Paul’s Authority and Ours
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“Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father…” Galatians 1:1, NIV

If you have ever been to the drag races, you know that it is a noisy place. Powerful engines using explosive fuel mixtures can make it seem like you are in a war zone. Drivers use several techniques to get an edge in the competition where victory can hinge on differences of mere hundredths of a second.

Racers will burn rubber on their slick surfaced tires before taking off on their run in order to get maximum traction between tire and track. They carefully build up torque by racing their engines with a brake on the transmission. They don’t want any of that torque lost by the tires losing traction. It’s a delicate balance, and if they allow too much torque to build up before releasing the transmission brake things can explode and the racing is over, to say nothing of the expense to replace the damaged parts.

Just as a powerful force builds up in the power train of the race car, Christians have a powerful force that builds up in them. That force is the power of the Holy Spirit. It does not come from man or the church but directly from God. Peter spoke about it on the day of Pentecost. He said to those who were seeking salvation, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38, NIV

Notice the formula. First, repent; then be baptized. That is all that is required. Then the gift of the Holy Spirit is given. He did not say you might receive the Holy Spirit. He said you will. Why is this formula important? This is not the only place it occurs in Scripture. It is a special ceremony that is done for a certain purpose. If we look at some of the other occurrences, we can understand its significance.

The first example I would like to draw attention to is when Moses set aside Aaron as High Priest for the Israelites in the wilderness. The ceremony had two distinct elements. First there was a cleansing with water. “Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water.” Leviticus 8:6, NIV  This was then followed with an anointing with oil. “He poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him.” Verse 12  The symbolism here is repeated later for another High Priest. That High Priest is Jesus.

In Matthew 3:13-17, we read, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, `I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ Jesus replied, `Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, `This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’” NIV

The washing of Aaron as High Priest prefigured the baptism of Jesus as High Priest (See Hebrews, chapter 7). And anointing Aaron with oil prefigured the anointing with the Holy Spirit.  1 Samuel 16:13 reveals the close relationship between the symbol and the reality. “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David.” NIV

Why are these symbols important? It is because they signify a particular service. That service is ordination to priesthood. When we couple that symbolism with the message of Acts 2:38, we can see that God’s intent is to extend the priesthood to all believers. The same Peter who presented this radical concept on Pentecost also confirmed it later in his epistles. He wrote, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9-10, NIV

Because the church cannot bestow the Holy Spirit and it is an essential element for ordination, we can see that ordination comes not from the church but from God. This is why Paul, who understood this principle, could say that he was “…sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father…” Galatians 1:1, NIV  Because we do not understand this as Paul did, our concept of ordination can become radically flawed.

When we mention ordination today, it should not be tied to being paid a salary by a church denomination or being recognized as properly authorized to perform marriages by the state. Neither of these figured into the ministry of Jesus, nor in the ministry of the apostolic Christian church. Paul by example chose to work as a tent maker to support himself rather than to live on the offerings of his brethren. (See Acts 18:3) His example was one based on the model of a universal priesthood. Perhaps recognizing the ordination of this universal priesthood could remove brakes on the effective proclamation of the gospel in western culture.

The power of the Holy Spirit is like the power of that race car engine. If you put the brakes on it too long, it will explode and take the brake and much of the structure around it along with it. It exploded in the ministry of Jesus Christ. It exploded with the Apostles on Pentecost. It exploded again out of Antioch. When the post-modern Christian realizes that the state and the church are irrelevant to ordination, the power of the Holy Spirit can explode today as well.

Jesus did not ask permission from the church to begin His ministry. Paul did not ask permission from the church to begin his. It is a mystery why people stifle the Holy Spirit today waiting for permission to do what the Spirit has already ordained them to do. To be a church member that does not recognize the ordination to ministry that status includes is to be like fruit trees that bloom profusely in the spring then bear scant fruit at harvest time.

We often do not have a good understanding of how to enable ministry. We see an example of this today in the exclusion of the majority of the church from recognized ordination. Women who are in the majority in church membership are also baptized and equal recipients of the Holy Spirit but are relegated to a lesser role for no other reason than their gender. This is like a general ordering over half of his troops to be shot before a major battle then wondering why the battle is not won.

While some might justify this by pointing to the priesthood of the Old Testament as an example of a gender exclusive clergy, those who believe such things need to come up to date. The Aaronic priesthood is dead. It died at the cross. It was only a symbol of the reality which is Christ. And Jesus is not a priest after Aaron but after Melchizedek which the book of Hebrews says is better (Hebrews 7:22).

Why then would anyone choose to perpetuate that which is lesser rather than the greater priesthood of all believers introduced with the reality of the ordination of Jesus and proclaimed by Peter? That reality became the figure of ordination for all. Why would we want to place a brake on the power of the Holy Spirit by refusing to recognize that ordination? Perhaps this is why Paul felt it important to state that he was not sent “by a man.”  His ministry exploded across the Gentile world of his time with the recognition of a universal ordination that allowed the Holy Spirit unrestricted access to willing and eager hearts. Let’s remove the brakes so we can be about our Father’s business. I think it is high time we recognized our ordination and began functioning as a kingdom of priests for God, building pathways home for ourselves and others. Let’s replace the ashes of this world with the beauty of God’s love.

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Paul’s Authority and Ours — 24 Comments

    • Thanks for your question, Oliver. I'm sorry if the article was not clear. What I am saying is that women (and men) who have been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ are already ordained to ministry by God.

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    • It seems to me that Stephen implies that the way we look at ordination today is quite different from the biblical view,and I'm thinking that we should probably re-study the whole subject of ordination in light of the biblical record.

      Stephen didn't mention Matthew 28:19-20, but I believe we make a tragic mistake if we interpret the gospel commission to be given only to the paid ministry.

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  1. Hi , i dont understand the article very well, is there a differrence between ordaining into ministry and ordaining of church members into elders or deacons or pastorship. After the ordaining question has been clarified, my second question is, is it scriptural to ordain women as Pastors or Elders or Deaconesses, or even be allowed to preach during Divine service.
    Thank you.

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    • Hi, Lawrence. Thanks for your comment. I would phrase your question a little differently. I would ask instead, "Should there be a difference between ordaining to ministry and ordaining to position?" I think it would be enlightening to research whether the Bible presents two different ordinations or only one. Along with that we could further research whether it is the church that ordains or God.

      If the ordination is from God, then the church would appear to only recognize what God has already ordained. Supposing then that ordination is universal, would it make sense for the church to withhold recognition of that ordination?

      Perhaps, as a church, we need to look at our doctrine regarding ordination.

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  2. Jesus ordained only man. We are made equal in a sense
    of being human being, but we are not the same. Man has a role and women have their role too. There's several specific
    things that we should not mix the role man and woman have to play.

    In the Gospel ministry we all have our work to do, but in various ways. Woman is made to be "help meet" for man.
    But when there's no man to take the responsibility of what man likely to do, woman will be right to take the place.
    Man and woman are made equal, but they are not same.
    They have different role. The Bible is written for all time.
    It principle will remain for all times.

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    • Thank you for your input Rual. Could you please give us chapter and verse from the Bible to show us what the ordination ceremony was and then show how Jesus did that ceremony to ordain the men you were telling us about? I think we are in danger of creating confusion instead of understanding if we don't stay Bible based.

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  3. The way I see it is God calls us to do a service. We do not need to have a position to do service. Interesting that Paul stated he did not go up to Jerusalem to consult with any human being he actually did this after three years.

    However, we went to Arabia and then to Damascus.

    Very informative post Stephen.

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    • Thanks for your input, Kenneth. I find it interesting that when Paul finally did go to Jerusalem after three years, he only met with Peter. this seems to be very informal and much different than his trip that resulted in what we refer to as the First Jerusalem Council.

      Paul's ministry seems to be mostly autonomous as it concerns the Jerusalem church. It may be that there were written communications, but we have none that have survived, and Paul makes no reference to any in his epistles beyond what he received from the first council.

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  4. I think what Stephen wanted to say is that in order to be comissioned to do the work of God, that is, preaching the gospel, helping the needy and such tasks, Any real Christian should do, we all should have been comissioned to do that, we are all priests of God regardless of how the church is suposed to be organised. who is a deacon or a pastor or an elder is related to how the church is organised. truly a pastor should be a man, if of course, there is one to be. but that doesnt change the fact that anyone is who is baptized and repentant of their sins is ordained to Christs priesthood.

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    • Thanks Erick. I think we need to avoid mixing the terms "ordain" and "commission" though. It only adds to the confusion. We have somewhat arbitrarily decided that men are ordained and women are commissioned.

      In the bible at least 10 different Greek words have all been translated "ordained" in the New Testament. This doesn't help to clear up the matter.

      Regarding women in ministry, I find it interesting that there may have been women apostles and deacons according to Romans, chapter 16. The Greek word for "deacon" as in Romans 16:1 for Phoebe does not distinguish between male and female as we do today.

      In Romans 16:7, Junia is listed as being among the apostles. She may be a woman, the wife of Andronicus, as with Priscilla and Aquila in verse 3. This is by no means certain and even the early church seemed confused on her gender. This is a controversy between those who wish to see women pastors and those who don't. Sadly, both camps go to great lengths to prove she was or wasn't in order to bolster their argument. However, the bottom line is no one knows for sure.

      When faced with uncertainties like these, I prefer to apply the words of Gamaliel in the book of Acts on this issue. "...if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God...you will only find yourselves fighting against God." Acts 5:38-39, NIV

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  5. This article is a must read in all churches(whether adventist or not). We are caught up with "tithing anise and cummin'" yet the weightier issues of salvation, gospelling, sending the message of love and peace to a sick and dying world. Women "ordination", leadership etc are not what we should be struggling in light of Christs' 2nd coming.

    Brother Terry, you have made a good point in pointing that ordination being paid in the western world, is what has held the church back. having moved here from kenya, it still bemoans me that such is the idea that the church and the members hold and thus disenfranchising both women and the youth that make the majority in our church and stunting growth. I compare this to kenya where i joined the church as a youth and loved it, it is still what keeps me loving God!!!

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  6. I love this reference....

    "The power of the Holy Spirit is like the power of that race car engine. If you put the brakes on it too long, it will explode and take the brake and much of the structure around it along with it. It exploded in the ministry of Jesus Christ. It exploded with the Apostles on Pentecost. It exploded again out of Antioch. When the post-modern Christian realizes that the state and the church are irrelevant to ordination, the power of the Holy Spirit can explode today as well."

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  7. I am so happy to be forgiven and that Jesus loves me so much in spite of myself that I fail to get into a gender bender. Jesus sees me for who I am, He expects me to do good and spread the news of His second coming whether holding a position of leadership in the church or not. We all have a job to do and not much to do it. We major in minors too much while souls are going to Christless graves. We should know in whom we believe.

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  8. I am an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and have given many years of study, prayer, and consideration to the topic of ordination and must admit, brothers and sisters, I am still on the fence on this one. Hebrew and Greek do not help solve it. Arguments as posed here, as Stephen Terry points out, are often inconclusive. However, what I want to know is how we got off on this topic from the lesson for today? The fact that there were entire households (churches - church families) with him from where he was writing is incidental. His greeting to the Galatians was, as the lesson points out, different in many ways, but women asmentioned here are a minor feature and not really related to the modern question of whether or not women should be ordained in the Adventist Church.

    Paul's main point was that the Galatians were Judeaizers who were trying to inpose on Gentiles that which he saw as part of the ceremonial system and not part of the eternal moral law and therefore a false gospel. His opening point had nothing to do with ordination except his own. As to this deriving from his being a baptized believer to the extent that therefore all believers are ordained by the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, as Stephen claims, to me seems preposterous. Paul is saying his ordination came from God, not man, because of what happened to him by grace on the road to Damascus and later in Arabia. There his encounter with Jesus changed him begining well before his baptism with water or the Spirit. In fact, this initial meeting alone elevated his calling above those who were questioning his credentials. Most of them could not claim to have met with Jesus and been called by him to be apostles, and they hoped to call Paul's claims insignificant and inferior to the other apostles. Paul, admitted his unworthiness as a former persecutor of God's people, even calling himself the least of the apostles (1 Cor 15:9). Yet, he recognized that in other respects, due to the grace and empowerment through the specific special calling of God (not a general call as received by all believers, but a special one, that he also can claim to be right up there with the best of the apostles (2 Cor 11:5; 12:11).

    Now, I will diverge a bit with you on what appears to be your woman's ordination "soap box." Melchizedek is not a good pick as an example for woman's ordination. he was a king, a man, and his superiority has three telling points 1) he received tithes from Aaron through Abraham. This not only makes him superior, but a paid clergy, not a lay person. 2) He is a type of Christ and as such, male, as king as well as priest. 3) His is the name invoked in Psalm 110 to validate the ministry of Christ as priest as well as Lord and king even though Jesus is of David and as such of Judah, not Levi or the Aaronic priesthood (Heb 7).
    Then there is the claim that we should all follow Paul in tent-making ministry and never take tithe. Should we also follow Paul in celibacy? Paul did not think so (1 Cor 9:5) but he also felt worthy of taking personal financial support though he did not always do so (1 Cor 9:7-11) yet there were times when he did receive support personally aside from the money earned by tent-making (2 Corinthians 11:9) and so counseled Timothy to do so.
    Paul recognized that even among those called not all have the same gifts and that although God can be asked for certain gifts it may not be His will to bestow them on all who ask, for He knows their needs (1 Cor 12:28-29).

    As I mentioned in from the start, there are many biblical arguments for and against the ordination of women to a priestly ministry. So some go outside the Bible and say it was only a cultural thing not to have women serve as priests. However, as Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi once pointed out, it was counter cultural not to have priestess; all the heathen nations had them.

    Do women have a vital place in church ministry, yes, I think they should and do. Is the Adventist church wise in studying this out more before leaping ahead on a difficult to change back decision? Yes to that too. I belong to a 10 pastor church where two of the ministers are women. Neither are ordained ministers. At least one is an ordained local elder.

    You mentioned a multiplicity of terms when asked the difference between commissioned and ordained. In the Adventist church several orders of service exist more by necessity to call them something than by any biblical usage. We also tend to avoid certain terms because of their modern connotations. Bishop is one of those avoided, but biblically it is synonymous with elder. However we do use these terms and here they are in order of rank for those employed by the church (or typically at least pay scale) student missionary, missionary license or licensed missionary, commissioned missionary (often used in educational circles), licensed minister (who must be ordained as a local elder in order to hold that position and the main reason why those in favor of women’s ordination pushed for women as local elders despite its conference of some priestly functions), ordained minister, elected conference, union, division, or General Conference pastoral leadership.

    To the best of my knowledge only one woman has ever been officially ordained as a Seventh-day Adventist Minister. She was subsequently disfellowshipped a few years later and removed from office . All others serving in a pastoral capacity are commissioned or licensed missionaries, or licensed ministers. Each office has some limitations the next higher up the “rung” does not have. Most have gained added privileges not on the basis of a theological or biblical movement to enable them, but due mostly to United States tax laws.

    Why WE NEED TO DROP THIS now: because obviously discussion in the absence of conclusive biblical support is futile. To claim the argument of Gamaliel is not applicable in this circumstance. It is not a matter of what is preached, but who. It may or may not be wrong to ordain a woman, but we can’t be absolutely sure at this point. This does not mean continued study should be abandoned but it needs to be separated from the emotional and self-serving battle field.

    The bottom line is that the world church – The General Conference in official session – has not seen light in approving it. In the mean time those who are in favor of it must wait and show a united front recognizing that the time may or may not ever come. Here is where the Gamaliel factor might apply. If it is meant to be, it will be voted in at a GC Session. This is how our church operates. Until a change is universally agreed upon by the delegates, without trickery or deceit as once was attempted to the shame of those parties, we must agree to not stir-up an emotionally based foment on something over which we should be presenting a united front outside of the academic and hierarchical circles where the best dispassionate biblical scholarship can be applied.

    That is the official position and one which I most highly endorse and encourage upon others.

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    • Thank you, Kenneth, for your elucidation of the official position regarding women's ordination. While some surely feel that those who broach such subjects are dangerous iconoclasts, the Adventist church is run not as a theocracy but as a representative democracy. This ensures that what would have been "murmuring in the camp" under a theocracy is actually part of the normal methodology of running the organization. By definition, a democracy cannot function without dissent.

      In the United States, every four years, our society experiences a controlled revolution as issues large and small related to the candidates' campaigns become a part of public discourse, both secular and religious. When the election is over, those issues do not disappear but continue to simmer until the next "revolution."

      We follow the same cultural path within the church. This brings to the church the same divisiveness that has created the varied political factions in the secular world. We cannot change this without changing the entire structure of our denominational organization. For better or for worse, we have chosen to vote on issues and persons rather than wait for God to reveal His will by other means.

      We cannot therefore attempt to stifle all dissent in the interests of avoiding divisiveness without also disparaging the very system we have chosen for church governance. However, because of its very nature, even that system of governance's continued existence is open for debate and referendum.

      The struggle over this is not just an Adventist issue. There is a fundamentalist evangelical triumphalism sweeping through most, if not all, denominations right now. The proponents of this viewpoint would replace a secular democracy with a Biblically directed government. The implied but rarely stated objective of this movement would be to impose a particular interpretation of Biblical "truth" on society without dissent or recourse. Surely in the light of Revelation 13, we can see the danger in that. Ongoing debates over the subject of ordination under our present system of church governance seem to be a small price to pay to avoid the alternative.

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  9. Church governance (in reply to Stephen Terry's reference to the church as a "democracy"):

    I trust that a point of clarification will be helpful to some of our readers:

    Biblical church governance is a subject very much disputed in Christianity -- with opinions ranging from episcopal polity, with the Roman Catholic church being the most familiar representative, to extreme congregationalism evidenced in the popular movement to "house churches."

    Since the founders of our church originally saw church organization as a characteristic of Babylon, we may be reasonably certain that when they finally recognized the wisdom of church organization, they took care to choose a model that follows the biblical model, as they understood it. In fact, the Seventh-day Adventist model of church governance that was developed closely followed the already tested Methodist model.

    While our model may resemble a democracy because of our representative form of governance, the philosophy behind the form is radically different from that of a secular democracy.

    For Christians, Christ is recognized as the head of the church. When He returned to heaven after His resurrection, He left the Holy Spirit to take His place. Through the agency of the Holy Spirit, Christ is personally present to every believer. Ideally the church consists of members who are all governed by the Holy Spirit.

    Realistically, except in times of extreme persecution, the gospel net brings in both true and false believers. In these surroundings, the rationale behind voting is that by the vote of the majority, the mind of the Spirit is met, since believers under the control of the Spirit are assumed to be in the majority.

    The system fails when the church fails to exercise proper church discipline and superficial believers become the majority.

    One way or another, the leadership thus reflects the spiritual state of the church.

    Re Stephen's reference to dissent: It is probably safe to say that lack of controversy is not necessarily a sign of spiritual health. It may merely be a sign of Laodicean lack of life.

    And controversy is not necessarily bad. The heated argument between Paul and Barnabas resulted in more far-reaching ministry as the two great apostles went their separate ways.

    However, essential to the spiritual health of Christians who disagree, as well as to the church at large, is an attitude of mutual respect and love. After all, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace ... not accuracy of belief.

    I believe we should not fear to discuss beliefs that may not represent the majority. Truth only shines brighter upon investigation, providing it is done in an atmosphere of love, respect and mutual submission to each other and to the Spirit of God.

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  10. The article above was quite inspiring for me. The comments below the article have me a bit unnerved?
    I; in the resent past have attended Church in a few different areas around my state (Washington), In one, actually the one to bring me "back into the fold" so to speak, was open and warm & full of love. Unfortunately the church is withering away. No new members, no families with little ones and in a small community with 6 other church’s.
    The second community I lived in, had 3 churches within driving distance to my home. One was too large and I felt like a "stranger in a strange land", another apologized to me first thing walking in the door, for being "different". After that I never looked into the third church, but rather decided to get my message on-line.

    Now most recently I have found a church that is like the first; warm, caring, and loving. The very first thing that struck me though, was the FEMALE pastor. She is great! The church is vibrant and full of life. Their youth participate in leading the song service every other Sabbath. It only took me five visits to know for sure I wanted my membership transferred to this church.

    Now I feel I should say, I am in no means a "Biblical scholar" and maybe this is a good thing, as I then do not have any preconceived notions as to what gender should be "allowed" to preach. To me it’s what stirs my heart, and brings me closer to God that counts, not the color of a person’s skin, or the gender of the person. The message and the TRUTH are what matter to me.

    I am a third generation Seventh Day Adventist, I had the good fortune of receiving my education from our schools. It is my opinion that the church has been too "business aimed" IE too much structure, not enough practical sense. The church that was withering away still tried to follow the structure of the big churches, when they obviously couldn’t maintain it. The members of the church were over worked in multiple departments, and burned out rather fast. I don't believe this is what God has intended for us to be doing. Spreading the gospel and His love should not be a chore, but something that brings life and fluffiness to those receiving and giving of it freely.

    So I guess, my point I am trying to make is: who are we to decide whether a woman is any less of a "ordained minister" for God than a man? Isn't it Gods choice of who is to fill the role? If a woman has the Holy Spirit convicting her to go out and spread the gospel, I believe she will do it whether she is "sanctioned" by the church or not.

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    • Thank you for your insights, Donald. Even Jesus had to deal with those who were so very positive they knew scripture proved that He could not be the Messiah. (See John 7:41-42)

      We tend to become dogmatic about what God will and will not do, and what God will and will not allow. Sometimes this produces sad results. A pastor who was called to a large church (approximately 600 members) over the space of about two decades saw that church dwindle to just over two hundred members. This was in spite of a) being the correct gender, b) never deviating from the official church position on any matter, and c) averaging a baptism per month (that is over 200 accessions) during this time. In the end, he was promoted to a position of greater responsibility, but the church was left a shell of what it was formerly.

      My point is not that a woman would have done any better, but that our criteria for supporting ministry may be skewed. While we are extremely concerned about orthodoxy and use that to determine the state of a person's heart, God continually shows us that our rigidity is not His way.

      He called into His fellowship of service, Rahab, a Cananite prostitute from a people He commanded to be completely destroyed. He called Ruth. a Moabitess. Moabites were not to be allowed into fellowship through the tenth generation (See Deuteronomy 23:3), yet from her came King David only two generations later. He blessed Bathsheba, the adulteress, with becoming queen mother to Solomon. All of these are in the genealogy of Jesus.

      Even after Jesus, the Jews had the equivalent to a "shut door" policy that excluded the Gentiles until Peter's vision and his experience with the centurion. God demonstrated that His Spirit would be poured out upon whom He chose without regard to what the church might understand to be correct.

      Unfortunately, when we look at the gift of those who come into the church, we tend to focus solely on the wrapping paper and overlook what is within. Perhaps this is human nature. During a garbage strike iin New York City, some residents gift wrapped their garbage and set it on the streets. It quickly disappeared. Imagine the disappointment when it was discovered that what looked pretty and desirable on the outside was only someone else's garbage.

      In contrast, consider the whispering and gossip should Rahab, Ruth or Bathsheba become members of our congregation. Would we see the gold at their core? Or would we be more focused on making sure everyone else knew of their past "sins?" Would we be attracted to Bathsheba's wealth and what it could do for the church budget? Would we be repelled by Ruth's poverty and exclude her from the Sabbath Dinner invitation list? Would the tongues titter every time Rahab spoke with one of the young men in the congregation?

      While some would maintain that the church will rise or fall over the issue of gender based ordination, the tendency to judge a person based on gender is only a small part of the overall problem of how we relate to others in general. Perhaps we need to stop this kind of judging based on appearances and instead look to what the Lord is doing in their lives. This is the lesson Peter learned with the centurion. Are we willing to learn it today?

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      • As I see it, Inge Anderson, kristen, Donald, and Stephen Terry's comments are all on target. The key is Christ and God's love as revealed most abundantly in Him. This is true whether dealing with a doctrinal or practical matter of church governance, or in finding a place to worship that is both welcoming and empowering.

        It is not that false worship and doctrines are not appealing to some. Sin would not be tempting at all if it had no appeal. However, as I think Stephen's point was, though not stated in these words: having the right teaching presented in the right spirit is not always clearly indicated by initial success, but by the longer term, which is not always an immediately apparent result (or biblically termed "fruit" of their labor). The pastor whose church dwindled from 600 to 200 over the course of many years may have had other circumstances such as changing demographics or the inspiration of many former members so moved by their experience in that church that they moved out into various mission endeavors elsewhere. The point is, we do not know.

        Measured on the immediate results of Noah's 120 year preaching tenure the entire project was a failure (by the measure of most of today's Conference leader’s standards) with only his family of 8 human beings and many animals being lead to safety. However, even the animals came as a result of the leading of God, not Noah’s preaching. And, judging by the influences of the immediately following generations which Noah even lived to see, though he "saved the world" from the flood, hearts were not permanently transformed.

        Elijah and Jeremiah had similar disparaging views of the results of their own ministry. Even the 7,000 were not a direct result of Elijah's work. Isaiah and prophetically, in his words, the work of the Messiah Himself were not to make immediate impact, but to test the hearers who would both hear and see without really hearing or seeing; understanding in ways that were not true perception. Even the disciples of Jesus understood more completely only later, in retrospect. The fruit of the work that Jesus places before us as a test of success is not always in quantity but in persistent, consistent quality without compromise. It is the work of the Spirit that brings genuine conversions in mass like those on the first post resurrection celebration of Pentecost.

        As Stephen also pointed out, sometimes it is the most unlikely individuals (the Rahab and Bathsheba types) whose influences make positive results in the end.

        I was particularly impressed by the words of Inge in recognizing that representation as it is in the Adventist Church is not democratic in the strictest sense. It is indeed the Holy Spirit's work to see to it that fallen human nature is overcome and that God's voice is heard among His people through the Spirit lead work of its leadership in consultation with each other rather than as individuals. The truth is that even in its administrative form the church retains more of the original United States Democratic-Republic structure than the USA retains today (having become more of a democracy over time). Many of the delegates are elected by others in leadership and although some of the leadership is elected by the people, much of it is also appointed or elected by others in leadership roles or through the delegates at a General Conference in full session. As long as the majority of leaders function under the leading of the Spirit, this is another protection (check and balance) built into the system to hopefully assure that the majority of delegates are on the Lord's side.

        [Edited: Paragraph deleted. See Comment Guide Lines]

        My point, as was the genuine spirit of what I read in each of your responses, is that, if we treat each other with love, and do unto others as we would have them do unto us. The Lord will lead in this and all matters of our church and lives.

        No doubt, as Donald says, and as I have experienced here with the female pastors on our staff, God has always had a place for women in His work. What must be determined is whether this includes the role of priestly ordination as a type of Christ that is conferred by the anointing and laying on of hands. There is no biblical evidence this was done to women in either the Old or New Testament period; to date, no extra-biblical evidence either.

        Do we need to discuss the possibility of ordaining women in modern times? Yes, but only in the right spirit and with sound reasoning, biblical scholarship, and above all, guidance from above. I have seen too many of these discussions end up with injured feelings and passionate words to the hurt of the person and to our Church. One dear friend, who I was not able to continue to have close contact with because she went as a missionary half-way around the world, was so torn by this issue; she refuses to speak about it. She was so emotionally hurt by others she will not even talk to an old friend like me about it. She has left the SDA Church a few months ago. It was my sad duty to inform her that that her resolute resignation from membership was accepted. One day I hope the Lord will give her peace on this and that she will return. It is in God's hands now, please pray for her.

        [Edited: Paragraph deleted. See Comment Guide Lines]

        There were no licensed or commissioned etc positions (necessitated by later circumstances) in Ellen White’s day. The only official certificates were for ordained ministers, but he refused to be ordained holding the position that it was not proper for her to be ordained. [Edited: Sentences dependent on previous deleted paragraph deleted.]

        We need to discuss this topic honestly (if at all in public venues), without tricks, deceptions, distortions, or lies for this is not the working of the Holy Spirit. I say this as one not having taken a firm stand on either side of the issue for these days. I have a far more pressing burden to see the work presently done as the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy tell us it must be done in these last days.

        In these last days the emphasis is to be on the family. Specifically on the three angels messages (Rev 14) and the Elijah message (Mal 4) that unite families by pointing them back to the Law of God and His sovereignty rooted in the Creation and the Cross. This will build faith and restore the ranks of our church with such an army of youth that the work will soon be finished quickly--the gospel to all the world.

        But do not get me started on that or I will share my entire doctoral dissertation on it with you. LOL. Peace be unto you all in Christ.

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        • Ken, thanks for your input. Could I ask for a clarification? Could you please list out the priestly functions of ministry you referenced in your comment. You contrasted those to the pulpit speaking ministry and it would be helpful to identify what you are referring to. Others might find it helpful as well. Thanks.

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  11. Thank you Stephen for the article it is very interesting. It is a subject that I need to study prayerfully and carefully. As ken pointed out earlier can we responsibly use Gal 1:1 as spring board for the issue of ordination?

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    • Ah, brother Stephen, you have now asked the crucial question! It is at once what makes the issue both clear and sticky. The TRADITIONAL understanding of our church, as that of most other Christian denominations, has a curious mix of biblical and historic definitions for what constitutes “priestly ministry.” How to tease these apart into what are God’s intentions concerning the functions of a priest and those that have come from human sources is not as easy as it would first appear. This is because often what is assumed as common knowledge is omitted from being specified in the Word. Until Moses it is generally understood that the history and interactions of God and His people were passed down orally through the heads of the family line. Even after Moses wrote Leviticus, much of the service and work of the priesthood continued to be oral and through what today we would call, “on the job training.” Our traditions regarding priesthood, whether from rabbinic origin, from the early church fathers, or from the logical reasoning of the reformation, fill in gaps in the biblical record. How accurately this is done must be tested against the written Word and, in the case of Adventists, any clarifications God has provided through the Spirit of Prophecy.

      The issue is also clouded because the functions of some offices occasionally overlap those of the priest. Such offices were most notably those of the Teacher, Judge, and the Prophet. Whether this is because they functioned in the absence of a priest, as a supplement, adjunct, or confirmation of the priestly, or because they superseded the office of the priest when God saw A) corruption in the then current and acting priests, B) God saw and chose a worthy individual He wanted to serve Him in a certain way, who was either not of the Levitical line or not a male, C) because these other offices were specialists always intended to be superior to that of the more generic, general practice, priesthood, or D) the gift of specialization was added to that of the role of priest in the case of some, most notably Samuel, who served in all of the roles—the answer is unclear. It may have been any or all of these at various times.

      We must also remember, that before the establishment of the Levitical priesthood, the heads of the household or extended family clan that historically constituted a single but very extended family, served as the priests of the home (PP350). Most, but not all of the head of clan functions were transferred to the Levites. It might be assumed that these were never priestly functions or that, where both priest and patriarch continued to overlap, such as in the teaching of the law and history of Israel (Deut 6), that the element was not exclusive and that although a priestly function that the patriarchs continued in a sense as adjutant priests of their own homes (a idea supported by the Spirit of Prophecy (CT110). This duty is still upon fathers today (SW, January 19, 1904 par. 11), but mothers share in this too (par. 12), the parents working together for the heavenly refinement of the family (par. 13).

      Were it not that these shared functions are alive today we might conclude that there is no longer any earthly function of priestly ministry or service. We might say it ended and was handed over to Christ as both our Sacrifice and sole and eternal Priest by none other than that year’s high priest, “Caiaphas was filling the end of the priestly service . . . the last work of the officiating high priest was to rend his robes in pretendedly pious horror” (12MR 388.3).

      Peter 2:3-8—At Pentecost Peter quotes Exodus in declaring the people of his day a kingdom of priests. Ellen White shows that this extends to the church today (DA 599). We all, as priests are to offer up sacrifices, not in place of the ultimate and final sacrifice made by Christ at Calvary, but like Him to offer up ourselves in Him, to be living sacrifices, “performing pure, sacred service. They offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God” (FE 461.2). To overcome self and evil, this is the priesthood that all, man, woman, and child, are called to be. See Fundamentals of Christian Education pages 461-264 for more on this. But this needs to be done with the awareness that all must be done for God and His Glory and in His timing, not our own. “If each volunteer in the army of the Lord will do his best, God will do the rest. They are to call nothing their own. When striving for the victory, they are to strive lawfully. The Word is to be their teacher. Unholy ambition will not advance them, for God only can give them true wisdom and understanding; but He will not work with Satan. If envy and unholy ambition are cherished, if they wrestle for the victory to obtain human glory, the mind will be filled with confusion” (FE 463.2).

      It is my personal opinion that, at least in my experience with many (not all) women, much of the ordination conflict comes from (or bundled with) just such a spirit. If it did not, then perhaps, aside from issues of “priestly ministry,” the male role as head of household and as its priest even today, and possibly the continued symbolism of the priest as a type of Christ--such considerations aside--perhaps it might be possible for women to function in the Church, and not just in their own lives and process of their own salvation, as priests and to be ordained in a priestly role. But, I am not sure. As stated before, I am still on the fence.

      I do not have time today to spell out what I believe are legitimate priestly functions; to sort out the roles with references by comparison to the Bible, the Spirit of Prophecy, and reasonable and logical extensions of these implied in traditions and in the historical practice of the Adventist Church. I wish I had the time. Writing it out clearly in such a validating form would help me as much as you. It would also have to include which practices have come down to us as distortions of what is to be considered as “priestly” for today or false, probably “Romanized” theology, not all of which was filtered out by the reformation. These would more than likely need to be my own opinions or speculations. It is impossible to know by tradition alone what are true or false when the Bible is silent assuming its readers to know such things.

      Nonetheless, I will not leave you with such a general answer today as to be totally unsatisfying. Here are the issues as I see them concerning “priestly ministry” that need to be sorted out, particularly as they pertain to the possibility of acceptable women’s ordination. They are not THE answer you seek, only an abbreviated outline without always answers as to upon which side of true or false they fall. Some are ministries that are shared by others called of God and are not exclusive to the priestly work. The mantle of those elements, men or women if called of God in the right time and place, may certainly be expected to take up. For now you will need to do some of your own research. I will get back to you later, as time allows, with my more complete answers. In the mean time, if you come up with anything definitive in your study, please save me some time and let me know what you discover. I will be glad to evaluate and adopt or adapt your thinking as the Lord leads.

      1) Priestly ministry involves sacrifice. As seen, universally in the Christian era this is properly personal, but can it also be intercessory? Can it administer, as it were, the sacrifice of Christ to others in some way? Clearly this is the position of the Roman Catholic Church in the transubstantiation of the mass. Has this theology, while Protestantly corrected the thinking from the regular ritual re-sacrificing of Christ to a recognition of communion as a symbolic remembrance, have they still have retained a requirement of officiation only by one ordained to do so? Is such a theology legitimate or illegitimate?

      2) In the Adventist Church the passing on of the Apostolic line by the conferring of power in the laying on of hands by one which himself has been ordained in this line of succession is evident. Such was the historic dilemma of establishing the Adventist ministry at first; resolved in part by the absorption of the Christian Connection, from which James White, an ordained minister of that denomination haled. Only God directly or the ordained can ordain. This is validated in the selection of Matthias (Acts 1:21-26; 9T 263.4) and conferring of ordination to apostleship and in the ministry of the church in every city through ordained Elders (also called Bishops) (Titus 1:5-7). And by God, without man, in the commission of Paul (Gal1:1 in our very SSch lesson from which this question arose). But ordination without due consideration and evidence in the life of the person, both public and private, is unwise and the cause of much trouble in the early and modern church (5T 617-619). [Note that these passages also set male qualifications as to the role of the leader in his own family and expect an elder to be old enough to have a family. But that is entirely another matter.]
      If this is so, if there is normally a line of succession and recognition of God’s special calling of a person by the Church—in which the calling and selection by God, being preeminent, is conveyed, established, and conferred through others previously ordained, then this means that what we are discussing when we speak of “ordained ministers” (elders, bishops. pastors) is something beyond the expectations incumbent upon all believers and by which it is said they can offer themselves as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1).

      It is not what the reformation called “the priesthood of all believers”; which neither the Scripture nor the Spirit of Prophecy ever confirm in the sense most reformers meant it. Instead the Bible is clear that not all are called to special ministries and offices in the church (1 Corinthians 12:27-29). These offices are not to all who believe. They are not conferred by baptism or by belief, but by a special act of God through His Spirit. The distinction between the ability of Christians to come before God without the mediation of a human priest is not unique to the New Testament. Exodus 19:5-6 declared Israel to be a “kingdom of priests” but set aside the Levites as a special priesthood for that day. This did not mean that only the priests could pray and bring their petitions before God in the time of Moses anymore that it does in the New Testament when Peter quotes it in his Pentecost sermon.

      3) Does this mean that even in the New Testament period that certain things should or even properly speaking even can validly do some aspects of ministry? It certainly seems to be implied, but what are these?

      Here is where it gets “sticky” and where we must find reliable support; here is my UNSUBSTANTIATED list of “Priestly Ministries” that may or may not be beyond the purview of believing people or the Greek “laos” (from which we get the term laity).

      a) As mentioned above in #1, who can officiate at a communion service? Presently, only an ordained minister can do so anywhere. A licensed minister may do so in their own district. A local elder in their own local church of membership may do so only under the following conditions: There is currently no minister assigned to their local church, or under the immediate direction and/or under the official auspices of the local pastor.

      b) As in #2, who can officiate in and what is the process of ordination? In the Adventist Church the ordained minister ordains all those short of their own office and, since about 1980 (I did not check the exact date) licensed ministers may do so with the approval of the Conference, but only in and pertaining to their own district. These ordinations to local office are valid for life and transferrable as local membership is transferred, but those holding them may only serve in this capacity while holding an elected office and may only do so in the local church in which their membership resides, unless in some instances, the Conference grants them special permission to serve in the district under the direction of the district pastor, and usually at that pastor’s request. To confer more authority than that would be tantamount to full ordination as an ordained minister, for not even a licensed minister can officially function outside of their own district but must be elected as a local elder of one of the churches in his district and given Conference permission to act as an elder to all churches in their district.

      Conference officials under the direction of the Conference President and Conference Committee confer upon one of experience, tested in the field through service as a licensed minister, the ceremonial recognition and official anointing of ordination to the ministry of the gospel. Prior to the late 1970’s this was for life. After the late 1970’s although remaining for life in some aspects, some limitations were placed on the office to allow the General Conference to remove these credentials for individuals who later proved unworthy of that calling without their having to also be disfellowship at the local church level.

      Exceptions to the general process of several years or more of work as a licensed minister prior to ordination as a minister have been extended to those graduating from seminary who have then gone directly into military chaplaincy wherein only ordained ministers are accepted. Other rare exceptions have also been made.

      c) Who can conduct a baptism? This is a crucial question because, when possible to do, it not only is a required step in entrance to the kingdom of Heaven, but to the God’s Church on earth. As such the cumulative effect of instruction and evidence of conversion that precedes baptism will impact the spirituality of the church (a key fact of church life mentioned by Inge Anderson). Currently, in the Adventist Church only an ordained minister can officiate at anytime and anywhere. Since about 1980 (I did not check the exact date) licensed ministers may also baptize, but only in and pertaining to those seeking membership in a church in their district (This change was not theological but so the Conference would not have to pay the ministers as regular workers costing the Conferences more, and so that the ministers would not lose parsonage tax advantages.) Under the authority of the local pastor (this may have to be an ordained minister, but could also apply to licensed ones now, I do not know) a local lay elder, currently serving in the local church where the candidate’s membership will reside, may conduct the physical baptism (nice if the elder has don much of the study with the candidate and has formed a personal relationship bond with them—but I suspect that it was equally motivated in anticipation of pushing through the ordination of women as elders, despite the fact that we would have to disfellowship them if a woman took a wife as required in the biblical stipulations for eldership; knowing this step would be necessary if women would ever be allowed to be licensed ministers—a step towards conditioning members to see a woman in the role of pastor and towards ordination—Not that this is necessarily “wrong,” but it shows how premeditated, calculating, sneaky and subtle those planning the transition, for good or ill, have been), however, the vetting of the candidate must be certified by the pastor, the pastor must be present, and it is the pastor who officially signs the certificate of baptism (recognized as an official document in many states) (although an unofficial signature of the local elder may also be appended if so desired). For purposes of reporting, the Conference notes the baptism as done under the auspices of the pastor and it goes on their service record as though it was done by them.

      d) Who can officiate at a wedding? Only an ordained minister can do so anywhere. A licensed minister may do so only in their own district and only with the express case by case permission of the Conference President (or possibly the Conference Secretary or Ministerial director may also be able to grant permission—I do not remember off the top of my head. Before my ordination, my first and only wedding as a licensed minister was done in consultation with all three, but it was the President who made it official).

      e) Who may preach from the pulpit of a Seventh-day Adventist Church? Typically this is done by the pastor (ordained or licensed) or a local elder or even a local elder authorized by the Conference to serve within a local district. The preaching schedule is typically arranged by the pastor or senior pastor except when no pastor is currently assigned to a church. In which case the Conference leadership may either assign the local head elder to make those decisions or someone at the Conference may assist in procuring guest speakers and in lining up the services of local elders when available. Etiquette allows that unless there are unusual circumstances or a regularity of attendance (as in the case of retired Adventist ministers or Conference officials whose membership is at that local church), that the presence of a recognized ordained Seventh-day Adventist minister who visits a church in which a licensed minister or local elder is scheduled to preach be offered the pulpit. This is usually declined, but it is proper and respectful to ask. However, the Church Manual allows for other official guest speakers who are known to be recognized by the church. These may or may not be Adventists in all cases. Some examples are noted Adventist professors, authors, or those in church leadership in the Conference, Union, etc. On some rare special occasions these may be community leaders, medical professionals, or other authorities providing all or part of the message of the day. However, the topics and message of any guest must not be overtly political in purpose and must not be out of harmony with the principles and teachings of the Adventist Church. If the morals, religion, theology, or any other pertinent aspect of the person or message is unknown to the pastor, who ALONE has the authority to invite to the pulpit such a person, other than an ordained Seventh-day Adventist Minister (who may be invited last minute by a local elder—but if time allows even these, in known in advance, should be cleared by the local minister), it is the responsibility of the minister to carefully and prayerfully screen both the person and their message. Ultimately it is not only the minister’s responsibility but also their liability. Local elders and licensed ministers should invite outside speakers only with the permission of the Conference or the ordained minister under which they serve and then only when this can be done with sufficient advanced notice that the ordained minister or Conference can make proper and informed advance inquiry. Even for ordained ministers, any person requesting to speak from the pulpit should be checked through the Conference Ministerial Director unless the person is well known to the pastor. The pulpit is a place for that which is “sacred” (GW 124.3). The one responsible for its content and conduct ultimately is the pastor if given the opportunity to lead as they should in deciding who occupies it in their absence or presence.

      f) Teaching is one of the duties of the priest (AH 447.4) which, like giving the prophetic word of God in answer to petition through the Urim and Thummim (PP 351.2) or by other means (PP 603.4), or that of pronouncing judgment (PP 575.1; 578.2) were not exclusive to the work of the priest alone. So that while these are priestly ministries they are not limited only to those who rightly assume that role.

      g) Baby dedications are typically done by ministers, ordained or licensed, but I do not recall any rules about any limitations or restrictions off the top of my head.

      h) Funerals have no restrictions at all. The family may choose any one at all to conduct the services for their loved one.

      Well, there is more, but I am way past out of time for now. God bless us both (all) in our search for this truth as we press on to what I consider more important matters for these days.

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      • Ken, I must say you have a gift for making a short question into a lengthy answer. I feel that this has placed too much of a burden on your precious time.

        According to the Adventist News Network, the church is launching an in depth review of our doctrine of ordination that will involve every world division. This will no doubt deal with some of the issues we have been discussing.

        I do have some concerns regarding what you have shared. I am concerned regarding the allegations regarding sneaky conspiracies. This does no good service to the discussion, and I doubt that the issue you raise regarding the local elders is a valid one. Even as far back as the seventies, as a pastor, I was aware that the local elders could baptize with local conference approval. My understanding at the time was that this was long-standing practice. While it was rarely exercised it was known to occur. Perhaps this varied from conference to conference. I was in the mid-western United States, where pastors were stretched rather thin. In any event, the practice had nothing to do with any effort to sneak in women as elders. It obviously predated by decades the current controversy.

        I also have concerns regarding the position that only ordained ordain others. This strongly resembles the doctrine of Apostolic Succession as it implies an unbroken chain of ordinations back to Christ. It also ignores instances of the laity laying on hands to set aside workers for special ministry as occurred in the early church.

        We also appear to have a difference of opinion regarding the priesthood. As you can read in my article, I stated that the Aaronic priesthood died with Christ and was replaced by His Melchezidekian priesthood. Some may try to make a case that the Levitical priesthood continued in the current clergy, but the Bible seems to say otherwise.

        The Levites were given to the Aaronic priesthood as servants ministering under Aaron and his descendants. The Levitical priesthood was replaced by the universal priesthood of believers proclaimed by Peter, and they, like the Levites, serve the High Priesthood. For the Levites before Christ that was Aaron and his descendants, for the universal priesthood today, that is Christ.

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