A week of Contrasts
Contrasts between three Churches have struck me this week:
- The Church of England has again been under the spotlight about its attitude to women (see 42: CoE gets something right or for better coverage the Church Times blog Reactions to the women bishops vote & More reactions to the women bishops vote)
- The Methodist Conference has made progress on Inclusivity, Equality and Diversity (yes, it is very overdue). Of course this is building on a long held policy that no position can be restricted by gender.
- New Frontiers are having their annual conference Together On A Mission (TOAM). The amazing thing is that they are stating clearer than ever before a commitment to male only leadership.
So we have the CoE making a big step (and not without pain or disagreement) towards recognising the God given call of women to leadership in the Church.
We have the Methodist Church starting to properly form policies to ensure that its stated beliefs in equality regardless of gender (and many other areas) are kept to throughout the Church.
At the same time we have New Frontiers (well men from New Frontiers - because they are the only voice of New Frontiers) asserting, more strongly than ever, that women cannot be in positions of leadership, but more than that focusing only on the role of women in the home. I have plenty of links below that make this clear.
I find it ironic that at the same conference where they are declaring that their growth and blessing is due to having male only leadership they are also claiming a prophetic word "that there would be new alliances forged and new opportunities presented to the church by the government."
I can't help wondering just how they expect the government not to notice where New Frontiers are standing on women (pun intended).
The Official New Frontiers Stance on Women
Working out the official position of New frontiers on the issue of women on their website is tricky, they are cautious in what they write (presumably as their position is so unacceptable to society). However, enough comes through to make clear their view that women cannot be in any position of Leadership (Minister, Elder, etc).
Paul tells us that when Jesus ascended He 'gave gifts to men' (Eph. 4:8).
Note that the TNIV, NRSV, The Source, CEV, NLT and The Message, all say "people" not "men".
The New Jeruslem Bible has "humanity"
The Good News (TEV) has "mankind"
To support the New Frontiers text we have to go back to older translations but then "men" was generally used in an inclusive way.
Having decided to exclude women they then follow this throughout their site. Some examples:
We are working with teams of gifted men serving existing churches as well as emerging church plants. [Frequently Asked Questions] (That phrase is repeated frequently, women are never mentioned).
They have a website dedicated to their training. It includes two leadership courses:
- Leadership Training Foundations
- Leadership Advanced Training
All testimonies from men, only men in any of the pictures. The "Leadership & Chruch Planting Course" follows their normal practice for pastors, showing a married couple where the husband will be the pastor.
I can't help wondering just how long it is going to take the media and general public to catch on to where New Frontiers are standing on women (pun intended)
If you have been reading 42 for any length of time you will know that I have written plenty on Scripture and role of Women. If New Frontiers presented Scriptural arguments on their website then we could engage with them, but they don't.
Together On A Mission
Where a key part of that Mission is to take back the Church for men. That is clear when you ask Mark Driscoll to be your key speaker and rave about his attitudes to gender issues. They were enthusiastic about this before the conference began. Take this from an interview in their magazine, the article is called One to One with Mark Driscoll (MD = Mark Driscoll, JV = Joel Virgo from new Frontiers).
MD: ... There is no office such as pastor’s wife or pastor’s children and I work very hard to ensure that our family remains our top priority over the church. Too many pastors put their ministry above their family and their wives and children get active in the church just so they can be close to their husband/daddy which is tragic.
MD: I am honoured to see a generation of young men rising up with amazing gifts and a willingness to learn from godly older men
MD: In our church planting network our men preach an hour of exposition as a general rule and they are doing a great job.
JV: You guys in Acts 29 have chosen to state your commitment to distinct male/female roles in family and church as a non-negotiable value (not unlike ourselves). Could you tell us what has influenced that decision?
MD: A deep love for God’s Word. The Bible is clear that men are to lovingly head their homes, and elders are to be the best men whom God calls to do the same in the church. We are routinely criticised for this belief. But, our men and their wives and the fruit of their ministry speaks for itself and is the best apologetic for the truth because the truth simply works.
Then we move to the list of speakers for the Leadership track of the conference. Only 2 women (both wives of other speakers) and 35 men. Of course the two women do not hold leadership positions in New Frontiers.
Now let us look at New Frontiers bloggers and this issue. At Newfrontiers Bloggers there is a collection of bloggers and some profiles. No women in leadership positions, that I have seen so far Here are a few posts I noticed that relate to this issue:
- adrianwarnock.com: TOAM08 - Mark Driscoll on the Missional Church.
Qualified Church Leadership
This is, he believes, THE strength of Newfrontiers based on what he has seen. In particular, Driscoll said it is very important to hold the line on male eldership. To oppose this position is very popular among those who are not successful. You have to approach the Scriptures differently to come to the opposite position. One of the reasons Newfrontiers is strong, argues Driscoll, is because of our commitment to male elders. If we ever compromise on that issue, we will find our blessing will diminish. Continue to hold that line. To change it changes everything—how families are organized, etc. Church life sets the pattern for home life. We need pastor-dads who are shepherds to their own flock at home. Keep holding that line!!
[DW comment] What can you say. The idea that a Church is blessed because it chooses to interpret scripture in a sexist way is horrific. What kind of God will bless us more if we dis-regard the call & gifts of 50% of those created in God's image?
- Am I Sexist? - wordandspirit.
I have to admit that my reading of Scripture leads me to side with the "complementarian" position. This position does not seek to deny "equality" between the sexes. On the contrary, it positively affirms that men and women are...
- equally bearers of the image of God
- equal in value or worth
- equal in dignity
- equal in moral responsibility
- equal in salvation (the same "way in" for all)
- equal as recipients of the gift of the Spirit
- (and I would add as a charismatic) equal as recipients of the gifts of the Spirit
However, complementarians also believe that there are differences between male and female, and that these differences are good. They come from God's creative intention. Rather than competing with one another, men and women actually complement one another.
One of the ways that complementarians see these differences outworking is in leadership of the local church, specifically the eldership. They believe the New Testament teaches that men are to be called as elders in the church, to serve by exercising authority and taking responsibility for the care and spiritual well-being of those in the congregation.
[DW comment] It may seem to help your argument to re-define English words on the quiet. But what definition of equal supports claims that women are of equal value and worth but cannot perform tasks or be appointed to roles for which they are qualified due to their gender.
Now no matter how carefully you nuance this view, and explain that Christian leadership is about serving, not controlling or bossing people, it will still be dismissed as sexist. It would be awkward to say the least for me to explain this point of view to those I work with.
[DW comment] Yes explaining your position will require you to demonstrate that you have redefined English. Plus saying leadership is not bossing does not make it acceptable to bar 50% of people from leading by not bossing.
The irony of it is, that despite my 'sexist' views, I have found myself squirming in my seat at work recently listening to the discussions of my male colleagues. In their view on the world, a woman's worth seems to be measured almost entirely on how 'fit' she is. Women are treated as though they exist simply for men's viewing pleasure. In the 'lad' culture that prevails, it is apparently fine to come out with comments like "smack my bitch up" when talking about your girlfriend. Because of course, if you were to call them to order, they can simply claim that they didn't mean you to take them seriously, and tell you to 'lighten up' a bit.
It has left me wondering how we have got into this state, where evangelical Christians are seen as the ones who are anti-women, while those whose attitudes seem most demeaning towards women are left unchallenged. I wonder whether I should speak up and call people to order for the way they speak about women. What would I say? Would I be perceived as a total hypocrite given my own 'sexist' views? Is this an issue on which actions would speak louder than words? I would be interested to hear anyone's thoughts on this one.
[DW comment] Life is much simpler when you use English, as someone who sticks to a dictionary definition of equal and believes (on the basis of Scripture) that it applies to all people, I can tell you that both the behaviour of men in a lad culture and that of a complementarian are both demeaning to women and both should be challenged, both are sexist.
- The (not so) secret diary of a Worship Leader, aged 32: Wimp or Warrior.
Found this interesting quote from Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church, Seattle) taken from Relevant Magazine.
There is a strong drift toward the hard theological left. Some emergent types [want] to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up. I fear some are becoming more cultural than Christian, and without a big Jesus who has authority and hates sin as revealed in the Bible, we will have less and less Christians, and more and more confused, spiritually self-righteous blogger critics of Christianity.
[DW comment] I have written extensively on such comments by Mark Driscoll before. It seems there is scant evidence for either of these strange Jesus images in Scripture. On the otherhand a strong but non-violent Jesus is visible all over the gospels.
- The Simple Pastor: Out of step.
I find myself with Mark Heath and wondering about the state of the world when I am more out of step with contemporary culture than the Anglican church. But that's where I am. To some I am faithful, perhaps to others an oppressor and denier of God's call on the lives of women.
But in our individualistic society that leads us to a bind, where God's personal call is the one indisputable fact. When someone says 'but God has called me' how can you respond without seeming mean-spirited even if your honest understanding of scripture says, 'that can't be'? It's not easy to avoid heartache in such situations. So for those on both sides of this division, with heartache all round - may you know greater grace.
[DW comment] I normally find myself agreeing with Phil on many issues and I throughly respect his lifestyle commitment to the gospel. However, he is viewing this dilemna from the side of power. At such a point asking for greater grace on both sides is like saying to a slave, you need to accept your fate with grace and in return I the master will be gracious to you my inferior. Indeed Scripture demands that we all stand up for justice, but with love and in non-violent ways.
Not being a lawyer I have no idea how New Frontiers avoid prosecution under equal opportunities legislation, I thought the CoE had specific exemptions which had allowed them to not appoint women bishops. Maybe those exemptions apply in this case.
I can see many good and valid reasons for growth and blessing within New Frontiers but to claim that it results from an injustice perpetuated against women seems bizarre.
I have multiple frustrations around this issue. Big hang-ups for me, huge buttons that get pressed when I look at what is being written. I want to end by sharing some of them.
- A Church that claims to lay great weight on the calling and active work of the Holy Spirit, yet denies it in women.
- People who claim an infallible understanding of Scripture while ignoring huge swathes and so much scholarship about Biblical languages, culture and customs.
- Claims that positions such as mine are not rooted in Scripture and so we can be dismissed as nut jobs, non evangelicals, ...
- Claims to show grace that do not recognise the God given and God blessed ministries of so many of my colleagues
- 42: Becki's Wanderings: Together on a Mission.
- 42: CoE gets something right.
- 42: Putting paid to the complementarian position on 1 Corinthians 14:33-34.
- 42: Auntie Knows Best: Newfrontiers and women.
- 42: A bizarre gender debate.
- 42: What does Male Headship teach?.
- 42: A new blog to disagree with.
- 42: Wise words on a "Biblical" position.
- 42: Films as good gender examples.