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“A radical question for a conservative church”: Should the Christian and Missionary Alliance Call Women “Pastors”?

November 20, 2020
By Andrew S. Ballitch

Editor’s note: The following essay appears in the Fall 2020 issue of Eikon.


The Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) is an evangelical denomination of roughly 2,000 churches and 500,000 members in the United States. A. B. Simpson started the movement in the late nineteenth century as a multi-denominational coalition of Christians and churches committed to taking the gospel to the unreached people of the globe. It solidified into a denomination in 1974 and continues to exist with a focus on sharing Christ with the nations.[1]

I grew up in the C&MA and then spent almost ten years in the Southern Baptist tribe. When I returned to the C&MA, I was made aware that national leadership had opened up a discussion about the appropriateness of applying the label of “pastor” to women serving in official roles in local churches. In fact, President John Stumbo, in his report to General Council 2019, the highest level of legislative authority in the C&MA, introduced “change conversations.” He said these were conversations that had “only just begun and for which, over the course of the next two years, we desire to include the broader Alliance family.”[2] One of the conversations was in regard to: “our polity as it relates to male and female roles in the church.”[3]

Some months later, all pastors and church leaders in the Central District of the C&MA received the regular Advance Newsletter with an article entitled, “When Women Preach.” At the outset it claimed to be one of “a series of articles examining roles that women leaders can participate in within the Christian and Missionary Alliance under our current polity and application of Scripture, all under the authority of the local church elder board. It is an attempt to give an experiential understanding of the impact of properly stewarding all the gifts of the body of Christ, within all the people that make up the Church.”[4]

The statement was signed by its author, Becky Carter, and the District Superintendent at the time, Jeff Miller. The article itself stirred up significant debate, as it sought to normalize women preaching in the corporate worship of local churches. The argument can be summarized by one of the concluding sentences: “Just as I learn from anointed men preaching God’s word [sic], so too can men learn from an anointed woman preaching the Word.”[5]

Around the same time, in an Alliance polity course, part of the credentialing process, the curriculum made explicit that women could serve in any function in the local church as long as they did not exercise elder authority or hold the office of elder. This was qualified by the inclusion of preaching and the administration of the ordinances as appropriate functions for women in the church.[6] This, again, stirred up significant discussion.

These anecdotes illustrate the existence of a spectrum of opinion on matters pertaining to women in ministry within the C&MA and perhaps some confusion about where the C&MA stands today on these issues relative to its history. The purpose of this article is threefold. First, to summarize the question being asked in the C&MA with the reasons it is being asked. Second, to describe the historical trajectory of the denomination up to this point as it relates to women in ministry. Third, to both evaluate current C&MA practice according to Scripture and answer the question, “should the C&MA call women pastors?” from Scripture.

The State of the Question

When President Stumbo opened up the conversation about male and female roles in the church, he wrote, “with three dozen languages (and even more cultures) represented among us, issues such as titles (who should be able to be called ‘pastor’?), ordination (what authority does ordination carry?), and eldership (how are local churches being led?) varies greatly among us.”[7] There are two important things to note here. First, as the conversation has crystalized, the issue of the title “pastor” has become front and center. There is no indication that the ordination of women is up for debate or that the office of elder could be held by women. And in current C&MA polity, senior pastors are automatically elders, so by extension, those two positions would continue to be reserved for men.[8] Strictly speaking, the question is whether to give women in secondary staff positions the title of “pastor.” Not surprisingly, this limited question has served as the catalyst for the much larger consideration of women in ministry generally.

Second, the issue of diversity within the denomination is one of the reasons often given for revisiting the C&MA’s original and long-standing conviction that the title “pastor” is reserved for men and synonymous with “elder” and “overseer” in the New Testament. The C&MA in the U.S. is indeed diverse. It is diverse culturally and linguistically, with 37 languages represented. There are five affinity-based districts: Cambodian, Hmong, Korean, Spanish Eastern, and Vietnamese. In addition, there are nine minority-based associations. Then there is regional diversity with the U.S. being divided over 22 territory-based districts.[9] There is also great diversity in church size, from single-cell, solo-pastor smaller churches to multi-staff churches with thousands of members. The question becomes, and has been articulated, should matters of titles — and even whether elder authority should be wed to titles — be decided as a matter of policy at the national level or on a local level?[10]

Another reason for questioning the C&MA’s historic, biblical understanding of the title “pastor” is that it potentially limits what women can do in twenty-first century American society. There are women who are not able to serve in certain chaplaincy roles. There are others who have trouble making clergy hospital visits. Some, it is claimed, are simply not respected in the local church setting in the same way their male counterparts are esteemed. Some claim all of this is the result of women not holding the title “pastor.”

A final reason proposed for reconsidering the C&MA’s consistent application of the title “pastor” is that the denomination is more restrictive of women than A. B. Simpson was. Also, current Alliance polity allows women to exercise the function of shepherding or pastoring in official capacities, serving as pastors in all but name. This brings us to one of the key components of our endeavor, namely, to gain an historical awareness of where the C&MA has been on these issues as crucial context for understanding where it is today.

The Founder of a Movement

On issues of women in ministry, A. B. Simpson was clear in his principles, but at times can seem equivocal in practice.[11] His The Christ in the Bible Commentary serves as a window into his exegesis of pertinent biblical texts. Romans 16:1–2, where Paul commends Phoebe as a “servant of the church at Cenchreae” and “patron of many and of myself as well,” provides a platform for unpacking the proper role of women in the church. Simpson, after waxing eloquent about the equality of women and their freedom to do ministry, asserts,

It is quite certain that the apostle placed women under certain limitations. We believe that these had only to do with the exercise of authority in the churches. . . . She is not called to exercise ecclesiastical authority, or take her place in the ordained ministry and government of the church, but in the ministry of testimony and teaching, both in public and in private, and in every office of holy love consistent with the principles of Christianity, she has boundless right and freedom.[12]

It is also here where Simpson defends the office of deaconess, as the “one special ecclesiastical office given to women in the early church.” About the office, he claims, “it was recognized then as distinctively as the office of deacon, elder, or bishop; and while it gave women no ecclesiastical authority, yet it recognized her proper ministry in an official way, and opened the widest doors of usefulness.”[13]

Commenting on 1 Corinthians 14:33–35, where Paul forbids women to speak in church, exhorting them to keep silent and that to do otherwise is shameful, Simpson asks and answers the question, “what right has a woman to minister in the Church of Christ, and how far is she restricted by the apostle’s guarded regulation?”[14] He qualifies Paul’s prohibition with 1 Corinthians 11:5, where women are recognized as having the right to pray and prophecy in public, as long as their heads were covered. The two passages cannot contradict, of course, so Simpson argues that the significance of the cultural phenomenon of head coverings “simply means today that she is to act with such reserve that she will never unsex herself or try to take the place of a man.”[15] According to Simpson, Paul is not speaking about the inferiority of women to men, but rather their subordination to them. Simpson also makes an interesting observation in his comments on this passage that the word “church” cannot mean the building, as church buildings did not exist at this historical moment, but rather refers to the “ecclesiastical order, formal assembly of the congregation.” He then concludes, “the passage might mean that women were not to take an official place in the ecclesiastical organization, was not to be one of its elders, its rulers, its ecclesiastical leaders.”[16]

Simpson’s comments on the biblical texts discussed thus far reveal that he clearly did not support the idea of women in the office of elder or overseer, synonymous in his mind, but do not reveal what restrictions he thought were to be applied to the role or function of women ministering in the church, specifically regarding preaching, teaching, and pastoring. While he did not appear to limit women teaching publicly in his Romans commentary, he also did not make explicit one way or the other whether that included the teaching of men. It is in his thoughts on 1 and 2 Timothy that the proper role or function of women in the church comes into better focus.

In his section on the government of the church, Simpson explicitly recognizes that the New Testament uses “elder” and “overseer” interchangeably. Also, he believed that there existed two classes of elders: ruling elders and teaching elders. He concludes,

There appears to have been no extremely rigid rule in the New Testament about church    government further than that a certain body of spiritual overseers were appointed out of every church, and they were called elders or bishops. Some of them, who had the requisite qualifications, exercised the ministry of teaching, while others simply took pastoral oversight over the flock.[17]

This is a critical paragraph for several reasons. First, he prefaces his brief articulation of New Testament polity with the recognition that what he is about to say about elders is the inflexible minimum standard, indeed, an “extremely rigid rule.” Second, the teaching ministry or function was exercised by teaching elders. Simpson clearly has every church as a whole in view here, which he defined in his 1 Corinthians commentary as an “ecclesiastical order, formal assembly of the congregation.”[18] Finally, the pastoral ministry or function is exercised by elders, at least in the sense of any church-wide oversight or pastoral care. At the conclusion of his section on church government, he states rather tersely, “The epistles to Timothy recognize the ministry of women, but with great restrictions. The woman is not allowed to teach or usurp authority over the man, but to maintain her place of subjection.”[19]

Simpson offers a whole chapter on pastoral ministry in his commentary on 1 and 2 Timothy, entitled The True Minister of Jesus Christ. It is worth noting that the fact that this role is reserved for a man is simply assumed in almost every paragraph. He says the minister is a “man of God.”[20] He uses the male singular pronoun throughout: “The good minister will be careful of his deportment” and “The good minister is careful in his selection of workers.”[21] And Simpson ties the function of preaching and the label of “pastor” to this true minister. He claims that the preaching of this minister is the Word of God and that careful preparation of messages will characterize him.[22] He states, “the good minister is a personal worker and pastor.”[23]

One will not find the statements, “women cannot be given the title of pastor” or “women must not preach in church,” in Simpson’s commentaries. His use of the label “pastor” was limited, preferring “elder,” “bishop,” and “minister,” and he simply did not speak to the presenting question directly or equate “pastor” with “elder” explicitly. Neither did he forbid women from preaching in church. Those things considered, he clearly reserved the office of elder for men and tied the functions of teaching and pastoral care to that office, at minimum precluding women from exercising those functions church-wide with regularity.

One treatment in Simpson’s magazine sheds further light on his principles. From 1891, early in the movement’s history, Simpson’s editorial on the ministry of women argues from the concept of headship in 1 Corinthians 11,

[T]he New Testament prohibits women from the formal and official ministry of the Christian church in the strictly ecclesiastical sense. She is not called to be a pastor, an elder, a bishop; but besides the official ministry and government of the Christian church there is an infinite room, for proclaiming a glad message of salvation.[24]

Here Simpson rightly equates “pastor,” “elder,” and “bishop” or “overseer” in no uncertain terms. He goes on to highlight the prophetic ministry of women from the same passage and concludes that any word of exhortation, edification, or comfort is appropriate for a woman to offer in the assembly. But, “The less formal her testimony is, the better. The more it takes the form of a simple story of love, the less like a sermon and the more like a conversation, the more effective it will be.”[25] Simpson then makes an exegetical distinction between kerago, the Greek word meaning to proclaim officially with a trumpet, and laleo, meaning to talk. He asserts, “this latter word describes the ministry of woman, the former the ministry of man. Man is the official herald, woman is the echo of his voice, repeating in a thousand gentler tones, until love bears it to every human heart.”[26] While a questionable application of the distinction, it reveals Simpson’s extreme hesitance to allow, in principle, for women to preach in the local church, a function tied to the office of pastor, if not forbidding such activity outright.

However, one will find conflicting statements and practices from Simpson. These seem to flow from his singular focus on world evangelization. One notorious incident from 1893 illustrates this well. Simpson recalls in an editorial a significant and successful gathering of Christian workers in Atlanta and chides a prominent pastor from the city. He, along with the support of the ministerial association, went about “setting the community right on the subject of women speaking in public,” in a newspaper. Simpson wrote,

The dear brother seems to have quite forgotten all the glorious results of that great convention, in the single fact that it had run across one of his ecclesiastical convictions and the opportunity of proving that the convention and the women were wrong in that one particular seems to have almost obliterated all the other effects of the convention and kept him and his brethren from reaping the glorious harvest of spiritual blessing that ought to have been gathered out of such a meeting.

He continues to describe the issue as “a little side issue of purely speculative character, which God has already settled, not only in His Word but in His providence, by the seal which he is placing in this very day, in every part of the world, upon the public work of consecrated Christian women.”[27] It is important to note that at issue is not preaching in the local church, but rather women speaking in public in an extra-ecclesiastical setting. Simpson finally scolds, “Dear brother, let the Lord manage the women. He can do it better than you, and you turn your batteries against the common enemy.”[28]

Simpson endorsed the wide-ranging evangelistic ministries of women like Mattie Perry and Mary Davies. Highlighting Miss Perry’s ministry in his magazine, he writes, “She is an authorized evangelist of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in all the Southern states, and God has used her to build up the work throughout the whole field,” and “We desire to call special attention to the noble work of our dear sister…Her evangelistic field covers the entire vast region.”[29] Simpson, in his annual report, celebrates that, “Miss Mary G. Davies was added to our staff last year as a field evangelist and has rendered splendid service over a very wide field and under unusual conditions of labor and trying weather.”[30] These women were given broad license to evangelize, which would have included preaching to both men and women, but their office and role were outside of the ecclesiastical structure.

Again, Simpson appears conflicted at times, but was nonetheless clear. He committed himself tirelessly to world evangelization, and warmly welcomed and supported women who shared his vision and contributed to that great effort. He feared quenching the Holy Spirit’s work, so he was hesitant to curb the function of women in ministry. He enthusiastically supported women as missionaries, evangelists, and officers in the movement during his lifetime.[31] However, in the final analysis, Simpson’s exegesis and extrapolated principles include the synonymous use of “pastor,” “elder,” and “bishop” or “overseer,” the limitation of that singular office to qualified men, and the fact that those who hold that singular office exercise the functions of preaching, teaching, and pastoral care. In applying these principles, Simpson left open the door for the prophetic ministry of women in the corporate worship of local churches, but the more such a ministry felt like preaching, the more uncomfortable he became.

The Direction of a Denomination

Fast forward to 1974, the year the C&MA transitioned from being a movement, a coalition of churches, to a denomination. The formal licensing and ordination process, which the C&MA carried over from its existence as a movement, was reserved exclusively for men. The preamble for the Uniform Procedures on Licensing in the C&MA manual read,

Since the Christian ministry is regarded with honor and reverence, the church has insisted that only men with the “Call of God” or a summons into the Holy ministry by the sovereign will of God shall be credentialed and commissioned by the church to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ. Only a person of sound Christian experience, Godly life, a keen sense of mission and who is in genuine accord with the doctrines and teachings of The Christian and MissionaryAlliance, may be approved by The Christian and Missionary Alliance as a minister of the Gospel.[32]

Licenses were given for the positions of “Pastor, Assistant Pastor, Evangelist, Home Missionary, and Christian Education Director,” all of which were reserved exclusively for men.[33]

Women in ministry had a separate, less formal credentialing process for the office of “Deaconess.” The article describing this office and process was new to the denomination’s first manual. It stated clearly that “the licensed deaconess shall not be eligible for ordination” and “is not authorized to administer the ordinances.” It then provides direction for the function of women holding this official office:

The ministry of the licensed deaconess may include visitation of church families, new-contact visitation for evangelism, women’s work, children’s work, Bible classes, ministry to shut-ins, youth work, Christian education, prayer meetings, and teacher training. Her ministry may be expanded by the local church executive committee to include other functions.[34]

While parameters for what expanded functions are appropriate are not defined, what is and is not included on the illustrative list of ministry functions is noteworthy.

At the outset of the C&MA as a denomination, the biblical distinction between the role and function of men and women in the ministry of the local church was maintained and plainly expressed. The same cannot be said of policies and procedures governing the C&MA today. The evolution over the past four decades has included both minor, incremental changes, and several lurches in the egalitarian direction.

One flashpoint occurred in 1979. The General Council, at a committee recommendation, commissioned the Board of Managers (now called the Board of Directors), the body that governed the C&MA between councils, to study and report on the role of women in ministry. The reasons for the recommendation included the difficulty of women finding positions as a result of the singular available title of “deaconess.”[35] General Council 1980 accepted the report as a progress report and tasked the Board of Managers with development.[36] The final report considered at General Council 1981 included a statement of nine principles and concluded, “that women may properly engage in any kind of ministry except that which involves elder authority.”[37] The principles affirmed the equality of men and women, and their difference in role in the family and church in terms of authority. All of the principles were affirmed by Council, with one notable exception. The ninth principle stated, “We recognize also that God, in His sovereignty has at times placed women in positions of authority (e.g. celibacy, Nazarite vow, Deborah, etc.). We need to be open when God chooses to work in this way.”[38] This was voted down. While the study committee wanted to make room for exceptions in the God-given authority structure for the church, the majority in the C&MA said “no.”

The study committee also made five recommendations in 1981, all of which were accepted, one with slight modification. These primarily called for encouraging women in ministry and for the licensing process for women to better reflect what ministries women were officially part of, rather than the less formal and limited process for deaconesses. Recommendation two required the following sentence be added to the manual: “Women may fulfill any function in the local church which the pastor and elders may choose to delegate to them consistent with the Manual.”[39] The immediate impact this had on the 1981 manual was the addition of an explanatory note on the definition of an official worker, which read, “Women may engage in any kind of ministry except that which involves elder authority.”[40] It would be almost 20 years before the licensing process for women received an overhaul, but some language changes came in 1989 when the article “Deaconess” became “Women in Ministry.” With this development, the list of suggested functions was removed, while the parameters were set with the statement, “She shall be able to hold all appointed ministries other than that of pastor, associate pastor or assistant pastor.”[41]

In 1994, an episode at General Council involving women and the ordinance of communion brought the question of women in ministry to a heated debate that would last the rest of the decade. The idea of women serving communion at the council was ruled out of order and a committee was appointed to study and recommend policy regarding women in ministry.[42] In the report to General Council 1995, the committee asserted, “While we seek consensus as much as is within us, we view the issue of women in ministry as peripheral to those things which are essential in matters of faith and doctrine and, therefore, require unity.”[43] With this premise, the committee recommended, “that there be no restrictions on the ministry of unordained men and women in ministry” and “that local churches of The Christian and Missionary Alliance be authorized to adjust their bylaws to reflect their local convictions and practice with respect to the role of women in ministry.”[44] Unsurprisingly, this generated a flurry of motions, recommendations, and amendments, which resulted in none of the recommendations being voted on, dispensing with consideration of the report as a whole, and the appointing of an entirely different committee. This follow-up committee was more narrowly focused on the privileges and responsibilities conferred with ordination, whether differences in privileges and restrictions should exist between licensed unordained men and licensed women, and recommendations for a more formal preparatory process for women in ministry.[45]

This task force to develop a set of proposals regarding licensed unordained men and licensed women in ministry recognized that the concept of “elder authority” was both intimately related to the categories they were considering and unhelpfully vague. The committee recommended that a study into the definition and application of elder authority be launched, which General Council 1996 adopted.[46] The results of this and recommendations concerning the formalization of the process of preparing women for ministry would manifest at General Council 1999, when the results regarding elder authority were decided and the new policy for consecration was reported.[47] The Report of the Committee Appointed to Study Elder Authority defined it this way: “With authority delegated from Christ the Chief Shepherd and confirmed by the church membership, the elders are the highest level of servant leadership in the local church. As undershepherds, elders collectively oversee the local church and its ministries to accomplish Christ’s mission.”[48] It goes on, “Basic to the understanding of ‘elder authority’ given above, it is evident that clergy are a sub-category of overseers/elders/shepherds. As such, biblically the privileges and responsibilities of being ordained are no more or less than those of non-ordained elders.”[49] General Council accepted the report as a whole and it was in the wrangling over the recommendations that elders were officially freed to delegate the ordinances of baptism and communion to others, including women.[50]

It was here too, in 1999, that the consecration track for the preparation of women for ministry was unveiled. The licensing process for men entering ministry became the licensing process for women as well, including all of the same requirements.[51] After the initial licensing and ministry appointment, men would then pursue ordination, while women pursued consecration. The requirements for both were virtually identical, with one notable exception. For ordination, “each year the candidate shall present to his sponsor at least one audio or videotape of a full-length sermon which was preached at a regular church service for the sponsor’s review of both content and delivery of biblical material,” while for consecration, “each year the candidate shall present to her sponsor at least one full-length videotape of her teaching at the church for the sponsors review of both content and delivery of the biblical material.”[52] The Board of Managers that approved the policy language distinguished between preaching at a regular church service and teaching at church, the former reserved for men and the latter open to women. This distinction was also maintained in the theological definitions of ordination and consecration.

For the C&MA in 1999, ordination was the church’s public recognition of the call from God, distinct from human vocational choice, to men for a lifetime of ministry, through speech and exemplary lifestyle, of preaching and teaching the Word of God, protecting God’s people from spiritual enemies and doctrinal heresies, overseeing and promoting the spiritual development of God’s people, and equipping God’s people to fulfill the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations” for the purpose of knowing and glorifying God by obeying His will and building His Kingdom.[53]

Consecration was defined as the public recognition and affirmation of God’s call to women for a lifetime of service. This call, distinct from human vocational choice, is exercised through God-given and Holy Spirit-empowered giftedness for an effective witness about Jesus Christ and proclamation of biblical truth for the purpose of reconciling people to God and equipping God’s people to fulfill the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations.”[54]

Consistent with C&MA theology and polity, the definition of ordained ministry was loaded with language of elder responsibility and function, including preaching, teaching, and ecclesiastical oversight. All of these are absent from the language describing consecration, the less specific concepts of effective witness and general proclamation appeared instead.

Despite these differences in ordination and consecration, the uniform licensing policy for men and women coupled with the overlap in the processes for ordination and consecration sowed confusion, and understandably so. The 2001 Report of the Committee on Legislation Relating to National Church Ministries identified this problem. The committee recommended “the Division of National Church Ministries review and revise the present guidelines for the consecration of licensed female official workers in order to establish a procedure for consecration that is consistent with the particular needs of women who are called to vocational ministries.” The reasoning for this recommendation included, among other inconsistencies, that “ordination confers elder authority and that eldership in the New Testament is restricted to men,” combined with the fact that “present guidelines for the consecration of women to vocational church ministries are identical to the requirements for the ordination of men,” meant that “women in ministry would be better served by a process designed to prepare them for ministries appropriate to their calling and consistent with the denomination’s understanding of the role of women in ministry.”[55] Regrettably, the motion to adopt this recommendation lost.[56]

Two years later, an effort to define the functions of licensed men and women in ministry ensued. Individuals with an ordained/consecrated “Official Worker License” were “considered spiritual leaders having certain rights and privileges including but not limited to the authority to administer the sacraments, conduct worship services, and perform service(s) in the control, conduct, and maintenance of designated entities of the C&MA.”[57] At the same time, the distinction between ordination and consecration was maintained explicitly by the addition of a paragraph in the preambles to the ordination and consecration policies. It read,

In accordance with the Uniform Constitution for Accredited Churches which identifies     that “elders shall be male members” and that all pastors are understood to be “elders,” the      ordination process is applicable only to male candidates. The consecration process, which acknowledges a woman’s call to serve the Lord’s Church in other equally important roles, will apply to female candidates.[58]

This tension of highlighting distinguishing characteristics within a uniform process continued in the 2011 manual, which finalized the policies and procedures relevant to women in ministry as they are in place today.

The distinction remained in 2011, and does to this day, between ordination and consecration, but the function of men and women respectively credentialed became almost indistinguishable. The manual stated,

“[O]rdination” refers to a male official worker who has been publically set apart for pastoral ministry, and who is therefore recognized as a teaching elder within the C&MA. The term “consecration” similarly refers to a woman who has been publically set apart for ministry. However, women who have been publically consecrated are not recognized as elders.[59]

But all licensed official workers, whether male or female, “are recognized as clergy and serve in positions dedicated to preaching and teaching the Word of God, administering the ordinances, and leading the church to walk in the fullness of Christ and fulfill the Great Commission worldwide.”[60] Further, while,

An Ordained Official Worker License may be issued to men who are appointed by the district superintendent to serve in pastoral and other related ministries which have as a primary responsibility preaching and teaching the Word of God, administering ordinances, and leading the church.

Identically, in a functional sense,

A Consecrated Official Worker License may be issued to women who are appointed by the district superintendent to serve in church and other related ministries (except for that of pastor and/or senior pastor) which include preaching and teaching the Word of God and administering the ordinances under the oversight of elders and/or an ordained official worker, and providing leadership to the church and its ministries.[61]

For the first time, C&MA official policy explicitly authorized women to preach during the gathered worship of local churches.

The Lens of Scripture

A biblical evaluation of the current C&MA position on women in ministry and answer to the question at hand must center on two exegetical enquiries: how to interpret 1 Timothy 2:8–15 and whether “pastor” is synonymous with “elder” and “overseer” in the New Testament.[62] First Timothy 2:12, specifically, where Paul writes, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man,” is critical because it provides a prohibition of two functions of women in the church. Presently, in the C&MA, women may hold any office and perform any function that does not involve elder authority, meaning a woman cannot hold the office of elder, but may function freely and without restriction under the collective authority of the elders through delegation. This policy and practice are based on a dubious interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12.

The historical context is that of Paul writing to Timothy after an unpleasant visit to Ephesus, where he left him to root out false teaching and restore order. A key statement in the letter comes in 3:15, where Paul makes explicit his purpose in writing, namely, “that you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God.” Paul is giving behavioral instructions to the local church, providing guidance to the congregation for conduct during worship.[63] After opening up the chapter talking about prayer, he asserts that men are to pray with a pure heart, without division that hinders their prayers. Women should be modest, motivated by propriety and self-restraint. He continues with an exhortation for women to learn, a radical, countercultural imperative in the first-century Greco-Roman world. This learning is to be done quietly, which means respectfully. “Quietly” cannot imply silence, as Paul elsewhere encouraged women to participate in worship services through prayer, prophesying, and singing. This learning was to be done quietly and in submission. So verse 11 assumes women are disciples and are learning, but they are not to hijack the leadership and teaching role. Verse 12 clarifies this by reiterating the point of verse 11 in reverse. Why the prohibition? Paul does not point to culture or custom, to a lack of education or female inferiority, or negative examples of female teaching and leadership failure. Paul grounds his argument in verse 13 in God’s design, the very order of creation.[64] And this is not order merely in terms of chronology, but what the order points to in the Genesis account. Adam was the leader, protector, and provider , while Eve was to submit, help, and nurture. Man and woman are ontologically equal, yet given complementary roles in the home and the church. This complementarianism was woven into the fabric of human nature expressed in maleness and femaleness; it is not the result of the fall.

Paul continues his reasoning in verse 14 by highlighting the fact that a departure from this complementarity was intertwined with the first human sin. Adam stood by when he should have protected Eve. He followed when he ought to have led. Eve, rather than submitting, took initiative as Satan tempted her to “and became a transgressor.” When the divine design is abandoned, disaster ensues. Instead, according to verse 15, women are saved from usurping the role of men by embracing the role of women, embracing it with the Christian virtues of faith, love, holiness, and self-control.[65]

Back to consideration of the all-important verse 12, the question becomes what teaching and authority are forbidden? The prohibition of women teaching is not absolute, but it is qualified in some ways. The immediate context offers two qualifications. First, a woman is not to teach “a man.” Second, a woman is not to teach a man “in the household of God” (1 Tim. 3:15). In the context of the pastoral epistles, teaching is the public transmission of authoritative material. Put together, Paul forbids a woman to teach in the mixed gathering of the congregation. In short, he does not permit them to preach during corporate worship. Paul moves from this specific function to the more general activity of exercising authority. The categories overlap, to be sure. Teaching is an exercise of authority and authority is primarily, though not exclusively, exercised through teaching in the church.[66] These two prerogatives are united in the office of elder, such that women may neither teach like an elder nor rule like one. Verse 11 could mean more than that in certain church contexts, but it cannot mean less.

The idea that functions such as preaching in corporate worship or exercising elder-like leadership may be delegated to women and therefore women may perform them under the authority of the elders is based on an unlikely understanding of authenteo, “to have authority.” The verb would need to have a pejorative meaning, such as “domineer,” or an ingressive meaning, like “usurp authority,” to warrant such conclusions and practices. An exhaustive analysis of all known occurrences of authenteo in ancient and medieval Greek reveals that while translations like “assume authority” are justified at times, it is only when an ingressive aorist is used, not other verb forms. Paul uses the present tense in 1 Timothy 2:12.[67]

Syntax also bears the result that authenteo should be understood as a positive exercise of authority. The grammar demands that didasko, “to teach,” and authenteo must both be taken either negatively or positively. The default lexical connotation of didasko is positive unless negatively qualified; New Testament usage is consistent with this. In the absence of a negative qualifier in the context of 1 Timothy 2:12, both verbs should be taken positively.[68] We may safely conclude that the office of elder, with its unique teaching function, is reserved for qualified men.[69]

The fact that “elder” is synonymous with “overseer” and “pastor” in the New Testament is the established position of the C&MA. The Report of the Committee Appointed to Study Elder Authority, which was adopted by General Council 1999, speaks to all three of these titles.[70] It states,

As Paul and others went about establishing churches, they repeatedly used three different words to refer to the elder role in the local church. Shepherd (poimen): In Ephesians 4:11, Paul refers to gifted leaders in the church, including the one who is most often a combination of shepherd and teacher…Overseer/Bishop (episkopos)…Elder (presbuteros).[71]

The committee concluded, “Undoubtedly, these three titles all refer to one role in the local church for writers use the terms interchangeably.” This conclusion was founded on an impeccable exercise in biblical theology, which is worth quoting at length:

In Acts 20 Paul addresses them as elders (vs. 17), tells them to shepherd the people (vs.    28), and calls them overseers (vs. 28). Peter addresses the elders, urges them to be shepherds of God’s flock serving as overseers (1 Peter 5:1-4). In Titus 1:5-7 Paul begins to spell out elder qualifications and then calls them “overseers.” Clearly these writers are using three terms to refer to one kind of leader. “Shepherd” captures the caring part of their function; “elder” fits the Jewish origin of the leadership role and tells something of the leader’s nature, usually older and more mature; “overseer” would communicate better in Gentile/Greek contexts and speaks to another part of the elder’s role, giving oversight to God’s work.[72]

This exegesis ought to be debated and repudiated before considering whether the title “pastor” should be given to women in the C&MA.

Conclusion: A Question of Faithfulness

The local option for deciding whether women may be called “pastors” is the wrong way forward. The question should be answered for the C&MA at the national level, and in fact it has been answered. Both C&MA exegesis and history preclude women from being given the label “pastor.” Departure from this position to a local option would be problematic for more than reasons of questionable biblical interpretation. For one, it would assuredly cause division in local churches. In regions like mine, there are multiple C&MA churches within a short driving distance. As churches decided the question differently for themselves, reputations of progressivism and conservatism would develop, spurring exoduses likely both ways.

For another, the C&MA is not congregational in its polity. It has a denominational hierarchy, with district Licensing, Ordination, and Consecration Committees (LO&CC) that hold the keys to credentialing. When an individual is appointed to a position, he or she is licensed and begins the ordination or consecration process, respectively. Both processes are directed, and successful completion determined by the LO&CC. What happens when a woman pastor is being considered by the LO&CC for licensing or consecration? Are members of the committee supposed to violate their consciences by vetting her, when their convictions are that her position is contrary to Scripture? Or are those who hold the current C&MA view supposed to forgo such positions of denominational leadership? What about a District Superintendent? Will he have to simply set aside his principles and worship in the churches he visits when women pastors are on the preaching team? What about a future president? Will he have to simply live with what he believes is out of step with the Bible in denominational policy and refuse to open this whole question up again? And what about every church that faithfully gives to the District Development Fund? Are churches to continue contributing when monies are used to support church plants with women pastors? What about the Great Commission Fund?

The narrow “should the C&MA call women pastors” question is part of a larger historical discussion, indeed, a trajectory. That trajectory has already moved beyond exegetical warrant. It not only must be stopped, but ground needs to be regained. The issue is not the opening of the door to egalitarianism, it is the survival of complementarianism. The line should be drawn where Scripture is clear. A pastor is an elder is an overseer. Pastors-elders-overseers are biblically qualified men. And only those qualified to be pastors-elders-overseers preach during corporate worship of local churches.[73]

When recommendations and decisions are made at General Council in May, 2021, it will be impossible to make the entire denomination happy. Better to have people leave over what the C&MA has always been, than to drive people out by changing it into what it has never been. And what has the C&MA always been? Committed to the authority of Scripture and its application, over and above pragmatic, emotive, convenient, or cultural temptations. The C&MA is a Bible people. We bring our emotions, experience, traditions, and reason itself under the authority of God’s Word. I believe that with all my heart. And I intend to devote my life to the larger cause of Christ from within the C&MA as long as I believe that to be true.

Andrew S. Ballitch (PhD, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Associate Pastor of Preaching and Ministries at Westwood Alliance Church in Mansfield, Ohio, which is in the Central District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance.

[1] For official denominational history, see Robert L. Niklaus, John S. Sawin, and Samuel J. Stoesz, All for Jesus: God at Work in the Christian and Missionary Alliance (Colorado Springs: The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 2013). The quotation in the title comes from a 1947 issue of The Alliance Weekly, the official organ of the C&MA, in which a report is given about the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. considering whether to ordain women as pastors. The editor concludes, “It is a radical question for a conservative church” (The Alliance Weekly 82, no. 14 [April 5, 1947], 216). The publication has had several titles since it was founded by A. B. Simpson and is now called Alliance Life.

[2] 2017–2018 Report of the President and Minutes of 2019 General Council, The Christian and Missionary Alliance (Orlando, FL: 2019), 4.

[3] 2017–2018 Report of the President and Minutes of 2019 General Council, 6.

[4] Becky Carter, “When Women Preach,” Advance Newsletter, January 29, 2020,

[5] Carter, “When Women Preach.”


[6] Steve Grusendorf, “Unit 5.1 – Investigating Alliance Position Statements,” Alliance Polity (class lecture, CMAllianceU,, April 7, 2020).

[7] 2017–2018 Report of the President and Minutes of 2019 General Council, 6. Emphasis and parentheticals original.

[8] 2020 Manual of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (Colorado Springs: The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 2020), A5-3.

[9] “Districts and Associations,” The Christian and Missionary Alliance, accessed August 26, 2020,

[10]John Stumbo, “A Season of Change, Part Two – Stumbo Video Blog 76” (November 12, 2019),

[11]My analysis is necessarily narrow, focusing on offices, titles, and functions in the local church. For wider treatment of women in ministry from an egalitarian perspective, see Paul L. King, Anointed Women: The Rich Heritage of Women in Ministry in the Christian & Missionary Alliance (Tulsa, OK: Word & Spirit Press, 2009) and the work of Leslie A. Andrews, including “The Roles of Women in the Church,” The Alliance Witness 111, no. 9 (May 5, 1976), 3–6; “Restricted Freedom: A.B. Simpson’s View of Women,” in The Birth of a Vision, ed. David F. Hartzfeld and Charles Nienkirchen (Beaverlodge, CA: Buena Book Services, 1986), 219–40; “A. B. Simpson’s Understanding of the Role of Women in Ministry,” Alliance World Fellowship, accessed July 8, 2020,

[12] A. B. Simpson, The Christ in the Bible Commentary (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1994), 5:142.

[13] Simpson, Christ in the Bible, 5:142. “Bishop” and “overseer” are both translations of the same Greek word, episkopos.

[14] Simpson, Christ in the Bible, 5:237.

[15] Simpson, Christ in the Bible, 5:237.

[16] Simpson, Christ in the Bible, 5:238.

[17] Simpson, Christ in the Bible, 6:42–43.

[18] Simpson, Christ in the Bible, 5:238.


[19] Simpson, Christ in the Bible, 6:43.

[20] Simpson, Christ in the Bible, 6:57.

[21] Simpson, Christ in the Bible, 6:61.

[22] Simpson, Christ in the Bible, 6:59–60.

[23] Simpson, Christ in the Bible, 6:61.

[24] The Christian Alliance and Missionary Weekly 6, no. 13 (March 27, 1891), 195 (hereafter CAMW).

[25] CAMW 6, no. 13 (March 27, 1891), 195.


[26] CAMW 6, no. 13 (March 27, 1891), 195.

[27] CAMW 11, no. 26 (December 29, 1893), 402.

[28] CAMW 11, no. 26 (December 29, 1893), 402.

[29] The Christian and Missionary Alliance 21, no. 16 (October 19, 1898), 373 (hereafter The CMA), and The CMA 21, no. 18 (November 5, 1898), 421.

[30] The C&MA 32, no. 10 (June 5, 1909), 153.

[31] For examples of women in ministry more broadly, see Andrews, “Restricted Freedom,” 230–37. There are several instances in Andrews’s survey of attribution to Simpson, when in reality the quotations are from another contributor to his magazine, but overall her analysis is compelling.

[32] 1975-1976 Manual of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (Nyack, NY: The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1936), 124. The word “men” was replaced with “persons” in 1995, though it does not appear to have been reported to General Council 1996 (1995 Manual of the Christian and Missionary Alliance [Colorado Springs: The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1994], E3-1).

[33] 1975-1976 Manual, 125

[34] 1975-1976 Manual, 129–30

[35] Annual Report for 1978 and Minutes of the General Council 1979, The Christian and Missionary Alliance (Lincoln, NB: 1979), 209.

[36] Annual Report for 1979 and Minutes of the General Council 1980, The Christian and Missionary Alliance (Hartford, CN: 1980), 212. The committee for the 1980 report was made up of Roger Irwin (Chairman), Leslie A. Andrews (Secretary), Teresa Dunham, C. A. Epperson, John Fogal, Thomas Fraser, Elizabeth Jackson, Eugene Q. McGee, Wendell W. Price, and Marilyn Weldin.

[37] Minutes of the General Council 1981 and Annual Report for 1980, The Christian and Missionary Alliance (Anaheim, CA: 1981), 325. For full report, see pages 307–28. The committee for the 1981 report was made up of Walter Sandell (Chairman), Jean Bubna (Secretary), Olive Battles, Thomas Collord, Teresa Dunham, Charles Epperson, Elmer Fitch, John Fogal, Elizabeth Jackson, David Morre, and Gerald Welbourn.

[38] Minutes of the General Council 1981 and Annual Report for 1980, 325.

[39] Minutes of the General Council 1981 and Annual Report for 1980, 228–29.

[40] 1981 Manual of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (Nyack, NY: The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1981), 114. The “elder authority” language was added to the manual illegitimately, as it was not the terminology in the recommendation approved by General Council. This was at least identified years later in 1997 by a committee tasked with defining “elder authority” (Minutes of General Council 1999 and Annual Report 1998, The Christian and Missionary Alliance (Portland, 1999), 215).

[41] 1989 Manual of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (Nyack, NY: The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1989), 154.

[42] Minutes of General Council 1994 & Annual Report 1993, The Christian and Missionary Alliance (Columbus, OH: 1994), 140–43. The committee was instructed to study the Scriptures, C&MA history, and current C&MA practice. The scene inspired some heated letters to the editor, including one from Leslie A. Andrews. She wrote, “Perhaps when women who are seeking a way to be a part of the C&MA have gone away, we can get on with our primary task” (Alliance Life 129, no. 12 [June 15, 1994], 26).

[43] Minutes of General Council 1995 & Annual Report 1994, The Christian and Missionary Alliance (Pittsburgh, PA: 1995), 248. The committee was made up of Leslie A. Andrews (Chairperson), Marjorie Cline, Albert Runge, and Samuel J. Stoesz.

[44] Minutes of General Council 1995 & Annual Report 1994, 260–61.

[45] Minutes of General Council 1995 & Annual Report 1994, 160–71.

[46] For the report, see Minutes of General Council 1996 & Annual Report 1995, The Christian and Missionary Alliance (Indianapolis: 1996), 362–73. The task force was made up by P. McGarvey, K. Bailey, A. Poon, D. Wiggins, and N. Zobel. For the council’s response, see Minutes of General Council 1996 & Annual Report 1995, 211–25.

[47] A preliminary report on elder authority was offered in 1997 without recommendations (Minutes of General Council 1997 & Annual Report 1996, The Christian and Missionary Alliance [Charlotte, NC: 1997], 217–18) and the full report with recommendations presented in 1998, with time only allowing for consideration of three of the eleven recommendations (Minutes of General Council 1998 & Annual Report 1997, The Christian and Missionary Alliance [Milwaukee: 1998], 178–81).

[48] Minutes of General Council 1999 and Annual Report 1998, The Christian and Missionary Alliance (Portland: 1999), 219.

[49] Minutes of General Council 1999 and Annual Report 1998, 222.

[50] Minutes of General Council 1999 and Annual Report 1998, 148–51.

[51] 1999 Manual of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (Colorado Springs: The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1999), E3-1–E3-17. It is interesting that one of the requirements was “homiletics” (1999 Manual, E3-2) and the article Women in Ministry with its reference to a separate licensing process and prohibition of women administering the ordinances and their appointment as pastors remained in the manual until 2001 (1999 Manual, E3-11–E3-12).

[52] 1999 Manual, E4-4; E5-4.

[53] 1999 Manual, E4-1–E4-2.

[54] 1999 Manual, E5-1.

[55] Minutes of General Council 2001 and Annual Report 2000, The Christian and Missionary Alliance (Columbus, OH: 2001), 287.

[56] Minutes of General Council 2001 and Annual Report 2000, 164.

[57] 2003 Manual of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (Colorado Springs: The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 2003), E3-4. All of the changes to the Uniform Policy on Licensing, Ordination, and Consecration were reported at General Council 2003 (Minutes of General Council 2003 & Annual Report 2002, The Christian and Missionary Alliance (Phoenix: 2003), 162–80).


[58] 2003 Manual, E4-1; E5-1.

[59] 2011 Manual of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (Colorado Springs: The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 2011), E3-2. This and the following noted additions, while not enumerated in detail, were reported to General Council 2011 as a blanket policy overhaul (2009-10 Report of the President and Minutes of General Council 2011, The Christian and Missionary Alliance [Kansas City, MO: 2011], 140–41).

[60] 2011 Manual, E3-1.

[61] 2011 Manual, E3-1–E3-2.

[62] The purpose of this section is not to provide a thoroughly defended, definitive interpretation, but rather to offer a position that points readers to some solid resources and historic CMA exegesis.

[63] Andreas J. Köstenberger and Margaret E. Köstenberger, God’s Design for Man and Woman: A Biblical-Theological Survey (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 205.

[64] “Report of the Board of Managers Regarding the Role of Women in Ministry in the Christian and Missionary Alliance to General Council 1981,” in Minutes of the General Council 1981 and Annual Report for 1980, 316–19.

[65] Alexander Strauch, Men and Women Equal Yet Different (Littleton, CO: Lewis & Roth Publishers, 1999), 77–81.

[66] “Report of the Board of Managers Regarding the Role of Women in Ministry in the Christian and Missionary Alliance to General Council 1981,” 316–19. See also, Douglas Moo, “What Does It Mean Not to Teach or Have Authority Over Men? 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 184–87; J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt, Women’s Ministry in the Local Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 73–74.

[67] Al Wolters, “The Meaning of αὐθεντέω,” in Women in the Church: An Interpretation & Application of 1 Timothy 2:9–15, 3rd Edition, ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 113.

[68] Andreas J. Köstenberger, “A Complex Sentence: The Syntax of 1 Timothy 2:12,” in Women in the Church, 159–61. See “Report of the Board of Managers Regarding the Role of Women in Ministry in the Christian and Missionary Alliance to General Council 1981,” 318–19 for further support of this interpretation.

[69] For C&MA articulations of the connection between the office of elder and teaching, see “Instructional Statement on Church Government,” in 1981 Manual, 207 and “Report of the Committee Appointed to Study Elder Authority,” in Minutes of General Council 1999 and Annual Report 1998, 218.

[70] Minutes of General Council 1999 and Annual Report 1998, 151.

[71] Minutes of General Council 1999 and Annual Report 1998, 217.

[72] Minutes of General Council 1999 and Annual Report 1998, 217.

[73] For a helpful spectrum on women’s roles in the church and exposition and application of the Danvers Statement, see Wayne Grudem, “But what should women do in the church?,” CBMW News 1, no. 2 (November, 1995), 3.

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