JAAS Articles on Women’s Ordination

JAAS 16.2 CoverFor those new to the debate, or perhaps not as familiar, here are some scholarly articles published in the Journal of Asia Adventist Seminary about women’s ordination.

Bruce Bauer and Boubakar Sanou, “Cultural Considerations and Women’s Ordination.” JAAS 16.2 (2013): 153-161. Click here.

Ekkehardt Mueller, “Ordination in the New Testament,” JAAS 15.2 (2012): 127-147. Click here.

Ekkehardt Mueller, “The Phrase ‘Husband of One Wife’ in 1 Timothy 3:2,” JAAS 15.2 (2012) 149-167. Click here.

Eike Mueller, “Leadership, Spiritual Gifts, and Office in the New Testament,” JAAS 15.2 (2012): 169-196. Click here.

John Reeve, “Trajectories of Women’s Ordination,” JAAS 15.2 (2012): 197-220. Click here.

The Floor Report #3: Manual Matters

The day began in earnest by reviewing proposed modifications about The Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual. As changes began to be discussed in earnest, Gerard Damsteegt (Andrews University) noted a distinction between a licensed versus an ordained minister; and Neil Nedley (Weimar) built on this comment by observing that by deleting the term “minister” it would effectively preclude the vote on Wednesday. The question centered on whether there should be one term or two. Angel Rodriguez (GC), former BRI director, urged delegates to save the debate about women’s ordination for Wednesday. Altogether, of the approximately 30 proposed revisions concerning the Church Manual, by the end of the morning only one was not referred back to the committee for review. Cecil Perry (TED) gave one of the more memorable comments of the morning when he stated that “It is clear that coming events shadow our discussion today. Wednesday is in the room.” When the afternoon session resumed at 2 pm with Artur Stele (GC) resumed the business session by quipping: “Do not worry about tomorrow, I mean Wednesday [the day reserved for the discussion on women’s ordination], for Wednesday will take care of itself.” In the end it appears that proposed changes to The Church Manual were getting bogged down in debate over women’s ordination. It seems that it will be very difficult to get through the General Conference agenda this week at the current pace.

Later on in the afternoon the nominating committee brought a report. The big news was the composition and quantity of the general vice-presidents. Elder Wilson made the case that the church should reduce the number of VPs from 9 to 6 (a return to the number that the denomination had back in 1990). The nominating committee brought 6 names to the floor: Ella Simmons (United States), Geoffrey Mbwana (Tanzania), Artur Stele (Russia), Guillermo Biagi (Argentina), Abner De Los Santos (Mexico), and Thomas Lemon (United States). Right away delegates noticed that two incumbents were missing: Delbert Baker (United States) and Pardon Mwansa (Zambia). Immediately, within the context of polarization over women’s ordination, the question centered about whether they were removed because of their position on women’s ordination. Conversely, the argument was made that Simmons and Lemon, who have gone on record in the past as being in favor of women’s ordination, may be perceived as representing a minority position within the top leadership circle of the denomination. The day ended without an official vote on the names, and those with grievances were given an opportunity to consult with the leaders of the nominating committee. The second matter of a reduction in the quantity of general VPs was taken different ways. Some delegates saw it as a helpful streamlining of leadership; others perceived it as a method of consolidation and control.

The greatest amount of drama was reserved for the matter of the electronic voting devices. Technology gurus working for the General Conference appear to be quite baffled about why the devices are not working. I was told of a recent test the night before when the devices worked flawlessly so it appears that there must be some tampering, but how? Of course this opens the door for all kinds of speculation ranging from some kind of blocking device to groups of delegates choosing not to vote. An appeal to count the vote by divisions, which would help to rule out the latter possibility was not explored despite an earnest appeal by a delegate. It appears that the frustration was building for everyone based upon the simple fact that church leaders were unable to make this technology work! Ted Wilson announced that if the variance was greater than 51 votes that the steering committee would recommend a vote to scrap the devices altogether in favor of traditional voting cards (with the caveat that for sensitive votes a secret ballot would be made available). The vote passed and gizmos gathered. We’re back to the tried and true method of voting cards.

The Floor Report #2: Global Contours

Global North versus Global SouthFriday was a pivotal day because the nominating committee of the General Conference gets to work. While this is going on the General Conference secretary, Elder. G. T. Ng, gave his report. The Secretariat is responsible for the operation of the world church: they review and keep track of church policy, they are responsible for sending out missionaries along with advancing the strategic advance of Adventist mission, and they provide a general overview of statistics and research (including a valuable report by David Trim overviewing church losses).

For me the most important aspect of the report was the description of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church as shifting to what Elder Ng described as the “global south.” This shift reflects that of Christianity in general, which now is growing and even thriving primarily in the southern hemisphere of the globe. Whereas in 1960 the Seventh-day Adventist Church was made up of 56% of the membership in the “global south.” Today the shift is even more dramatic: 92% of church members are from the “global south.”

So what does this mean?

  • The Seventh-day Adventist Church has become truly become a global church. Elder Ng observed that 168 countries were represented among the delegates at the 60th General Conference Session. There are more Adventists worshipping in India than in the entire North American division; more church members gather in Korea on a given Sabbath than who meet in all of Europe.
  • Africa is the powerhouse of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Since the last General Conference session, the church in Africa has now grown to become the largest continent in terms of membership for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Elder Ng on Sabbath morning mentioned that today there are approximately 6 million Spanish and Portuguese brothers and sisters. In Africa there is currently 6.9 million church members. In the future Africa can be looked to as the hub of Adventism.
  • Demographics are changing. What was once a predominantly “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant” (WASP) church in North America has transformed into a church that is truly diverse, and within North America is now largely an immigrant church. More intentionality needs to be given to find ways to reach out to an increasingly secular and postmodern society, as those in the “global north” welcome missionaries from the “global south.” This is one of the greatest challenges facing the denomination as demographics change. Great sensitivity is needed so that the “global north” is not marginalized either.
  • Adventist priorities will creatively adapt to meet the needs of the “global south.” It appears that there are very diverse cultural forces are at work as new demographics within Christianity in general, and Adventism in particular, mean that out of necessity there is creativity and adaptation. At times this may be out of necessity driven by mission as church growth in the “global south” is not uniform or consistent. In some countries the church may actually be struggling, or even decreasing. So it remains to be seen how the church can creatively shift and adapt to meet the needs of various parts of the world, including difficult regions, especially to reach out to Muslims and Buddhists. See my paper exploring the intersection of Adventist theology in an Asian context.

By about 10:30 a.m. on Friday it was obvious (from social media and from just looking across the floor) that the nominating committee was re-entering the main floor (it is hard to miss 252 people coming back in). Big news was on the way. Elder Ted N. C. Wilson’s name was brought to the floor after the secretariat report was finished.

For the first time in recent memory two delegates requested the privilege to speak with the leadership of the nominating committee. Clearly this was an awkward moment. The two delegates from North America requested that the name be referred back to the nominating committee. Each time the leadership of the nominating committee returned the name to the floor. This appeared to me to be an unfortunate episode as cheering erupted on both sides. Pardon Mwansa, the chair, requested that those present control their emotions. Eventually the vote was taken. Although the vote was estimated at some 90% in favor, the fault lines of dissent were obvious as most of the votes against the nomination were in one general area representing Europe and North America.

Friday afternoon was comprised largely of the treasurer’s report. Juan Prestol-Puesán was elected treasurer (following the announced retirement of Robert Lemon); Elder G. T. Ng was re-elcted as secretary. The nominating committee appears to be working at a fast clip. What happens next remains to be seen after the opportunity to worship and fellowship during the Sabbath.

The Floor Report #1: Beginnings

It seems that every General Conference session takes on a life of its own. After months of preparation the church is geared up for what is more than a large gathering, it is the heartbeat of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In talking to those who have been to many more sessions than I have (my first was the Toronto GC Session in 2000), it seems that each one is unique. It is almost as if as things unfold you sense a pulse as the session takes on a life of its own.

What follows are some personal ruminations and reflections as this pivotal meeting gets started. For this GC Session I have the privilege to help out with the Adventist Review and Adventist World staff as they prepare the General Conference session Daily Bulletin. We have a live stream from the floor, and whenever possible I try to go over to the floor (or press box) to hear firsthand from the delegates. I want to hear the discussions on the floor that give background and input into the decisions made during this meeting.

Each morning a steering committee made up of key church leaders helps to guide the agenda for each day. They meet early in the morning at 6:30 a.m. Immediately afterward various other groups get to work. The communication staff, including those working on producing the GC Bulletin, have worship soon afterward. Reporters and photographers immediately get to work on various stories. My life gets busy, and I am thankful that I can do most of my writing early in the morning while the jetlag isn’t too bad. It is a privilege, from my perspective, to even be a part of the team helping to communicate to the world church what is going on each day.

The first day is really about celebrating some key accomplishments from over the past five years. Of significance is the reconciliation between church leaders in Hungary and a breakaway group. Attempts were made to use electronic voting devices, but initial efforts were hampered due to interference from a strong WiFi signal. It is hoped that this can be fixed soon because it will make votes faster and more precise. Ted Wilson, as world church president, gave his presidential report during the evening meeting. Perhaps most significant of all is the election of a nominating committee. With 252 members the nominating committee represents approximately 10% of the total number of elected delegates (although at this point the number of delegates is somewhat lower due to the fact that some individuals were not able to get the requisite visa or clearance). This is where the real action is going to take place, and they get to work first thing Friday morning by working on appointing the officers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church for the next five years.

What will happen next? I don’t know. What I think everyone is watching for is the first nominating committee report, which no doubt will set the tone for the rest of the session. Members of the “NomCom” are urged to maintain confidentiality. In the past members of the nominating committee check all electronic devices at the door. They need to be able to come together as a group, to pray and talk in confidence, so that they can recommend leaders for the world church. This particular General Conference session is especially momentous because a number of key leaders, including four GC presidents, have announced their retirement. Many others leaders are also retiring as a baby boomer generation within Adventism steps aside. A great deal of leadership change is anticipated.

The topic seared in the psyche of Adventists is this matter of women’s ordination. I recently attended a meeting of church historians and conversed with a prominent Christian leader who is the president of a Protestant Seminary. After being introduced, after learning that I was a Seventh-day Adventist, the individual commented: “The one thing I will never understand about Seventh-day Adventists is how a church, founded by a woman, could be debating women’s ordination.” Another prominent scholar from Wheaton College made a similar remark to me while at the Society of Biblical Literature meetings this past year. I realized that the rest of the world is watching what happens this coming week, as much of the focus of the world church has centered on this debate over women’s ordination. Our church seems, well, a bit distracted.

So on this first Friday we pray and wait. For those who are eager for some kind of resolution about the whole topic of women’s ordination, the wait will be a bit longer because that particular discussion won’t happen until next Wednesday. As one delegate commented to me in this regard: “this is the only vote that counts at this meeting.” Many veteran church leaders have commented that attendance appears to be much higher than usual, particularly for so early on in the session. For some reason women’s ordination has unleashed a sensitive nerve within Adventism. Church historian George R. Knight recently commented that this is the most controversial topic that he has witnessed within the denomination in the five decades of his ministry as an ordained minister. Perhaps it was for this reason that church leaders were busy making sure that all the proper protocols were followed for each delegate. They don’t want there to be any question about the integrity of the vote once it happens next week.

Book Review: Why Church History Matters

Robert F. Rea, Why Church History Matters: An Invitation to Love and Learn from our Past. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014. 231 pp. ISBN 978-0-8308-2819-7. Paperback, USD $20.00.

Most Seventh-day Adventist colleges have an undergraduate course or two on church history. Rea, a professor at Lincoln Christian University, argues that “Christianity is essentially historical” (16). Thus Christian colleges are justified in offering such courses in their department repertoire. Rea goes on to argue that by studying earlier Christians that it provides the student of history greater accountability. “The problem is this: when we ignore centuries of God-loving Christians and the rich well of resources that have passed on to us, sometimes ignoring even Scripture itself in the process, our perceived needs are often little more than mirrors of our fallen culture” (15).

The book is neatly divided into three parts. Part one covers how we understand the tradition (28-80), followed by a second section on expanding circles of inquiry (81-132), and completed by part three on tradition serving the church (133-190). A reflective essay on how to “celebrate the body of Christ” (191-194) along with a list of recommended resources for ministry (195-200) round out the volume. I personally found this last section extremely useful as I checked the holdings of my own institutional library to make sure that we have a well-rounded collection. There can be a tendency within institutional libraries of collections to reflect the whims of administration, faculty, and librarians. And just like book acquisitions, the student of history is reminded by studying the past that objectivity requires not just consulting authors who share your perspective. Ultimately objectivity, argues Rea, requires understanding those views different from your own (27-28). He agrees with C. S. Lewis that assuming that previous generation are inferior is nothing short of chronological snobbery (148).

A fundamental thesis of this volume is that it was not until the Protestant Reformation that a dichotomy was created between tradition and Scripture. He thus argues that Protestants minimize Christian history thus exhibiting a fundamental distrust of tradition (72). I would argue that certainly Protestants in general could do better about emphasizing such history, yet the real issue is that of authority. The author recognizes that the Reformers did not reject tradition outright, but rather that tradition could overturn tradition. The very diversity among Protestants, Rea argues, is evidence that the church must provide a proper interpretation of Scripture (65). Thus I wish the author had done a bit more in clarifying the role of tradition within Protestantism because the underlying problem is more a problem of authority rather than a neglect of the past. Protestants simply do not place the same authority that Roman Catholics and the Orthodox churches do upon tradition (although the author recognizes that for the Eastern Orthodox that they do not see any distinction between Scripture and tradition as superfluous [63-64]). He thus rightly notes that Protestants deny that tradition is revelation (73), yet many Protestants have provided rich and deep insights into Christian history. It appears that the author’s own biases in this regard shine through. Despite this, the author argues that church history provides a helpful corrective across time and space, even if it functions authoritatively in different ways for different Christian groups. Yet I could not help but desire  a more nuanced analysis in this regard.

What I found valuable, particular for when I teach courses on research, are some of the pedagogical hints richly dispersed throughout the volume. Thus the author notes how teaching faculty do a disservice to their students when they teach their students to form their opinion first because it falsely implies that we can come to the text without any presuppositions. I find this one of the most common pitfalls in my teaching experience so far. Students tell me what they are going to argue before they have begun to examine the evidence. Such patterns have led to many false teachings in Christian history. Modern biblical students will benefit from the historic community because studying the past allows us to become more sensitive to the presuppositions and worldviews of those whom we study (90).

This is a helpful volume that belongs in religious library collections. It is a perceptive treatment that convincingly argues about the significance of Christian history. The author urges us to make friends across the centuries (190). “By studying the past we learn to be cautious. We could misunderstand God’s will and take a wrong position, sometimes with disastrous results” (187).

New Biography on Uriah Smith

Gary Land, Uriah Smith: Apologist and Biblical Commentator. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2014. 247 pp. + 3 pp. Appendix + 6 pp. Index. Hardcover, $22.99.

New Book by Gary LandThe late Gary Land was a master of the craft of history. After four decades of teaching history, he left two posthumous jewels, a third edition of his Dictionary of Seventh-day Adventism (Rowman and Littlefield, 2014) and this latest contribution to the Adventist Pioneer Series. Land utilizes many unpublished materials that Eugene F. Durand for whatever reason did not incorporate into his dissertation (later published in 1980 as Yours in the Blessed Hope, Uriah Smith). However, the real contribution by Land is his ability to contextualize Smith’s life and background, which in turn gives the modern reader a special opportunity to critically, yet empathetically, understand the world of early Adventism. [Read more…]

Why John Huss Matters after Six Centuries

John HusThis year marks 600 years since John Huss was burned at the stake. His remarkable life, along with his compatriot Jerome, are a compelling story of the power of God’s Word. For Seventh-day Adventists this is especially compelling as their story forms chapter six of The Great Controversy by Ellen G. White where she talks about their contribution as part of the “Great Controversy” drama between Christ and Satan. What stands out as their greatest contribution is there faithfulness to God’s Word.

Why did Ellen G. White see John Huss as significant? She gave three reasons.

First, the Bible was translated into the Czech language, but Gregory VII issued a bull forbidding public worship in the vernacular, especially with the Bible. This was during a time of great ignorance of the Bible. Instead Huss followed the maxim that “the precepts of Scripture” should “rule the conscience” as “the one infallible guide.”

Second, John Huss openly condemned corruption at that time that he saw within the Roman Catholic Church. “Huss thundered against the abominations which were tolerated in the name of religion,” noted White.

Third, John Huss had unflinching courage to face the Council of Constance and the emperor solely armed with the Word of God. On his way he reportedly said: “I have not quitted you to deny the divine truth, for which, with God’s assistance I am willing to die.”

Despite a promise of safe conduct by both the emperor and the church Huss went willingly to testify of his faith knowing that in all probability he would no return. He developed a theology of suffering that if Jesus suffered for him, then the least he could do was to suffer for his savior. After all, Huss believed, that suffering leads to purification.

Church leaders argued that “faith out not to be kept with heretics” as their justification for not honoring the pledge of safe conduct to the council. “During his long trial he firmly maintained the truth, and in the presence of the assembled dignitaries of church and state he uttered a solemn and faithful protest against the corruptions of the hierarchy. When required to choose whether he would recant his doctrines or suffer death, he accepted the martyr’s faith.”

Huss was then led to the place of execution. He was exhorted to save himself by renouncing his errors. “What errors,” he said, “shall I renounce? I know myself guilty of none. I call God to witness that all that I have written and preached has been with the view of rescuing souls from sin and perdition; and, therefore, most joyfully will I confirm with my blood that truth which I have written and preached.” And so his voice was silenced forever. Yet after six centuries his blood still speaks.

Writing a Book Review

book-reviewToday was helpful to listen to a panel of experts about book reviews: the session included some leading editors of journals and academic presses at the American Historical Association.

Several years ago I had the good fortune to sit next to a famous author who had been several times on the New York Times bestseller list while on an airplane. After a while we struck up a conversation that included advice about writing. I asked him if he ever wrote book reviews. He replied, “No, book reviews are for people who don’t know how to write. I choose to write books that are significant.”

With that in mind, and as the editor of a journal, I am forced to ask myself what is the value of the book review? I expected this panel to be a rather dour gathering, but as it turned out I was surprised at how optimistic they were as a group about the importance and future of the book review.

According to this group of experts book reviews are especially valuable as books proliferate. How does one triage so much reading material so that you can get to the best research in your discipline? Book reviews are a way to stay current in the field, identifying key trends, and debating significant ideas. It allows an author to get their ideas out there and to let other scholars in the field respond to their ideas.

What does a book review look like?

Book reviews vary in length depending on their context. Most academic reviews, panelists generally agreed, were not to be more than 700 words. Authors should be expected to receive a book and produce a review with three months, but sometimes it is worth waiting for a major scholar to take a little bit longer if the review is deemed significant enough.

One of the dangers of book reviews, according to the panelists, was that people tend to fall into the rut of simply summarizing a book as if that is a book review. In fact this is perhaps the worst kind of review. The best kind of reviews, instead, encapsulate the key arguments and then respond to them. Good reviews use critical thinking and do more than say nice things: they honestly evaluate a book pointing out its flaws, weaknesses, and challenge the author. In rare cases, this may mean pointing out shoddy or faulty research. Of course reviewers should not go out of their way to be mean. Obviously a top notch book review should maintain a professional tone.

Historic Adventist Churches in Harlem

One of the highlights of attending the American Society of Church History (affiliated with the American Historical Association) is being able to join an afternoon tour of area religious sites. Yesterday we were able to visit three historic churches in Harlem. Stops included the Church of Notre Dame, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and Mount Olivet Baptist Church. I think that probably most people are aware that Harlem is an example of racial and cultural change in America. For example, Harlem was predominantly White in the nineteenth-century. From 1900 to 1930 it went from 10% to 70% African American community as one of the largest–some even claim it was in fact the largest at the time–center of African Americans in the United States. This is especially interesting in that many churches closed, moved, or changed with racial patterns and migration(s).Temple SDA Church

Of special interest to me was the Mount Olivet Baptist Church because it was originally a Jewish temple, but I learned from our guides, David R. Bains (Samford University) and Daniel Sack (National Endowment for the Humanities) that in the 1920s it was a Seventh-day Adventist congregation before it became the historically Black Baptist congregation that has occupied the building since about 1930.

Temple SDA Church insideIn doing some preliminary research through the online portal of the General Conference Archives I discovered that the Temple Seventh-day Adventist Church was organized here by Carlyle B. Haynes in 1920. Within a short time a Seventh-day Adventist School, Harlem Academy, was formed. The predominantly White congregation relocated to the Bronx some time in the late 1920s.

Just down the street is a series of African American congregations that during this same time period were led by James K. Humphrey. In some of the reports I noticed Haynes’ admiration for Humphrey who described the First Harlem Seventh-day Adventist Church (a congregation of some 600 to 800 members) as one of the “best organized” in the denomination. Tragically, R. Clifford Jones has documented that tragic story of race relations that culminated with his departure from the denomination.

Ephesus SDA ChurchAll the same, just down the street is the Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church. In 1924 the First Harlem Seventh-day Adventist Church (pastored by Humphrey) spawned a church plant called the Second Harlem Seventh-day Adventist Church. The original site, Carlton Hall (106 West 127th Street) is today a Mosque. In 1930 the congregation moved to its present site. Today the community continues to change as many of these churches that we saw are changed once again into new houses of worship, many of them Mosques. An interesting article about the Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church in The New York Times can be found here).