Written by Susan Disston
Wednesday, 04 January 2012 00:00
In Biblical's classrooms on its main campus in Hatfield and at its other location in North Philadelphia you can see diversity: men and women, various generations, multiple ethnicities, and more. You can hear diversity, too: in theological discussions, practical applications, case studies on justice and social issues, doctrinal perspectives, church traditions, and ministry contexts. These various kinds of diversity represent a slice of the diversity that is present in the worldwide expression of the Christian church. But sometimes diversity, especially theological and doctrinal diversity, can be uncomfortable for some Christians.
In October, Biblical's board of trustees approved a statement on men and women in theological education, which was earlier approved by Biblical's faculty. The purpose of the statement is to capture an ethos for theological education that is conducted in diverse classrooms. This ethos flows from the first learning goal of all of Biblical's degree programs: Students will cultivate grace-based, missional lives characterized by the fruit of the Spirit and love for God and others. The statement calls the Biblical community to respond to sometimes uncomfortable diversity among Christians with wisdom: respecting persons, seeking to understand, and desiring unity. The following is Biblical statement on men and women in theological education, crafted by a committee comprised of women and men from Biblical’s community: a board member, two faculty members, two staff members, and several women MDiv and MAC graduates. This committee found The Cape Town Commitment (Lausanne Movement) to be helpful in developing this statement.
Biblical's statement on men and women in theological education
As the Biblical Seminary community continues to live out its mission, it has become a diverse community of men and women of different races and from a variety of social, cultural, and denominational backgrounds, who seek to be faithful and obedient to Scripture. Within this diverse community there is a spectrum of views on the role of women in the church and a spectrum of practices. Some of our women students are missional leaders in their churches already—and at all levels. Others are pursuing theological education to prepare for such leadership responsibilities. For these, as for all of our students at different points on the spectrum, the Biblical community aims to be a place of respect and affirmation where students can flourish and increase in the wisdom and knowledge of our God, His mission, and their part in it. We have found the Lausanne Movement’s statement entitled "Men and Women in Partnership," [found on pages 45-47 of The Cape Town Commitment, below] to be a helpful expression of the charitable and grace-filled attitudes we seek to cultivate in our life together.
Men and women in partnership (from The Cape Town Commitment, drafted at the Third Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization, October 2010)
Scripture affirms that God created men and women in his image and gave them dominion over the earth together. Sin entered human life and history through man and woman acting together in rebellion against God. Through the cross of Christ, God brought salvation, acceptance and unity to men and women equally. At Pentecost God poured out his Spirit of prophecy on all flesh, sons and daughters alike. Women and men are thus equal in creation, in sin, in salvation, and in the Spirit.
All of us, women and men, married and single, are responsible to employ God’s gifts for the benefit of others, as stewards of God’s grace, and for the praise and glory of Christ. All of us, therefore, are also responsible to enable all God’s people to exercise all the gifts that God has given for all the areas of service to which God calls the Church. We should not quench the Spirit by despising the ministry of any. Further, we are determined to see ministry within the body of Christ as a gifting and responsibility in which we are called to serve, and not as a status and right that we demand.
- We uphold Lausanne’s historic position: We affirm that the gifts of the Spirit are distributed to all God’s people, women and men, and that their partnership in evangelization must be welcomed for the common good.‟ We acknowledge the enormous and sacrificial contribution that women have made to world mission, ministering to both men and women, from biblical times to the present.
- We recognize that there are different views sincerely held by those who seek to be faithful and obedient to Scripture. Some interpret apostolic teaching to imply that women should not teach or preach, or that they may do so but not in sole authority over men. Others interpret the spiritual equality of women, the exercise of the edifying gift of prophecy by women in the New Testament church, and their hosting of churches in their homes, as implying that the spiritual gifts of leading and teaching may be received and exercised in ministry by both women and men [1 Timothy 2:12; 1 Corinthians 14:33-35; Titus 2:3-5; Acts 18:26; 21:9; Romans 16:1-5, 7; Philippians 4:2-3; Colossians 4:15; 1 Corinthians 11:5; 14:3-5]. We call upon those on different sides of the argument to:
- Accept one another without condemnation in relation to matters of dispute, for while we may disagree, we have no grounds for division, destructive speaking, or ungodly hostility towards one another [Romans 14:1-13];
- Study Scripture carefully together, with due regard for the context and culture of the original authors and contemporary readers;
- Recognize that where there is genuine pain we must show compassion; where there is injustice and lack of integrity we must stand against them; and where there is resistance to the manifest work of the Holy Spirit in any sister or brother we must repent;
- Commit ourselves to a pattern of ministry, male and female, that reflects the servant hood of Jesus Christ, not worldly striving for power and status.
- We encourage churches to acknowledge godly women who teach and model what is good, as Paul commanded [Titus 2:3-5], and to open wider doors of opportunity for women in education, service, and leadership, particularly in contexts where the gospel challenges unjust cultural traditions. We long that women should not be hindered from exercising God’s gifts or following God’s call on their lives.
Dr. Sam Logan wrote an earlier blog post on the missional implications of Biblical’s statement here
Susan Disston is the assistant dean of curriculum and assessment at Biblical Seminary. She teaches project courses in the doctor of ministry program and in ESLPLUS. http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/adjunct-faculty-theology