Wednesday, September 17, 2008

General (Dis)Assembly Part 1: What is this Kingdom Business?

This summer the General Assembly of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada convened for its bi-annual business meeting to discuss and potentially refine policy issues, elect a president, and chart the course for denominational initiatives. Among other things, one of the items on the table this year was the motion to remove the "women in ministry" disclaimer page from the denominational manual. (You can find links to that page and some more comments on Assembly here.)

Instead of this motion being discussed, accepted, or shot down, another motion was made, seconded and then voted through (within a matter of minutes) to postpone indefinitely the discussion of said topic. According to numerous people who were there the reason given was that the denomination had found momentum in a new church-planting initiative and that this discussion would threaten unity. Thus it should be postponed so as to not distract from Kingdom business. As far as I know, the business in question is an ambitious numerically-measured goal for future church-plants.

In this three part series of posts I wish to share a theological perspective on women in ministry and a proposal for how I think the C&MA should handle this in the future. But first I want to address something that should deeply concern Alliance members of all kinds--no matter where they come down on the gender-roles issue.

"'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace" (Jeremiah 8:12).

If one of the reasons for this postponement of an important theological discussion in our denomination was the concern to preserve unity, then ours is a fragile unity at best, and certainly not one that is found in Christ. Those united in Christ come together to discuss their differences and celebrate communion despite their diversities. Those united by vision statements, music styles, or strategic targets at the expense of this fuller Christian community are in danger of being little more than a club. Clubs are fine, but that is not what the gospel is about. There is a deep-seeded misunderstanding of Christian unity inherent in this postponement.

Furthermore, when someone moves to postpone a discussion because it is a threat to unity (and the vote to pass said motion is nowhere close to unanimous) than what they are really saying is that the discussion is a threat to the powers-that-be. Right from the get-go it paints those in favour of putting off the discussion as the glue keeping the church together and those in favour of carrying on debate as threats to the work of the Kingdom. It is a power-play of the worst kind (and it would seem that the original motion itself was probably a power-play of another kind: trying to slip one through without any prepared defense or rationale to be given).

Ultimately, this was a move toward the false peace of conflict avoidance rather than a deeper experience of communion in Christ.

"All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation" (1 Corinthians 5:18-19).

The irony in all of this is that General Assembly is precisely the place where this crucial component of Kingdom work (discussion on policy issues) is supposed to take place! This motion to postpone the issue was the absolute neglect of Kingdom work!

I would suggest that this is also true on an even deeper level. What was the kingdom work that this discussion would distract us from? The planting of numerous churches? I am not going to argue that this is not the work of the kingdom, but I would suggest that it sounds like one more example of a bunch of evangelicals being caught up in a church vision with measurable and impressive goals at the expensive of other (less impressive and tangible but no less important) aspects of kingdom work.

The Assembly chose the false peace of conflict avoidance over the reconciliation process and the presence of God's peace that can be had when Christian people come together in their variance and speak the truth in love. If we can't do this kind of Kingdom work at Assembly, how are churches ever going to do it? Instead of our denomination leading churches in the important process of interpreting Scripture together for our time, we succumbed to one more power play and got caught up in one more strategic goal instead of actually trusting God and each other enough to practice the very ministry of reconciliation that we are supposed to be about.

These are all the scuff-marks on the surface of what I think may be an even deeper problem within evangelicalism today. In an age that is desperate to see people who are able to come together from across fences and have real discussion and communion despite diversity, we are failing to be that very witness that Christ intends to make of us. We are unified by strategic goals, music styles, and demographics and we are failing to be ambassadors of reconciliation.


Colin Toffelmire said...


Again thank you for expressing these issues so coherently and so graciously. I think you know that I am not only in agreement with you on the actual subject matter of the role of women within the Church, but even more I feel that we are in agreement that this is but a symptom of a greater problem both in the CMA and North American evangelicalism as a whole. I look forward to more of your thoughts on this issue and thanks for being a dialogue partner for all of us who read your blog.

Anonymous said...

Jon, I look forward to your future analysis. I think that this initial "meta-analysis" of the situation could be very important in any future discussions. Postponing a debate is not wrong in and of itself, and may be appropriate and good in certain contexts. However, I can see how an "indefinite postponement" would give me a "sinking feeling" about the whole thing. Press on!

Colleen said...

Wow, Jon, thanks for sharing this! (I found you via Colin's blog). The role of women in our local Alliance church is one reason why we no longer attend there. I was initially happy to hear that some progress was going to be made in this area, but am astonished to read that it was postponed. How sad. I'm looking forward to your next 2 posts. Thanks again.

Chris said...

Just wanted to add my comment to those before me in saying that I feel much the same way not only on this particular issue but also with a more overarching concern for our denomination as a whole. The lack of understanding of what true unity within the body actually looks like is a frightening thing. Having now worked in two churches with their fair share of unity issues I am more concerned than ever with the seemingly endemic issues facing this denomination and others. Looking forward to a more indepth discusion as you get more into this issue in your blog.

Trev said...

I wonder how long denominations will stand under their own fallacious confines; bound to current business models and un-biblical hierarchies.

Not to say that they're entirely evil. However, any business/association/entity that is primarily concerned with monetary gain, status, security and familiarity (hmmm, sounds like your average North American) is not "hung up" on Jesus, but rather on details.

I believe that denominations were brought on by not only heritage, but difference of opinion/motive and an inability to unite under one banner.

So, having said this, what do you think would be the cost involved in re-visiting the legitimacy of denominations for the sake of unity in Christ and the elimination of petty, bronze-age ideals such as "women should not be in ministry"? This, to me, sounds like someone saying "hey, let's go dig up Galileo from his grave and see if he'll talk to us some more about the earth not being flat!"

I'm not suggesting that we have to revert to an old-testament model of "perfect" communism, but there's something about "community" and "family" that can take on a much purer form when released from big brother's hand.

Thoughts anyone?

Anonymous said...


I'm with you: the "indefinitely" part is good reason for pause.

Still, I think there's a lot more to the safeguarding-unity-rationale than you're seeing. In the CMA this could quite easily become a consuming conversation that distracts from other really good things that are now in process. Certainly in our own time we don't have to look far to see examples of church/denomination unity threatened and ministries distracted/derailed by contention over hotly debated issues.

More significant for me as I'm working through this particular question has been to admit a few things: (1) Both Jesus and Paul deeply subverted hierarchy and even the traditional patriarchal ordering of their societies. Jesus welcomed women among his followers. Paul recognized their good work in the church and even assumes their oral involvement in the assembly. (2) Paul didn't seem to think that his restrictions around teaching here were at odds with his socially subversive statements around the gospel (e.g. Gal 3.28-29; Ephesians 5.21ff). This doesn't mean there wouldn't be plausible reasons for us to move beyond Paul, but I think we ought to admit openly that it appears Paul didn't see a conflict between 1 Corinthians and 1 Corinthians 14.28, or between 1 Timothy 2 and Galatians 3.

The second of these admissions is forcing me think a little more carefully about whether or not it's really fair to Paul for us to equate removing his restrictions around teaching with 'kingdom work.' Equating Paul's restrictions with "Petty, bronze-age ideals" (to quote from Trev above) feels a little like mud-slinging, frankly. Wherever we land, if we're not going to respect/understand Paul's teaching on this point, it's worth asking whose vision of kingdom we're working with.

All that said, I can't shake the fact that this discussion is significant enough in our context that it needs to be discussed, no matter how hard it is to navigate.

(BTW - Jon, I hope you and your family are doing well.)

Nathan Wall

jon said...

great interaction. thanks for the encouragements, and some of the gentle "push-backs". excellent. here are some responses:

David: It is definitely true that it isn't the postponement in itself which is the problem. Sometimes, yes, it would be a good decision to postpone, and even here it may end up working for the best.

For me it is more about the reasons given (which some others such as chris and colin have alluded to as well). Also it is the "indefinitely" part, and the fact that there is already a long and slow history behind this in our denomination.

trev: i hear what you are saying, and i relate with it too. i used to be more upset about denominations (and their disruption of visible unity) than i am now. don't get me wrong. I long for more ecumenical unity and fellowship. I really want to take communion with catholics, anglicans, etc...

but i don't feel the same need for visible unity as i used to. i think we have an invisible, mysterious unity that we need to strive to make visible as much as possible, but which i don't stress over.

i am also not as anti-institutional as i used to be. i think we need community, and we express the vital core of the faith in communities, not only local, but global. and whenever you form groups it ísn't long before you organize yourselves. i think taht's okay, as long as the organization is perpetually reformable as Christ is allowed to speak in and through it. . .

that said, i do believe that once i'm in a denomination (and local church) i should do everything possible to overcome disagreements, reconciled difficulties and wrongdoings, and seek unity (not just in worship but in theology, etc).

i think there still may be times when you have to leave, but i personally feel very convicted that i should not do so until i have followed the spirit of the sort of dialogue, and even loving conflict, that we see in places such as matthew 18 and 5.

i don't know if we know the community in Christ that we can really have until we take those passages seriously, seek an intergenerational and un-commercial communion, and so on . . .

nathan: good points. i think my next post will probably address some of the logistics of the gender roles debate, and why i think the time is now (for the discussion to take the next step . . . in the C&MA anyway).
you are right that there is discernment needed over whether it is right for a hotly debated issue to derail other matters.

in fact, i would argue that this is exactly why we find Paul and Jesus failing to be as egalitarian or feminist as some of us would like. Yes, as you say, they "deeply subverted" patriarchy, but they were not vigilant revolutionaries for that cause either.

if Christians take the Bible seriously, this issue is not a no-brainer. there are reasons why in any given context either side could be wrong. fact is that paul did limit women in some church situations, the Israelites did not completely reverse the trends of slavery and patriarchy in their own time, and even Jesus went along with a lot of the cultural norms (even while bucking a lot of them as well).

Anywhere we land on this issue has to allow for discernment, patience, trust, and a spirit of SUBMISSION, else the cause we are "fighting" for, even if it is ultimately a good one, may cease to be fought in the way Christ seemed to have wanted it to be.

i hope to get into this more in the next post . . .

thanks for the thoughts. i'm in no hurry to move on here so I'll happily here more.

jon said...

that's hear more. ugh, you can tell when i blog at night.

Tony Tanti said...

Great to see this discussion started here Jon. I look forward to your future posts on this.

While I agree with you I find it also ironic to point out that the issue of growth and church planting is not totally unrelated to the Women in Ministry and in fact allowing Women to lead would, in my opinion, help the very task that they were afraid of disrupting.

I am one of MANY people who no longer attend the Alliance due mainly to their lack of action on this issue and their fear of discussing it.

Trev said...


Thanks for the feedback, perhaps I came of with a heavy dose of angst? I probably have a lot of room for growth in the "tolerance" department. However, I've noticed many common trends through several denominations that seeme to rest in the justification of tradition.

I was wondering if you could elaborate on what you mean by "invisible, mysterious unity". Is this a Col.3:3 thing (hidden in Christ) or something else?

I agree with your points on the inherent benefits of organization. But even a wild animal is organized in its own right; I think it's more a matter of motive. I don't care what the machine is, so long as it is being run by a clean engine. (hope I'm making sense).

Yes, a perpetually reformable system is a wonderful concept, but where do we see it being practiced in North America?

Sorry if I'm coming of as a pessimist here, I just don't see a lot of redeeming value in an organic body of believers that chooses to emmulate secularist-adopted agendas/operations.

I'm glad to hear that you're placing value in confronting these issues Jon, and I in no way want to undermine your approach. I think you're doing the right thing. I just can't help but wonder what got us all in to this mess, i.e. the bigger picture.

You're right, the issue of women in leadership is not just the "right or wrong" question, but whether or not it's even being addressed at. It's always sad to hear of someone walking away from a congregation over belated decisions/discussions. I hope your denomination will sort this out sooner than later.

jon said...

trev: You said: "I just don't see a lot of redeeming value in an organic body of believers that chooses to emmulate secularist-adopted agendas/operations." Hear here! I guess I should qualify it though. As with the use of reason, science, legs, and hands, it isn't that using "secular" things is bad in itself, but it is how and why they are used and whether it conforms with Christ.

I don't think you come off bad. I can tell you are sceptical of the denominations and churches you've experienced. í've certainly been there, and expect to be there again (perhaps as soon as this sunday!)

thanks for the encouragement. i'm glad you raised these issues, as well as the question about "invisible unity"

i don't know exactly what verse i was thinking of, but the notion i have is that if we had some sort of visible unity between not just denominations but streams of Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox) then I think we'd quite possible have an idol on our hands that few of us could deal with---not the ones at the forefront of the unity (think "power corrupts") and not the ones in the "pews" (think "cult of personality") either.

Maybe at some point we'll be ready for "visible unity" in the Church, but I have come to think of it as something of a gracious thing that we don't have it, even though I strive for the experience of the communion that we ought really to have, across church "lines".

As for the value of aligning oneself with an organized body of believers, I just think with the centrality of community in God's "agenda" ---(past, present, and future) as a covenanting, loving, reconciling, Triune God---we need to be in a community of faith of some kind. ANd in most cases that's going to involve some organization.

Where does a perpetually reformable church exist? I'd actually like to think there are lots of them. Of course, they often just aren't as fast (or humble, or dialogical, or loving, or gracious, or truthful, etc) as many of us would like.

I still think the C&MA in Canada is one that is perpetually reformable. There are A LOT of leaders in this denomination that I really look up to.

But there is a tension to be aware of between being rigid on one hand and fickle on the other. The C&MA in Canada has traditionally erred on the side of rigidity (in a famous quote from a previous president, it "steers right to fly straight"). I don't actually think this is all bad. I don't mind being in a conservative church. (For one thing you always feel like a radical!) In the grand scheme of things I think that the more honest and aware conservative churches are good for the ecumenical dialogue, just as the honest and aware liberal churches are. (As long as they care to take part in it. Don't get me wrong. I'm no fundamentalist. Dialogue is out of the question for a fundamentalist. Same could be said for the extreme liberal.)

The problem is that if you steer right to fly straight for too long you tend to over-correct, and at SOME point you have to at least give the wheel one hard tug to left for awhile.

As tanti said, I just think that besides the bad reasons given the C&MA is losing an opportunity to actually fly on course in a time when those church-plants could be even more timely and biblically relevant for their communities, and existing churches could stop using scare tactics to shut down dialogue and, in the words of my father in his letter to the president on this issue, "get back to the bible again".

Anonymous said...

Jon, I think you're bang on about the "fragile unity" thing - that's right at the heart of the matter - and it's something that, I think, the denominational leadership needs to hear about and consider seriously.
For me though, the most thought provoking observation you made was that:
"It is a power-play of the worst kind (and it would seem that the original motion itself was probably a power-play of another kind: trying to slip one through without any prepared defense or rationale to be given)."
I never considered this before, but I think one of the major problems is that the whole framework was designed in a way that almost destined the motion to fail - barely anyone knew this was going to be an item of discussion going into assembly. Honestly, as it stands, assembly is designed as more of a motivational conference than a place to wrestle with denominational issues of great importance (most likely, as you pointed out, as an attempt to keep/create "unity").

For the part couple years, I've been personally fixated on seeing the CMA move forward on this issue - but this post (and following comments) have got me thinking that maybe pushing for gender equity isn't really the answer. Because, most likely, even if we do move manage to move forward as a denomination in this area, it wont be a movement of peace and unity... it'll just be the result of the voting scales finally tipping in the other direction. Unity is the big issue here, but we're not serious about seeking it - instead we're just busy masking it with our best shot at uniformity. Part of me wonders if the best way forward isn't just to see the denomination restructure itself as more of a movement/prophetic voice that attempts to speak into its churches (similar to emergent). There'd still be a few distinctives, but it just releases each church to follow God's lead in their given area. If they're a humble and teachable church, then God will work with that. But if they're proud and unteachable, then they'll have to deal with the consequences. Maybe this sounds like giving up - but it's tiresome to see that disunity is hindering God's missionary movement within a lot of churches (Yes, even here in conservative rural northern alberta, we've had people walk away from the CMA as a result of this... and it's only going to get worse in the next 2/4/6 years).

Great thoughts though (and great interaction from everyone else).

Chris said...

Jonathan, I think you may be moving in the right direction. There has been some talk of this kind of a change needed in the denomination. Unfortunately, it seems that the most difficult thing to change or eliminate is existing buraucracy and structure. How would an existing denomination that is unwilling to look at changing single line items in it's constitution go about changing it's very way of governance and it's structuring. I do not say this in way of challenge but with the hope that someone might offer up a possible beginning to this process.

Dustin Resch said...

Hi Jon et. al.

I'm quite interested in this conversation both in terms of the theological and hermeneutical questions involved in the ordination of women and also in terms of the ecclesiastical polity.

I will leave the theological questions for you to wrestle with in a later post and simply ask for a history lesson: what mechanisms are in place in the CMA through which the denomination has dealt with substantial theological issues in the past? In other words, what other major (controversial) theological questions have been tackled by the denomination and what means have they used to do so? Do they have synods or the equivalent of Lambeth or something?

jon said...

jonathan and chris. . . good thoughts. i do think in a sense it would take some major renovations to our assembly and bureacracy, but that's exactly what we're talking about. i think it is possible, even within our existing structure. i will talk about this more in part three. it will be a lofty proposal in some respects, but hey, that's what we're talking about.

jonathan: i completely agree about your comment re. the "motivational conference". also, very interesting that even in the rural north this is a stumbling block for people coming into the church.

it would be nice to think that local churches would be able to engage in this issue but i really don't see that happening where attitudes such as were displayed at assembly continue to prevail.

i think tanti pointed out something pretty significant. it is nice for me to talk about the ideals of raising this issue and confronting the held-traditions and re-opening dialogue within the denomination (let alone a single church), but it is another thing entirely when you have already experienced first hand the sort of condemning and condescending tactics that often take place when you raise this issue. (or simply been told straight out not to raise it, i.e.: "we can't handle your question right now. in fact we may not be able to for quite some time. so, just hang in there i guess").

part of the "fear" involved is probably healthy caution and humility, but a big part of it is forced upon us because we know too well what people say when you challenge "sacred interpretations".

who wants to be written off as an opponent to "kingdom business"? whose faith can withstand (without the loving support of community) the sort of isolating tactics that single you out like that? who wants to be told that they are a threat to our existence as a bible-believing church? or a threat to unity? who wants to be responsible for taking a whole church down? these are the ways people with honest hermeneutical and cultural questions are often treated by our churches, either implicitly or explicitly. this is a crying shame.

that said, nathan did raise an important question of whether/when a hotly contested issue is worth raising. this is a very important concern that we must seek the Lord on (and follow the spirit of Paul on).

BUT, at some point, when this is actually being used as a hammer to suppress the legitimate questions and dialogue that is taking place then something is way out of whack. it is one thing to be patient and hold your tongue out of concern for larger issues of context (and to wait on the spirit) and it is another thing to have it thrown in your face year after year that "we can't discuss your question because it will cause too many problems."

when this is the reason it isn't talked about it quite possibly means that the "power" in the church is in the wrong hands, or at least the leadership responsibilities are being used improperly. this is where jonathan has a great point. who wants to win this debate simply by use of power? simply because the tide has turned in the "electorate". i suppose that's inevitable. but wouldn't it be way better if the tide turned because of biblical conviction? because of a process of wrestling with Scripture and listening to the SPirit together? wow. that would be awesome. that would be some serious Kingdom.

how do we make this happen? i think Paul shows us that the answer is not to fight fire with fire (or power play with power play) but in a spirit of mutual submission and patience to seek to let the redemptive trajectory of Christ in the community to carry through to dialogue and decision in its time.

at some point in that waiting, however, the spirit stirs up people to say: okay, we are trying not to disturb people or be militatnt about this, but can we talk about it?"

i think that today in the C&MA, too much is at stake to let things slide longer simply for fear of a difficult discussion. i think for the sake of our communities (leave alone for the sake of our women and our churches) we can not simply be shoved aside and quelled by fear tactics (and potentially ignorance) any longer.

question is how you raise this in a spirit of love and trust rather than in a spirit of divisiveness, manipulation, power-plays, and so on.

so, all that to say: good question chris!

jon said...

just saw dustin's question: the answer is that in our denomination it all ends up going through this General Assembley. sometimes there are committees and meetings or even info packages that happen or go out beforehand, but that depends on the initiative of the Board of Directors (who work with the PRes like elders work with a pastor).

Trouble is, it seems difficult to get the BOard to do what it takes on this. I think we can't just suggest they do something, we actually have to ask them specifically to take some specific steps. That's what I'll be hashing out in Part 3.

(I already wrote many letters to our President and Board two years ago. It is time for me to get more specific.)

Dustin Resch said...

Thanks for this Jon.

Part of my question had to do with any precedents in the history of the CMA Canada. How were other substantial theological issues handled? Recent issues that might be worth exploring could be any changes that have taken place (or not) on topics such as inerrancy, marriage and divorce, eschatology, etc.

Colin Toffelmire said...


Inerrancy remains in the CMA in Canada Statement of Faith, the marriage and divorce issue did come up a few years ago and if I'm not mistaken (someone please correct me if I am) there was a note of some kind regarding the "non-offending" party of a failed marriage being allowed to serve in ministry (which had been disallowed previously). Finally on eschatology there was an amendment to the Canadian statement of faith removing "pre-millenial" from our statement regarding the return of Christ.

So far as the politics behind the two changes, I can't speak to the first with much authority. I was still in college at the time, though if I recall correctly the change was somewhat controversial but represented such a small adjustment to existing policy that there was no big campaign surrounding either side.

The adjustment to our statement on eschatology was even less significant. I'm not sure anybody from the CMA congregation I attended at the time has noticed yet.

I can't think of any recent issues (apart from the question of women in ministry) that have aroused real passion or ire in any camp. Can anyone else think of examples?

Trev said...


*on a side note*

Would you mind if I provided a link to this blog from my page? I think you raise up a lot of important topics that people need to read.

Dustin Resch said...

Thanks Colin. It might be worth doing some digging on how the change in Premillenialism and divorce came about, where its motivation came from, how dissent was handled, etc.

I think that the fact that the CMA has not dealt in its history with a potentially denomination-splitting theological controversy is particular cause for patience. The denomination not only has to deal with the theological challenge itself, but it needs to form channels and means by which to even address the matter. It would be no suprise if there was hesitation on the part of the leaders. Speaking from within an ecclesiastical communion that has recently made some massive theological and polity decisions in a very short period of time, I can say that moving quickly is not all it is cracked up to be!

That said, I affirm the importance of the discussion and have sympathy for feeling as though an entire group's convictions are falling on deaf ears.

jon said...

trev: go ahead. i'm pretty sure in the blogosphere you can link whoever you want. but thanks for asking, and considering it worthy!

dustin: there has been a long history with this one issue in the alliance. even the ones colin mentioned made few ripples in the churches but were well debated at the assembly itself (and the marriage one in many committees).

that said, it is a denomination that takes things slow, and you are right, this needs to be remembered.

thing is that this is 24 years into this issue for the alliance, and was such a weak and badly dismissed motion that the underlying problems are just so exposed.

if anyone is interested, someone i know did her master's thesis at macmaster divinity on this very issue. it is called "the great debate" and it tracks the whole women in ministry issue in the C&MA and looks into the practical, political, cultural and theological factors that went into each decision and (non)decision along the way.

i was looking for it and found a link to it on this site, which itself summarizes the C&MA history on this matter (although I'm not entirely sure who wrote it or how accurate it is):

Interestingly, in the article I've linked to there, the person concludes that the last decision by the Alliance to allow churches to vote on this matter themselves, was a "genius" one. The article says:

"This model of allowing the local church some flexibility when there is not a national consensus is perhaps a unifying model that can be applied to other issues as well. Instead of churches dividing they can perhaps to agree to disagree on a particular topic. There may be local or regional differences within the denomination, but if that helps the denomination to stay united to further the gospel of Christ then this is a good thing."

I think that can be true for awhile. But after awhile it doesn't work. It is bad for the churches that dismiss the discussion and it is bad for churches trying to interact. it is also bad for pastors changing places, and it denies the fact that many churches would simply vote against the motion without the necessary discussion. it is also arguably not good for the communities those churches are in, nor the denomination as a whole (which at some point has to decide on ordination of women, and so on).

so it was a good temporary measure, but it either translates into further movement and discussion on the issue (and shows itself good) or it becomes an embarassing example of a stop-gap compromise which ultimately served to avoid the issue.

jon said...

dustin: i'd be curious to know, in broad terms, why moving fast ín church change isn't all its cracked up to be. i mean, i suspect that's true, but i have so rarely (if ever) seen it, i'd love to hear you elaborate a little if you wanted.

Dustin Resch said...

Moving too quickly just feels like the inverse of what you’ve experienced with moving too slowly. Rather than feeling like one's calls for change are being ignored (and even suppressed), several in my church communion have felt like their calls for careful reflection and discussion have been ignored (and even suppressed). Interestingly, talk of “kingdom business” (or a reasonable facsimile) is used in both cases to bypass or defer a difficult discussion.

The Hansens said...

Thank you for this discussion, Jon and all. I'm am so disheartened to hear this topic was postponed again.. My whole Christian life, which up until recently, has been spent in the C&MA, I've been hearing that this issue is "on the table". I believed this was the time in which it might actually get some floor time. I concur that the most difficult part to swallow is that the discussion has been postponed indefinitely. This seems like a step backwards from the previous annual meeting whereby there was at least another time planned to talk about the issue.


Tara said...

well... I have tried to reply 3 times now and each time the great internet has swallowed it... so I am left to conclude that God wanted me to be quiet.

SO I will.

I just wanted to say I appreciate this discussion. Cheers.

jon said...

tara: i hate it when that happens.

maybe you'll get the chance to say it again some way. your thoughts are definitely welcome here. even if disagreed with i would hope there would be grace, both ways.

it raises to mind another issue which is that men need to speak up on this issue. not because women can't or necessarily shouldn't, but because they shouldn't have too, and because unfortunately it is too easily taken as militance, glory-seeking and self-promotion (even when it is not).

i admire all the women who have been so patient and committed, even self-giving, even in times of confusion and doubt, and even through mistreatment. how Christ-like is that? women like that are fulfilling their side of the "mutual submission" "bargain" as per Ephesians 5:21 (the most conveniently left-out verse in the Bible).

sometimes i need a "check" on my vigilance. i need to have a spirit of love and need to want the best for others and for the church. that's fine. but we men also have to take a "check" on our timidity and fear too, and actually engage this issue even at cost to ourselves. our part of the "bargain" is to love as Christ loved the church. to submit in kind. this is the mystery of the church (and marriage too of course): self-giving love.

when paul instructed women in one of his churches to stop teaching it was so they could learn first. (there was some serious false teaching going on among those who had not had the opportunities of education). but the flip side of the command was for the men to get empowering! To be loving as Christ loved the church. Christ has given a lot of himself to love the church.

i'm not trying to sound like a hero here. i have personally done nothing but write a couple things. feeble. pretty slow to the punch on this end. i'm starting to get ahead of myself too. in a couple days its time to get down to the gender-roles issue.

leaving a bit of room for anyone to challenge or add their two cents first thought. thanks for taking part in this everyone. hopefully in some way this can steer into something that does in some way benefit Christ's church, which he loves for some reason, thank God.

Tony Tanti said...

Moving quickly?! Are you kidding me?

The Alliance has never moved so quickly on any reforms and in fact they are now behind many other more traditionally conservative denominations on this issue. Frankly you can't move too quickly on equality in my opinion. It's taken 2000 years for the church to start finally talking about treating women as Jesus did, shall we wait another 2000 to allow them to use their God given gifts? If the Alliance made women in leadership mandatory overnight there would certainly be division but if having a woman lead you makes you leave a church then that is a decision I have no sympathy for. I wonder if Priscilla's congregation threatened to go to a male-lead church?

Jesus appeared first to two women when he rose again. He sent them to tell the men rather than telling the men himself. What if the disciples had refused to be lead by women in that moment?

And how about the hypocrisy of having women leaders overseas from the beginning of the Alliance but not in North America?

This is too big of an issue to move slowly and those for whom it would be a deal breaker and cause them to leave the Alliance, there are plenty of other churches still oppressing women that would welcome them.

Tara said...

well there you have it! I didn't NEED to say anything- Jon, you covered the first part of what I had to say with your comment and Tony covered the rest!

I so completely agree that women are often judged pretty harshly when we try and get involved in this issue. At assembly I was talking with a couple other women in the immediate aftermath of the big non-decision. We were approached by several men who joined the conversation. One pastor said "but of course YOU would feel that way, you are all women".

I think it is safe to say myself and my 3 female counterparts were all pretty discouraged by that statement. It just seems like no matter where we stand on this issue our opinions are considered slightly less valued because of our gender.

Like Jon mentioned before he and I won a debate in college arguing AGAINST women in ministry . It was an extremely important assignment in my spiritual development because it forced me to really evaluate BOTH sides of this issue. Professor Mark Boda sure knew what he was doing when he made me- a confirmed feminist- argue against what I believed. He knew that I had never really looked into the other side with an open mind. It created a pretty amazing discussion amongst our class and that is what I wish could happen in our greater community.

We can still love Jesus and each other even if we disagree. But avoiding potential disagreements is simply passive aggressive manipulation that hinders any true growth.

jon said...

just to be clear, dustin wasn't saying we were moving too quickly. i had asked him to elaborate a bit on his experience in his church where they made a whole bunch of changes at once. it was a sort of sidebar.

funny thing is, when the ladies told the male disciples about the resurrection, they went to check for themselves. of course, that isn't a point to be overblown: male or female, who wouldn't?

I agree that the C&MA needs to make movement on this, tanti, and that it has been too slow (or at least has been stalled for some bad reasons). However, Jesus called 12 disciples to take the lead (at first, at least) and they were all Jewish men. An interesting question is: Why?

Even Priscilla led and taught in tandem with her husband. Why?

If God is about "equality", why is God so slow on this one? So reserved?

Lorena said...

I have been reading all of these posts with great interest. I am hesitant to comment because I am a simple person and (as seems typical with people who engage in discussion with Jon Coutts) all of you seem to have a dizzying amount of intellect which I really can’t keep up with. Yet I am interested in what you all have to say on this matter.

Firstly, because I am a woman who has ended up in sort of a position of leadership in my church. Even though my male dominated church leadership doesn’t believe women should hold positions of leadership. The general feeling I got from them was that they would much rather have a man in my position, yet all evidence seemed to be pointing to the fact that God wanted me to do the job -- they were perplexed by that and gave it a lot of thought and prayer. In the end we get around this with an understanding that I lead under the authority and covering of my male Pastor. I don’t have a problem with that. All that really matters to me is that I am able to do what I believe God has called me to do. I suppose if God was calling me to be Senior Pastor of a church I would really have to begin to wrestle with this issue harder - but that is also where I would begin to question if it was really God’s calling on my life.

Secondly, because I am interested in what is going on with the C&MA. Although I don’t currently attend an Alliance church, I did for a long time and my heart is still there in many ways (Jon was my Pastor).

Thirdly, because like Jesus, I don’t worry about considering equality something to be grasped. Jesus was all God, yet He never gave a thought to His position. He was more than happy to be under the authority of His Father.

I am all human, just as much as any man. Yet I don’t feel the need to fight to be equal. My God sees me as equal. My God values everything I do in His name, just as much as He values what men do. And I have found more than enough very important work to do as a woman in the church even though I am under men’s authority. From the position God has placed me in I am more than able to touch lives and help people to turn to Christ. And I am a tiny step closer to learning how to humble myself, just as Christ did. I see that as an advantage. For me -- I see humility as the goal. We are on a journey toward holiness and putting ourselves and our rights aside is a big part of that. So as a woman, God has given me the gift of my lower position -- And that makes me a step ahead of men. I’m ok with that.

Dustin Resch said...

Thanks for clarifying, Jon. And to be really clear, my comment was not about the Alliance but my experience in a different communion altogether. And, the comment was not about the women’s ordination issue but an analogous matter. I made the statement about “moving too fast” in regard to the fact that power plays and 'oppression' can just as easily come from those who are trying to force change as well as those who are trying to reinforce tradition. Human hubris affects so-called liberals and conservatives alike.

jon said...

thanks dustin. good point: "power plays and 'oppression' can just as easily come from those who are trying to force change as well as those who are trying to reinforce tradition". This is something I'd really like to avoid as much as possible.

i always keep this quote from Kierkegaard close by: "When truth conquers with the help of 10,000 yelling men---even supposing that that which is victorious is truth; with the form and manner of the victory a far greater untruth is victorious."

thanks lorena. Wow. "like Jesus, I don’t worry about considering equality something to be grasped." I've never heard it put that way. Excellent. I am not sure I can always (ever?) say that.

this reminds me: as "slow" as the church may have been in 2000 years of "official interpretation" and leadership offics in church history, there have been numerous situations where women God has called into humble servant leadership have been able to do so, sometimes with the ironic blessing of those leaders and biblical interpreters whose official stances would declare otherwise.

the flip side of the argument from inconsistency (i.e. the Alliance has women in leadership and teaching roles overseas, and has many in its history) is that it shows that despite our still-developing interpretations and the
cloud put on our minds by the prevailing thought of our culture, the Spirit is still able to do what the Spirit wants to do.

that doesn't mean in every case it has worked out beautifully, and that is not to downplay the angst of the many women whose gifts have been suppressed, and so on, but it is to say that we have to be fair to the church, and to God, and to Christian men in church history, here. It is sad that we keep from giving women the title of senior pastor or elder, but that hasn't stopped them (in every case), or God.

But we have to seek to line our interpretation up with our practice, and vice versa, and to get our interpretation as right as we can; as good as we can.

for the record, lorena would not have been an elder in my church when i was a pastor, because she was a woman. were i still there i can't even say for sure whether that would have changed by now. we have to remember that for every church that is just using stall and fear tactics there is also a church honestly trying to wrestle with a shift in tide in culture, and trying to keep Scripture and SPirit as guide (rather than merely culture).

We can say what we want about 2000 years of church history, but my guess is that in pretty much every era it is no more patriarchal than its culture, and at its best is probably one of the few redeeming factors in this regard.

ours is a unique era where the society seems "farther ahead". but i would argue that it isn't, necessarily, "ahead" in every way. what good is equality without mutual submission and self-giving love?

even the changes in our own culture today are quite relatively recent, and early on these changes had a lot of negatives embroiled with them. the feminist movement was fairly militant, and was bringing with it issues of abortion. it was hard (and for some still is) for people to separate the good from the bad.

now, to be clear: i do think that is exactly the problem. our church has been too fearful to engage and too reactionary in its stance. however, i must be fair. what serves as an argument against complimentarianism also serves as a reminder to empathy. some of the forms of militance did not look to be anywhere near Christ-like, and the idea of abortion was and still is a direct assault upon the doctrine of creation.

don't get me wrong, i think we could have been an even more powerful witness during the rise of feminism by listening better and pulling out the good from the bad (and some did), but instead we just went our reactionary way and missed a huge opportunity. i think there is still some time to find redemption in all of that and i would urge us vigorously to see through the issues and chart a better, more biblical, and Christ-honouring way of thinking about gender. i think even in our culture there is a LOT of confusion in this regard and we stand a chance of bringing some of the light of Christian theology to bear, even upon an unbelieving society. this is an opportunity it is a shame to miss, and that is why i began with this first part, putting the whole "kingdom business" thing in perspective.

in all of this i think lorena's and dustin's words are a great reminder that the goals in Christ are not the same as the goals of our culture, even if at this time it would seem that some of what the church needs to do has already been done in the society at large (i.e. allowing women to lead). tanti's and lorena's words also remind us that this is affecting and perplexing and even hurting people. let us be under no illusions of "unity" and "momentum" in our denomination. we need to get down to talking this out, all the while trusting in our reconciling God.

my post that moves us on to gender roles issue is forthcoming. hopefully tonight.

turns out i have to buy a minivan today.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

32 comments. This is an epic.