Wahroonga, New South Wales
The Theology of Ordination Committee comprising 106 Adventist men and women of diverse ages, ethnicities, and professions, and set up by the leadership of the General Conference in September 2012, has now completed its work.
However, despite a thorough process, no consensus representing only one viewpoint was reached at the end of the meeting.
When it was appointed in response to a request made at the 2010 General Conference session in Atlanta, it was given two primary questions to answer:
- What is the theology of ordination from a Biblical perspective?
- What should the implications of this theology be for Seventh-day Adventist practices, including the question of women’s ordination?
In response to the first question the committee initially agreed on a consensus statement on the theology of ordination from a Seventh-day Adventist perspective. This document, together with all of the documents which have been presented to the committee, may be accessed at <www.adventistarchives.org/gc-tosc> (papers from the June 2014 meeting will be added shortly).
The committee has spent most of its time considering the second question. Presentations looking at many different aspects of the discussion have been presented. There have been those who have presented from a position which supports only the ordination of men. There have been those who have presented from a position which supports the ordination of both men and women. All presentations have been biblically based as attempts were made to substantiate each viewpoint on the basis of the teaching of Scripture.
However, despite a thorough process, no consensus representing only one viewpoint was reached at the end of the meeting. In fact, recommendations arising from three viewpoints have been forwarded to the leaders of the General Conference to be considered in preparation for the Annual Council of the General Conference Executive Committee and, subsequently, the General Conference session in San Antonio in 2015.
Briefly summarised are the three viewpoints and their implications:
- Those who believe that only the ordination of men is supported in Scripture are asking that the Church does not proceed to permit women to be ordained, and that previous decisions which have allowed women to be ordained as elders and deacons be reversed so that in the future only men are ordained to any office which requires ordination in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
- Those who believe that the ordination of both men and women is supported in Scripture are asking that appropriate decisions and action be taken, starting at the General Conference and proceeding through the Divisions, Unions, Conferences and Missions, which allow those organisational units of the Church which wish to proceed to ordain both men and women to do so, and those organisational units which do not wish to proceed, not to do so. Unity would be preserved by allowing diversity of practice in an area which is not part of the central Fundamental Beliefs of the Church.
- Those who believe that male headship is the general pattern in Scripture are asking that this ideal be upheld while allowing that there may be circumstances which allow for exceptions in areas for which there is no universal divine command or salvation imperative. In light of factors such as the priority of mission, the importance of church unity, and the principles of Christian liberty, it is recommended that denominational leadership at the proper level may be authorised to decide whether or not to ordain women with no pastor, church employee, organisational unit, or local church being compelled to support the resulting diversity.
A survey of attendees was taken of the attendees at the final committee to ascertain support for each of these positions. Each person was asked to nominate the position which they supported, and if they wished, nominate their second and third choice. The results were as follows:
- 32 chose Position 1 as their first choice, 0 as their second choice and 2 as their third choice.
- 40 chose Position 2 as their first choice, 12 as their second choice and 0 as their third choice.
- 22 chose Position 3 as their first choice, 19 as their second choice and 0 as their third choice.
While there remained many who are opposed or have reservations regarding ordination of women to the gospel ministry, it may be significant that approximately two thirds of those participating were willing to allow the ordination of both men and women, at least in some circumstances.
The next step in the process is consideration of the recommendations by the leaders of the General Conference who will advance the discussion to the floor of the Annual Council of the Executive Committee of the General Conference. From there it will proceed to the General Conference session. Please pray that the hand of God will continue to be seen in the consultation process and that He will direct the Church in the decision-making process.
Dr Barry Oliver and Dr Ray Roennfeldt are South Pacific Division representatives on the Theology of Ordination Committee.