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Did Ellen White Call for Ordaining Women?
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What was Mrs. White's stance in regard to the ordination of women? Her prophetic role and her involvement in the founding and nurturing of the Seventh-day Adventist Church make this a question of interest to Adventists today. In recent years some have proposed that we may find support in Mrs. White's writings for ordaining women as pastors or elders. This study examines the main passages that people are using in support of women's ordination to see what those passages actually teach.

The “Ordination” Statement

In 1895 Ellen White wrote the following: “Women who are willing to consecrate some of their time to the service of the Lord should be appointed to visit the sick, look after the young, and minister to the necessities of the poor. They should be set apart to this work by prayer and laying on of hands. In some cases they will need to counsel with the church officers or the minister; but if they are devoted women, maintaining a vital connection with God, they will be a power for good in the church. This is another means of strengthening and building up the church. We need to branch out more in our methods of labor. Not a hand should be bound, not a soul discouraged, not a voice should be hushed; let every individual labor, privately or publicly, to help forward this grand work. Place the burdens upon men and women of the church, that they may grow by reason of the exercise, and thus become effective agents in the hand of the Lord for the enlightenment of those who sit in darkness.” 1
Careful reading of this statement reveals that:

  1. This ministry is part-time. “Women who are willing to consecrate some of their time.

    . . .” Therefore from the start it does not seem to be referring to pastoral ministry.

  2. The work is something other than that which the church was already doing. “This is another means of strengthening and building up the church. We need to branch out more in our methods of labor.”

  3. Since “in some cases they will need to counsel with the church officers 2 or the minister,” she does not equate them with the minister, nor does she regard them as the officers whose responsibility it is to lead the local congregation.

Was Mrs. White here calling for an ordained woman ministry? If one uses the term ministry in its broad sense of service, yes. But she has clearly distinguished this ministry from that of the pastor or the leading church officers.

Further, the article from which the statement comes is entitled “The Duty of the Minister and the People.” It calls for involvement of the laity in the work of the church. Its purpose is not to change the structure of the pastoral ministry, but rather to change its emphasis from a focus on the minister's work to one in which the laity is active and motivated.
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