Mennonite Brethren pass resolution to remove gender restrictions


Mennonite Brethren pass resolution to remove gender restrictions


It has been a long difficult road for the denomination I consider my own. In the most recent annual conference the Mennonite Brethren voted to allow the local church to determine their policy towards gender and the role of senior pastor. I think it is a helpful step forward.

The previous position was theologically absurd. Women were not restricted from any position in the denomination except that of senior pastor. I’m not sure how you can determine whether it is biblical for women to hold a position that doesn’t exist in the New Testament. It seems completely inconsistent that one would affirm women as college and seminary professors and restrict women from the role of senior pastor. If one is going to take 1Tim 2:12 literally and apply it directly to our context they should at least try to be consistent. The old position was a compromise solution and so is the current one but this one makes more sense.

Changing the rules is one step. Changing the culture is another. I respect those who wish to stand by the complementarian position regardless of how politically correct it is. I disagree with them because I think what Paul writes in 1Tim is inconsistent with what he wrote to the Corinthians and inconsistent with the general theme of his concept of church. My last few years of participating in a house church gives me a hands on feel of the context of the local church Paul typically spoke to. I see how Paul’s analogy of the body plays out in smaller relational church. I see how so much of New Testament theology that needs to be shoe horned in to fit in a traditionally structured church fits like a glove in a house church.

If one wants to be truly biblical in how they structure church there are a lot bigger issues than the gender of the people in certain positions.

  1. #1 by Rob Kroeker on July 14, 2006 - 11:06 am

    Well, I’m sure most people would know where I would ultimately come out on this issue. But, the Mother church has decided, and really, it’s not the hill I’m willing to die on. God uses everyone who submits to Him for His glory. It’s also nice to know that there was a little more thought put into this one than say the “dancing at Banff 95 resolution”. Are we on the ‘slippery slope’? well, yes. But so is every other institution. Let’s face it, we’re not Southern Baptists, and we don’t want to be. However, I also believe that as long as we keep accepting and fostering the charismatic elements of our denomination, we’ll avoid some of the pitfalls towards liberalism that some of our other more mainstream friends seem to embrace.

  2. #2 by LT on July 14, 2006 - 11:22 am

    Rob:

    I’m not sure I really buy in to the slippery slope. If by slippery slope you mean the gradual progression towards liberal theology. The first stop is affirming women in all roles. Next stop ordained homosexuals. Next stop Bishop Spong.

    While it is true that in some of the mainline denominations this progression lead to liberal theology. In most of those denominations this led to a conservative and liberal wing in the denomination. Most of the liberal wings are dying off.

    This slippery slope hasn’t materialized among the Free Methodists, Nazarenes, and Pentecostals to name a few. Nor has it materialized in the non-western segments of mainline churches.

  3. #3 by Rob Kroeker on July 14, 2006 - 11:37 am

    So you would say that the General Conference of Mennonites – which is still in ‘dialogue’ (as far as I know) about the ‘situation at South Calgary Mennonite church (aka admitting homosexual members) – is NOT on the slippery slope? South Calgary is only one example. It should be noted that only 15+ years ago the General Conference did not admit women as senior pastors. Now (perhaps in part due to the decentralization of the conference), the stench of liberalism is growing – challenging such issues as homosexuality, pluralism (it doesn’t matter what you believe in – as long as you have FAITH), role of women in leadership, etc. etc. The GC’s ARE on the slope, and my concern is that in fact we are going to mirror them – just 15 years later. However, as I stated before, the GC’s never embraced the charismatic side of Christianity either (and I use that term ‘charismatic’ in the broadest sense possible – not implying any specific denomination). The whole Holy Ghost Party idea never caught on. I believe this is part of the reason why we as MB’s can live with our ‘institution’ – because we allow God to revolutionize us periodically (at least the churches that survive do).

    But again, I really don’t mean to make a mountain out of a mole hill – and I believe this issue is truly a mole hill.

  4. #4 by LT on July 14, 2006 - 11:49 am

    From what you tell me it appears the GC’s are on the “slope.” The point I didn’t make that well is that not all groups that have affirmed women in all roles of church leadership have gone the same way. The denominations I listed (Free Methodists, Nazarenes, Pentcostals) have had women senior pastors for decades but aren’t dealing with any of the issues you list above. The same is true of many of the conservative wings of the mainline churches.

  5. #5 by Rob Kroeker on July 14, 2006 - 11:52 am

    fair enough- and I don’t mean to bash GC’s either. It really depends on the individual church. Because GC churches are so independant, some are definitely more liberal than others.

    If there was a way to add this on to my second post, I’d really appreciate it as I don’t want people to take things out of context. I also have many friends and relatives connected to this church. thanks

  6. #6 by Kevin on July 14, 2006 - 4:49 pm

    Dear Mr. Tebay,

    I don’t know if the example of the Holiness Movement Churches applies here as women pastors were allowed from the beginning or at least decided long before the Women’s lib movement of the last few decades. There women in pastoral roles requiring oversight was decided purely upon their interpretation of scripture and where they felt the holy spirit was leading them. In mainline churches and other historic reformed churches such as Mennonites, at least as much pressure has come from the general egalitarian ethos of the world as it has from scripture and the Holy Spirit.

    I think Mr. Kroeker’s suggestion of slippery slope holds true because if the cultural ethos is driving church doctrine, where will it lead te church next. Already several mennonite groups are dealing with the question of homosexuality and the language and processes engaged are exactly the same as one might find in United and Anglican Churches.

    What do you think?

    Kevin

  7. #7 by Keith on July 14, 2006 - 7:39 pm

    Right on LT!

  8. #8 by Keith on July 14, 2006 - 7:40 pm

    and the MB

  9. #9 by LT on July 14, 2006 - 8:36 pm

    Kevin:

    I think you are making an assumption that the Mennonite Brethren are moving in this direction because of outside egalitarian pressure. I work pretty right down the hall of one the key people in the equation. The person that presented in study conferences across the country. I can tell you that his motives come much more from a careful study of scripture rather than cultural accomodation.

  10. #10 by Kevin on July 15, 2006 - 7:42 am

    Dear LT,

    The question is why change now? Is the Holy Spirit doing someting new? Have we found a faulty interpretation of scripture that our forefathers based their decision on? Were they just wrong? I believe you that your friend may have been sincerely seeking the will of God in all of this, but you have to admit that in the minds of most of the church, this is a human rights issue.

    Kevin

  11. #11 by LT on July 16, 2006 - 3:41 pm

    Kevin:

    I can only speak for myself with any assurance. Someone presented me a strong biblical case for women as leaders in the church. In the end I found it more compelling than the argument for restricting women from leadership.

    I believe that the church did have a faulty interpretation of scripture. It was less than 100 years ago that someone came up with the idea that the scriptural view of women was women were equal to men but had different roles. Before then women were regarded as inferior. What prompted that change? Was it a Spirit inspired change or a compromise with the prevailing culture?

    Those who argue against affirming women in all roles are holding a position that is mere decades older than the typical egalitarian position. It isn’t in line with most of church tradition. To me the debate seems to be between 60 year old church culture and contemporary church culture. I think very few people in this debate take scripture that seriously. If we did I think church would be a lot different than the warmed over reformation era model we have now.

    I imagine a change in Canadian society has been part of the change in our attitudes towards women in leadership. The quest for human rights is probably a part of this as well.

  12. #12 by Kevin on July 16, 2006 - 8:34 pm

    LT,

    I must ask you to clarify your claim that the practise of the non-ordination of women is only 60 years old. What about the 1900 years of an all male priesthood and the fact that this is still the case in the vast majority of the church today. I must be misunderstanding you.

  13. #13 by LT on July 16, 2006 - 9:32 pm

    Kevin:

    Read what I wrote carefully. I said that in the last 100 years we came up with the idea that women were equal and had different roles. Before those 100 years most people in the church didn’t believe women were equal to men. The change was believing women are inferior and they shouldn’t be ordained to women aren’t inferior and they shouldn’t be ordained.

    I don’t think the vast majority of the church restricts women from any position in the church. Pentecostals and Charismatics make up the largest segment of evangelicalism and most of them have no restrictions for women. Add to that the mainline protestants and the Methodists, Nazarenes, and many Mennonite groups.. Basically it is just the Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and more conservative evangelicals that have gender based restrictions.

  14. #14 by Paul Johnston on July 16, 2006 - 9:57 pm

    ” I don’t think the vast majority of the church restricts women from any position in the church … basically it is just the Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox… that have gender based restrictions.”

    I’m not sure of the numbers Leighton but your arguement infers that the RC and EC are somewhat marginalized and certainly minority Christian movements. I would think the opposite is true and that together they would represent a majority of worldwide Christian expression.

  15. #15 by LT on July 16, 2006 - 10:01 pm

    Paul:

    Read the thread. Kevin stated the mast majority of the church place restrictions on women. I’m arguing that “vast majority” is untrue. I don’t believe I’m implying anything about the size or prominence of the RC or EO.

  16. #16 by Anonymous on July 16, 2006 - 10:13 pm

    Charming as always, sir.

    In the future, please feel free to assume that I’ve actually read something before commenting.

    If the RC and the EO costitute a majority of the church then your contention is inaccurate. At the very least I think it silly to suggest, as you do, that the “vast majority” of the church supports egalitarianism when the RC and the EO do not.

  17. #17 by LT on July 17, 2006 - 7:35 am

    Paul?:

    Could you point out where I suggest the “vast majority” of the church supports egalitarianism. I didn’t write that at all. I wrote that Kevin’s contention that the “vast majority” of the church is not egalitarian is untrue. Neither side in this debate has a vast majority.

  18. #18 by Kevin on July 17, 2006 - 7:42 am

    Dear LT,

    A quick google search will show you that RCs represent half of the christians in the world. Add in the Orthodox, all of the Anglicans outside of North America and the more conservative free church evangelicals and we are very quickly at a vast majority officially. Then if you consider the informal restrictions placed by virtually every other denomination which discourages women from having authority over a church we can see that only a very very small group of modern christians actually allow for women in a equal role.

    I did in fact read what you said carefully, I just simply couldn;t believe what you were saying. Setting aside statistics, however, to suggest that previous to the last 100 years the church didn’t ordain women becasue they were considered inferior is the worst type of historical arrogance. That you would assert that only in our time we have recognised the value of women I think more than proves my point that this push for women’s ordination is driven by women’s rights. And that it is very difficult for us to see outside of the bias of our histo-cultural context when making these decisions.

  19. #19 by Kevin on July 17, 2006 - 8:02 am

    All it takes to be one of those 1 billion RCs is to get baptised. It isn’t an accurate number of practicing catholics. A minority of Anglicans restrict women from church leadership. When you said “vast majority” I’m thinking 80-90%. Perhaps you were thinking something different. But I don’t see those numbers adding up.

    Setting aside statistics, however, to suggest that previous to the last 100 years the church didn’t ordain women becasue they were considered inferior is the worst type of historical arrogance.

    Why is it arrogance? How is what I said inaccurate?

  20. #20 by Kevin on July 17, 2006 - 9:44 am

    http://www.christiangateway.com/library/quickfacts/

    let’s do the numbers quickly:

    RC=1 billion

    Eastern Orthodox= 200 million

    Majority of Anglicans= 60 million

    Minority of Anglicans who ordain women= At the very most 15 Million. This only happens in western countries and a few small provinces elsewhere. Which make up the minority of the church. Please note that the Church of England is only now considering consecrating women bishops, so this would not be considered an egalitarian church.

    Of the identifable big groups, the three biggest all do not. I will grant you that the majority of charismatics either have no restriction or leave it up to the local congregation. So I will give you 66% of the 132 million Pentecostals and Charismatics

    As for the rest of free church evangelicals, At best it is 50/50, but really I think the majority do not ordain women. 200 milllion

    Of the numbers that can be easily added up

    those who restrict= 1.4 billion 87%

    those who do not= 190 million 13%

    This probably misses about 500 million christians, but since the most vocal and notable on either side have been accounted for, it would probably not change the percentages much in either way. And may be a variance of possibly 10 percent, given that internet numbers are not the most reliable. But my point nonetheless I think has been made. Again especially if you consider the informal restrictions, the number of churches that won;t allow it in egalitarian denominations. I would sugges that true egalitarianism exists in less than 1 percent of the church.

    Getting back to historical arrogance and the inability to think outside of one’s own context. It did not surprise me in the least to see you snear at the legitimacy of the faith of Roman Catholics. Once again you privilege your own world view over everyone elses. Earlier it was the superiority of 20th Century thought over everything that came before. Now the superiority of your sectarian approach to the church over the experince of, again, the vast majority of Christians. The Roman Catholic Church despite some teachings that I do not personally agree with is a thriving church. Which continues to grow faster than any other denomination in actual numbers. It is throving because it offers a lively faith and a theologically informed and rich way of life. Again don’t let your own experience of a few cultural catholics mar your impression of the church. That being said go to any prairie town in saskatchewan and you will see that the biggest church in town is the RCs.

    Finally on the point of Historical arrogancy. It really is just too illinformed an opinion to deal with. To suggest that before the 20th century women were not informed because they were considered inferior, is just stupid and suggests that all of the great theologians of the church from Paul to augustine to aquinas to Calvin and even in the 20 century packer stott barth etc… who gave carefully reasoned arguments against the ordination of women were simply misogynists and had a woefully inadequate theological anthropology. It is simply arrogant to stand in judge of history like that. If you don;t understand that, then nothing I say will make you.

    I am not saying that the MBs and Others are wrong to do it neccessarily, but I am certain that this decision has a lot more to do with the cultural ethos of the day than the hard work of scripture reason and tradition. And once we go in that direction, as Mr. Kroeker suggested we moveinto very dangerous territory.

  21. #21 by LT on July 17, 2006 - 10:55 am

    The bulk of the people you don’t list are mainline protestants who overwhelmingly support women in leadership roles.

    I wasn’t saying anything about the faith of practicing catholics. In many places in the world it is very common for people be a member of a church and not have much to do with it. It is just as true of the European protestant state churches (Lutherans) as it is of the RCs.

    Some quotes about women from some famous theogians.

    Augustine:

    “The woman together with the man is the image of God, so that the whole substance is one image. But when she is assigned as a helpmate, which pertains to her alone, she is not the image of God: however, in what pertains to man alone, is the image of God just as fully and completely as he is joined with the woman into one”

    Calvin:

    “Men are preferred to females in the human race. We know that God constituted man as the head and gave him a dignity and preeminence above that of the woman. . . . It is true that the image of God is imprinted on all; but still woman is inferior to man.”

    Aquinas:

    “But man is yet further ordered to a still nobler vital action, and that is intellectual operation. Therefore there was greater reason for the distinction of these two forces in man; so that the female should be produced separately from the male; although they are carnally united for generation.”

    Luther:

    “Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and more understanding than women, who have but small and narrow breasts, and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children”

    I’m not suggesting that these guys didn’t have well reasoned biblically based arguments for the restriction of women from church leadership. They may have. I’d like to see them. However they all reflected the culture of the day and believed that women were not entirely equal to men.

    I think the quotes establish without much doubt that my opinion is anything but “illinformed”. I never stated that these theologians hated women, just that they believed they were inferior. I do believe they had an inadequate view of women.

  22. #22 by Kevin on July 17, 2006 - 11:09 am

    I think you made my point just as well.

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