Ordination of women: the decision-making process

The deliberations on the topic of women in ministry are entering the next round. This is what the Chief Apostle says in his annual interview of 2021. He gives a concrete roadmap and an update on the current status of the discussions.

This is a vast and multifaceted topic, Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider says. But the decision-making process is being guided by very clear fundamental questions.

  • What does God say?
  • What does the Bible say?
  • What does our Church say?
  • What is the situation in the individual countries?

“Only once we have found reasonable answers to all of these questions will we know what decision we are able to make,” the international Church leader says.

Processed: the Old Testament

The first question—the question of the will of God—has already been answered on the basis of the biblical accounts of creation. The District Apostle Meeting discussed that point in November 2020 and subsequently published a doctrinal paper “Man and woman in the image of God”. Its core statements:

  • Man and woman are both equally created in the image of God. They are interdependent and of the same nature and dignity.
  • Man and woman are both called to protect and shape the creation. God has not assigned them different areas of dominion or activity.
  • The duties of men and women are understood differently owing to social and political developments within human society, among other things.

In progress: the New Testament

The second question—based on further biblical record—is being looked at from two angles. “We have established two essential substantive considerations to explore,” the Chief Apostle explains: what prompted the Lord to call only men to the Apostle ministry, and how does the early church—for example, in the New Testament’s pastoral letters—talk about the matter?

That was the topic at the most recent conference in May 2021. The decisions are pending. “The District Apostles will first bring the content of our discussions to their respective Apostle Meetings.” The Apostles then have the opportunity to express their thoughts and submit statements. “At the coming District Apostle Meeting in November 2021, we will resume the discussion thread.”

At a crossroads into the future

An answer to the third and fourth questions cannot be predicted. “It is still too early for this,” the Chief Apostle says. However, for him the decision tree is clear:

  • Is it the will of God that women should not be ordained? If the answer is yes, there is no need for further deliberations. If the answer is no, we go on to ask:
  • Does the fact that Jesus only called men to the Apostle ministry automatically mean that women cannot be ordained? If the answer is yes, there will be no ordination of women. If it is no, then the following question must be asked:
  • Do the relevant statements in the letters of the Apostles in the New Testament make it impossible to ordain women? If so, then there would be no biblical basis for the ordination of women. However, if the answer to this question is no, we must ask:
  • Does the Church, or the District Apostle Meeting, want to ordain women into ministry or not? If yes, there are regional and societal implications that must be considered:
  • Is there a need to ordain women in a particular area, region, or country? If the answer is no, then there can be no ministry conferred upon women there. In the event the answer is yes, the question is:
  • Will the congregations and the society of this region accept the idea of ordaining women into ministry? If the answer is no, there will be no women ordained there. If the answer is yes, the conclusion is:
  • Women can be ordained in that particular area, country, congregation.

“Thus we have a rather lengthy process ahead of us,” the Chief Apostle made clear. And the same applies here as at the time of the preliminary result on our concept of ministry, when he said: “I can understand that there may be some impatience on this subject here and there. I am also aware that the expectations are very different, however, I insist that we be thorough in our efforts concerning this matter. Naturally, this will require some time, but this is indispensable for the unity of the Church.”

Photo: Oliver Rütten

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Andreas Rother
ministry, ordinations