June 13, 2014

Reflections on the TOSC Deliberations

For the past two years I have participated in the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC). In the last three meetings we have especially focused on the subject of women’s ordination. Although I have my own convictions on the subject, I have a different purpose in this editorial. My purpose is to share with you three vital life-changing lessons I have learned in the process.

The first is simply this: Although I have deeply held and what I believe to be biblical convictions, there are others who cherish different views they believe are rooted in Scripture as well. Those who take different positions on the subject of women’s ordination argue that their position is most faithful to Scripture.

How shall I relate to those who think differently than I do? Should our different views build walls between us? Should different opinions about the reading of the biblical text divide friends? Ellen White’s meaningful comment is insightful here: “One man blunders in his interpretation of some portion of the Scripture, but shall this cause diversity and disunion? God forbid. We cannot then take a position that the unity of the church consists in viewing every text of Scripture in the very same shade of light.”* This statement does not open the door for theological pluralism, where people can believe whatever they want. It simply means that on some aspects of Scripture we will not always see all things the same way. We are united in Christ through the Holy Spirit on the eternal, timeless truths of God’s Word as expressed in our 28 Fundamental Beliefs. A worldwide church organization with a divine commission to take the gospel to the entire planet to prepare people for our Lord’s soon return unites us in a mission far greater than ourselves. I have come away from the study committee with the settled conviction that what unites us is far greater than what divides us, and to me this is reassuring.

Christ calls us to love people, not label people.

Second, throughout this process I have been impressed to truly listen to and respect others who share a different theological point of view than my own. It is far easier to listen to discover flaws in someone else’s argument than it is to really listen to what they are saying. Pride of opinion is a fatal spiritual malady. God often teaches us through others who think differently than we do. One of the questions I have had to ask myself is “Am I willing to let the Holy Spirit speak to me through others with whom I disagree theologically? Am I so wedded to my personal opinions that my sole purpose is to convince others that I am right and they are wrong? In my attempt to maintain my convictions, is it Christlike to label people as either being “liberal” or “conservative,” “progressive,” “moderate” or “traditional” by putting them in a box and assuming my characterization of them is true? During this process I have again been impressed that labels are unfair characterizations of others. Christ calls us to love people, not label people. For me, the deliberations have been an appeal to humble my heart, confessing my arrogance and pride of opinion.

Third, if the discussions over women’s ordination are merely a theological debate rather than a call to deeper spirituality, we have missed the point. Could it be that irrespective of ordination, the Holy Spirit is appealing to the entire church—young and old, male and female, those with more and those with less—to use the gifts He has given to participate with Him in His mission of reaching a lost world? Is it possible that one of God’s priorities in allowing this entire discussion to surface is to focus our attention on the need for leadership on all levels of church organization to reemphasize Christ’s call to every member to witness of Christ’s grace and soon return? Maybe if our eyes are open and our hearts are sensitive to the moving of the Spirit, we will see God doing something we did not expect.

As recorded in Acts, the Holy Spirit was poured out without respect to either gender or ordination. Most of the 120 believers who met in the upper room that Pentecost were not ordained, and yet God’s power was unleashed upon them and they changed the world. The Holy Spirit will be abundantly poured out again in latter-rain power on all who seek Him with their whole heart. We should never mistake appropriate biblically assigned roles and functions for the power of the Holy Spirit.

God’s call to our hearts is much more than a resolution to ordain or not to ordain women: it is a call to know Him intimately, unreservedly commit ourselves to following His Word, and unite in the power of His might to share His end-time message with the world. I came away from two years of deliberations at peace, knowing that God is still leading His church. I am confident that as we pray, study, discuss, and ultimately vote on this issue, God will guide our collective decision for the glory of His name and the advancement of His kingdom.

*Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases (Silver Spring, M.: Ellen G. White, 1993)m vol. 15, p. 150.