Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the Seventh-day Adventist
Church, appealed to church members worldwide to earnestly read what the Bible
says about women’s ordination and to pray that he and other church leaders
humbly follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance on the matter.
Church members wishing to understand what the Bible teaches
on women’s ordination have no reason to worry about where to start, said Artur
A. Stele, who oversaw an unprecedented, two-year study on women’s ordination as
chair of the church-commissioned Theology of Ordination Study Committee.
Stele, who echoed Wilson’s call for church members to read
the Bible and pray on the issue, recommended reading the study’s three brief “Way
Forward Statements,” which cite Bible texts and Adventist Church co-founder
Ellen G. White to support each of the three positions on women’s ordination
that emerged during the committee’s research.
The results of the study will be discussed in October at the
Annual Council, a major business meeting of church leaders. The 338-member Annual Council
will then decide whether to ask the nearly 2,600 delegates of the world church to
make a final call on women’s ordination in a vote at the General Conference
Session next July.
Wilson, speaking in an interview, urged each of the church’s
18 million members to prayerfully read the study materials, available on the
website of the church’s Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research.
"Look to see how the papers and presentations were
based on an understanding of a clear reading of Scripture,” Wilson said in his
office at General Conference headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.
“The Spirit of Prophecy tells us that we are to take the
Bible just as it reads,” he said. “And I would encourage each church member,
and certainly each representative at the Annual Council and those who will be
delegates to the General Conference Session, to prayerfully review those
presentations and then ask the Holy Spirit to help them know God’s will.”
The Spirit of Prophecy refers to the writings of White, who
among her statements on how to read the Bible wrote in The Great Controversy (p. 598), “The language of the Bible should be
explained according to its obvious meaning, unless a symbol or figure is
“We don’t have the luxury of having the Urim and the
Thummim,” Wilson said, in a nod to the stones that the Israelite high priest
used in Old Testament times to learn God’s will. “Nor do we have a living
prophet with us. So we must rely upon the Holy Spirit’s leading in our own
Bible study as we review the plain teachings of Scripture.”
He said world church leadership was committed to “a very
open, fair, and careful process” on the issue of women’s ordination.
Wilson added that the crucial question facing the church wasn’t
whether women should be ordained but whether church members who disagreed with
the final decision on ordination, whatever it might be, would be willing to set
aside their differences to focus on the church’s 151-year mission: proclaiming Revelation
14 and the three angels’ messages that Jesus is coming soon.
In an effort to better understand the Bible’s teaching on
ordination, the church established the Theology of Ordination Study Committee,
a group of 106 members commonly referred to by church leaders as TOSC. It was
not organized to be proportionately representative of the world church but simply
to carry out the two-year study. In a first, special Biblical Research
Committees in each of the church’s 13 world divisions contributed to the study
process and were represented on TOSC.
A main goal of TOSC, which finished its work in June, was to
determine whether it could find a consensus on women’s ordination, which it did
not. Members split into three camps, known as Position Nos. 1, 2 and 3:
Position No. 1
emphasizes the biblical qualifications for ordination as found in 1 Timothy 3
and Titus 1 and the fact that never in the Bible were women ordained as
priests, apostles or elders. Therefore, it says, the Adventist Church has no
biblical basis to ordain women.
Position No. 2
emphasizes the leadership roles of Old and New Testament women such as Deborah,
Huldah, and Junia, and biblical passages in Genesis 1, 2 and Galatians 3:26-28
that stress all people are equal in God’s eyes. Therefore, it says, the
biblical principle of equality allows the Adventist Church to ordain women to
positions of church leadership wherever possible.
Position No. 3
supports Position No. 1 in recognizing a biblical pattern of male leadership in
Israel and the early Christian church. But it also emphasizes that God made
exceptions, such as the case of granting Israel’s desire for a king. It says
women’s ordination is a matter of church policy and not a moral imperative and,
therefore, the Adventist Church should allow each field to decide whether or
not to ordain women.
Wilson urged church members to examine all three positions,
which are presented in the final TOSC report.
“Be sure to look at all presentations and to understand how
God is speaking to you from the Word and your daily walk with Him,” he said.
Although TOSC did not reach a consensus on women’s
ordination, its members did approve a consensus statement on the theology of
ordination and, in a separate statement, affirmed that they remain “committed
to the message and mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as expressed
through the 28 Fundamental Beliefs.”
Wilson said he hoped that all church members would embrace a
“If we’re not careful, the devil will sidetrack us into
controversy that will create a diversion from what God intends for his last-day
remnant church to accomplish, and that is to proclaim the three angels’
messages and gladly share about Christ’s soon coming,” he said. “The bigger
question is how will we relate to the ongoing mission of the church.”
Stele, the TOSC chair and director of the church’s Biblical
Research Institute, said that if church members looked at nothing else, they
should read the committee’s short “Way Forward Statements.”
“If people want a very quick snapshot, they can go to the
‘Way Forward Statements,” he said in an interview. “Then when they get
interested, they can go to the ‘Position Summaries.’”
The longer summaries are part of the 127-page final report,
which also includes the TOSC-approved one-page definition of the theology of
ordination, the history of TOSC, and a list of the many scholarly papers
drafted for the study.
The study was initiated at the request of a delegate at the last
General Conference Session, in 2010, and its necessity has been underscored by
a growing chorus of calls for women’s ordination from some regional church
leaders. Complicating matters, three of the church’s 124 unions — two in the
U.S. and one in Germany — authorized women’s ordination in 2012 despite an
appeal from church administrators to wait for the results of the study and the
possible General Conference Session vote next year. The world church does not
recognize the three unions’ decisions.
Stele urged church members not to be influenced by other
people’s viewpoints on women’s ordination and to reach their own conclusions
through prayerful study of the Bible.
“These position statements could really help because all of
the key passages are interpreted from different angles here,” he said, holding
a copy of the final TOSC report in his hand.
Stele said church members could influence the women’s
ordination discussion in several ways, including by speaking with the delegates
who will represent them at the next General Conference Session, which will be
held in San Antonio, Texas.
Wilson likewise said church members could share their
convictions with their pastors and conference presidents, but he asked that any
conversations or letters be respectful and Christ-like.
“But most importantly,” he said, “we covet your prayers that
we would humble ourselves as leaders and listen to the direct interventional
voice of the Holy Spirit and God’s will as revealed in Scripture.”
Stele concurred, saying: “I think the more significant way
to participate would be if every church member prayed. Pray for the process and
pray for the Session so that it isn’t human wisdom that prevails but God’s
Clarification: An earlier online
version of this article summarized Position No. 2 as saying “the
biblical principle of equality requires the Adventist Church to ordain
women to positions of church leadership wherever possible.” The word
“requires” has been changed to “allows” to better reflect the wording of Position No. 2.
The recommended starting point for people unfamiliar with
the issues are these three “Way Forward Statements” that summarize the three
positions on women’s ordination drafted by the Theology of Ordination Study
Way Forward Statement 1 (PDF)
Way Forward Statement 2 (PDF)
Way Forward Statement 3 (PDF)
Theology of Ordination Study Committee’s final report, including the “Position Summaries” (PDF)
All the documents related to the Theology of Ordination Study Committee’s work (web page)
All the documents related to
the issue of the theology of ordination can be found in this special section on
the website of the church’s Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research (web page)
The Adventist Church’s official position on how to study the Bible, titled “Methods of Bible Study”
Select reports on women’s ordination from the Adventist Review archive
“Reflections on the TOSC Deliberations” by Mark Finley, June
“Ordination Study Concludes with Suggestions for ‘The Way Forward’” by Adventist Review staff, June 5, 2014
“Study Committee Votes Consensus Statement on ‘Theology of Ordination’” by Mark A. Kellner, July 23, 2013
“Trust Is the Foundation of Unity” interview with Artur A.
Stele by Bill Knott, Oct. 11, 2012
“An Appeal For Unity in Respect to Ministerial Ordination Practices” by General Conference, June 29, 2012
“Adventist Church Administration Commits to Comprehensive Study of Ordination” by Elizabeth Lechleitner, July 8, 2010
Contact Adventist Review news editor Andrew McChesney at [email protected].