It’s that time of the biennium (or quadrennium since we lost the 2020 General Assembly in the pandemic) to consider the agenda of the Church of God. A recent additional input to this process is the newly started Church of God Scholars Blog. However, since I’m a) in the Church of God and b) a scholar but c) am not a Church of God scholar, I’ll stick with this forum to express my views. The agenda itself can be found here.
Tenure of Elected Officials
For the newbies: the Church of God has a centralised, episcopal form of government, but the way it works is different from, say the Episcopal Church, the ACNA, or the Roman Catholic Church. We have a five-man (more about that later) Executive Committee, an Executive Council, and several department heads which are elected at our biennial General Council/General Assembly for two year terms until the next Assembly. There is an elaborate and complicated system of term limitation that goes with this. With the cancellation of the 2020 GA, the Executive Council decided to simply extend the terms until the next General Assembly, which is this one. The question remains: should the additional two years go against the term limitations of the office holders or not? That’s what this agenda item is all about.
I can just about guarantee that this item will generate more time and heat than just about anything else. For my part I am neutral on it. The advantage of adding the “lost” two years is that we’d have more people going off of the Committee and Council sooner, and I suspect that this will, under the surface, drive most of the debate. Whether the Church will be better off one way or the other is something only God knows.
Women in Leadership
This isn’t what it looks like. The Church of God has three ranks of credentialed ministers: Exhorters, Ordained Ministers and Ordained Bishops. Women can be the first two, but until now only the third could sit in the General Council (which recommends items for approval of the General Assembly, which includes all of the ministers and lay people, men and women alike.)
To directly quote the agenda, what is on the table is this:
Under the proposed measure, only those ordained women ministers who fulfill the same age and years of experience qualifications stated for Ordained Bishops (including completing equivalency testing for General Council certification) would be eligible for participation in the International General Council.
I’ve said many times that our whole paradigm of authority in churches like ours is totally screwed up, especially for a church with a Wesleyan heritage and a Pentecostal concept of a Spirit-led church. This should be passed. The Assemblies of God have lived to tell about this and prosper, so can we.
Meaning and Usage of the Title Ordained “Bishop”
I actually explained what this means in the previous section. For the rest of the world, “bishop” implies a) some territorial oversight and b) rank over ministers of, say, local churches. (Our state overseers have the formal title of “Administrative Bishop” and that makes sense.) The Church of God adopted this because some of its communities use the title “bishop” for local church pastors as well. I hope that the ministers fix this problem and vote to change the title “Ordained Bishop.” The resolution kicks the can down the road on what would replace it, but at least it would get the can moving.
Resolution Concerning Human Identity and Sexuality; Biblical Fidelity in Gender Identity Affirmation
This is something ACNA types will immediately recognise. I think both of these should be passed. I know there have been cautions out there about this, but hey, the laity has to live in the world, so can everyone else. I do not think that our entire lives should be consumed by wondering what we will do with our genitals next, up to and including changing them out. I wish that the resolution had put some emphasis on that simple fact; Christianity was in some ways a revolt against that kind of thinking in the classical world.
Entry Level Ministry Title
This would change the title of “exhorter” to “licensed minister,” which is what is now “ordained minister” used to be called. It’s a step in the right direction, but as I said above, maybe someday we’ll be more in sync with the rest of the church on this issue.
International Executive Council Expansion
They’ve been debating this for a long time. Personally I think the only tangible result of this would be to increase our travel budget, and it’s big enough as it is. I think this should be turned down unless we go to a quadrennial Assembly, and that’s not likely.
Usage of the Titles of God
This is another item ACNA types will find themselves all too familiar with. I think this should pass although, contrary to what some people say, I think that God is beyond gender (although he’s fertile.) For the lefties, masculine pronouns are his preferred pronouns, right?
Ordinances of the Church
This would clarify the church’s stand of “open communion” and for that matter “open foot washing.” (which is an ordinance in the Church of God.) I know that ACNA types will immediately think of “communion for the unbaptised,” but to be honest the Church of God’s attitude towards baptism is so “loosey-goosey” that there’s really no comparison. What I’d like to see is a clarification on whether we observe ordinances (like the Baptists do) or sacraments (like the Anglicans do.) The resolution displays the irritating Church of God habit of conflating the two when they’re very different, which becomes especially apparent when you consider Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology: It Depends on What ‘Is’ Is.
Sexual Abuse/Sexual Exploitation of a Minor in Church Membership Consideration
This is a hot topic these days. This should be passed. The Church of God has turned out people for all kinds of reasons; this one makes sense. This applies to members, not ministers. The Church of God has a system for disciplining minsters and their restoration (I’m on the board that oversees the latter.)
There are other items which I will pass over in silence. How much of this agenda (which is lengthy by Church of God standards) will actually be debated and voted on in the General Council is hard to say; I doubt they will get to all of it.