This Thursday, the Ellen White Estate will post online her complete writings, revealing to the public for the first time documents that were long accessible only to select scholars. Instead of “Brother B” and “Sister A,” the reader will know who was being addressed. Instead of snippets collected out of context, you’ll be able to read entire letters, and all the letters written to a particular individual. We will have a much better understanding of how Ellen White exercised her unique ministry within the Adventist Church.
I start with that, because it is ironic that a church that claims that this key founder had the Gift of Prophecy, is arguing about the role of women in the church.
The General Conference voted against allowing divisions to make provision for the ordination of women. Lawyers and pundits will debate what it actually means. It does not mean going backward. Women will still serve as local church elders, and as pastors, and as chaplains, and, in one case, as a conference president. Women will still be “commissioned” as ministers–hands will be laid upon them, and prayers said, and they will receive the same pay as men who go through the same ceremony, with only the change of the word “commissioned” to “ordained.”
Adventism had a “Theology of Ordination Study Committee” that never grappled with the confused practices of the Adventist church. Men and women can both be (in many places) ordained as local elders. Some of these local elders (men and women) can be issued ministerial licenses, and can serve as pastors of churches, as well as chaplains in many specialized ministries. They can baptize, celebrate the Lord’s Supper, preach, do weddings and funerals, lead board meetings–all the functions of a pastor. After several years of this, a man can be ordained, and a woman can be commissioned. None of this has changed.
So where are we? Very muddled.
I’ve written about this in other posts, and talked about the theology and the practice and the history. I still think the same thing: we need to scrap the system. Send would-be pastors to seminary. Give them an internship, in which they have a license, say in the third year. Run them through committees to question their theology and their lifestyle. Give them practical experience in local churches. Have them do evangelism. Have them do a unit of CPE. And then, when they graduate, let them seek a call. When called, lay hands on them and pray over them — call it commissioning or ordaining or whatever. Then send them forth. It doesn’t have to be this complicated threefold order of ministry that echoes St. Ignatius of Antioch.