Unity may be harder than we think.
A recent article by Ty Gibson, “A Closer Look at Women’s Ordination,”
has attracted some attention but itself needs a closer look!
Clinton Wahlen, Ph.D., co-author of women’s ordination: does it Matter?
While many smaller points could be mentioned, two main problems with Ty Gibson’s article stand out:
(1) It is extremely selective in the evidence chosen for consideration; and
(2) It severely underestimates the potential for disunity should a “Yes” vote prevail.
1. Selective Use of Evidence
- Surprisingly, 1 Timothy is disallowed as local and yet is brought in anyway when urging that women can have “management” of the church, citing 1 Timothy 1 and 3. Of course, Titus 1 is ignored altogether, as has frequently been done in this discussion by those who want to find evidence for women’s ordination in the Bible, because the same localizing argument will not work there.
- So many New Testament passages are not considered (25 of 29 to be exact) where diakonos has its ordinary meaning of “servant” (Matt. 20:26; 22:13; 23:11; Mark 9:35; 10:43; John 2:5, 9; 12:26; Rom. 13:4; 15:8, etc.), rather than its technical meaning of “deacon” (only in Phil. 1:1 and 1 Tim. 3:8, 12). To his credit, the author does not suggest that Phoebe was Paul’s “leader” as a recent Ministry article seemed to suggest. Why would Paul give Phoebe a title he refused to concede even to other apostles (2 Cor. 11:5; 12:11), including James, Peter, and John (Gal. 2:6-10)?
- The author reduces the issue of headship to seven verses in the New Testament where “head” is mentioned, completely ignoring the equivalent Hebrew word’s usage in the Old Testament (e.g., the “heads” set up by Moses at the direction of the Lord, Exod. 18:25) and similar references in the New Testament (e.g., Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). In addition, the all-too-familiar misrepresentation of headship appears, as if it meant that “all women are under the headship of all men” (it doesn’t) and that pastors are priests (they are not) who interpose between Jesus and His church (they don’t). Curiously, while accusing others of being papal, the author uses papal language himself in speaking of the “pastoral, ministerial, priestly role.” As Adventists, we have never thought of ministers as priests.
- The fact that women never appear as priests or Levites in the Old Testament nor as apostles or elders in the New Testament is not really taken seriously. The attempt to dismiss it on the basis of the priesthood of all believers concept in 1 Peter 2:9 does not really follow because Peter is quoting Exodus 19:6. If Israel could be a kingdom of priests and still have an all-male priesthood, then the church, God’s new “Israel” (Gal. 6:16), could be a “royal priesthood” with all-male leadership of the apostles and elders. Significant in this regard is that he fails to mention Junia (or Junias if it’s a man’s name like the other names with this Greek ending are in Rom. 16). Apparently the author realizes that, even if this person was a woman she clearly wasn’t an apostle.
- The author seems to be unaware that Ellen White’s normal word for a person who had been given a “license to preach” or who had been ordained to the gospel ministry was “minister” not “pastor.” This is obvious even in the few statements he does quote, such as Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 322, which in the next paragraph (p. 323) uses “minister” and “ministers,” not “pastors,” in reference to those who receive a license to preach and refers only to “men suited for this work” rather than to “men and women.”
- 1 Peter 5:2, where the verb “to shepherd” appears, is mentioned in order to suggest that women “pastors” can be ordained, but the context is completely ignored: Peter as “fellow elder” is addressing elders who oversee the church (using the verb episkopeo) and refers to Jesus as the “Chief Shepherd” in verse 4, which shows that these elders oversee the church as His undershepherds. So there is a legitimate headship in the church after all—one with duly ordained leaders who serve under the universal Headship of Christ.
- If, as is claimed, “to elevate the pastoral position with language of headship and privilege over other church members is decidedly papal” then why is there such an insistence on ordaining women? Why do for women what is thought to be wrong for men? Is the article really arguing for no headship and no leadership in the church? Apparently not, but if not then this kind of reasoning does not make sense.
2. Disunity underestimated
- There is an unwarranted confidence that allowing divisions to decide this issue will somehow magically lead to unity, even though the experiment with ordaining women as local elders and disregarding the world church decisions in order to ordain women as pastors has led to greater disunity and severe polarization in the very fields where this is supposedly desirable and workable.
- It is claimed that people want to “vote a universal rule against women’s ordination for the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church.” Could the author be ignorant of the fact that this has been the universal rule for the more than 150 years that we have existed as a church? We have never had any other rule and we have remained solidly united. It is the pushing of the women’s ordination agenda over the past 40 years through church media and church policy changes that has contributed to increasing division among us.
- The author also seems unaware of the fact that those denominations who have moved forward in ordaining women have experienced increasing conflict and schism—not greater unity.
- While insisting that ordaining women has nothing to do with whether the gay lifestyle should be accepted, it is an undeniable fact that similar arguments are used by those advocating for same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay clergy.
- Largely ignored in the debate are the views of the vast majority of church members. Apart from anecdotal evidence, the only solid research we have for Adventist attitudes toward women as elders, ordained ministers, or senior pastors is negative. Why has no recent large-scale study of member attitudes been done? Are we afraid of what we might find (or perhaps already know)? Many conference presidents in North America would gladly hire more women as pastors, but outside of institutional settings there are few if any churches who will accept them.
- In view of the negative attitude of many church members toward ordaining women as pastors, there would seem to be a greater risk of schism if church leadership continues to try to force members to accept women as senior pastors/ordained clergy. The disregard by some unions of the consistent and persistent rejection by General Conference sessions of proposals to ordain women (1881, 1990, and 1995) poses the real threat to church unity and recklessly exposes our church to the risk of schism.
- Despite denials to the contrary, faithfulness to Scripture is the real issue. As the only truly global Protestant church, active in more countries even than the Roman Catholic Church, our source of unity has always been our faithfulness to Scripture. If we leave this foundation, declaring that the Bible is unclear and that we must trust the Church to do what is best then we have essentially abandoned our Protestant faith and capitulated to the Catholic position that the Church is the arbiter of truth.
May 14, 2015