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  • Writer's pictureMatthew L. Tinkham Jr.

My Personal Pilgrimage on the Question of Women in Pastoral Ministry


 

Introduction

 

The question of women’s ordination as pastors has been a highly contentious issue in recent years among members of my denomination, the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In the past, as a younger full-time pastor, I had been reluctant to share my views on contentious topics, such as this one, for fear that doing so could undermine the effectiveness of my ministry in the lives of those who may disagree with my perspective. In my ministry, I wanted to follow Jesus’s counsel to “‘be wise as serpents and innocent as doves’” (Matt 10:16 ESV).

 

However, in observing Jesus’s ministry, I noticed his unwillingness to conceal the truth, even in cases where there would be an adverse response to his ministry (e.g., his interactions with the Pharisees, scribes, and teachers of the law). Of course, Jesus always used superb discernment in his preaching and teaching, but he never shied away from sharing “the truth in love” (Eph 4:15 ESV) and correcting others “in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal 6:1 ESV). As I matured, seeking to reflect more perfectly the beautiful character and life of Jesus, the values of transparency and integrity became more important to me. I’ve become less susceptible to the wishes, wants, and whims of others and more responsive to what God wills for me to be and to do in his word. Sometimes, that means unreservedly presenting the truth of Scripture as it is in Jesus (still prudently), even when it may be unpopular in some circles of the church and society.

 

Additionally, my conviction on what the Bible teaches about women in pastoral ministry has changed and strengthened over my years of maturation. For me, it is no longer a simple “side issue” that is diverting the denomination’s focus away from the most important matter of our mission to proclaim the gospel in the context of the three angels’ messages (Rev 14:6–12) to the world (Matt 24:14). Now, I see it as a critical matter of morality and ethics upon which the success of that mission depends. We talk about “finishing the work” before the return of Jesus, but I cannot see how we can do that in fullness and faithfulness without addressing this supposed “side issue.”

 

Now, please don’t understand me. I still refuse to allow the question of women in pastoral ministry to divide my churches. I believe that one of the most critical responsibilities of a pastor is to foster the unity of the church and prevent/remove any barriers that interrupt the achievement of that goal. I think most members of the churches I presently pastor would agree that I put forth much effort to that end. Nevertheless, I am no longer avoidant of this subject but supportive of my churches when they express the desire to follow the Bible’s teaching.

 

What follows is not a biblical defense of my view on women in pastoral ministry. Perhaps I can supply that at another time. Instead, the brief essay below is a personal reflection of the story of my journey, on which I believe the Holy Spirit led me to accept the biblical teaching of women in pastoral ministry. Whether you agree with my conclusions or not, I hope you will at least be able to discern my passion for Scripture and my sincerity and conscientiousness in seeking the truth.

 

My Early, Post-conversion Years

 

Since 2002, when I converted to Seventh-day Adventism at the age of fifteen, I have strongly opposed women in pastoral ministry. Sure, I thought women could work in the children’s department, bake communion bread, witness to other women, etc. However, they should not preach or be admitted to the gospel ministry as local-church elders or pastors. And, most certainly, they should never be ordained.

 

Let me insert here a brief tangential yet relevant issue. Not long after my conversion, I came to understand the present truth under the instruction of zealous adults whom I trusted and who happened to be proponents of M. L. Andreasen’s last-generation theology (henceforth LGT).[1] Accordingly, I became an unwavering advocate of LGT from around 2003 until the summer before I enrolled as a theology major at Southern Adventist University in 2006. During the spring of that year, the person who led me into LGT changed his opinion. He asked to speak with me, and during our conversation, he repented for leading me into LGT, stating that he had previously been wrong and had unintentionally led me astray theologically. He recounted his recent journey through Scripture and the writings of Ellen G. White, which led him to a biblical understanding of salvation. At the end of our discussion, I accused him of heresy, and we parted ways. However, that conversation left me spiritually restless.

 

In the spring/summer of 2006, the Holy Spirit prompted me to study the issue intensely in Scripture, albeit my original motive was to prove this guy wrong. That study journey led me to the conviction that I was wrong. The Bible and the writings of Ellen G. White do not teach LGT. At the end of that summer, I was reconverted to the true gospel of Scripture. I finally came to embrace the truth of righteousness by faith. After that study, I thanked God for my newfound salvation in Christ alone and tearfully asked God for forgiveness for all those to whom I had preached LGT. From that time onward, I determined that my preaching ministry would teach the true gospel of Scripture. I also made a commitment to God that I would never outright reject any theological position different from my own. Instead, I would keep an open mind and search “the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11 ESV). That commitment became a significant factor in my journey of studying the question of women in pastoral ministry.

 

Over time, I came to believe that resistance to women preaching was ridiculous because many women in the Old and New Testaments preached and taught God’s word. Moreover, Ellen G. White, one of the co-founders of my denomination, preached frequently over her more than seventy years of ministry. I had read many of her extant sermons and other writings and experienced profound spiritual blessings from them. Nevertheless, it took time to feel comfortable when I listened to a woman preaching, and I still maintained, at that time, that women should not be pastors or local-church elders.

 

My Turning Point in Pastoral Ministry

 

Nearly ten years after my conversion and embrace of my calling to full-time pastoral ministry, on June 1, 2011, I became an intern pastor in Atlanta, Georgia, for the Georgia-Cumberland Conference before furthering my theological education. My regional ministerial director informed me in early December of 2012 that the conference wanted to send me to the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, in August of 2013 to pursue a Master of Divinity degree (M.Div.). In the meantime, the conference’s ministerial team had decided to place the pastor, who was to replace me, at my church in January 2013 to create a smooth transition.

 

As planned, that January, my replacement came to pastor one of my churches alongside me, and, to my great surprise and shock, she was a woman pastor! What was I going to do? I didn’t believe she should even be in pastoral ministry, and now, I had to work with her and recognize her as my colleague! Being that I would only have to work with her for seven months, I decided not to create a stir. After much prayer, I resolved that I would treat her as an equal until God would “deliver” me from that uncomfortable situation in that following August.

 

As I worked with her, we became good friends and complimented each other’s ministries well. I noticed she was a very gifted and experienced pastor. She worked well with our church members, and her sermons were perceptive and Spirit-filled. To this day, I can still remember one of her sermons in which she shared some profound insights about the Beatitudes in Jesus’s sermon on the Mount (Matt 5–7). (I still keep notes from that sermon in my Bible). Since she was also licensed as a professional counselor (i.e., LPC), she began a counseling center at the church for our community. Before I finished my last seven months at that church, we worked together on an evangelistic campaign that included various outreach efforts in conjunction with her newly established counseling center and our church’s food-pantry ministry for those in need. Those seven months of joint ministry led to a life-long friendship. After that, we always greeted each other warmly with hugs and enjoyed “catching up” on each other’s lives at our conference’s biannual pastors’ meetings. (I don’t get to see or hear from her as often now that she is retired, but occasionally, I host her as a guest preacher at my present churches). Our joint ministry efforts made it clear that she was just as good of a pastor as I was, if not better. Why would God bless her ministry if she were living in rebellion against his will for women in Scripture?

 

My Study on Women in Pastoral Ministry

 

That was the question that I began to explore seriously, beginning in May of 2013, after completing that ten-day evangelism campaign. I recalled my 2006 commitment to take every question of theology to Scripture before making a final determination. So, as I had done before, I started prayerfully studying the matter with an open heart, setting aside my presuppositions as much as possible to let the message of Scripture have the final word. I fervently studied the Bible, especially those controversial passages about women, such as 1 Tim 2:11–15. I also researched the writings of Ellen G. White, studied denominational policy, and analyzed the arguments made in the modern anti-women’s-ordination and pro-women’s-ordination literature on the issue. On and off, as my academic studies in seminary permitted, I committed rigorous study to this topic.

 

After two or three years of study, I had come to a clear conclusion: the Holy Spirit calls men and women to serve in pastoral ministry to fulfill the gospel commission (Matt 28:19, 20), and the Seventh-day Adventist Church rightly allows for the employment of women pastors in its policy.[2] I am convinced that men and women are equally created in the image of God (Gen 1:26–27) and that, on account of the gospel, “there is no male and female,” for we “are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28 ESV). Biblical passages, such as Eph 5:22–24 and 1 Cor 11:3–16, which speak of womanly submission, only apply in the context of a wife’s own marriage to a Christ-honoring husband and not in ecclesial or societal contexts. Male headship theology is nowhere taught in Scripture; it is a misinterpretation of some obscure texts to substantiate the subjection of women, not unlike how many Christians in the American South used certain biblical passages to legitimize their practice of slavery before the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Furthermore, it is wrong for the church to determine whom the Holy Spirit may or may not gift, call, and empower to/for pastoral ministry (Acts 2:16–21; cf. Joel 2:28–32). Instead, those who “are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” for pastoral ministry (1 Cor 12:11 ESV; emphasis added), whether they be men or women, should be recognized and employed by the church in that ministry. Otherwise, the church lives out of sync with God's will and the Spirit's work. A church that walks contrary to the Spirit cannot receive the latter rain, “finish the work” of the three angels (Rev 14:6–12), or be part of his end-time remnant (Rev 12:17; 14:12).

 

Conclusion

 

My acceptance of women in pastoral ministry was a journey of several years that took many surprising twists and turns. However, along the way, I attempted to be open to God’s leading and not allow my biases to “taint” my reading and application of Scripture. I am grateful for how God has opened my mind on this topic (and others) and excited about how God will use me to partner with men and women pastors to carry forward the hope of Christ’s soon return. Today, I actively advocate for my female colleagues in pastoral ministry. I regularly pray that “the eyes” of my denomination will be opened so that women who have received the call to pastoral ministry can be fully recognized and utilized in accordance with their Spirit-determined gifting. I encourage you to study this matter and see where the Holy Spirit leads you.

 

Excursus

 

I’m saddened that I must provide this excursus, but in the current theological climate of my denomination, I think it is essential to supply preemptively this clarification. Some may wish to view my journey to accepting women in pastoral ministry as a spiral into liberal progressivism and apostasy. I used to believe the same about those who approve of women in pastoral ministry as I do now. However, I want to assure those of you who classify themselves as “conservative” that I have not abandoned my traditional values or firm belief in the remnant message composed of the twenty-eight fundamental beliefs that the Seventh-day Adventist Church promulgates. I’ve only become more settled into those values and beliefs over time. Embracing the biblical teaching of women in pastoral ministry does not necessarily lead to the corrosion of those values and beliefs, as some “conservative”-minded Adventists have claimed. At least, that has been my experience and that of many others with whom I’ve conversed about this topic.

 

For example, I still believe in a literal, consecutive creation week of seven days or twenty-four-hour periods and a literal global flood. I practice and advocate for tithing, vegetarianism/veganism, refraining from work and commercial activity on the seventh-day Sabbath (e.g., not going shopping or to restaurants on Sabbath), modesty in attire without adornment, and carefulness in entertainment choices (e.g., abstaining from worldly music, dancing, clubbing, etc.). I do not believe the alternative lifestyles thrust upon the world by the LGBTQAI+ community are biblical; I understand the Bible to teach the binary nature of gender in connection with one’s biological sex and that any forms of sexual expression outside of a consensual and life-long commitment of monogamous marriage between one woman and one man are sinful. I uphold the traditional Protestant principles of sola Scriptura,[3] sola fide,[4] sola gratia,[5] solus Christus,[6] soli Deo gloria,[7] sola caritas,[8] and solus Spiritus Sanctus.[9] I utilize only the historical-grammatical, canonical-theological method in my study of Scripture and reject all modern and post-modern types of criticism and hermeneutical suspicion. I agree that death is a sleep (i.e., non-immortality of the soul) and that one of the primary end-time deceptions is spiritualism; accordingly, we should not watch media or engage in activities that relate in any way to sorcery, necromancy, New Age-ism, etc. I love Ellen G. White’s writings and fully affirm her prophetic ministry and its end-time relevance. I defend our denomination’s teachings on the heavenly sanctuary and Christ’s high priesthood therein; the 2,300-day prophecy’s conclusion on October 22, 1844, and the pre-advent, investigative judgment; the close of probation; and the historicist interpretation of the prophecies in the apocalyptic books of Daniel and Revelation. I affirm that the papacy is symbolized by the little horn in Dan 7, 8, the sea beast in Rev 13:1–10, and the Babylonian harlot of Rev 17, 18 and that this end-time antichrist will enact global Sunday laws in partnership with apostate Protestantism in the United States along with a death decree against those who seek to honor the true Sabbath. I see the Seventh-day Adventist Church as having the end-time remnant’s message and mission (Rev 12:17; 14:6–12). I teach biblical sanctification and the Holy Spirit’s reviving and reformational work of leading us to obey in full the moral law of God as we look forward to the visible, audible, literal, post-tribulation, pre-millennial, imminent return of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

So, as you can see, my changed views on women in pastoral ministry have not impacted the traditional views I continued to hold as a committed Seventh-day Adventist Christian.


[1] See ch. 21 “The Last Generation” of M. L. Andreasen, The Sanctuary Service, 2nd ed., Treasures of Faith Library (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1947; repr. 2006), 299–321.

[2] Oddly, while the denomination allows for the employment and “commissioning” of women as pastors and the ordination of women as local-church elders, it does not permit its union conferences (the administrative level in the church’s structure responsible for approving the ordination of pastors) to ordain women as pastors at this time.

[3] The Bible and “the Bible alone” is the authoritative rule of faith for belief and practice.

[4] Salvation is “through faith alone.”

[5] Salvation is “by grace alone.”

[6] Salvation is “in Christ alone.”

[7] Salvation is for “the glory of God alone.”

[8] Salvation is gifted to humans by God, who is “love” (1 John 4:8, 16) for the sake of “love alone.”

[9] Salvation is appropriated “through the Holy Spirit alone.”

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1 Comment


Eugene Prewitt for iEAT
Eugene Prewitt for iEAT
3 days ago

Hi Matthew. My own study over years has led to a similar approach to issues, always welcoming data and reasoning and a sincere discussion. But my study of the two issues you mention (LGT. WO) has led in an opposite direction. I have yet to encounter even an effort to address my arguments on these topics in writing.

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