God, being a God of order and being all-wise, good, and gracious, has ordered all things in creation for our good.
This order in the creation he has retained and renewed in redemption. As part of this good order God has appointed the man to be the head of the family and to be the elder or priest in the wider family of the Church. God's good order does not envision nor permit women to exercise the ministry of "headship" in the family, nor the ministry of oversight involved in the offices of elders or ministers as they are understood and practiced by Adventists. This is in no way detrimental to women for God has an equally significant, different, and complementary ministry for women in the family and in the Church. This godly order is to be enjoyed and respected. When men and women are thus united in partnership we walk in the path of freedom and fulfillment. Other paths may seem attractive and promise much but in the end they prove deceptive and full of contention.
The reasons we hold these convictions are primarily drawn from Scripture. Attempts have been made to interpret the Scriptures to allow women to serve as co-heads of the family and as pastors in the Church. Responsible exegesis simply will not support these interpretations nor does experience confirm them. Alongside Scripture there are other significant reasons found in the experience of God's people in history and in God's other book-the book of creation or nature-that corroborate the biblical reasons. We will mention only the most significant of them in this brief article.
The primary and chief factual point that we wish to make is this: nowhere in Scripture do we read of a woman being either a priest in the Old Testament or an elder in the New Testament. In the New Testament no woman was chosen by Jesus to be one of the twelve apostles. Jesus could have chosen one of the women who accompanied him, prepared her along with the other apostles-in-training, and after the resurrection appointed her an apostle had he felt that to be appropriate. He did not do so. The same is true of the apostles. Not once did they appoint a woman to be a elder or pastor. It was the unvarying practice of God's people from beginning of Israel to the close of Scripture to call men to these official, stated positions in the people of God. Israel did this in sustained and self-conscious contrast to the practice of women priestesses etc. of the surrounding nations and religions.
This exclusive pattern of male priesthood in designated leadership is all the more striking when we note the variety of ministries that women did exercise in Scripture, including the ministry of prophecy, which St. Paul refers to as one of the highest of the gifts of the Spirit. It is equally striking when we take note of the status, the freedom, and the call to learn and teach that Jesus and the apostles gave to women. In giving women such freedom and such an elevated place in their fellowship, they broke all of the customs of the day. Despite their boldness in breaking with custom, not once did they call women to these formal, official leadership ministries in the Church! This emphasis upon male eldership by Jesus and the apostles is of profound authority.
This uniform practice in all of the Scriptures is the fundamental point. The case for an exclusively male priesthood does not rest on a few texts, several of which contain some phrases difficult to interpret. Rather, it rests on the overwhelming majority of the biblical texts related to governance and leadership in the family and Church; it rests upon a perspective that is pervasive and uniform in all of Scripture.
We can ask, "Why did God order things so?" Such a universal, sustained practice requires a profound and divine reason. The Bible tells us what this reason is. Male headship in the priesthood and eldership of God's chosen people roots in the male headship in the family, which is part of God's good ordering of the creation. And God's ordering of the relations of male and female in the family ultimately reflects and rests upon God's own Triune nature. Human life, made in the image and likeness of God, mirrors the mystery of God's own Triune life.
This involves our understanding of God as Triune. God is One; God is Threefold. He is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit: three inter-penetrating persons of equal dignity and divinity united in a single life of love and mutual indwelling. He is one God in one nature eternally existing in three Persons. Since we are made in the image and likeness of God, we can expect to find (and do find) analogies of God's Triune nature in creation and above all in our human nature.
In the Triune life of God, as Scripture teaches, there is a hierarchy among equals. An eternal headship and an eternal submission are lived out in the divine life of love. God the Father is by nature Father in His Triune life. He is the eternal loving fountainhead of the Trinity. He is eternally the Father of the Son and the primary leader of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Son is ever delighted to do the Father's will. In a biblical view, submitting to one's father is what a good son does, whether it be human sons of human fathers or the divine Son of the divine Father. The Spirit is always the Spirit of the Father and the Son and submissive to both.
The main point we want to note is that loving headship and submission are eternal in the life of God. They are therefore of the eternal order of things. This has consequences for God's act of creation. God's own nature and his attributes provide the pattern for his act of creation and particularly for the order and life of those made in his image and likeness-men and women. We can expect to find headship and submission in the way we have been created in relation to one another. At the same time, the Father's act of creation is an authoritative act, a command. He speaks and it is done (through the Son, by the Spirit). He reigns over the creation that he has made. Here we have the significance of God's revealing himself to us in male terms as "the Father," "the Son," and "the Spirit". The male name of "the Father" points to his being distinct from the creation that he has made, ordered, and sustained, and it points also to his Lordship over it.
Does God not have a more feminine aspect? Yes. God has some attributes that are more fully exhibited by women than by men, but they are always "his" attributes. He is never called "her." Even the more feminine attributes are his attributes, attributes of the one who with loving, divine initiative and authority called the world into being, not from his own nature but from nothing, ex nihilo, from beyond the world.
In the light of God's Triune nature and his act of creation, we can consider more specifically his creation of us human beings, who are made in his image. When he created us he created us male and female and thereby set us in families in a specific order. In the family the man is to serve as husband of the wife in a unity of love between equals and as the head of the family as well as the representative of the family. The woman is given the complementary ministry of support and nurture. The headship of the man reflects God's Fatherhood in the life of the Trinity and in the act of creation and serves as an instrument of God's reign in human society. We read in Scripture that it is from God's Fatherhood that all earthly fatherhood is named.
Male headship also finds expression in the larger family of his people, the Church. The designation of men to be priests/ministers or elders in the people of God is a wider expression of the headship the man is given first in the family. The family is the "little church in the Church" and the Church is the Family of the families of God.
The woman's position is as important as the man's, though different. She is the treasured, supportive partner in the family and Church. Her submission and ministry of support, nurture, and quite varied service reflects and expresses the indwelling, nurturing qualities of God's being and attributes as he has revealed himself to us in creation and through the Son and the Spirit in the history of salvation.
It is important that we do not misunderstand the complementary ministries of headship and submission. In Scripture submission is a good thing, and it is by no means limited to women. Jesus as the Son is ever submissive to the Father. All people made in God's image are to be submissive to God. The Church as the bride of Christ is by grace to be submissive to Christ who is Lord over all, the head of his body. Men and women are to be submissive to one another in a variety of structures. In the Church, the members are urged to submit to those whom the Lord has placed in authority over them. In the family, the wife is freely to submit or orient her ministry under the oversight of, and in support of, her husband. The children are to submit to their parents. In society, we all are to submit gladly to the magistrates in all things agreeable to the revealed will of God, for God has placed them over us. In addition we are to pray for them.
The terms "the ministries of headship and of submission" are more accurate than speaking of "male and female roles." This is true for several reasons. First, "roles" is a word that, in our culture, tends to suggest particular tasks, ways and means, such as who will do the cooking, keep the books, etc.. In contrast to that, we are thinking of more general responsibilities of the man giving spiritual oversight to, and providing for, the family and the woman supporting the man and nurturing the family. Particular roles or tasks are related to the particular gifts and interests of the partners and to the opportunities they have in their specific cultural settings. We do not want to be understood to be restricting women or men to particular tasks, no matter how traditional they have become. For a biblical example of what we have in mind, we think of the responsibility and the variety of tasks being carried out by the "godly woman" in Proverbs 31, or the work of Lydia who was a "seller of purple".
Second, in our culture when referred to as roles, these ministries of men and women are likely to be viewed in the terms of superior and inferior, of a dictatorial boss and of cowed subordinates. That is not how the scriptural ministries of headship and support are to be understood. These are complementary ministries of equal importance, carried out by equals united in love, exercised in mutual consultation and care in a common mission. And they are based on the created nature of the two partners. The partners together, united as one, reflect the attributes of God and the mystery of the Godhead. As we read in Scripture the man is to love the wife as Christ loves the Church. It is a sacrificial love that is intended in male headship, both in the family and in the Church.
James Beldin attended Enterprise Academy and studied History/English/Education at Union College. He taught elementary school at Carolina Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and is currently retired and living in Cohutta, Georgia.