Back to basics
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Back to basics

Published on: 11 October, 2012

In moving independently from the world Church on women’s ordination, the Northern German, Columbia and Pacific Union Conferences risk pushing Adventists to “take sides” rather than considering the issue fully. Namely, before we decide who’s in or out, what is ordination anyway?

Trans-European Division (TED) president Bertil Wiklander made some interesting public comments about ordination recently, even as he explained why the TED would work within the General Conference framework for studying the issue. Citing the work of Pastor John Lorencin, Dr Wiklander said:

“… there is no word for ‘ordination’ in the Bible. It is used in the King James Version from 1611, but it is there based on old Roman Catholic translations from the 14th and 15th centuries. In fact, Pastor Lorencin warns against letting the pastoral ordination be influenced by the Roman Catholic, unbiblical practice, which is rooted in the pagan Roman system of being promoted (Latin ordinatio) to a higher ‘order’
. . . Any sense of the rite of ordination conveying a special status or character that is not already there through the gift of the Holy Spirit is unbiblical. Ordination is therefore a work of the Spirit and only recognised and confirmed by the church.” 

Is it possible that we, as Adventists, have inherited unbiblical views from our Protestant and Catholic forbears? Consider these three points from the New Testament.


Expiry date

In the book of Acts, deacons, elders and missionaries had hands laid on them. But did this “ordination” involve a life-long change in status or was it time limited? In Acts 13 Paul and Barnabas are set apart by the Antioch church for the task of evangelising Asia Minor. They return from their mission trip in 14:26 back to Antioch “where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed”. The language of “committed” and “completed” suggests that the laying on of hands was for a specific task or role, rather than a lifetime vocation.


Names and power

In promoting the ideal of servant leadership, Jesus warned against religious titles (Matthew 23:8). Consistent with this, Jesus never baptised, but left the privilege to His disciples (John 4:2). 

Nevertheless, the church lapsed into hierarchy over the centuries. Only priests could conduct the rites of the church and grandiose titles such as “His Holiness” were introduced. Adventists followed the Reformation’s lead in rejecting these extremes, but is our continued use of “Pastor” or
“Elder” as a title, rather than a descriptor, consistent with the spirit of Jesus’ instructions? 


One body

Somehow we’ve fallen into the notion that Christians are split into two groups: clergy and laity. Nothing could be further from the radical New Testament teaching that replaced the old priests/people dichotomy. Instead the church is pictured as a body; each member complementing the other with Christ as the only head. 

The word “clergy” comes from the Greek kleros, meaning “chosen”. The apostle Peter uses the word to refer to church congregations in 1 Peter 5:3, consistent with his earlier statement: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God”
(1 Peter 2:9). 

None of this detracts from the clear New Testament teaching on spiritual leadership. The pre-eminent leaders in the early church were “first apostles, second prophets
. . .” (1 Corinthians 12:28). But it was not from ordination that this authority was derived; there is no record of anyone being ordained as an apostle or prophet. Strangely, it was the early believers’ enemies who were on the right track:
“. . . they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). That’s what makes the difference: the presence and calling of Jesus. 

The Reformation task of disentangling primitive Christianity from millennia of tradition is yet to be completed. As a Church currently undergoing a worldwide biblical study of ordination, we are at a crucial historical moment; a tipping point that could end with us merely slipping into the comfortable lap of convention. Or we could choose to go wherever Scripture takes us, even if that’s into less convenient territory.      

Kent Kingston is assistant editor for RECORD.

11 comments

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I believe there is a bigger issue here than ordination and that is the whole divide between clergy and laity is unbiblical - see quote below from the book "Pagan Christianity" by George Barna and Frank Viola.
The contemporary pastor is the most unquestioned fixture in twenty-first-century Christianity. Yet not a strand of Scripture supports the existence of this office. Rather, the present-day pastor was born out of the single-bishop rule first spawned by Ignatius and Cyprian. The bishop evolved into the local presbyter. In the Middle Ages, the presbyter grew into the Catholic priest. During the Reformation, he was transformed into the “preacher”, “the minister”, and finally “the pastor” – the person upon whom all of Protestantism hangs. To boil it down to one sentence: The Protestant pastor is nothing more than a slightly reformed Catholic priest. (Again, we are speaking of the office and not the individual).

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I'm glad to let the world church decide in session - I really dont see a biblical basis for either argument and I really dont care. If "she" can get up there and preach my sox off, then that will make me more happy than listening to the general painful and tiresome messages coming from our pulpits today

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Hi Orlando - it's not so much a matter of being anti-organisation, or even anti-hierarchy. It's more a question of what a genuine New Testament leadership structure would look like. Have you read Russell Burrill's "Revolution in the Church" or Frost&Hirsch's "The Shaping of Things to Come" - both of these suggest a shake up in ecclesiology that is needed for these last days.

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Seventh day Adventist Church Manual 16 Addition chapter 4 page 21, under the heading of 'Biblical Basis for Organisation" (relating to an extract from 'Patriarchs and Prophets, P374)
"When God called the Children of Israel out of Egypt and chose them as His peculiar people, He provided for them an impressive system of organisation to govern their conduct in both civil and religious matters".

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I really like the subject line, "Back to Basics." In this case, it implies going back to apostolic practices. And that means abandoning the hierarchical model of church structure altogether.

We would make a step in the right direction by eliminating pastoral "ordination" and just sticking with "commissioning." That would solve a lot of problems by eliminating a divisive issue.

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I sincerely believe that God raised the Adventist Movement and not the Adventist Church with its highly structured and male dominated hierarchy. Whether that Organization chooses to ordain women or not is one thing...but to think that it's decision reflects the supreme and sovereign will of an Almighty God borders delusion...

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Whatever we make of a theology of ordination, there is an underlying ecclesiology (Theololy of Church). Perhaps we should start with what Jesus intended his church to look like: "...all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Church should model how the world would behave towards each other if everyone accepted Jesus. Sadly, the church often merely reflects the cultural and societal prejudices and divisions of the world.

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The conferences that have voted in womens ordination have rocked the boat. So did Jesus. This issue has been bubbling away for so long and the world church has been so slow to respond its no surprise that others have moved forward. Hopefully the world church will learn from this, not by changing rules to enforce more restrictions on conferences but rather by dealing with issues more proactively.

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Yes, realigning ourselves with the biblical definition of ordination is important - and should be a priority.

But should we let injustice continue until that time that the 'broken' system is fixed?

In my mind, that would have been like telling African Americans that they couldn't ride the bus because 'we actually need a better public transport system. Just wait until we get that up and running - then you can sit where-ever you want.'

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how wants the church to be divided for so called realistic reasons but are only pushing a world agenda is my question

 

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