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How can a pastor like me, who does not find biblical authority for the ordination of women as pastors or local church elders, believe that there ought to be far more women serving our churches than we currently have? In fact, it might be well if large portion of the conference paid ministry was composed of women. Sound confusing? Read on.
I watched the recent proceedings of the Columbia and Pacific Union’s constituency meetings as both dealt with the issue of women’s ordination and also read the open letter to Elder Wilson written by Leona G. Running, Professor Emerita of Biblical Languages, Ph.D. DHL, Seminary, Andrews University. I don’t think we simply have a unity problem; I am seeing that we are setting aside God’s appointed structure of authority. Let me explain.
In my devotional reading I just read the story of the rebellion of Korah in Numbers 16. There was a division of function amongst the descendants of Kohath. His grandson Aaron was to serve as priest of the tabernacle. His other grandson, Korah was not to function as a priest but rather had the high honor of caring for the furniture of the tabernacle and was under the direct supervision of Eleazar, son of Aaron.
Why did God create such role distinctions? Didn’t He realize that this would create envy and jealousy? God saw what happened when He did this in heaven. He had appointed specific roles to the inhabitants there. Lucifer didn’t like his role and wanted the job assigned to the Son of God. He became envious and jealous of the Son of God, which led to open rebellion.
Sure enough, Korah began to envy the role of Aaron and to covet his job of being a priest. Could Korah have done as good a job at being a priest as Aaron?
Yes indeed. Korah wasn’t a part of the rebellion there at Mount Sinai. He was up on the mountain with Moses while Aaron was making a golden calf and causing Israel to worship this idol. I think Korah could have done a fine job of serving as a priest. And so did he and many others! Thus began a work towards achieving cousin equality.
Korah connected with Dathan and Abiram who were descendants of Reuben the first born of Jacob. These two men thought that they should have the role that Moses was fulfilling. These two had also gone up on Mount Sinai with Moses. These three men quietly gathered a group of 250 leading men to rally around their cousin equality mission.
And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown: And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD? (Numbers 16:2, 3).
Why should ecclesiastical priestly authority not be shared by all who feel called to serve the Lord as priests? Notice their argument: all are equally holy and thus this exclusivity and discrimination of Aaron and his sons must come to an end.
They have a good point. Many prominent administrators, theologians, historians agreed that the time had come for cousin equality. Why should one cousin get to touch the holy things of God but an equally gifted and qualified cousin could not? Who authorized such discrimination? They believed it was Moses and Aaron who had come up with this: “wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?”
But it wasn’t Moses who set forth the qualifications for the priesthood. And one thousand years later it was still only the descendants of Aaron who could serve as priests. In the days of King Saul it could have been argued that the Aaronic priesthood was only relevant in the days of Aaron and Moses but now after all these years surely anyone who feels the call of God upon them should be allowed to serve without regard to linage. Surely we should get past those bigoted days of cousin discrimination, they may have reasoned. Saul thought he could offer the sacrifice just as well as Samuel and so he offered the sacrifice. For doing so, the Kingdom was taken from him (1 Samuel 13:8-14).
What was the reason that only descendants of Aaron could serve the church as priests? It wasn’t because they were better qualified or more spiritual. Remember Nadab and Abihu? No, the reason was because God said so and if that was all there was to it, that would have been reason enough.
What became of this movement for cousin equality? The earth opened up and swallowed Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Fire fell from God and burned up the two hundred and fifty princes who had joined them. Nearly fifteen thousand people lost their lives in this rebellion.
This is a very, very serious issue. To covet a position of spiritual authority that God has not assigned to us will lead us from indulging jealousy into open rebellion:
Jealousy had given rise to envy, and envy to rebellion. They had discussed the question of the right of Moses to so great authority and honor, until they had come to regard him as occupying a very enviable position, which any of them could fill as well as he. And they deceived themselves and one another into thinking that Moses and Aaron had themselves assumed the positions they held. The discontented ones said that these leaders had exalted themselves above the congregation of the Lord, in taking upon them the priesthood and government, but their house was not entitled to distinction above others in Israel; they were no more holy than the people, and it should be enough for them to be on a level with their brethren, who were equally favored with God’s special presence and protection (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 397).
The Aaronic priesthood was everlasting (Exodus 40:15). When God sets out the guidelines for who is qualified to perform the ecclesiastical functions of the temple services, they never change.
Just as there was a division of labor along genealogical lines with many ways of serving God in the temple that did not involve being a priest, so in the church today there is a division of labor along gender lines with many ways of serving God that do not involve being ordained with ecclesiastical authority. In the Christian era God has given clear guidelines that only men are authorized to fulfill the ecclesiastical leadership functions of His church.
However, both men and women have been called to “become pastors to the flock of God.” And a woman can do a work in pastoral ministry that far exceeds that of what a man can ever accomplish.
Did you hear that?
Let me repeat that: Men and women have both been called to “become pastors to the flock of God.” And a woman can do a work in pastoral ministry that far exceeds that of what a man can ever accomplish.
My wife can touch the hearts of people with a power that I will never possess. Why is this? Listen:
The Lord has a work for women as well as for men. They may take their places in His work at this crisis, and He will work through them. If they are imbued with a sense of their duty, and labor under the influence of the Holy Spirit, they will have just the self-possession required for this time. The Saviour will reflect upon these self-sacrificing women the light of His countenance, and will give them a power that exceeds that of men. They can do in families a work that men cannot do, a work that reaches the inner life. They can come close to the hearts of those whom men cannot reach. Their labor is needed (Review and Herald, August 26, 1902, emphasis added).
When a great and decisive work is to be done, God chooses men and women to do this work, and it will feel the loss if the talents of both are not combined (Ellen G. White, Letter 77, 1898).
It is the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit of God that prepares workers, both men and women, to become pastors to the flock of God (Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 322).
So we see here that women can do a work that men cannot do. God gives to them a power in pastoral ministry that exceeds that of men. This power comes from God. And God has not given this same degree of power to men.
If a man says that this is unfair, gender discrimination, he is repeating the cycle of jealousy, envy and rebellion of Korah. God has a right to give to women a power that exceeds that of men.
Men have also been given something that women have not been given. True, it may not seem as significant as what God has given to women but it still is only given to a man. To the male alone God has assigned the duties of ecclesiastical authority and pastoral leadership.
There is a broad field of pastoral ministry that God is calling women to engage in that does not entail congregational headship. Ellen White urged the wives of ministers to engage in ministry alongside their husbands. If the value of their role in pastoral ministry was recognized, there might be many more pastor’s wives hired in our conferences (see Addendum). They would assist their husbands in ministry, providing pastoral care especially for the women of the church.
If women had a spirit of humility and submission, God would pour out His Spirit and give to them a power that would touch the hearts of the people. If women would step up to the plate and take their rightful place in ministry, many more souls could be won to the kingdom. If our conferences would follow the counsel that the wives of pastor’s who work alongside their husbands are to be paid, these women whom God would empower for ministry, would not elect to go into other lines of work. Seventy percent of the membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church today are women. We need to revive the idea of pastoral couples serving our churches. If we as a Church clearly understood the vital role of the pastor’s wife, I think the percentage of women serving in conference employed ministry, teaching and preaching the truth, would grow–perhaps twenty fold:
If there were twenty women where now there is one, who would make this holy mission their cherished work, we should see many more converted to the truth. The refining, softening influence of Christian women is needed in the great work of preaching the truth. The Lord of the vineyard is saying to many women who are now doing nothing, ‘Why stand ye here all the day idle?’ Zealous and continued diligence in our sisters toiling for the spread of the truth would be wholly successful, and would astonish us with its results (Review and Herald, January 2, 1879).
The printed page cannot accomplish alone the work that the living minister can do. He can explain the Scriptures to the people, praying with them and appealing to them, and making effective the truths of the Bible. Not merely one or two men are called to do this work, but many men and women who have ability to preach and teach the Word (Manuscript Releases, vol. 12, 165).
Women preaching and teaching? Yes indeed. My wife preaches in our three church district. She teaches a Sabbath School Class. There are some who may have a hard time accepting women preachers; preaching is considered a man’s job:
Mrs. A had often made the statement that she would never join the Seventh-day Adventists. She had been brought up in the Presbyterian Church, and had been educated to think that it was very improper for women to speak in meeting, and that for a woman to preach was altogether beyond the bounds of propriety. She enjoyed hearing Elders Daniells and Corliss, and thought them very clever speakers, but she would not listen to a woman’s preaching. Her husband had prayed that God would so arrange matters that she might be converted under the ministry of Sister White. When I made the appeal, and urged those to come forward who felt their need of drawing nearer to God, to the surprise of all, these sisters came forward. The sister who had lost her little one said that she was determined that she would not move forward, but the Spirit of the Lord so forcibly impressed her mind that she dared not refuse. . . . (Daughters of God, p. 246).
Sister R and Sister W are doing just as efficient work as the ministers; and some meetings when the ministers are all called away, Sister W takes the Bible and addresses the congregation (Evangelism, p. 473).
But now back to the church and this concept of ecclesiastical authority. What did this mean in the early church?
Before being sent forth as missionaries to the heathen world, these apostles were solemnly dedicated to God by fasting and prayer and the laying on of hands. Thus they were authorized by the church, not only to teach the truth, but to perform the rite of baptism and to organize churches, being invested with full ecclesiastical authority (Acts of the Apostles, p. 160).
Does one have to possess full ecclesiastical authority to share the gospel truth and minister to the spiritual needs of others? Not at all. But to perform the rite of baptism and to organize churches one would first need to be invested by the church with full ecclesiastical authority through ordination.
It is God’s plan that there be in His church an ordained ministry—males invested with full ecclesiastical authority. They alone are appointed to provide pastoral leadership, baptize and organize churches. In the home and in the church, males are to provide the ecclesiastical headship. Why males? Because God said so:
But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God (1 Corinthians 11:3).
For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement (1 Peter 3:5, 6).
To Titus, mine own son after the common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour. For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly (Titus 1:4-6).
Male headship in the home and in the church is the clear teaching of the Word of God and is supported by the Spirit of Prophecy. And yet if there are no godly men to provide spiritual leadership for the home or for the church, women must step into the gap:
It is not always men who are best adapted to the successful management of a church. If faithful women have more deep piety and true devotion than men, they could indeed by their prayers and their labors do more than men who are unconsecrated in heart and in life (Letter 33, 1879).
The prophets that have led God’s church in the past have primarily been men. When it was time to raise up another prophet for the remnant church, God first chose a man for this position. He knew that Hazan Foss and William Foy would both turn down the call to be His messenger, yet He called them anyway. Perhaps God wished to show us that He preferred to call a man to this task but seeing that no man was willing to take up this mantel, He let it fall on a woman. This was heaven’s plan B. Plan B has caused some in our church to misunderstand the biblical plan of male headship. Women today point to the prominent role of a woman in the establishment of this church, and looking at this leadership role Mrs. White played, they believe that they also are authorized to take a leading, headship role in the management of God’s church. If men were unwilling to serve as pastors today as they were unwilling to serve as prophet back in 1844, then God would call women to manage His church. But for the church to call women to the headship position of pastoral ministry when godly men are willing and available violates inspired headship principles.
Let’s take a look at a difficult text along this same line of thought:
But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve (1 Timothy 2:12, 13 ).
So women can’t teach men? Is this what Paul is saying?
Priscilla taught Apollos: “And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly” (Acts 18:26). “Phillip the evangelist had four daughters which prophesied” (Acts 21:8, 9). “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy . . .” (Joel 2:28).
What does it mean to prophesy? 1 Corinthians 14:3 “But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.”
We know that God uses women to teach the church. Ellen White is an example.
So what is Paul saying here in 1 Timothy 2:12? Brother McDonald said it well in commenting on this passage:
Hence we conclude that the teaching referred to bears a strong relation to usurping authority over the man, mentioned in the same verse (Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, April 22, 1862, p. 164, para. 11. Authored by “Brother McDonald”).
Yes, men are to possess the ecclesiastical authority in the church but if I had a choice I think I would rather have that power that God gives especially to women, a pastoral power of reaching the inner life that exceeds that of a man rather than the duty of baptizing and organizing churches.
But if a man covets what has been given to the woman or if a woman covets what has been given to the man we repeat the cycle of jealousy/envy/rebellion of Korah. We must each be content with the division of labor that God has placed within His church.
There is a division of labor amongst the angels. Lucifer was not content with the role he had been given. Lucifer believed that he was on a par with the Son of God. Whatever Michael the archangel could do, he could do as well.
He campaigned for angel equality.
He was being discriminated against.
This story of the rebellion in heaven was repeated in the rebellion of Korah and it is being repeated in the gender equality/ordination movement we see in the Protestant denominational churches of our day.
As relating to the issue of authority we had the battle for angel equality in heaven, cousin equality in the days of Moses, and gender equality in our day—the Protestant churches promote yet another equality issue—day equality. The Sabbath, it is taught, was a cultural, Jewish issue. Now all days are alike. We worship God seven days a week. To hold one day above another is day discrimination. True they don’t have any biblical basis for day equality but they just know that this is what God would have them do today. Yes, the Word of God does indicate that the seventh-day is set apart from the other six days. But that was thousands of years ago! That was okay for that time.
We have thousands of years of the God-directed practice of male headship. We have Paul’s clear statements on the issue. This is not a cultural issue any more than the keeping of Sabbath is a Jewish cultural issue.
In the new spirituality that is sweeping Christendom the idea is prominent that the Holy Spirit today is guiding people through impressions and feelings. Many Protestant denominations are now ordaining women elders because they believe the Spirit is leading the church to do this. They do not derive their authority to do what they are doing from the Word of God.
Sunday keeping has the same basis of support. They just know that God would be pleased for them to honor the resurrection of Jesus by the keeping of the first day of the week. Where is the ‘Thus saith the Lord’ for this practice? There is none.
When they ask us for chapter and verse where God specifically authorizes His church to invest women with full ecclesiastical authority what then will we say? The ordaining of women elders in the Seventh-day Adventist Church weakens our position that we base our teachings and practice on the Word of God.
It interposes yet another barrier in reaching the 1.2 billion Roman Catholics who do not believe the Bible authorizes women to be invested with ecclesiastical authority.
It erects one more obstacle in reaching the 1.7 billion Muslims who believe that women should not be vested with ecclesiastical authority.
The Holy Spirit is not leading our church to depart from the practice and teaching of the Bible as stated in that open letter to Elder Ted Wilson. In this letter a retired seminary professor states:
In our day the Holy Spirit is leading our Church to take advanced steps as He did at the Council of Acts 15. . . . The Holy Spirit is now saying to the Adventist Church in North America, Europe and Australia to stop dilly-dallying and proceed to ordain the called, trained, effective women pastors and stop this unchristian
discrimination . . . .The Western Churches that are ready to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading will show the way to the other countries’ Churches; they will not split the Church—but if you try to stop what the Holy Spirit is leading to be accomplished, you will split the Church!
This professor believes the Holy Spirit is teaching the Western churches new light because a large contingent of its members wants to allow women to exercise ecclesiastical authority. We are people of the Book. We don’t develop doctrine in response to cultural pressures or majority consensus. That is how Sunday keeping came about.
Today our current Western culture may accuse the church of gender discrimination because of our biblical stand on woman’s ordination. Tomorrow they may accuse the church of being homophobic if we don’t ordain gay individuals to the ministry. But the church must remain steadfast to what is written in the Word of God.
It is time that we acknowledge our error in allowing a relatively small group of individuals in the 1975 Annual Counsel meeting to approve the ordination of local women elders. The ordaining of local women elders has never been voted on by the World Church in a General Conference Session.
In heaven, facing this issue of angel equality caused a loss of one third of the angels. In the days of Moses, facing the issue of cousin equality caused a loss of nearly 15,000 people. In our day, facing the issue of women’s ordination may cause a shaking and a loss of membership. Nevertheless, faithfulness to God and His Word is required of us.
A shaking and sifting is coming to God’s church as it came to heaven so long ago. The issue is over the authority of God’s Word.
Does God have the right to write the rules? Absolutely.
Whether it has to do with who is allowed to serve as priests or who is allowed to be ordained to ecclesiastical authority or which day is to be kept holy as the Sabbath of the Lord, our duty is absolute obedience to every directive and command of our Creator.
Today the church is being tested on the issue of women’s ordination. Tomorrow we will be tested on the Sabbath/Sunday issue. That will be the final test. Those who are passing the test today are more likely to pass the test tomorrow.
So is this issue of women’s ordination important? Yes, it is. Let’s get this one right.
Some matters have been presented to me in regard to the laborers who are seeking to do all in their power to win souls to Jesus Christ. . . . The ministers are paid for their work, and this is well. And if the Lord gives the wife, as well as the husband, the burden of labor, and if she devotes her time and her strength to visiting from family to family, opening the Scriptures to them, although the hands of ordination have not been laid upon her, she is accomplishing a work that is in the line of ministry. Should her labors be counted as nought, and her husband’s salary be no more than that of the servant of God whose wife does not give herself to the work, but remains at home to care for her family?
While I was in America, I was given light upon this subject. I was instructed that there are matters that need to be considered. Injustice has been done to women who labor just as devotedly as their husbands, and who are recognized by God as being as necessary to the work of ministry as their husbands. The method of paying men laborers and not their wives is a plan not after the Lord’s order. Injustice is thus done. A mistake is made. The Lord does not favor this plan. This arrangement, if carried out in our conferences, is liable to discourage our sisters from qualifying themselves for the work they should engage in.
A mistake is made when the burden of the work is left entirely upon the ministers. This plan was certainly arranged without the mind of God. Some women are now teaching young women to work successfully as visitors and Bible readers. Women who work in the cause of God should be given wages proportionate to the time they give to the work. God is a God of justice, and if the ministers receive a salary for their work, their wives, who devote themselves just as interestedly to the work as laborers together with God, should be paid in addition to the wages their husbands receive, notwithstanding that they may not ask this. As the devoted minister and his wife engage in the work, they should be paid wages proportionate to the wages of two distinct workers, that they may have means to use as they shall see fit in the cause of God. The Lord has put His spirit upon them both. If the husband should die, and leave his wife, she is fitted to continue her work in the cause of God, and receive wages for the labor she performs.
Seventh-day Adventists are not in any way to belittle woman’s work. If a woman puts her housework in the hands of a faithful, prudent helper, and leaves her children in good care, while she engages in the work, the conference should have wisdom to understand the justice of her receiving wages.
Women helped our Saviour by uniting with Him in His work. And the great apostle Paul writes, ‘Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved. I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord. And I entreat thee also, true yoke-fellow, help those women which labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow-laborers, whose names are in the book of life.’
If women do the work that is not the most agreeable to many of those who labor in word and doctrine, and if their works testify that they are accomplishing a work that has been manifestly neglected, should not such labor be looked upon as being as rich in results as the work of the ordained ministers? Should it not command the hire of the laborers? Would not such workers be defrauded if they were not paid?
This question is not for men to settle. The Lord has settled it. You are to do your duty to the women who labor in the gospel, whose work testifies that they are essential to carry the truth into families. Their work is just the work that must be done. In many respects a woman can impart knowledge to her sisters that a man cannot. The cause would suffer great loss without this kind of labor. Again and again the Lord has shown me that women teachers are just as greatly needed to do the work to which He has appointed them as are men. They should not be compelled by the sentiments and rules of others to depend upon donations for their payment, any more than should the ministers (Manuscript Releases, vol. 5, pp. 323-325).
There are ministers’ wives—Sisters Starr, Haskell, Wilson, and Robinson—who have been devoted, earnest, whole-souled workers, giving Bible readings and praying with families, helping along by personal efforts just as successfully as their husbands. These women give their whole time, and are told that they receive nothing for their labors because their husbands receive wages. I tell them to go forward and all such decisions will be revised. The Word says, ‘The labourer is worthy of his hire.’ Luke 10:7. When any such decision as this is made, I will, in the name of the Lord, protest. I will feel it my duty to create a fund from my tithe money to pay these women who are accomplishing just as essential work as the ministers are doing, and this tithe I will reserve for work in the same line as that of the ministers, hunting for souls, fishing for souls.
I know that the faithful women should be paid wages as it is considered proportionate to the pay received by ministers. They carry the burden of souls and should not be treated unjustly. These sisters are giving their time to educating those newly come to the faith and hire their own work done and pay those who work for them. All these things must be adjusted and set in order and justice be done to all. Proofreaders in the office receive their wages; those who are working at housework receive their wages, two dollars and a half and three dollars a week. This I have had to pay and others have to pay. But ministers’ wives, who carry a tremendous responsibility, devoting their entire time, have nothing for their labor (Daughters of God, p. 106).
An Open Letter To:
Pres. Ted N. C. Wilson
General Conference of SDA
12501 Old Columbia Pike
Silver Spring, MD 20904-1600
August 22, 2012
Dear Pastor Ted:
Please read thoughtfully in the book of Acts, chapters 2, 10-11, and 15. In our day the Holy Spirit is leading our Church to take advanced steps as He did at the Council of Acts 15.
In Western societies we can no longer tolerate the Church’s gender discrimination. Such prejudices as that and racism should be overcome at conversion if the converts could be taught by people who have overcome them, themselves. The Holy Spirit is now saying to the Adventist Church in North America, Europe and Australia to stop dilly-dallying and proceed to ordain the called, trained, effective women pastors and stop this unchristian discrimination. Otherwise we will lose the whole next generation and the Latter Rain cannot come.
The subject has been well studied for years.—The Welcome Table (1995) and the Seminary’s Women in Ministry (1998) contained well-researched, top-quality chapters years ago. The Western Churches that are ready to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading will show the way to the other countries’ Churches; they will not split the Church—but if you try to stop what the Holy Spirit is leading to be accomplished, you will split the Church!
Peter and Paul had to break down the wall between Jews and Gentiles in their day (Gal. 3:28). In our day we must break down the walls of racism and gender discrimination. As I told you months ago, I pray every day that God will help you be a shepherd and not a dictator. I hope that prayer will be answered.
With warm regards,
Your Hebrew teacher, nearly 96,
Leona G. Running
Professor emerita of
Biblical Languages, Ph.D. DHL
Seminary, Andrews University
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: John and Sharon Witcombe have ministered in churches in Washington and Oregon. John began to serve as a pastor in 1994. Presently they serve in Southern Oregon. Their daughter has recently blessed them with a grandchild.