|At Issue index Women in Ministry Called by God Index Previous Appendix A|
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of
2 Timothy 1:7
The Spirit of the Future
We are looking at the future by way of the past, at the same time attempting to maintain a firm hold on the present. This book is about women who have experienced a calling to the ministry, a phenomenon that has been recognized by the body of Christ, at least the part immediately surrounding the ministering women—the conference and the local church unit.
There have been superficial differences in the circumstances of these various women ministers: Evangelist Minnie Sype grappled with poverty frequently during her more than forty years in the ministry, while Pastor Jessie Weiss Curtis could comfortably give financial assistance to church members in need. Yet the similarity between these women was far more significant than the differences: both felt called—compelled—to share the good news of the gospel. Many other women have been and are similarly called; the ministries of a few have been noted in the chapters of this book.
Study of the individual cases indicates that for years the licensing of women was closely tied to remuneration; and remuneration for women, unlike that of the men, during much of the period studied was a spigot turned off or on according to perceived "need" or marital status. The treatment of women in ministry has improved in significant ways as the denomination has matured. Women pastors, evangelists, chaplains, and Bible teachers are now paid a regular salary whether they are single, married, widowed, or divorced. A 1989 Annual Council action, approved by a vote of 190-46 and effective immediately, allows "female ministers, like their male counterparts in ministry, to baptize and to perform marriages in states that permit unordained ministers to perform marriages."1 These are marvelous steps forward.
In one respect, the status of women in ministry has deteriorated. Not only are they not ordained; but now, except in a few cases, women are no longer licensed as ministers.2 Minnie Sype was one of 18 licensed ministers in a conference that employed only eight ordained ministers. She thus functioned more centrally in the mainstream of ministry than a woman minister who today is classified in a non-specific category as a credentialed or licensed commissioned minister, set apart from her male peers in pastoral and evangelistic work.
Being a woman and at the same time being called to fill a ministerial role in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination today is at once rewarding and frustrating. The work is rewarding because what God calls a person to do, the Holy Spirit enables her or him to accomplish; and cooperating with the Spirit is an unsurpassed privilege. A bond strengthens between the minister and God, the members served, and one's peers and superiors. The frustrations grow out of the opposition shown by some church administrators, pastors, seminary students, and members toward these ministering women.
Let me address the women ministers for a moment. I believe the message of 2 Timothy 1:6, 7 can with profit be called to your attention, as well as to that of the male ministry. "Rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands,"3 Timothy was admonished. Woman minister, the laying on of hands may be that accorded to a local elder only; nevertheless, it is sufficient in the Spirit to fuel within your being a living flame.
When, humanly speaking, the future appears bleak or impossible, read the glorious assurance of verse 7: "For God did not give us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."4
The Greek word swfronismóz, appearing as "a sound mind" in the King James Version, is rendered "self-control" in the Revised Standard. This word packs a lot of meaning: it could be translated "sober good sense," as well as "temperance."
What a triad of characteristics to mark the woman minister as she faces an uncertain professional future (and the words are certainly no less applicable to her male counterpart). God will provide power, shown by boldness in contrast to timidity, an intensity of living and serving; love, the prime characteristic of God, the warm caring of self-giving that can include "tough love" when needed; and a sound mind, characterized by temperance and self-control. Fred Gealy comments, "The Christian minister requires boldness and courage, the power which derives from a confident faith; yet the exercise of power is Christian only when fully joined with love, and these two with self-control."5
Anna Knight summoned power to combat ignorance and poverty by starting an educational institution, evangelistic Bible schools, and adult classes in Mississippi; to venture afar as a pioneer missionary to India; to carry the responsibilities of a departmental secretary alone among an otherwise all-male cast. The fruitage of her long and dedicated life is incalculable.
Jessie Weiss Curtis experienced power to secure the use of a tent, with the aid of two men to pitch it, and in it to preach the gospel that she had studied at Battle Creek College and heard preached by Elder H. M. J. Richards. As a result the Drums, Pennsylvania, Seventh-day Adventist Church exists today.
When challenged, because of their womanhood, about their preaching, early Adventist women ministers and their defenders quoted Joel 2:28-31: I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. . . . Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days . . . before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. (NIV) If in the 1890s, then surely in the 1990s this promise can be claimed.
Where today are the women ministers filled with the courage and boldness of the Spirit, exercising power in the fullness of love under the restrictions of self-control? Look around you, and you will see them. Do not ask them to deny the gift that is within them. Rather pray the Lord of harvest that He will bring into His service more dedicated ministers, women and men, to do His work and to hasten His coming!
1 Carlos Medley, "Role of Women, Sports Top Annual Council Discussion," Adventist Review (Nov. 9, 1989): 6.
2 Because of Internal Revenue Service requirements current in the U.S. in the 1970s, the Seventh-day Adventist Church redefined the status of licensed minister to include baptizing and to be definitely a step toward ordination. Since the church has not been willing in most cases for its women ministers to be thus designated, few women have been licensed to the ministry since that time. (Many were previously; see Appendix B.) It seems unfortunate that in order to keep the status of licensed minister financially viable for men, retaining the highly desirable parsonage allowance, the denomination chose to take away from women the highest position in ministry that they had been able to attain in most cases. Licensing to the ministry had been available to women since the denomination began licensing ministers (see Chapter 8) 100 years earlier.
3 2 Tim. 1:6, RSV.
4 2 Tim. 1:7.
5 Fred D. Gealy, "Exegesis," 2 Timothy, The Interpreter's Bible on 2 Timothy 1:7.
|To Top At Issue index Women in Ministry Index Called by God Index Previous Appendix A|