Ordination study papers released


Wahroonga, NSW

Following year-end meetings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific, the regional Biblical Research Committee has released the research papers it used in coming to the conclusion that it did “not see any scriptural principle which would be an impediment to women being ordained”.

A summary of each of the papers is listed below, along with links to the full text.

“The Language of Ordination in Scripture,” Ross Cole PhD, Avondale College of Higher Education. 

An overview of what the OT teaches about “ordination”. Although the word “ordination” as such is not found in the Bible, the laying on of hands is found in association with a number of offices and roles. Delegation of authority and the resourcing of the Spirit are fundamental elements symbolised in the act. Empowerment for a new role is always in view, not a reward for having already done the job well. Symbolism is vital, but the reality is in some way present beyond the symbol. Standing the candidate before the people signals readiness to serve.

The themes celebrated as hands are laid include divine sovereignty, separation to the will of God, the diversity of the gifts placed in the body, and the generosity of God in providing officers, and in endowing His servants with all the resources necessary for ministry. There are also the themes of servanthood, delegated authority, and ministry as representation of God and humans. Full text

“A Biblical Theology of Ordination,” Kyle de Waal PhD, Avondale College of Higher Education.

An examination of all the potential NT words for ordain/commission/appoint, together with a review of the practices of the early Christians and of course that of Jesus too. Also examined is the idea of the laying on of hands in Luke and Paul’s writings as well as brief consideration of the role of women in the OT and NT. The paper argues for inclusivity in terms of the roles of male and female in the early church. Preliminary conclusions lean toward historic Christian understandings of the priesthood of all believers, the granting of the gifts of the Spirit to all believers and the equality of all believers before God and in the church. Full text

“Should Ordination be Considered a Sacrament in the Seventh-day Adventist Church? An Evaluation in the light of Biblical Data,” Wendy Jackson PhD (Cand.), Avondale College of Higher Education.

While Catholic theology places importance on the sacramental nature of ordination, Protestants have generally rejected the idea. This paper examines whether a biblical case can be made for ordination to be considered a sacrament. It notes that for ordination to be a sacrament it must have obvious symbolism, convey grace, be instituted by Christ, and convey a mark or seal that distinguishes between laity and clergy. The paper concludes that while laying on of hands is clearly symbolic, there is no other biblical evidence to support ordination as a sacrament. Therefore we must conclude that ordination in the Seventh-day Adventist Church should not be considered a sacrament. This has significant consequences for church practice. The Church needs to be careful of any suggestion that gives ministers higher status over and above laity. The process of ordaining ministers should not be seen as more important or special than the ordination of deacons and elders, and there needs to be some way to involve the congregation in the ordination process rather than restricting the proceedings to those previously ordained. Full text 

“The Problem of Ordination: Lessons from Early Christian History,” Darius Jankiewicz PhD, Andrews University.

This paper explores and compares ministry and ordination in the Bible and in the various epochs of post-apostolic Christianity, including the early Adventist era. In Scripture there is not an unambiguously clear theology of either ministry or ordination, and the office of pastor does not correspond readily to any position in the early Christian church. Further, there is no direct Scriptural evidence that local elders/bishops were actually ordained through the laying on of hands, nor is there evidence that only ordained pastors or elders laid hands on those being ordained, or that there are three levels of ordination: pastor, elder and deacon.

In the post-apostolic era, with Christ not returning and all the leaders dying out, the church faced a crisis and developed a leadership structure that continues to influence the church to this day. Institutional aspects of church replaced mission, and rank, status and position became more important than the gospel commission. Sacramentalism was used to protect the church structure, and the persecuted church became a persecuting church. That is what our church needs to guard against. We need to focus more on our roots when we were a movement with a mission rather than repeating the mistakes of the early church in being more interested in preserving the institution. Full text

“‘The Lord Has Ordained Me’: Ellen White’s Perspective,” John Skrzypaszek, Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre, Avondale College of Higher Education.

Although Ellen White does not delineate a theology of ordination her views on the topic fall into three distinctive categories: a) personal experience, b) biblical reflection, and c) practical application; each of which demonstrates Ellen White’s clear understanding of God’s involvement in the process. She encapsulates her conviction in the phrase: “The Lord has ordained me as his messenger.” The context of her reflections suggests that the purpose of God’s act of calling or “ordaining” has the specific purpose of the awareness of one’s specific role, as indeed she was convicted of her own call. It is clear that in Ellen White’s understanding the intimacy of such an experience includes emotional struggles: “How clearly I remembered the experience of forty years ago, when my light went out in darkness because I was unwilling to lift this cross, and refused to be obedient.”

She sees a number of components in the act of ordination. First is the revelation of God’s love, then a matured burden for people, followed by a clear understanding of the task ahead, and finally the outflow of active ministry striving for the conversion of people.

Her biblical reflections reiterate that ordination is simply a public recognition of the divine call. She affirms that no virtue is imparted by the laying of hands (AA, 161-2). In fact, she recognised that with the passing of time “ordination by laying of hands was greatly abused” and that “unwarranted importance was attached to it as if a power came at once upon those who received such ordination” (p. 162).

The depth of Ellen White’s sentiments regarding God’s direct involvement in the process of divine ordination are clearly expressed in a letter written from Australia. “The Holy Spirit, attending the worker together with God, enables him to gather in the sheaves. It is not learned men, not eloquent men, who are to be depended upon to do the work now needed, but humble men, who are learned in the school of Christ…” It seems that in her later years she became more gender inclusive as she saw the “emergency situation” of a lost world and the urgency required to get as many as possible into the active service of preparing people for Christ’s soon coming. Full text 

“The Ordination of Women: A Biblical-Theological Introduction,” David Thiele PhD, Pacific Adventist University.

There are really only two unchangeable and irrefutable biblical pieces of data that relate to the ordination of women: first, there were no female priests in the Mosaic cultus of Israel, and second, Jesus did not choose any women to be among His twelve disciples. However, neither of these points forbids anything; they merely relate what happened in the past. If we in fact applied this principle, then only males can worship Jesus, since only male shepherds and Magi were able to worship Jesus at His birth.

Scripture nowhere disqualifies women from ministering physically, spiritually, ontologically, or culturally. It was the Greek philosopher who made the statement that “the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled.” The Gnostic heresy that plagued the early Christian Church, although heavily dependent on Greek philosophy, declared that women were above men as Eve had been elevated in status above Adam by eating from the tree of knowledge, prompting some of the apparently harsh words against women believers by the NT writers.

While Jesus may not have chosen women disciples because of the cultural taboos, Paul, ministering in a Gentile world, clearly worked with a number of influential women leaders. On that basis it is reasonable to accept ordained women in contexts where that is acceptable and not to force the issue in areas where it is not. Full text

The full text of the Biblical Research Committee’s report is here.