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New AUS church planting network (2)

Issue 1    This one came up during the gathering.  Many young Aussie ministers seem mad keen on church planting, yet they are really just in love with the idea of church planting.  They aren’t ready to make the courageous, all-out sacrifices required to actually plant and grow churches.  An experienced Presbyterian brother, Richard, shared about his own denomination’s struggle: they’ve called on 15 able young men to become church planters and trainers, yet none of them were ready to take up the challenge!  Mark Leach pointed out the colossal cultural baggage that Australian Christians carry: our individualistic, materialistic, post-enlightenment, functionally deistic outlook is so intense that we find ourselves driven towards comfort and security at every level of life and church — which is profoundly opposed to the gospel and its priorities!  We were driven towards repentance.
Issue 2    The network has decided to take a complementarian position, which Al explained as ‘affirming a plurality of male elders in church leadership’.  After the meeting, Nat mentioned to me that Acts 29 and Mark Driscoll take quite a hardline complementarian position, reserving preaching for men only.  I respect churches who make that call, but how closely should the network stick to Acts 29 on this one?  I expect that taking a specific position like this is a deal-breaker for many in Australia, including complementarians like me, who believe that preaching is open to women.  Is it worth enshrining such a specific position in the network?  What kind of complementarian position are we actually talking about in practice?  This deserves careful discussion.

I want to pick up on a couple of issues as this network develops.

Issue:  Comfort!    This one was highlighted during today’s gathering.  Many young Aussie ministers seem mad keen on church planting, yet they are mostly just in love with the idea of church planting.  They aren’t ready to make the courageous, all-out sacrifices required to actually plant and grow churches.  An experienced Presbyterian brother, Richard, shared about his own denomination’s struggle: they’ve called on 15 able young men to become church planters and trainers, yet none of them were ready to take up the challenge.  Mark Leach pointed out the colossal cultural baggage that Australian Christians carry: our individualistic, materialistic, post-enlightenment, functionally deistic outlook is so intense that we are driven towards comfort and security at every level of life and church — which is profoundly opposed to the gospel and its priorities!

Issue:  A non-core core?    The network has decided to take a complementarian position, which Al Stewart simply explained as affirming ‘a plurality of male elders’ in church leadership.  After the meeting, someone mentioned to me that Acts 29 and Mark Driscoll take a pretty hard complementarian position, reserving preaching for men only (their website doesn’t specify).  I do respect churches who take that particular position, but how closely should the Aussie network stick to Acts 29 on this one?  The Aussie network is shaping up as an interdenominational group (Acts 29 is supposed to be transdenominational, but denominations are more significant in Australia).  As such, the network ought to be built around gospel unity, keeping peripheral things peripheral.  Is it really worth enshrining such a specific position in the network’s foundation, one that may even exclude other complementarians (like me)?  If the network is ‘complementarian’, exactly what are we talking about in practice?  This deserves careful consideration.

Categories: Written by Arthur

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

10 replies

  1. hey mate.

    You’d have to say it was obvious the Australian network would adopt a compilmentarian position given that it is so closely linked with Driscoll. I agree with you in that this seems to be a side issue, and does potentially stop people, who may be compilmentarian from being part of the network.

    Can you be compilmentarian yet not be offended by having women as your pastor or bishop? My feeling is even if I would not pick a woman to be a leader I should still be able to work for her, because it’s not a core issue. Maybe that just means I’m on the ‘slippery slope’ the holding egalitarian views..

    Also, I’ll be interested to see the final document that states the position or doctrine of this movement. it’ll be interesting to hold it next to the Acts 29 one. I think there is a big danger in us simply copying Mark Driscoll like he is Jesus. I love what Driscoll is doing and his books are great, but we’ve gotta keep in mind he is in Seattle in America. We arent. I’m a big fan of creativity not copying.

  2. The network founders are definitely committed to creating an Australian network for our Australian context.

    I’m not fussed about it being a broadly complementarian group, but I do think the only thing worth taking a narrow position on is the gospel.

  3. Arthur, I share your concern that the group would define itself at the point of its inception as complementarian. The problems it creates are twofold:

    Firstly, if the primary mode of operation is through denominational structures then holding such values institutionally will certainly put an upper bound on the potential success it might have by limiting the groups who will happily work with you. This would seem to preclude support for church plants by groups that affirm leadership and preaching for women – like St Matt’s or any ‘moderate’ evangelical church. This is mainly a pragmatic argument.

    Secondly, I assume that if you have a group consensus on the complementarian issue then the churches that are planted by the group would likely be an extension of this consensus. Even outside denominational structures, involvement in these new churches by individuals who are not complementarian would be curtailed, limiting the skills, gifts and resources these people might bring. Being such a person myself it makes me a bit sad, because I think there are things in the movement that are exciting and good.

    For me it raises the interesting question of how much is this movement purely gospel centric, and how much is it actually a cultural (or counter-cultural) movement in its own right?

  4. @Luke
    Nah, great question

    I don’t mean to say that the gospel is narrow. The gospel concerns the whole of history, it transcends any one telling, and it is endlessly dynamic (and yes, I’ve been reading Irenaeus!).

    My favourite of the biblical bare-bones descriptions is 1 Thes 1:9-10, which describes the content of the message about Jesus as well as its meaning for us. Jesus, God’s Son from heaven, was raised from the dead, will return, and rescues some from the coming wrath. As we wait for him, we turn from our idols to serve the living and true God.

    The gospel transcends a bunch of things — here, notably ecclesiology and questions of gender — although it has bearing on all things.

    When I say we must unite around the gospel, I mean we must have fidelity to the person/work of Jesus and his Kingdom mission, and allegiance to him as King.

    I don’t feel that does it justice, but is that helpful?

    The other things that will obviously unite a Reformed church planting network is a Reformed outlook and a commitment to church planting strategy…

  5. @Dan
    Love your #1 comments on the pragmatic issue. This is the question of how to be properly INTERdenominational.

    I’m not sure #2 is a problem.

    Firstly, as I see it, a broadly complementarian church or network will have very concrete reasons for and means of empowering all of its people in gifts and ministries of all kinds (bar senior oversight or possibly eldership). In practice, an egalitarian Australian Christian in a complementarian setting should find themselves able to interact more or less as usual (and vice versa).

    Both egalitarian and complementarian churches can equally fail to empower their people, but I wouldn’t jump to pin that per se on the fact that they take either stance. (That said, a complementarian stance appeals to me as one that empowers its people as men and women rather than as androgynous Christians, which seems an effective antidote to disenfranchised, nebulous Christian masculinity as well as unthinking Christian femininity.)

    Secondly, I’m not too concerned about the gospel-centredness of this movement. I think that’s pretty plain — and I affirm a complementarian stance as a legitimate one within the scope of gospel unity. I do always wonder how much complementarianism is an American cultural artefact, but I have very much the same question about Australian egalitarianism, since it is the default stance in Australian Christianity. The simple fact that egalitarianism is the default is not a good reason for this network to become egalitarian — and were this group an egalitarian one, it would be no less a product of its culture.

    The gospel is the only non-negotiable, which does indeed leave us free to make a call on other things like this issue.

    Also, I’m told that there is ‘room’ for a complementarian church planting network, as similar egalitarian network(s) already exist in Australia (??). Fair enough, I guess.

    All that said, I think this network will need to consider carefully how it will interact with the broad sweep of egalitarian churches and denominations, whatever its foundational policy is.

  6. Hi Arthur,

    It was a tricky question the “gospel” can be both nebulous and sharp, l liked the fact you used some Bible to act as your definition. However this makes me wonder about being unified around the gospel given the complexities in defining it. I think being unified around just the gospel ends up being just as complex as dotting the i’s and crossing all the t’s.

  7. Just to tie together a few more thoughts…

    The interdenominational statement I’m especially familiar with and for which I have a special affinity is that of AFES:
    http://www.afes.org.au/about/doctrinal-basis
    AFES have made a distinction between doctrine (non-negotiables) and ‘values’. These values are negotiable, context-specific decisions of strategic importance, which form the visible character of the organisation.

    Being interdenominational must involve somehow putting aside things that (outwardly) distinguish denominations and preserving a ‘common core’, even though there will be other things (eg, ‘values’) that give the group its own distinct flavour.

    On one hand, I think this means that (like AFES) an interdenominational group has no need to make any statement about gender roles. (Do denominations in Australia even take particular positions on this?)

    On the other hand, as gender roles is a peripheral, non-gospel issue, we have the freedom in Christ to take a stance on it (ie, as a ‘value’ rather than a doctrine).

  8. Hi All,
    I was at the last meeting, and while the compilmentarian position was clearly there, I’m more interested in how being Reformed and Calvinistic (how these are being used in this context I’m not sure) fit in to an interdenominational framework. I would suspect there are many denominations that aren’t ready to sign up to a Calvinistic understanding.

    I guess that whatever the network ends up looking like, individuals and denominations wont sign up, either over the complimentarian views or the Calvinistic ones, or even the plurality of Elders.

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