The Commission on the Role of Women recently brought to Washington, D. C., some 80 men and women from around the world principally to discuss the ordination of women to the gospel ministry. Twenty-two papers had been sent to, and hopefully studied by, each member of the commission. The first day was spent in small group discussions of the issues. The second and fourth days were reserved for plenary session. A few came with lengthy speeches, some by men, many by women. Most ladies spoke for the ordination of women; a few spoke against it.
The third day was one of the most helpful to me. Seven ladies had been asked to speak about their personal experiences in ministry. We empathized with their feelings of frustration and disappointment over limitations imposed on their ministry. They shared their consternation over not being allowed to baptize those they had won or marry those they had pastored. Others of the seven felt fulfilled in their ministry, even though they had not been ordained. They felt ordination of women was not necessary to success in ministry. Some of these, however, had been in some form of ministry other than pastoral ministry.
We wrestled with the "argument from silence." If the Bible doesn't definitely tell us whether or not to ordain women, does that mean the church is free to make its own decision? Or would that mean we had forsaken sola scriptura?
One option was to allow each division to determine whether or not to ordain women. Most divisions outside North America do not favor ordaining women. Why not ordain them in just the North American Division? One answer is that we are a world church. When an Adventist minister is ordained, the church is authorizing him to represent it anywhere in the world. To be divided on an issue as significant as this might seriously fragment the church. A second answer is that there is significant disagreement on the issue in North America--even among female members. North America should be cautious about blaming the world church for blocking the ordination of women.
The commission received a preliminary report of a still uncompleted study made within three groups of Adventist women. The women ranked 21 issues in order of their significance to Adventist women in the United States. All three groups agreed that the issue of greatest concern was "need for equal compensation, recognition, and advancement."
One of the three groups was made up of women who had organized themselves to emphasize women's issues in the church. This group placed "ordination of women in the SDA Church" as number two in importance. The other two groups, however, placed that as numbers 18 and 19 respectively. Many North American Adventist women do not feel ordination of women is a highly significant issue.
More study still needed
The spirit of the meeting was excellent. Opinions differed dramatically, yet a warm Christian spirit prevailed. It was evident the group was cooperating under the Spirit of God to find the will of God. Unfortunately, the four days came and went, and the thinking of the group still had not gelled. Although the research material furnished the commission had made a stack of papers 1 1/2 inches high, we felt that still more information was necessary. We needed further study and a better understanding of the Adventist theology of ordination. And so we closed with the agreement that more study must be done and we will meet again next year.
You may have noticed in your church board that committee members tend to fit one of three categories: the supporter, who tends to favor whatever plan is put forth; the opposer, who can just as surely be counted on to be against it; and the conciliator, who typically looks for some middle ground on which the other two can come together. Please let me take the conciliator role for a moment and suggest that although there is not yet agreement on women's ordination to the ministry, perhaps we are approaching consensus in three areas.
1. Men and women are equal. The Role of Women Commission continually looked for those issues that could be considered moral principles rather than just cultural preferences. Equality of men and women is such a principle.
There are three equal members of the Godhead. Their roles are different, but none is inferior to another. And so it is between man and woman. Their roles are different. God gave the male the responsibility of loving headship within the home. But neither is inferior to the other. Men and women are equal.
2. Women are called to and needed in ministry. The whole area of spiritual gifts emphasizes that women are imparted gifts and called by the Holy Spirit as surely as are men.
One way the church could lose the special benefits that many women bring to ministry would be to keep them out of the ministry. Another way would be to expect them to perform a ministry based on only a male model. It is not necessary for a woman to minister like a man in order to be in the ministry.
Women are often superior to men in ministering to women, children, and those hurting, and in any other ministry demanding exceptional gentleness, sensitivity, love, and a relational emphasis.
Cannot we agree that many women bring to such ministry gifts greater than most men bring?
I do not oppose a woman's pastoring a church alone. However, in the present climate, even in the United States, a woman probably has to be a more exceptional person than a man to be accepted and successful as lone pastor of a church. On the other hand, a woman often has many advantages over a man in certain types of ministry. Cannot we agree that she should be especially encouraged and supported in these ministries?
Women are often uniquely qualified for specialized ministries. We need them as chaplains in health-care institutions and leaders in the departmental structure of the church. We need women pastors on the staffs of multiple-pastor churches.
When God made mankind in His image, He made them male and female. Neither has all the characteristics to reflect a complete image of God. It takes both. Where it is necessary for a congregation to have more than one pastor, there is an advantage in including women as well as men. Together, they possess more of the characteristics of God and can more completely represent Him to the congregation. Significantly each of the senior pastors on the commission from multiple-pastor churches spoke in favor of ordaining women. Having worked with lady ministers on their own staffs, they were convinced of their effectiveness in such assignments.
We need more husbands and wives in ministry together, where both have been called to, been trained for, and entered the ministry full-time. This is one of the simpler solutions to the perplexing problems facing the ministering wife when the church transfers her to a new assignment and her husband cannot leave his job. We need more male-female team ministry.
3. We must have a way to authenticate and show appreciation for women in ministry. Many of our lady ministers are not so much interested in fighting for ordination as they are anxious to know they are truly wanted and do belong in ministry. Although we have not yet agreed on doing this through ordination, the church has already authorized another means to accomplish it.
The church usually gives women ministers a Commissioned Minister License when they begin their ministry. According to the North American Division policy, this license is meant for those specialized ministeries such as associates in pastoral care, treasurers, departmental directors, health-care institution chaplains, administrators of major institutions, and principals of secondary schools. This license was first given in North America. Now, however, other divisions are encouraged to use it as needed.
The license is replaced by a credential after about five years. When this hap pens the policy reads "It is recommended that an appropriate commissioning service be conducted when an employee is granted a Commissioned Minister Credential." Although this formal commissioning is seldom practiced, a recommended commissioning service is now being prepared for those who have proved their calling in a specialized ministry. Ladies, your church has not agreed on ordination for women, but it does have a way to authenticate and show appreciation for women in ministry.
This is the Pastor's Pastor column. Please let me speak pastorally to you la dies who feel God has called you to the ministry. I can understand just a little bit of what you are experiencing. Most Adventist ministers worked for several years at the beginning of their ministry with out being able to baptize or marry. I re member this as a distinct disadvantage, sometimes an embarrassment, and looked forward to ordination with great expectation. In all honesty, however, I must now confess I was as free to win souls before as after--and really just as effective. Lack of ordination may some times make you feel embarrassed and unappreciated, but it should not keep you from being a soul winner.
On behalf of the Adventist ministry, I ask your forgiveness for any hurt we have caused you, for seeming to push you out when you so much needed to be drawn in. We love you. We want you. We need you. Welcome to the ministry.