Last night I posted Renew Communities position on the role of women in ministry and I wanted to follow-up with a short post on how we came to this position. Look for a post on Wednesday with a list of resources that we’ve found helpful in this process.
Most of the churches I was a part of in my formative years and in my early years of ministry were churches that believed that role of women in the church should be limited. While it seemed very cut and dry these positions always brought up very good questions. When does a boy become a man? Is it ok to teach a 17-year-old but not an 18-year-old? What about other cultures where the age of adulthood is younger? What is a woman allowed to do in a worship service? Is a testimony ok? What makes something a testimony or a teaching? Wouldn’t “testimonies” still work against Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 14 to be silent? Wouldn’t just letting them give announcements or speak during the worship set violate Paul’s command? These questions lead to deep conversations and often more questions.
Over the years all of these questions pushed me to start researching and reading why people prohibited women from ministry that might impact men and other thoughts from people who by all other appearances would be considered theologically conservative but seemed to believe that women could indeed play any role in church ministry.
The most compelling argument I have found and personally believe is that by allowing women to speak and lead in church we are actually being more biblical than those who chose not to. If you read the “position paper” drafted by our elders a couple of years ago you’ll see a list at the bottom of women who were very active ministering both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. They did things that the that are believed to be prohibited by the two classic passages people use to argue against the role of women in ministry and in the New Testament context they did them as contemporaries of Paul and at times with Paul. In fact we know about their work in ministry often because Paul praises them in his letters. Scot McKnight (conservative NT theologian) asks this question “When we ask the question of women in ministry, the debate almost immediately gravitates to traditional “women in ministry” texts. But I’d like us to ask another question — one both more biblical and more answerable: Do women do in your church what Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla, Junia, and Phoebe did? Do they do what Mary did? Do they do what Jesus encouraged women to do?” You can read the whole article at http://www.cbeinternational.org/files/u1/women-ministering.pdf and what you see is that these women were doing EVERYTHING – preaching, prophesying, being apostles. Deborah’s case is an Old Testament one – but she was a JUDGE which essentially means she was playing the role of Prophet, Priest & King for the entire nation of Israel – all of God’s chosen people.
After wrestling through the Biblical examples and a great deal of research from “both sides” (see our resources posted tomorrow) I realized that the reason so many of the “rules” about women in ministry seemed so weird/difficult was because we weren’t applying the Bible to our context but instead we were applying 2 or 3 verses to our context and trying to make it work – and in my opinion (through prayer, research, Bible study both on my own and with the elders) it just doesn’t work – it seems that God agrees because he allows women to play all the roles we traditionally think only men can play. (As a side note I don’t think God allowed these women to play these parts because there were no suitable men either – there clearly were – He just called these women to fulfill these roles)
When we wrestled through all of this – especially the New Testament examples it caused us to land where we have with our position on women in ministry. The good news for us is that it’s in line with our denomination’s discipline that has been in place since the late 1700’s (with lots of changes over the years) and is in line (surprisingly to me) with our American Evangelical heritage where women were permitted to preach & teach men and lead in various denominations and evangelistic endeavors up until the early 1900’s.
I do want to talk about how and why we “implemented” this the way we have over our first two and a half years of ministry. When we initially installed elders we were in agreement that women could serve in this position and so we thought and prayed about who could fill this role. After a few months we determined that we would rather wait to have a woman on that team than to have a “token” woman on the team. This isn’t about proving a point or becoming an advocate for the “rights” of some this has and always will be about who God is calling and our ability to answer or facilitate so others can answer that call. The same has been true when it comes to preaching during our Sunday gathering. I have always been open to it based on the process I described above but I wanted it to be a part of what God is doing as a whole in our church and not an “issue” based decision. As Bethany describes at the beginning of her sermon I have been asking her to preach for over a year (maybe more) not because I wanted a woman to preach but because I knew the Lord has called her and she would share with tremendous insight and power. If you listen to Sunday’s message I’m sure you’ll agree!
I’m not foolish enough to think this series of posts will change anyone’s mind – though I hope it might. There are many who take the opposite view and I’m good friends with them! I would just ask as you think and read these posts that you might ask McKnight’s question that I pasted into this post “Do women do in your church what Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla, Junia, and Phoebe did? Do they do what Mary did? Do they do what Jesus encouraged women to do?” If not why not and which is more Biblical?