Recently the Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada, with which I serve and under which I was ordained many years ago, issued a statement authored by the Board of Directors in which it seeks to clarify the meaning of ordination with a view to making provision for the ordination of women. It appears that it was issued in anticipation of this summer’s General Assembly in Winnipeg and in response to the request of the constituency to provide some direction on the subject of the ordination of women.
The substance of the papers is that since ordination in this denomination has been a rather generic means of identifying those who are called to professional Christian ministry, women should not be prevented from being ordained. Afterall, from the Board’s perspective, there are many instances in which it is evident that women are also called to Christian ministry in one way or another. It seems the Board of Directors believes that ordination is variously understood and applied by church denominations based on their respective views of its significance. The Board feels that historically the Alliance, being more concerned with the fulfillment of Christ’s mission, has always taken a middle of the road attitude to ordination. It feels that the way ordination is practiced today “has no biblical content.”
The definition of ordination is an important one and is not irrelevant to the larger question, but it is disconcerting that the Board really did not take any initiative to clarify its position on biblical teaching having to do with the role of women in church ministry. So much of the controversy regarding the question of women’s role in the life of the church is based on interpretation regarding a biblical theology of gender. Though the issue has obviously been a controversial one in these times the Board’s approach leaves its constituents none the wiser about this important matter. In my view, it is irresponsible for Alliance leaders not to be able or willing to define their position on this important matter. Instead, the Board has opted to conclude with a generic definition of ordination so that it does not represent a barrier for women. In an effort to moderate the controversy concerning this issue, the Board’s approach may actually serve to exacerbate the existing sense of controversy because of this lack of clarity.
First of all, I think it is a mistake to conclude that “ordination has no biblical content.” Otherwise, why would it be important enough to be an issue for women? Though it is true that the word itself does not appear often in some versions of the Bible the concept is definitely prominent going as far back as God’s call on many in the Old Testament to lead in the life of the spiritual community. One has only to think of Moses or Joshua, Samuel or David to appreciate the significance of God’s call to leadership in that time. And the concept continues in the New Testament where Jesus ordains twelve to be with Him for a time so that He might send them out to preach (Mark 3:14). These He designated apostles in order to lead in the life of the early church. Later Paul too was given this responsibility — something that both humbled him and motivated him regarding his work (1 Timothy 1:12).
Though, as the Board’s paper pointed out, Christian ministry can take many forms, it is clear from 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 that there is a very specific form of Christian ministry that has to do with church leadership. And it also appears to include a significant measure of spiritual authority as alluded to by Paul in his own ministry and in the ministry of the young church pastor, Timothy. (See 1 Timothy 4:11, 12; 5:11; 5:17; 6:17, 18; 2 Timothy 2:14; 4:1, 2, as well as Paul’s words to Titus about taking authority to appoint elders and set things in order regarding the church on the island of Crete.)
So we conclude from the New Testament that ordination is a calling to church ministry leadership that also comes with a significant measure of authority as described in the preceding Scriptures and also modeled by Paul in his ministry. And 1 Peter 5:3, rather than negating this spiritual authority (as the Board states) actually emphasizes this fact by calling attention to its possible abuse. And beyond that, Hebrews 13:7 makes a very specific reference to the authority that belongs to church leaders. So while it is true that ordination may not have been formalized in the way the church has come to practice it in our day, ordination as a calling of God to spiritual leadership in the church was well established in the life of the New Testament church. And the authority that comes with it appears to have both an individual as well as a corporate component in the church of that time.
Having established the reality of ordination as it relates to leadership and authority in the church it is hard to avoid the further qualification in the Scriptures that this is a calling that God has especially designed for men to fill. Though this is implied through many examples, and alluded to in Paul’s instruction to Timothy regarding the qualifications for elders, it is also specifically taught as a principle in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. Much has been written about the interpretation of these Scriptures but it appears significant that Paul refers to God’s order in creation as a foundation fo His plan about the relationship between men and women. Though the fall of Genesis 3 distorted the nature of this relationship God’s order in creation does not appear to have been altered through the redeeming work of Christ.
It’s important to recognise that men and women have equal value in God’s plan of creation and redemption (Galatians 3:27, 28). But their respective value should not be separated from the roles that God has assigned to each gender in His plan for the world (Genesis 2:18), for marriage (Ephesians 5:33), and the church (1 Timothy 2:12). Though the role of each gender is different, men and women are inter-dependent and by God’s grace in Christ should serve one another in complementary ways. Their relationship will even be reflected in a sense of mutual submission to one another but this does not negate the basic order that God evidently established from the beginning. Especially in the church, the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15), there should be a concerted effort to do what it appears God intends — for men to take the responsibility for leadership and to exercise the authority that the role implies.
I hope and pray that the Alliance in Canada at this time will give serious second thought to the implications of this proposal and will re-commit to a season of prayer and deeper study about the biblical nature of church leadership. I think it would be seriously divisive and most unwise for the Assembly to vote on this issue at this time as proposed.