It was an issue that had become nothing short of an obsession; for years it seemed to be all anyone could speak of. Countless personalities and groups from among God’s people held strong opinions which they would share in most any way imaginable, including through often clandestine and regrettable ones. God seemed strangely-silent throughout the whole affair, leading people to either assume the worst or determine that more fervent efforts on their part were required to solve the issue. Then came a seminal day which would forever change the course of history. In the midst of an assembly of God’s chosen, a single decision was made.
Strike down… the Egyptian.
Not quite the ending you were expecting? Many on that day would share in your bewilderment. I know of many, including myself, during these last few days that have experienced the same. On Wednesday, 8 July, the 60th General Conference Session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church voted “NO” to a motion that would’ve allowed each of our thirteen world divisions to make their own independent provisions for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry if they saw fit to within their respective territories. Indeed, our obsession of an issue has been “women’s ordination”, whereas for the Hebrews of old it was freedom from Egyptian slavery. In both cases, I have a feeling that God was less concerned with our obsessions as He was in the salvation of His people. To this end, God has and will continue to prove faithful in His guidance and actions. Yet we, like Moses, may have initially failed to see His handiwork.
The account given in the second chapter of Exodus tells of Moses coming upon an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, a grave injustice to be certain. A heart-burden he had long held for the well-being of his brethren increased within him and he knew something had to change. Being aware of God’s promises to deliver His people, Moses came up with a plan of action and immediately executed it–or rather, executed him, the Egyptian. Not having given his plan the benefit of foresight, he immediately set about to burying the slain Egyptian in the sand.
Moses no-doubt thought that this act would encourage the Hebrews to trust more-fully in God and His plans to deliver them, that it would inspire them to join with Moses in God’s mission of deliverance (Acts 7:25). Instead, as he would discover the next day during the abusive argument of two Hebrews, it only served to further enflame passions and delay God’s purposes. The fear that had so often dwelt in the hearts of the Hebrews toward Pharaoh now found a new home in the heart of Moses, and losing sight of the awesome love of God as they had he now fled the awesome wrath of Pharaoh for the wilderness.
In their passions I feel the majority within both ordination “camps” had valid points (I say majority because every cause contains a minority of extremists that tend to be the most vocal and noticeable, though not accurately representative of true beliefs) and in their fervor no-doubt also thought their actions would encourage and inspire God’s people. Many in favor of ordaining women to the gospel ministry could sense the apparent injustice of the matter, and the need to elevate our understandings of both heavenly authority and God’s calling. Many against the motion could sense the inherent complications and potential chaos of taking an issue that would affect the whole church and dividing it up among entities that could begin squabbling with one another over global recognition of their ordination candidates or that could unintentionally abandon the ministry needs of women within their respective territories after feeling that the role of women in the church had been adequately addressed and need not be continually reexamined. Contrary to what many believed, the actual issue being voted upon was never truly clear and the majority of both sides were and continue to be God-fearing, sincere, faithful Christians.
The vote now having receded from view and the passions of that day finally taking a back-seat to quiet and prayerful contemplation, God answered my prayers for clarity in the story of Moses.
God allowed Moses to see the injustices suffered by his fellow Hebrews that day. The heart-burden for God’s people that reached almost uncontainable levels within him I believe was God’s purpose in allowing Him to witness such things, at a time where the pleasures and conflicts within Pharaoh’s palace–and even among the Hebrews themselves–would’ve made it easy to forget the plight of the suffering masses outside. Yet Moses failed to see this small token of divine preparation for his mission of freeing Israel because he was too busy creating and implementing his own plan for justice and redemption. What in his misguided passion he was unable to see in Egypt, decades in the wilderness of Midian with God would eventually make clear.
Distracted by the misguided passions of the ordination vote, most–including myself–missed the far more amazing occurrence of the day, when the session accepted without debate a “Consensus Statement on a Seventh-day Adventist Theology of Ordination” for our world church. It is odd to me that we as a people have never before truly examined this issue, yet God is patient and still leading. Dedicated study of God’s Word and the united prayers of His global church are never ignored or neglected by His presence, and I now see that while The Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) could not come to consensus on the issue of ordaining women to the gospel ministry, they did come to a more profound consensus on ordination itself–for the first time in our history as a church.
Allow me to share what I consider the three most vital statements made in the consensus statement:
“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.”
The chair of TOSC, Arthur Stele, put it best as he presented the statement to the session: “On sleepless nights I asked God, ‘why can’t we find consensus?’ Then I almost heard: maybe we’re asking the wrong question. Maybe instead of asking who to ordain, we should ask how to recognize the call of God on those whom He has chosen.” The church had neglected the “Priesthood of All Believers”, a Biblical and Reformational mantra seemingly long-forgotten.
Could this theology of ordination be exactly what God wanted His people to take note of and accept during this session so that it would pave the way for His further purifying of our characters and His final salvation of the redeemed? Could God have allowed us to become so distracted by the passions of the ordination question that we spent no time in fighting God over the theology of ordination itself? While we bickered about who could fill an office, perhaps God was quietly preparing the way for us to realize that the office itself was ill-suited to the future ahead.
As we, the two Hebrews, set about the difficult task of learning to love one another again in the coming weeks and months ahead, may we, like Moses in his wilderness, close ourselves up with God and take courage in the fact that God is still at the helm of and in love with His people. May we in the issues we shall face come to understand that a desert full of burial mounds is not the most glorious or timely an answer to any question. The problem has never been God’s plan, but our perceptions and character. God has a better plan than mine, a plan that will most-likely surprise us all. We can trust Him to see us through! His unexpected plan for Israel was as glorious as it was timely: with ten plagues and one wall of water the people of God were freed from Egypt and the whole of the Egyptian army was eradicated–no sand required.
Henry Johnson is the Associate Pastor for Youth at the Spartanburg Seventh-day Adventist church in South Carolina with the Carolina Conference. He has since become known as a perspicacious Bible teacher, with a passion for relational evangelism in varied cultural and religious contexts. A perpetual adventurer and outdoor enthusiast, he has had opportunity to explore and present the gospel of Jesus Christ across five continents. Henry enjoys reading, listening to and performing music, historical reenacting, and unique tie knots.