Can We Talk?
By Angel Manuel Rodríguez
QUESTION: Does the Bible support the ordination of women to pastoral ministry, or not?
I will not answer your question directly, but I will comment on the reasons why the church is divided on this issue. Let me make two preliminary comments. First, the church has not taken an official position on the biblical support (or lack of it) for the ordination of women to the ministry. It has simply voted against leaving the decision up to each world division of the church. The final decision is to be owned by the world church. Second, this issue is not to be raised to the level of a fundamental belief. As far as I know, ordination to the ministry was not a test of Christian fellowship in the apostolic church. With that in mind, let’s deal with the reasons for the present impasse.
1. Liberal Theologians: A strong impetus for the ordination of women to pastoral ministry came from more- liberal Adventist theologians. In their discussions the biblical text played some role, but they argued from a sociological and moral point of view. They were influenced by the feminist movement, with its emphasis on gender equality and the liberation of women from a male-controlled society. In their eyes equality raised the issue of the ordination of women to the level of a moral mandate. Such a strong rhetoric, coming from a group that had questioned some of the distinctive doctrines of the church, brought an almost immediate reaction against the ordination of women.
2. Mainstream Theologians: These theologians are fully committed to the message and mission of the church. Surprisingly, they were divided on the topic, and still are. Here the main discussion is about biblical interpretation. Theologians who do not find scriptural support for the ordination of women have been quite vocal. They demand a “thus says the Lord” in order to ordain women, and no one has found it.
Theologians who believe that there is enough information in the Bible to support the ordination of women have also been vocal. They demand from their opponents a “thus says the Lord” forbidding the ordination of women to the ministry, and no one has found it. Both groups develop their cases through inferences drawn from particular passages. The debate revolves around arguments; about who can come up with the best arguments. Often in such debates theological pride inevitably creeps in; no one wants to give up. Some champion themselves as defenders of the Scriptures against other theologians who, they believe, are not as loyal to the Scriptures. And the debate goes on.
3. Extreme-Right Adventists: This group is heavily influenced by conservative theologians who oppose the ordination of women to pastoral ministry and consider such ordination to be an agenda of liberal theologians. They ignore the conservative theologians who support it. They are influential among church members who sustain their independent ministries, which are sometimes characterized by a strong negative attitude toward the leadership of the church. They tend to view the ordination of women as a potential act of apostasy.
4. Cultural Ideas: In many countries around the world the role of women in society is quite limited and the idea of equality does not seem to predominate. In such cultural settings it is not difficult for church members and leaders to question and oppose the ordination of women to pastoral ministry. Such individuals would naturally align themselves with theologians claiming to find no biblical support for the practice.
So what’s next? We should work and pray for healing. The debate among theologians indicates that in this particular case the Bible is not as clear as some may think. Both groups should keep this in mind. Theologians in particular have contributed to the problem by being dogmatic in their views and unwilling to listen to each other.
Perhaps the time has come for all of us to sit together, look at the issue in a spirit of service to the church as the body of Christ, and pray for healing in an effort to see where the Spirit is leading. This will require humility and willingness to work together in building up the church.
Angel Manuel Rodríguez is director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference.