Adventist History Church Leadership Topics

Women’s Ordination: Satanic Deception?

October 20, 2014

Ever since I was a kid, there have been polarizing issues within the church. If you want to get a group of Adventists riled up on a Sabbath afternoon, just talk about the nature of Christ, Last Generation Theology, worship style, or conference segregation. Today, I’m going to finally stick my neck out regarding another polarizing issue in the church: women’s ordination.

It’s become especially crucial to speak about this now with an important vote to be taken at the next General Conference session in 2015. Not only that, the rhetoric on both extremes sadly rivals any political campaign today. Nowadays, it feels like the Marvel Civil War arc where Tony Stark (Iron Man) goes up against Captain America and every superhero is forced to take sides in the conflict; even to not act is to take a stand on one side or another.

Most churches when this issue comes up…[credit: Marvel Comics]

Ever since I started researching this issue a few years ago, I’ve started to become more and more convicted of one side. I’m not going to simply spit out my position. Instead, I want to take you briefly through my thought process.

A few important points that I believe need to be kept in mind, though.  Whenever we are discussing contentious issues like this, we need to:

  • Learn how to discuss such issues without anger/excessive emotion
  • Accept the fact that we all approach the Scripture with a priori presuppositions
  • Recognize that none of us have all the answers

I apply all those points to myself first and foremost. With that said, I think that the entire conversation about ordination is taken way too deep. I’m not saying that there are not some disputed passages and deep study that occurs in both sides of the argument. Personally speaking, I just try to look at things as simple as possible (or at least simple for me). So here is what I think about this issue.

  1. God has always had a priesthood.

A priest by definition is a person whose office it is to perform religious rites, and especially to make sacrificial offerings. In Christian use, it can be taken in one of two ways:

  1. Person ordained to the sacerdotal or pastoral office; a member of the clergy; minister.
  2. (In hierarchical churches) A member of the clergy of the order next below that of bishop, authorized to carry out the Christian ministry.

The earliest mentions in Scripture that I found for priests were in reference to two people:

Melchizediek (Genesis 14:17-19) and Jethro (Exodus 2:15-17)

Melchizedek and Jethro. Two priests from vastly different backgrounds.

Melchizedek and Jethro. Two priests from vastly different backgrounds.

The first is a mysterious king who also served Abram as a priest. The other was a farmer who became Moses’ father-in-law and also served as a priest. There are a few important characteristics to note about these first two priests:

  1. They were full time but also had side jobs.
  2. They were at opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum
  3. Both served God’s leaders before they (God’s leaders, i.e. Abram and Moses) fully realized their own calling into ministry.
  4. They were priests before the establishment of the covenant at Sinai.

So there were people who were already serving and functioning in the priestly office before Sinai. Because they were on both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum and also had side jobs, I believe this shows us that anyone can be a priest, be it a king or a peasant.

2.  God’s original plan to reach the world was to have a Nation of Priests.

Oftentimes, the Levitical priesthood (God’s first established lineage of priests in Israel) has been referenced as the pattern for how pastoral ministry began and should operate today. But, many people overlook the fact that the Levites were, in fact, not God’s plan A. His original idea was in Exodus 19:5-6:

Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.

Again, God’s Plan A was for everyone to be a priest. Man, woman, and child. Everyone was to know the Lord and minister for Him. The only problem with this plan, as with every plan God tries to make, is people. People and this whole concept of free will makes things complicated.

  1. Because of the people’s rebellion, instead of a Nation of Priests, God had to settle for priests in a nation. Plan B.

Even though the congregation promised to do as God required (Exodus 19:7-8), and even though God gave the people instruction in what was going to happen when He showed up on the mountain and how to prepare for the crazy sights they would see (later part of Exodus 19), we find that the following happened when everything went down in Exodus 20:18-21:

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.

The people insisted on a mediator (or a buffer person) between themselves and God. They couldn’t handle the presence of God so they asked to be able to have someone else do the work of ministry so that they wouldn’t have to deal with the Deity. The same problem manifested itself later in Exodus 34, when the people wanted to make an idol because they thought a god they could see was better than a God they could not see. When Moses came down and called the people to arms, only the sons of the tribe of Levi came to aid in cleansing the camp (Exodus 32:25-29)

So again, instead of a Nation of Priests, God had to settle for priests in a nation (and not even all the Levites, it was primarily relegated to one family: Aaron’s lineage). The very model that people allude to as a basis for the non-ordination of women is a faulty model based on the human rejection of God’s plan; it was the byproduct of a rebellion, not a mandate from God. So the Old Testament priesthood is not the ideal model for ministry in today’s world (especially because we believe in this little thing called the priesthood of all believers).

Now, which plan do you think the Apostle Peter was referring to in 1 Peter 2:9, God’s plan A or God’s plan B?

 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;

The pontifical titles and perks that come after ordination, like calling me “Elder Fernandez” instead of “Pastor Nelson” like I’m currently called, salary increase when you get ordained, and the perception that I am somehow closer to God because of ordination is found nowhere in Scripture. They are man-made perks to make people feel better about having a select group of people doing “the work of ministry,” instead of everyone having direct engagement in ministry and letting the Holy Spirit decide who gets what gift. Spiritual gifts include the gift of pastoring… and no, neither the gifts nor the fruits of the Spirit are gender-specific.

Furthermore, I also don’t buy the idea that because Jesus didn’t explicitly have female disciples that it means only men can be prominent leaders in His church. If we follow that logic and stick with only men, we should also not include slaves, freed slaves, Gentiles, or people of color… so basically 95% (and that is a conservative estimate) of all Adventist males who do not have predominant male Jewish heritage should be kicked out of leadership position.

Perceptions of women throughout history

Now on to what we as a church are facing today. With the recent action at the Annual Council allowing the world church to decide whether sections of the church can be allowed to ordain women in their field has made some people start campaigning hard against this idea. This campaigning has led to some spectacular facepalm comments like this:

Oh the deception! Can you imagine what will happen next?

Oh the deception! Can you imagine what will happen next?

“Our Church is waisting God’s money with women ordination. Comman sence alone will tell you that God did not ordain women. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or a professor of theology to know that God have a standard. Think . What will happen when someone have to be baptize and the woman pastor is seeking her period. Think . Next they will have to accept gay as ministers…” [sic]

Yes… you read that correctly. This quote speaks for itself. Now WHERE do people come up with these things? I’m not sure, but I CAN tell you that it’s not from Scripture. What I can say is that there is a precedent for this type of put-down of women throughout the centuries by church leaders.

The above comment is actually closer to Catholicism than Adventism. Check out the following quote:

Synod of Paris  (829 AD)
“In some provinces it happens that women press around the altar, touch the holy vessels, hand the clerics the priestly vestments, indeed even dispense the body and blood of the Lord to the people.  This is shameful and must not take place. . . No doubt such customs have arisen because of the carelessness and negligence of the bishops.”

That’s not the best of it.  Here is a sprinkling of some of the best of the worst comments about women from Church leaders throughout history:

Tertullian (3rd century)
“And do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too.  You are the devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that forbidden tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack.  You destroyed so easily God’s image, man.  On account of your desert – that is, death – even the Son of God had to die.  And do you think about adorning yourself over and above your tunics of skins.”

Aphrahat (4th century)
“From the beginning it was through woman that the adversary had access unto males. . . . for she is the weapon of Satan. . . For because of her the curse of the
Law was established.”

Basil of Cesarea (4th century)
“However hard, however fierce a husband may be, the wife ought to bear with him. . . . He strikes you, but he is your husband. . . . He is brutal and cross, but he is henceforth one of your members, and the most precious of all.”

Augustine (4th century)
Male – the mind
Female – the sexual nature

Papal decretum (1140 AD)
“The image of God is in man in such a way that there is only one Lord, the origin of all others, having the power of God as God’s vicar, for everything is in God’s image; and thus woman is not made in God’s image.”

Compare all of these statements with a great quote from Patriarchs and Prophets (a book written by a prominent founder of Seventh-day Adventism… also a woman):

Eve was created from a rib taken from the side of Adam, signifying that she was not to control him as the head, nor to be trampled under his feet as an inferior, but to stand by his side as an equal, to be loved and protected by him (46).

Clearly, I believe that all people, men and women, may receive ordination as an affirmation of the call of God.

There are intelligent people on both sides of the debate and I don’t doubt their sincerity. Speaking from my own personal experience, what troubles me is that currently, I’ve seen fear mongering, conspiracy theories, and incredible leaps in logic as reasons against the ordination of women to pastoral ministry. Again, when you realize that everyone is called to be a priest (instead of only a select few who have the gift of pastoring), then the importance we give ordination today is really a moot point.

As a side note, even culturally, many of the divisions around the world that are probably against the idea of women clergy may view and/or treat women less favorably. I’m Hispanic, so I’ll pick on myself for this one example. A recent Gallup poll found that Latin Americans (where a large chunk of the world church resides) were “least likely in the world in 2012 and 2013 to say women in their countries are treated with respect and dignity.” I wonder how many votes will be cast based on what some prominent preachers say, backed up by the cultural “machista” perception?

If another part of the world isn’t ready for women as pastors yet, I can understand. But I also don’t believe it’s right for another culture to impose their expectations or norms on us any more than we would expect other parts of the world to start wearing wedding bands just because we do in North America.

Contextualized ministry for the sake of the Gospel is what it’s all about.

Now, I don’t know what the future holds between now and the official vote next year. What I do believe is that God is still in control of His church. Every day, I am convicted even more that we need to go back to God’s “plan A” where we will be a NATION of priests and not leave the decision of who should or shouldn’t be in pastoral ministry to gender, but rather, the Holy Spirit. The decision of who to call into ministry is after all, as my friend Kessia says, not our right, but His.

[Update] I wrote a follow up article to this one providing the theological basis for my thoughts here. It answers many of the questions that came out of this article. That can be found by clicking here or entering this address in your browser:

[Update #2] What do Millennials think about this issue of Women’s Ordination? There was a recent study done on the subject. You can read more about it by clicking here or by entering this address in your browser:

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  • Gary

    Why did you not talk about the obvious rebellion displayed by Southern California in moving forward before a decision was made in appointing a president to the conference? You did use some good examples on the side of those against women ordination but I didn’t hear the other side. You also used some very fanatical examples of the other side rather than quoting from those with a more balanced mind.

    You talked about Eve being equal to Adam but you forgot to mention that was before the fall after the fall we find that God himself places man in a headship role of his home. This was not to demean the woman but to point male spiritual leadership.

    I really liked your article and I like the arguments you used to show that God’s plan was for priesthood of all believers. But I did notice you used very little evidence from the New Testament where Paul specifically speak to the issue of male leadership in the church and home.

    Thanks again for your article!

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Gary. I’m glad that the article has raised some good questions from you. I’ll refer you to the follow up post where I specifically address some of your concerns:

      As for the issue of Southern California and the like, my intention was not to write an analysis on the controversy so far and how both sides have responded. I’ve tried to offer my two cents and simplify what has been an over-complicated matter.

      Like I said at the beginning of the article, there has been a lot of mud slinging on both sides. Rather than arguing something from policy, I chose to take a basis I think we can all agree on: a biblical understanding the Priesthood of All Believers. Blessings to you!

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  • bri

    This is not a salvation issue. It is an issue that the church should have dealt with years ago. women are already being ordained in many areas and I hardly think this is the issue that will cause the church. A much more troubling issue is the LGBT and the Evolution that is being taught in our colleges and universities. The church is going to split; the signs are there but Womens ordination is hardly the only thing that will “Break the Camels Back”.

    • I chose to remain optimistic and hopeful of Christ’s leading in our church and through its leaders.

  • Scott McPherson

    I can’t really say I agree with your premise. “The greatest want of the world is men who will stand as true to duty as the needle to the pole.”. Not men who will bow and cower to pressures or fear of the legal system. I am not your judge. All these issues will find U standing on one side or the other. I agree with what Pastor R. Mendoza said.
    You are a leader in the church and need to stand by the word of God a representative of the Gospel. God needs men who will stand for right though the heavens fall. Comic book anecdotes??? Movies that take God name in vain…or use His name recklessly. Look where you’re standing at the end of time a man cannot serve two masters.

  • You mentioned the Holy Spirit and that the gifts of the Spirit are given without gender discrimination; Why then is it my brother, that two of the gifts; apostle and pastor, that the Holy sinless Spirit never gave to any woman those gifts while giving those gifts to multitudes of mem? Your theory about the priesthood of all Belivers is skewed. We have not one woman apostle or pastor or elder in the New Testament Church, and this when the Holy Spirit was poured out on both men and women, and as HE was the one responsible for setting in the church each member according as He willed, with no human intervention, and yet He did not choose one woman to speak in tongues on the day of Pentecost, nor one woman to be the elder or pastor over any church congregation, nor was any woman chosen to replace one of the 12 Apostles, and in the New Jerusalem we have not one female apostle name on the twelve foundations of that sinless city.

    If it was not the Holy Spirit’s will to set one woman in the church body according to His will with the gift of a pastor or apostle see Ephesians 4:8-15, at the very time when the Holy Spirit was poured out on both men and women on the day of Pentecost, then how, pray tell, can it be His will today if it was NOT His will back then?

    If it were, then would not we have found one female elder or one female pastor or one female apostle? YET we have NONE during the entire history of the New Testament church and no in the sacred Scripture up to the close of the canon of the Bible record at the first century.

    • Fernando Villegas

      The argument from silence is a logical fallacy. And it ignores the fact that neither is there one male elder nor one male pastor mentioned in the NT. Not one. Can you name any?

      The truth is, we have no example of either male or female pastors or elders. The roles are simply mentioned. But nothing is said about who specifically exercised these roles.

  • Cyndie

    to the comment about not using the comic book reference in comparing it to God’s word, I have to ask, have you read the gospels dear brother, you know the ones where Jesus uses parables of every day life to illustrate spiritual concepts?! Using culturally relevant idea from daily life is not demeaning to God or the Scriptures, especially if it helps the person being spoken to to gain a deeper understanding of those spiritual issues, Jesus did it, Paul did it, and so did HMS Richards.

  • sandie

    People will see and believe what they want to. But quite frankly I cannot see a man giving his pastor wife the support and help that a woman gives to her pastor husband.
    Right or wrong, I do not see women’s ordination as practical. If you really want to serve the Lord and spread the love of Jesus, just go out and do it.

  • Stuart

    Old Covenant priesthood no longer exist under the New Covenant! All believers are priests under the New Covenant ; there purpose is to do the work of God on the world.
    Ordination is to do with setting apart an individual with a particular Spiritual gift for a dedicated purpose., be it leadership or any other.
    Pastors are not modern day priests, arguments relating to Levitical choice of men are irrelevant.

  • Thanks for these good points. In the curses of sin in Genesis 3 isn’t one result of sin that the husband will rule over the wife? SDA’s have traditionally given a message of restoring Eden on earth–the original diet, etc. I do not think GC should be voting this up or down since the Union and Conference has the power to decide who they ordain/credential.

  • Mark

    You bring up a great point about Plan A and Plan B concerning the Levites being Priest. However, your assumption is NOT correct. The BIBLE specifically spells out plan “A” being all MALE firstborn children and plan “B” being the Levites. The BIBLE says, Plan A was to have ALL firstborn MALES being the Priest. Numbers 3:12 “I have taken the LEVITES from among the Israelites IN PLACE of the first MALE offspring of every Israelite woman. The Levites are mine” (also see Num 3:41 and Num 3:45) Here is plan A spelled out in the BIBLE. Ex 13: “11 “… when the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as He swore to you and your fathers, and gives it to you, 12 that you shall SET APART (ordained priest are set apart) to the LORD all that open the womb, that is, every firstborn (MALE)… the MALES shall be the LORD’s. 13 … And all the firstborn of man among your SONS you shall redeem. 14 So it shall be, when your SON asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’… 15 … Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all MALES that open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ 16 It shall be as a SIGN…””

    So again, great point, but the PLAN A pointed out from the BIBLE was all firstborn MALES, not all men/women/children as you state.

  • Well put.

  • Sheldon Smith

    I appreciate and concur with your thoughts and insights on the Issue Nelson. I pray for God’s continued blessings on your ministry!!


  • Larry E. Allen Sr!

    The first half of this article I thought was well written and well thought out over all. However a comic book has no spiritual value and to compare a situation among God’s chosen people with comic book characters is demeaning to God’s people and to Him.
    The last half of the article I have no use for. Stick to the Bible please.

  • Mel Palmer

    This is the best reasoned argument I have read.

  • Rhonda

    Luke 10: 38-42 says, “…A certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.” We often picture Mary sitting near Jesus’ feet, listening intently as He speaks, but the implication of these words may be more that she was a student, a learner, a disciple, as Paul “sat at the feet of Gamaliel” in Acts 22:3: “I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.”

    • chellie

      Thank you Rhonda for your comment. I have read that verse many, many times, but I had never seen it that way before. But now, because of your comment, I’m thinking to myself, well DUH! Why didn’t I ever see that verse this way? Again, thank you

  • Brian G

    Wonderfully done. I just wanted to share with you something that may add to your awesome study. In Genesis 3:21 the play on words in the hebrew for the Garments or tunics of skin and clothed points to priesthood as well, as these terms are only used again whenever scripture is referring to the priestly garments. Shortly stated, the conclusion of this word study suggests that God made Adam and Eve BOTH PRIESTS; they were the FIRST priests on Earth, invested by GOD HIMSELF… Check it out…

  • Well said. However your beginning point is not really the Beginning. But you finally got to the Beginning with the Creation of Eve quote.

    I’m pleased you’re doing a Spanish version. I can communicate with only the English speaking world, and that is not enough for this issue.

  • Rosie

    Do you have a copy of this in Spanish? We have a FB group “Yo apoyo la ordenacion de la mujer” in which a group of us are trying to help raise awareness to Latin America. No ridiculous fighting/arguing is allowed there and it’s only for supporters or those that want to learn more.

    I would love to share your post there. You’re also welcome to join!

    I also read that ridiculous comment that man said about his “worry” about women baptizing with their period… Someone give him a few tampons and teach him how to use them! He needs some immediate absorbing materials for his thoughts!!! Crazy! Where do they come up with that crap? If it weren’t real it would be very funny, hilarious I’d say …

  • Julio Morales

    Well put my friend!

    I, nevertheless, do not like this discussion as is getting to the point of hard argument,; heated debate, healthy to talk, but sometimes hurtful.

    I support 100% woman ordination, and I respect the coming vote. Peace