O Christ, the healer, we have come
to pray for health, to plead for friends.
How can we fail to be restored
when reached by love that never ends?
From every ailment flesh endures
our bodies clamor to be freed;
yet in our hearts we would confess
that wholeness is our deepest need.
In conflicts that destroy our health
we recognize the world’s disease;
our common life declares our ills.
Is there no cure, O Christ, for these?
Grant that we all, made one in faith,
in your community may find
the wholeness that, enriching us,
shall reach and prosper humankind.
Given the upheaval and highly negative feelings on both sides of the women’s ordination debate currently flaring in the Seventh-day Adventist church, this poem I found a few years ago seems apropos. Like any hot topic, both sides are convinced that they are Right and the other side is Of the Devil. Unfortunately, no matter which side one espouses, it is clear that unless cooler heads have some say in things, there is going to be a split in the church. A split over something that is at the moment a policy debate, not a “rebellion”, nor yet even a “heresy”, but an interpretation of a minor point of Scripture. Not even doctrine. Certainly not a salvation issue, but those “in power” (using the term much more loosely than they have been flinging it about this last week) seem to feel that espousing women’s ordination is not only a slippery slope (leading to ordaining gay people and advocating evolution, to reference some Facebook conversations I’ve read), but also apostasy and a clear call to the “head of the church”, “God’s supreme authority on earth,” to “purify” the church of negative influences through “reformation and reform”.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, reading that. I’ve been settling for shaking my head in utter disbelief that the church I grew up in, that taught me about standing for what I believe in “though the heavens fall”, is now poised to bring stars and planets raining down on my head.
Not only was the initial language of the disagreement upsetting to me (as per a previous post), but this new flareup has even more distressing overtones. Words like “heresy”, “apostasy”, and “rebellion” seem terribly serious charges to fling at people who, at the core, are trying to serve God by preaching His Word, as commanded in the Bible. Not worshiping idols, breaking commandments, or denying the truth of the Bible. Those are what I would call heresy, apostasy, or rebellion. Telling someone they are a heretic because they are preaching the word of God? Can we say Sanhedrin? or Inquisition?
Let’s not forget the other, loaded terms: “head of the church”, “God’s supreme authority on earth”, “purify”, and “male headship”. Last time I checked, those terms referred only to Jesus Christ. He is the one the Bible says is the head of the church (Col. 1:18). He is the Supreme Authority (Matt. 28:18), and did not pass His authority over to the General Conference president! It is His job to purify the church by aligning our hearts more fully with His heart, not by throwing people out who disagree on minor points of doctrine (Mal. 3:3). And, again, the Bible text that refers to male headship refers to the husband being head of the wife “as Christ is the head of the church” (Eph. 5:23) and says nothing about a (male) pastor, priest, bishop, or pope as being the head of the church. In fact, Jesus says to refer to no believer as over another (Matt. 23:8-9). For the SDA General Conference president to use language such as this is truly frightening, not just because it smacks heavily of Catholic usage and doctrine, but because it goes against Biblical teaching that is, to my mind, much more clear in how the church should be run than the disputed neighboring texts about women keeping silence in the church. “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9).
It is plain to me that the General Conference president and his staff are cherry-picking verses to suit themselves, as they also use words from a woman (Ellen G. White, who was herself ordained) to chastise faithful believers for “rebellion” because they seek to gain legitimacy through the church to do what God has called them to do — share the gospel (Matt. 28:19-20). If the leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist church truly believes that such people are heretics and apostates, then this church has become the instrument of persecution we were warned against as children.
I expected the persecution to come from secular government. I did not expect it to come from my church.
Unfortunately, instead of being the instrument that brings Christ’s healing to the world, those in charge in the General Conference are becoming instruments of pain, lacking mercy, and acting as a wedge to drive the people of God apart. Those on both sides believe strongly in their stance; there seems to be no way to compromise or change people’s convictions. But those in power don’t seem to realize that these convictions, again, are on a minor point of church policy, not a salvation issue, not a point of doctrine. Those on the side of women’s ordination are cognizant that this is not a major point of salvation; those on the other side blow it up until they believe it is. There is no grace for someone with a differing viewpoint. There is no thought that, by trying to silence someone preaching Jesus, they are themselves working against the One whose authority they claim to wield.
I have no call to preach except here, but if I were told to be silent, I would echo Peter’s words to the Sanhedrin: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). And reading further in the same chapter, it would be well for the General Conference heads to heed Gamaliel’s advice to the same Sanhedrin: “Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these [wo]men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these [wo]men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God (Acts 5:38-39).
I pray that Ted Wilson and the rest answer the door and let the true Head of the church speak to them about mercy, healing, and true unity.
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10).
“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Eph. 2:14-16).
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