Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom (1963)

From Hauna Ondrey, ed., “Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom (1963): Full Report with Supporting Historical Documents(all excerpts drawn from the 1963 report):


The 1963 report cover

The human situation, as described in the Bible, is a situation in servitude. Humanity is enslaved to numerous powers: to sin, law, death, and spiritual forces. These debilitating servitudes keep individuals from realizing their own meaning and potential. Enslaved by these powers they cannot discover what God meant them to be. They are not free.

The good news assures us that these many servitudes may be exchanged for one new commanding control—a voluntary bondage to God. Paradoxically, this voluntary bondage to God is freedom itself. For the yielding of one’s life in obedient love to the will of God is the avenue to human fulfillment. In this yielding of self to God, the person discovers their own true destiny. Hereby one becomes what they were meant to be: the servant, the child, the friend of God. To become what one is meant to be, to realize the very purpose for which one is created, that is freedom. Freedom, then, is the gift which comes through obedience to God’s will.

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If we believe that our freedom is found in our conforming to the will of God, then it becomes imperative that we know what that will is. According to the Christian faith, God has revealed his will to humanity in the Bible and supremely in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hence, the Bible is the avenue to freedom. Its message is God’s word, to which human beings, if they would be free, must respond in obedient faith.

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This understanding of freedom as submission to the will of God was exemplified in the work and teaching of the founders of our denomination… While they were appreciative of the wisdom reflected in the creeds of the church, they saw the creeds to be partial and imperfect summaries of what is said more powerfully in Scripture itself. Therefore, they refused to make any of the written creeds binding in an absolute sense, lest slavish adherence to a creedal statement make it difficult to hear and respond to the full implications of the word for their day. They believed that true freedom came by faith in and surrender to Christ and the word alone….

For them the church was the fellowship of believers and was brought into being through the redemptive work of Christ and the “renewal of the Holy Spirit.” Accordingly, the one basic requirement for membership in the church was the experience of the new birth and a consistent confession of Christ as Savior and Lord…. Thus, our forebears found it spiritually meaningful to live in Christian fellowship with persons holding different doctrinal viewpoints in some important areas as long as their life and spirit witnessed to their submission to Christ and devotion to the word of God.

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If we are to be true to this aspect of our heritage, we should sincerely and faithfully use this principle of freedom as a basic element in our existence as a Christian people in today’s world. To do so we must enter into the stream of present theological discussion and exercise our freedom creatively and helpfully with respect to the issues which now confront the Christian church. The theological concerns of the present moment differ in many respects from those of the past. Although many of the questions now being debated in the church were well known to our predecessors, others have arisen since their day and could not have been known to them. Thus, to say that we may differ only at those points where they permitted differences would be to deny to the present generation the freedom in Christ which prior generations enjoyed. In the basic and central affirmations of the Christian faith there must be unity, but in their expression and interpretation there is room for wholesome divergence. It is, therefore, our duty to approach the areas of theological tension with courage, fraternal understanding, and unfailing devotion to Christ and the Scriptures.

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We maintain this principle of Christian freedom only as we maintain our spiritual vitality, which we have by the grace of God. The problem of maintaining it, therefore, must be approached in a contrite and penitent spirit in which we seek the mercy of God in permitting us to return to him. Out of such an attitude, we pray, will come a renewed experience of the vital life in which we become free children of God under the lordship of Christ as the truth is revealed to us in the Bible.


 Read the full article here

Find the original report here, in the Frisk Collection of Covenant Literature, created and maintained by the Covenant Archives and Historical Library. The Covenant Yearbook excerpts reprinted in the article are available in full through the Frisk Collection of Covenant Yearbooks.

Covenant Freedom: Issue Live + Comment

A new issue of the Covenant Quarterly is now live at covquarterly.com. Over the next few weeks, we will feature each article in turn, with opportunities for dialog. In this post we publish the editor’s Comment, which frames the issue as a whole.


At its founding in 1885, the Covenant Church committed itself to a single confession: “This Covenant confesses God’s word, the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, as the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine, and conduct.” This statement was as significant for what it did not confess as for what it did: implicit in its brevity was the decision not to adopt a formal, human-made confessional statement that specified precisely how Scripture must be interpreted. Rather, Scripture itself would be the Covenant’s only confession. The founders were not naïve to the uniqueness of this freedom nor to its vulnerability. Yet they were too wary of the dangers potential to confessional statements they had experienced in Sweden and within prior attempts at organization in the United States.

This freedom—freedom from any human confession in order to enable freedom for submission to Scripture—constituted the Covenant. In its most essential nature, the Covenant was founded as a believers’ church whose only confession was Scripture. This boundary intended to encompass within the Covenant only believers while not excluding any believer, as articulated in 1942 by E.G. Hjerpe (Covenant president 1910–1927): “The Covenant’s principle in this matter, we may say, is very narrow and at the same time very broad. It is so narrow that there is room only for believers in Jesus Christ, and so broad that there is room for all such believers and they on that ground are entitled to membership and all the privileges of the Christian Church.”

Across Covenant history, this precious and precarious freedom has been challenged and maintained. Current debate regarding the nature, extent, and limitations of Christian freedom within the Covenant is not new; rather, it occupies a succession of such debates that span a century and beyond. In this current context, the work of the Covenant Committee on Freedom and Theology (1958–1963) has resurfaced from relative obscurity. The committee’s final report, Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom, sought to “inquire into the nature of Christian freedom, the way in which [the Covenant] has experienced that freedom, and the ways in which that freedom may be maintained” (p. 9). While frequently referenced, the significance and ongoing relevance of this document are interpreted variously. To facilitate this critical discussion, we offer here the entire report along with excerpts from the 1958 and 1963 Annual Meeting minutes relaying the report’s origin and reception.

It was announced at the 2018 Annual Meeting that the Executive Committee of the Evangelical Covenant Church has commissioned a new resource paper regarding the intersection of freedom and responsibility. As this new work unfolds, the questions raised in 1963 face us once again:

Can we continue to look upon ourselves as a fellowship of believers bound together only by our common life in Christ and conformity to Christ as Savior and Lord? Can we maintain the kind of personal relationships required in a Christian fellowship without any limitations other than that we submit to the authority of the Bible as the revelation of God’s will, or must we return to uniform dogmas and carefully defined interpretations of Scripture to help us understand one another? (p. 12)

It is always up to those in the present to determine whether continuity with the past is desirable—and, if so, which course of action in fact offers such continuity. It is our hope that these historical documents will resource this dialogue.

A sustained attempt to interpret and apply the 1963 report and the broader history it represents is offered by Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom, professor of theology and ethics at North Park Theological Seminary. In “Covenant Freedom: Freedom for All or Free-for-all?” Clifton-Soderstrom explores the necessary relationship between freedom and the Covenant Affirmations of Scripture’s authority and the necessity of new birth. Within this framework, she then offers a theological account of, and criteria for, faithful dissent within Christian freedom. Her final argument is that such faithful dissent is essential to the church’s ongoing renewal.

Clifton-Soderstrom’s work warrants careful reading and serious, critical engagement. We hope the inclusion of Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom will facilitate such thoughtful interaction, and we welcome formal responses for publication in a subsequent issue of this journal. Please contact the editor or submit directly to our website by October 15, 2018, noting guidelines for authors.

In 1910 C.V. Bowman (Covenant president 1927–1933) described the Covenant in this way:

But concerning church order, the Mission Friends have a principle that is still more unique and takes a very prominent place in their program. They hold that the local church shall consist of only believing members but at the same time have room for all true believers, no matter what their viewpoints are on controversial doctrines. It is this principle which really distinguishes Mission Friends from other Christian denominations, and which justifies their existence as a particular church.

This question confronts us today: What distinguishes the Covenant from other Christian denominations and justifies its existence as a particular church? As we grapple with this question in the present we would do well to consider how Covenanters have answered it in the past.


Read the Comment in context and access full issue here.

Reading Paul with the Reformers

From Stephen J. Chester, “Reading Paul with the Reformers” :

How should we think about the Reformers as interpreters of Paul at the 500th anniversary of their transformation of church and society? Should our interest be antiquarian only, their interpretation of the Pauline letters of value for how we understand the sixteenth century and its conflicts but of little direct interest for our own task of interpreting the New Testament in and for the twenty-first century? Or, at the opposite extreme, do the Reformers provide for us exegetical and theological touchstones, departures from which must be resisted as a falling away from the truth of the gospel? ? In the aftermath of rise of the New Perspective on Paul (hereafter NPP) in the late 1970s and early 1980s, New Testament scholars largely adopted the first of these approaches… In contrast, some in the church and a minority the academy simply sought to refute the NPP and reassert traditional perspectives. In my view, neither of these responses is helpful. Whether acknowledged or not, the history of reception exercises influence over contemporary interpreters

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At the heart of their [the Reformer’s] achievement lies the formation of a new paradigm for Pauline interpretation. Early Lutheran and early Reformed interpreters together founded a new tradition of reading Paul that transformed the legacy of Pauline interpretation they inherited from the patristic and medieval eras. One way in which to picture this new tradition is through the analogy of language and grammar. The Reformers’ language of Pauline theology is a new language, radically different from the language of Pauline theology spoken by their predecessors and sometimes unfathomable to those for whom that earlier language was native.

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In relation to key issues in Paul’s description of the human plight apart from Christ (e.g., the nature of sin, the law, and the conscience) and in relation to his description of salvation in Christ (e.g., the works of the law, grace, and faith), the Reformers developed a powerful new consensus that set limits within their communities of interpretation as to what could plausibly be proposed.

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Nevertheless, the NPP represents a significant and salutary advance in turning Pauline scholarship away from sweeping negative characterizations of Judaism and towards engagement with the realities of Jewish practice. Here we should remember that the Reformers were not historical-critical scholars nor did they have access to the range of sources that allow contemporary scholarship to present more nuanced accounts of Second Temple Judaism. Yet if our question is how the exegetical legacy of the Reformers relates to our own contemporary task of interpretation, it is indisputable that the Reformers do not pay sufficient attention to these realities of Jewish practice.

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The relationship between the Reformers’ Pauline exegetical grammar and contemporary Pauline scholarship is thus more complex than might be imagined. As well as genuine disagreement over the meaning of the phrase the “works of the law” and the nature of Judaism, there is also unacknowledged dependence, rejection based upon simple misunderstanding, and intensification of some elements at the expense of others.


Read the full article here.

View Dr. Chester’s lecture, “Reading the Bible with Luther 500 Years Later,” here.

The Reformers & Scripture’s Clarity

From G. Sujin Pak, “The Perspicuity of Scripture, Justification by Faith Alone, and the Role of the Church in Reading Scripture with the Protestant Reformers”:

Martin Luther Translating the Bible, Wartburg Castle, 1521

Among several legacies that could be identified, three rise to prominence in my own reflections: the Protestant Reformers’ assertions of the prime authority of Scripture, justification by faith alone, and the perspicuity of Scripture… They function as natural corollaries to one another and together embody the theological core of the Reformers’ message, particularly that of Martin Luther and John Calvin.

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First, the Reformers’ affirmation of the perspicuity of Scripture was a crucial tenet of their assertion of Scripture’s prime authority and their challenge to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Furthermore, the Reformers grounded Scripture’s authority and clarity on the biblical principle of justification by faith alone as the very perspicuous heart of Scripture and as a principle that reinforces Scripture as self-authenticating and self-interpreting. We might more accurately understand the Protestant Reformers’ teachings on the perspicuity of Scripture if we understand its deep foundations in the principle of justification by faith alone. Yet even as the Protestant Reformers displaced church authority in favor of the prime authority of Scripture, this did not mean that they stripped the church of all authority concerning matters of Scripture’s interpretation. Rather they strongly affirmed the authority of the church insofar as it acts under the guiding rule of Scripture.

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In this way, Luther argued that God’s Word is prior to the church—prior in both existence and authority. Accordingly, it cannot be the case that the authority of Scripture relies in any way on the consent and authority of the church. Rather, the church is brought into being by the Word of God; the church is built on the very foundation of Scripture as God’s ordained and sufficient revelation. Indeed, Luther defined the church precisely by its relationship to this authoritative Word of God: the church is the community that hears and obeys the Word of God revealed in Scripture.

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[The Reformers’] point was not that any person, even any Christian, has what they need to interpret Scripture in and of their own ability. More specifically, the Reformers’ point was not that by the gift of faith and the Holy Spirit one’s own abilities were purified and empowered. Rather, their very point was that Scripture is clear and accessible not by virtue of any human efforts or abilities, even sanctified abilities, but solely by virtue of the gift of faith through the work of the Spirit—precisely the gift of faith given when one is justified by faith alone. Just as the Protestant Reformers affirmed that only God can initiate faith and do the work of salvation in a person, so also they insisted that only God is the actor in any true interpretation of Scripture. Just as the human must despair of making any contribution to her salvation, so Luther insisted that to interpret Scripture rightly one must despair completely of one’s own intelligence and ability.

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Luther thereby connected the principle of justification by faith alone directly with the prime authority of Scripture and the assertion of God’s Word as the only actor that can accomplish the true applications and fruits of God’s Word. He clarified that though any Christian has the right to proclaim God’s Word (i.e., the priesthood of all believers), God alone has the power to accomplish what God intends in and through its proclamation. These fruits belong solely and ultimately in the hands of God. This, in essence, disciplines all human attempts to interpret Scripture, so that one must wait and see whether and how God acts in and through a proposed interpretation to accomplish God’s purposes.

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To put it another way, in the view of the Reformers, the primary goal of Scripture is to reveal Christ. Luther and Calvin affirmed that all of Scripture points to Christ. This goal of revealing Christ connects directly to Scripture’s soteriological telos: to reveal Christ is to reveal God’s ordained path of salvation (i.e., justification by faith alone). For the Protestant Reformers, the true act of reading Scripture is a moment of transformative encounter with God… In this way, reading Scripture creates a sacred space in which the Holy Spirit illuminates the words of Scripture so that one may be transformed into greater conformity to Christ and glimpse the very heart of God.

 

Read the full article here.

Spener and the Role of Women in the Church

From Denise D. Kettering Lane’s article, “Philipp Spener and the Role of Women in the Church: The Spiritual Priesthood of All Believers in German Pietism”:

[Spener] aimed his criticism [in Pia Desideria] at all Christians, regardless of gender, occupation, or education. He lamented that the laity did not perceive drunkenness as a sin, treated each other miserably, failed to live Christian lives, and harmed the Lutheran witness to misguided religious groups, such as the papists. According to Spener, this unchristian behavior appeared predominantly in the preponderance of lawsuits and dishonest trade relationships. His discussion of occupations further highlights his emphasis on social sins: “If we look at trade, the crafts, and other occupations through which people seek to earn their living, we shall find that everything is not arranged according to the precepts of Christ, but rather that not a few public regulations and traditional usages in these occupations are diametrically opposed to them.” By locating these problems in the bar, courtroom, and shop, Spener largely omits women’s activities in his castigations.
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Denise Kettering-Lane

Nowhere in the first section of Pia Desideria did Spener identify specifically female behavior as a symptom of corruption in the church. While the spiritual equality of men and women meant that women were included in Spener’s general discussion of corrupt characteristics, he did not raise the issues of vanity, prostitution, or gossip—all sins traditionally associated with women at this time.

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Nowhere does Pia Desideria propose a particular role for women or mention women explicitly.Spener apparently did not foresee some of the attacks that would occur because of women’s involvement in independent Bible reading or the conventicles. In fact, one scholar has commented that the resulting participation of women caused Spener to moderate his position in hindsight to conform more fully to societal conventions.
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Even as he wrote tracts that minimized the activity of women in the Pietist movement and asserted views that corresponded to traditional views of women, largely to fend off accusers, he engaged in regular correspondence with women, providing advice about leading family devotion time and reading the Bible—even discussing theological matters. Also, if anything, Spener’s correspondence to women substantially increased over the course of his life. Thus throughout his life he consistently adhered to the notion that developing a more involved laity would result in an improved church, and he recognized that women were part of that laity. While publicly conforming to many social conventions, privately Spener regularly encouraged women’s activities in his correspondence.
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His emphasis on practice reinforced the available, though limited, role of women in his vision of a collected pious group that could reform the church and the world. Nevertheless, all of these tasks performed by women remained firmly within the private realm. Women were not engaged in public teaching or sacramental roles. All of this took place within a patriarchal system ruled over by the man of the house or the minister. Spener did not suggest a change in the church structure but instead reinforced the existing patriarchy by advising extensive ministerial oversight, even in the homes of parishioners for small group meetings. It was a spiritual priesthood, but a priesthood that always operated under the careful oversight of a watchful clergyman.
*****
Spener affirmed women’s spiritual equality, citing Galatians 3:28. He additionally acknowledged that women are recipients of spiritual gifts and refers to women in Scripture who worked with—not under—the apostles. Spener appears to support a cooperative vision in which the majority of men and women share gifts and work to support ministry. However, the subsequent question restricted the extent of women’s ministry, asking, “But are women not forbidden to teach?” Here the division between public and private spheres governed. It is true, Spener said, that women are forbidden to teach “in the public congregation,” marshaling 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:11–12 as scriptural support. Thus Spener’s view of the spiritual priesthood—and spiritual equality of men and women—ultimately reaffirmed existing constructions of women’s roles within the church, limiting women to private activity.
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In his effort to ensure that the spiritual priesthood did not upset contemporary notions of social order, Spener clearly outlined the roles of women in a way that reflected and reinforced patriarchal norms that focused on the spiritual rather than practical equality of women. While a generous reading certainly reveals places where the possibility for expanded activity for women in the church is mentioned, the overriding need to reinforce order ultimately won the day.

An Open Letter to Covenant Women (1989)

Over the next few weeks we’ll feature a series of responses to Lenore Knight Johnson’s study, “Four Decades Later: Credentialed Clergywomen in the ECC.” We begin the series with a letter issued June 12, 1989, from the Board of the Ministry, responding to the ten-year study conducted by Mary Miller. The letter was written by Jean Lambert on behalf of the Board, and is reprinted in Kelly Johnston’s article, “Jean C. Lambert: Covenant Pastor, Theologian, Pioneer,” pp. 16-19.


An open letter to each woman seeking to obey Christ’s call to ministry in the Covenant Church, both volunteer lay workers in local congregations, and pastors, missionaries, and staff ministers.

We have been thinking together about the situation of women and men in ministry in the Covenant Church, and we want first to affirm some convictions, and then offer some interpretation we think important.

Convictions

  1. We are committed to an inclusive ministry in pilgrimage toward a whole church.
  2. We care about you. We value your commitment to Christ, respect your willingness to study and prepare for ministry, desire to be your colleagues.
  3. We hear your pain and respect your anger, as we heard it expressed by some of you in Mary Miller’s report of your responses to her questionnaire, published in the Covenant Quarterly.
  4. We are distressed by the continuing atmosphere of coolness or hostility encountered by all too many women who hold positions of leadership throughout the Covenant church.
  5. We do not claim complete understanding of the sexism that is one of the dominant evils in our society, yet we are committed to learning what it is, how it affects women and men, how it distorts our common life in Christ; we are committed to repenting of sexism so the Spirit of God can transform us. And,
  6. As part of our ongoing work in a church always being reformed by God’s Spirit, a church growing more whole as we believe Christ intends, we urge you to join us in considering some “facts of life” we believe affect our common life in church work: the search for a call, the consideration of volunteer possibilities, the selection or interview process, entering into work, how one is received, how one perceives oneself in ministry, how we respond to situations of frustration, conflict, and fulfillment. We think putting these facts into open conversation will help us all be stronger, saner, and more faithful.

Facts

Fact 1: American society is sexist, specifically masculinist. (It is also racist, ageist, classist…but we aren’t addressing all of that here!) Though we do not understand it fully, it is clear that sexism is both a psycho/cultural bias and complex of social institutions. It operates largely unconsciously, though its “symptoms” may be observed by the seeing eye. This complex reality – sexism – is based on an ancient intuition that the biological differences between men and women are a natural and revealed “message” about superiority/inferiority, value and worthlessness, competence/incompetence, appropriateness/inappropriateness.

To say our society is “sexist” has implications on three levels: Continue Reading

Jean C. Lambert

From Kelly Johnston’s, “Jean C. Lambert: Covenant Pastor, Theologian, Pioneer”

Jean Lambert, 1962 (image credit: CAHL 11847)

Jean Lambert, 1962 (image credit: CAHL 11847)

At the 97th Annual Meeting, held in Chicago, 1982, Jean Lambert (1940–2008) became the ninth woman to be ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church. Lambert would go on to serve in a variety of diverse contexts, alternating between parish and academy. Beginning as professor of theology at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri (1976–1985), Lambert took her first pastoral call at Bethesda Covenant Church in New York City (1985–1989). From Bethesda she reentered the academy as senior lecturer of religious studies at the University of Zimbabwe, Harare (1989–1991). After a second call to parish ministry as pastor of the International Fellowship Immanuelskyrkan in Stockholm, Sweden (1992–1998), she returned to the classroom in Zimbabwe, as associate professor of theology and ethics at Africa University in Mutare (1998–2004). Reflecting on her ministry at the end of her life, Lambert wrote, “I have been a boundary-straddler, my churches and communities crossing sociological, denominational, national, linguistic lines.”

*****

Lambert credited the women’s movement for her later ability to “recognize the call of God for what it was” and accept that women could be called to pastoral ministry. At the same time, her desire for a less hierarchical church generated ongoing resistance to ordination. She was deeply convinced that the ministry to which every Christian was called could rightly be considered an ordained ministry…. Lambert’s main argument in “Un-Fettering the Word” is that the interpretation of Scripture should be available to all Christians regardless of their standing in the official leadership structures of the church. The article reflects Lambert’s passion for the priesthood of all believers. In time Lambert came to realize that despite her desire to maintain lay status, functionally she had already passed from laity to clergy by virtue of her vocation as a seminary professor.

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Jean Lambert preaching at North Park Covenant Church, 1980s. (Image credit: CAHL 17717)

Jean Lambert preaching at North Park Covenant Church, 1980s. (Image credit: CAHL 17717)

Using the power of words as well as her presence in key places, Lambert was an advocate for Covenant women in ministry before and following her ordination. In agreeing to the Covenant’s position on baptism during the ordination process, Lambert had inserted “she or” and “or her” throughout the statement at each instance masculine language was used. She appended a note to the end of the document: “I am glad to agree in the Covenant’s statement on Baptism, here stated, and will commit myself to continuing work to deepen our mutual understanding and improve our language so as to upbuild the body of Christ.”

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Lambert’s core conviction that all Christians were called to serve God was significant for her pastoral ministry. She articulated her goals for ministry in early 1987 as becoming “more aware of God’s presence so as to lead others into receptivity; to be faithful in use of Scripture so as to lead others into discerning God’s guidance and saying ‘yes’ to God’s unique call to them—as individuals, congregations, Christians institutions, and as workers in secular institutions.”

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In the last years of her life, Lambert was honored by the church as well as the academy. It is fitting that her pioneering work was recognized by both fields she had served over the years… In 2006 the Evangelical Covenant Church honored Lambert with the Irving C. Lambert Award, an award recognizing excellence in support of urban and ethnic ministries, named in honor of her father… Professors Philip Anderson and Richard Carlson, who had enjoyed friendship with Lambert for many years, both felt it important that Lambert receive an honorary doctorate from North Park Theological Seminary, where she had always wanted to teach. At the 2008 commencement ceremony, Carlson presented Lambert with the honorary degree in absentia, as Lambert’s quickly declining health prevented her attendance.

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Jean Lambert was a pioneer who helped pave the way for other Covenant women in ministry, as she wove together practical ministry and academic theology. She was a pastor who contributed significantly to the theological articulation of the Evangelical Covenant Church and a professor who shaped Christians into ministers capable of thinking theologically about life’s challenges. Her words continue to challenge us to partner together as mission friends, bringing glory to God as we love and serve “the Friend of friends” together.

Read the full article here

 Image credit: Covenant Archives and Historical Library (Historical Photograph Collection)

40 Years of Women’s Ordination: A Study by Lenore M. Knight Johnson

From Lenore M. Knight Johnson’s “Four Decades Later: Credentialed Clergywomen in the Evangelical Covenant Church”:

Campus Forum in Nyvall Hall (image credit: CAHL 15883)

Campus Forum in Nyvall Hall (image credit: CAHL 15883)

After thirty years of the ECC’s ordaining women, Olson and Cannon argued that greater effort should be made to support women pursuing senior level positions, including lead and solo pastoral roles and positions emphasizing preaching. At forty years, this continues to be a barrier for clergywomen. Just 12 percent of respondents are solo pastors, 6 percent senior pastors of multi-staff church, and 2 percent executive pastors, representing similar figures from ten years ago.

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The largest percentage of respondents (30 percent) pastor congregations of 100 members or less. Among the twenty-three solo pastors who responded to the survey, all serve congregations with fewer than 100 members. Twelve respondents currently hold positions as senior pastors of multi staff congregations, one in a church of 200–300 members, three in churches of 100–200 members, and seven in churches with less than 100 members. In other words, women in senior leadership roles primarily pastor smaller congregations.

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Examining outcomes for those seeking a position through the call process, 9 percent (18 women) were called to a senior or solo role (8 of whom listed senior or solo pastor as their preference), and 31 percent of all respondents secured an associate role. Among those in the associate category, 25 percent found positions in Christian formation, 19 percent in youth ministry, 10 percent in pastoral care, and 41 percent of respondents selected “other,” describing positions as worship, formation, and children and family ministries. In other words, while the percentages of women desiring and securing an associate position were fairly similar, this is not the case for those seeking a senior or solo role.

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When asked how supported clergywomen feel or felt by their local church in their first position, 53 percent chose very supported, and 30 percent selected somewhat supported… The regional conference continues to be the level where support is experienced as most lacking for clergywomen. As a respondent stated, “I have found support and contact from the regional conference very limited in my time as a pastor. I have felt especially, given a first [call] as a female senior pastor, more contact would be given. I have found this not to be true. In addition, I have found that, as a pastor in general, outside of district pastors’ meetings there is little contact with respect to the pastoral care of pastors.”

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Additionally, women have struggled in finding jobs and are concerned over the underrepresentation of women at all levels of leadership, spanning congregations, regional conferences, denominational offices, and ECC events such as Midwinter and CHIC. Respondents commented on the fact that, currently, only one woman serves as conference superintendent. Women also expressed significant disappointment that not all churches, fellow clergy, and speakers at denominational events support women in ministry, with statements such as, “It is still accepted that churches do not have to embrace or even believe the biblical teaching on women as pastors.” And finally, clergywomen shared general concern over the broader culture within the denomination, describing the ECC as a “good old boys’ club” and critiquing the persistent use of masculine language.

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If the ECC only draws from half the population to lead its churches, is the denomination truly the best it can be? Are denominational leaders looking beyond the limits of congregational polity and seriously considering ways they can openly and boldly advocate for the exceptional women who are called and gifted to serve the ECC? The structural and cultural changes proposed in this article cannot be viewed as obstacles or burdens but rather as opportunities to make a thriving denomination even stronger. To be sure, change is difficult and often a slow, arduous process. But if the ECC is committed to the position it affirmed in 1976, the denomination and all those who comprise it need to determine if they are willing to do the hard work necessary to keep and support extraordinarily gifted people, create paths toward all levels of leadership, and ensure clergywomen can thrive in all realms of daily life—spiritual, personal, and professional. Until then, these same questions and issues will likely remain for another decade and beyond.

Read the full article here.

Image credit: Covenant Archives and Historical Library (Historical Photograph Collection)

Walter and Kersten: The Future of NPTS

From Gary Walter’s “I Believe in the Future of North Park Theological Seminary”:

All seminaries, including our own, are navigating precarious times. The three-year, full-time residential model of seminary preparation that has been the standard for decades is under pressure at schools of all stripes. In the meantime, some schools are closing and others are consolidating. When I gather with leaders of other denominations, conversations about the future of theological education are common. No one is confident they have “figured it out.”
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In previous generations, the general consensus held that a seminary degree was the threshold for entering the ministerial vocation appropriately prepared. If you wanted to be in ministry, you went to seminary, just as you went to law school to be a lawyer or medical school to be a doctor. While this is still broadly true, increasingly churches are calling ministry staff based on observed rather than “projected” effectiveness. In some quarters a seminary education is viewed more like an MBA—a value-added degree to enhance the efficacy of those already in ministry rather than the necessary gateway to ensure readiness prior to ministry. This is particularly true for special focus positions such as youth, children, worship, and others, which comprise more than half of all ministry positions in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). The percentage of seminary students already in ministry positions is higher than it has ever been.
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Schools will need to see students as multi-dimensional and not merely consumers of biblical and theological content…. Intellectual preparation is only one dimension of seminary training. It is never less, but it is always more… a comprehensive view of student preparation for ministry must integrate spiritual, character, and skill development… Seminaries will need to be multi-lateral. Effective seminaries of the future will provide instruction by partnering scholars and expert practitioners…

Finally, seminaries will need to be authentically engaged in multi-ethnic realities and opportunities.
From David Kersten’s “Strategic Initiatives: Planning for the Future”:
Nyvall Hall, approximately 1950 (image credit: CAHL 4869)

Nyvall Hall, approximately 1950 (image credit: CAHL 4869)

In the past decade, the seminary classroom has been changing. No longer

are seminary courses filled primarily with those in pursuit of a senior pastor role… In meeting the needs of the changing demographics of the church, we have embarked on a vigorous strategy of “right-sizing” and “right-timing” our master of divinity degree, launching a revised degree in the fall of 2015. This degree requires fewer credit hours, decreasing its cost by 14 percent, with a strengthened and simplified core curriculum and a renewed emphasis on preaching, intercultural studies, and pastoral leadership. While we have reduced the number of credits needed to earn a degree, we anticipate the number of courses taken over a graduate’s
lifetime to increase as the interest in and demand for lifelong learning opportunities grow.
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In addition to denominational partnerships, we are pursuing further opportunities for collaboration with our university colleagues. These include joint teaching between the seminary and the university’s Biblical and Theological Studies (BTS) Department, providing students with a broader spectrum of professors. Also in collaboration with the BTS Department, we envision developing a “fast-track” undergraduate to seminary degree. The seminary currently cross-lists its courses, allowing undergraduates to take seminary classes for undergraduate credit. We hope to expand this partnership, providing undergraduates advance standing toward a seminary degree and making it possible to complete both a bachelor degree and an MDiv degree within five to six years.
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Next spring, in collaboration with Serve Globally and Start and Strengthen Churches, we will begin offering the church planting certificate to the Covenant Church in Taiwan. We also hope to offer our certificates and potentially degree programs to our partner churches in the International Federation of Free Evangelical Churches. These partnerships strengthen the cross-cultural competency of NPTS students and Covenant pastors. As the ECC becomes more reflective of all of God’s people, NPTS intends to be at the forefront of engagement with the world.
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We are researching the viability of a plan that would supply all of our students with a modest interest-free loan to cover their tuition costs. Such loans would come from major initial gifts from donors that will be invested and will also secure a larger credit facility. This would form a captive loan pool to cover seminary tuition, allowing students to defer all payment until graduation. Students would make a modest monthly payment for seven years following graduation. These payments will go back into the loan pool to help replenish funds. Through investment and program management provided by affiliates of the ECC, there is also a significant tuition discount built into the program, and the interest-free nature of the loan reduces the overall costs of seminary further. Students will also be encouraged to form a team of ministry partners to help support a portion of their education, financially and in prayer. These ministry partners can help reduce costs even further while bringing a sense of support and community to the students. Students will be held to minimum standards of performance in order to continue to qualify.
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A highlight for North Park in the area of ecumenical partnerships has been the development of a course taught by Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom at Stateville Correctional Facility in Chicago. This course involves both seminary students and Stateville students learning together. Some Stateville students have expressed the desire to continue their education at North Park after their release. This endeavor shines light on the type of restorative justice we as a community of believers can bring about in our city and world.

Al Tizon: The Graduate

From “The Graduate” by Al Tizon

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Graduate procession in front of Old Main, circa 1949 (image credit: CAHL 6752)

… If at the end of students’ harrowing theological journey their love for God has not been deepened and strengthened precisely by the transforming process of quality education, then we have failed. In other words, theological education must have a spiritual formation component to it. Without this component, students can study theology devoid of spirituality, devoid of God… Like Paul, graduates finish their grueling, assumption-smashing, paradigm-shifting education with a deeper, stronger, more mature and creative love for the maker of heaven and earth and lover of our souls.

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The graduate also lives and imparts biblical wisdom… after grasping the complicated history of canonization, after analyzing the books via lower and higher criticisms, after acknowledging the disparate accounts and stories that make up Scripture, and even after interrogating some of those stories through a postcolonial lens, graduates still see the indispensable value of the Bible for faith and practice. They even appreciate it more in its ability to guide, encourage, challenge, and correct the people of God on their way to maturity. If graduates leave with more suspicion and deeper disdain than with more respect and reverence for the Bible, their theological education has failed them.
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If seminary does not teach graduates to live creatively in the tension between being in the world but not of it, they will tend either to assimilate in a given culture—perhaps offering at best a nice, non-offensive religious word that affirms all (I’m OK, you’re OK)—or to go against the culture, cultivating a “church versus world” understanding that stands in judgment over those not of the fold. Neither extreme is acceptable. The graduate recognizes this tension and lives in it, thus becoming both a lover and a transformer of culture.
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Graduate and family in front of Nyvall Hall, circa 1965 (image credit: CAHL 6754)

Graduate and family in front of Nyvall Hall, circa 1965 (image credit: CAHL 6754)

Graduates know the inadequacy of private, overly individualistic faith and are committed to participating in Christian community, despite its imperfections, blemishes, and even scandals… Lurking behind the pursuit of unbroken community, the perfect church is a denial of our brokenness, a disengagement with reality, an excuse not to be in deep relationship with others. To be committed to the church is to be committed to real relationships with real people, and quality theological education fosters this commitment… Graduates from the best of what theological education can offer have this commitment to authentic, healthy relationships, to genuine koinonia, to real church.

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This should go without saying, but the hope of theological education must not only include identifying and purging prejudice from the hearts of students; graduates must also become champions of gender equality, racial righteousness, and economic justice. Graduates fight against sexism, racism, classism, and all other injustices, beginning in their own hearts and then extending this fight to society. This affirmation turns graduates into reconcilers in the world, challenging human-made lines in the sand and creating spaces for enemies to embrace.
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And finally there’s humility, with which I have chosen to cap my list. Graduates can be all of the above… but if they are all of this without humility, something has gone awry along the way… Beyond our disability to see perfectly, humility is engendered by recognizing the vastness of God, the mystery of God. Even if we could see clearly, we are confronted with a force, a personality, far more complex than even our most enlightened selves could fully take in. Indeed, the All-Mysterious can be known because of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ—but fully known? The impossibility of grasping the fullness of the Divine keeps the graduate forever “walking humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). Let this be true of all of us.