Dr. Arnold Cook



From Where I Sit and Stand

Dr. Arnold L. Cook


Before addressing the question, I want to affirm strongly the godly and. effective ministry of our women. They serve selflessly and with distinction in a multitude of leadership roles. Those who know me well are aware of my long-standing commitment to promote and support godly women in ministry.

I feel badly, that in recent years, they find themselves in this uncomfortable position of being at the "eye of this debate." In a sense, the discussion has little to do with women, and much to do with the political pressure of our day, and everything to do with our approach to Scripture as evangelicals.


The discussion has a long history. In the C&MA Canada, it was first raised at our second Assembly in 1982. Action was taken at the 1984 Assembly to name a Study Commission. They reported back to the 1988 Assembly. From that debate came what currently appears in our Manual of the C&MA Canada, 1998 edition:

"It is recognized that the historical and biblical pattern has been that elders in the church have been men. The weight of evidence would imply that this pattern should continue" (pp. 128-29).

We have been functioning under this understanding since 1988. Several churches over this period have chosen to elect women as elders. To my knowledge, of our 390 churches, only eight have elected women as elders. Two of these have since reversed their decision.

During this same period, our sister church in the US has been conducting their own series of studies and debates. They rejected the recommendations of a study report in 1995, which was oriented toward the egalitarian position. At the 1996 Council they received four papers, prepared by four Alliance scholars, who presented the more traditional interpretation of women in ministry. In 1998 they strongly supported a recommendation to "reaffirm the Alliance's historical position which does not provide for the ordination of women." Currently a commission is completing a study on "Elder Authority" which will report to the 1999 Council.

My Position:

I did not get the opportunity, at the Hull Assembly, to speak directly to the question. As the Board of Directors has followed through on the action from Assembly, to prepare materials to facilitate discussion on this subject at both the District and local church levels, they also have encouraged me to speak to the matter personally.

My position, based upon my understanding of the clarity of Scripture, is essentially what we currently have in our manual, i.e. Women should and do serve and lead in a wide range of ministries up to the role of eldership, which I believe God has given to men. In our context, eldership has been traditionally understood to refer to senior pastors and elders' boards.

What are the criteria for my position? It is grounded in my interpretation of Scripture. I will not use the term "a high view of Scripture" since everyone claims to speak from that viewpoint.

I believe in the plenarv and verbal inspiration of Scripture: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Tim. 3:16). "Plenary" means complete and all inclusive, affecting all of Scripture, and verbal, indicates that it affects the very words of Scripture, i.e. tenses of verbs, number and gender of nouns etc.

I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, not just its authority: This means that the Scriptures as given in the original manuscripts, the autographs, were without error of fact, doctrine or judgment of any kind. "You must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (II Peter 1 :20-21). Put in layman's terms, "The Bible says what God says, through human writers without error." The responsible translations of the English Bible have given us a trustworthy version of the original manuscripts.

In 1972, after considerable debate, Fuller Seminary, my alma mater, backed away from "inerrancy" and simply affirmed the "authority of the Bible." The ramifications of this decision have been far reaching. It has profoundly affected the way a growing number of evangelicals approach the interpretation of Scripture in the last 27 years. It is also very germane to this current issue.

I believe our approach to interpreting Scripture should follow this criteria:

1. It carefully considers the historical and cultural context in which it was written.

2. It remembers that Scripture was written to ordinary believers, without access to the literary resources of our day.

3. It holds to the clarity of Scripture, which allows clear passages to interpret unclear passages, i.e. it allows Scripture to interpret Scripture.

4. It is sensitive to the "spirit of Scripture" on a given issue.

5. It follows the approach of Jesus, i.e. using the Old Testament to, explain the New Covenant.

6. It is guided by the grammatical-historical method that holds tenaciously to literal interpretations wherever possible.

My Concerns:

From where I sit, I have several serious concerns regarding this matter:

The unnecessary limitations our women currently face in ministry: One of the many great seminars given at Assembly '96 in Regina, was one presented by Mrs. Judith Milne, director of Missionary Services, National Office, and Miss Wendy Thomas, Dean of Women, CBC. They effectively highlighted all the ministry possibilities that are available under the present guidelines in the Alliance. Herein lies my concern. We as male leaders are great "gate-keepers" but are failing our gifted women as "door openers" and "way-makers" into more ministries.

Our founder, Simpson, had a great balance. He readily gave his pulpit to godly women, with spiritual gifts in healing, evangelism, missions etc. etc. Women led many of his para-church ministries. But he did believe that men should be the elders in his Gospel Tabernacle (see Power From on High, 1895, pp.148-150).

The lackadaisical attitude toward the theological implications: Some have referred to this current discussion ''as essentially a cultural question." I am aware that theology has fallen on hard times. It appears that we are left with only a weakened variety of a "relational theology." In the last 27 years, a division has appeared in Evangelicalism. From where I sit, it has originated around the question of "how we interpret the Bible" (hermeneutics). This break in our ranks has become the most recent "battleground for the Bible," which may well be the subtlest attack in its history.

The historical tendency of the Bible to fall under the control of the "elite:" From the beginning God has been committed to revealing Himself. "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets. . . , but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,. . ." (Heb. 1: 1-2). This Son spoke the language of the common people. The Holy Spirit superintended the writing of the New Testament Scripture not just in Greek, but in the Koine (common) Greek of that day.

The Bible fell under the control of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church for centuries. The battle, to get it back into the hands of the common people, cost the forerunners of the Reformers, such as Tyndale, their lives. Then the Protestant Reformation returned it to the ordinary people, in the vernacular of the day, English and Germany etc.

In recent centuries the Bible has periodically fallen captive to the educated professionals. I see this as a dangerous possibility with our present discussion, which has the potential to divide us deeply as a denomination. As more evangelical theologians do new studies on old questions, and arrive at new conclusions, the everyday Christian feels more disenfranchised of his ability to understand the clarity of the Bible with the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

The responsibility of leadership to "see sooner"and "to see further:" Many have spoken to this issue. Many passionately using persuasive anecdotal arguments. Some have spoken theologically. But I have heard few speak with a prophetic word regarding our future. Decisions detenmine destinies. Someone needs to warn us where this decision could take us. Without being alarmist or assuming to be prophetic, let me be one voice from recent church history. We only need to glance at Christianity Today, Christian Week or Faith Today to pick up on the agenda items that other evangelical denominations are debating.

Stacked up behind our current issue are at least three other major questions, coming at the church. 1. The sanctity of life issues, e.g. abortion, euthanasia, (already here) and genetic engineering coming quickly, etc. 2. The sanctify of marriage questions:, e.g. escalating divorce rate among evangelicals, cohabitation, definition of marriage, growing acceptability of divorced and remarried pastors, etc. 3. The sanctity of sexuality questions, e.g. Christian definition of sexuality, acceptability of "homosexual orientation" for Christian workers, ordination of homosexuals, etc.

I would like to isolate our present discussion from all future issues, but as a responsible leader I cannot. The Scriptures warn about drift (Heb. 2:1-3; Rev. 2-3). Church history offers ample evidence of the 'slippery slope" process. As leaders we will be derelict in our duty if we fail to warn our people.

I am told that in aviation, pilots know that certain aircraft tend to veer left upon take- off. To compensate, experienced pilots "steer right to go straight." From where I sit and stand, this is my strong counsel to us in leadership: "Let's steer right to go straight."

Respectfully submitted,

Arnold Cook, President

March 5, 1999