Post TheoCon2023 Report

Greetings EFCC Brothers and Sisters!

I trust that you are encouraged as you serve our God! It was so good to see so many of you in Okotoks at our 2023 Theology Conference! I was also encouraged to know that many more joined in online. We have heard from many that they loved our speakers and the spirit with which they presented their material. We heard from many women that they felt seen and heard by their brothers in the EFCC in a refreshing way.

I appreciated the spirit with which our Free Church attendees (online and in person) asked their questions, particularly how you all treated Beth Allison Barr. It dawned on me that Beth faces unique challenges when she steps onto a stage. When Beth gets up to speak, she knows that many people are already offended before she even speaks – simply because she is a woman and is standing on stage. On the other hand, Andrew (as a man) does not offend anyone until he says something they find offensive. This is a significant difference in experience between being a man and woman, and I so appreciate how gently and respectfully questions were asked during our conference.

I love the Word. As a leader in the EFCC, I can attest that we do not want to promote any policy that is against the clear teaching of Scripture. We want to uphold God’s beautiful truth while being ministers of grace in a world of broken people and systems.

Our EFCC Statement on Human Sexuality on the website is an example of how we want to both uphold truth and minister graciously. You will also find our strong Statement on Biblical Marriage there. In the EFCC we distinguish between essentials and non-essentials. Our theological essentials are summarized in our 10 Article Statement of Faith. Our moral essentials are summarized in our EFCC Covenant of Personal and Professional Ethics (CPPE). The issue of what roles men and women can play is clearly a non-essential issue. Throughout our history, we have allowed a diversity of belief and practice on this and many other issues. While we have convictions on these issues, we are determined to hold those convictions with grace.

Some of you have asked why we did not have speakers reflecting all sides of the debate as we did in 2013, when we had scholars from both sides of the discussion present their cases to us. A few have voiced a concern that we are pushing a policy that would force churches to hire and ordain women. That is not what we were trying to accomplish with this conference. We had Andrew Bartlett speak to help complementarians and egalitarians understand each other better – by revealing the assumptions and weaknesses of both sides. We had Dr. Barr speak to help menOne in Christ understand the experiences and hurts some of our women throughout history (including today) have experienced by the actions and words of church leaders.

We were not trying to present a case for both sides as we did at the Theology Conference in 2013. This conference was offered as a conversation held among family (One in Christ) to help us to have empathy for our brothers and sisters who may feel like second class members of our family. We have not set a policy on the ordination of women and there is not yet anything to recommend to the EFCC BOD or the conference at large. Therefore, ordination was not mentioned or discussed at all during the theology conference.

There seems to be some confusion regarding what we did at our National Conference in 2014, so a review might be helpful. The motion presented in 2014 was to change our credentialing procedures to allow women to be ordained should the local church want that. While the motion received a majority vote, in the interest of unity, leadership had requested a 2/3 majority before implementing the change to the credentialing procedures. Since we received 56% instead of the 67% we desired, we did not implement the change and the board has honored its promise not to bring back a motion on the ordination of women for 10 years.

Let us return to this year’s theology conference: we had more women attend this conference than ever before. The topic clearly resonated with them. Additionally, I can see some being concerned that we are preparing to discard the Bible in order to “get with the times.”  Please hear me say that this is not our intent. Our local churches each choose to hire who they want, and they give them the mandate to carry out whatever role they ask the person to serve in. Some of our churches have women pastors, some do not. Some have women on the board, some do not. We are not looking to change this.

The District Superintendents are working with the Ministerial Standing Committee on a completely new Formative Accreditation process that we hope will ensure our churches that their ministry staff (and any lay leaders they commend to us) will minister in Free Church ways alongside local church leaders. We hope to build a formative process that produces ministers who can rightly, and humbly, handle the Word. The policy needs to be finalized by MSC and approved by the BOD before coming to conference (hopefully in 2024). The new proposal will not force churches to hire or ordain women. Please feel free to speak to your District Superintendent or to myself as this is making its way through Board approval if you would like more information on what this could look like.

Please know that we love and value each of our churches – whatever their view and practice on leadership. We are congregational and hold to the priesthood of all believers. Yet we involve men and women in our ministries in different ways. Our Free Church ethos and history allows us to do that, and we desire to give each congregation that freedom. We continue to work closely with our District Superintendents on all these key issues.

May God bless each of you as you encourage men and women in your context to love and serve our Lord Jesus Christ!

Serving with you,

Bill Taylor
EFCC Executive Director