Elder Charles Bradford, retired President of the North American Division (1979-1990), gave this inspiring message on women’s ordination in 1991, reminding us that the Holy Spirit determines to whom He will give the gift of ministry, and the Church should recognize those who have received it. Elder Bradford declared: “A gift is a terrible thing to waste.” (Also available on Vimeo.)
Elder Bradford recently elaborated:
As we enter the third millennium, we can expect the pace of life in general, and of God’s redemptive purpose with the church specifically, to pick up as we move on from grace to glory. The church should move to take full advantage of women’s talents. On women’s sense of call to gospel ministry, we must move beyond where we are. We must shake off the vestiges of Romanism. We don’t stand where Luther stood—we’ve moved on. If the Lord calls a Samuel, let Eli listen up; and if the Lord calls a Debra or Phoebe today, let us listen up. Let’s not be arguing about ordaining women in ministry; let the Holy Spirit do His work.
Ordination is not a question of rights. No one has a right to be ordained. But the church has an obligation to recognize the gifts God gives it. We have an obligation to affirm those gifts and those gift bearers. Do not make ordination into a theological club of the good old boys. He that would be greatest among you, let him be your servant. We are to facilitate the gifts in others—draw them out, give them the best use.
We don’t need a text in the Bible that says, “Thou shalt ordain women” to move ahead. We serve a big God, a God we can’t limit. As Jesus told Nicodemus, the Holy Spirit blows wherever He wants to blow. And if He wants to blow on women, it’s the same as when He blows on men.
The practice of ordination should bring unity to the church, and at the same time be missional. The secret of unity is found in the equality of believers in Christ. “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them, and sent them off” (Acts 13:2, 3, NIV).
It is as if the praying community asked the Lord to bless the labors of the chosen ones and to assure them that they had their backs. “They placed their hands on them and sent them off.” The whole church must be involved. Paul and Barnabas were their “boys” and they were responsible for their support. The ones who faithfully “stayed by the stuff” are part and parcel of the same mission. This is all that we can take away from the text. Nothing more—nothing less.
Finally, there will be in time and history a demonstration of the ideal community. The Spirit’s rule will be unchallenged; every member of the community will be affirmed and participate in ministry. As it nears the end, the community will conform more and more to the liberating rule of Christ, where “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, RSV; see also Romans 10:12 and I Corinthians 12:13). Freedom and justice will prevail. Every potential will be maximized. And the gifts of the Spirit will come into flower in a radiant church (Ephesians 5:27).
For more statements from respected elder statesmen of the Adventist Church, see www.AdventistElders.com/news/ .