Affirmations: The Bible Does Not Support the Ordination of Women to Ministry
The following affirmations were first published in Adventists Affirm, an independent journal described as “a publication affirming Seventh-day Adventist beliefs,” vol. 3, no. 2, Fall 1989. It was later included as Appendix B in the book Prove All Things, Mercedes H. Dyer, editor (Berrien Springs, Mich: Adventists Affirm, 2000). An introduction noted that, "The editorial board of Adventists Affirm has prepared this document with the contributions and counsel of other Adventist scholars and church leaders." The editorial board at the time of publication included: Genevieve Bothe, Samuele Bacchiocchi, Carl Coffman, William Fagal, Hedwig Jemison, Betty Lou Hartlein, C. Raymond Holmes, Warren H.Johns, Rosalie Haffner Lee, C. Mervyn Maxwell, Dolores Slikkers, Stephen V. Wallace, Mary E.Walsh, and Douglas Waterhouse.
- We affirm that men and women are equal before God. Both were created in the image of God (Gen 1:27), and both have been redeemed by Jesus Christ (Gal 3:28).
- We affirm that Scripture teaches difference in function while maintaining equality of being. Man is called to exercise a caring, sacrificial headship in home and church, patterned after the headship of Christ (Eph 5:21, 25; 1 Cor 11:3). Woman is called willingly to accept and cooperate with the caring headship of man, not as a cultural custom, but as a divinely ordained principle (“as to the Lord” Eph 5:22; see 1 Cor 11:3; 1 Tim 2:12-13). God ordained these distinctions as part of the created order; they should be respected, not only in the home, but in the church as well.
- We affirm that 1 Timothy 2:12-3:7 is authoritative today, and cannot be confined to ancient Ephesus. “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men. ... Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife.” Paul supports his teaching with an appeal, not to culture, but to Scripture, and specifically to creation: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” To restrict Paul’s argument to the past or to limited situations today would make void his appeal to Scripture and deny his teaching authority.
- We affirm that the role distinctions were assigned by God at creation before the fall (Gen 2:18-23), and remain as a part of redemption after the cross. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim 2:13); “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor 11:3). The fall distorted the functional relationships between men and women, in both home and church. In place of a caring, sacrificial leadership, men may try either to dominate or to escape responsibility. In place of a noble cooperation, women may try to usurp man’s leadership or adopt a servile submission. In so doing, both lose the blessings God intended for them.
- We affirm that redemption in Christ removes the distortions of the appropriate functional relationships which resulted from the fall, and elevates the proper functional relationships:
—In the home, husbands should overcome their desires to dominate or be passive, learning instead to provide a caring, sacrificial leadership for their wives and children, seeking to encourage and enable them in every good thing. Similarly, wives should forsake any desire to resist their husbands’ appropriate authority, learning instead to willingly and joyfully cooperate with their husbands’ caring leadership, thus helping them to develop into the men God has called them to be.
—In the church, redemption gives to men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation and equal grace to serve in accordance with their own God-ordained roles.
- We affirm that both the Old and New Testaments amply support the active participation of women in the private and public religious life of God’s people. In the Old Testament women participated in the study and teaching of the law (Neh 8:2; Prov 1:8; Deut 13:6-11), in offering prayers and vows to God (1 Sam 1:10; Num 30:9; Gen 25:22; 2 Kings 4:9-10, 20-37), in ministering “at the entrance to the tent of meeting” (1 Sam 2:22), in singing at the worship of the temple service (Ezra 2:65), and in engaging in the prophetic ministry of exhortation and guidance (2 Kings 22:14-20; 2 Chron 34:22-28). In the New Testament we find women fulfilling the mission of the church (Acts 16:14-15; 21:8-9; Rom 16:1-4, 12). Likewise for more than 100 years the Adventist church has incorporated women into its ministry as Bible instructors, who have helped to win thousands of people and been an important part of the pastoral team. Though it needs to do more, the church has utilized women’s talents in this and many other vital ways. Thus we believe that women have appropriate functions in the work of God and the church.
- We affirm that the Bible precludes ordaining women as priests in the Old Testament and as apostles/elders/pastors in the New Testament, because of Scriptural and theological rather than social and cultural reasons. The New Testament explicitly appeals to the order and method of creation of Adam and Eve to explain why women should not exercise a headship teaching function within the church. See 1 Tim 2:13; 1 Cor 11:8. In these texts the order and manner of Adam’s and Eve’s creation reveal God’s design for man to function as the spiritual head of the home and church. (For more information, see the first issue of Affirm [Appendix A in "Prove All Things"].
- We affirm that there exists a distinct correlation between the headship role of a father in the home and that of an elder/pastor in the church. “A bishop … must manage his own household well” (1 Tim 3:2-5). Ellen White upholds this correlation: “As the priest in the home, and as the ambassador of Christ in the church, he [the minister] should exemplify the character of Christ…. He who fails to be a faithful, discerning shepherd in the home, will surely fail of being a faithful shepherd to the flock of God in the church” (Reflecting Christ, p. 179). “The family of the one suggested for [the elder’s] office should be considered.… If he has no tact, wisdom, or power of godliness at home in managing his own family, it is safe to conclude that the same defects will be carried into the church (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 618).
- We affirm that there exists a correlation between the role of an elder/pastor as spiritual father of the family of faith and the role of God as the Father of the human family. Though God transcends sexual role distinctions, He has chosen to reveal Himself as our Father, as Jesus attested repeatedly. Apparently the reason is that the role of a father in the home and of an elder (older father figure, 1 Tim 5:1) or pastor in the household of faith (1 Cor 4:15) best represent the role that God Himself sustains toward us, His children (Eph 3:14-15). The unique symbolic role which an elder or pastor is called to fulfill, as a representative of the heavenly Father, Shepherd, and Head of the church, cannot legitimately be fulfilled by a woman as pastor, because her Scriptural role is that of mother rather than father (1 Tim 5:2). To appoint a woman to serve in the headship role of elder/pastor is an adulteration of the pastor’s representation of God. Attempts to support women’s ordination by blurring this distinction through such means as prayers addressed to God as “our Father and Mother in heaven” are reminiscent of the paganism the Bible writers so strongly opposed.
- We affirm that no new teaching or practice should be introduced into the Seventh-day Adventist church unless we have a clear mandate from Scripture. On this matter Ellen White’s counsel is unmistakable: “The Bible must be our standard for every doctrine and practice.… It is the word of the living God that is to decide all controversies” (The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, pp. 44-45, emphasis supplied). “God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms. The opinions of men, the deductions of science, the creeds or decisions of ecclesiastical councils, as numerous and discordant as are the churches which they represent, the voice of the majority — not one nor all of these should be regarded as evidence for or against any point of religious faith. Before accepting any doctrine or precept, we should demand a plain ‘Thus saith the Lord’ in its support” (The Great Controversy, p. 595, emphasis supplied).
The above list of affirmations follows a list of “Concerns,” created by the same editorial group in 1989. Concern No. 4 reads: “We are deeply concerned over the contradiction apparent in the 1989 Annual Council’s decision not to ordain women to the gospel ministry and yet to authorize them to “perform essentially the ministerial functions of an ordained minister.” Advocates of ordination complain that the action makes gender the only factor for excluding women from serving as full-fledged pastors. Others find the decision unacceptable because it enables women to function in the headship role of a pastor. Further, letting people (male or female) perform the functions of an ordained minister without being ordained downgrades ministerial ordination, making it appear superfluous.