Followers

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Servant Headship

Seeking the Lowest Place
 
In the last few years, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has been riding the waves of a theological storm regarding the role of women in ministry. Some steadfastly declare their belief that, on the basis of the structure of the Godhead and of Creation order, we must stand unequivocally against women being ordained or put into significant spiritual leadership positions, and/or being ordained as ministers. Others maintain the opposite, that Creation and the Godhead reveal that the united ministry of men and women best images God and fulfills His plan for humanity as expressed in Creation. Earnest theologians on both ends of the spectrum affirm that their perspective is rooted directly in the teachings of Scripture. A significant percentage of the church is caught in the crossfire, grasping frantically for an understanding that affirms faith in the absolute authority of the Word of God, without causing tremendous personal upheaval.
Rather than returning to our fundamental beliefs as the backbone of who we are as a people, many have struggled to pull together an interpretation of Scripture that matched both theological presuppositions and personal preferences. Partly because of this, so far we have been unable, as a church body, to come to a clear agreement on how to handle this divide. Loyalty to conservative or liberal identity, as well as to familiarity and comfort zone, has significantly hindered progress toward a solution. Some on each side have focused much energy, not on seeking unity, but on leveling accusations at those who interpret Scripture differently than themselves.
Another fundamental mistake, I believe, has been a tendency to expect resolution to come by votes and a sort of enforced unanimity, rather than looking for creative solutions that respect the convictions of the widest variety of church members possible.
As a church, we have embraced 28 fundamental beliefs about the character of God as revealed in His Word. These doctrines express a glorious picture of God as love, one that should shape every area of our lives and of our faith. I believe that a deeper examination of these fundamental doctrines can help us unite on the rich common ground we share as Adventists. Rather than settling into a tug-of-war between two sharply different “sides,” I believe God wants us to utilize this conflict as an opportunity to minister to one another and image God, not by uniformity, but by our loving response to one another in the midst of honest disagreement on the correct interpretation of the Word of God. Rather than all of us falling into line with identical perspectives, perhaps God’s greater goal is to help us to respond to conflict the way the church did in the book of Acts—by allowing the Holy Spirit to unite our hearts in mutual servanthood.
In this paper, I will examine five fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, evaluating the relevance of each one to the discussion of women’s ordination and women in ministry. First, I will consider the Trinity, focusing especially on the Father/Son relationship that lies at the heart of the throne of the universe. Second, I will evaluate how understanding the entire law of God, the backbone of the universe, is the natural outgrowth of understanding the loving Father and Son relationship. Third, I will assess how a correct understanding of the Godhead should impact on our understanding of God’s ideal for marriage, from Creation onward. Fourth, I will look at the larger picture of how the Trinity doctrine lays the foundation for a healthy understanding of the use of spiritual gifts in the larger family of the church. Finally, I will conclude with a summary of how these understandings can and should shape our approach to unity within the church. As we dive into the Word of God, I hope you will enjoy this journey with me, and that all of us will collectively come out with a richer understanding of, and appreciation for, the character of the God who rules the universe from a throne founded on the law of love.
The Doctrine of the Trinity
“Immortal, all-powerful and all-loving, God is a relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The only being worthy of our worship, God is our Creator, Redeemer and Friend.” (www.adventist.org)
At the heart of every useful doctrinal discussion is the seeking for a deeper understanding of the character of God. All doctrines should reveal God’s love, thus leading us to a response of love toward God and others. The doctrine of the Godhead is central to our Adventist understanding of God’s character. Because God is triune, He did not have to create beings in order to have relationships, for He was in relationship within Himself before creating anyone else. This is the only way that God could have been love personified—a relational word—by Himself. Because “God is love,” and love is a relational word, God must be a God who has, for all eternity, always been involved in a web of relationships.
The terms by which God has explained the existence of the Holy Spirit to us seem to be intentionally vague. It is apparent that God knew our human minds could not comprehend much about the relationship between one who is called “Spirit” or “Breath,” and the other two Members of the Godhead. However, the Father and Son relationship has been described in terms that are easier for us to comprehend, because they utilize a relationship that is mirrored in human existence. It is to this relationship, therefore, that we turn our focus, in an attempt to understand more of the character of God as love.
There are some who have framed the ordination discussion already in the context of the Father-Son relationship, but with disappointing results. They have declared that this relationship—the personification of love—is a hierarchical structure. The most profound model of love in the universe, it is declared, maintains unity through One having a position of power over the Other. There has been extensive focus on Jesus’ position of submission under the Father. The Father, it has been confidently asserted, has from all eternity been in headship over the Son. According to this understanding, the Father’s “headship” means that everything Jesus does or has done has been in complete submission to His Father’s will. He is so in tune with the Father that He instinctively does whatever the Father wishes. This simple, hierarchical pyramid of power is said to descend from Jesus to males and then females, each in subjection to those in higher positions than themselves. Thus, it is argued, the harmonious order of the universe is preserved.
I believe those who suggest this interpretation mean well. However, I see this hierarchical model as a fundamental misrepresentation of the character of God as love. If this is the model of love upon which the universe depends, then the backbone of the law of God is not love, but unquestioning submission to authority. The definition of love is essentially a power structure, not a voluntary reciprocal relationship.
Instead of a power-based over/under hierarchical structure at the heart of the universe, I propose an alternative approach that could give us: a) a richer picture of the character of God, b) a fuller model of application of the principles of heaven in human relationships, and c) a map for leading our church forward in unified focus on spreading the gospel more effectively.
In order to understand God’s headship and its relevance to the headship discussion in the church, it may be helpful to first examine Jesus’ ordination of the disciples in the church on earth.
An alternate view of loving, biblical headship
The disciples were delighted to be ordained to leadership in the fledgling Christian movement, but never entirely satisfied that the ceremony gave them adequate power. The gospels tell us the disappointing story of twelve men who struggled constantly among themselves for supremacy. “Who is the greatest?” was the burning question on their hearts. They believed in over/under hierarchical headship, a power structure they observed in their culture among both Roman and Jewish leaders. Wholeheartedly committed to hierarchical thinking, they believed that power over others constituted greatness in the church as well as the world—and they craved such authority. Jesus repeatedly confronted them about this attitude, so profoundly unlike the principles of greatness in His kingdom. “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3, 4*).
The belief that Jesus’ new kingdom was modeled after a hierarchical pyramid laid the groundwork for the disciples to misunderstand Jesus’ mission. It led to the pursuit of hierarchical power instead of servanthood—one of the disciples’ greatest blunders. It prevented them from preparing for His crucifixion. It was the root of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. It blinded all of the disciples to the true principle of Jesus’ kingdom—the principle of seeking for the lowest place instead of the highest. In commentary regarding this topic, Ellen White says, ‘The strife for the highest place was the outworking of that same spirit which was the beginning of the great controversy in the worlds above, and which had brought Christ from heaven to die. There rose up before Him a vision of Lucifer, the ‘son of the morning,’ in surpassing all the angels that surround the throne, and united in closest ties to the Son of God. Lucifer had said, ‘I will be like the Most High’ (Isaiah 14:12, 14); and the desire for self-exaltation had brought strife into the heavenly courts, and had banished a multitude of the hosts of God. Had Lucifer really desired to be like the Most High, he would never have deserted his appointed place in heaven; for the spirit of the Most High is manifested in unselfish ministry. Lucifer desired God's power, but not His character. He sought for himself the highest place, and every being who is actuated by his spirit will do the same…Now the cross was just before Him; and His own disciples were so filled with self-seeking—the very principle of Satan's kingdom—that they could not enter into sympathy with their Lord, or even understand Him as He spoke of His humiliation for them.” (The Desire of Ages, pp. 435, 436, emphasis supplied.)
According to this quotation, the very essence of the One on the throne of the universe is the fact that He is entirely emptied of the desire for the highest place. Instead, the character of God—love—is a commitment to relational humility. The Trinity is characterized, not by a neat structure of submission, but by the entire emptying of self for the good of others.
It seems that the disciples’ misunderstanding of greatness in the kingdom of God was based on a hierarchical understanding of the kingdom of God, and therefore of church structure. They justified their pursuit of power as acceptable and perhaps even morally admirable, because as ordained leaders of the fledgling church, they believed Jesus was putting them into leadership positions in a tiered structure of spiritual power.
The lie that self-exaltation—the seeking of the highest place—is harmless, or even divinely inspired, was not something new. It was Lucifer’s original lie: that God Himself sought the highest place instead of the lowest. “Sin originated in self-seeking. Lucifer, the covering cherub, desired to be first in heaven. He sought to gain control of heavenly beings, to draw them away from their Creator, and to win their homage to himself. Therefore he misrepresented God, attributing to Him the desire for self-exaltation. With his own evil characteristics he sought to invest the loving Creator. Thus he deceived angels. Thus he deceived men. He led them to doubt the word of God, and to distrust His goodness.” (The Desire of Ages, p. 21)
God’s goodness—His character—is the opposite of self-exaltation. It is this character—the seeking of the lowest place, as Jesus modeled from the manger to the Cross—that He desires us to reflect, in contrast with the character of Satan.
The disciples’ display of this spirit of Satan—seeking the highest place—grieved Jesus continually throughout His earthly ministry. On the way to Jerusalem just before the Crucifixion, Jesus again confronted them about it. Evidently He had already explained this concept to them numerous times, because they knew better than to talk about it in His presence. When they brought it up again, they intentionally lingered behind Him on the road, slyly competing for position when they thought He couldn’t hear them. That evening, “He asked them, ‘What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?’ But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. And He sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.” (Mark 9:33-35)
Apparently, this instruction too was ignored, for shortly afterward in the Upper Room, Jesus again rebuked them, this time by girding Himself with a towel and washing their feet. Once again, Jesus demonstrated the true meaning of servant-leader headship.
From the manger to the cross, Jesus’ life was dedicated to the seeking of the lowest place. Far from this being a temporary position merely to demonstrate to humans how they should relate to those higher than themselves in the ladder of power, however, this was the revelation of the character of the Father. The Father had already taken an even lower place by choosing the greater position of suffering, by sending His beloved Son to die. In staying in heaven, the Father had taken the position of greater sacrifice. Far from commanding Christ to die in unquestioning obedience, in sending Jesus to die, the Father was demonstrating His own utterly self-sacrificing love by being the One to bear the greater pain. We can trust the Father to sit safely on the throne of the universe, not because He has authority to order all other beings to obey Him, but because He is entirely emptied of self-exaltation. In all things, He takes the lowest place Himself. This is the fundamental characteristic of the One Who rules from the throne of the universe—entirely self-emptying love.
“It is the glory of our God to give. ‘I do nothing of Myself,’ said Christ; ‘the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father.’ ‘I seek not Mine own glory,’ but the glory of Him that sent Me. John 8:28; 6:57; 8:50; 7:18. In these words is set forth the great principle which is the law of life for the universe. All things Christ received from God, but He took to give. So in the heavenly courts, in His ministry for all created beings: through the beloved Son, the Father’s life flows out to all; through the Son it returns, in praise and joyous service, a tide of love, to the great Source of all. And thus through Christ the circuit of beneficence is complete, representing the character of the great Giver, the law of life.” (The Desire of Ages, p. 21)
Let us contrast this with the hierarchical understanding of the Father and Son relationship. For the Father to give an executive order to His Son—mandating that Jesus die for man, especially when Jesus had no option except to obey unquestioningly—would hardly make His death the expression of Jesus’ great love for mankind. At best, it would be an expression of Jesus’ entire submission to His Father. The Father would be saving mankind by executive order because of His love for man, and Jesus would be agreeing because of His love for the Father. This is very different than the Two tearing Themselves apart in a mutual agreement of shared love for One Another and for mankind.
However, if the Two made this sacrificial decision together, with the Father taking the heavier load of heartache upon Himself by choosing to separate Himself from the Son in the time of His most intense suffering, this would be a mutually agreed upon gift of love. Each would wrestle to face the heartbreak of separation, but would choose freely out of love for mankind. This would be, indeed, the highest expression of mutual servanthood, of love for One Another and for mankind. And this mutual decision-making is exactly what is described in inspiration.
“The Son of God, heaven’s glorious Commander, was touched with pity for the fallen race. His heart was moved with infinite compassion as the woes of the lost world rose up before Him…Before the Father He pleaded in the sinner’s behalf, while the host of heaven awaited the result with an intensity of interest that words cannot express. Long continued was that mysterious communing—‘The counsel of peace’ (Zechariah 6:13) for the fallen sons of men. The plan of salvation had been laid before the creation of the earth; for Christ is ‘the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’ (Revelation 13:8); yet it was a struggle, even with the King of the universe, to yield up His Son to die for the guilty race. But ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ John 3:16. Oh, the mystery of redemption! the love of God for a world that did not love Him!” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 63)
Could it be that the power pyramid at the heart of the universe is inverted, so that the highest position in the universe is actually the seeking of the lowest place?
This picture of the character of the Father is astoundingly simple, and yet very difficult for the sinful mind to comprehend, because it is the opposite of sinful nature. Sin is the exalting of self. Could the secret of the Father’s powerful position of headship over the universe be that He seeks the very lowest place? If so, He is safe because He is entirely empty of any thirst for power—and therefore the Fountain of unselfish love (the power of self-sacrifice) for the universe. Jesus is likewise deemed fit to reign by the Father, as expressed in this beautiful passage of Scripture: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:5-9, emphasis supplied)
Perhaps we can visualize the relationship between the members of the Godhead as a braid. One strand takes top position in the center, but descends beneath the other two, pushing them to the top in turn. Put simply, what binds the three together is each strand seeking the lowest place. Thus in the Godhead, Three achieve unity as One by each continually seeking the lowest place.
Could it be that it is because Jesus sought the lowest place that He is safely exalted by the Father to have a “Name that is above every name” (Phil. 2:5)? Perhaps He is Commander in the heavenly courts precisely because in heaven, higher position essentially means deeper responsibility to servanthood.
Seen in this context, headship is indeed a position of great power, but it is unlike what we typically consider powerful in our sinful context. Headship is an expression of the power of selflessness—the ability to put oneself last. If the Father holds the highest position of headship of the universe, it means that He is the first Strand in this divine braid of servanthood—seeking the lowest place. His first move toward the lowest place leads to both Son and Holy Spirit also moving similarly to the lowest place. Likewise, if the universe functions as God intended, each new being created imitates this model of servanthood.
To be exercised successfully, such biblical headship—the imitation of the Father’s selfless approach to power—requires two fundamental characteristics: humility and faith. For all beings in the universe to let go of self-serving and to seek the lowest place requires that they trust their Creators to seek their good first. In other words, just as unbelief and pride were the root of Lucifer’s first sin and every sin since, so faith and humility are the beginning of all righteousness. Sin is by definition the seeking of the highest place for self. For a sinner, naturally prone to self-exaltation, to follow such footsteps, he or she must believe in a God of love who stoops to the lowest place, and then follow His example of selflessness. In doing so, humanity most closely reflects the image of God.
To image a God of love is a task which is impossible if we are not united in relationship with others as equals with ourselves. This is why Adam felt incomplete until Eve was created—he could not even obey the second half of the law of God, to love others as himself. Indeed, God’s purpose in creating man was to have multiple beings image Him by weaving themselves together in loving service to Him and one another.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26, 27)
Conclusion
Jesus’ seeking of the lowest place was not just obedience to His Father’s commands, but demonstration of the same spirit as His Father’s servant-leader headship—because seeking the lowest place is the deepest principle of the law of the kingdom, the law which is a transcript of the character of God. And it is to this law that we will next turn our focus.
The Doctrine of the Law of God
“The Ten Commandments reveal God’s will and love for us. Its guidelines tell how to relate to God and others. Jesus lived out the law as both our example and perfect substitute.” (www.adventist.org)
The law of God was expressed on Sinai to Moses in the form of the Ten Commandments, but Jesus explained it in even simpler terms. “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
The law of God, as expressed in both the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ summary, is relational. Both great principles are focused on relationship—first on loving God, then on loving others. The law of God thus makes plain that God’s chief concern is our relationships. This is also clearly reflected in many places through Ellen White’s descriptions of the law of God, such as this one: “In the light from Calvary it will be seen that the law of self-renouncing love is the law of life for earth and heaven; that the love which ‘seeketh not her own’ has its source in the heart of God; and that in the meek and lowly One is manifested the character of Him who dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto.” (The Desire of Ages, p. 19)
The essence of God’s character of love is the seeking of the lowest place—putting the needs and good of others before Himself. From the manger to the cross, Jesus expressed this in every area of His life. But this was not just a matter of obeying every order of His Father unquestioningly. Rather, it was the living out of the relationship between the Father and Son, the very definition of the law of God. If Jesus had been merely following orders out of love for His Father, He would have been only obeying the first half of the law. His motivation, while pure, would have been only love for His Father, and not love for mankind.
This shows that the decision to come to earth was not the fruit of a hierarchical relationship, but one of mutual servanthood. I believe that the Father, as the One occupying the throne of the universe, took the very lowest place, the most difficult position of all—sending His Son to live and die for man. Jesus did not follow that example from a motivation of unquestioning submission, but one of mutual servanthood. Both Father and Son loved mankind so much that they collaborated in making a decision regarding how to show love to humanity, and give those who repented an opportunity to rejoin the rest of the universe in living in obedience to the law of self-sacrificing love. Thus, in coming to die for man, Jesus set an example, not just of unquestioning love for God, but also of love for others. This seeking of the lowest place is the expression of the core principle of the entire universe. “Love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). “The cross of Calvary forever condemns the idea that Satan has placed before the Christian world, that the death of Christ abolished…the unchangeable law of God, the foundation of His throne, the transcript of His character.” (Signs of the Times, May 19, 1890)
If the law is all about relationships, then the fulfilling of the law—defined as “righteousness” in Scripture—is also all about relationships. The law tells us to follow God, and “God is love” (I John 4:8). Love is a relational word; God is a relational God.
If the very definition of love is the loving relationship within the Godhead, salvation is bound up in understanding this relationship. It is perhaps impossible to overstate the significance of the correct understanding of the Godhead relationship as a foundation for understanding this relational law. As mentioned above, “Sin originated in self-seeking.” If the core principle of the law is love, the seeking of the lowest place, then logically, the core principle of sin is seeking the highest place. Lucifer proclaimed, “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:13, 14), but he wanted God’s power, not His utterly self-sacrificing character. Lucifer’s quest was for self-promotion in a supposed hierarchy. He attempted to reverse the braid, placing himself in the center and pushing for the highest place by seeking to push the other strands downward.
Lucifer’s method of elevating himself necessitated that he maintain that he attack the character of God as love. This was the only way he could accuse God of secretly running the universe from a position of self-exaltation upon the throne. As a covering cherub, Lucifer knew the character of God better than perhaps any other created being, and he used this apparent advantage to accuse God of selfishly placing Himself at the top of a hierarchy in self-exaltation. “Unselfishness, the principle of God’s kingdom, is the principle that Satan hates; its very existence he denies. From the beginning of the great controversy he has endeavored to prove God’s principles of action to be selfish, and he deals in the same way with all who serve God. To disprove Satan’s claim is the work of Christ and of all who bear His name.” (Education, p. 154)
If this self-emptying character of God is the reality within which the law of God is rooted, the unfallen universe lives by principles that are the opposite of what comes naturally to humanity. Angels who obeyed that law in heaven before Lucifer’s accusations would have been inspired to serve one another in love because they saw this seeking of the lowest place lived out in their Rulers. Rather than being ruled by a centralized government in which rank decides pecking order, heaven’s armies would have been controlled by the service of love. While it is admittedly difficult for sinful minds to imagine an army harmoniously functioning by these principles, we might be able to imagine serving in such an army would be a delightful experience. And if heaven’s army might have functioned this way, could it be possible that this is the way God designed the entire universe to function—everyone serving one another out of self-sacrificing love? This would mean that the very law of life for the entire universe is a sort of honor system, with each being assuming that all others are doing what is best for the other instead of seeking the best for themselves, and above all, trusting that the Creator will only utilize His mighty power to serve those He has created. In order to obey the law that requires each one to love his neighbor as himself, each one must believe first that God is love, for “Only by love is love awakened” (The Desires of Ages, p. 22).
Ellen White expressed this eloquently. “‘He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.’…Self-love, self-interest, must perish. And the law of self-sacrifice is the law of self-preservation. The husbandman preserves his grain by casting it away. So in human life. To give is to live. The life that will be preserved is the life that is freely given in service to God and man. Those who for Christ’s sake sacrifice their life in this world will keep it unto life eternal.” (The Desire of Ages, p. 623)
Could it be that the entire plan of salvation centers on teaching mankind to learn to live by the heavenly principle of self-abnegation? It seems so simple. Jesus lived His life in continual reliance upon His Father to give Him the strength to exemplify, not the love of self-exalting power, but the power of self-emptying love. He did this not merely to cover us with His robe of perfect righteousness—unselfish love—but also to be an Example to us of what we can become when He lives within us. “Supreme love for God and unselfish love for one another—this is the best gift that our heavenly Father can bestow. This love is not an impulse, but a divine principle, a permanent power. The unconsecrated heart cannot originate or produce it. Only in the heart where Jesus reigns is it found. ‘We love Him, because He first loved us.’ In the heart renewed by divine grace, love is the ruling principle of action.” (Acts of the Apostles, p. 551)
Jesus prayed “that they may be one even as We are One” (John 17:22), over an assortment of self-centered men vying for top position. At the time, they remained discouragingly committed to self-exaltation, despite having just spent 3 ½ years observing Jesus seeking to serve. However, when His prayer was answered less than two months later, the Holy Spirit was poured out on these same men because they were all “with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1, KJV).
How powerful! The process of preparation for the Holy Spirit’s outpouring—moving from seeking the highest place, to humbly seeking the lowest place and humbly making things right with one another— shows us that God can create an authentic community of people who no longer seek to establish themselves in a pecking order of positions. Indeed, this deliverance from self-exaltation is a crucial preparation for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jesus both commands and enables us to live in unselfish community with other followers. And this relational focus within the church will be the key to enabling us to take the gospel to the world. “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). If sin is the transgression of God’s law of love—which commands the seeking of the lowest place—righteousness is the reversal of selfishness through the cultivation of faith and humility. This message of deliverance from sin—from self-exaltation—is the gospel God wants us to take to the world so He can come again. When we have learned to live as a community of believers who seek the lowest place, we can join the larger community of the universe, our quarantine over. Together with the unfallen beings, those who never subscribed to the law of self-exaltation, we can live for eternity in a cosmos governed by the law of self-sacrificing love.
Conclusion
So far, we have seen that the Father and Son’s character of loving self-sacrifice, the seeking of the lowest place, is the model of love for the universe and the foundation of the law of God. We have seen that God wants to enable humanity to live by His law of love even while on earth. We have glimpsed the beauty of a universe that functions harmoniously on the principle of seeking the lowest place, because unlike sinful man, each being trusts implicitly in the self-sacrificing love of the Creator who sustains them. The next question to be explored in understanding biblical headship is this: how did the pre-Fall relationship between Adam and Eve in Eden mirror the Father-Son relationship? Could it be that God designed a relationship, not of hierarchical headship, but of mutual servanthood? What are the applications of this theology upon our doctrine of marriage? This is the topic to which we will next shift our focus.
The Doctrine of Marriage
“Created in God’s image, male and female, we are designed to live in relationships. Marriage is God’s ideal to live in harmony, and for children to grow up in security and love.” (www.adventist.org)
There is debate as to whether Adam was indeed placed in a position of headship over Eve before the Fall. I believe a biblical view of headship makes this an unnecessary tension. If God placed Adam in a position of headship in Eden, this merely means that He placed Adam as the first string in a similar braid of relationship, taking turns seeking the lowest place. Adam’s influence of sacrificial servant leadership would have inspired Eve to likewise seek the lowest place. But whether or not either of them was placed in a mandatory position of being first one to seek the lowest place, once the braid had begun, both were to continue the heavenly cycle of self-sacrifice, with God’s loving headship modeling to them how to do so. This was clearly God’s plan, according to inspiration.
“When God created Eve, He designed that she should possess neither inferiority nor superiority to the man, but that in all things she should be his equal…But after Eve’s sin, as she was first in transgression, the Lord told her that Adam should rule over her. She was to be in subjection to her husband, and this was a part of the curse.” (Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 3, p. 484)
When the Father/Son relationship is declared to be a hierarchical over/under relationship with unquestioning obedience, and also God’s ideal pattern for human marriage, some troubling applications appear. Is God’s highest ideal for marriage a relationship in which the wife is so in tune with her husband’s will that she instinctively does whatever he wishes? Must a woman, in ministry or even just within the church, also always have a male over her in spiritual authority? If the law of God is the transcript of His character, does its effective application simply settle us into neat layers of unquestioning submission, from the Father and Son downward?
According to a hierarchical over/under power model, Adam might have said, “Eve, I want to go play at the waterfall today, and you want to pick pears, so since I have headship, we’re going to the waterfall.” Sinless Eve would cheerfully submit. However, according to the servant-leadership model, this interchange might have looked more like, “Eve, I would love to go play at the waterfall today, but more than anything, I want to minister to you. Why don’t we go pick pears, as you suggested?” Eve’s natural response would have been to seek to please Adam in return. “No, let’s go to the waterfall first, and pick pears later!”
How would this change at the Fall? In a context of sin, conflicts between marital partners would arise that would bring alienation because each person would seek to exalt self. And even if the relationship was characterized by mutual servanthood, some disagreements could not be solved except by one submitting to the other. In order for couples to make decisions in which the two differed in perspective, it must sometimes be necessary for one to be the decision-maker. In the context of pledged covenant relationship between two sinners, God decreed that, when this became necessary, the wife was to submit. However, because Eve had sought the highest place first in eating fruit before Adam, God seems to have given headship to Adam. In doing so, He gave the greater responsibility of headship/servanthood to husbands. They were to model to wives the seeking of the lowest place. As the most physically powerful of the two, the man could easily force his will, but this would violate the principles of the kingdom. So instead, God gave the husband the responsibility of protecting, and the heavier spiritual responsibility for seeking the lowest place by guarding against abusing his physical power and authority position. Throughout history, men’s hearts have easily swayed them toward a hierarchical understanding of their position. This is natural to the carnal heart, for sin is the desire to exalt self.
According to God’s ordained model of servant headship, selflessness from husbands could inspire selflessness in wives. When necessary, a husband would have the right to veto decisions, leading in the direction he deemed best for the family. But a husband who was imaging God well would never seek to do what was best for himself, without first seeking to do what was best for his wife and children. Rightly exercised, such headship could result in sweet harmony, even amid disagreement. Even better, both spouses could practice servanthood and thus be transformed into the image of God. Home could be a small glimpse of the harmony of the heavenly courts. Consider how well this matches the poignant description from Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 58:
“‘Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.’ In the creation God had made her [Eve] the equal of Adam. Had they remained obedient to God—in harmony with His great law of love—they would ever have been in harmony with each other; but sin had brought discord, and now their union could be maintained and harmony preserved only by submission on the part of the one or the other. Eve had been the first in transgression; and she had fallen into temptation by separating from her companion, contrary to the divine direction. It was by her solicitation that Adam sinned, and she was now placed in subjection to her husband. Had the principles enjoined in the law of God been cherished by the fallen race, this sentence, though growing out of the results of sin, would have proved a blessing to them; but man’s abuse of the supremacy thus given him has too often rendered the lot of woman very bitter and made her life a burden.”
For a fallen husband to demand submission would to be place a temptation before a fallen wife to rebel. However, servant leadership would be the surest way to inspire voluntary submission in a woman. A hierarchical approach to headship would easily set in motion cycles of sin, giving a selfish husband the ideal opportunity to rationalize that he did not have to confront his selfish urges, because his wife was the one obligated to serve him. In contrast, however, servant headship would set in motion cycles of transformation into the image of a God of love, as each member of the family would seek to serve the other. This synchronous ideal is beautifully described by Paul as “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21).

Seen in this light, the hierarchical understanding of headship would actually cause unnecessary temptation for husbands, fathers, and others in headship positions. Rather than awakening them to constant awareness that they are the most responsible of all people to demonstrate servanthood, a hierarchical view of headship would tempt those in headship roles to put their own needs and desires first. After all, if headship means the husband and father has the right to demand that the family eat his favorite foods for supper, be quiet when he wants them to be quiet, and do what he wants to do on the weekends, why shouldn't he demand that he be given his rights? If headship is a position of power over others instead of servanthood under them, its top-down structure, by its very nature, tempts those at the top to abuse power. In a context of sin, a theology teaching that the Godhead is a top-down hierarchy will naturally lead sinners to seek positions of power, and to abuse those positions when possible. Clinging to such a theology is like tying a brick to one's foot and then starting to swim. One may be able to lead the family selflessly even while holding to such a position, but whenever the head of the family is tired, overwhelmed or otherwise tempted toward selfishness, this understanding of headship will potentially lead to excusing sinful behavior toward those as seen under the head's power.

Why would such a hierarchical model of headship tempt husbands and fathers to cater to their own whims before the needs and desires of those considered "under" them? Because it is rooted in a fundamental misrepresentation of the character of God. It tempts those in headship roles to believe that perhaps--just as Lucifer argued--the Head of the universe might look out for His own needs and desires first. God can order all others to do whatever He wishes, just because He is at the top of the hierarchy and no one can question Him. Unless headship is by definition all about servanthood, the very character of God, the backbone of the law by which He rules the universe, is undermined.

It is when we apply this hierarchical understanding of the Godhead on the practical level of our homes and families that we glimpse the dark potential of such a theology. God is safe to rule the universe because His headship demonstrates entire self-abnegation. Any other model of headship threatens the eternal security of the universe. That is why, when he sought to undermine the leadership of the universe, Lucifer wisely targeted headship theology. He whispered to the other angels that the One on the throne of the universe Himself, at His heart, was in a headship position that was not founded on servanthood.
Our homes are to be a taste of heaven on earth, a place to learn to live by the principles of the kingdom. This is to be true, not just of the wife and children, but also of the husband. The call of husbands and fathers to biblical headship of the home is a call to engage deeply in the process of becoming like God. “The exercise of force is contrary to the principles of God’s government; He desires only the service of love; and love cannot be commanded; it cannot be won by force or authority. Only by love is love awakened. To know God is to love Him” (The Desire of Ages, p. 22). If this is the approach God uses in drawing His people to voluntary submission to Himself; shouldn’t the Christian husband and father follow the same principles in leading his home? This beautiful cycle of husband-wife service will inspire children born to their union to also imitate this biblical pattern of ministry, each seeking to serve the others.
Imagine the potential influence such a Christian family could have in the world. What a paradox—the letting go of apparent power, to allow the genuine power of love to bind the family together in submission to God and one another. What a revelation of the character of God to a selfish world such a home could be!
In the light of this broader understanding of the character of God and of His plan for marriage, how do we understand the King James Version of 1 Corinthians 11:3, which states, “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” Does this text refute all I have said, proving that the authority structure at the heart of the universe is indeed like a worldly military chain of command? Not at all. The word translated “woman” in the King James Version is gune, and the word translated “man” is aner. While gune could be translated either “woman” or “wife,” “gune is the only word in the biblical Greek for wife in the New Testament. There is no other word that properly expresses the meaning wife in the New Testament.” Likewise, “the Greek word aner has two essential meanings: man and husband…This is the only word in the New Testament that is used for husband” (Men and Women in the Ministry for Christ, pp. 11, 12).

In other words, Paul was affirming that husbands and wives were to follow the headship model of Jesus, as mapped out in Ephesians 5:22-33. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
Some take 1 Corinthians 3 to mean that females are to be kept below males forever, placed on a lower rung of the ladder of power upon which God has structured the universe. Some argue that this is proved by the fact that Adam was given the responsibility of naming the animals in Eden before Eve was created, establishing that he, not Eve, was the ruler of the world. However, this is an assumption of God’s motives rooted in conjecture.
The responsibility of a husband to demonstrate biblical headship does not negate the responsibility of a wife to submit. Though this concept is not popular in modern culture, it is rooted in Scripture and restated in inspired writings. “The husband who stands as the head of his wife as Christ stands as the head of His church, who loves his wife as he loves his own body, and cherishes and nourishes her as Christ the church, will not act in a way to destroy either his own powers or the powers of his wife.” (Manuscript 152, 1899, pp. 3, 4; Manuscript Releases, Vol. 4, p. 381)
“The Lord has constituted the husband the head of the wife to be her protector; he is the house-band of the family, binding the members together, even as Christ is the head of the church and the Saviour of the mystical body. Let every husband who claims to love God carefully study the requirements of God in his position. Christ’s authority is exercised in wisdom, in all kindness and gentleness; so let the husband exercise his power and imitate the great Head of the church.” (The Adventist Home, p. 215)
When two people are yoked together for life in covenant relationship, it makes sense that sometimes one must have veto power to smooth the process of decision-making. However, it is vital that the husband never selfishly abuses this position, lest his wife lose confidence in his unselfishness. This would place a temptation before her to crave similar selfish power. While it may be sinful for a woman to manipulate or attempt to control her husband, this sin is often a fruit of sinful seed sown by a husband’s selfish, ungodly approach to headship. Anger results from unmet expectations, and when a man believes that he has a right to demand that his wife obey his every whim, the reflection of the character of God is destroyed within the family. Abuse can easily follow. When a man’s exploitation of ungodly approach to power makes it difficult for a woman to maintain physical or even emotional health, she is obligated to follow God’s commands to respect her body and heart as His temple. At times this may mean she must disobey her husband in order to maintain a higher priority—her own, and/or her children’s, physical or emotional health and safety. But this terrible situation is often rooted in a man’s selfish misapplication of the headship principle God meant to be a rich blessing to the family.
Conclusion
The submission of wives to husbands was given to Adam and Eve, a married couple, as a necessity in order to preserve harmony within covenant relationships between husbands and wives. The necessity of a wife submitting to her husband, according to this description, seems to have been because of the inevitability of conflict in marriage within a sin context. The command for Eve’s submission to Adam was given to make marriage (still a covenant relationship between two equals) more harmonious—a “blessing”—not to put women a notch lower than men in a hierarchy. But regardless of whether wives were under the authority of their husbands in an Edenic, sinless world, or only after the Fall, in either case God’s goal was to bring about mutual transformation into His image of love through their serving relationship with one another.
Joel 2 prophesies that men and women together must unite at the end of time in declaring the soon coming of Jesus, and helping prepare others for that great day. In order to do so, there must be opportunity for women to grow into the image of Christ alongside men, and to utilize the spiritual gifts God gives to both sexes. To this point we will next turn our attention.
The Doctrine of Spiritual Gifts
“From art to teaching and listening to preaching, the Holy Spirit empowers each of us with skills and talents to use for God’s glory and the church’s mission.” (www.adventist.org)
The background of the three fundamental beliefs described above gives a crucial context within which the next two can be understood. First, this framework helps us understand that humans are changed into the image of God by living in mutual servanthood. The law of God is a relational law (commanding us to love God and others), so law-keeping consists of serving God and others without self-exaltation.
“‘Let us not love in word,’ the apostle writes, ‘but in deed and in truth.’ The completeness of Christian character is attained when the impulse to help and bless others springs constantly from within. It is the atmosphere of this love surrounding the soul of the believer that makes him a savor of life unto life and enables God to bless his work. Supreme love for God and unselfish love for one another—this is the best gift that our heavenly Father can bestow. This love is not an impulse, but a divine principle, a permanent power. The unconsecrated heart cannot originate or produce it. Only in the heart where Jesus reigns is it found. ‘We love Him, because He first loved us.’ In the heart renewed by divine grace, love is the ruling principle of action. It modifies the character, governs the impulses, controls the passions, and ennobles the affections. This love, cherished in the soul, sweetens the life and sheds a refining influence on all around.” (Acts of the Apostles, p. 551)
From its inception, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has maintained a strong belief in the outpouring of the Spirit on men and women alike, enabling each morally responsible human being to image God in unique ways, and to help in taking the gospel to the world. This approach is rooted in our understanding of Joel 2:28 and 29 as a prophecy of the end of time, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.”
Joel’s prophecy makes it plain that, at the end of time, both males and females will be in powerful positions of spiritual authority. The text even seems to hint strongly that there will not be a hierarchical relationship between males and females, but that at the end of time, as people are taking the gospel to the world, that males and females will be equal partners in the spreading of the gospel. This is consistent with how many in Adventism have viewed women in ministry from the beginning. “From the time of the Millerite movement, Adventists have supported the involvement of women in evangelism and church ministry. There have never been large numbers of women in ministry, but there have always been some. During the first two decades after the Seventh-day Adventist Church was organized, the Review and Herald denominational journal periodically printed articles defending women in ministry or as public speakers in religious events with the argument that the gifts of the Spirit are all gender-inclusive. Ellen White also encouraged women to be active in any kind of ministry to win souls for Christ.” (Questions and Answers About Women’s Ordination, p. 11)
It is not within the scope or purpose of this paper to thoroughly discuss the arguments for and against the ordination of women. However, it is useful to point out the things that we all agree on: that God can and does use women in even the highest positions of spiritual authority in His work. No General Conference president’s words have ever had even close to the authority of Ellen White’s words in the Adventist church, either during her life or after her death. Neither James White (who would have had biblical headship in the home over Ellen White) nor any other early or present-day church leader’s words can be quoted as an authority that can supersede her inspired words. To suggest any less is absurd.
We have no indication Ellen White ever received any ordination by human laying on of hands, and she did not need one. In fact, I think it would have been uncomfortably absurd for the men of the church to have gathered around her and prayed that God would specially ordain her. However, I would have loved to have been ordained by her! It is clear from Adventist history and common sense that, no matter what men say, they know that God spoke through her as a woman in a position of higher spiritual authority than any of them. In fact, it is fascinating to see men quote her as an authority in an attempt to use her words to prove that women cannot have spiritual authority above men. If God had wanted His end-time church always put males above females in spiritual authority, He did something very confusing by appointing Ellen White as a prophet.
The above described understanding of aner and gune applies to 1 Timothy 2:12, which states, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” While this is a difficult statement to understand (similar to its neighbor text, stating that women are to be saved through childbearing), like other challenging texts in Scripture, we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. The New Testament speaks continually of women teaching, praying and prophesying in public. Seventh-day Adventists believe, and the Bible teaches, that women as well as men may function as prophets, which is one of the most significant positions of spiritual responsibility in all of Scripture. We also believe women should preach, teach, heal, and otherwise proclaim the Gospel alongside men. Ellen White wrote, “It was Mary who first preached a risen Jesus; and the refining, softening influence of Christian women is needed in the great work of preaching the truth now. If there were twenty women where now there is one who would make the saving of souls their cherished work, we should see many more converted to the truth. Zealous and continued diligence in the cause of God would be wholly successful, and would astonish them with its results.” (Signs of the Times, September 16, 1886)
There are many spiritual gifts and ministries that our church has embraced as culturally acceptable outlets in which a woman can utilize spiritual gifts in full-time ministry. Teaching, nursing, cooking, music and other ministry opportunities have freely been offered to women as options for utilizing their spiritual gifts for many generations. The possibility of becoming doctors, once a culturally prohibited opportunity, has become mainstream (and was, of course, encouraged by Ellen White). Public speaking, a ministry that was considered biblically forbidden for women by many during the 1800s, was always considered appropriate for women within the Adventist church, largely due to the ministry of Ellen White.
The crucial question with which our church is wrestling regarding spiritual gifts now could be summed up this way: As a church, we teach that both men and women are given spiritual gifts, and that God expects every converted follower, whether male or female, to utilize these gifts in advancing the kingdom. Our great difficulty is in assessing whether we can safely pray for women to utilize those gifts in every area of spiritual leadership, or if some areas are only available for males. Because God has indicated that husbands are to demonstrate servant leadership in their homes, taking first responsibility to seek the lowest place, many feel that it is necessary for only males to have a position of headship over churches, as well.
Must only males be placed in headship over churches?
So far, we have laid the groundwork for understanding male headship of the home in the context of God’s purpose at Creation, and His intent at the Fall. We have seen that God did not place Adam in headship over Eve merely as a punishment for her sin. God’s commands, rightly followed, are always blessings, not angry pronouncements. God designed male headship of the home as a blessing to bring about unity in the home, making the family circle more likely to be a taste of heaven on earth, and a reflection of the mutual servanthood evident in the Godhead relationship. God charged husbands to be the heads of their homes in order to demonstrate servant leadership within the context of a lifelong covenant relationship between two people. Within this relationship, biblical servant headship clearly helps the family unit to image God. As the husband follows Christ’s example of servanthood, he seeks the lowest place, demonstrating a love for his wife that will inspire her to similar humility. This cycle of self-sacrifice will make the home an ideal place for godly children to learn to love God supremely, and others as themselves.
The purpose of this paper is not to examine the arguments for and against the ordination of women, or to persuade people in either direction. Rather, my focus is on bringing the church together as a covenant community, to move harmoniously toward fulfilling the Great Commission by obeying God’s commands. I believe there are a wide variety of approaches to this conflict that could be utilized by the church body, if we commit together to obedience to the law of God by seeking the lowest place.
We know from Scripture and inspired counsel that both men and women are given spiritual gifts, and that every believer is called to utilize those spiritual gifts in loving service to God and man. If we shift our focus from polarization to united ministry, I believe we will reap far greater benefits than merely placing more people in ministry. We will be refined as a people, and prepared for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, just as the church was similarly prepared in the book of Acts as they put aside differences and recognized their equality in the light of the cross. A simple chronological reading of the book of Acts shows that, as the Spirit worked within the church, there was a steady leveling of hierarchical relationships. Paul eventually declared in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” For Jew and Greek, slave and master, and male and female to be declared equal in value was a massive cultural shift that I think we cannot fully comprehend in our Western cultural mindset. God was restoring the church to the sort of relationship Adam and Eve had in Eden before the Fall—not a neat hierarchy of human relationships, but a beautiful web of humanity, woven together by each person seeking the lowest place in relationship with others. “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44). Only the harmonious seeking of the lowest place unitedly could create the culture of mutual self-sacrifice evident in the early church.
Most members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church would agree that women are called to help share the gospel by utilizing their spiritual gifts. Most would even agree that some of those women should be paid for their work in a wide variety of ministries. Women are usually accepted as nurses, teachers, doctors, and even preachers and public speakers in sharing the gospel. However, there seems to be one area in which people are uncomfortable allowing women to minister: pastoral leadership of a church. This single position is considered “headship” in a local congregation, and many consider this ministry rank, according to Scripture, to be reserved for men. This is especially true when the placing of a woman in this position might involve praying for her ministry with the laying on of hands.
Interestingly, the New Testament does not give a solid biblical precedent for having a single leader in “headship,” either male or female, over communities of believers at all. The Jewish synagogues in Jesus’ time had groups of elders presiding over them, and it is likely that the house churches that sprang up during the early church followed a similar leadership structure. There are examples, such as Paul’s letters to Timothy, that seem to indicate that men were in significant positions of leadership in some church groups, but it is not clear that this was a general practice. It is apparent that there is a church meeting at the home of Lydia, and also at the home of a woman named Nympha (Colossians 4:15). While it is certainly possible that groups of male elders led those churches, no single male leaders are mentioned—rather, women leaders’ names were apparently used, at least in casual conversation, to distinguish those assemblies. In discussion of the need for women to become more involved in ministry in the Adventist church, Ellen White mentions the prominent work of these and other women in ministry in the New Testament as an argument: “We need women workers to labor in connection with their husbands, and we should encourage those who wish to engage in this line of missionary effort…Study the Scriptures for further light on this point. Women were among Christ’s devoted followers in the days of His ministry, and Paul makes mention of certain women who were helpers together with him in the gospel (see Phil. 4:2-3).” (Letter 142, 1909; Manuscript Releases, Vol. 12, pp. 166-167)
Whatever the practices in the early church regarding women in ministry, we have been given clear counsel from the Lord not to consider men—or women—as the heads of churches at all. In contrast to Ellen White’s counsel regarding homes, where she maintains that husbands are to remain the heads of their families in order to preserve harmony within the covenant relationship, she has this to say regarding ministers as heads of churches. “God has never given a hint in His Word that He has appointed any man to be the head of the church” (The Great Controversy, p. 51). Rather, this tendency toward making a hierarchical leadership structure of males is specifically warned against, as a hallmark of an apostate approach to spiritual leadership. Lest this be construed to mean only as a condemnation of a papal system, however, she clarified elsewhere, “Christ, not the minister, is the head of the church” (The Signs of the Times, Jan. 27, 1890, emphasis supplied). She even goes so far as to state directly, “Christ is the only Head of the church” (Manuscript Releases, Vol. 21, p. 274).
It seems evident that, while husbands are to be the heads of homes, God does not want His church to apply this principle within church families.
We know God wants all believers to help in spreading the gospel. "The work of God on this earth can never be finished until the men and women comprising our church membership rally to the work, and unite their efforts with those of ministers and church officers” (Gospel Workers, p. 352). In a general sense, Ellen White taught that all believers were set apart for ministry. “All who are ordained into the life of Christ are ordained to work for the salvation of their fellow men” (The Signs of the Times, Aug. 25, 1898). However, she seems to have seen a special work of setting apart by laying on of hands to have been an indication of some people being specially chosen by God for ministry, and she did not feel it was an abomination for women to have this ceremony. “Women who are willing to consecrate some of their time to the service of the Lord should be appointed to visit the sick, look after the young, and minister to the necessities of the poor. They should be set apart to this work by prayer and laying on of hands” (Daughters of God, p. 102, emphasis supplied).
It is clear, not only from a cursory study of Adventist history, but also from the study of Ellen White’s writings, that God specifically instructed our church to put some spiritually gifted women into full-time ministry, and to pay them from the tithe. While there is no specific mention of payment of tithe to any women in ministry in the New Testament, it is clearly stated that “the laborer is worthy of his hire” (1 Timothy 5:18). Ellen White clarifies any question as to whether only males can be paid from tithe for the work of ministry: “The tithe should go to those who labor in word and doctrine, be they men or women” (Manuscript 149, 1899, p. 3; Manuscript Releases, Vol. 1, p. 263). She was careful elsewhere to clarify that tithe was not to go to just anyone who was doing the work of God. “One reasons that the tithe may be applied to school purposes. Still others reason that canvassers and colporteurs should be supported from the tithe. But a great mistake is made when the tithe is drawn from the object for which it is to be used—the support of the ministers” (Counsels on Stewardship, p. 102). She is even more direct elsewhere, stating that tithe “is the Lord’s special revenue fund…I have had special instruction from the Lord that the tithe is for a special purpose, consecrated to God to sustain those who minister in the sacred work as the Lord’s chosen” (Daughters of God, p. 256). Did she mean that women could be considered to be ministers receiving tithe, but not pastors? She did not seem to make this distinction, for despite the cultural barriers of her time, she specifically stated, “It is the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit of God that prepares workers, both men and women, to become pastors to the flock of God” (Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 6, p. 322). She did not mean merely that women could engage in shepherding work in a general sense, for she even stated elsewhere, “It is not always men who are best adapted to the successful management of a church. If faithful women have more deep piety and true devotion than men, they could indeed by their prayers and their labors do more than men who are unconsecrated in heart and in life” (Letter 33, 1879; Manuscript Releases, Vol. 19, p. 56). Given the cultural context of Ellen White’s time, it is understandable that she might not recommend that women attempt to generally become the pastors of churches, for many reasons. But it is clear that she did not consider such a practice to be morally wrong.
What about the male Levitical priesthood?
It is perhaps necessary to note that many people feel that the most credible reason that women must not be put into leading positions of spiritual authority is not found in the New Testament, but in the Old. Because the Levitical priesthood was made up exclusively of males, it is argued, it is evidently God’s plan that only males be put into leading positions of spiritual authority. While we do not have time to delve into this topic extensively, it is perhaps necessary to make a brief mention of it. This belief stands as a mighty wall in many people’s minds, preventing them from being able to even consider allowing women to minister in positions of spiritual authority without men in direct supervision over them.
Two of the main purposes of the priesthood were intercession for others, and helping people understand the plan of salvation. The Levitical priesthood appears to have been a secondary plan of God for doing this, because Israel failed at His initial plan. In Exodus 19, just before the Ten Commandments were given, God clearly explained this, telling all of Israel, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). God wanted Israel to be a light to all the nations, unitedly working to bring salvation to the world. It seems that because of Israel’s failings, God had to set apart a priesthood to intercede for Israel and teach them about Himself first, before they could teach others and intercede the surrounding nations. Many people think that the priesthood of all believers was a new development declared by Peter in 1 Peter 2:5-9; however, Peter was quoting from Exodus 19’s statement of God’s original plan for Israel.
Conclusion
Despite the evidences cited above and many others, though, some people firmly hold to their belief that in order for females to utilize their spiritual gifts with the blessing of God, they must have males in positions of spiritual authority over them. Many feel strongly that, according to Scripture, certain ministry opportunities must be reserved for males. Regardless of inspired counsel, the thought of setting females apart for use of their spiritual gifts by prayer and laying on of hands is considered by these people to be sinful. To those who hold these convictions, having a woman baptize, pray over Communion, or otherwise officiate in a role they deem to only be acceptable for a man, feels like a denial of faith in Scripture. While some of us may differ with them on this topic, we are all bound together as a spiritual community in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. How can the principles of mutual servanthood and the priesthood of all believers bring all of us together as a united body of Christ while respecting a wide variety of conscientious convictions regarding this topic? This will be the final topic of this paper. 
The Doctrine of Unity in the Body of Christ
"The human body serves as the perfect metaphor for the people of God on earth. Comprised of many parts that are as different from one another as imaginable, harmony of voices and unity of mission comes as a result of the Holy Spirit in us." (www.adventist.org) 
 
The model of mutual servanthood demonstrated in the Godhead, the law of God, and God's ideal for marriage, is a beautiful design. Rightly followed, the principles of the law written in our hearts will lead the church to function as a harmonious web of selfless relationship, with each person utilizing their spiritual gifts to live out the gospel of love to God and one naother. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit enabled this to happen in the early church as described in the book of Acts, and God wants this to happen again, as expressed in Joel 2, as all His people utilize their spiritual gifts harmoniously.
This beautiful picture of the character of God will be the final appeal to the world to prepare the way for Jesus’ Second Coming. "Those who wait for the Bridegroom’s coming are to say to the people, 'Behold your God.' The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of His character of love. The children of God are to manifest His glory. In their own life and character they are to reveal what the grace of God has done for them." (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 415)
Ellen White refers to the final generation’s relationship with God and one another when she describes the righteousness of Christ—the fulfillment of His law of love—being revealed at the end of time. Speaking of the fruits of the Spirit, she says, “When the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.” Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 69)
There have been many troubling misapplications of this description. But as explained earlier, it is clear that the revelation of the character of Christ described here is not merely flawless behavior. Rather, it is a transformation of motives that leads God’s people to heartfelt fulfillment of God’s relational law. “The completeness of Christian character is attained when the impulse to help and bless others springs constantly from within. It is the atmosphere of this love surrounding the soul of the believer that makes him a savor of life unto life and enables God to bless his work.” (Acts of the Apostles, p. 551)
Far from being irrelevant to the discussion of the ordination of women, I firmly believe the concept of self-sacrificing love is the secret to its resolution. “The secret of unity is found in the equality of believers in Christ. The reason for all division, discord, and difference is found in separation from Christ” (Selected Messages, Vol. 1, p. 259). Could it be that the reason our church is being ripped apart by the conflict over ordination is not because of different interpretations of Scripture, but because of our lack of self-abnegating love for one another?
“Supreme love for God and unselfish love for one another—this is the best gift that our heavenly Father can bestow. This love is not an impulse, but a divine principle, a permanent power. The unconsecrated heart cannot originate or produce it. Only in the heart where Jesus reigns is it found. ‘We love Him, because He first loved us.’ In the heart renewed by divine grace, love is the ruling principle of action.” (Acts of the Apostles, p. 551)
Imagine if this conflict were not between two factions of the church, but between two marital partners in disagreement with one another over an issue of conviction. For example, if a wife were convicted that their family must be vegan, she might demand that no animal products were to be put into the refrigerator in her kitchen. Her husband, on the other hand, might believe that such an approach was dangerous to his health, and might insist that due to fears of B12 deficiency, he be able to fill the refrigerator with milk, butter and other products that he believed were important for his health.
If this couple were to come to me for marriage counseling, I would listen to their perspectives, but I would be looking, not for who was right, but for the underlying issues driving them apart. The problem would not be that either person was right or wrong (and both could undoubtedly make strong cases for their positions); the problem would lie in their unwillingness to demonstrate mutual servanthood. If the two were to become committed to self-sacrificing love for one another and mutual respect, any one of many solutions could restore peace. Could the husband place another refrigerator in the garage for his use? Could the wife accept her husband’s use of half of the refrigerator for products he wanted to eat, out of respect for his convictions? Could the husband use B12 supplements instead of eating animal products? These and many other possibilities would appear reasonable, if both people were committed to mutual servanthood.
I believe our church is caught up now in a similar conflict. Two factions have dug in their heels and insisted that they will not back down on their convictions for the sake of unity. Each one cites Scripture, deep personal conviction and logic as the basis for their decisions. However, if both sides were to commit to mutual servanthood, I believe a number of approaches to the conflict could be proposed that could result in harmonious agreement for the vast majority of church members. Could pastoral ministry be redefined, using Scripture as the guide for a pastor’s responsibilities, instead of tradition? Could many different forms of ordination be offered, so that we no longer mimic the Catholic, hierarchical headship of churches? Could the titles of pastoral ministry positions be changed to less divisive terms? Could we redesign ministry, so that deeper personal work could be done by women for women, and by men for men? Perhaps, in demonstration of servant headship, women might even resign themselves, out of commitment to the greater good of unity within the church, to accept that God’s ordination alone is sufficient, trusting that “God will send forth into His vineyard many who have not been dedicated to the ministry by the laying on of hands” (Acts of the Apostles, p. 110).
Conclusion
When we commit ourselves to mutual servanthood and selfless headship, we know that we are committing to sacrifice. There will be conflicts within our relationships, and we will have to let go of self often as we navigate the waters of servanthood. “So long as we are in the world, we shall meet with adverse influences. There will be provocations to test the temper; and it is by meeting these in a right spirit that the Christian graces are developed” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 487). Perhaps God’s plan in the midst of this conflict in the church is to do exactly what He designs to do within marriages through conflict—teach us to live in self-sacrificing community. Because the attitude of servanthood demonstrated by the church and the apostles in Acts 1 and 2 must be reproduced within the church at the end of time. If this is God’s goal in this struggle over the ordination of women, God might intentionally lead or allow people to come to varying conclusions, in order to bring about a greater good than doctrinal unity—biblical servanthood. Because uncomfortable community with people who are different than ourselves, in itself, is crucial to helping sinners grow into the image of Christ. It is an invitation to seek a lower place, thus demonstrating the same spirit as the One Who rules from the throne of the universe. Conflict is an opportunity to learn to love the way God loves us.
Summary
If biblical headship is demonstrated most clearly in the character of God as expressed within the Father-Son relationship, it is clear that headship is all about love, mutual servanthood, and seeking the best for the other instead of for self.

If headship means simply the seeking of the lowest place, it is possible that God may have placed Adam in servant-leader headship even before sin, by inspiring Adam first with the desire to seek the lowest place. However, such headship would have meant simply that Adam was to be the first to model selflessness to Eve. This would be in harmony with the fact that God created Adam first and then gave him opportunity to see what the world would be like without Eve, so that Adam would be forever aware of the blessing of her companionship.
Regardless of whether Adam was placed in servant headship in Eden before sin, however, one thing is clear: God designed marriage to be a relationship transforming both partners into His image of self-abnegating love—not just the woman. A husband in a position of biblical headship is responsible to be the fountain of selflessness for his family. Rather than expecting his wife to learn to discern his every wish and immediately fulfill it (as suggested in some theological misconceptions), such a man will work to discern his wife’s wishes, and seek to serve her selflessly. He will only exercise his authority to go against her wishes when he believes that it is in the best interest of the family. And even if he feels conscientiously convicted to go against his wife’s wishes, he will lead gently, with an attitude of servanthood. Such an approach, rather than fostering the development of rebellious feminism, actually helps prevent it.
While God has placed husbands in servant headship positions in homes, there are various interpretations of whether males must be in positions of spiritual headship over females, according to Scripture. It seems clear, however, that both men and women are to be united in the great work of taking the gospel to the world. According to Joel 2:28, 29, God will pour out His Spirit on both men and women at the end of time, divinely ordaining both men and women to positions of spiritual authority as prophets, as He did with Ellen White. Regardless of the ordination of men, God will pour out His Spirit on all who are willing to be emptied of self and used by Him to take the gospel to the world. However, we would be wise as a church to look for ways we can bring our church structure into better harmony with God’s commands. One way to do so is to obey God’s instruction to put women into tithe-paid ministry.
Finally, I believe God has allowed this controversy to arise in our church to prevent us from making the disciples’ mistake, that of associating spiritual leadership with positions of superiority.
“The one who stands nearest to Christ will be he who on earth has drunk most deeply of the spirit of His self-sacrificing love...Again the strife as to which should be greatest seemed about to be renewed, when Jesus, calling them to Him, said to the indignant disciples, ‘Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you.’ In the kingdoms of the world, position meant self-aggrandizement…Religion, like all things else, was a matter of authority. The people were expected to believe and practice as their superiors directed. The right of man as man, to think and act for himself, was wholly unrecognized. Christ was establishing a kingdom on different principles. He called men, not to authority, but to service, the strong to bear the infirmities of the weak. Power, position, talent, education, placed their possessor under the greater obligation to serve his fellows. To even the lowliest of Christ's disciples it is said, ‘All things are for your sakes.’ 2 Corinthians 4:15. ‘The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.’” (The Desire of Ages, p. 550, emphasis supplied)
How grave a warning this is for us today! The disciples could not receive the Holy Spirit’s outpouring until they put away their differences, their strife for supremacy, their cherished hopes of hierarchical position. Let us not fall for the same strategy of Satan yet again. May we be the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer: “That they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in thee, that they also may be in Us: that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me. And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given unto them; that they may be one, even as We are One; I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and lovedst them, even as Thou lovedst Me.” (John 17:21-23, 26)
Let us not malign the character of God in order to support our cherished positions. Let us not tear our church apart because of commitment to our own interpretations of Scripture. Even if we have the correct interpretation of Scripture, if we are unable to demonstrate love and self-sacrifice in the midst of our differences, we fail to image God well or have His character reproduced in our hearts and lives. Regardless of whose interpretation of Scripture is correct, God wants us to use this opportunity to teach us self-sacrifice, and to demonstrate the transformation of His people into His image of self-sacrificing love, so that He can come to claim us as His own. Jesus refuted Lucifer’s accusations against the character of God (and the law of His kingdom) when He revealed the Father’s character by seeking the lowest place. We likewise are called to vindicate the character of God when we follow His example of humility. Together as a church, let us seek the lowest place, exemplifying to the watching universe what God can do in humble, believing souls.
*Unless otherwise noted, all Bible verses in this paper are from the ESV. Bold type provides emphasis within quotations; italicized type provides emphasis outside of quotations.

5 comments:

Francescook said...

Nicole, I am praising God for you! I have read bits and pieces of this in your previous posts, but this is a wonderful pulling together of scripture, EGW, and a worldview bathed in love. I have struggled to understand what you mean by "Seeking the lowest place", and how that fits with the executive responsibilities of leadership. This document makes all that much clearer to me. As I understand you now, seeking to lowest place means to seek the role of greatest service.
I love what this concept does to my picture of God. Pure love. All the time. For me, a very central concept is this sentence, "For all beings in the universe to let go of self-seeking, and to seek the lowest place requires that they trust their creators to seek their good first." And on from there!
I believed at the end of GC 2015, that we had not yet learned as a people what we needed to learn about womans' roles. Then it seemed everyone mostly wanted to rest from it. Yet here and there are thinking people starting to consider the interrelated whole as you did here. To consider that maybe a whole different model of ministry is needed. I rejoice! We seem to me as a people stumbling toward the light. It is hard work, and I thank you, my friend.

bonzobuddybear said...

Thank you for your encouragement, Frances! I pray some good will come of this huge upheaval in our church. I believe God is on the move.

C A Fisher said...

Thank you so much for this spiritually based, rather than bashing-based, perspective of seeking God first and our own personal interests, last. You explained deeper many thoughts I've had myself but by framing them in a servanthood picture, they seem more crystallized. I still look through a glass darkly, but hope to be a positive person in my marriage and my church. Using this servanthood framework makes much more sense than our traditional arguments of basing an entire hierarchy on other denominations' foundations, a position I questioned a couple of years ago, but now have a more sensical and Biblical application to appease with. God bless you and your family and may you continue to hear God's voice and share Him.

bonzobuddybear said...

Thank you for your encouragement, C A Fisher! Please feel free to share this with others. Perhaps someone will read it who can make a difference. And really, every one of us can make a difference. Perhaps not in our church structure or handling of this situation, but certainly in our own homes and families and communities. And really, that is where all significant change happens--in personal relationships.

Glenn said...

I appreciate your thoughts. I want to invite you to look at a Facebook page I've started: "Adventist Priorities."
1) Jesus First
2) Love Matters Most
3) Ministry is Service

I think we understand the Kingdom of God and the life of the church quite similarly!