On the Ordination of Women

The question of the ordination of women has been heating up in the Adventist church recently, following a sermon by Doug Batchelor (who is opposed). He elaborates his position here. Others opposed have included Sam Pipim and the late Sam Bacchiocchi. For examples of writings on the other side, one can point to various articles in Spectrum (including this by Charles Scriven).

I think it unfortunate that Batchelor chose to suggest that an issue is the relative intelligence of men and women. I think better arguments focus on the Biblical texts. And I also think it unfortunate that some on the other side seek to dismiss what the Bible has to say as being “culturally conditioned.” They suggest that Jesus was hamstrumg by tradition and culture when he chose 12 men. This has disturbing Christological implications.

For myself, I will stick with what the Bible says until persuaded otherwise by the word of God–not by reason, not by sociology, not by pleas to “justice.” The folks who first used such arguments in the mainline Protestant churches 30-40 years ago are now using the same arguments to push for gay marriage and ordination of practicing homosexuals. There definitely has been a “slippery slope” among the Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, etc.

For examples of some Christian churches who are also standing on the example of Jesus and the Bible’s text, see the statements by the Catholic church and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

12 thoughts on “On the Ordination of Women

  1. I’d like to see the church reexamine the issue of ordination, period. There’s very little about it, as currently practiced, that can be particularly supported from scripture. For example, the ordination of Jesus’ disciples coincided with their calling, not their attainment of a few years’ service.

    Adventism’s view of ordination, like the rest of Protestantism, is still essentially Catholic. It would be far more biblical to ordain people for all manner of spiritual gifts, from hospitality to landscaping to accounting. That would render the gender discussion moot while revitalizing the church’s ministry.

    • As to your first paragraph, that is right. Ordination assumes beginning of ministry, not tenure after years of practice.

      As to your second–totally wrong. Catholic ordination brings about an ontological change. Protestant ordination is a setting apart for a function. Drastically different. And ordination in both traditions and in the Bible is only for the ministry of word and sacrament–never for landscaping or accounting.

  2. Obviously Catholicism’s view of priesthood as a lifetime appointment takes ordination much further than does Protestantism. But, as you noted, “ordination in both traditions . . . is only for the ministry of word and sacrament,” which I argue is reading into the Bible what’s not necessarily there. Ordination as currently practiced by Adventism, or any other denomination of which I’m aware, is not built from scratch based on what its founders read in the Bible, but is piecemeal from prior tradition.

    Bezalel was called by God to his work of craftsmanship, and while he was not ordained as priest due to his lineage in the tribe of Judah, he was as surely ordained to his task anyone. Further, it takes a severe slight of hand to apply wholesale the same policies to ecclesiology as the Old Testament priesthood. Even then, given the priesthood of all believers that underlines Protestantism, the fulfillment of that is that spiritual gifts and responsibilities belong to all believers. What verses would you cite to support that “ordination . . . is only for the ministry of word and sacrament”? For Protestants, ‘sacraments’ is a very short list, but it would inarguably include baptism, and I don’t see any special categories of authority in Matthew 28:18-20. All I see are texts like 1 Corinthians 12, which emphasize spiritual gifts for everyone, with no idea of a special ministerial category.

    • Catholicism does not say priesthood is a “lifetime appointment.” It says it is a matter of ontological change–that the person’s very essence is transformed permanently; that the person is marked with an “indelible character” that can never be removed.

      The Christian consensus of ordination is derived from the Old Testament practice of laying on hands and anointing with oil–this was done to the sanctuary and to the priests. Bezalel was most certainly not “as surely ordained to his task [as] anyone”; he may have been chosen by God and gifted by the spirit, but hands were never laid upon him–and this is the essence of semichah.

      It is not done for every office in the New Testament–it is done for those with pastoral responsibility, as Paul to Timothy, 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6; as were done with the deacons (who cared for the poor, preached, and baptized) Acts 6:6. All have spiritual gifts, but all do not have offices of pastoral authority; there is order in the Body of Christ.

  3. It’s my understanding from my college course in Catholicism that priesthood is a vocation that lasts until death. It sounds like that’s what you’re describing, yes.

    You are likely correct (though it is an argument from silence) that no hands were ceremonially laid on Bezalel, but there is little such discrimination (apart from 1 Tim. 5:22’s advice on character judgment) in the New Testament. We see in Acts 8:14-16 the apostles laying hands on people not as an ecclesiastical designation, but as an anointing of the Holy Spirit apparently available to all (except those who try to pay money for it). The same theme appears in Acts 9, where the laying on of hands accompanies both the Spirit and healing. While Acts 13 presents the laying on of hands as part of a specific calling to ministry (of people who were already serving God), Acts 19:6 returns to the idea of it as an anointing of the Holy Spirit, bringing spiritual gifts that don’t constitute pastoral authority.

    The only New Testament reference (other than the woman washing Jesus’ feet) to anointing someone with oil is James 5:14, which is a very different context than you’re describing.

    There is certainly “order in the Body of Christ,” but the Bible does not present a picture of ordination as limited to offices of pastoral authority. If Timothy were the only such description a case might be made, but such rites clearly had a much broader usage.

    I certainly don’t have the last word on the subject, but I want to see the church go back to brass tacks on this one.

    • “It’s my understanding from my college course in Catholicism that priesthood is a vocation that lasts until death. It sounds like that’s what you’re describing, yes.”

      That’s not it. A Supreme Court justice’s vocation lasts until death. So no, that’s not what Catholic teaching is. You need to use the categories I used. They are essential. Catholic priesthood is an ontological change, an indelible character. It makes you something you are not–it gives you powers that you could not otherwise have. It is in the realm of metaphysics, not mere vocation or job description or function. And that is the essential difference between Catholic and Protestant understandings, and why it is wrong to say that any Protestant still retains it.

      Well, yes, there is a distinction between hands being laid on and not being laid on in the New Testament. It is through the laying on of hands that the Holy Spirit is conferred, whether in the general sense (as when any newly baptized believer gets the Holy Spirit), or in the specific sense of healing (James) or in the setting apart and gifting for ministry. Yes, “ordination” is limited to office. Office (presbyter, episkopos, diakonos) is distinct from charism–all have charisms, but not all are set apart for particular offices.

      1 Cor 12:27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues[d]? Do all interpret?

  4. My point is that Protestantism still retains the idea of ordination as some sort of special category set off from the laity. However far it’s taken it from Catholicism and folk religion, it hasn’t gone all the way back to the New Testament model. The point of 1 Cor. 12, as I noted above (9:49 p.m.), is to argue very much against that.

    For example, Adventism restricts certain offices, such as conference president, to the ordained, when there’s no real (certainly no scriptural) reason to do so. Indeed, the idea that administrators should be former (ordained) pastors has given the church some wretched administrators. Now if we ordained people for their administrative gifts, as I would argue, that would be a whole different story.

    It’s simply impossible to construct ordination as Protestantism practices it from scripture without filling in a few blanks. Yes, the New Testament speaks of particular church offices, such as deacons. Those people were officially consecrated for their roles. You wrote that “‘ordination’ is limited to office.” I would agree with that, except to say that today, we recognize that a church that relies on a handful of ‘special’ people to do all the work is an anemic church. Adventism has a long history of discouraging pastors from being the end-all in a church.

    1 Cor. 12:28 tells us that people of all manner of gifts are “appointed” (Gr. etheto) for work in the church. That verse lists all sorts of things, including prophet and “those able to help others,” two roles which certainly have no gender distinctions or limitations. To say “Apostles are listed first, so they’re their own category,” is to read into scripture what’s not there. Indeed, by that measure administration is pretty far down on the list, yet Adventism requires ordination for certain administrative positions. Clearly, there’s a lot that needs to be rethought here, instead of just relying on church tradition.

    • “My point is that Protestantism still retains the idea of ordination as some sort of special category set off from the laity.”

      Well, uh, to ordain is to set apart by the laying on of hands. That’s basic to the definition. Of course it is a special category. So is “father” or “mother” or “prophet” or “teacher.” The point of 1 Cor 12 is most certainly not to argue against the distinction of offices and charisms–it is in fact to underscore the appropriateness of such distinctions. We are NOT all the same; we do NOT all have the same gifts and offices. But that’s OK. We all fit together and accomplish the purposes of the body.

      If the conference president’s role is pastoral (which it is), of course he should be ordained to the pastoral office. A better question is why treasurers should be ordained when they have no experience of serving in pastoral ministry and no intention of ever doing so and no call to do so.

      Of course apostles are distinct. They were understood by everyone in the NT to be distinct–and there was a question of whether Paul fit the distinction.

      It seems to me you want to throw away basic Christian terminology and practice that is Biblically based in order to create something totally de novo, because you don’t like it has been practiced. I don’t think that will work.

  5. You hit the nail on the head with re treasurers, an example I had left out for brevity. Prior to that rule being put in place a hundred years ago, there were a number of women treasurers in the church. More recently, as soon as the church elected a female vice president in 2005, a new rule was instituted, somehow never before required, that the GC president should be ordained.

    Far from wanting to create something totally new, I want to go back to the biblical model, rather than the current situation of ordination as quasi-biblical football and status symbol.

    I’m not arguing that apostles did not have a distinct role with particular authority, which would be silly. But there are varying skills of equal importance to the body of Christ, and Paul points this out. To say that these ‘highest’ roles must be served by ordained individuals is an argument for good church order. To say “You must be ordained for this role, and this role, but not necessarily for this role,” picking and choosing for political and prejudicial purposes (e.g. administration, when it’s far down on Paul’s list), while claiming it’s all biblical, is simply adhering to tradition.

    The Bible nowhere spells out a ordinance and calls it ordination. We’ve filled in the blanks and come up with something that preserves church order yet fails to take the whole biblical picture into account. I believe the body of Christ has failed to reach its full potential as a result.

    • You are assuming that “administration” as it appears on Paul’s list is “administration” as defined by Seventh-day Adventism.

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