For a number of years I used this blog to undertake some theological reflection at a highly contextualized level, interacting publicly and openly about some difficult issues facing my church denomination, The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada. This is an archive of posts which represent active thoughts and conversations at the time, but some of which might still be helpful as resources for others. However, because these were and are context-specific and in process, please contact me if you have any citations, questions, or critiques you wish to pursue.

Women in Leadership

The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada now has a rather long history of varied practices and debates on this issue, including up to and beyond its bi-annual General Assembly of 2014. Despite the decision to ordain women at its 2012 Assembly, there remains a division of conviction on this issue and so there is more discussion to come.

* Updated, Ongoing History of Women in Leadership in the C&MA in Canada
A summary of Alex Meek's The Great Debate, a review of the C&MA in Canada's history on this matter, along with some additional commentary from the years since its publication and an up to date review of ongoing developments. (For more detailed versions, see the 2012 update or original version)

My 2008 position paper on women in leadership
An informal, abridged version of a paper I wrote for an Epistles class in Seminary. I think it gives a succinct appeal for what would normally be labelled an "egalitarian" position, although I would rather it be more nuanced as a believer in mutual submission than pigeon-holed according to some preconceived label. If you are just wading into this discussion, this might be a good place to start.

My review of John Stackhouse's Finally Feminist
This book remains the most clear, concise, and accessible description of the view I hold and that I think our denomination needs to grapple with and embrace. You can buy the book here (last I checked) for under $10, which is money well spent.

Tinker, Tailor, Complementarian, Egalitarian: Taking a Look at our Labels Again
An important clarification regarding the labels we use for either 'side' in the contemporary debate, showing how close they are in the scope of history, and how inaccurately the terms point out for us their precise differentiations and emphases.

Who are the Daughters of Zelophehad Today?
An appeal for honest (re)consideration of this issue stemming from the example of Moses when faced with related questions and appeals in his own day.

If a Woman Aspires to be an Elder, Does She Desire a Noble Task?
An abridged version of a 2014 sermon preached at Richmond Alliance Church, on 1 Timothy 2-3.

Exegetical study of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 - by former President Dr. Franklin Pyles.
Although there are other resources one could cite, I've always thought this is a very well informed and compelling analysis of one of the key "problem" texts in this debate.

Why IS The Gospel Coalition Complementarian?: Questioning Carson, Keller and Piper
A review of this explanatory video which questions both the positive and negative rationale of those who approach the gender roles issue as they do.

Colossians 3 (and Ephesians 5) via Chrysostom
Some reflections on the treatment of this passage from a commentator who is chronologically closer to the period of the early church and culturally closer to the patriarchal milieu in which the epistles were written, and  yet makes some distinctions that I find intriguing.

Karl Barth on Gender Roles in the Church
From the other blog I participate in writing, this is a look at a circumstance in Barth's pastorate which may add insight to recent studies investigating his position on the matter.

* The following set of links comprise my 2008 response to the inaction of that year's General Assembly, which postponed indefinitely a motion to deal with the now-outdated Statement on Women in Ministry. Though I might say some things different today, this still by and large represents my views of that episode. Time has told how this indefinite postponement only snowballed the difficulty.
Intro: Trying to Think Clearly
Part 1: General (Dis)Assembly: What is this Kingdom Business?
Part 2, Take 1: The Gender Roles Issue
Part 2, Take 2: Painting the Issue Again
Part 2, Take 3: The Statement in Question
Part 3: The Proposal

Membership and Baptism

Another issue of theological impetus at which our denomination has been taking a second look is the practice of re-baptizing those who wish to come into C&MA membership from a paedo-baptizing church tradition. The specific grounds for this practice was found in the Local Church Constitution article which says the "qualifications for membership include a credible testimony of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ before members of the Board; believer's baptism; a commitment to the principles of the Preamble," and so on.

In 2014 some of us had proposed that we should alter policy so that an incoming church member could ratify (for lack of a better word) their baptism with a proclamation of belief without having to redo the act itself. The proposal was deferred to committee so it could come back at a time when it had been or could be more fully considered.

In 2018, after the efforts of a special committee and an accepted amendment by the General Assembly, the Local Church Constitution was altered to say the following:
"While affirming the above as normative, the Board of Elders of the local church may discern on a case by case basis whether to extend membership to individuals who were baptized as infants and who now present a credible testimony of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ before members of the Board; a commitment to the principles of the Preamble; a commitment to the Purpose (Article 2), and statement of faith (Article 3) of this church; submission to the discipline procedures of The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada; and such further qualifications as may be specified in the bylaws."
For the sake of those who still want to think through the rationale, the following links lead to official denominational information, and to some of our thinking behind the original proposal.

* C&MA resources and explanation of the change

* About our Ecumenical Guidelines

* The Motion on Church Membership and Baptism - The original motion behind the recommendation that was passed at General Assembly 2014, complete with F.A.Q.

Theology of Baptism, Parts 1 and 2 - by Midwest Pastor Chris Smith

Hell in the Statement of Faith  

My explorations on this matter were prompted by Rob Bell's Love Wins and the controversy it sparked within evangelicalism (see the links at bottom to read my thoughts on that). One post in particular, entitled The Best Response to That Book, ended up serving as a preamble to the series that follows, which sought to contextualize my response within a review of my own denomination's Statement of Faith rather than evangelicalism in general.

1. The C&MA Statement on Hell
A formal introduction to the series, including the most relevant parts of the local church constitution as it regards both the letter and the spirit of the church policy in question.

2. Examining the C&MA Statement on Hell
A ten-point exploration of what point five of the statement could possibly mean.

3a. Biblical Backing for the C&MA View on Hell, Part 1
Here I check the first three references for article five of the statement of faith to further analyze its range of interpretive meanings as well as the credibility of its own biblical footnotes.

3b. Biblical Backing for the C&MA View on Hell, Part 2
Here I check the last two references for article five of the statement of faith (Matthew 25:41-46 and 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10) - to further analyze its range of interpretive meanings as well as the credibility of its own biblical footnotes.

3c. Biblical Backing for the C&MA View on Hell, Part 3
Here I give my summary conclusions of the biblical assessment and make a modest proposal regarding the statement of faith's specificity.

4. Rob Bell, Love Wins, and the C&MA View on Hell
The series finale which picks apart Bell's book, sees its own internal tensions, and reckons that it is more of an imaginative exercise than a dogmatic treatise propounding an alternate view (regarding hell, that is).

For more of my general theological response to Love Wins, go ahead and check out the archive below:
What has Lotso to do with Bashir? - using Toy Story 3 to address the 'palatable gospel' charge
Rob Bell, Love Wins, and Karl Barth
What Wins in Your Doctrine of Election?
Barth's thoughts on judgment
Barth's answer to the question on universalism
And, finally, a review from a friend's blog which put my series in the best light possible

Thanks for your interest in the above issues. If you wish to discuss any of them further (keeping in mind my own views and situation may have changed) please email me at coutts dot jon at gmail dot com. I wish to remain open to reformation and so would gladly engage in mutual sharpening, the clarification of misunderstanding, and ongoing discussion and debate. Peace.


Patricia Ward said...

I cannot immagine why this would even come up for discussion - it should be a given that women are just as qualified and can be just as called as men. The Alliance has been out of step with the rest of the Christian denominations for years. Come on people, let's focus on sharing the gospel - is it less of a message if delivered by a woman???

Jon Coutts said...

Well, every church that takes the Bible as an authority has to wrestle with the interpretation of texts which do restrict the participation of women in some situations. If they don't do this they are basically allowing cultural "common sense" dictate and not taking seriously the requirement to let the written witness of Jesus Christ speak to their times. I do believe that when this is done it brings us to a position where qualified women (biblically defined) are called and serve in the church mutually sharing in leadership and teaching roles with men.

Our culture's "egalitarianism" is a context where this is possible, and should push our reading of Scripture, but certainly should not dictate. In fact, I think our culture's version of egalitarianism, based on individual rights and opportunities rather than the mutuality and self-giving love of Christ, is warped and could actually benefit greatly from churches and denominations showing a more biblical egalitarianism. I'm afraid some of the churches and denominations that have been early adopters have not really offered that redeeming presence in a gender-confused society. Some are, for sure. Our denomination tends to be a slow adapter. There are strengths to this. But it is high time, I agree. I will say that it doesn't have anything to do with it being less of a message from women, nor do I think sharing the gospel is easily separated from the need to wrestle carefully with this issue.

Thanks for your thoughts. I'm happy to hear more.

Unknown said...

I think Patricia is missing the point...This issue has nothing to do with qualifications, calling, or the quality of the message, but rather the very nature of God.

Before creation the eternal Godhead existed...Unity in diversity in community. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost where three "persons" who where co-equal. Positionally, Christ was under the Father. Christ's eternal purpose is to point to the father and glorify the Father. Likewise, the Holy Spirit is positionally under Christ and was sent to fill the Saints with power, to point all of creation to Christ and to bring glory to Christ. God's very nature and character is reflected in everything He does, including all of his creative acts. All of creation reflects this order.

We see in the Garden of Eden before the fall that this order was set in place in nature as well as by His commands to Adam and Eve. Satan, being the father of lies, exists to steal, kill, and destroy God's ordered creation.

When topics like the role of women in the church come up, we need to search the scriptures and ensure that our understanding does not in any way undermine the nature and character of God, which never changes.

It is clear in the scriptures that women are the crown of creation, and in almost every way are superior to men (physically, mentally and emotionally). However, this does not in any way give man or The Church the freedom to modify the responsibilities of our respective roles in creation, in nature, in the family, and in the Church.

Sadly, men from the beginning have abused our position and responsibility as the "head" of the wife, and women, since the fall (as part of the curse)in their fallen nature have desired to usurp this position and responsibility from man.

Rather than fall prey to Satan's schemes and undermine the order that God has put in place, we need to heed the warnings of the Apostles and hold fast to the Truth. The Body of Christ must reflect the nature of God in everything we do and resist the slippery slope of Modernism, Humanism, Relativism, Post-Modernism, and Secularism that has taken over the Church in Western Society...

Women have a vital role in the Church, including teaching and preaching. However, I think it is clear in the scriptures that in spiritual matters God has put the responsibility on man to be the "head" of the wife. Women should therefore not be placed in a "position" over men within the context of the church. Men should not be "accountable" to a female pastor. This, I believe would undermine the order that God has put in place.

My prayer is that the CMA will make the right decision based on the Truth of the scriptures and the revelation of God in all of creation.

In Christ,

Jon Coutts said...

I agree with you Michael that the reason this is an issue is because of our beliefs about God and therefore humanity. Christianity let's that drive, not social models.

However, I disagree that we see in God a positional order that we are to mimic in our human relations by gender. I don't think we have warrant to see positions of authority and hierarchy in the Trinity. We see submission, and unique modes of submission, but not a principle of hierarchy. I also don't think we see a human hierarchy pre-fall. Rather, we see in Christ the fulfillment of a situation in that we are to mutually submit to one another out of reverence for Him who is the image of God and thus the revelation of true humanity.

I don't think a slippery slope argument works here, since that assumes that Christians have operated properly in their gender relations under some former scheme and are in danger of not doing so any longer. I don't think this is necessarily the case.

If we were to reflect the nature of God in positions of hierarchy by gender I think we'd see more overt evidence of this in Scripture. We don't have that. Instead we have contextual decisions in patriarchal societies where women free in Christ (Galatians) are sometimes put in leadership and sometimes restricted. I don't think a universal principle can be built off of this diversity of biblical evidence, nor off of some hierarchal concept of the intra-Trinitarian relations.

We have God revealed as Father and Son, not Husband and Wife, and we have all humanity as the bride of Christ, loving one another in mutual submission as Christ has first loved us. In the epistles we see this happening within the structures of the times, and yet pushing those structures as well.

Thus I agree with you that this isn't simply about getting with the times, but it isn't about staying with the old times either. This is about God and humanity and what we are in Christ. And in that vein I think we ought to honour God within our egalitarian society by seeking out what that looks like in each circumstance rather than by holding onto a universal principle that is tenuously held at best.

Thanks a lot for your comment, Michael. I really do appreciate it. I've gone a while without some push-back,

Peace in Christ,

Colin Turner said...

Hey Jon,

Just starting to work through the material that you have posted here about Gender Roles. I have some initial comments that you might read and maybe point me in the correct direction or section here on your site.

1) First off I strongly support woman in leadership positions in the church.
2) What I want to focus on is the ordination of woman in the C&MA.
3) I have been part of two round table discussion times to discuss this issue (GA 2010, DC2011) both times I left feeling like we were missing the main issue of the discussion. I know that the discussions were designed for getting a read on the constituencies’ thoughts about woman and ordination, but I feel that the outcome was still fuzzy at best and worthless on the other end.
4) I think the question that need to be addressed, or questions, is: Should woman be ordained under our current practice of Ordination? Does our Ordination practice need to change before we invite woman to join in?
5) I know about the discussions in on the C&MA website I am just having issues getting my password working.

Thanks for any direction you can give and hope everything is coming together for the move.

Colin Turner

Jon Coutts said...

Colin, good for you for thinking this through. In regard to point 3 I wonder what was missing? What is the main issue? To me, at base, this is a question of what kind of community the gospel makes and when it comes to the difficult texts I think we have to ask what is the difference between a universal principle and a contextual application of the law of love. I think you have to try to read all the passages together and figure out how they can work. I'm not surprised the round tables left you fuzzy. I think actual prepared debate and education needs to be done. The leadership may well drop the ball in that regard.

In regard to your fourth point, I think those are important questions, but I feel like this should be a no-brainer since the denomination already has voted to allow churches to have female elders. No one is saying every church has to hire female lead pastors (although that should be called into question if it is a rigid stance), we are just faced with lining up our ordination restrictions with our denominational practice and convictions. Honestly, I think our ordination practice needs to change if we don't invite women to join in. It needs to be explained to me why my gender had a factor in my ordination. This is disturbing to me.

I don't know how much I can help you except to point to the book "Finally Feminist" by John Stackhouse, and the other resources I've got listed here. I also encourage you to stay engaged and ask good questions of those who lead us. We (the church) need you to care about this.

Anonymous said...

Just more emergent church crap from the blind leaders of the blind, trying to find consensus rather than truth. Tozer would be ashamed at how quickly the work he had done to build obedience in the children of God in the CMA would be thrown aside for the prideful machinations of modern worldly compromise-rs. Please, in your search for "relevance" note the sad status of other man centered yet abandoned denominations such as the Anglican and United Church's to see the future of your efforts. It is an absolute shame to ask the lost to repent while the preachers lead the church to greater disobedience.

Jon Coutts said...

Anonymous, would you care to sign your name to that?

Your vitriol hardly warrants a further thought, but I will give that to you if you will do me the courtesy and show some grace in conviction and sign your name. All you have done is slander me from behind your anonymity. So if you want to talk about repentance, how bout starting with some repentance of your own? Then, name one thing you disagree with and we can discuss.

Garth said...

Plenty of food for thought here, and let me first say I appreciate your gracious tone when dealing with such a contentious topic. However, what seems to missing in all this is a discussion of Titus 1:6-9. How do you deal with the qualifications Paul provides in this passage?

Jon Coutts said...

Thanks Garth. I'm not sure exactly what you're referring to there. Is it the qualification that the elder has a wife (and is thus a man)?

I take it that in a church and society where women might be elders we would be well within the bounds of biblical interpretation to apply the spirit of this to elders who are women. Women elders would have to be faithful to their husbands.

We already apply the spirit rather than the law of this letter when we allow elders who are unmmarried or widowed, so I don't think we'd be doing anything unusual or unauthorized.

If that's not what you were referring to let me know.