General Conference Session delegates pray in prayer room.

Justice, equality in my own words

Friday, August 11, 2017
Avondale president on the importance of interpreting Scripture together

Treating each other justly and equitably is as important as correctly interpreting Scripture, a paper the president of Avondale presented at a unity conference shows.

Professor Ray Roennfeldt’s “Justice and Equality: Is God Interested?” closed Unity 2017, a three-day conference in London in June exploring unity in diversity within the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Public Relations Officer Brenton Stacey asked Roennfeldt about Scripture and the church and how he reconciles his reading of one with the practice of the other.

The organisers of Unity 2017 based it on the Sabbath Conferences of 1848. Emerging from these conferences, they say, were a people more connected to God’s Word, to one another and to the distinctive messages of what is now the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This seems true for those attending this conference. And I imagine it will be true for those attending the alternative Scripture, Church Structure and the Path To Unity conference. So, in your view what, if anything, will bring liberal and conservative Adventists together?
Actually, I’ve never met a truly liberal Adventist! All of us are very conservative compared with the liberal wing of Christianity. So, we need to recognise we’re all playing in the same Adventist “ballpark,” with some in centre field and others in left and right fields. And the church we all love will be the stronger if we listen to each other respectfully.

You’re an advocate for women in ministry. The voting down of a motion at the 2015 worldwide Adventist Church session that would have allowed each of its divisions to decide for themselves whether to ordain women to the gospel ministry disappointed you. The vote ended a five-year study characterised, according to Adventist Review, by “vigorous and sometimes acrimonious debate.” How do you reconcile your reading of Scripture, particularly God’s interest in justice and equality, with the actions of a church that claims Scripture as the sole infallible rule of faith and practice.
The church, by its very nature, is always on a journey to be what God designs it to be. So, while I’m terribly disappointed in where it is at the moment in relation to justice and equality for women ministers, I’m not giving up on my church. And it is my church; it doesn’t belong only to those who see God’s call to ministry as gender based.

In regards to Scripture, while we might claim the Bible as our only rule of faith and practice, we all bring different things to our reading and study, including our background and cultural differences, our gender differences and our educational differences. This highlights, again, the importance of valuing all of the “voices” in the church as we interpret Scripture together.

You say in your paper you’ll continue to view Scripture as God’s Word but read it with an “‘inerrancy expectation.’” But you also note how Scripture sometimes leaves you wondering (why God as revealed in the Old Testament did not more proactively promote justice and equality for women, and what motivated Paul to write as he did, for example). Reading Scripture expecting inerrancy but, with respect to women, finding perplexity are different, though. Are you more comfortable with one over the other?
I come to Scripture as the Word of God. I expect God to speak to me as I study His Word. And I’m very comfortable with this position and have not moved from it over the years. However, the way I see God interacting with the writers in their own contexts—even in respect to the role of women in the church—has changed as I’ve dug deeper into the Scriptures. And I’m also comfortable with that, although sometimes surprised as well.

As you continue to read and study Scripture, do you find it more often confirms or challenges your beliefs?
I find confirmation and challenge at the same time. The big picture—Scripture is God’s Word, salvation is by grace through faith, God is the creator and re-creator, God asks for our obedience and service, Jesus established the church, Christ will come again—is very stable, but it’s around the edges of that central core that the challenges happen. How do we, for instance, keep it together when it comes to human suffering? How are we to value both Scripture and science when we’re thinking of origins? Sometimes I have to say, “We don’t know at this stage,” and I’m not too uncomfortable waiting for better answers.

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Brenton Stacey

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Brenton is Avondale University College’s Public Relations Officer. He brings to the role a decade’s experience as a communicator in publishing, media relations, public relations, radio and television, mostly within the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific and its entities. He is also co-convenor of Manifest, a movement exploring, encouraging and celebrating #faithfulcreativity in the Adventist Church.