Searching the Scriptures

William Fagal

The Seventh-day Adventist church faces a momentous, watershed decision regarding its ordained ministry at the coming General Conference session in July [1995, Utrecht, Netherlands]. The delegates will be asked to decide whether Divisions may choose for themselves to ordain women to the gospel ministry of their own territory, though that ordination would not be recognized in Divisions which do not ordain women.

Though historically Seventh-day Adventists did not have women elders, many women have served the church well in positions of leadership and outreach, from the local church to the General Conference level. They did so without ordination. However, for about twenty-five years a small but influential group of people has been working to move the church a little at a time toward the decision it now faces. In response to their efforts, the 1975 Spring Council voted a very cautious action to allow ordination of women as local elders. The Annual Council of 1984 reaffirmed the earlier action and suggested guidelines to be followed when churches wish to ordain women elders. Now those proceedings are being urged as reason to go the next step and ordain women as pastors.

Though the current proposal is careful to say that women so ordained would only be authorized within their own Divisions, passage of this action will put the Seventh-day Adventist church on record, through its General Conference in session, as seeing no biblical obstacle to ordaining women. Presumably, if the delegates perceived a biblical impediment, they would not approve the proposal. So with the biblical objection removed, and with the church moving step-by-step toward world-wide ordination, it would not be surprising soon to find churches, pastors, denominational employees, or church members who object conscientiously on Bible grounds being informed that they are out of harmony with the decision of the world church, with whatever consequences that may bring. How much better to examine the whole issue from the Bible and bring our practice into harmony with it!

Some Seventh-day Adventists claim that the church should feel free to decide for itself on whether to ordain women, since neither the Bible nor the Spirit of Prophecy writings address the issue directly. Others, however, note that the Bible is clear not only on "the relations and rights of men and women" (Testimonies for the Church, 1:421) but also on the qualifications for the lead-

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ership role in the church. They believe that we must not set aside the commands of Scripture on these issues to go "the way that seemeth right" to us. Believing that Seventh-day Adventists are called to manifest unswerving fidelity to the Word of God, they ask for a solid Scriptural basis for the proposed change.

In light of these concerns, the editorial board of Adventists Affirm asked Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, a doctoral candidate in Systematic Theology at Andrews University from the African country of Ghana, to prepare a document to address the central issues regarding ordination for women. With much input from both men and women representing both sides of the current debate, the original work has grown from the size of a substantial article to the book you are now reading. The local members of the editorial board have gone over the manuscript carefully and are pleased to commend Searching the Scriptures to you for your prayerful consideration.

This study distinguishes the non-issues from the real issues, putting to rest a number of concerns and arguments which often surface in the discussion of this matter. It finds much on which to agree with those who advocate ordination for women, especially in areas such as the call of God for women to minister and the importance of encouraging greater involvement of women in the work of the Lord. It demonstrates, I believe, that at the root level of their concerns, responsible advocates on both sides of this issue have many of the same interests. We are not as far apart as we may have thought. Our best chance of finding unity on this matter lies in searching the Scriptures together. Those who seek scriptural guidance on ordination for women will find the presentation in this book compelling.

The editorial board of Adventists Affirm believes that the Lord's blessing will come to our efforts when we work in harmony with the instructions in His Word. On the verge of the Promised Land, God told Joshua where his strength lay. "Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded you; turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go" (Josh 1:7). May God help us as a church to continue searching the Scriptures for His will and to have the courage to follow it. He has promised His blessing to those who do.

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