Monday, October 09, 2006

Vineyard Makes Another Bad Turn

Recently, Berten A. Waggoner, National Director of the Vineyard family of churches, issued a statement describing the new position that the national Vineyard USA Board made regarding the role of women in church leadership (HT: CBMW). The statement was five years in the making.

Some discussion or comment over the issue apparently began during the tenure of John Wimber. But Waggoner outlined the more recent issues he thought prompted the decision to more fully "empower" women at all levels of Vineyard leadership, particularly trans-local leadership:
  1. Controversy over inviting egalitarian New Testament scholar Gordon Fee to speak at the National Leadership Conference;
  2. Appearance of articles profiling the ministry and preaching careers of women leaders in the organization's official publications;
  3. The need for discussion and consensus among Vineyard USA Board members;
  4. "Several women in the movement" approaching Waggoner to inform him that they "feel a bit like unwanted step children... allowed to pastor, but [not allowed] to celebrate this for fear of offending someone;" and
  5. The need for Vineyard Board members who felt conflicted to find a way to "empower" women on the one hand, which some considered a matter of conscience, and to appease or not offend movement conservatives on the other hand.
Waggoner claims to have studied the Scripture for years on this issue and to have consulted fifty of the best works from different perspectives on women in ministry. Following all of this, the Board concluded:

In response to the message of the kingdom, the leadership of the Vineyard movement will encourage, train, and empower women at all levels of leadership both local and trans-local. The movement as a whole welcomes the participation of women in leadership in all areas of ministry.

We also recognize and understand that some Vineyard pastors have a different understanding of the Scriptures. Each local church retains the right to make its own decisions regarding ordination and appointment of senior pastors.

Apparently, the Waggoner and the Board have some appreciation for the seismic nature of this shift. Waggoner wrote:
Even if the issue were as simple as agreeing on the meaning of authentein or kephale, the division would still exist. but this question addresses much more. It involves questions regarding the nature of authority, how we interpret scriptures, and the influence of our understanding of the kingdom on the issue. It requires working through issues of ecclesiology (the nature of ordination), how to relate to our culture in missionally effective ways, and the nature of masculinity and femininity--to mention only a few.
But appreciating these issues aside, the Board moved ahead with its decision. They could only do so, however, after taking an alarming position regarding the nature of Scripture itself. Waggoner asserted, "it is not reasonable to expect that this issue could be resolved by Biblical expertise."

Wow. So much for the sufficiency, clarity, and authority of Scripture--which is really where this issue is won or lost. Hold an inerrantist view of Scripture--complementarian position. Hold some view that weakens inerrancy, sufficiency, or clarity--egalitarian position.

Waggoner assures his people that the Board "approached this decision prayerfully with our best reading of Scripture and spiritual discernment." What can that statement mean if it was never "reasonable to expect that this issue could be solved by Biblical expertise," that is, by people who were also reading the Scripture prayerfully, discerningly, and with training?

It's interesting to me that the position paper frames the Board's position in terms of "empowerment" and "conscience." Perhaps someone should have asked, "Exactly who are we trying to empower women pastors against? Local church leaders, national leaders, or God?" Insofar as the position rejects the plain teaching of Scripture, it would seem women needed empowerment against God.

And perhaps someone should have asked, "Should we trust our conscience?" The conscience is not infallible. It's fallen. It can be carterized. It needs to be trained by the Word of God, not stand independent of or judge of the Word. A clean conscience can mean little more than dullness of heart and hearing.

Waggoner contends that this "decision had to be made... for the healthy of the movement." Yes, it seems a decision had to be made. But if we are to lead our churches in a way that gives rise to faithfulness, health, and purity, we need to chain our conscience to the Word of God which is clear, sufficient, authoritative and inerrant. Faithfulness is required of stewards, not empowerment.

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