Necessity is the Mother of Invention
I teach in a little classical program called “Sierra Leadership Network” which usually attracts gifted and interested individuals who either aren’t quite ready for formal ministry training through a seminary or for one reason or another seminary or Bible college doesn’t work or fit. This draws a variety of participants including a number of women.
There are two women in this program who recently were accepted to the Calvin Seminary (my alma mater) distance program. One is the wife of a pastor from a culture that doesn’t (and won’t in the near future) support the idea of women ministers and the other is a writer/blogger/speaker who also attends a complementarian CRC church.
Both came to me independently wanting to explore whether the CTS distance program would be right for them and I encouraged them both. They are both strong, mature Christian leaders whose developed gifts and abilities the church needs.
Funding Women’s Training from Complementarian Churches
In the CRCNA we currently have the “two voices” position on women’s ordination. CRC churches and classes may support women’s ordination or they may oppose it. If these women were from congregations and communities that supported women-in-office there wouldn’t be much to write about. I personally have supported women-in-office from the church of my youth (my parents did) but I respect the complementarian position and very much want to see the CRC continue to make space for those churches and their perspective.
Part of the difference between some non-formal training that I do and the formal structure of a seminary is funding. In the CRC if you are a member in good standing pursuing ordination through CTS in most cases funding from your classis is available. When these women started this process I assumed that wouldn’t be a problem. This is where things get complicated.
Generally speaking classical funding is a sort of loan arrangement. As a student classis loans you money for your tuition, etc. and that loan is forgiven if you fulfill your years of ordained service in the denomination as a Minister of the Word. The local council of these women’s churches oppose women being ordained under Article 6 in the CRC church order which makes them ineligible for classical funding for their education.
I suspect that the local councils are enthusiastic about these women getting more training because they are already recognized and valued as devoted servants to the work of their local church. In the case of one of these women who is a speaker at women’s conferences, blogger and who regularly writes for Christianity Today and other major publishers that development of her gifts is important. Not being able to receive classical support for their training is in the interest of no one.
The Dama Misionera
Before I pastored in Sacramento I was missionary in the Dominican Republic. In most of the churches there, which were conservative on women’s issues by anyone’s standard, they had a position called the “Dama Misionera” which basically meant “woman’s missionary”. This was a recognized position within the congregation, under the authority of the church’s authority structure, who ministered to women in the church and in the community. The church there saw the importance of women ministering to women. I’m sure this is an outgrowth of passages like these.
Titus 2:3–5 (NIV)
3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
These was no controversy in the Dominican Republic over women serving the Lord in this fashion. It was always done under the authority of the structure of the church.
Evangelical Freelance Ministry
Recently there was an important conversation happening sparked by Tish Harrison Warren through Christianity today by her article “Who’s in Charge of the Christian Blogosphere“. This ignited a fierce conversation in the blogosphere and on Twitter. (Here are a few links). This is a large and important conversation that not only touches on the ongoing discussion of the role of women in church leadership but also the free market nature of American evangelicalism. The conversation quickly turned to the recent exposure of popular women’s ministry personality Jen Hatmaker’s decision to affirm same-sex marriage. Suddenly free market evangelicals were sort of yearning for some kind of authority structure by which to sift through the patchwork of warring positions where the culture war meets the Christian marketplace. Right now para-church organizations or publishers are functioning as de facto gatekeepers but should it be this way? Shouldn’t confessional churches establish and maintain their own authority structures?
The CRC has long had a tradition of women’s ministry. Currently the Coffee Break ministry is probably the most broadly developed and vital outreach and discipleship ministry the CRC has, period. A reading of the CRC church order will reveal space being created for men’s and women’s “societies”, something that I’ve never formally seen in my lifetime in the CRC. I hear rumor of them from Canada though.
If you hold (as I do) an egalitarian position the issue isn’t terribly difficult. You can use the traditional leadership training and ordaining structures to promote and support women’s leadership within the church and beyond it. But what if you hold a position that prohibits women from “having authority over a man” or being ordained?
We don’t normally ordain “coffee break leaders” but it seems to me that they do hold positions of authority within the church and that this authority is recognized and some cases even designated and sanctioned by elder or council votes. What do we need for a world where teaching via YouTube or blogs or Twitter or Facebook is flowing far outside the walls of the church?
Kathy Keller comes to mind when I think about this issue. She’s the wife of Timothy Keller, founder and pastor of the PCA Redeemer Pres in NYC. She’s an outspoken complementarian with a high profile teaching ministry within and beyond Redeemer Pres. I imagine she believes she ministers under the authority of the male elders at Redeemer, but what about her ministry beyond that? Are we only left with the marketplace?
The Logic of Complementarian Authority Structures and Women
Up until this point complementarians in the CRC are mostly known for playing a resistance role on ordaining women-in-office. It seems to me, however, that if the complementarian position is to be maintained and promoted it also needs to be developed and the challenge is going to be to figure out how institutionalize women’s leadership consistent with their theological and confessional convictions. I of course can’t do this, not holding their position myself, but I wonder what kind of credentials or institutions could be developed to address this need?
In the situation of our classis an overture could be sent to classis asking that the student fund committee adjust their policies. Figure out how to do this, however, gets difficult quickly. In most cases prospective candidates, men and women who intend to pursue an M.Div from CTS would also state that they hope to pursue ordination through Article 6 of the CRC church order. Complementarian churches would naturally pause here because this has been the battlefield. My question is whether there can be a credential or a status or even an office which for complementarians would be acceptable to recognize authority and giftedness for women to ministers to women and how would we pursue this?
One avenue that comes to mind would be simply the continuation of the logic of a council approving and maybe even commissioning a Coffee Break leader. A local council could approve and commission a CRCNA “Dama Misionera” to do women’s ministry, etc. in their context, but the problem is this doesn’t hook up with much of anything beyond the local church. The reason we ordain and have denominational credentials is to allow people to operate through and beyond our networks. Credentials effectively address the dilemma the market based, often non-denominational evangelical marketplace is struggling with.
I’d like to see the CRC complementarians work through these questions and find ways for women to serve locally, regionally and broadly within a complementarian framework. It seems completely fitting and logical within a complementarian framework that these women not be out there as free-lancers (just as we don’t believe the men should be either) but doing so beneath the authority of the church, in submission to the leadership of the church and with the blessing of the church.
This movement needs to come from CRCs that are working the complementarian space. I’d love to see you pick up this challenge.