Adventists and Ministry: “Don’t the Lord Call Women?”

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is wondering what to do about women’s ordination. Specifically, the General Conference is trying what to decide to do about those Unions and Conferences which are ordaining women, despite a 2015 decision to not allow a “local option.”

The Adventist Church permits women to be ordained as “local elders.”  It grants women licenses and credentials.  It lets them be pastors and chaplains and administrators.  The only thing it doesn’t grant them is the second ordination that comes after a few years of full-time ministry.  It does a ceremony of laying on of hands and prayer, which is identical to the ceremony for men–but it calls this “commissioning” rather than “ordination.”

Confused?  Yes, it is.

Is there a doctrinal basis for any of this?  No.

If you turn to the Fundamental Beliefs, the only relevant passage is this:

Spiritual Gifts and Ministries (17)

God bestows upon all members of His church in every age spiritual gifts that each member is to employ in loving ministry for the common good of the church and of humanity. Given by the agency of the Holy Spirit, who apportions to each member as He wills, the gifts provide all abilities and ministries needed by the church to fulfill its divinely ordained functions. According to the Scriptures, these gifts include such ministries as faith, healing, prophecy, proclamation, teaching, administration, reconciliation, compassion, and self-sacrificing service and charity for the help and encouragement of people. Some members are called of God and endowed by the Spirit for functions recognized by the church in pastoral, evangelistic, and teaching ministries particularly needed to equip the members for service, to build up the church to spiritual maturity, and to foster unity of the faith and knowledge of God. When members employ these spiritual gifts as faithful stewards of God’s varied grace, the church is protected from the destructive influence of false doctrine, grows with a growth that is from God, and is built up in faith and love. (Acts 6:1-7; Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-11, 27, 28; Eph. 4:8, 11-16; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; 1 Peter 4:10, 11.)

And this is interesting.  What is the source of the ministries and offices in the church? God, and God alone.

Let’s look at this again.

God bestows upon all members of His church in every age spiritual gifts that each member is to employ in loving ministry for the common good of the church and of humanity. Given by the agency of the Holy Spirit, who apportions to each member as He wills, the gifts provide all abilities and ministries needed by the church to fulfill its divinely ordained functions. …Some members are called of God and endowed by the Spirit for functions recognized by the church in pastoral, evangelistic, and teaching ministries

The agency is completely God’s.  The only role the church has is to recognize the gifts that the Spirit has given “as he wills.”

This fits in with the early Adventist conviction of the “perpetuity of spiritual gifts”–the idea that the gifts of the Spirit were not withdrawn after the apostolic age.

Moreover, the early Adventists saw that God promised a special outpouring of his Spirit in the last days, as promised by Joel 2:28-29 (and partially fulfilled at Pentecost, according to Acts 2).  That promise was specifically given to both men and women.

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.

This is in keeping with what Paul says in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

And that’s exactly what the early Adventists thought when they defended their conviction that Ellen White was a recipient of the Gift of Prophecy. Her husband, James White, defended this in a booklet, The Perpetuity of Spiritual Gifts. Commenting on Joel 2, he says,

We object to that narrow-souled theology which will not allow the old ladies to have dreams because the prophecy says, “your old men shall dream dreams;” and that will not allow young women to have visions because the prophecy says, “your young men shall see visions.” These stingy critics seem to forget that “man,” and “men,” in the Scriptures generally mean both men and women. The Book says that it is “appointed unto men once to die.” Don’t women die? “Unto you, O man, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men.” Don’t the Lord call women? But the prophecy does say, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.”

“Don’t the Lord call women?”  Of course he does, James White believed.  He chooses whom he will.  He calls as he will, to the office he wants them to have.

The calling is God’s.  Will the Church recognize it?  It does already, through laying on of hands and prayers.  But through stubborn human rules, it calls it “commissioning” instead of “ordination,” something of human precept, not of God’s.

In Acts 15, the apostles gathered to discuss a point which was fracturing the unity of the Church.  Must Gentiles be circumcised, and become Jews, in order to accept Jesus?  Some were practicing this.  Others were not.

And Peter got up and said,

“God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

It was manifest that the Holy Spirit was given to the Gentiles.  Their human laws and reasons and restrictions had to fall before the power of the Holy Spirit.

And so James wrote to the Gentiles, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.”

That should be enough for us today.  God calls men and women.  He pours his Spirit upon both.  Both have been affirmed in their calls by the Church.  Both have been set apart by the laying on of hands and prayer.  Let’s not let human labels divide the Church–that’s the issue before us.