Dawn is a member of a church within a classis that won't seat women. In a comment on a previous posting (and on other forums) she shared that this leads her to the conclusion that classis is a broken structure and should be replaced.
Even though I believe all offices of the CRCNA should be open to women I've got doubts about Dawn's position. Part of this arises from my ideas about how culture and gospel work together in church structure.
My experience in other cultural contexts in the US and overseas leads me to believe that church structures need to reflect both the gospel (none do so perfectly) as well as the culture of the community. If the structure is too far out of alignment with the cultural understanding of community the church structure will be unintellible and probably abusive and unproductive.
For this reason I am disinclined to advocate for a synodical level effort to force these classes to change their policies. I think the present denominational position is appropriate for where we are at culturally, allowing each classis to determine its own position. Understanding cultural contexts and accomodating cultural needs is more than just recognizing the needs of communities defined by ethnicity or language.
Dawn is persistent if she's anything and she has brought me to think about the reality of seeing classis narrowly as a delegated voting body that appears and evaporates two or three times a year. Unlike congregation/council, and denomination/synod, we have one word for classis/classis. I think complementarianism is as much a cultural position as a hermenutical one and if it is pursued any classis that does not recognize women elders or pastors must somehow find a way to embody the principle in the classis in some better way than having women serve the lunch.
In 2006 I visited Redeemer Presbyterian church in NYC and had the priviledge of not only meeting with Tim Keller but also with his church staff. Redeemer is part of the PCA which does not permit women to be elders. I spent an day meeting with most of the heads of ministry groups in the church and to my surprise found that most of them were women. If you want to hear Tim and Kathy Keller's position on Women in Office there are recorded talks on the Redeemer website and probably other places on the Internet. Even though I disagree with the Kellers' position on women elders I was pleasantly surprised to see how much positional power, control and responsibility women had in their church.
Again, I do not advocate for the PCA position that Redeemer is in compliance with. My sympathies are more with my friends at City Church San Francisco, a church similar to Redeemer (complete with former Redeemer staffers) who left the PCA for the RCA. Yet for those who are working to embody a complementarian ethos it seems to me that something else is needed in classis to bring expression to this position than simply a prohibition.
Cultures that I know who can't envision women pastors or elders (if they have elders) at this moment almost all have other positions for women within their cultures of great power and responsibility that afford expression of a complementarian ethos, valuing the gifts, leadership and expression of both sexes. I think classes that wish to try to develop the complementarian ethos should see this as part of the package.
Now I write this post with a great deal of hesitation because I don't wish to ignite a Women-in-Church-Office flame war. This debate has been a part of my experience in the CRC for all of my life. We've too often handled this conflict poorly. At the same time I think the topic is worth discussing.
Do you believe the existence of CRC classes that don't seat women elders condemns classis as a structure? If so, what should replace it?
If you are a complementarian, how should that ethos be reflected in classis? If you have a complementarian classis what concrete steps are you pursuing to give expression to God's gifts given to women?