Tuesday, September 30, 2008

General (Dis)Assembly Part 2, Take 3: The Statement in Question

Alright, before I move on to part 3, one more shot. Here is the actual statement that was in question at the General Assembly, with some of my comments and questions (sometimes a bit sarcastic, i mean, rhetorical) in italics. Those just checking in after my recent slowdown might be interested in looking in the comments to the last post for my "rebuttal" to some of the previous concerns raised. Otherwise, moving on . . . . .

(From the Manual of The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada, 2006, page 63)


From its inception the Alliance leadership has interpreted Scripture to affirm the woman’s right in the apostolic church to be the channel of spiritual gifts for the edification of the local assembly.

Furthermore, Alliance leadership has historically affirmed a restraint upon the woman’s role in the government of the local church. The Board recognizes that the Holy Scriptures teach
the following principles.


1. Authority and Submission. It is recognized that God has sovereignly ordained, in the order of creation and redemption, relationships of authority and submission. “Christ is the head of every man and the man is the head of woman and God is the head of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:3). The nature of authority is modelled in the humility and self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5-11). The goal of authority is to build up the household of faith (II Corinthians 13:10). Submission
to authority is noble and gives substance to unity (Ephesians 4:1-6).

There are other ways to understand 1 Corinthians 11:3 here which do not read headship as necessarily requiring hierarchical orders of submission. For one thing, if this were a hierarchically designed statement, why is the last phrase not put first? How is God the head of Christ anyway? The word "head" here may just as likely mean "source" or "glory" as "authority". It is inappropriate for this one interpretation to be in the manual as if it is self-evident and "recognized" by the denomination as a whole.

2. Unity and Diversity. It is recognized that in the church, men and women share a common spiritual standing and unity in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:28, I Corinthians 12:12-13). It is a unity enhanced by interdependent, complementary roles, and varied spiritual gifts (I Corinthians 1:11-12; Romans 12:3-8).

How easily the "common spiritual standing" is further qualified by roles based on two passages which say nothing about gender as a consideration in the delineation of those roles! If maintained, this statement desperately needs to be updated and better explained for the sake of the people of the denomination.

3. Equality and Submission. It is recognized that equality and submission are compatible as seen in Jesus Christ. He is equal to the Father and yet submissive to Him. There is no inferiority implied in submission, either in the Father-Son relationship or in the man-woman relationship (John 5:16-23; Genesis 1-2).

Does the Father not in turn exalt the Son to the highest place (Php 2)? Why does the man not submit to the woman (as per Eph 5:21ff)? How is Genesis 1-2 used to support this point? It says absolutely nothing about submission.

4. Eldership. It is recognized that the historical and biblical pattern has been that elders in the church have been men. The weight of evidence would imply that this pattern should continue.

What makes a pattern? Don't the thin lines have as much to do with plaid as the thick solid stripes? Should the biblical and historical "exceptions" (especially in even more patriarchal societies than our own) be taken into consideration of any "pattern"?

Furthermore, does this point choose to ignore the prevalence of female leadership in the earlier half of A.B. Simpson's own years in leadership of the Alliance? Does it choose to ignore also the new pattern of female eldership that has emerged in the Alliance since 2000? Where is the weight of evidence and why should it continue? The last sentence of this point alone is the reason this statement should now be removed from the Manual.

5. Ministries of Women. Alliance women are aspiring to a deep walk with God and are exploring the full dimension of ministry possibilities within the church structure worldwide and in their private lives. Therefore, it must be recognized that the responsibility of the elders in each church is to give careful attention to the encouragement, equipping and utilization
of women in the accomplishment of ministry.

"The full dimension of ministry possibilities within the church structure worldwide?" I'd like to know: Is the deminsion of ministry "fuller" in a church that allows women to be elders or in one that does not? Does this statement imply that those wishing to exercise the full dimension must become missionaries or move to cities where the churches accept female teaching and leadership?

6. Affirming Actions. The licensing of women accredited for ministry in Canada shall be according to ministry function. The local church leadership is responsible to prayerfully affirm ministry functions for women in the local church.

It is unclear to me what this last statement really means. Do "affirming actions" include "limiting" ones?

This Statement may be amended by a majority vote of General Assembly, written notice having been given prior to General Assembly.

I find it strikingly and tragically ironic that the 2008 Assembly saw fit not to remove this statement from the manual precisely to avoid detracting from the momentum of church planting initiatives. Who would want to plant a church in Canada today with such an inadequate statement on women in ministry as this? If I were planting a church today I'd be praying that no one bothered to look this up so I didn't have to detract from the momentum of my church plant by having to explain it.

Besides the interpretive brush strokes that it so misleadingly swipes across the canvas of this complex issue, this statement neither adequately defends a complimentarian position nor accurately represents the current state of the issue in the denomination. If it survives General Assembly 2010 it will render the manual nearly irrelevant on such matters and bode poorly for the unity and integrity of the denomination in the years to come.

Adopted – General Assemblies 1984, 1988.

Notice that this statement was adopted in the heart of the 80s. Sound like a reaction to feminism to anyone? Certainly I oppose some of the tenets of secular feminism (abortion rights being the most serious of them), but can we admit right now that it had/has some good things to say and overcome a merely reactionary stance (especially now that the militance has long died down)? By the way, there is a great Master's thesis out there by Alexandra Meek that traces the influence of feminism on these Alliance decisions---it is very insightful.

Last Amended – General Assembly 2004 (amending formula)


Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

watching Stalker. Woe woe woe. I wish I could watch it again for the first time.

jon said...

its taking me awhile, as i put it on in the wee hours of the night when i'm already needing to go to bed. part 2 has been riveting (the dialogue is amazing) and i should be finished it in one more viewing.

again, not an ideal way to watch a movie, but better than never seeing it at all.

I loved the line:

Writer: "Listen Mr. Einstein, I don't want to argue with you about it."

Professor: "Truth is born of argument, da_n it!"

Chris Smith said...

Hey Jon,

Great breakdown of the statement. I would add that for all the talk about entering into a new church planting paradigm that happened at assembly, the way this statement was (not) dealt with really leads me to believe that many on our denomination want to use these new methods to plant old-style churches.

How disingenuous is is to reach out to those searching for truth in our post-Christian society with some sort of church planting strategy that seems on the surface to be progressive and genuine only to pull the bait and switch once the congregation gets established enough to read the rules.

At the risk of sounding alarmist, I really see this issue leading to a major rift in our movement - either most of the egalitarians will leave (albeit quietly and gradually) or the hard complimentarians will leave - and if they do it will be noisy and messy. I don't' want to see that happen but if the attitudes that I witnessed in Ottawa remain - I don't' see another way through this.

Oh - on another note: do you know where I could get my hands on a copy of Alex's Thesis?


jon said...

I put a link to a place where you could buy her thesis in my first or second post on this issue a couple weeks ago, but your best bet might be to find her on facebook or something and just ask for a copy. That's how I got mine.

I don't want to sound alarmist, nor to make threats, either, but I really do see this as pivotal not only for our denomination but for my future place in it. Thing is, I think and trust that the Alliance will come through this in good shape, but I think the way to that is for us to engage in this fully and see it through with truth and love. If we do that, we may even look back and be somewhat thankful for all the caution that we ran up against, for it made us wiser and forced us to step up and really work at it . . .

that's me hoping.

thanks for you comment chris. keep in there.

joel said...

Ohhh, oh oh! Stalker! I love that film oh so muchly, never too much philosophical depth...

Tarasview said...

this post brought tears to my eyes... this really is a big deal and I resonate fully with what you are saying. Thanks for speaking my mind.