Context and the Differences Between Licensing, Commission, and Ordination

Before you begin…
In order to properly dive into the history of Women’s Ordination in Adventism, we want to give you some background information to help you as you navigate.

When did the conversation really begin?
Given that Ellen White was instrumental in the establishing of Adventism in the 19th century, women’s place in the denomination has been a discussion as long as Adventism has existed. It hasn’t always revolved around pastoral ministry, so we chose to focus on the timeline that has focused conversation on women in pastoral ministry. If you’d like to know more information about the full history of the conversation, this document may be of help to you.

What’s the difference between ordination, Commission, and Licensing?
As of now, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has agreed to license and commission women, but not ordain them. What does that mean? Licensed and commissioned women are allowed to be pastors and can technically do everything an ordained pastor can as long as they do so with the permission and/or supervision of an ordained pastor. Without being ordained, however, pastors are prohibited from independently:

  • Serving as the president of a conference, union, division, or the GC.

  • Opening and closing churches

  • Uniting churches (Combining two or more churches into one)

  • Ordaining local elders

The only responsibilities on this list that cannot be done without the pastor being ordained themselves are serving as a president and the ordination of local elders. Because those responsibilities require ordination explicitly, by definition, anyone who is not or cannot be ordained cannot perform those responsibilities.

So what’s the big deal?
Today, the conversation is primarily focused on two opposing sides:

  1. Ordain women in the name of equality and empowerment to fulfill the Great Commission.

  2. The responsibility of Unions to submit to the world church’s decision for women to be permitted license and even commission, but not ordination in the name of unity.

The Adventist Church is at a stand still right now as some Unions have allowed and recognized the ordination of women while the world church as a whole is still not in support of those actions. The conversation has now advanced from simply ordaining women to now becoming an issue of following established church policy. In essence, as time marched forward, things have gotten more complex.

How the IRS Affected Women’s Ordination