I am sure most people on this board could care less or are not surprised but since this is one of the movements I was in a while back, during the roaring like lions, vomiting in the spirit etc. the Toronto blessing days, although by God's grace I never did any of these things. I was hoping now that Wimber was dead and people of the likes of J.P Moreland were joining its ranks it would begin to become a legitimate church but sadly that is not the case. Ironically, the "spirit" never seems to lead these people to the truth.
Women in Ministry in the Vineyard, U.S.A.
Feb 22, 2008
[In the most recent issue of the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (JBMW 12/2 [Fall 2007] 20-25) I wrote a brief article on the issue of women in ministry and leadership within the Vineyard, USA. Below is a slightly altered version of that article. I strongly encourage all to subscribe to this excellent periodical, published twice each year by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. You can do so by visiting their website at www.cbmw.org.]
The Pentecostal and Charismatic movements have witnessed a progressive move during the course of the last century toward embracing and empowering women at all levels of spiritual authority and ministry (an insightful commentary on the history of this question is found in the article by R. M. Griffith and D. Roebuck, “Women, Role of” in The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, Stanley M. Burgess, Editor [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002], 1203-09). Today, Complementarianism is decidedly a minority view among those who believe in the continuation of all spiritual gifts in the life of the church.
Charisma magazine, the flagship publication of the Pentecostal-Charismatic world, has repeatedly defended Egalitarianism and actively promotes the ministries of several high profile women such as Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Marilyn Hickey, Gloria Copeland, Juanita Bynum, and Cindy Jacobs, just to mention a few. J. Lee Grady, Charisma’s Editor, has himself written a defense of Egalitarianism in a book with the intentionally inflammatory title, Ten Lies the Church Tells Women: How the Bible has been misused to keep women in spiritual bondage (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma, 2000, 220 pp.).
Those within the mainstream Word of Faith movement, as well as most advocates of the so-called “health and wealth gospel,” are typically vocal Egalitarians. It almost goes without saying that among the thousands of independent charismatic churches most would endorse the ordination of women to the role of senior pastor in the local church.
However, there are a few exceptions, the most notable of which would be Sovereign Grace Ministries, under the capable leadership of C. J. Mahaney (who serves on the Board of CBMW). I should also mention New Frontiers and its leader, Terry Virgo, who have now planted more than 500 churches, primarily in the U.K. together with an increasing number in the U.S. (their churches are now found on five continents).
Grace Churches International, based in North Carolina, embraces more than 300 churches globally and is generally Complementarian in its perspective on the role of women in ministry (see H-SPHERE). The following statement is taken from their International Handbook:
“Grace Churches International recognizes that women may enjoy the privileges of ministry without the responsibilities of government. In light of this, Grace Churches International ordains men into local eldership and five-fold ministry offices listed in Ephesians 4:11.”
Women in the Vineyard
One will search in vain among official Vineyard documents prior to September 2006 for a statement articulating their beliefs on the role-relationship of male and female (the definitive history of the Vineyard is found in Bill Jackson’s book, The Quest for the Radical Middle: A History of the Vineyard [Cape Town, South Africa: Vineyard International Publishing, 1999], 419pp.).
However, in the March/April 1994 issue of Vineyard Reflections, John Wimber, who gave leadership to the Vineyard until his death in 1997, wrote an extensive article entitled, “Liberating Women for Ministry and Leadership” (I want to thank Vineyard pastor, Paul Bradford, for bringing this article to my attention and for providing me with a copy of it). Although that title might suggest that Wimber was an Egalitarian, the substance of the article points in another direction. “I believe God has established a gender-based eldership of the church,” wrote Wimber. “I endorse the traditional (and what I consider the scriptural) view of a unique leadership role for men in marriage, family, and in the church.” Wimber proceeds to cite Ephesians 3:14-15 in pointing out that “this [view] ultimately reflects the hierarchy of the Trinity.”!
His conclusion is clear and unequivocal: “Consequently, I personally do not favor ordaining women as elders in the local church,” a statement in support of which he refers the reader to the relevant portions in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Crossway). He argues that whereas both men and women can exercise most of the pastoral “functions” of an Elder, only men (and in Wimber’s opinion, only “ordained men”) can hold the office. Thus, says Wimber, “I encourage our women to participate in any ministry, except church governance.”
Others would point out that in spite of his Complementarian convictions, Wimber permitted at least two notable exceptions: both Jackie Pullinger (Hong Kong) and Ann Watson (England) served as the senior leaders of their respective congregations (although I should mention that Watson viewed her role as exceptional, given the premature death of her husband, and not a position to which women in ordinary circumstances should aspire).
The Vineyard USA Board of Directors officially adopted a statement of faith in 1994 that lacks any reference to the Egalitarian / Complementarian debate. In their Theological and Philosophical Statements, under the heading of “Our Leadership Personnel Requirements,” one finds an affirmation of “a strong, loving marriage in which both the husband and wife sense the call to minister” (the only Scriptural citation being Acts 18:26). Nothing more is said by way of explanation as to whether this “call to minister” might entail senior governmental or pastoral authority.
Under the leadership of Berten Waggoner, its National Director and President, The Vineyard, USA, thought it wise to clarify what until now had been a very nebulous position concerning the extent to which women might be empowered in all levels of spiritual authority. In personal e-mail correspondence with me, dated June 28, 2007, Waggoner stated that “due to the confusion among its churches concerning their position on women in leadership at a trans-local level, the leadership of the Vineyard found it necessary to make a much needed statement of clarification on this important issue.”
Whereas some would consider this a dramatic turn of events for the Vineyard, especially in view of Wimber’s personal stance on the subject, Waggoner and the Board disagree and regard it as simply the public acknowledgement of developments that have been gradually in the making for over a decade. In any case, September 21, 2006, will prove to be a historic moment in the history of this movement and ministry.
Although a number of Vineyard leaders had expressed their Egalitarian convictions (chief among whom was Princeton-educated theologian and pastor, Don Williams), the first indication to those outside the movement that change was on the horizon came in 2002 with the publication of Rich Nathan’s book, Who Is My Enemy? (Zondervan, 2002; for a response to several of Nathan’s arguments, see Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth, Multnomah, 2004). Whereas Nathan did not claim to speak authoritatively on behalf of the Vineyard at large, it must be noted that he is a Board member of Vineyard USA and the Senior Pastor of one of the Vineyard’s largest congregations, the 6,000 plus member Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Columbus, Ohio. More than a few were caught off-guard by his explicit endorsement and defense of Egalitarianism in this volume. N! eedless to say, it was a sign of things to come.
The Letter of September 21, 2006
Whatever uncertainty existed to this point in time, everything changed with a document issued on September 21, 2006 (the entire transcript can be found at The Vineyard | A Community of Churches). The Vineyard USA Board of Directors sent a letter (by e-mail) to all pastors affirming what they call “the trans-local empowerment of women in leadership” (hereafter cited as Letter).The letter was authored by Bert Waggoner, but was sent with the unanimous approval of the national Board.
Waggoner notes that five years earlier (2001) a request had been made by a Vineyard church that they be allowed to appoint a woman as senior pastor. At that time the Vineyard already “had several ordained women senior pastors who were co-senior pastors with their husbands and one woman senior pastor” (Letter; I’m assuming the latter is a reference to Jackie Pullinger).
Waggoner and the Board determined that the opportunity for open dialogue was important before any decision was made. Some thirteen papers, representing both sides of the debate, were posted on the Vineyard USA website and extensive discussion was undertaken among Regional Overseers and local church pastors.
According to Waggoner’s letter, “after the Regional Overseers discussed it at the Regional level and after considerable discussion at Board meetings, the Board decided to clarify what had been the de facto but unstated policy: the issue of senior pastor leadership would remain as a prerogative of the local church. Our position was that the local church was the instrument for ordination. Local churches had the freedom to decide who was to be ordained and the freedom to ordain them” (Letter).
This did not, however, address a number of unresolved issues, chief of which was what Waggoner refers to as “trans-local” leadership and relationships. For example, again citing Waggoner:
“Could women speak at our regional and national leadership conferences? Could we encourage conferences that empowered women at any level of ministry? Could we write articles . . . on successful women pastors and preachers in the movement? Could women become APCL’s [Area Pastoral Care Leader] or lead Task Forces if we saw that they were gifted to do so? Could the national leadership speak positively concerning what women were doing in leadership? Were our educational systems free to train women to be pastors and national leaders? The bottom line question was, ‘Does the national leadership have the prerogative to empower women at all levels of ministry in the Vineyard?’” (Letter)
During the months of February through September of 2006, extensive discussion was engaged at all levels of leadership within the Vineyard, after which the Board “unanimously agreed” on the following position in regard to the trans-local ministry of women:
“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” (Letter).
The Board also stated that “each local church retains the right to make its own decisions regarding ordination and appointment of senior pastors” (Letter). According to Waggoner, “this decision is not a dictate passed down from the national leadership. Pastors continue to be free to handle these issues according to their convictions within the context of their local churches. It is simply a description of how we will act toward women in leadership as we endeavor to lead the Vineyard movement in the U.S. at the national level” (Letter).
Waggoner is also careful to point out that the Board has “simply addressed the issue of whether to restrict someone from trans-local leadership positions in the Vineyard based on gender. We are not speaking to the questions of marital or family roles as this has never been a prominent concern in our movement. We welcome, respect, and value pastors in the Vineyard who have different positions on the issue of women’s roles in the church than we have taken” (Letter)
Decisions such as this rarely, if ever, occur in a theological vacuum, and the Vineyard is no exception. In the critically important paragraph cited above, the phrase, “in response to the message of the kingdom,” is vitally important in understanding the conclusion to which Vineyard leadership ultimately came. On the one hand, the Vineyard is to be applauded for its emphasis on the Kingdom of God as the underlying theological principle that gives shape and focus to the movement. However, some in the movement are concerned that the Vineyard Board has embraced an over-realized eschatology that appeals to the consummation of the kingdom to justify what appears to be a disregard for the explicit biblical commands concerning the role of women in pastoral leadership. Whether or not this is an accurate assessment (and Waggoner insists it is not) remains to be seen.
If there is any one predominant influence within the Vineyard it may well be William Webb’s book, Women, Slaves, and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis (Downers Grove: IVP, 2001, 301 pp.), on the basis of which it is argued that the Scriptures put us on a theological trajectory that moves the church beyond the experience of the New Testament and its imperatives concerning the role relationship of men and women. Webb’s book, together with others of the same theological orientation, such as John Stackhouse (Finally Feminist: A Pragmatic Christian Understanding of Gender [Baker Academic, 2005, 138 pp.]), indicate an increasing trend among Egalitarians in which the exegetical debate is conceded to Complementarians. They grant that the New Testament endorsed male headship but argue that it was an accommodation! to the culture of the day to facilitate gospel ministry, not a timeless principle designed to govern relationships in the present.
I should also point out that it does seem strange that, notwithstanding the official statement released by Waggoner and the Board, they do not consider the Vineyard to be an Egalitarian movement. Evidently the Board believes that by allowing local churches to set their own policy concerning senior leadership they have stopped short of officially making the Vineyard Egalitarian. Yet, it remains to be seen to what extent Complementarian pastors will be appointed to positions of leadership at the national level and granted a voice in the shaping of the Vineyard’s future.
There is also the very real problem of what Complementarian pastors should do if a woman is placed in authority over them as Regional Overseers or ACPL’s by the national Board. Waggoner has made it clear that, whereas Complementarians are certainly welcome in the Vineyard, it will be difficult for pastors to remain who believe it is a violation of their conscience to serve under the leadership of women at the trans-local level. The question remains whether the letter of September 2006 will ultimately have the effect of not simply marginalizing Complementarian pastors but effectively forcing their withdrawal from membership in the Vineyard altogether.
As of June, 2007, Waggoner indicated, with regret, that six churches had withdrawn from the movement. “This loss,” wrote Waggoner, “reflects that only a small minority take exception with our position to the extent of needing to dissociate from fellowship over the issue” (e-mail from Waggoner to Storms). Only time will tell of the long-term impact of this decision on the ministry and influence of the Vineyard, USA.