In recent years the church has gone through a hotly contested debate over whether women should be ordained into the ministry. This controversy has become a high profile issue among Seventh-day Adventists. Dan Jackson, President of the North American Division (NAD) of Seventh-day Adventists and Alex Bryant, Executive Secretary of the NAD are moving forward with a plan to increase the number of female pastors in North America. In the above video, President Dan Jackson envisions a day where 1,000 new women pastors will be hired.
The North American Division has started a “Women In Pastoral Ministry Initiative.” In this program the NAD will provide “partnership incentives” (money) to conferences who hire female pastors. It is the local conference office that has the duty to pay the salaries of its ministers. But now we have the NAD with its deep pockets offering cash-strapped conferences “incentives.” It’s kind of like a pay to play arrangement – if you hire women pastors, we will pay you. (Click here to see the NAD’s initiative for female pastors)
This is a clear reversal from the early days of the Seventh-day Adventist movement. In the early days, Adventists were in agreement on this matter over female pastors, and this consensus continued unbroken for over 100 years.
In December 19, 1878, church founders James White, Uriah Smith, J.N. Andrews and J. H. Waggoner (all editors for the Signs of the Times) published an editorial on the women’s role in the church. These were not just ministers and leading men in the church. These were the founders and pioneers of the movement who were led by the Holy Spirit and by the testimonies of the living prophet, Ellen White, who held these men accountable. And here is what they published in an editorial entitled, “Women’s Place in the Gospel.”
“A woman may pray, prophesy, exhort and comfort the church, but she cannot occupy the position of a pastor or a ruling elder.” (click here to see the 1878 article).
This is not “repression.” Women were allowed to develop and use their many, many gifts in the service of the church and for the advancement of the work of God in this world. Can women be missionary evangelists, and preach the gospel in foreign lands? Yes. Can women be apologists and defenders of the faith, vindicating our message against opponents? Absolutely. Can women share testimonies or messages in church. Of course. This is consistent with the long-standing position in Adventism.
In the church, women have freely exercised a vast range of ministries – medical missionaries, foreign missionaries, colporteurs, teachers, spiritual mothers, church-planters, counselors, writers, editors, prayer warriors, scholars, professors, literature evangelists, lecturers, Bible workers, door to door missionaries and many other roles. Women don’t need to get ministerial credentials to do any of these missions.
In fact, it’s through these different non-pastoral roles that the work will get finished! The truth is that most of the work that will be accomplished by Christ in this earth will NOT be done by people who are ordained. Ordination has a place in God’s work, but sadly it has become a little overrated by this generation. Some are so obsessively focused on “clericalism,” the exaltation of the “ordained” clergy above all else (2 Thessalonians 2:4).
We can’t only focus on the ordained ministry and dismiss the great value and work that lay people have done, are doing and will do in the closing work. The opportunity for women and other laypeople to witness for Christ are much greater and more vast than for those who are “ordained.”
The Adventist Movement of the 1840s was for the most part a movement of laypeople. There were a few “ordained” ministers, but most of the work was done by laymen and women. And when the latter rain falls in the closing scenes of God’s work, it will be laypeople who will be in the front lines in the finishing of the work.
“In this closing work of the gospel there is a vast field to be occupied; and, more than ever before, the work is to enlist helpers from the common people. Both the youth and those older in years will be called from the field, from the vineyard, and from the workshop, and sent forth by the Master to give His message” (Publishing Ministry, 279).
“As the time comes for it (third angel’s message) to be given with greatest power, the Lord will work through humble instruments, leading the minds of those who consecrate themselves to his service. The laborers will be qualified rather by the unction of his Spirit than by the training of literary institutions” (Great Controversy, 606).
“God is calling not only upon ministers, but also upon physicians, nurses, canvassers, Bible-workers, and other consecrated laymen of varied talents who have a knowledge of present truth to consider the needs of the unwarned cities … The Lord is calling upon the men and women who have the light of truth for this time to engage in genuine, personal missionary work” ( Manuscript 15, 1910).
Let us return to the unity and order that served this church very well for over 100 years. It is time to incorporate these lessons into the foundation which was laid long ago, which provides a much sounder basis for the future than anything else can offer. The right template for the future can only be found in the Seventh-day Adventist movement’s own history.
“We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history” (Last Day Events, p. 72).
“The power which stirred the people so mightily in the 1844 movement will again be revealed. The third angel’s message will go forth, not in whispered tones, but with a loud voice” (Testimonies to the Church, Vol. 5, p. 252).