Of Straw Men and Anabaptists (by Angus McDonald)

Red_AngusSimple & Free dialogues are delightful to read because they are RAW. They evidence real thinking rather than fearful clinging to hackneyed principles. They belie the idea that those who believe in the authority of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit cannot have an original thought. I hope what I add will help remove another barrier to genuine thinking. That barrier is the “straw man.” Straw men are those ideas that do not really portray the authentic views of opponents in a debate. They just help win the argument against them. I have seen a few straw men emerge in the S&F dialogues. Straw men should be limited to political harangues and diatribe or worse, propaganda, not discussions of S&F.
In this spirit I would like to present a solid example for discussion; the Evangelical Mennonite Conference. These folks not only take certain positions, they live by them. They are real men not straw men. Surprisingly enough this historic denomination may offer some original thinking. Though they are evangelicals I believe the EMC exhibits thinking SEPARATE from mainline evangelicalism. I am suggesting that Evangelical Mennonites could bring a fresh view on topics for the very reason that they do not tow the party line of mainline evangelicalism.

Let me give a few examples. Historically, they have opposed war. Article # 9, of their statement of faith states, “We believe that the teachings and example of Christ call us to a life of nonviolence and a ministry of peace in this world.” Whether you agree with that or not, it is different from the majority of evangelicals. Another example is social action. Evangelicals could be called Fideists (those who believe in faith only), but the EMC folks have an admirable track record with regard to social action. What community experiencing hurricanes or floods has not been thankful for the presence of these humble workers? They have also taken powerful stances against materialism (something rampant among evangelicals). Here are just two of the articles on the EMC website: The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why are Christians living just like the rest of the world? And, Overcoming One-Sided Christianity: Combining Evangelism and Social Action. That is mild compared to some of the articles presented.
How could this group be helpful in S&F discussions? You have been dialoguing about the complementarian vs. the egalitarian position. The “Wikipedia Dictionary” states, “Along with other evangelicals and orthodox Mennonites, the EMC takes a complementarian stance . . . .” Today I was reading a blog by an Evangelical Mennonite who wrote, “Most recently, our church has clarified our position on gender and ordination. As a body, we have (re)affirmed our complementarian understanding of the Scriptures, which mirrors the wider evangelical world.” So, differing from mainline evangelicals regarding war, social action, and materialism, they take a clear complementarian position. Their thinking may be helpful on this topic for the very fact that it will not bear the mark of an evangelical imprimatur.
There is another reason for taking Evangelical Mennonites and the larger category, Anabaptists, seriously regarding this issue. For nearly 300 years they have applied their doctrines in the most difficult school of pragmatic reality. If we ask, “Does it work?” we will find remarkable stability among these people, even when under persecution for their beliefs. Just following their paths of immigration (at times fleeing pogroms) one breaks out in a sweat! Though I do not know their statistics with regard to marriage and divorce, I will wager that the longevity of their marriages exceed those of most Americans 2 to 1.

So, what does this admirable denomination say about the issue of gender? Its website home page says, “Women serve on most national boards, as council delegates, as missionaries, and within local church activities; while they can be selected locally as ministers….” Wow, sounds almost egalitarian, doesn’t it?! But, it goes on, “the conference does not provide for the ordination of women.” That is similar to my own denomination, the Evangelical Free Church. They do not ordain women to the position of pastor/elder, but they do have a second track of ordination which provides for women on the mission field, in Christian education, and in the military.
Why do these denominations hold back from ordaining women to the position of pastor/elder? Fundamentally, because of their position regarding authority. EMC’s home page states, “As Evangelical, we hold to scripture as our final authority in faith and practice.”(emphases, mine) In other words, they see women as fully capable to serve on national boards (which may determine the fate of pastors within their denomination); council delegates (women can change the very charter of their denomination); missionaries (this means presenting the Gospel to mixed audiences); local church activities (perhaps that includes physical plant issues, praise and worship, etc.); and note this carefully, “can be selected locally as ministers.” This last statement would certainly affirm the presence of such great women in the early Church such as Lydia, Priscilla, and Phoebe.

Yet, the EMC is complementarian! It is not because they restrict women from authority, decision making, or the center of the life of the church or believe that they are somehow unequal. They make their decisions about pastor/elder positions based on their reading of Scripture. If you have come up with a straw man regarding complementarians, please think again! We come in many stripes and one thing we agree on is this, THE AMAZING AUTHORITY AND DECISION MAKING ABILITY WITH WHICH GOD HAS ENDOWED WOMEN! We also agree on the magnificent differences between the genders and the incredible richness that affirming this brings to life. Next time I have a moment to write, I would love to address the issue of women in combat. Just a tickler: about 80% of women who go through combat come back with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Could it be that there is something fundamental to being a bearer of life that makes taking a life virtually impossible?

[Note: I (Andy) posted this on behalf of Angus McDonald, my brother in law who is a 30year + Free Church Pastor in Virginia. I’m thankful for his guest-blogging!]


2 responses to “Of Straw Men and Anabaptists (by Angus McDonald)

  1. simplefreechurch


    Thanks for your post! The EMC certainly seem to have a unique position. I had two questions just for clarification–

    1. Women can be pastors locally, but not ordained, so does that just mean some EMC churches have non-ordained women pastors?

    2. The free church does not ordain female pastors you say. Is that a policy or a tradition, and have there been female free church pastors in the past? Also, elders (who are not pastor-elders) are not necessarily ordained (at most churches I would expect most elders are not ordained) so is it your understanding that non-ordained elders (who are not pastors) could be women within the bounds of the free church?

    This is all very interesting, and I appreciate this discussion. Thanks Angus! Andy

  2. Greetings Andy,

    Sorry I did not see your response or I would have written much earlier. As for the EMC, I encourage you to look to those you know within that organization regarding the women as pastors. However, let me say that the website seems to differentiate between “Minister” and Pastor. Not sure about that.

    As for the Free Church, I do know that some women have, in fact, been ordained as pastors. I believe it was somewhere within Minnesota. However, my understanding of the Ministerial’s position is that, in its two track ordination system, women cannot be ordained as Pastor/Elder. However, I do not believe that excludes other pastoral positions, such as pastor to women, counseling pastor, childrens’ pastor, etc.

    As it stands, clearly, women are ordained as ministers within the Free Church. We have female Chaplains (Ben Sawatski’s daughter is one), and, as you know, your sister was the District Superintendent over an entire mission field (Zaire) for the Free Church.

    So, in conclusion, the Free Church affirms the female in decision making and leading and affirms the spirituality, but does not ordain women as pastor/elders.

    That is policy. As for women being non-ordained elders, again, there is the primary issue, the word “Elder.” There you are hitting the core issue.

    So, what will be helpful in this discussion, is getting away from the straw man that Complimentarians do not believe that women can decide, lead, or have authority. Perhaps it will be wise to focus on the biblical texts regarding an elder (e.g., 1 Tim 3; Titus 1, etc.)

    God bless and thanks for the discussion! And that ain’t no bull!


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