I’m a professional career jet pilot.
If we take off from Atlanta, on a heading of 287 degrees, we will end up about 5 hours and almost 2000 miles later in Los Angeles. If, on the other hand, I merely veer off course by 7 degrees, and we fly a 294 heading, about 5 hours and 2000 miles later we end up in San Francisco, almost 400 miles off course!
Going off track often takes time. The path of truth and error often lie very close…and only with enough time, can one discern the divergence and deadly outcome of error.
Seventh day Adventism has been in existence as a denomination for 155 years. A lot of time and distance has been covered. The living version of the prophetic voice that repeatedly warned us “long ere this Christ would have come…” has been silent and entombed for 103 years. Yet, we are still here trapped on a failing planet, in an ever-deepening world-wide crisis of universal magnitude.
Meanwhile, the SDA Church seems--like the modern world--more fractured, divided and disorderly than most of us can ever recall. As has been recorded dozens of times here on F7, the very core of our unity and organized effectiveness seems in serious trouble, and nothing looms larger than the issue of women’s ordination.
Is it possible, that we’ve already veered so far off course from the original plan for Christian Church order and organization, that our current “orbiting lost in space” is rather inevitable?
Quietly awaiting our discovery--I believe--is a long dormant Biblical answer to this entire confusion that effectively renders the entire women ordination to the Gospel Ministry issue moot! In addition, we have one primary leading SDA Theologian with the finest of credentials who has been trying to get this Bible truth out for years and years, to no avail. He is considered by many to be our leading extant SDA Theologian. He has authored some of our most important documents including preparing the initial draft of each chapter of “Seventh-day Adventists Believe…A Biblical Exposition of Fundamental Doctrines” [c. 1988].
As an AU Seminary Professor of Church History, he has attempted to share his findings. As a primary leader on key GC Committees regarding the subject of Women’s Ordination, he has consistently advocated the Bible position on the matter. Last, as a former Aeronautical Engineer in the Royal Dutch Air Force, he would whole-heartedly agree with my original flight from ATL to LAX vs ATL to SFO story. Just a little off course leads us to disastrous consequences. Here’s Dr. Gerard Damsteegt’s own words.
“Changes in the operational structure of the local church came in so gradually that few took note of them. Today about 150 years after the Seventh-day Adventist Church was officially organized, there is little left of the New Testament model of leadership that the pioneers originally adopted.” (from Dr. P. Gerard Damsteegt’s “Have Adventists Adandoned the Biblical Model of Leadership for the Local Church” c. 2005)
In his church history studies, Dr. Damsteegt posits the following key points:
1) The NT model of local church leadership was Elders, Deacons, and Deaconesses. These in prayerful council together as a spiritual team, administered all the local affairs of each local church congregation. There was no “paid pastor” who acted as a type of CEO / Administrator of each church.
2) Apostles were itinerant spiritual leaders who moved about the world field as the Holy Spirit guided them, planting and building up the entire world church. The local elders were the spiritual leaders of the local church.
3) God gave the Holy Spirit to all believers to empower them through various spiritual gifts to further build up and enrich the local churches work and outreach. The term and title “Pastor” is simply a spiritual gift that God decides whom to gift. A NT pastor spiritual gift is not the CEO / Admin / Priest over a local church! “Persons who received these gifts were not to replace the previously elected leadership of elders and deacons, but to work in cooperation with them so that the church would be more successful than ever” (from Dr. P. Gerard Damsteegt’s “Have Adventists Adandoned the Biblical Model of Leadership for the Local Church” c. 2005).
4) As early as 1853, God showed James White, which he published in his articles called “Gospel Order”, that the NT Biblical model was to be followed in the Advent Movement. It would be the only safe path, away from the Roman Catholic origins of a priest over every parish, top down kingly power model of the Papacy, the unscriptural Catholic distinction of clergy vs laity. After all, the Protestant Reformation had as a core pillar, “The Priesthood of all Believers”!
5) From 1863 – the remainder of the 19th century, the SDA Church largely followed the NT Biblical model of church organization and leadership. Paid ministers and evangelists were sent to plant and raise up churches, visit established churches that needed counsel. No conference employed minister functioned as a resident or “settled” pastor of a local church, as was the popular practice in most Protestant churches of this era and till today!
6) “The (SDA) elder or elders were the elected leadership and they, with the support of the deacons and deaconesses, were to lead the church, which was basically a lay movement”. (from Dr. P. Gerard Damsteegt’s “Have Adventists Adandoned the Biblical Model of Leadership for the Local Church” c. 2005)
How the SDA denomination veered off course, is also covered by Dr. Damsteegt, along with the tragic ramifications that we are experiencing to this day. All of this reminds me of the sad story of old Israel that refused to enter the Promised Land because of their stubbornness and unbelief, and therefore tragically wandered off course in the nasty desert.
But now to connect this important Bible teaching to our current mess. I propose that the entire question of whether to ordain females (to what has un-biblically morphed into the Gospel Ministry / Pastorate / Local Church CEO / Administrator position) is a moot point!
This position isn’t even supposed to exist in the NT Biblical organizational structure of the local church the way we have man-made it in Adventism. The original NT Christians had no paid pastor / priest / clergy. This came in like many other false doctrines, via Rome!
Dr. Damsteegt says Ignatius in the 2nd Century AD moved the Christian Church away from the NT model of local church organization & authority into the Roman Papal system. He, with the Bishop of Rome, came up with the concept of having a priest / pastor over each parish / congregation. This enabled centralized patrol & control by Rome over the local churches. This was not God’s plan. This departure from the NT blueprint empowered the Papacy to a great degree, not unlike Israel’s clamoring for a king ended up leading to their downfall in OT times.
In contrast, the NT Christian Church was to be a Holy Spirit led, lay-empowered via spiritual gifts, with local congregations lead by local elders, deacons, deaconesses. Put another way, if you and I were stranded on a deserted island and had no memories of the past, but only our Bibles, we would not construct the church as it has become today with pastor domination. It would be the NT model. Lay led. A local leadership committee Holy Spirit guided decision making model. "Pastor" was one of many spiritual gifts given, not CEO of the church. Question: How many passages in the Bible contain the word “pastor”? Answer: Very few. Jeremiah 17:16 in OT and Ephesians 4:11 in NT.
It should come as no surprise that where we’ve stubbornly followed the non-Biblical model (USA, western world), our church growth is either stagnate or declining. And where (not by design but by economic necessity) we’ve followed the NT model (mostly in third world countries), where a paid minister has 10 – 35 or more churches in his territory, with local lay elders, deacons, deaconesses, this is where the work is spreading like fire in the stubble!
On the other hand, the American churches (including SDA) have become giant weekly spectator events where, not unlike professional sports, we pay serious money to watch a few trained and skilled professionals “play the game” for our entertainment. It’s easier sitting on the side lines. It’s comfy sitting and watching, critiquing and booing that which frankly we could do no better, likely worse, if we were the players ourselves.
But just as Americans have become quite out of shape (unless your life philosophy is “round IS a shape”) so too many in church have become spiritually overweight. Many are spiritually out of shape, even obese from “being fed” every week, but never doing anything with the spiritual food except to eat and eat for themselves week after week.
We need a return to the original way that Jesus set up His Christian Church in the New Testament. First, every member is a minister. Jesus taught that He is our one spiritual leader, our High Priest in Heaven. Here on Earth, every believer in Him is now a “priest and minister” for Him and His Gospel Commission.
Second, the Gospel Commission “Go and make disciples of all nations” is given to every single believer in Jesus Christ! It is not given to a select group of paid clergy, paid Bible workers, paid literature evangelists, paid Conference workers, etc. It is given to all who receive the salvation gift from Jesus.
Third, Jesus Himself directly tied the fulfillment of His Gospel Commission to when God could bring this world to an end, and take His Church home to Heaven! Mathew 24:14 “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be proclaimed in all the world as a witness to all nations. And then the end shall come.”
The objective is not to stay here indefinitely! The objective is to GO HOME to Heaven sooner rather than later!
My maternal grandmother of the late 1800s – 1900s “got it” and planted the Umpire, Arkansas SDA Church, publically debating local Church of Christ and Baptist ministers on the 3 Angels Messages as she labored for souls! My paternal grandmother “got it” and joined the Wichita, KS SDA Church where she became the lay leader of the Dorcas society for over 30 years, functioning as a lead deaconess decision maker. Neither of my grandmothers argued to become the local pastor and be ordained to be paid! Both of them served in the NT model as women employed, spiritually gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit!
Nineteen years ago, I followed my grandmothers’ amazing example and as an unordained “missionary pilot” planted a new local SDA Church in northwest Georgia with the local Conference President’s blessing to be a “Lay-Lead” church model! As God provided a team to work with me, the founders of this new and very different church recognized that most of the Christian world has strayed from the original church organizational model that Jesus and the Apostles left us with. We read in the New Testament, the local churches were led and fed by the local elders, deacons and deaconesses. It was all hands on deck! It dawned on us that the NT Church didn’t have a paid “pastor / minister” who stayed put and settled as a spiritual leader over one or two churches. We saw that came in much later when Protestants failed to move away from the priest over a parish model during the Reformation, and retained the clergy pastor over a church concept, in spite of the Reformers teachings on The Priesthood of All Believers.
We came to see that during the 1800s in America, with the Great Advent Awakening, finally the Priesthood of All Believers teaching of Jesus began to gain traction. The founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church recognized the great danger of the spectator church that produces lazy, lukewarm, lethargic, laity! Here’s one inspired warning that we read together:
“As I traveled through the South on my way to the conference, I saw city after city that was unworked. What is the matter? The ministers are hovering over churches which know the truth while thousands are perishing out of Christ… If the proper instruction were given, if the proper methods were followed, every church member would do his work as a member of the body. He would do Christian missionary work. But the churches are dying, and they want a minister to preach to them… They should be brought into working order, that the breath of God may come to them. They should be taught that unless they can stand alone, without a minister, they need to be converted anew, and baptized anew. They need to be born again.” -- Manuscript 150, 1901. Evangelism p. 381
When looking at the failures of the Church to adhere to the NT model--even back in Sister White’s day--we need to realize that the enthusiasm and burden for lost souls that inspired the early pioneers had noticeably disappeared even while the Prophetess was still alive and speaking. A prophesied Laodicean condition had arisen among the membership. It had such an impact on the church that Ellen White blamed them for delaying the Second Advent. Toward the end of her life she even charged members with repeating the “insubordination” of ancient Israel. She wrote, “We may have to remain here in this world because of insubordination many more years, as did the children of Israel.”
1,987 years after Jesus returned to Heaven, we see the clear-cut signs of a world-wide apostasy away from God and His Truth growing by the day. This apostasy will cause everyone, including you and me, to make an ultimate choice!
And before this eternal choice is forced upon every person (great and small, rich and poor, free and enslaved …) there is another final reality that is quite simple:
Every member of Christ’s Remnant Church must ultimately go to work or quit. There are no honorary members in the End!