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  • Ron Gladden




Now that Annual Council has voted to approve the document UNITY IN MISSION: PROCEDURES IN CHURCH RECONCILIATION, what happens next? Will the storm continue to intensify? What will the fallout be? We at Mission Catalyst are astonished. We have three things to say:

  1. The General Conference is out of order when it tries to control the matter of ordination. According to its own working policy, it has no jurisdiction over who is or is not ordained.

  2. The GC has wasted over a million dollars in the study of the issue of women’s ordination.

  3. The church is being distracted from its mission.

Let us unpack each of these statements.

First, the General Conference is out of order when it tries to control the matter of ordination.

Here’s why that is true:

According to GC policy, authority is dispersed to the four levels of the church. Those four levels are the local church, the conference, the union, and the GC. (The division is not a constituent entity and does not have authority on its own, which is why – for the purposes of authority – there are four levels of the church instead of five.)

GC policy B 05 states, “each level of organization exercises a realm of final authority and responsibility….” Notice the words “final authority”.

The General Conference has the final authority over the definition of denominational beliefs. (It has authority over other things, too, of course, but the beliefs are one example.)

The local church has the final authority when it comes to individual membership. In the Roman Catholic system, by contrast, the pope can excommunicate individual members. That’s not the case in the Adventist denomination. Only the local church can do that.

The Conference has the final authority when it comes to hiring pastors. They can hire whomever they want. They are also the final authority when it comes to whom they will hire as staff, including the conference president. The GC has no authority over that.

The Union has the final authority over who will be ordained. To quote from GC policy B 05 again, “decisions regarding the ordination of ministers are entrusted to the union conference….” The GC can set criteria for ordination (which they have done in GC policy L 50), but there is no gender requirement or limitation in the fifteen items listed in the policy.

Entity Final Authority

General Conference Denominational Beliefs

Unions Ordination

Conferences Hiring of pastors and administrators

Local Churches Membership

This is how the denomination is structured. If the General Conference wants to exercise authority over matters of women’s ordination, it must first change its own structure. Under current policy, it has no authority over who is ordained and should not be meddling in ordination matters.

Some people quote part of a letter that Ellen White wrote to a private individual in 1875 as justification for the General Conference to dictate its will. Here is the quote: “When the judgment of the General Conference, which is the highest authority that God has upon earth, is exercised, private judgment must not be maintained, but surrendered.” (3T492)

The people who quote this statement omit several subsequent statements from the same author. Twenty-one years later, she also said, “The voice from Battle Creek, which has been regarded as the authority in counseling how the work should be done, is no longer the voice of God.” (Letter 4, 1896, cited in Manuscript Releases 17:185 & 186)

And as the 1901 GC Session was approaching, she shook things up when she said, “The voice of the [General] conference ought to be the voice of God, but it is not.” (Manuscript 37, 1901, cited in Sermons and Talks, 159 & 160)

In response to her prompting, the General Conference eventually saw the wisdom of distributing final authority in various areas to the unions, the conferences, and the local churches. And the final authority of the unions includes deciding whom will be ordained as a gospel minister.

So it is clear that the General Conference is out of order – according to its own working policy – in interfering with the matter of women’s ordination.

Second, the General Conference has wasted over a million dollars in the study of the issue of women’s ordination. Why do we say it was wasted? The final report of the committee concluded that there is no biblical or theological support for forbidding ordination, yet the leaders at the General Conference ignored the report. Why go through the motions of authorizing such a massive expenditure of money and time if you’re going to ignore what the study committee concluded?

But there’s another reason the money was wasted. This most recent study committee was just the latest in a long string of committees that has been studying this issue since Karen Carpenter was born. She was born in 1950, and the denomination has been studying women’s ordination ever since. Another committee was appointed in 1970, and in 1973 the denomination responded to that report by authorizing continued study. In 1974, the annual council voted again to continue studying. In 1985, the GC in session voted to study it further. A similar decision took place in 1988 and yet again in 1990. And in 1995 the matter was placed on the agenda at the GC session in Utrecht.

This is like a broken record. Following the 2010 GC session, the Biblical Research Committees in all divisions were asked to conduct a study on the theology of ordination and its implications. In 2012, the General Conference Administrative Committee appointed “a Theology of Ordination Study Committee, with representation from all divisions, to oversee and facilitate the global discussion process and to prepare reports for presentation to the General Conference Executive Committee. The Annual Council 2014 will determine what action, if any, should be recommended to the 2015 General Conference Session.”

We all know what happened at the 2015 session. After 66 years, one can only wonder if appointing study committee after study committee is merely a stalling tactic. How many more study committees will convene and decide, only to have their results voided by men at a level of the church that has no jurisdiction over ordination?

We at Mission Catalyst appeal to the powers that be to, instead of squandering another million dollars on future study committees, send it to Mission Catalyst. We’ll use it to help people find Jesus.

Speaking of helping people find Jesus, here is the third thing we have to say: The church is being distracted from its mission. For the sake of the gospel, I appeal to the powers that be to leave ordination to the unions (where it belongs), to accept the results of the various study committees (which concluded that the Scriptures do not forbid the ordination of women in ministry), and to let the Holy Spirit decide whom to call to ordained gospel ministry. It’s time to move on.

We at Mission Catalyst see ourselves as partners with you in helping people find Jesus. We are not part of the denomination by choice. We operate parallel to the official structure instead of inside it so that we have more freedom to reach the lost, but the stakes are too high to get embroiled in this discussion.

At the church council in Acts 15, the leaders were not willing to compromise the gospel, but they never forget that the great commission was all about mission. When the discussion died down, when the dust settled, they said, “Let’s make sure we never get sidetracked from helping Gentiles turn to God. Don’t erect any barriers that will make it harder to help people find Jesus.”

Please, we appeal to the leaders of the church, get back to the mission of the church and stop trying to control that which God is perfectly capable of controlling.

[Special thanks to Gary Patterson, retired GC Field Secretary, for allowing me to summarize some of his writing. If you would like to receive six short documents authored by Patterson on this topic, email and we will send them to you.]

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