Walter Unger, BFL Chair – February, 2006
Mennonite Brethren have made slow and at times painful strides towards freeing women to exercise their gifts. An 1878 resolution instructed women to wear head coverings in church and family worship, and an 1879 resolution prohibited women from preaching or participating in discussions in church business meetings. Then, in the first part of the 20th century, women missionaries were ordained. In 1957, however, ordination was withdrawn and sisters were commissioned.
Many resolutions through the latter part of the past century have led us to our current position, “that women be encouraged to minister in the church in every function other than the lead pastorate” (1999 resolution of the General Conference of MB Churches).
We are now at a juncture where both leadership bodies of the Canadian Conference, the Board of Faith and Life and the Executive Board, strongly affirm a recommendation that churches be given the liberty to call and affirm women for ministry in the church without restriction when they see such actions as being faithful to Scripture and true to fulfilling God’s mission in their context.
The Board of Faith and Life respects those churches and individuals in the conference who believe restrictive texts limit women in the exercise of their gifts in the church. By our citation of numerous Scripture texts in stating the rationale to support the resolution coming to Gathering this summer in Calgary, we do not imply that there is not a scriptural basis for a more restrictive view.
The role of women in ministry leadership has been discerned and treated as a non-confessional issue by previous convention and study conference delegations. It is the counsel of BFL that this issue remains at the level of polity.
The purpose of the Calgary resolution is to empower congregations to exercise freedom of conscience before God in determining what leadership polity will be most effective in advancing the gospel in their ministry context. BFL encourages congregations to articulate the means of reaching a consensus within each congregation on this issue.
BFL is aware that our best, biblically-sound scholars and church leaders take differing views on this issue. Realism, not biblical infidelity or spiritual immaturity, behooves us to maintain interpretive humility. In facing this issue, we call our conference to live out the biblical injunction:
“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister . . . Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:13, 19).