Back to basics

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In moving independently from the world Church on women’s ordination, the Northern German, Columbia and Pacific Union Conferences risk pushing Adventists to “take sides” rather than considering the issue fully. Namely, before we decide who’s in or out, what is ordination anyway?

Trans-European Division (TED) president Bertil Wiklander made some interesting public comments about ordination recently, even as he explained why the TED would work within the General Conference framework for studying the issue. Citing the work of Pastor John Lorencin, Dr Wiklander said:

Is it possible that we, as Adventists, have inherited unbiblical views from our Protestant and Catholic forbears?

“… there is no word for ‘ordination’ in the Bible. It is used in the King James Version from 1611, but it is there based on old Roman Catholic translations from the 14th and 15th centuries. In fact, Pastor Lorencin warns against letting the pastoral ordination be influenced by the Roman Catholic, unbiblical practice, which is rooted in the pagan Roman system of being promoted (Latin ordinatio) to a higher ‘order’
. . . Any sense of the rite of ordination conveying a special status or character that is not already there through the gift of the Holy Spirit is unbiblical. Ordination is therefore a work of the Spirit and only recognised and confirmed by the church.” 

Is it possible that we, as Adventists, have inherited unbiblical views from our Protestant and Catholic forbears? Consider these three points from the New Testament.


Expiry date

In the book of Acts, deacons, elders and missionaries had hands laid on them. But did this “ordination” involve a life-long change in status or was it time limited? In Acts 13 Paul and Barnabas are set apart by the Antioch church for the task of evangelising Asia Minor. They return from their mission trip in 14:26 back to Antioch “where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed”. The language of “committed” and “completed” suggests that the laying on of hands was for a specific task or role, rather than a lifetime vocation.


Names and power

In promoting the ideal of servant leadership, Jesus warned against religious titles (Matthew 23:8). Consistent with this, Jesus never baptised, but left the privilege to His disciples (John 4:2). 

Nevertheless, the church lapsed into hierarchy over the centuries. Only priests could conduct the rites of the church and grandiose titles such as “His Holiness” were introduced. Adventists followed the Reformation’s lead in rejecting these extremes, but is our continued use of “Pastor” or
“Elder” as a title, rather than a descriptor, consistent with the spirit of Jesus’ instructions? 


One body

Somehow we’ve fallen into the notion that Christians are split into two groups: clergy and laity. Nothing could be further from the radical New Testament teaching that replaced the old priests/people dichotomy. Instead the church is pictured as a body; each member complementing the other with Christ as the only head. 

The word “clergy” comes from the Greek kleros, meaning “chosen”. The apostle Peter uses the word to refer to church congregations in 1 Peter 5:3, consistent with his earlier statement: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God”
(1 Peter 2:9). 

None of this detracts from the clear New Testament teaching on spiritual leadership. The pre-eminent leaders in the early church were “first apostles, second prophets
. . .” (1 Corinthians 12:28). But it was not from ordination that this authority was derived; there is no record of anyone being ordained as an apostle or prophet. Strangely, it was the early believers’ enemies who were on the right track:
“. . . they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). That’s what makes the difference: the presence and calling of Jesus. 

The Reformation task of disentangling primitive Christianity from millennia of tradition is yet to be completed. As a Church currently undergoing a worldwide biblical study of ordination, we are at a crucial historical moment; a tipping point that could end with us merely slipping into the comfortable lap of convention. Or we could choose to go wherever Scripture takes us, even if that’s into less convenient territory.      

Kent Kingston is assistant editor for RECORD.

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