Response to Ted Wilson Q&A on women in ministry

Elder Ted N. C. Wilson, current President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, regularly publishes an online Questions & Answers (Q&A) series which deals with different subjects that members of the world Church send him.

On Friday, 11 November 2016, Elder Wilson published a Q&A regarding various statements made by Ellen G. White on women in ministry. Because Elder Wilson is an official representative of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and is using his position (and an official account), as well as the digital resources of our denomination to publish his Q&A, one would expect his answers to be Bible-based, supported by evidence, and representative of the best of our scholarship. Sadly, some of his comments seem to lack evidence to support his claims – they appear to defy common sense, and unfortunately have some basic assumptions about Ellen G. White and our denominational history.

One Adventist member named Bronwyn (from Australia) sent Elder Wilson four quotes from Ellen G. White that “seem to indicate Ellen White’s support for women to be ordained in pastoral ministry.” So Bronwyn asked Elder Wilson to comment on his understanding of those texts.[1]

I will provide the quotes, and then give some commentary and my concerns.

FIRST EGW QUOTE: “It is the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit of God that prepares workers, both men and women, to become pastors to the flock of God.” Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 322.

 Elder Wilson’s response is as follows:

This quotation comes from the chapter titled, “The Canvasser a Gospel Worker.” As one reads this quote in context, it’s clear that the entire chapter is focused on the important work of the canvasser.

Mrs. White details the work of canvassers, referring to them as “pastors to the flock of God.” She writes: “It is the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit of God that prepares workers, both men and women, to become pastors to the flock of God. As they cherish the thought that Christ is their Companion, a holy awe, a sacred joy, will be felt by them amid all their trying experiences and all their tests. They will learn how to pray as they work. They will be educated in patience, kindness, affability, and helpfulness” (6T322).

In this chapter, she contrasts the pastoral work of the canvasser with “a minister of the gospel,” stating that it would be good for gospel ministers to obtain experience as canvassers.

Today, we use the word “pastor” and “minister” interchangeably, and in fact, the term “pastor” is now more common. However, when this book was written, ordained gospel ministers were referred to as “ministers.”<<

 Unfortunately, Elder Wilson ignores the preceding sentence, which says the following:

“All who desire an opportunity for true ministry, and who will give themselves unreservedly to God, will find in the canvassing work opportunities to speak upon many things pertaining to the future, immortal life. The experience thus gained will be of the greatest value to those who are fitting themselves for the ministry” (6T322).

By including the preceding sentence, we can see that Ellen White envisioned the work of a canvasser as a preparation for “true ministry.” That is, a canvasser can obtain experience that will help him/her to be a Gospel Ministry. The context is clear, yet Elder Wilson attempts to diminish this interpretation by claiming [my emphasis]: “Today, we use the word ‘pastor’ and ‘minister’ interchangeably, and in fact, the term pastor is now more common. However, when this book was written, ordained gospel ministers were referred to as ministers.”

But, that is inaccurate, because even in her day, Ellen White used the terms “pastor” and “minister” interchangeably. See these examples:

“A PASTOR should mingle freely with the people for whom he labors, that by becoming acquainted with them he may know how to adapt his teaching to their needs. When a MINISTER has preached a sermon, his work has but just begun. There is personal work for him to do. He should visit the people in their homes, talking and praying with them in earnestness and humility.”[2]

“The MINISTER OF CHRIST is not to present to the people only those truths that are the most pleasing, while he withholds others that might cause them pain…. THE PASTOR who fulfills his high commission must give his people faithful instruction on every point of the Christian faith, showing them what they must be and do in order to stand perfect in the day of God.”[3]

“The duties of a PASTOR are often shamefully neglected because the MINISTER lacks strength to sacrifice his personal inclinations for seclusion and study. The PASTOR should visit from house to house among his flock, teaching, conversing, and praying with each family, and looking out for the welfare of their souls. Those who have manifested a desire to become acquainted with the principles of our faith should not be neglected, but thoroughly instructed in the truth. No opportunity to do good should be lost by the watchful and zealous MINISTER OF GOD.[4]

MINISTERS who are neglectful of the duties devolving on a FAITHFUL PASTOR, give evidence that they are not sanctified by the truths they present to others, and should not be sustained as laborers in the vineyard of the Lord, till they have a high sense of the sacredness of the work of a MINISTER OF CHRIST.”[5]

“The flock of God have a right to expect to be visited by their PASTOR, to be instructed, advised, counseled, in their own homes. And if a man fails to do this part of the work, he can not be a MINISTER after God’s order.”[6]

MINISTERS are in danger of becoming lax in regard to the responsibilities that rest upon them. They need to bear in mind that it takes more than powers of oratory to make a MINISTER an ambassador for Christ. The church and the world look to the PASTOR for an example in self-denial and cross-bearing and devotion to God. Indolence, fitfulness, irresolution, disqualify him for the position of a MINISTER OF GOD.”[7]

“The MINISTER OF GOD must be interested in the children and youth, if he would be a faithful PASTOR OF THE FLOCK OF GOD.”[8]

“Brother McCullagh told them he felt that it would not be right to go to the church in the ABSENCE OF THEIR MINISTER; it would look as if he were taking advantage of the PASTOR’S ABSENCE.”[9]

So, the fact is, Ellen G. White did used the terms “pastor” and “minister” interchangeably, in her day.


SECOND EGW QUOTE: “There are women who should labor in the gospel ministry” (Pastoral Ministry, p. 76, from Manuscript Releases, vol. 5, pp. 325, 326).

Elder Wilson’s response is as follows:

In the book, Pastoral Ministry, this quotation is under the heading “Team Ministry With Spouse,” and refers to women who should labor in the gospel ministry with their husbands who are ministers.

The context clearly refers to women who should do pastoral labors with their husbands. Nevertheless, she also mentions “young women”[10] and widows who should continue their “work in the cause of God” even after the death of their husbands.[11] So the participation of women in the Gospel ministry under no circumstances depends on their husbands. They can work in the Gospel ministry by themselves.  It’s clear that marriage “is nor the only setting in which women are called to ministry.”[12] A woman doesn’t have to be married to be involved in the Gospel Ministry, that is, to be a pastor.


THIRD EGW QUOTE: “Make no mistake in neglecting to correct the error of giving ministers less than they should receive. . . . The tithe should go to those who labor in word and doctrine, be they men or women.” (Ellen White, Manuscript Releases, 1:263).

Elder Wilson’s response is as follows:

When one reads the entire section (without the ellipses) from which the above quote was taken, the context makes the meaning of this quote very clear. Here it is in context:

“Women, as well as men, are needed in the work that must be done. Those women who give themselves to the service of the Lord, who labor for the salvation of others by doing house-to-house work, which is as taxing as, and more taxing than standing before a congregation, should receive payment for their labor. If a man is worthy of his hire, so also is a woman.

 “God has entrusted talents to His servants, and He expects them to see that mistakes can be readily made. Make no mistake in neglecting to correct the error of giving ministers less than they should receive. When you see persons in necessity who have been placed in positions of trust, let God move upon your heart to set things right. The tithe should go to those who labor in word and doctrine, be they men or women.—Manuscript 149, 1899, 3. (“Paying Women Workers,” October 24, 1899.) Published in Manuscript Releases, 1:263

Notice that she is describing the work of the women who are to be paid from the tithe as different from that of ministers.

It is clear Ellen G. White is not talking here about women who functioned as Gospel ministers, but rather as Gospel workers. But what is striking is the last sentence: “The tithe should go to those who labor in word and doctrine, be they men or women.” This phrase actually is a quotation from 1 Timothy 5:17 (KJV): “Let the ELDERS that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they WHO LABOUR IN THE WORD AND DOCTRINE.”

Note that the same description that Paul attached to “elders” was used by Ellen G. White to describe the work of “women.” She not only describes the work of women as of the apostolic elders, but also urged the Church to pay them with tithe money. Ellen White also said: “But a great mistake is made when the TITHE is drawn from the object for which it is to be used,—THE SUPPORT OF THE MINISTERS.”[13]


FOURTH EGW QUOTE: “When a great and decisive work is to be done, God chooses men and women to do this work, and it will feel the loss if the talents of both are not combined.” (Letter 77, 1898; Evangelism, 469).

 Elder Wilson’s response is as follows:

This quotation comes from a letter that Ellen White wrote to “Brother and Sister [E.J.] Waggoner. In describing an upcoming speaking appointment in Australia, she wrote:

“Today we are to ride to Wyee, a place about six or seven miles away, to visit the railway workers, and speak to those who want to hear the words of truth. I have thought how profitable it would be to have minute men, laborers together with God, who would be instant in season and out of season. The Lord’s work is not to stand on ceremony, with a precise time to be observed for every line of work. When a great and decisive work is to be done, God chooses men and women to do this work, and it will feel the loss if the talents of both are not combined.”

 Ellen White was a firm believer in Total Member Involvement! Surely this is the time “when a great and decisive work is to be done,” and God calls everyone—men and women, young and old, boys and girls, to work together in telling others of His soon return!

That is certainly the most compelling passage to support women in ministry. Ellen G. White called for the combined effort of women and men to fulfill the Great Commission, which is a “great and decisive work.” Now, is there a more “great and decisive work” than that of the pastoral ministry? Ellen G. White said the following: “Those who give themselves to the ministry of the Word of God enter A MOST IMPORTANT WORK. The gospel ministry is a high and sacred calling. Properly done, the work of the gospel minister will add many souls to the fold.”[14]

Why would God choose women and men to do basically any ministry, but not the Gospel ministry? Does God oppose women in ministry? Ellen G. White certainly did not think that He did:

“I attended the morning MINISTERS’ MEETING. The blessing of the Lord came upon me, and I spoke in the demonstration of the Spirit of God and with power. There are those who are working out a great circle. The Lord has given Christ to the world for ministry. Merely to preach the Word is not ministry. The Lord desires His ministering servants to occupy a place worthy of the highest consideration. In the mind of God, THE MINISTRY OF MEN AND WOMEN EXISTED BEFORE THE WORLD WAS CREATED. He determined that His MINISTERS should have a perfect exemplification of Himself and His purposes. No human career could do this work; for God gave Christ in humanity to work out His ideal of what humanity may become through entire obedience to His will and way. God’s character was revealed in the life of His Son. Christ not only held a theory of genuine ministry, but in His humanity He wrought out an illustration of the ministry that God approves. Perfection has marked out every feature of true ministry. Christ, the Son of the living God, did not live unto Himself, but unto God.”[15]

Finally, Elder Wilson contends that Ellen G. White herself was not an ordained minister.[16] However, even although we have no record of her being ordained by human hands, we do have a clear statement of her very own hand, which settles this issue:

“In the city of Portland THE LORD ORDAINED ME AS HIS MESSENGER, and here my first labors were given to the cause of present truth.”[17]

So, even though Mrs. White was not ordained by human hands, she was ordained by God Himself.

This fact clearly raises several points:

(1)        If God is opposed to women’s ordination, as Elder Wilson believes, why did He ordain a woman to an even higher position than a minister?

(2)        If Ellen White opposed women’s ordination, why did she carry ministerial credentials as an “ordained minister” for 44 years?

(3)        Why didn’t Ellen White preached by example, especially considering that other credentials were available?

We need to accept the plain truth: God can pour the gift of pastor/teacher on a woman or a man, as He wills (Acts 2:17-18; Ephesians 4:7-12; 1 Corinthians 12:28). We, the Church, just need to follow His lead, and ordain whomever He calls to ministry (see for example Acts 13:1-6), whether a man or a woman.


[1] The entire exchange can be find here:

[2] The Acts of Apostles, pp. 363-364.

[3] Ibid. 394.

[4] Gospel Workers (1892), p. 76-77.

[5] Ibid., p. 252.

[6] Pastoral Ministry, p. 223.

[7] North Pacific Union Gleaner, January 29, 1908.

[8] Manuscript Releases, vol. 2, p. 280.

[9] Letter 67 (January 18, 1894).

[10] Manuscript Releases, vol. 5, p. 323.

[11] Ibid., p. 323.

[12] Jerry Moon, “‘A Power That Exceeds That of Men’: Ellen G. White on Women in Ministry, in Women in Ministry: Biblical and Historical Perspectives, ed. by Nancy Vhymeister, 187-210 (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1998), 190.

[13] Manuscript Releases, vol. 7, p. 136.

[14] Ibid., vol. 17, p. 305.

[15] Ibid., vol. 18, p. 380.


[17] Review and Herald, May 18, 1911.

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