Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Biblical End to the Debate on Women's Ordination in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church

It troubles me to see so many, including close friends of mine, deeply involved in the debate over women's ordination. I will demonstrate in this short paper that this debate is not rooted in scripture. Instead, it's a debate over a traditional practice that has no biblical basis. Not all traditions are bad, but this one has slowly rotted over the years and developed quite a stink. So let's cover our noses and begin to examine the topic.

The first biblical example of “ordination” was the ceremony dedicating the old testament priesthood. God instituted the the priesthood and it's ceremony of dedication as part of a greater prophetic ministry that looked forward to the day when Christ would become the lamb of the world. On the moment of his death angels sent from God tore the veil in the temple from top to bottom symbolizing the end of the sacrificial system—with it's priesthood and “ordination” ceremony.

The priesthood was replaced by the reality of Christ. The apostle John speaking of the event wrote that we were made “kings and priests unto God1”. No longer would an earthly priest stand between us and God, but the followers of good would worship “in spirit and in truth2”. The apostle Paul speaking of this same truth urged his fellow Jews to “come boldly unto the throne of grace3”.

As Christians today we speak of a “priesthood of all believers”. The former priests and their “ordination” ceremonies have passed into history4Since the New Testament church had no priests, were there any ceremonies that we could equate with today's ordination? The answer is yes5.

During Christ's ministry he selected the twelve apostles6 and later the seventy7 to act as messengers for Him with authority to act in His name. The early church adopted that same practice by officially recognizing individuals for various temporary or permanent roles. The first appointment was that of Matthias to replace Judas as one of the twelve apostles8. The next appointment is more unexpected and very relevant to the modern ordination discussion.

A dispute arose over the distribution of food to widows. Those of Greek ethnicity were being overlooked. To solve this problem they appointed seven men to be be in charge of the food distribution. What follows is the first detailed description of an “ordination” in which the apostles prayed then “laid hands on them”9.

These “deacons” did not fill the modern deacon role (maintaining the church building, collecting offerings), but were assigned to distribute welfare to widows. It sounds disturbingly close to what we today would call a “bureaucrat”. Oddly enough, the disciples of Christ considered the ministry of these “bureaucrats” so important they ordained them. Luke, the writer of the book of Acts considered it significant enough to devote six verses to tell us about it.

As we look through the rest of the New Testament we find that while the church was picky about the character of the person being ordained, it was not picky about what role deserved an “ordination”. Missionaries, diplomats10, bishops (pastor/elder) and deacons (welfare distribution) were similarly “ordained”11.

This fits perfectly with the scriptural principles that all work is performed for Christ12 and that all roles are equally important. Paul writing to the Corinthians states: "And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary."13

It is important to note that official status in the New Testament church was not required to perform duty on behalf of the church. Acts is filled with stories and activities of the non-ordained. All members were called upon to fulfill Christ's commission to evangelize14 and perform good deeds15. However, certain roles did benefit from official sanction.

Today's ordination process is very different. While the character of the ordained is still very important, today's ordination is reserved exclusively for pastors. This is likely a piece of Roman Catholic tradition that survived the reformation. Within Adventist tradition we have a primary “ordination” for pastors with lesser “ordination” for local elders and deacons16. Other official roles—for example, teachers, treasury, trust and legal—may be ignored or given a lesser service.17 That is quite different from the New Testament practice of "ordaining" everyone who performed official duties for the church.

As Christians who believe in the Bible as the basis for belief and practice this is very important. When we find a situation where our traditions clash with scriptural practice—in particular if the area is producing disunity within the church—we should resolve the problem by changing our practice to match scripture. Today's list of roles is much longer than that of the early church: lawyers, treasurers, teachers, pilots, missionaries, pastors, video producers and so on. But the concept is the same. Anyone who is officially sanctioned by the church for any role should be ordained.

So how does this resolve the issue of women's ordination?

"For” supporters—read this:
God gives gifts to women and they should be allowed to exercise those gifts as official representatives of God's church. That is biblical and we as a church should do this.

“Against” supporters—read this:
God created two genders for a reason and has given different responsibilities and typically different gifts to each genders. This too is biblical and as a church we should do this.

By ordaining everyone who occupies an official status in the church we can accomplish both. If a man has a marked gift to lead, then ordain him to pastoral work. If a women has a marked gift to nurture children, then ordain her to lead our Sabbath schools or teach in our schools. Both genders can serve God and if called serve in an official church capacity in line with the gifts God has given them.

Now, those of you who (like me) tend to hypothesize and perhaps second guess a bit too much— you are asking right now, “What about the rare man who possess exceptional gifts that are stereotypically found in women?” The good news is we have a biblical example18 that solves this problem. The prophetess Deborah occupied a role typically filled by men: judge of Isreal. But that wasn't all. In an age when warfare was physical, brutal and masculine she went to war in order to strengthen the courage of a general named Barak. However, she chastised him for his unwillingness to move forward without her. God had given Barak gifts as well—gifts more typical for a man—but gifts non-the-less that God expected him to use and not depend on Deborah's gifts.

I see in this story an affirmation to both sides of the gender question. First, God is perfectly OK with the individual who's unusual gift set leads them to serve in ways that are not typical of their gender. Secondly, that does not excuse the majority of us with a more typical distribution of gifts. We are also called.

Let's not make the battle between “for” and “against” become our identity as Adventists. Let's abandon the narrow use of ordination and adopt the example of New Testament church. Let us use a service of ordination to recognize the importance of every single role in the modern church--from missionary, to pilot, to deacon ,to pastor. Recognizing all as critical pieces in accomplishing God's purpose in his church.

P.s. If you agree with the message of this article please take the time to share it with someone else. We need to become a louder than the other voices in this debate if we are to be heard .

If you don't agree, please post a comment explaining why--I'd like to modify/improve this article.

Notes:
  1. Revelation 1:6 (All quoted verses are in the King James Version)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Live Broadcasts from Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) Churches

I'm compiling an index of churches that are live broadcasting services over the internet. If your church is broadcasting please send you the link and time.

Wednesday Services
11:00 AM PST Loma Linda University (Academic Year Only)

Friday Vespers


9:00 AM PST Loma Linda University (services at 9:00 and 11:45, study at 10:30)

Spanish

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Broadcasting Church: A Geek's Experience

A couple weeks ago I was walking through my church atrium and zing--pain shot through my lower back. I hobbled upstairs and lay down on the nearest bench. The pain subsided enough that I was able to fulfill my volunteer duties and return home. I lay down in my bed, pulled out my laptop computer and went to the church web site. From there I watched the service live.

Across this nation and the world there are millions of stories like mine. Except most of them don't end with the member being able to "attend" remotely. It's time that changed.

Broadcasting use to be difficult. It required bulky (and distracting) TV cameras and a staff of trained operators. The equipment was expensive and of course required a cooperative TV station. Thanks to internet streaming technology that is no longer the case.

At it's most basic level all you need is a laptop, a digital video camera, a free account on ustream.tv and at least one geek in your church. You don't even have to have a internet connection at the
church--simply save the video to your laptop's hard drive, take it home and stream it using a web cam simulator.

The great thing about internet broadcasting is that it scales. Your local church geek may already have most of the equipment needed to broadcast in a small church setting. If you are in a larger church the size adds new challenges--but you'll have the resources and probably a team of geeks available to meet them.

The first challenge in a large church is simply the size of the stage. If your church is anything like mine you'll need cameras that can zoom, pan and tilt.


In our church we installed three robotic cameras to capture different angles.











The video feed goes into a control room where the video is mixed and then uploaded to ustream.tv. They provide us with a video viewer component that we embed in our church web site. (Click here to see what it looks like.)

They also allow us to archive the stream so that members can catch up on missed sermons or review parts of the service they might want to see again. (Click here to see what that looks like.)

The audio at our church is a bit different. In addition to the typical sound system for years we
have broadcast an audio stream to WSMC radio. The station has a booth where the audio is
remixed for the radio audience. That same audio stream is fed to the video broadcast booth where a small mixer allows us to control overall levels.

The technology is very cool and a lot of fun, however, like anything technical it has no meaning outside of the human dimension. I find that broadcasting over the internet has four distinct and meaningful human elements.

First, it allows people with physical aliments to remain connected with their church.

Second it allows people that are geographically separated to remain connected. Since our church is connected to a church run university this is a huge part of our ministry. Once we got a call from a mother in California (we are located in Tennessee) who couldn't hear her son's cello because the audio on his microphone was off in the radio booth. If it weren't for the mistake we would never have known--but there are certainly dozens of family members tuning in to see their brother, sister, son, daughter or friend involved in a service.

Third, it allows individuals who are only marginally connected with the church to establish/make a stronger connection. For those of us who have been church members our entire lives we don't realize how intimidating it is for an "outsider" to walk through the door.

Lastly, broadcasting provides an opportunity for geeks young and old (there is a guy in his 70's on my team) to be involved in church activities.















One last word--don't expect massive immediate success just because you are on the internet. We get approximately 30 concurrent viewers in our church with a physical attendance of hundreds. It may seem small but for those 30 people it matters.

Broadcasting Church

A couple weeks ago I was walking through my church atrium and zing--pain shot through my lower back. I hobbled upstairs and lay down on the nearest bench. The pain subsided enough that I was able to fulfill my volunteer duties and return home. I lay down in my bed, pulled out my laptop computer and went to the church web site. From there I watched the service live that I was missing.

Across this nation and the world there are millions of stories like mine. Except most of them don't end like mine--with the member being able to "attend" remotely. It's time that
changed.

Broadcasting use to be difficult. It required bulky (and distracting) TV cameras and a staff of trained operators. The equipment was expensive and of course required a cooperative TV station. Thanks to internet streaming technology that is no longer the case.

At it's most basic level all you need is a laptop, a digital video camera, a free account on ustream.tv and at least one geek in your church. You don't even have to have a internet connection at the
church--simply save the
video to your laptop's hard drive, take it home and stream it from there using a web cam simulator.

The great thing about internet broadcasting is that it scales. Your local church geek may already have the equipment needed to broadcast in a small church setting. If you are in a larger church the size adds new challenges--but you'll have the resources and probably a team of geeks available to meet them.

The first challenge in a large church is simply the size of the stage. If your church is anything like mine you'll need cameras that can zoom, pan and tilt.


In our church we installed three robotic cameras to capture different angles.


The video feed goes into a control room where the video is mixed and then uploaded to ustream.tv. They provide us with a video viewer component that we embed in our church web site. (Click here to see what it looks like.) They also allow us to archive the stream so that members can catch up on missed sermons or review parts of the service they might want to see again. (Click here to see what that looks like.)

Saturday, January 31, 2009

20 Minutes of Church

Sitting in church one morning I became briefly obsessed with capturing the essence of the modern church service. So for the next 20 minutes I captured the following images on my cheap cell phone camera. Rather than seek out "interesting images" I limited myself to photos I could capture right from my seat. Below is the result of my photographic journey.


Ever since the days of the apostles, church has always been about people. "Let us not give up meeting together" the apostle Paul councils in Hebrews 10:25




















Naturally, social engagement is a big part of the church experience. Physical presence is apparently optional.





















Movement captures attention.




















This image captures something increasingly rare in church--the joy of discovery.




















The pause for the big decision--where to sit.




















In spite of the emphasis on activity in the modern participatory worship style, there is still a significant passive element.




















Juxtaposition of the old (stained glass) and the new (flood lighting)




















Large events generate (and require) tangible mementos and documents. Church is no different.





















Observing the service


















Saturday, January 3, 2009

Is Your Christian Institution Christian?

There is a lot of pressure on Christian institutions to be "successful" in a secular sense.

I recently drove by a large local church and school with a nearby playing field. A large sign (bigger than the church's sign) welcomed all to the "Home of the Seahawks". It made me wonder about the priorities of that school. Was this really a Christian school or a school that happened to be run by Christians?

A few minutes ago I randomly googled the word "adventist". (Short term for the "Seventh-Day Adventist" denomination to which I belong) High in the results list was the web site of the university I attended. This was no accident. For years the leadership of the school has successfully resisted sliding into a secular definition of success. The results for the University and the church have been markedly successful as the school has spawned large numbers of missionaries and church workers.

As Christians we must make certain to identify success by our religious mission and not be distracted by the identities of the world. Otherwise we risk becoming shabby clones of what the world already offers.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

An Easter Tribute

Yesterday, I had the privilege of being in the cast of the Easter pageant held yearly on the campus of Southern Adventist University. The several hundred actors make the biblical story come to life for the more than 10,000 visitors that attend each year. Here are some images I snapped while "out of character".




Marketplace SellerTypical marketplace scene


The last supper


Preparing to Leave for the GardenPreparing to leave for the garden


In the GardenIn the garden


At Pilates JudgmentAt pilot's judgment hall


The MobThe mob


CondemnedCondemned


Simon Caries the CrossSimon carries the cross that the beaten Jesus was too weak to carry


Roman SoldierA roman guard


Nailed to the CrossNailed to the cross. It was brutal, but Christ chose to go through with it--for us.


Three CrossesThree crosses


Removing the BodyTaking down the body for burial


He Has RisenHe has risen!


More Info
The Sonrise pageant is held yearly the day before Easter in Collegedale, Tennessee (A suburb of Chattanooga)
Info line: (423) 954-2220
Website: http://www.collegedalechurch.com/index.php?id=91