New Wine 2009

Last week I attended the first week of the New Wine summer conference. This is run by a Network of evangelical charismatic churches, mostly Anglican and Vineyard. With four children all in different age-groups, and some heavy rain during the week, I didn’t get to as many meetings as I would have done in previous years, but still there was plenty to enjoy.

One of the highlights was the morning Bible teaching from Kenny Borthwick. His teaching on worship, holiness, Spirit baptism and revival stirred us to seek more of God’s presence. I also attended two seminars from John Lennox, speaking on a Christian response to the new atheism, which was interesting as I had already heard his debate with Dawkins.

Most of our evenings were spent in Venue 1, a huge tent seating around 5000, where we enjoyed the worship led by Kathryn Scott and Eoghan Heaslip. There was also a smaller tent, called Venue 2 which we visited one evening. The worship was a bit louder and edgier and we appreciated hearing Matt Redman lead with some of the songs from his new album.

Another interesting feature of Venue 2 was the resident “theologian poet”, who got up and performed a mini theological treatise in the form of a poem for which he earned a standing ovation. I thought it was a superb and creative idea, although it gave me food for thought as his topic was a forceful defence of a fully egalitarian position with regards to women in church leadership. I thought a few of his points were a little weak, but to his credit, he didn’t dodge any of the “difficult” verses, and made his case well given his limited time.

Another boost to his argument was that probably the best Bible teacher I heard during the week was Amy Orr-Ewing. Whilst that alone would not be sufficient reason to overthrow my belief that the Bible teaches a complementarian position, it does raise some important questions for those of us who hold this view. First, how would we make use a woman with such an outstanding teaching gifting in our own churches? And second, would it even be possible for that gift to develop in the first place, let alone flourish? As an evangelical, I do place primary importance on obeying the Scriptures, but as a charismatic, I consider it vitally important that the grace gifts the Spirit bestows on the church are developed and used for the edification of the body.

13 thoughts on “New Wine 2009

  1. Hi Mark

    From the complementarian perspective, I think the answer to your questions is found at least in part in the need to balance gift with order. What I mean by this is that we don’t assume gifted people should exercise particular gifts in certain contexts, simply on the basis of their gift. In the case of teaching, it may be that there are men with very strong teaching gifts who don’t get to exercise that gift in settings where the whole church is gathered – not because they are not gifted, but because other aspects of their character or call mean it would be inappropriate for them to do so.

    I am increasingly convinced that in the local church the normal pattern of expositional, directional, week by week preaching should be handled by the elders; and that very clearly elders should be male, because of the responsibility of headship given in that role. So there may be men (as well as women) who are more gifted at teaching than the elders, but that doesn’t qualify them to hold a regular teaching office on a Sunday morning.

    Having said that (and I realize this comment is already too long, without being nearly long enough to adequately explain what I am trying to say!) it is important that grace gifts find a place to be expressed. How that would work in the case of someone like Amy would be interesting to explore; but it is worth noting that she has spoken at seminars at the Newfrontiers leaders conference, which is more than most Newfrontiers (male) elders get to do…

  2. cndo, thanks for the link. I have read a little of Tom Wright on this before, but I’ll have a look at the article.

    Matt, I tend to agree with you that the Bible puts the burden of teaching/preaching in the church onto the elders. In fact, I can only think of a few reasons why a local church would invite someone to preach who is not an elder: a visiting speaker, training up of future leaders, and perhaps if someone had particular expertise in a particular area (e.g. medical ethics). And I say that as someone who is not an elder, but who nevertheless appreciates occasional opportunities to preach both at my own church and further afield.

    I remember hearing John Hosier at the Brighton conference a couple of years ago mention in passing that he felt there were contexts in which a woman could preach, but he never elucidated on the matter. I suspect he meant a similar thing – that the main preaching & teaching ministry of the church is normally and primarily carried out by the (male) eldership, but occasionally others will bring the Bible ministry for a variety of reasons.

  3. I have been in New Frontiers churches for ten years and have frequently experienced men who are not elders preach on a Sunday. I have only heard a women ( joint preach with husband once)

    When are things going to change.

  4. Matt, I’ve fixed your comment. I had a feeling you might have heard of John ;)

    Mad – I think that would be typical of newfrontiers churches, but I don’t personally believe there should be an ideal split of 50/50 like many seem to want. I’ll perhaps post a bit more about this at another time, but it seems to me that even in the NT, the bulk of teaching was carried out by men (perhaps even all – many of the egalitarian “proof-texts” are tenuous to say the least).

  5. Mad – You make a fair point, and it is the kind of point that has led to me hardening my stance on who gets to preach in the church where I am an elder. There would be some theological arguments as to why men who are not elders get to preach while women don’t, but my pragmatic one is that when I do (occasionally) have non-elders preach it is those men who have potential to be elders.

    cndo – Wright is always profitable reading! I think an important observation though is that he comes from an episcopalian tradition, where the main issue was who got to administer the eucharist. Our (dare I say it) Presbyterian system is very different because the issue has always been that churches should be led by teams of elders; and who gets to serve communion was never an issue as we see it as a shared meal of remembrance, not a priestly function. Also, the point about Saul in Damascus is a bit of a red herring – if a persecutor came to my church and wanted to take out the key influencers there would be women as well as men in the number.

  6. Matt, Interesting that you see the New Frontiers structure as Presbyterian. It seems to me there is also a superstructure, a pyramidal superstructure of apostles (or ‘apostles’, depending on your ecclesiology!). Where this differs from the New Testament is that New Frontiers has only one apostle of ultimate accountability (Terry Virgo) whereas in the New Testament there were 12 co-equals (cf Philippians 1:1, where the leaders are an extension of the congregation, rather than over it). Stories of spiritual abuse in New Frontiers on the Internet (e.g. http://eutychus.free.fr/toxic.htm) concern me.
    I didn’t relate Wright’s comments to Communion/the Eucharist, and it seems he was saying the culture was very different in the first century compared to our culture today in regard to the role of women in society and the churches. Nevertheless, I respect your position.

  7. hi cndo, I think you may be misinterpreting the newfrontiers understanding of apostles. Their authority over churches is not governmental but merely relational. As I understand it, each local church is fully autonomous, but chooses to welcome the ministry of an apostolic leader.

    As for the story of “spiritual abuse” (your link seems to be dead), I did read that account a while ago, and suspect that there are two sides to the story. The truth is that there are occasional instances of heavy-handed leadership to be found in almost any denomination. From what I have seen, newfrontiers has managed to avoid the authoritarian “heavy shepherding” that blighted some parts of restorationism.

  8. Hi Mark, thanks for your reply. I see you going into paid Christian work one day. It’s good that you’re secure enough in your relationship with God to be able to reflect on Newfrontiers’ beliefs and arrangements (I’ve heard that another prolific blogger from Newfrontiers started to be censored during a debate on women in leadership). The address works if you remove the closing bracket: http://eutychus.free.fr/toxic.htm. I don’t understand logically how each local church can be both fully autonomous and choose to welcome the ministry of an apostolic leader (as an aside, Arminianism has no paradoxes as far as I can see!). I think Eutychus would say the appearance is of autonomy but the reality is of a franchised autocracy, and that this becomes clearer the higher up the hierarchy you go. I acknowledge what you put about instances of spiritual abuse in other denominations. But if you search for, say, ‘new frontiers spiritual abuse’, some of the stories that come out of the forums make me feel signicantly more uncomfortable about Newfrontiers than the other evangelical tribes and streams (with the possible exception of Pioneer). http://www.directionjournal.org/article/?1015 argues that there is no biblical leadership structure, but rather biblical leadership principles. I would like to see horizontal accountability across the whole church: a collegiate, plurality of leaders at the top of the denominations and the seven evangelical tribes (http://www.daveblackonline.com/church_leadership.htm). And, of course, unity on the Bebbington criteria across the evangelical churches of the Southampton area, working together to share the gospel.

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