It was an important week for the international Adventist Church. The full executive committee of the denomination—the leaders from the headquarters office and representatives from all over the world—met during the past week in Silver Spring (near Washington DC). A total of well over 300 (mostly) men and women. I tried to follow the proceedings from a distance as best as I could. The constant Twitter message of a Spectrum reporter were especially helpful.
By far the two most important items on the agenda were (a) how to decide about the ordination of female pastors, and (b) the changes in the wording of some of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs. Concerning (a) it was, after much debate, decided that the 2,000-plus delegates to the General Conference in July 2015, in the Texan city of San Antonio, will be asked to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the option that, in the future, the various regions in the world (‘divisions’) will be allowed to determine whether it is appropriate to ordain female pastors in their territory. This may be a somewhat disappointing result, but, in any case, the discussions during this Annual Council did not end with a final ‘no’.
The current situation is being evaluated in different ways. Some feel that we are now almost back to where we were in 1995 in Utrecht, when the same question was posed to the delegates and when a large majority of these delegates rejected this very same proposal. But many things have happened since 1995 and I am hopeful that we may now see a different result.
As I have repeatedly written in my blogs and elsewhere: I am a fervent proponent of full equality between the genders. There are, I think, no solid theological arguments to deny ordination to women. On the contrary: the gospel is clear that ‘in Christ’ all inequality in the status of men and women before God has been ended. The gospel leaves us no other choice but to allow the ordination of women. But, we will now have to wait and see. The pro- and the anti-lobby will, no doubt, be very vocal in the coming months. I have noted, though, that the anti-lobby is more and more resorting to rather peculiar arguments. This will, I believe, give many who have so far opposed women’s ordination second thoughts. I was glad to see a new book coming from a decidedly conservative corner that gives clear replies to all possible objections people might have to the ordination of women. (See: Martin Hanna and Cindy Tutsch, eds.: Questions and Answers about Women’s Ordination (Pacific Press, 2014).
The revised wording of some of the Fundamental Beliefs concerned, in particular, article 6 that deals with the Adventist view on creation. In the newly revised version, that will be proposed to next year’s General Conference, it states that Adventists believe in a ‘recent’ creation (i.e. the beginning of everything is not millions of years in the past but was rather some 6-10 thousand years ago), and that the creation happened within a time period that we still experience as a week. It is very clear: every possibility of considering another option (such as a form of theistic evolution) had to be excluded.
I have much difficulty in accepting this process. Why must our Adventist ‘truth’ be defined in ever more detail? Why can we not be content with a short list of the main tenets of our faith that are decisive for Adventism and then allow the individual members to fill in the details? I see myself as a Christian who has chosen to experience and express his Christian conviction within the framework of the Adventist tradition. I plan to continue doing this. But I have no need—or, to say it more strongly, I experience it as wrong and as suffocating—when institutions and people ‘from above’ want to proscribe what exactly I should believe.
When it comes to this article six about creation: I believe that God is the Creator of everything. That is the basis of my faith and it informs me about my own identity: I am a creature with responsibility towards his Creator. But as to when God exactly did his creative work? The Bible tells me that it was ‘in the beginning.’ That is enough for me to know. How did God create? I have many questions. Undoubtedly, science can provide me with some answers. But the core is: everything that exists does not result from mere chance but rather from a divine initiative. Did it take God a week before everything was ‘very good’? I have no idea. The biblical creation story is referred to as ‘authentic’. That, it seems to me, is a good term to use. The biblical story of God’s creation ‘in six days,’ with the sanctified seventh day as apotheosis, is true—and authentic. But does this necessarily imply that every detail is historic?
Some time ago I decided no longer to get overly worried when my church wants to decide what I should believe. I simply believe what I believe. Of course, I keep thinking and studying God’s Word. I also continue to listen to what others—leaders and theologians in my church included—are saying. But, in the end, it is not up to them to determine what I should believe. I believe . . . what I believe.