This month John shares some difficult news about one of our cherished educational institutions and reflects back on what we experienced together at Council 2023— with a renewed conviction that The Alliance remains part of something large and lasting.View Transcript
– For the 120th time, I’m coming to you with a message from my heart, trusting to keep leading us forward together as an Alliance family. Thanks for joining me. These have been very interesting days in The Christian and Missionary Alliance. Like a family gathering together for perhaps a high school graduation or a family reunion or a summer picnic or some sort of family vacation, families have lots of dynamics that we experience in the summertime. Well, our family, The Christian and Missionary Alliance, has lots of dynamics at this particular moment—Council, Alliance University, and Project ReImagine. A lot going on all at the same time, and let me just talk with you honestly today about what I sense is happening within The Christian and Missionary Alliance forward and what God is doing among us.
So, let me start with a hard one. Alliance University. This is our much-loved school. For 140 years, they have operated, advancing the Kingdom of Jesus—started by Simpson himself as a missionary training institute, and for 140 years, we’ve advanced the gospel and trained up the next generation. And we’re grateful for the ministry of that school. Our leadership had their accreditation review and went with great confidence that we’re going to be able to continue as a school. But Middle States rule that we were not able to continue, removing our accreditation. And so, as of August 31st, we are no longer able to offer our academic operations. And so, therefore, they’re in a teach-out, and we grieve. We’ve had a loss, and grief is the appropriate response to loss. For those of you that are alum, something deep has happened in your soul. This is just irritating, frustrating, sad, all those kind of things come together. We have a temptation to second guess somebody’s leadership. It’s not time for that. It’s time just to sense this sense of loss.
And so, international workers and nurses and people in the public sector and pastors, we have lots of alum out there who are feeling this right now. And we grieve with you. We grieve with the current students, we grieve with the faculty and staff as you’re now in a major transition. So Alliance family, let’s come together with prayerful concern for other family members. And those of us in leadership are asked the question, “How might we continue seminary education as the broader Alliance family at this moment in this situation?” So, pray with us as we ask some difficult questions and try to dream some new dreams in these days.
Very interesting to me and very difficult in our hearts, we had a groundbreaking for One Alliance Place just a few days separate from that AU closure announcement. Talk about a swing of emotions. This is quite extreme. I’ll come back to that next month in the video blog, Lord willing. For many of us, we are still thinking about Council and the decisions that were made at Council, and I asked us at the close of Council to just sit in this significance for a while, to not rush too quickly with statements or opinions or actions or decisions, but just let this kind of soak in as to what the Alliance family has done. As I have done so, these are some things that I want to say to you.
I know that no one single worship style impacts us all the same. We all respond differently. But I don’t believe there was ever, in my time within The Alliance, such a large and passionate response to worship that was indicative of God doing something deep within us and among us that provided a foundation for our time together. The reports and testimonies I know were very impactful for many of us. I’ve heard over and over again that hearing those reports, “That’s why I’m part of The Alliance. That’s what I’m part of.” Well, we needed that sense of significance at this moment in time. We heard that we were part of something large and lasting, that God is at work in this world doing something of substance and significance through The Alliance family. It continues, and it was good to hear, our souls are strengthened by it.
And then, of course, we had very significant business—the most significant business sessions of my lifetime. And you engaged well, family. Thank you for that. We left with decisions reached, and we’re grateful for that. Good decisions about our Statement of Faith, good decisions about our polity on leadership. Now, I know that emotionally, we left in different places. Some left with great excitement and great appreciation, great joy for the decisions that were made. Some left with kind of a quandary of confusion. “What does this mean for my setting? What did we really mean by that statement?” Some left with real disappointment because they didn’t want us to make these decisions. And so, there’s a large range of emotions.
Me? I left kind of numb. Yeah, I was grateful for what we decided, but for me, there is no win if there’s a loss of any relationship. That’s just my leadership style. I felt the sting of some of the statements that were made, and I’ve felt that in my inbox after Council. But we are seeking to move forward together as the Alliance family, and processing emotion is necessary in any family moving forward in a healthy way. And so, let me say this, we left Council 2023 more like the early Alliance than we walked into Council 2023. We more closely resemble Simpson Alliance now than we did before Council 2023. What do I mean by that? This approach that was taken by Council, for us to be able to keep pre-millennialism in our Statement of Faith but not have that be a dividing line of separation, that’s very Simpsonian. That’s how we started as a movement, pre-millennial, but not dividing fellowship over it. And we were in a quandary for decades in our Alliance leadership between one district and another.
So, we’ve settled that, or we will in 2025. But we’ve agreed together that this is a good way forward that takes us back to our early history. Well done, family. And regarding women in leadership—I believe that we left Council ’23 more like the Simpson era than when we came into ’23. We had some decades of confusion in our own polity regarding this. And we are now clarifying that confusion. See, The Alliance is at its best when we’re a centrist movement, if I can use that phrase. Let me explain. For our whole history, we have been one of these odd groups that have been able to have Calvinists and Armenians at the table joyfully serving together, not making those lines of division. We’ve had all measure of eschatological views brought to the table, and we can have our own private arm wrestlings over it, but we have a divided fellowship over that. We know that. From our earliest days, it was clear that our view about the Holy Spirit was a centrist stand that we were taking.
We were not in the camp of those who claim you had to speak in tongues to give evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit. Neither were we in the camp of those who were cessationist, who no longer believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit were available for today. But we are those who believe that the Spirit is alive and active and at work, gifting, empowering His people, but not telling the Holy Spirit what gift He must give us. This was agreed upon early in our Alliance history. It got a little confusing when we started using the phrase, “seek not, forbid not.” Had good intention behind that phrase, but we emphasized the “seek not” part; we felt like we needed a correction.
So, under President Gary Benedict’s leadership 15 years ago or so, the phrase, “expectation without agenda,” was discussed among the Board, brought to us by a key Board member. And so, this phrase now better explains the attitude of The Christian and Missionary Alliance family—expectation, eager for all the Holy Spirit wants to do but without an agenda for what He must do. That’s a centrist position. And so, this is who we are when we’re at our best, I believe, Alliance family. And that’s what we just did with pre-millennialism. We said, “This is who we are, but we’re not going to kick people out who aren’t that.” And this is what we’ve done with women in ministry. We are not in the camp of those who said, “No, you can be a female elder. You can be a female lead pastor.” We’re not in the camp of those who say, “Women can’t have any leadership at all.”
We have positioned ourselves uniquely, distinctly, in this place that honors male lead pastors and male eldership while providing opportunities for women to have all kinds of engagement, new measures of engagement, especially in things like the chaplaincy world where there’s doors that have been opened up in recent decades for police and fire, for marketplace and business, for hospice and hospital, for all levels of the military. Chaplaincy opportunities are incredible at this moment in time. And so, having an ordination and a title that goes with that of “reverend” is a big deal in that. And not just in the public sector of chaplaincy world, but in local churches where we have multiple staffs, this becomes a significant opportunity for women to have greater leadership.
Not all multi-staff churches will choose to go this route for women in leadership. That’s fine. We’re not asking a single church to go against their biblical interpretation. But at the same time, we’re asking all of us to hold our biblical interpretation humbly on this subject of men and women in leadership, knowing that those who have come to conclusions in a wide range of approaches on men and women in leadership are coming at it from a heart that honors Scripture and honors the Lord. And if you’ve not yet come to value somebody who disagrees with you and their interpretation of Scripture, I ask you to just do a little more reflection, do a little more reading, or have a few more conversations so we can actually honor those who take a different view of Pauline passages and other related Scriptures on men and women in leadership.
A theological humility is a good thing. And a lot of this isn’t even theology. A lot of this, like ordination, is just good polity. Ordination is a valuable tool that we are using for vetting process and helping us to have a well-established leadership in The Christian and Missionary Alliance. So, well, I’m just calling us to respect one another, to value one another, and to rejoice in the fact that this is a good place that we’ve found ourselves—more like our early Alliance history, better positioned for the future. And The Alliance has never been at its best when we are throwing people off the bus and kicking people off the team and having walls of separation over secondary and tertiary issues. The Alliance is at its best when we honor the Word of God and we honor one another by advancing the Kingdom of Christ together. This is who we are, and we became more of that. So, let’s walk in that now, family. Let’s walk in this.