Implications for the Church
The issue of women's ordination is one of the theological issues that many Christians would rather not discuss. It is so explosive that anyone on either side who dares to raise the subject is likely to be misunderstood. Several reasons for this are evident.
First, church members, pastors, leaders, theologians, authors, and editors have adopted postures which might be termed arrogant, saying in effect, "No turning back on my position"--either for or against--even if Scripture teaches contrary. This unyielding attitude has contributed to the lack of free and open discussion of the subject. It sometimes appears that there is an unspoken moratorium on a biblical investigation of the issue. In the few instances that the subject has been raised, it is not uncommon to discover that only one view is presented. This observation has led some to question whose interest is being served by the apparent muffling of opposing views. Is not the church better served when believers search the Scriptures "with all readiness of mind" to discover truth (Acts 17:11; Jn 8:32; Phil 4:8)?
Without any justification, some have closed discussion on the subject, claiming the issue is "cultural," not theological; some even suggest that the issue is not theological, but "ecclesiological," as if ecclesiological issues are not theological. This implies that anyone holding a contrary view on the subject is merely echoing his or her individual, cultural, or ideological biases and self-interests.
Also, because the issue of women's ordination has become so political, Christians have labeled one another unfairly, contributing to a very superficial discussion of the subject. For example, because this cause is chiefly championed by advocates of feminist, liberation, and liberal theologies (groups which generally question the full inspiration and trustworthiness of Scripture), many have wrongly assumed that any one in favor of women's ordination is a feminist, a liberal or a liberation theologian. In the same way, because those who oppose women's ordination tend to be "traditionalist" and theologically conservative, some have claimed that those who reject women's ordination are "power-hungry," "anti-women" or ethically "insensitive" to the concerns of women and minorities.
Furthermore, in subtle ways, it has also been wrongly suggested that those outside "democratic" cultures are "not ready" to go along with women's ordi-
nation either because their "cultures" do not have a high view of women, or because their cultures make it difficult for them to understand the Bible correctly or even to discern the Holy Spirit's leading of women who are aspiring to the roles of elder or pastor. The unfortunate implication is that theological knowledge and spiritual insight belong only to some cultures; unless one belongs to those cultures, onecannot legitimately address the issue.
Moreover, emotions are very much involved. We all have close friends, relatives, or other persons who influence our lives and who relate to the issue in a certain way. We do not want to hurt them by taking an opposing view. Besides, many God-fearing and capable women are serving admirably as elders. Hence, questioning whether the ordination of women as elders is biblically proper is misconstrued as an affront to their effectiveness or character.
Finally, in our pluralistic world--a world that prizes theological uncertainty, ambiguity and vagueness as marks of spiritual maturity and scholarly enlightenment--anyone who attempts to speak forthrightly is perceived as dogmatic or intolerant.
Against this hostile background we have been searching the Scriptures. As explained in the preface, we embarked upon this investigation believing that it is better to discuss an issue without settling it than to settle an issue without discussing it, and believing also that to disagree with friends is not to dishonor them. This is an honest effort to address a forbidden issue. We have also undertaken this study because there are times when silence is a betrayal of Christ and His cause. Thus the apostle Peter wrote, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience" (1 Pet 3:15-16 NIV).
In Searching the Scriptures we have presented our understanding of Scripture on the subject, hoping that it will clarify some of the theological questions involved in the ongoing debate over women's ordination. Readers should evaluate this study and others on the same issue solely on the basis of the Scriptural data. In this way we shall avoid the perennial temptation to subordinate the Bible to our individual, cultural, or ideological, prejudices and self-interests.
In this concluding chapter, we shall briefly summarize the results of our
investigation and suggest some implications they may have for the Seventh-day
Adventist church, which currently stands at a crossroads on the issue.
tions, women may serve in the headship role of the elder or pastor. By searching the Scriptures, we have found that the Bible portrays women in a wide variety of significant ministries, commending many of these women for their faithful service. But on theological grounds that reach back to the order established in the Garden of Eden, it does not allow for women to serve in the headship role of the elder or pastor in the church.
Once we see what the Bible teaches, can we lightly set it aside? Though most Christian groups acknowledge that God instituted the Sabbath as the seventh day, they do not keep it holy. They have found what they consider good reasons to keep the first day. But Seventh-day Adventists keep the Sabbath, not because Sunday is inferior, but solely because God said to "remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." The principle applies to more than the Ten Commandments: we wash feet because Jesus said we should; we abstain from unclean foods because the Bible says not to eat them; we tithe as well as give offerings because the Bible tells us that all we have belogs to God, not to us. In these and other issues we are different from many other Christians, not in order to be different, but in order to be faithful and obedient.
Faithfulness to Scripture has been our strength. It has given power to our preaching and weight to our witness. On this matter of ordaining women to the headship roles of elder and pastor, can we demonstrate that we are faithful to all of what Scripture says on the subject (not just to some of the passages or to the "general principles" of Scripture)? If not, what shall we say to those we are trying to win when they challenge us on how well we follow the Bible? Can we give a clear, "Thus saith the Lord"? Will our reasons for setting aside the Bible's instruction on this matter sound convincing to those who challenge us? Will our reasons sound convincing to us?
Most importantly, will our reasons sound convincing to God?
The ultimate issue in this life is whether, as followers of Jesus, we will trust our heavenly Father enough to do what He asks out of love for Him. Will our actions show that we really believe His Word? Will we demonstrate our trust that He knows best, and that His will is better than ours?
So we stand at a crossroads. The choices we make will set our course from
this point on. We must follow Scripture; we must "turn not from it to the right
hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go" (Joshua 1:7 RSV).
female as an apostle. It explains why, when a replacement was sought for an apostle (Acts 1:15-26), even though women were present and undoubtedly met most of the requirements set (vv. 21-22), a male was chosen--because "it is necessary to choose one of the men [andron, from aner] who have been with us" (Acts 1:21). The headship principle also explains why the New Testament has no record of any woman being ordained as an elder or pastor. Finally, the headship principle alone can adequately explain the explicit prohibitions of women from exercising the leadership functions of elder or pastor (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6; 1 Tim 2:11-14; 1 Cor 14:34).
This understanding of the crucial issues at stake regarding women's ordination, therefore, leads to the following affirmations.
1. While maintaining the fundamental equality of male and female, the Scriptures assign a leadership role to men and a supportive role to women. These role differences--in both the home and the church--were established at creation before the fall and reiterated after the fall.
2. While Scripture calls women to labor in gospel ministry, it does not call them to fulfill the oversight/leadership roles which ordained elders and pastors are called upon to exercise.
3. While the Holy Spirit calls and empowers women with spiritual gifts for the work of ministry, the Spirit does not contradict Himself by calling women to the office of ordained elder or pastor from which they are excluded by the same Spirit's instruction in the written Word.
4. While the church is entrusted with the responsibility of recognizing and
commissioning qualified women to perform certain unctions of ministry, the
church does not have the authority to authorize the ordination of women to the
headship/leadership role of elder or pastor, since Scripture teaches that those
holding this office must be males.
Ellen G. White wrote: "Men in this age of the world act as if they were at liberty to question the words of the Infinite, to review his decisions and statutes,
endorsing, revising, reshaping, and annulling, at their pleasure. If they cannot misconstrue, misinterpret, or alter God's plain decision, or bend it to please the multitude and themselves, they break it. We are never safe while we are guided by human opinions; but we are safe when we are guided by a 'Thus saith the Lord.' We can not trust the salvation of our souls to any lower standard than the decision of an infallible Judge. Those who make God their guide, and his word their counselor, follow the lamp of life. God's living oracles guide their feet in straight paths. Those who are thus led do not dare judge the word of God, but ever hold that his word judges them. They get their faith and religion from his word" ( The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, February 21, 1899 , p. 113).
Therefore, on this question of women's ordination as on other matters,
we must remember that "The Bible is its own interpreter, one passage explaining
another. By comparing scriptures referring to the same subjects, you will see
beauty and harmony of which you have never dreamed" (
Testimonies for the Church
These affirmations and convictions have important implications for how the Seventh-day Adventist church should respond to women in ministry:
Reaffirm the Role of Women in Ministry. Notwithstanding male leadership of the church, (i) the fact that men and women are equal, having a complementary relationship between them, and (ii) the fact that Scripture calls women to labor in ministry suggest that:
The Seventh-day Adventist church should make provision that will encourage a greater participation of women in ministry.  This may include stronger support for their training at the Seminary, adequate and fair remuneration of women for their labor and, in some cases (such as in team ministries), their being authoritatively commissioned for roles and duties that are not in violation of biblical teaching. 
Of the many lines of ministry, women could be encouraged to participate in the study, teaching and preaching of the gospel in personal and public evangelism; to be involved in ministries of prayer, visitation, counseling, writing, and singing; to labor as literature evangelists, health evangelists, to raise new churches, and to minister to the needy; to serve in positions of responsibility that do not require ordination as pastors or elders, serving as colleagues in partnership with ordained men at the various levels of the church organization; to teach in our institutions and seminaries; and above all, to minister to their children at home.
Reconsider the Practice of Ordaining Women as Elders. In view of the biblical teaching that only men may legitimately perform the headship role of elders and overseers in the church,
The Seventh-day Adventist church should prayerfully and courageously reconsider previous church council actions which have brought us to the "dilemma" identified by the NAD, which results from the inconsistent and "clearly untenable" position the church presently holds. When the teaching of Scripture is clearly perceived, turning away from a wrong practice evidences genuine repentance. 
Reject Gender-Inclusive Ordination. In view of the biblical teaching that the Bible makes no distinction between the office of elder and pastor, and in view of the fact that in both cases only a man may exercise headship,
The Seventh-day Adventist church should reject the proposal by the North American Division to grant each division of the world church the right to "authorize the ordination of qualified individuals without regard to gender,"  a request designed to commence the unbiblical practice of ordaining women as pastors. A willingness to do what is right, however unpopular and unpalatable, is a sign of spiritual growth or sanctification.
Resist the Lure of Congregationalism. In view of the fact that our unique system of world-wide church organization recognizes "the equality of the ordination of the entire ministry" (Church Manual , p. 38), and the fact that restricting the validity of a minister's ordination to certain geographical or divisional boundaries will open the door towards national churches and ultimately to congregationalism in the church,
The Seventh-day Adventist church should reject the request by the NAD that, "In divisions where the division executive committees take specific actions approving the ordination of women to the gospel ministry, women may be ordained to serve in those divisions."  If approved, the request will disrupt the worldwide unity that presently operates in the church.
Reaffirm Fidelity to Scripture. The Seventh-day Adventist church has always found its commission, direction, and mandate in Scripture--a principle ex-
pressed in the first article of our fundamental beliefs, which states, "The Holy Scriptures are the infallible revelation of His [God's] will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God's acts in history." Therefore,
The Seventh-day Adventist church should use this issue of women's ordination to reaffirm its commitment to biblical authority, to a sound method of interpreting Scripture, and to an attitude of trust and respect for the teachings of the Bible. 
Because the Christian church's authority is delegated to it from Jesus
Christ, its authority must be exercised within the limits He has imposed
in Scripture. The church cannot, out of its own wisdom and discretion, legislate
for itself doctrines, practices or policies which conflict with the Word of God
in Scripture. It has authority only to declare the Word of God, not
to enact its own choices out of harmony with that Word. For this reason the
Seventh-day Adventist church has always sought to remain within the bounds set
by the Holy Spirit in His written Word. This historic position, this priceless
legacy, we must ever cherish and uphold, at whatever cost. This is why we must
maintain biblical fidelity on the issue of women's ordination.
Holding fast to that which is good should be the ultimate goal of any serious study of the Bible. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim 3:16, 17).
There are always two choices that face us any time we encounter biblical truth. Are we going to accept it? Or will we reject it? Thus, just as with any other unresolved theological question (such as baptizing practicing polygamists, embracing homosexual lifestyle, divorce and remarriage, abortion, racism, fighting in the wars of one's tribe or nation, etc.) the critical question for us today regarding women's ordination is: What should be our attitudes toward the conclusions arrived at in our searching the Scriptures?
Those who are seeking to know and to do God's will greet the discovery of any Bible truth with joy and repentance. Whereas they once lived in darkness, they now rejoice because the Holy Spirit has not only led them into all
truth but also because He has called them out of darkness into God's marvelous light. The truths of God's word are like living water that quenches their burning thirst, or like living bread from heaven to satisfy their hungering souls. Their only regret is that they remained in error for so long without knowing the Bible's precious truths.
In genuine humility and repentance, those seeking to know and to do God's will commit themselves to a greater study of God's word for answers to every problem they face. Through their own experience, they have come to appreciate the truth in the words of Ellen White: "We should not take the testimony of any man as to what the Scriptures teach, but should study the words of God for ourselves. If we allow others to do our thinking, we shall have crippled energies and contracted abilities. The noble powers of the mind may be so dwarfed by lack of exercise on themes worthy of their concentration as to lose their ability to grasp the deep meaning of the Word of God. The mind will enlarge if it is employed n tracing out the relation of the subjects of the Bible, comparing scripture with scripture, and spiritual things with spiritual" ( Steps to Christ , pp. 89-90).
But another group of Christians responds differently to the discovery of biblical truth. Set in their own ways, and not eager to do what the Bible teaches, they find the emergence of biblical truth discomforting and unsettling. "The teachings and restrictions of God's Word are not welcome to the proud, sin-loving heart, and those who are unwilling to obey its requirements are ready to doubt its authority" ( Steps to Christ , p. 111). Thus, even if the conclusions of one's searching the Scriptures should prove to be biblically sound, this second group of Christians will look for ways to fight against the truth; they find it too humiliating to acknowledge that they may have been wrong.
Instead of being faithful to the inspired writings of Moses, David, Isaiah, Matthew, Peter or Paul, they would rather cling to the opinions of their self-appointed experts--be they popes, pastors, professors, parents, or personal acquaintances. In so doing they forget the warning by Ellen G. White: "Satan is constantly endeavoring to attract attention to man in the place of God. He leads the people to look to bishops, to pastors, to professors of theology, as their guides, instead of searching the Scriptures to learn their duty for themselves. Then, by controlling the minds of these leaders, he can influence the multitudes according to his will" ( The Great Controversy , p. 595).
What then should be our individual and collective responses to the teaching of Scriptures regarding the ordination of women to the headship office of elder or pastor? Our response to this truth, like any other truths in the Bible, determines whether we really believe that every Bible truth is a revelation of Christ, who is the Truth. He Himself said, "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39). Our response to the above question also determines whether or not we believe that Jesus knows what is best for us and has revealed it to us in Scripture.
In those days my faith was established by the television and radio programs of the church that filtered down to us. These organs of the church repeatedly asserted, "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa 8:20). "It Is Written" maintained that man should not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. "Faith For Today" inspired wavering believers to have faith in God. When the pulse of courage was low, "Breath Of Life" assured us of God's power which is able to revive us again. When we were tempted to sing the popular tunes of the world, losing a clear sense of our distinctiveness, "The Voice of Prophecy" proclaimed, "Lift up the trumpet, and loud let it ring! Jesus is coming again!", reminding us that we are "a voicecrying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord."
The courage of biblical convictions was not seen as "fanaticism," "rigid authoritarianism," or even "intolerance." Neither was the assertion that the Seventh-day Adventist church is (not will be, or may be) "the remnant church" viewed as being "triumphalistic" or "exclusivistic," or even as fostering spiritual pride or arrogance. I understood then, just as now, that our church was uniquely raised to proclaim a distinctive message for the end time. The mission of the church demanded that we not follow the Christian crowd in setting aside Bible truth. The knowledge that the doctrines and practices of my new-found faith were scriptural gave me a determination to stand for biblical truths, no matter the cost (cf. Rev 2:10; 12:11).
The members of the Adventist church there--men and women, lay people and pastors, educated and illiterate--believed that ministry was, and still remains, the calling of every Christian. They all united in doing the work of soul-winning. In order to share our faith, groups of us traveled to unentered villages and towns, slept on dirt floors in mosquito-infested areas, got up early at dawn, and after prayer and Bible-study, proclaimed our message on the street corners. During the day, we visited the people in the village, praying for them, helping them where needed, and then opening the Word of God to them. In the evenings we held lay evangelistic meetings. While these were going on students on the various campuses--mostly non-Adventist institutions--were also active in evangelizing their schools; literature evangelists, the "Dorcas Society" (welfare ministry), the Sabbath School department, etc., were all united in doing the work of ministry.
Worship was exciting. Lay speakers and pastors preached Bible-based sermons. Prayer meetings were packed. Testimonies confirmed what God was doing in the lives of ordinary people. The church was like a school, where the elders and pastors equipped us for ministry. Worship was so vibrant that we had no need to import marketing techniques from commerce or some experiments from mega-churches "to attract young people." In fact, the reason why our church was about 70% young people was that they were excited about searching the Scriptures.
During Bible study, we (scholars and non-scholars, laypeople and pastors, men and women) wrestled with difficulties as we sought biblical answers to problems we faced. We believed that "We cannot obtain wisdom without earnest attention and prayerful study. Some portions of Scripture are indeed too plain to be misunderstood; but there are others whose meaning does not lie on the surface, to be seen at a glance. Scripture must be compared with scripture. There must be careful research and prayerful reflection. And such study will be richly repaid. As the miner discovers veins of precious metal concealed beneath the surface of the earth, so will he who perseveringly searches the Word of God as for hid treasure, find truths of the greatest value, which are concealed from the view of the careless seeker. The words of inspiration, pondered in the heart, will be as streams flowing from the fountain of life" ( Steps to Christ , 90-91).
My experience with searching the Scriptures was the major reason why I became a Seventh-day Adventist. Since then, the words of the song "Go and Inquire" by W. A. Ogden have expressed the desire of my heart:
Seeking the Saviour day by day,
Striving to learn the wondrous story,--
What does the blessed Bible say?
Go and inquire, the King commandeth. . . .
Searching the Scriptures, the blessed Scriptures,
Go and inquire, the King commandeth. . . .
In part, on this issue of women's ordination as elders or pastors, just as on all other theological issues, this is why I plead that we must search the Scriptures. And having searched the Scriptures, and discovered "what the Bible say," we must make a decision of faith by doing what is right, even if it seems unpopular and unpalatable to us. Faithfulness to God always involves a cost (Matt 16:24-26). But what is more costly than what t cost Jesus to save us? Loyalty to Christ
may cost us our pride, but it will surely give us a free conscience. "God does not require us to give up anything that it is for our best interest to retain. In all that He does, He has the well-being of His children in view. Would that all who have not chosen Christ might realize that he has something vastly better to offer them than they are seeking for themselves. Man is doing the greatest injury and injustice to his own soul when he thinks and acts contrary to the will of God. No real joy can be found in the path forbidden by Him who knows what is best, and who plans for the good of His creatures. The path of transgression is the path of misery and destruction" ( Steps to Christ , p. 46).
So we must ask ourselves: On this question of women's ordination, should we risk the displeasure of God in doing what seemeth right in our own eyes? Should we not seek a Scriptural basis for empowering women for ministry and avert the potential "divisiveness and disunity," "embarrassment," and "dishonor upon this church that we love"?  The experience of the Berean Christians teaches us that whenever we establish our faith and practice by searching the Scriptures, many new believers--both men and women--will be added to the church: "Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men" (Acts 17:12 RSV; note also v. 11, and Acts 1 and 2).
In some cases a loving obedience to Christ and His written Word may cause pain. But Jesus Christ, the church's Head and the true "Shepherd and Bishop of our souls," has set us an example that we should follow in His steps (1 Pet 2:21, 25). In the face of death He could say, "Not my will, but thine, be done," a decision that was immediately rewarded with help from heaven (Luke 22:42-43). His own mother, Mary, also leaves us an example of complete submission to will of God. In becoming the Messiah's mother before she was married, she faced circumstances that would bring her abuse and derision; yet she said, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said" (Luke 1:38 NIV). Later, though she was highly "favored of the Lord" and a faithful disciple of Christ (Luke 1:28, 30; Acts 1:14), in the upper room she submitted to the biblical guidelines for the choice of a male apostle to be added to the eleven (Acts 1:20-26). Mary speaks to all of us--women and men--on this issue of women's ordination, as well as on every other issue, when she says, "Whatsoever he [Christ] saith unto you, do it" (John 2:5).
Finally, the apostle Paul leaves us an example of total surrender of our aims and ambitions to the cross of Christ. If, like him, we all--men and women, church leaders and members, scholars and people of other professions--also reckon ourselves as "crucified with Christ" and seek to live by the principle, "Not I but Christ" (Gal 2:20), our spirit will be like his. When we are called upon to make decisions of costly discipleship, the kind suggested when we seek to do God's will on the issue now facing our church, this spirit of Paul, aptly described by Leonard Ravenhill, must always be ours: The apostle Paul "had no ambitions [for
himself]--and so had nothing to be jealous about. He had no reputation--and so had nothing to fight about. He had no possessions--and therefore had nothing to worry about. He had no 'rights'--so therefore he could not suffer wrong. He was already broken--so no ne could break him. He was 'dead'--so none could kill him. He was less than the least--so who could humble him? He had suffered the loss of all things--so none could defraud him." 
As we continue searching the Scriptures, may this spirit of faithful, obedient surrender to Christ and His Word fill us, marking us as a people, so that together we can proclaim His name with power to a world that needs to see Jesus' life and love lived out in human beings today.
 See Ellen G. White, The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, July 9, 1895 , p. 434. See also C. Raymond Holmes, The Tip of an Iceberg, pp. 79-85; cf. William Fagal, "Ellen White and the Role of Women in the Church," available from the Ellen G. White Estate.
 In 1994, the Christian Reformed Church had the courage to do so. See C. Raymond Holmes, "Women's Ordination in the Christian Reformed Church Resolved: A Momentous Decision," in the Spring 1995 issue of ADVENTISTS AFFIRM. (See also Dr. Holmes's book, The Tip of an Iceberg, pp. 160-175.)
 See the petition of the North American Division (NAD), as discussed by the NAD president in his published address to the 1994 Annual Council ("NAD's President Speaks on Women's Ordination," Adventist Review, February 1995, pp. 14, 15). See also the article by C. Mervyn Maxwell, "A Response to Elder Alfred C. McClure's Address to the Annual Council," in the Spring 1995 issue of ADVENTISTS AFFIRM.
 "NAD's President Speaks on Women's Ordination," pp. 14, 15.
 See Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, "Inspired Book or Inspiring Booklet? Biblical Authority in an Age of Theological Pluralism," in the Spring 1995 issue of ADVENTISTS AFFIRM.
 In some scholarly circles today, the term "fundamentalist" is hurled at anyone who refuses to accept all the latest unbiblical fads in theology. In a lecture given in Wycliffe Hall at Oxford University, the English scholar Gordon J. Wenham aptly describes the situation: "I suspect that if either you [a student] or your lecturers discover during your study that you are a Sabellian montanist or semipelagian gnostic [these were christological heresies in the early church], it will not cause over-much excitement. Such deviants are common place today and in this pluralistic society are usually accepted without much fuss. However, should you be diagnosed as a fundamentalist, your fate may be very different. In the modern theology faculty fundamentalism is the great heresy. It is regarded as nearly as dangerous as the HIV virus and is treated with similar fervour but with rather less tact and sympathy" (Gordon J. Wenham, "The Place of Biblical Criticism in Theological Study," Themelios 14/3 :84). Bible-believing Christians should not be intimidated by any pejorative labels calculated to induce Christians to accept some "progressive" ideas (often a theological codeword for deviations from Scripture).
 See the preface of this book for my response to the major points of the address of the NAD president regarding women's ordination.
 Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1959), p. 173, cited by Stephen F. Alford, Not I, But Christ (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1995), pp. 55-56.
Last Modified 13 August 2000
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