Church Leadership

3 Things That I Love And Hate About Ordination

July 6, 2016

The weekend of June 11 was an eventful one for my family and I. On June 10, my son turned a month old and I turned 30. The next day, on Sabbath afternoon, I was ordained in one of my churches.

I have been an open supporter of the equality of men and women to the Gospel ministry ever since I wrote the post entitled: Women’s Ordination: Satanic Deception?

I still remember the strong emotions from a year ago in San Antonio when General Conference delegates voted against allowing Divisions to make provision for women’s ordination. Honestly, I’m still dealing with feelings of frustration and sadness for my church; and especially for my female colleagues who still do not have their ministry affirmed, even though they’re every bit as educated and competent as their male counterparts. Now, here I am accepting ordination, a spiritual affirmation that is not given to women on the basis of their gender. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a bit like a sell-out during the service.

Ordination has not imbued me with supernatural powers or special abilities; I’m the same person today that I was before.

However, being that the church has seen fit to recognize God’s moving in my life and now gives me licence to speak on its behalf anywhere in the world, I wonder if the church listen to what God has placed on my heart? There are three things that I love about ordination:

  • I love the church’s practice of the laying on of hands as a way to set someone apart for a spiritual ministry.

Since its earliest days, the church has laid hands on those it wanted to set apart for a special purpose. We currently practice the laying on of hands for deacons, deaconesses, elders, and even teachers. In my case, having our conference officers and many of my colleagues surrounding my wife and I to continue this Christian practice was a wonderful experience.  We need to continue it.

  • I love that the church takes time to develop the calling of all its spiritual leaders.

There is a reason why the church was counseled against declaring someone as competent and placing them in a leadership capacity too quickly. A colleague of mine who was also recently ordained affirmed that he experienced a “refining” in his first few districts. In his mind, the struggles that he experienced in these troubled churches helped him to appreciate the significance of the ceremony and the calling to be a leader in the church.

  • I love the idea that as a leader in the church, I have been called to minister globally as part of our worldwide movement.

Setting someone aside for the Gospel ministry is a big deal. As mentioned earlier, as an ordained minister, you are able to perform all of the duties of a pastor and represent the church globally. It’s great to have a broadened field of ministry.

All of this being said, there are also three aspects of ordination that I hate (okay, hate might be too strong of a word, but I’m going with it anyways):

  • I hate that the church has fundamentally misunderstood the role of a pastor because of ordination.

At the General Conference session last year, there was a consensus statement that was agreed upon by both pro- and anti-WO ordination proponents. Three of the most crucial statements set the backdrop for my thoughts today:

“Over the course of Christian history the term ordination has acquired meanings beyond what these words originally implied. Against such a backdrop, Seventh-day Adventists understand ordination, in a biblical sense, as the action of the Church in publicly recognizing those whom the Lord has called and equipped for local and global Church ministry.

“While ordination contributes to Church order, it neither conveys special qualities to the persons ordained nor introduces a kingly hierarchy within the faith community. The biblical examples of ordination include the giving of a charge, the laying on of hands, fasting and prayer, and committing those set apart to the grace of God.

“[T]he ultimate model of Christian ministry is the life and work of our Lord, who came not to be served but to serve.

Although we claimed to have affirmed these points in theory, I fear that our practice is not always in line with our beliefs. Many times, we compare ordained pastors as successors to the Aaronic priesthood of the Old Testament. Aaron and his sons (hence the term “Aaronic”) were exclusively authorized to serve as priests by regularly approaching God in order to mediate for others (Exodus 28-30; Leviticus 8-9) through rituals that foreshadowed the ministry of Christ (Hebrews 7-10).

However, it is important to remember that God had to settle for this “Plan B” of having priests in a nation (through Aaron and his sons) instead of his “Plan A”, which was having a nation of priests (Exodus 19:6)

Pastors are not priests. The New Testament clearly calls all believers “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9) who serve under the High Priesthood of Jesus. We have been called to go back to “Plan A;” not to pat pastors on the back for being lone-rangers in a “priesthood of some believers.”

We do ourselves no favors by giving pastors or church members the impression through the pomp and circumstance that, at times, accompanies our ordination ceremonies that the role of an ordained pastor is any more valuable or important a ministry role in God’s church. To do so, undermines the importance of every other ministry role our church members have.

Sure, people who do things like preach, teach, coordinate worship, and administer resources dedicated to God can be considered ministers serving “priestly” roles. But so are Christians who use any of the other gifts of the Spirit; and no, neither the gifts nor the fruits of the Spirit are gender-specific. Since ministry is service, and all are called to serve, then all are ministers in whatever branch they use their talents to further God’s work.

  • I hate that the church has failed to recognize the missional implication of rejecting the concept of the priesthood of all believers.

Speaking on leadership in the Pentateuch, Old Testament scholar Dr. Roy Gane listed how this fundamental misunderstanding of what and who ministers are has damaged the Church:

  1. The community tends to see the minister in the same light that the Old Testament community saw a priest: as a member of the God-ordained elite.
  2. The richly diverse, highly efficient power of Christian ministry by the all believers is radically reduced to a relatively narrow set of activities performed by a few.
  3. When a few are considered as leaders of the church, many are disenfranchised and unnecessary power struggles ensue over questions, such as who can be ordained for ministry.

He followed up this list with the following thoughts:

“If ordination were placed in the context of a New Testament ecclesiology as commission for varieties of service in a priesthood of all believers, rather than viewed as lifelong inauguration to an elite kind of priestly role above that of the lay community, all ministers called by God would be appropriately authorized by the community of faith to serve according to their spiritual gifts.”

This is not a new concept at all. Early in our history as Adventists, Ellen G. White affirmed:

“Every soul is to minister …. All are not called upon to enter the ministry, but nevertheless, they are to minister …. Ministry means not only the study of books and preaching. It means service.” SDA Bible Commentary, 1159

She was also keen to acknowledge the priesthood of those not ordained to an office when she wrote:

“The Lord employs various instruments for the accomplishment of His purpose; and while some with special talents are chosen to devote all their energies to the work of teaching and preaching the gospel, many others, upon whom human hands have never been laid in ordination, are called to act an important part in soul-saving.” Acts of the Apostles, 355

  • I hate that many people in our church do not recognize what the vote in San Antonio meant and didn’t mean. 

I’m concerned that ever since the vote some have, at best, misunderstood and, at worst, misinterpreted the vote that took place in San Antonio. As a point of order (remember those? *sigh*) the actual measure being voted on was the following:

“After your careful consideration of what is best for the Church and the fulfillment of its mission, Is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry?  Yes or No”

Please note that the vote had nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of women in ministry. I’ve been confused by statements I’ve seen and heard from members and leaders alike implying that the church voted on whether or not it was okay for women to be pastors. Worse still, I’ve even heard rumors of some churches rescinding the ordination of their local female elders and calling for the church to stop hiring and placing female pastors. Let’s  get one thing straight…

Women clergy already perform the same functions of an ordained minister (with the exception of ordaining elders) . The difference between an “ordained” and a “commissioned” minister is an artificial and semantic one, not one that is based on a Scriptural or theological basis for distinction. The vote does not undo this practice.

The practice of encouraging women to listen to the Spirit’s leading on their life and facilitating their hiring must not be stopped.;Joel 2:28 and Acts 2:17 make this point extremely clear.

Really, I debated the idea of requesting a commissioned credential after the vote at San Antonio. However, I came to the conclusion that, for various reasons, God was leading me to accept ordination in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. As stated at the beginning, now the church has affirmed God’s leading in my life, will the church listen to what God has placed on this leader’s heart?

There really is no simple way to find a solution to this thorny issue. What history tells us is that mistakes are made at times…even by God’s people. When things don’t go our way, God asks each one of us to follow Him on His time and with His methods. As a church that prides itself on its faithful adherence to Scripture over tradition, I hope that our church will not try to point to a church council and equate that with the definite will of God.

I seem to recall that Ellen White herself had to accept a mistaken decision by the General Conference leadership as she was exiled accepted reassignment to Australia after the 1888 General Conference Session.

Who knew the plans that God had in store for her during those years!

I’ve chosen to accept ordination and I’ve also maintained the idea that God’s plan A is for women to be recognized as equal partners with me in the field. As long as God keeps giving me a voice and an opportunity, I’ll keep motivating the church to embrace God’s plan A for all people, His male and female ministers alike.


See more of my blogs on ordination:

Women’s Ordination: Satanic Deception?

The Priesthood of All Believers: Women’s Ordination Q&A

3 Lessons That Will Decide The Fate of Post-GC Adventism

3 Lessons for Surviving the Fallout of the Ordination Vote

 

  • William Thomas

    Pastor Nelson, allow me to sincerely if belatedly thank you for your excellent blog. Although I remain in opposition to women being ordained as elders and pastors — for the simple reason that I believe ordaining women to these offices is in opposition to the LORD’s revealed will — there is very much in this blog to which I wholeheartedly concur. I could not agree with you more when you write: “We do ourselves no favors by giving pastors or church members the impression through the pomp and circumstance that, at times, accompanies our ordination ceremonies that the role of an ordained pastor is any more valuable or important a ministry role in God’s church.”

    But, unfortunately, that seems to be exactly what we as a church have done. For example, I have attended churches where the laity have practically refused to even give Bible studies, arguing that “that’s the pastor’s job” and that the pastor [any pastor] was the only one qualified to teach the tenets of our faith. Arguing that no one else should — or take the time and effort to learn how to — give Bible studies but the pastor (and maybe the elders) because that was the pastor’s job. My apologies but when I was baptized I was told to “preach, teach and make disciples”; I will assume I am not the only laity Christ included in His Great Commission.

    As an elderly friend of mine, who also opposes the ordination of women as elders and pastors, once said about a group of women who were arguing that they needed to be ordained [as elders] in order to visit the sick and preach the Gospel, “That sounds like what you already said you would do in your baptismal vows.” The real issue is that we’ve forgotten and been unfaithful to our baptismal vows; the ones that (hopefully) we all took upon first joining the LORD’s Remnant Church.

    As much as I oppose the ordination of women as elders and pastors, I must say that I hold much sympathy for the position of some. If we are going to (erroneously) assume that someone needs to be ordained as an elder or pastor in order to successfully work for the LORD, then women (indeed, EVERYONE) should be commended and encouraged if not outright required to be ordained as an elder or pastor as part of their baptism. But being a pastor or elder (or holding any “ordained” office in the church) is nowhere mentioned as a requirement for ministry. An even GOD-given requirement for holding some ministrial offices … yes, but not a requirement for ministering to others.

    The bigger problem is that we as a church — both pro-WO and anti-WO, both men and women, both leadership and laity alike — have gotten it into our minds that you can’t work for the LORD unless you are ordained (or on a career path that includes ordination). At just about every church I have been a member of (including one you currently pastor), I have been asked to be an elder but I declined. While being an elder or pastor may change the type of one’s service, it nor any ecclesiastic office changes one’s relationship with GOD. That’s what matters.

    By the way, although Israel was to be a nation of priests, the LORD’s “Plan A” was actually for the firstborn sons as the heads of families to be the priesthood. Note not simply the firstborn but the firstborn sons. Indeed, He [perhaps as an important and relevant aside note also that we and the Bible itself always refer to the Diety using masculine pronouns] refers to the nation of Israel itself as His firstborn son. Compare, for example, Exodus 4:22 and 3:45-51. While I agree that the modern-day Christian ministry is not meant to be the exact replica of the ancient Jewish or Israelite economy, the priesthood of all believers was never meant to be a call to eliminate all gender differences nor the distinctiveness of the priesthood itself.

    In closing, I should say that I (also?) see no theological difference between the office of elder or pastor. Thus the qualifications (and disqualifications) for both are the same and, therefore, I think our church’s current dichotomy between women elders and women pastors is ultimately untenable. Thus, unfortunately, this is not a great victory for the anti-WO forces nor a resounding defeat for the pro-WO factions. In truth, nothing has really changed and nothing has either progressed or regressed on either side (unless you consider nothing changing progression and/or regression). Whatever your position and understanding on the issue, prepare to make the exact same arguments to the exact same people for the forseeable future.

    On this issue, for better or worse, nothing really changed.

    • Thank you for your thoughts, William. We share a difference of opinion in regards to the Lord’s revealed will on this matter but, I agree with many other points you’ve shared. Blessings to you.

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