After San Antonio . . . what now?


So, how do we deal in the foreseeable future with the role of women in the Adventist Church? The vote in San Antonio did not bring anything like a solution. A 40 percent pro and 60 percent against vote does reveal a majority, but it is miles away from a workable consensus. You do not have to be a prophet to see that a major segment of the church is, and remains, of the opinion that men have another (more important!) position in the church than women. This opinion is based on a particular (‘plain’) way of reading the Bible. It sees the superiority of men as a ‘truth’ that cannot be compromised, not even when forty percent of the church asks (or rather: pleads) to have the freedom to ordain women as pastors in their territories. On the other hand, there are many individual church members, but also administrative entities (unions/conferences), that are frustrated by the decision of the GC session. Or, in fact: they cannot abide by it for conscience sake.

How do we go from here?  For, in spite of all differences of opinion, also those who favor the ordination of female pastors want to stay together. I do not pretend to have a final answer, but I would like—in a very preliminary way—to contribute a little to the ongoing discussion by suggesting a pragmatic approach that may help us to find a way out that may be acceptable for many on both sides of the issue, and may prove to be workable.

It may be an approach that is attractive for conferences/unions that want to guarantee an equal status to male and female pastors, but also want to go as far they can to avoid controversies with the world church.

My own thinking about the topic of women’s ordination has in recent weeks been considerable sharpened by reading a book written by dr. Bertil Wiklander, the recently retired president of the Trans-European Division.[1] He points to a number of very important aspects that have often been largely ignored. To get an impression of the content of this book, see my reviews on the website of Adventist Today ( and the website of Spectrum ((

The most important principles in Wiklander’s book (for which he gives solid arguments) are:

  1. The issue of the ‘ordination of men and women’ must be seen against the background of the mission God has given the church.
  2. Men and women were created equal, and the ‘fall’ has not ended this equality in status.
  3. In the Old Testament we see how, with regard to the implementation of his ideals, God often made (temporary) accommodations in view of the social structures of the times (slavery; divorce; polygamy; patriarchal structures, etc.).
  4. The New Testament emphasizes how in Christ a new community has been realized, in which the old dividing lines no longer exist (slaves versus free, jews and non-jews, male and female).
  5. The leading principle for the church is the priesthood of all believers (male and female).
  6. At the same time we need to acknowledge that cultural circumstances in many parts of the world may (still) inhibit full implementation of the New Testament ideal of gender equality in the church.
  7. The traditional way of ‘ordaining’ people in the Adventist Church is not biblically prescribed. Some aspects may even be considered unbiblical (for instance, the idea that a human act may transfer a special, exclusive authority, seems to resemble Catholic sacramental theology).

In the discussion about the role and status of women in the church we should not forget that in many countries women form a large majority of the membership. And, more and more, it is simply impossible to ‘run’ the church without the involvement of women, also in leading positions.

In addition, it is also essential to keep in mind that humans (‘the church’) only play a secondary role with regard to the calling of men and women to be pastors. God calls people, through his Spirit, and this same Spirit equips them, male and female, for work in the church and on behalf of the church. Subsequently the church (i.e. an agreed upon administrative entity in the church) has the task to evaluate (as best as it can) whether a person has a genuine calling to the ministry and to determine whether he/she is adequately equipped for the pastoral role to which he/she is called. If these evaluations are positive, ‘the church’ will affirm this calling and give the person a place in the structure that it has created to accomplish its mission.

The form is which the calling of a person is recognized and affirmed, and the language that is being used in the process must be gender-neutral. The traditional terminology of ‘ordination’ and ‘commissioning’ are too emotionally and historically charged. But these are not biblical terms anyway, and, if so desired, we can put them aside. In stead it might be better to have three gender-neutral categories: pastoral interns, pastoral workers and pastors. Anyone (male/female) whose calling has been recognized by the church will—after some further practical training and possibly a (short) period as a pastoral worker—be given the title of pastor.

The differences between the status of pastoral workers and pastor need to be clearly defined.

The public recognition of the person (male/female) as a pastor will be announced in the first church(es) where he/she is to serve.  This announcement is to be made be a conference/union official. This may be accompanied by a low-key ceremony which avoids the rituals and terminology of traditional Adventist ordination ceremonies.

When a person moves from the area where he/she was publicly recognized as a pastor, to another division/union/conference, the receiving organization accepts him/her with all the rights and privileges of a pastor. If that is considered a problem (for instance, because the pastor is a woman) the receiving organization may decide not to call /employ this particular pastor, or, with mutual consent, accept him/her as a pastoral worker.

Unions/conferences that want to give equal status to male and female pastors may in their assignment of churches to their pastors show sensitivity towards particular feelings and circumstances in some local churches.

It would be important that (hopefully) the General Conference and those division that value equal treatment for male and female pastors, approve, or at least tolerate, this approach. If this approach proves to be workable, in time the relevant policies (preferably at the division level) may be adapted.

[It would seem to me that the ‘ordination’ of elders and deacons must also receive a different form, since the objections that are raised against the ordination of female pastors, would be the same for the categories of elders and deacons/deaconesses.]

Could a solution in the direction sketched above help us to go forward with as little controversy and tension as possible?

[Those who agree that we may continue to think along these lines, may feel free to share this blog with others or to distribute it in other ways]. 

[1] Bertil Wiklander A Review of Ordination Reconsidered: The Biblical Vision of Men and Women as Servants of God (Newbold Academic Press, June 2015) Available through Amazon in paperback and eBook.

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[Thursday morning, 9 July]  Our modern technology enables us to follow what happens in San Antonio, even if one is not physically present. Yesterday I spent a major part of the day watching the live stream of the debate about Women’s Ordination in the Adventist Church. At 11 pm local time (I am presently vacationing in Sweden) I went to bed. It was clear which way things would go. Although I knew we would probably not get a ‘yes’ vote, I had not lost hope that at last my church would be able to affirm full gender equality—also in the church. I continued to hope that my church would demonstrate in San Antonio that we do live in the twenty-first century and that it is in that context that we must give a concrete expression to our faith.

The speeches that impressed me most were those of Jeroen Tuinstra and Jan Paulsen. But in the end all pro-speeches were to no avail. When I got up this morning, I wanted, of course, to find out how the vote had gone. The sad news jumped at me from the various websites and the many Facebook postings.

No doubt, I am not the only Adventist who had to deal this morning with a serious spiritual hangover. What can we do when we see how our church is gradually gliding back into the nineteenth century (position of women) or even to the Middle Ages (article 6 of Fundamental Beliefs)?  Ted Wilson and other leaders may tell us in a myriad different ways that we should now unite and leave all controversial issues behind us, so that we can focus on our real task, but this, I believe, is an utterly naïve point of view. The gospel (also in its Adventist version) will only convince twenty-first century people if it is communicated by men and women who are recognized as contemporary people who speak and act in the context of this time.

When I looked this morning out of the window I saw a dark-grey sky. In this part of the world the sun rose this morning already around 2.30 am, but so far it has remained totally invisible. It tends to make me rather depressed. And that is how I feel this morning about my church.

No, I will not easily decide to leave my church. I hope I will have a good number of years left to function in my church and be a blessing to many people. But, please, do not expect me to go against my conscience and to simply accept the dictates of about 60 percent of our world membership—most of whom have no idea what it means to be a christian in Europe and other parts of the western world, and what challenges christians face when they want to tell their de-christianized friends that being a follower of Jesus Christ is still a realistic option.

Some weeks or months from now I will probably see the broader picture somewhat more clearly . What happens in Adventism is not unique. The christian church is moving from North to South. In particular, in worldwide christian movements the non-western segments more and more call the tune. Against this background a church in the West must, on the one hand, continue to show its loyalty to the world-wide organization, but, on the other hand, find its own way and seek the boundaries of how to remain true to itself and to follow its own conscience, without—if at all possible—severing the ties with brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world.

But this morning everything is so fresh that I find it difficult to relativize things. I am ashamed for my church. And that is a depressing feeling.

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Far away–not only geographically

I write this blog on the day that the quinquennial world congress starts in San Antonio, Texas (Thursday morning, 2 July). This is the first time in a few decades that I do not attend a GC session—but the GC session seems to happen anyway! In 1966 my wife and I were weekend visitors of the session in Detroit. It was a few hours drive from from Andrews University, where at the time I was studying for my MA. I remember the car trouble on our way back from Detroit in my less than reliable Pontiac Tempest more vividly than the congress itself.  In 1975 I was a guest at the GC world congress in Vienna. And I went as a delegate to the sessions in New Orleans (1985), Indianapolis (1990), Utrecht (1995), Toronto (2000), St. Louis (2005), and worked for the Adventist Review in Atlanta (2010).

This time, while the General Conference Session is taking place, we will enjoy our vacation in Sweden. At this moment, while I write these lines) we are just about to depart for the our second day of driving to Kramfors , about 600 kilometer North of Stockholm. We are about to leave from the Vejle area in Denmark (mid-Jutland). We will drive some 240 kilometers , to Frederikshavn, from where we will take a three hour ferry to Gothenburg in South Sweden. Tonight we are booked into the Ibis Styles Hotel in Örebro. Tomorrow (Friday) we hope to reach our final destination after another 650 kilometers over Swedish roads.

During the coming  ten days I will keep abreast—mostly by digital means—of the main events  of the session in San Antonio. Of course, I want to know who will be the new world leaders (although I am almost sure Ted Wilson be re-elected as president for a new term), and who will be leading out in the Trans-European Division in the coming years. The Adventist Church in the Netherlands is a part of this administrative regional unit. Together with many others I hope a fresh, less conservative, wind will begin to blow from Washington in the next quinquennium. But I fear I will be disappointed.

And, of course, I am curious to know what will happen when the discussion and voting takes place concerning some changes in the Fundamental Beliefs, in particular with regard to article 6 (about creation). It is proposed to close some alleged loopholes and to emphasize that a literal creation took place in six literal days, in recent times (i.e. between 6.000 and perhaps 10.000 years ago). To me these changes seem unnecessary and undesirable, and I am, afraid many members will not be able to agree in good conscience. Then, later in the week, it will be decided whether the thirteen regions will be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to ordain female pastors in their part of the world or whether there are strong cultural impediments to go that route. At the beginning of this congress it is impossible to predict which way the vote will go. Rarely have different parties in the church lobbied as intensely as has been done regarding this topic in the past months. I assume that even now during the early days of the congress both groups will continue to win further support for their particular viewpoint.

Yes, it would have been interesting and pleasant to be in San Antonio during the coming ten days and to be in the midst of all this. I would have liked to meet with many friends and ex-colleagues and to taste the atmosphere. But not to be there also gives the chance to relativize things. I will not deny that what happens during such a gathering has impact on the world church. However, it is just one aspect of being-church and for (perhaps as many as) 95 percent of the 18.5 million Adventists around the world San Antonio is very far away in more than  just a geographical sense. Their church is primarily the local church where they have their membership and where each week they worship together with other fellow-members of the same faith community.

My wife and I experienced a very good illustration  of what it means to be a Seventh-day Adventist, when we arrived in Denmark where we were going to spend Wednesday night. A couple  we had known over the years, but with whom we have been  much closer in  recent time, had invited us to stop at their home on our way to Sweden. Wednesday evening we sat around the table for a great meal on the deck behind their house, with a magnificent view over the Vejlefjord. They had also invited another couple that lives just a few kilometers from there. I know the man quite well, since many years ago we were both involved with the publishing work in the church, and we would meet quite regularly . He has been retired for quite some time but continues to be active in the Danish Adventist Church.

So, the six of us had a very pleasant evening: six friends and fellow-believers. In spite of all our differences it felt like we really are family. We spent a lot of our time together talking about developments in the church—worldwide, in Europe, in Denmark and in the Netherlands. In fact, we were a small-scale illustration of what it really means to be part of the same faith community. Realizing this also made the meeting in San Antonio fo me into something happening far away—in geographical distance, but also other more important ways.


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Magdalena per e-reader


I would never have predicted that I would one day buy an e-reader, since I always was a firm believer that nothing exceeds the pleasure of holding a paper-book in your hands. But, I have surrendered, and it would appear that I may even like it—especially when traveling by train or plane, or even for a few lost moments at home, or on the balcony. Already over a year ago I received a coupon with a value of 100 Euros—to be spent with the German amazon—in appreciation of a few lectures during a Bible study weekend of Adventist believers in the Darmstadt area. This enabled me to buy through an e-reader—to be precise a Kindle-paperwhite, for just under 120 minus 10o Euro, including a leather case. It thus required a minimal investment to enter the guild of e-reading people.

I quickly downloaded a few e-books. One of these is the newest book by Maarten ‘t Hart, entitled Magdalena—a book about his mother. But, as we often find with this well-known Dutch author, is is to a large extent about himself and provides a little further insight in his rather complex personality. There never was a truly loving relationship between Maarten and his mother. But Maarten is simply not well endowed with relational skills, although he did get on somewhat better with his father, who died some decades ago. His books tell us nothing (as far as I know) about the relationship with his wife Hanneke. However, I assume that she must not have been amused when her husband Maarten went through a period of cross-dressing  and for some time went by the name Maartje (the female form of his real name). We read in several of his books that Maarten related poorly to several people in his neighborhood, especially when they had decided to join a Pentecostal church, or, even much worse, became Seventh-day Adventists. From his early years on Maarten greatly disliked the Reformed church in which he grew up, and those who belonged to this church. And I have personally experienced what this gifted story teller, (with his abundant fantasy) thought about my (in his eyes utterly ridiculous) religious views. This is clear from his books Dienstreizen van een Thuisblijver (2011), in which he needs several pages to criticize me (pp. 202-208). He even refers in these page to me as the ‘pope’ of Dutch Adventism. I have not even received this ‘honor’ from my Adventist fellow-believers.

Back to Magdalena. The chapter about his discussion with his mother on the subject of Noah’s ark is not just extremely amusing, but also provides considerable food for thought—in spite of the excessive exaggerations and many dubious details. When Maarten ‘t Hart writes about religion and faith, he is not only hopelessly cynical but he also demonstrates an extensive knowledge of the Bible and often puts some arguments forward that are not easily dismissed (certainly not by his mother). This is also the case in his calculations regarding Noah’s ark. The Bible indicates that this ship was large enough for all animals, ‘after their kind’.—one pair of ‘unclean’ animals and seven pairs of all ‘clean’ animals. According to Maarten (besides being an accomplished author also a respected biologist) the world is the habitat of roughly two million ‘kinds’, and therefore several millions of animals must have entered the ark. But apart from mind-boggling fact: How did these animal make their way to the ark? Some kinds of snails are only found in Scandinavia. They travel at most about five meters a day, which means that the journey must have taken them quite a few years. But there the further complication that they must have died while en route. And how about feeding all these animals during the sea voyage? And how did Noah make sure the animals did not devore each other? And then, just think of all the manure. Etc. etc.

A very amusing chapter. For those whose believe in a world-wide flood and take into account that the pre-flood world must in many ways have been different from the post-flood world, some of the problems Maarten ‘t Hart mentions can be solved. Nonetheless, Maarten helps his readers (myself among them) to look at some of the Bible stories in a different light from what many were used to in the Sunday school or children’s Sabbath school. The story of the flood—that can be found in most ancient cultures in some form or another—is a great story with abiding significance. But Genesis 7 is hardly an eyewitness report of how things exactly happened. It would be good if Maarten would not just make mince-meat of the details of the story but also see its abiding significance.

Well, in a few days time my wife and I will leave for our annual vacation in Sweden. This year the stack of books that we will take along is less high than usual, for the e-reader will accompany me. But I hope to also  enjoy the paper edition of  the (700-plus pages) third volume of Hans Küng’s autobiography!

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Like most people I hope to live a happy, long and healthy life. As a believer I pray for this privilege.  Admittedly, I do not exactly understand how this kind of prayer works—for it is a fact of life that for many believers life may just as unexpectedly take a nasty turn as it may for non-believers. Of course, I do realize that, with regard to health, I must also do something myself. For that reason I take, as often as possible, an hour-long walk in the morning. I do not smoke, and do not consume any alcohol and drink only very few soda’s. And I seriously limit my visits to the ‘golden arch’, and to similar institutions. I thank God I am still in reasonably good health and still dispose of a fair amount of energy. Unfortunately, I am just  not very successful in shedding a few excess kilo’s.

I faithfully take the medication my doctors have prescribed in order to keep my blood pressure and my sugar at the right levels. But, I just heard a few days ago on the news that medicines may have an undesirable effect if you reach a certain age, and you may want to accept the risks that result from fewer pills, since these very medicines may cause other serious problems in elderly people which may shorten their lives.  Well, what can I say? (And another bit of news—but not so relevant for me: women are on average less healthy than men, in spite of the fact that they live longer. One of the reasons for this, it was reported,  is that most medicines have been tested only on men and not on women and may simply be less effective for women.)

I know very little about medical maters, but I take many recent reports on medical discoveries with a grain of salt (although, of course, not with too much salt, as that may negatively impact on my blood pressure). Often the findings contradict other findings. Is it healthy to drink a few glasses of milk per day? How healthy is ‘healthy’ margarine? How much fruit should one ideally eat? And does (as was also reported last week) eating a daily dose of 20 grams of nuts prolong your life?  Is swimming a useful exercise? (My specialist in internal medicine told me that swimming is the least productive form of physical exercise!) How good or bad is a daily glass of wine, or regularly eating a piece of lean meat (besides the ecological aspects)? And, of course, there is the inevitable question: how many cups of coffee can one drink per day without any negative consequences?

Living consciously healthy has religious implications. As (christian) human beings we are responsible for how we treat our bodies. It also has social implications: how can we contribute to keeping healhcare affordable? Or, perhaps even more importantly: keeping healthy will add to having a pleasurable life, and it may postpone the moment that we become dependent on other people for care and other forms of assistance. But, when all is said and done: food must also remain a source of pleasure! The Lord has not without reason given us the sense of taste. And, finally, one of the most important aspects of a happy and healthy life is: finding meaning in our life and cherish our relationships.

And then, there is this fabulous thought in the Lamentations of Jeremiah (3:22,23) that should stop us a few moments every morning: ‘The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.’

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