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The third meeting of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee Commission met last week in Columbia, Maryland, United States. Chair Artur Stele led the group discussions, and several break-out discussion groups reviewed the issues surrounding the theology of ordination and the implications if women were to be ordained. [photo: Ansel Oliver/ANN]
January 29, 2014 | Columbia, Maryland, United States | Adventist Review staff
More than 40 hours of presentations, discussions, worship, and question-and-answer sessions ended quietly Sabbath evening, January 25, as members of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) embraced each other at the end of a sometimes-contentious five-day gathering.
The first four days of meetings featured highly contrasting views of key Bible passages by church scholars, as well as sharp exchanges between questioners and presenters about appropriate methods of Biblical interpretation. TOSC leaders several times cautioned members to be respectful of those they disagreed with, and to trust the spiritual commitments of all.
Each of the church’s 13 world divisions also reported the study findings and recommendations of its own Biblical Research Committee (BRC) on the question of ordaining female pastors. While five division BRCs reported support for women’s ordination, most of the others reported disapproval. Almost all division reports clearly stated their willingness to accept the decision that will ultimately be made by the worldwide church.
Weekend TOSC events included an inspirational music program provided by the Baltimore First Seventh-day Adventist Church; a Friday night devotional message by TOSC chair Artur Stele, a General Conference vice-president and director of the church’s Biblical Research Institute; and a stirring Sabbath morning sermon by Mark Finley, assistant to the General Conference president and editor-at-large for Adventist Review.
“Once they prayed, studied the Word, sought God’s guidance, discussed the issue and then decided, the New Testament church accepted God’s will and moved on with the mission,” declared Finley during the Sabbath morning worship hour. “They trusted the decision they collectively made and covenanted together to passionately pursue the mission. Each individual believer submitted their personal views to the decision made under God’s guidance.”
Throughout his 45-minute message, Finley urged TOSC members to yield personal opinions to the Spirit-led consensus of the wider church as it moves forward in deciding matters of ordination.
“When there is an erosion of trust, conflict festers,” he noted. “When there is an unwillingness to submit personal judgment to the prayed-through, thoughtful representative decisions of the corporate body, dissension and division flourish.”
Finley’s sermon was widely regarded as a key point in the weekend by many TOSC members. Several expressed appreciation for his call to regain focus on mission after a decision on the ordination matter is reached, probably at the July 2015 General Conference session of the world Adventist Church in San Antonio, Texas.
“After three meetings [January 2013, July 2013, and January 2014], I’ve seen progress in the way people on different sides have come to appreciate the arguments presented by those on the other sides,” said Darius Jankiewicz, chair of the Theology department at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. “By the end of last week, I could see the consensus building that there’s room for differences on this issue in the church. We need to continue this process as TOSC members, and I hope our findings will result in the unity of the church. The consensus could help us realize that the unity of the church doesn’t require uniformity on this issue.”
One of the most popular features of the TOSC process was the small group discussion in which committee members participated for nearly 20 percent of their total time together. Members of the 12-person groups were randomly selected, but individuals of differing viewpoints were in every conversation, and studied Bible passages together. Key Bible texts examined by the discussion groups included the Creation account of Genesis 1-3; counsels given by the Apostle Paul to the first-century Christian Church (1 Tim 2:12-14, I Cor 11, and Gal 3:28); and the prophet Joel’s prediction—repeated by the Apostle Peter at Pentecost—that in the last days, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Joel 2:28).
The last hour of Saturday’s schedule was devoted to testimonies from members about their TOSC experience, and a call for “bridge-building” from TOSC vice-chair Geoffrey Mbwana, also a General Conference vice-president.
“We have built the pillars of truth in our respective positions,” Mbwana noted as the sun was setting over the snowy Maryland landscape. “Now is the time to lay the platform of the bridge on which we can move forward together.”
TOSC leaders expect the next gathering of the 103-member committee in early June to frame recommendations for the October meeting of the church’s Executive Committee. That group sets the agenda for the worldwide 2015 quinquennial session of the denomination in San Antonio.
Most TOSC members believe that the ordination of women will be a major item on the agenda in San Antonio, where approximately 2000 delegates from more than 200 nations will assemble for a 10-day business session of the movement.