For a variety of reasons, regrettably, it will not be possible for me to attend Canadian Assembly in Winnipeg this summer. But having served in the Alliance as a pastor for most of my adult life, most recently in a variety of church pastoral transitional ministries in the West, I feel compelled to voice my response to an initiative that definitively moves our Denomination in a new direction. I have written a couple of times about this issue most recently on May 23, 2012. (This latter occasion was in response to the papers on Ordination and the Ordination of Women published by the Board.)
I am grateful for the opportunities the Board had given to respond and dialogue about this issue including the Forum of the C&MA Canada Web-iste, as well as on Twitter and Facebook. I appreciate the commendable effort that has been made by the Board to communicate electronically and by video about their views and understanding of the issues. Steve Kerr communicates with candour and passion. But with all due respect, I can’t help but conclude that the presentation of the Board misses the obvious point of this discussion and controversy: women serving in authority in church leadership.
I think it is wrong that the Board minimizes the significance of this issue by dwelling on the technical aspects of our practice in which they imply that there is no substantial difference between licensing and ordination. This pragmatic approach, I feel, undermines the importance of the authority of Scripture which is so foundational to everything Christ’s work and mission is all about. In fact the video presentations had no reference to biblical authority whatsoever regarding direction on this important matter; instead the appeal to move in this new direction is being made on the basis of how our practice has evolved in the Alliance in its rather short history.
I realize that our Alliance started out as a missional movement fuelled by the full significance and preaching of the Gospel under the anointed ministry of our founder, Dr. A. B. Simpson. In the early days, the Alliance did not attempt to be a church denomination but rather an “alliance” of like-minded people concerning the all-sufficiency of Christ bound together in a “society” who sought to establish “branches” for the sake of promoting the Alliance’s message and mission. And it is true that there are examples of notable women who served and led at this time. But the point is that until 1980 the Alliance did not consider itself a church denomination. That decision was made at its first Assembly in Winnipeg that year!
As a missional movement, prior to that time, there was less concern about church structure but by 1980 a concern began to emerge about matters of church leadership and government. One example of change regarding polity was that Assembly decided our local gatherings should be called “churches” instead of “tabernacles.” Another example was that our Local Church Constitution should reflect the fact that these local churces be led by an “Elders Board” instead of an “Executive Board” and thus more in keeping with the proper biblical designation and meaning of church leadership.
As a missional movement, Simpson’s larger concern was to preach the Gospel so that as many as possible could experience its hope and healing. Obviously, women being spiritually gifted in all kinds of ways, he thought, should also be effectively employed in this great endeavour. But it is telling that even in those missional days of our development, Simpson, by conviction stopped short of the actual ordination of women.
The point that I am seeking to emphasize in this short response is that we are no longer at a place in our history where we can merely take a pragmatic approach to this important issue. If we are serious about being a church of the New Testament that seeks to come under the authority of the entire Scriptures, then we cannot afford to ignore the gender issue in general, and especially as it relates to church leadership.
In recent years, I have come to the conclusion from study in the Scriptures and relevant literature, that there is some difference between God’s larger kingdom work and the work of the church. In my view, the rule of Christ in His kingdom throughout the world is being accomplished especially by Christians of both genders working in many different spheres of endeavor. But the church is the special work of God’s Spirit in which He is working to redeem a particular people to Himself for the sake of eternal fellowship in His presence. It seems to me that the church is at the forefront of God’s kingdom work but is much more particular — it is the fellowship of God’s people who have become believers in Christ’s atoning grace for the forgiveness of their sins, have been baptized into His body, and share together for prayer, instruction, mission and sharing together in the life of Christ as portrayed in the Communion ordinance. And there is a structure for the local church that has been outlined for us in the New Testament — especially in the Epistles.
So I conclude from looking at the Scriptures that ordination is about much more than the affirmation of one’s calling to ministry in some form or another. Rather, ordination is that special calling, as demonstrated in the lives of the Apostles, and others, like Timothy and Titus who became pastors in the early church, to lead and have a significant measure of spiritual authority to teach, to instruct, and to guide the flock of God (1 Peter 5:1-4). Ordination, in the way we have come to understand and use the term in our times, based on Scripture I believe, is essentially about the calling of God for local church leadership. Whatever the opinion of the Board, I believe we need to come to a conclusion about the meaning of ordination on the basis of what we believe God is saying about its significance in Scripture, not merely on the basis of our own historical development.
And if we conclude biblically that ordination is significant in terms of local church leadership, then we also cannot ignore what God is seeking to say to us through His authoritative Word concerning the similarities and differences regarding gender. Men and women should celebrate all that they have in common and submit to one another in Christ as outlined in Ephesians 5 for example. But we should not let the world squeeze us into its mould of thinking there really are not important differences of function — in marriage and in the church. I realize this latter issue is a big one, but I don’t think we in the church should skirt the theological issues involved and simply come to a pragmatic conclusion about which most of us may well end up feeling some sense of unease.
My vote would be a definite NO to the proposal to change the word “men” to “persons” at this time. If we want to be genuinely biblical in these days, let’s take the time to think more seriously about the biblical meaning of ordination and gender. Let’s not sacrifice a bias for what is really true on the altar of pragmatism. Let’s think deeply and prayerfully about the implications of moving too quickly in a direction which may, in the end, lack a significant measure of true wisdom.
Hi Ed,I really appreciate your comments and strongly agree with the things you say. It seems to me that the licensing and ordination issues before this assembly must be decided on the basis of God’s revealed revelation and not on the basis of emotion. I’ve seen emotion at work in the past resulting in decisions that have created problems for churches. There must be a renewed desire to hear from God AND to be obedient to His direction no matter how we may FEEL about it. Doing things in the church the way the world does things rather than listening to God will result in the His absence – will our churches even notice His absence? We are praying that God will speak to us and we will hear and obey His voice.
God is glorified in the content and tone of this post. Be encouraged, and stay strong!
Hello Ed. I am an associate pastor in the Canadian Midwest District and I respect your opinion on the question being asked at this year’s assembly. I believe, also, that we are skirting an issue that we should be looking at directly. While I differ in my opinion from you I respect you opinion and your desire for it to be known as a person who won’t be there. I must, however, take exception with your final sentences in this post. I don’t believe, in any way, that we are “moving too quickly” toward any end. I think this question is far over due and am, personally, quite happy that we are finally asking even this much of the question. While I hope for unity I also hope to ask these questions and not be afraid to answer them. Thank you for your comments and God’s blessing be upon you.
Thanks, Trevor. If we are skirting the issue, I can’t help but think we must be moving too quickly — despite the sense of urgency and accommodation there has been to consider this matter over the past years. God’s blessing to you, too. ED
It would be wise to recognize the value off women s fulle equality
And ordain those willing able and called. If they feeling called by God, who can denys their conviction and experience? There was a time when women were viewed às spiritually suspect and inferior a weaker sex . This is no longer trueba and the over-ridig value expressed bta Paulo is that in Christian gender is obsolete .
Thanks, Dan. I know my position sounds old school and seems in conflict with being p/c. But I think my arguments are reasonably defensible from a variety of perspectives, mainly theological. Thanks, though, for your interest and input. ED
Thank you Ed for not being one of those leaders who disregard disputed passages and thereby silencing those scriptures that speak most directly to this subject of male leaderhips in the church. That quiet stance signals that sound doctrine is “up for grabs” and eventually ushers in other kinds of distorted false beliefs and heresy. This “setting aside” ordination rite was in our C&MA Canadian Church history (and more importantly in our Bibles) and was directed to a male for the office of overseer — that role of ‘exercising leadership in the church (I Peter 5:1-2). Importantly, and beyond debate, I think we are at the crossroads of bending toward evangelical theological liberalism over standing firm on evangelical theological conservatism: We either deny the full truthfulness of scripture or we affirm the full authority of scripture for our life and church today. Theology really is all-important. Thank you for affirming this. As a credentialed female worker of the Canadian Alliance in fifty plus years of non-stop ministry I have been very affirmed by male colleagues over this time. Too, I know that my “full equality” and being “fully valued” is stationed at the cross not on self-expressed prophecies or on bypassing what our Lord has planned for the oversight of His Church. Respectfully, Louella
Sorry about the horrible wording of my initial comment sent from a so called smart phone. It sure made me look the opposite. However I just have to protest the idea that scripture is a valid basis for refusing women ordination. Yes there is some mention of women being submissive and silent and not to have authority over men yet there are many references to women who are active in the church and at the center of its ministry. Romans 16:7 identifies Junia (female) as an outstanding apostle who’s ministry preceded Paul’s. Apostleship is the highest form of ministry according to Paul.
It seems to me that denying women ordination was more a tradition of man than of God. The situations addressed by Paul are not exhaustive or unequivocal. There are other female apostles mentioned in church history such as Theckla and many other instances of women co-workers alongside the men. Do you truly think this issue is settled for all time? I thought the New Testament speaks clearly about the abolition of a gender heirarchy in Christ
Paul writes, “I do not permit a woman (or wife) to teach or…(and what it is that he doesn’t want them teaching?) The phrase “to usurp authority over the” is all translated from only ONE Greek word: “authentein.”
This word is only in this one verse in the entire New Testament! Translators are still arguing about what “authentein” meant at the time of Paul, as word meanings change over time. The word “gay” meant something very positive in 1800 and means something very different today. Charles Trombley wrote, “It was long after Paul wrote his epistle to Timothy that authentein came to mean ‘to exercise authority,’ ‘to bear rule over,’ or ‘to domineer.’ John Chrysostom (347-407) was one of the dominant Greek Church Fathers and Patriarch of Constantinople. In his commentary on 1 Timothy 5:6 he used authentia to express ‘sexual license,’ nearly two centuries after Paul wrote Timothy. Authentein had not yet taken on the meaning ‘to usurp authority.’” A teacher in the second century, Moeris, tells his students not to use the word “authentein” as it is too coarse for polite company!
Evangelists: Priscilla, together with her husband Aquila, accompanied Paul on an evangelizing trip to Ephesus. Paul continued on and left them behind to evangelize. At Ephesus, Priscilla (listed before her husband Aquila) taught the learned minister Apollos more accurately in the faith, Acts 18:18-26. Some translations add that this happened in their house but the Greek for Acts 18:26 only tells us that they took Apollos unto themselves and doesn’t mention a house. The word used for explained or expounded is the same word used when Peter publicly explained the truth in Acts 11:47. Priscilla and Aquila also established a church in Rome, Romans 16:3-5, and risked their lives for Paul.
Both Euodia and Syntyche evangelized publicly with Paul; they “contended at my side in the cause of the gospel”. Both women zealously “contended”, and the Greek word that Paul used conjures up verbal team wrestling! The word means “to wrestle in company with”. They publicly wrestled with words right beside Paul as they all three publicly defended the faith! Their names are “in the book of life” together with a male co-worker named Clement, Phil 4:2-3 NIV
Pastors or Ministers: In Romans 16:1-2, Phoebe, a woman, was a “diakonon” of the church in Cenchrea. The same Greek word translated “servant”9 here, is translated “minister” in twenty-two other scriptures such as in Col 1:25 “Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God,” NAS
Phoebe is believed to have delivered the book of Romans after traveling some 800 miles from Cenchrea near Corinth to Rome. Paul writes “I commend10 (or introduce) to you, our sister Phoebe,” Then he introduces her as a minister11 of the church in Cenchrea and urges the church at Rome to help her with the matter that brings her to Rome, for “she has been a great help to many people, including me.” The word translated merely “great help” or “helper” is a word meaning “a woman set over others, a patroness,”!12 She was not a servant in the way we think of a servant, but a wealthy woman with money to use to travel and to protect and help others. She served as a minister. the Orthodox consider a deacon an ordained minister to this day and the final step before becoming a full priest
Paul greets Nympha among other church leaders and greets her house church. She is the only leader mentioned by name in her town. Col. 4:1513. Lydia had a church meeting in her home, Acts 16:14, 15 and 40. Also Chloe, whose converts are indicated as belonging to Chloe as a group or church14, in 1 Cor 1:11 “For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you.” NAS
The practice of the early church belies the interpretation assigned to Paul’s instruction in his other epistles. This exclusion of women is something the Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox are largely responsible for developing over time in their ‘Holy’ Tradition that overrides scripture every time in their church dogma.
Is it possible that your church is more interested in being perceived as ‘conservative’ and guardians of a tradition rather than being open to re-establishing an earlier practice admitting the full inclusion of women at the highest levels of church ministry?
Having been an ultra conservative in just such a tradition i am now wary of the way scripture is interpreted in a way that violates the highest values of love, equality, respect and full human potential to express the gifts God gives to a person and on a practical level there are manifestly spirit-filled women waiting to bless the church with their God-given gifts.
Just saying…hey your the one who sent me the link.
Thank you, Ed, for your comments. I see that you have recently taken a look at my comments on this issue and wanted to say in return that your perspective is both encouraging and well-considered. Your words are very helpful for me going forward as I prepare to speak to the General Legislation Commiteee.