By Mike Willis
This issue of Guardian of Truth features a discussion between Tom Roberts and Vance Trefethen on the proposition that the Scriptures require the whole church (including the women) to be involved in the decision making of the local church. The contention which brother Trefethen affirmed in his book Confusion or Consensus was this: “There is no pattern for men-only business meetings and a clear pattern for congregational (men and women) decision-making assemblies” (12).
Brother Trefethen asserts that the Holy Spirit revealed that a congregational assembly, including both men and women, should make the decisions in the local church and that men-only business meetings and elders holding a “secret decision-making session” are without the approval of the Holy Spirit (17).
I am aware of several congregations that encourage their women to attend the business meetings, some allowing them to speak and others not. The practice is sure to be the focus of more attention as the influence of the feminist movement spills over to affect more and more Christians. It is already affecting our liberal brethren. The ultra liberal Bering Drive congregation in Houston, Texas issued a “Report on Women’s Participation in Public Worship” on March 5, 1989 which said,
On July 31, 1988, the elders presented a statement to the Bering Family concerning the use of spiritual gifts by both men and women, expressing our conviction that it is scriptural and appropriate for sisters as well as brothers to serve in Sunday morning worship roles of ushering, greeting visitors, receiving the offering, reading Scripture, leading prayers, leading singing, and serving communion (quoted by Alan E. Highers, “The Winds of Change,” Spiritual Sword [January 1991], p.
Brother Highers continued to relate that the Cahaba Valley church in Birmingham sent a letter to its members stating that “women may minister not only to women, but also to men.” They followed this up by announcing in 1990 that the church would be appointing deacons and said, “Deacons will be male and female.” Their intention was that by 1994 women would be “speaking to the assembly in sermon.” The 1989 Nashville Jubilee had some women speaking in assemblies with men present.
The 1990 Preachers’ and Church Workers’ forum at Freed-Hardeman University featured Robert Randolph, a pulpit minister for the church at Brookline, Massachusetts, and Lynn Mitchell, one of the elders at Bering Drive in Houston, defending an expanded role for women in the church. Randolph openly stated that he had no problem with women serving as elders.
I cite these incidents, not to attribute them to brother Trefethen, but to introduce this discussion of the women’s role in the local congregation. You need to take the time to read this debate between these two brethren. The issue is not likely to disappear.
More Communication Needed
on East European Mission Work
Since the opening of the Iron Curtain many brethren have participated in teaching efforts in one or more of the former Communist countries. While we are of course happy to hear of the churches that have been planted in various places, we feel that, in at least some cases, more good would be accomplished if there had been communication among interested parties. This is especially true when a brother or group of brethren involved in mission work are limited in the time that they can spend at a given place. No matter where the Gospel is preached or how effectively it is done, the results of any effort may be limited by its duration. Also, surely all brethren who have worked for any time in Eastern Europe have been awed by the masses of people in any given city compared with the number of brethren involved either full-time or part-time in evangelizing these fields. In light of this, we must use our time in these efforts wisely. Again, better communication among interested parties will lead to a combined wiser use of time. It is hoped that the following points will lead to more communication among those involved in evangelizing Eastern Europe or any other field of labor.
1. Deciding where to go.
The following questions may help in determining a field of labor:
a. If it is a city where no one you know of has been, do you know someone who has worked in the country the city is in?
b. Is a place in a proven fruitful field opening up due to a brother’s plans to return to the U.S.?
c. If you have a choice between several places, are there any available figures on how many responses there have been relative to the amount of time brethren have spent working in each place?
d. In critically examining this article in preparation for its publication, one brother who has spent many years in foreign work made a suggestion that fits under his heading. I include it here for your consideration. He said that he does not put too much emphasis on response as he does on the need for the gospel in a given place.
e. Checking around for literature is something that is always helpful but especially so if you are limited in the time you can spend in a mission field. Are tracts available in the language of the country in which you are planning to work?
2. Planning an extended stay.
While the logistics of such a move alone can be formidable and time consuming, please do not forget to widely publicize your plans so that as many brethren as possible are aware of where you are going and for how long. This will help others considering foreign work to know your plans in case you need a co-worker or, in the event you do not need a co-worker, such brethren can cross your new location off of their list of prospective fields of labor. Further, letting brethren know how long you plan to stay may help those making long-range plans. I have known brethren who planned for over two years before moving to Eastern Europe. Given the necessary information, such brethren may make plans to replace you in your work after your time there is completed.
3. Staying for shorter periods.
Many brethren who have labored in Eastern Europe and in other fields have been limited in the time they can stay, usually to somewhere between three and six weeks. Experience has shown that, by itself, an effort of such length rarely results in a church being established in any given place. While we are all happy to hear of any effort to preach the gospel, would it not be more expedient to the Lord’s cause in such cases to arrange to be part of longer effort in a given place in conjunction with other brethren? If you are unable to spend a long time doing missionary work, it may be expedient to let others know of either your plans or your availability. In this way, others can possibly make plans to follow you in the work in some field, or you might follow someone else.
If the above advice sounds good to you, why not try to plan as far ahead as possible and circulate the news of your plans? Such preparation will make the chances better of a church being established as result of your efforts.
4. Avoid a spirit of competition.
After weighing all possibilities, what if you choose a field of labor that is different from the one or ones chosen by other brethren with whom you were hoping to work? One thing that should be avoided is a spirit of competition. The field of our labor is the world (Matt. 13:24,36-37; Mk. 16:15). In light of this we must respect the decision of other brethren as to where in that field they choose to labor. Let us bid such brethren God-speed in their chosen work and glorify God that they are working in the spreading of the gospel (Gal. 2:9; 1:23-24). Let there be no strife between us; for we be brethren (Gen. 13:8).
In conclusion, it is hoped that this article will prove helpful to brethren planning to do foreign evangelism and lead to the furtherance of the gospel.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 16, p. 3-4
August 18, 1994