position I take, the question I have to seriously ask myself is, “What if the vote goes in the opposite direction?” What will I do, leave or become disgruntled, like so many former Adventists have done over divisive issues of the past? It’s not about me, but about the Mission. I may have to learn to get along with believers who somehow see things differently than I do.

  • Blossom Ferdinand

    Very good article good bit of advice to all I like your way of presentation I really see the and learn the bible from you . I like to hear some of your very recent ones which I don’t know where to find.This is the very first time I am seeing the true Words of the BIBLE.
    Blossom Ferdinand

  • Ziyanda Dewa

    Amen, thank you pastor David & thank you for the letter you wrote to the GC concerning the promotion of the theory of natural evolution of species as the truth in some of our institutions. I’m so excited to read you joined Light Bearers ministry.

  • Amyas Mvunelo

    I am confident the Church, maybe not this session, will reach theological consensus on this matter. We will go back to being Bible searchers in line with our history and DNA. A resolution will be found in time. As disciplined Adventists we will need to work and walk with each other until we find each other. As disciplined and loyal Adventists we will have to uphold the collective decision, whatever it be, until there is an alternative, if we do not find it this session. I think Adventist Ecclesiology first will be the route we need to walk, defining our understanding of priesthood of all believers, the different ministries or gifts of the Spirit, church offices etc.

  • Josaphat

    Amen

  • Nako Cosmo Kgati

    Let’s not trust anyone. Including me or any preacher that seem so powerful. We can only trust God. When the same leaders have God working through them, that’s the only moment they should win our trust. Our safety is in trusting God through his word. When anyone or any leadership does not follow God’s counsel, they do not deserve trust.

  • Paula Brandon

    a breath of fresh air in the midst of the gloom and doom of church split guarantees, the next thing is we’ll ordain “those people,” and bashing the “other camp.” Thank you.

  • Chester Van Clark III

    Thanks David. Well said.

  • Yaw

    Well written David… Could we also extend the same positive outlook to the catholics, pentecostals, the Jews, and even Muslims. This is where I personally get confused. We have demonized other Christian churches because they don’t believe the same things we think are important. This is what we have been thought to believe in our churches. So it is not surprising that we are now demonizing ourselves. Its in our blood.

  • Cellophane

    So true that this will not split the church. It has been very beneficial to all to dig in and study like never before. I can testify that it has personally blessed me in my own family setting, gaining a deeper understanding of the meaning and blessing of submission to my husband, and the results of that on my manner of conversation and attitudes. Surely the blessings are for the church also as the pattern for the Family of God. A woman’s gifts are enhanced and promoted by such submission, as was Christ’s submission to His Father the source of His protection, blessings, and success in His mission.

  • Cellophane

    Maybe I am not studying hard enough, but I still have not found any Scripture that promotes or prescribes the ordination of women to the positions of elder/overseer, or deacon of which Paul spoke. Is women’s ordination to those offices really plain from Scripture? Or are we making a doctrine out of a lack of opposing statements in Scripture?

  • flynn schnitzelring

    David,

    You have been talking about the ordination of women for months and it is a good thing to talk about how God moves upon ones heart. I have read Ty’s dissertation of WO and find myself in disagreement with his POV’s. I love him and you too (that love extends to all the LBM team); I love your attitudes of other-centered, “love” and your depiction of Gods character. I love what LBM and Arise does to share the gospel, as it has been shared (by the Holy Ghost) with you, and teach others about
    things that you all have learned, while sitting at the feet of Jesus. Should I
    love you, only when you say and do what I think is right? God forbid! I pray
    for you all, frequently. I can’t wait to see you all this years convocation, regardless of your views on WO.

    The past couple days have got me to thinking of, The Korah rebellion, Elijah and Ahab, Ellen White and the GC of her day, Jones and Waggoner. . . . I am convinced that God has a way that is right. I am convinced that the Word of God makes that way clear by commandment and by example, both in the new and old testaments. I have expressed that POV here and with my friends and associates. You, Ty and the LBM/ Arise staff also
    have expressed your POV, and many have commented about it all. We ALL should continue to pray for the delegates.

    But should the vote at the GCS not go the way we think it should, shall we leave our beloved church? Should the vote go the opposite way we think it should, shall we go against the vote and ordain women anyway? God forbid! I think of the prophets of the bible who warned Israel to turn from their erring ways; God loved Israel still (even though they murdered the messengers). And the SDA church has been wandering on
    the far side of the Jordan, making all kinds of mistakes, yet God continues to love us. It is Gods church, not ours! Let us reverently work within the confines of biblical dictates and entreaties. Let us not forget the great love that is unsearchable, for its vastness. Let us remember that God is love, and it is Christ (God) in us, the hope of glory. Let us allow that love for God, and for each other, to shine out to others that they might be attracted to Jesus (not us). May the Lord continue to be with you all at Light Bearers/ Arise- Amen.

  • nancy foote

    I think WO falls into the same realm as feast days and eating foods sacrificed to idols…Romans 14:1:
    “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” All of Romans 14 is a study we should have right now.
    We needn’t judge because verse three:
    “…For God has accepted him.” Both those who are weak in the faith and those who are strong in the faith are accepted by God and since that is true then it follows that we should accept each other.

  • Rikko7

    I agree with the spirit of respect towards one another. The problem I see is with scripture. If scripture does not agree with my taste then I should look for a different hermeneutics just to make it fit my paradigm. Kyoshin Ahn Phd TOSC report.
    Besides that, I hope the church remains united, but today more than before, even on other topics besides WO, I see more adventist independent churches that are not being accepted or kicked out of the organization because they are calling on the sin of it’s leaders. We sldo know that the church will have to be shaken, even though I hope this is not part of it, I’m afraid that it could be. I hope to be wrong.
    I hope that the church would be united. I wish this would have been decided just like the other church doctrines, but it hasn’t.
    May we have discernment and courage to stand by the truth even when it’s not popular.

  • WiseEye

    The waiting has helped me to study the Bible and understand the times of Paul even better. A much needed counsel to those who feel strongly on this issue. I needed this to keep moving forward.

  • Edwin (Bud) Racine

    Former
    President James Carter is a leading voice in the effort to bring intelligent focus on the abuse of
    women throughout the world. The
    following comment from Carter should give men of faith great pause. “…some selected scriptures are interpreted,
    almost exclusively by powerful male leaders within The Christian, Jewish, Muslim,
    Hindu, Buddhist, and other faiths, to proclaim the lower status of women and
    girls. This claim that women are
    inferior before God spreads to the secular world to justify gross and sustained
    acts of discrimination and violence against them.” –James Carter, “A Call to Action”
    Simon Schuster 2014 It is my opinion WO is a moral issue. Chief elders should never impede the Holy Spirit’s calling of Adventist, qualified women, to be ordained. To treat one of God’s friends inferiorly is immoral. Whether or not San Antonio produces a yes vote, qualified women in Adventism will continue to be ordained.