Categories
Commentary Let Her Lead Ministry Theology

How I Changed My Mind on Women’s Roles in Ministry

I walked out of the room once she stood up to speak.

It wasn’t anything personal (or so I thought).

It was a matter of conscience. Of conviction! I was taught to believe–and came to the conclusion myself–that a woman should not teach men from the Scriptures in a public worship setting. This wasn’t “church” proper on a Sunday morning; it was a multi-ministry, interdenominational worship event. But it felt the same to me.

I had to stick to my conviction. I had Bible verses to prove my point!

Women aren’t allowed to teach or lead men.

So I walked out quietly.

That night back in mid-2008 in Johannesburg, South Africa, still haunts me. I felt brazen and principled and manly. Like I died on the right hill.

But as I look back at the me from eleven years ago, I feel small. Confused. Cowardly. Anything but manly. Ashamed of my thoughts, words, and actions. Most likely, my missionary teammates wouldn’t remember that night (I hope). But I do.

And I cringe.

I wish I could go back and stop myself from walking out.

I wish I could tell my teammates how wrong I was.

Mostly, I wish I could ask the young woman who stood up to teach from the Scriptures for her forgiveness. She is a person, with a name, gifted by God to minister to his people. Including me.

But I don’t know her name.

I didn’t stick around to ask.

It was more personal than I foolishly believed.

Unfortunately, I can’t go back.

But what I can do is repent.

Pursuing Private and Public Repentance

I’ve repented privately through countless hours of study, prayer, conversations (particularly with my wife, bless her heart), and explaining to others how I now understand specific Bible texts about women and ministry when I have an opportunity.

What I’m writing now, and what I will write over the course of the summer, is what I’ll call my public repentance.

I need to repent because I have knowingly and unknowingly marginalized and even rejected women who were gifted and called by God because of a shortsighted and narrow view of gender roles, the Scriptures, and how we apply certain passages.

It’s a vulnerable position to be in. “I think I was wrong on this before and am changing my mind” is one of the most humbling things you can say. It’s also one of the most freeing.

The combination of being humbled (aka humiliation) and freedom is at the core of what repentance brings in our relationship with God and each other. It’s powerful and beautiful and I forget it far too often.

What I’ve Come to Believe About Women in Ministry

Repentance means change. So what am I changing? Over the past twenty months or so, I’ve intentionally reexamined the Bible to see what it has to say about leadership in the church, in general, and the role of women, in particular.

Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to embrace:

We must not only permit but encourage and champion the full participation of women in the life and leadership of the Church.

It’s important to say that this is not a belief that someone needs to hold (or even have an opinion on!) to be a Christian. It’s not, in Christian lingo, a “salvation issue.” For some Christians in other parts of the world, this would never even be an issue.

We must not only permit but encourage and champion the full participation of women in the life and leadership of the Church.

But what we believe about women in the church has real-world implications and consequences. If Christians (read: Christian men) treat women as second-class kingdom citizens, we undermine the very essence of God’s kingdom and how he has designed his people to function. We’ll operate at 50% efficiency (at best), meanwhile destroying our witness before a watching world. There’s much more to say about this and I will (hopefully) write more in upcoming posts.

When I’ve told people recently that I believe we must open up the full participation of women in the life and leadership of the Church, it’s often met with this kind of question, “So, what does that mean? Can women teach? Be pastors? Elders? What can they do?”

In another post, I’ll explain why those questions are actually the wrong place to begin.

For now, I’ll answer: yes. I believe women should be able to exercise their gifts as teachers and leaders (elder, pastor, bishop, etc.–whatever a denomination calls them) in order to minister to women and men in the church.

How Did I Get Here?

Three lines of evidence helped me arrive at this new place: 1) personal experience in life and ministry; 2) observations within evangelical subculture that emphasizes male dominance and female subservience; and 3) conclusions drawn from my own extensive biblical study of the issue.

If you’re freaking out right now that the Bible was third on the list, these are not in order of importance. (Keep reading for an explanation!)

My journey didn’t start on a whim. I didn’t wake up and say, “I’m going to read Paul’s letters differently today!” No, experiences and observations snowballed over time. As I put the jigsaw pieces together, I started to make sense of what I (and my wife) had experienced, seen, and heard for decades.

Experiences and observations then forced me to go back to the Bible to ask the all-important question: are my inclinations in line with God’s word or am I way off?

It’s been a long and grueling, yet rewarding, journey. Of course, it’s not over. I don’t have all the answers. But I’m moving, I think, in the right direction.

About six months in (to the twenty month journey I mentioned above), I began to sense my view on women was shifting. I realized, eventually, since this shift would be seismic, I needed to tell my wife!

When I did, she was a bit surprised, but not shocked. There were things in our life, as individuals and a couple, that helped break up the concrete-hard “male-only leader” position we both held from childhood. We both had icky feelings about how women had been treated in the church. But icky feelings alone aren’t a good reason to change a theological position and practice.

After initially telling my wife, I continued to examine the key Scriptures in this conversation. As I did, I only became more convinced that women ought to be fully included in the church’s leadership.

As you think about the three lines of intersecting evidence I mentioned, you may have an immediate objection: What if your observations and experiences have influenced your biblical conclusions?

That may be true. I’m self-aware enough to acknowledge that. No one is an unbiased interpreter of any text, Bible or otherwise. However, consider an alternative perspective.

I never intentionally sought to change my mind on this issue without God’s gracious intervention. In fact, to maintain my (now old) position would have benefited me as a male in the traditional North American structure of the church. It required no sacrifice on my part.

To champion the full inclusion and participation of women in church leadership means that I must divest myself of any power I had or could have. The sinful nature in me would never depart with anything that feeds the idols of power or control. Instead, sin seeks to hoard it.

To champion the full inclusion and participation of women in church leadership means that I must divest myself of any power I had or could have.

As a man, this makes no sense if we are playing for keeps. But since the foundational principle of God’s kingdom is that we lose our lives to gain our lives, the inclusion of women aligns more fully with what Jesus taught about relationships and leadership in his kingdom.

This all makes me wonder if it is possible that God, in his kindness, has provided these experiences and observations to open my eyes to see his word in a fresh way that I never could have before. I think so.

The Scriptures never change. But the way I see them certainly does. Prayer, community, wisdom, and empathy will help us use–not ignore–the experiences to see more clearly to love God and our neighbor better.

We can’t hold up a stonewalled hand to God and say, “I do not permit you to teach me!”

If we did, well, then we might still be practicing slavery today.

Journey with Me and Practice Charity

This summer, I’m going to write about my journey. I’ll start by sharing parts of what I’ve experienced and observed as it relates to gender in the church, hopefully framing it within the wider cultural context the church is in now.

Then, over several posts (who knows how many), I’ll explain what I see in the Scriptures that lead me to believe that women can be full participants in the life and leadership of the church.

I don’t have it all figured out. There’s still a whole lot I’m struggling through. But, right now, it’s a good place to be.

It likely won’t be this neat and tidy, but in general I’ll have four major themes or types of posts:

  1. Examining the overarching narrative of the Bible. We’ll see how it reveals God’s design for gender roles in his Kingdom, how sin has marred that design and brought about all kinds of destruction and division between the genders, and how God is graciously, incrementally, and radically redeeming this brokenness.
  2. Examining the elevated place of women in the ministries of Jesus and Paul. We’ll see how Jesus and Paul, even though they operated in patriarchal cultures, empowered women to be full-fledged, active participants and leaders in the ministry of the church.
  3. Examining closely the controversial texts that relate directly to women in the church. This is what you’re here for, I’d guess. We’ll tackle head-on those passages that have been traditionally understood to limit, silence, or exclude women. What we’ll see is that these passages can be viewed in a different light with a few key historical and cultural insights as well as analysis of the original language, particularly in Paul (it will only get a little bit nerdy, I hope). We’ll see that these passages can’t always be applied generically and universally to all church situations everywhere.
  4. Examining anything else noteworthy I have filed away in my notes. There may be things outside of these categories that I come across as I review what I’ve studied. Those will get lumped together at some point. Think of it like a junk-drawer appendix.

The heart behind all this writing is to benefit everyday Christians, not impress the academics. Of course, I’ll cite lots of sources (there has been a whole lot written on this for decades) and get into some heady stuff. But I’ll do my best to cut through the mire, define big churchy words, try to keep it easy to follow.

You may be shouting for joy. You may be ready to cancel me. Wherever you are, I invite you to follow me on this journey.

And if you do (especially if you’re inclined to comment), please practice charity.

You’re free to disagree here. All you want, in fact. I want to hear your side. But, if you follow Jesus–whichever “side” you’re on–you are not free to be uncharitable.

As it is written, “If I can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge…but don’t have love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2-3).

Let’s heed the warning, and get into it.

Categories
Reviews

Review: Recovering From Biblical Manhood & Womanhood

I just finished reading Recovering From Biblical Manhood & Womanhood by Aimee Byrd. I read this book because I first learned about Aimee on the Worthy podcast, hosted by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Eric Schumacher. This review is much shorter than it could or should be. I’m won’t be able to cover all of the important content but want to highlight a few important arguments of the book.

Byrd, who subscribes to male-only ordination, set out to confront some of the teaching and application that has come out of the biblical manhood and womanhood movement, the origin of which we can trace back to the book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. Since then, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) has been developed and publishes a journal, blog articles, books, and hosts their own conferences.

Byrd’s primary goal was pretty simple. Her book seeks to show that men and women are on equal footing in the body of Christ. They follow the same Jesus, read the same Bible, and are both responsible to be active, faithful witnesses to the faith. Whether you are for male-only ordination or not, if you are a Christian, you should believe and practice this, she argues. I agree. 

Byrd’s overall concern could perhaps be summed up like this: we have segregated God’s word, and therefore God’s people, making certain aspects of it relevant to men and other parts to women. This has created separate discipleship tracks in the church: one for men and another for women.

Byrd examines popular gender-specific devotional Bibles to prove this, focusing on the ESV devotional Bibles for men and women. These publications have perpetuated the fuzzy idea of men’s and women’s “roles” in the church and home. They also give priority and authority to men: there are no women contributors to the men’s devotional Bible, but there are men who contribute to the women’s devotional Bible.

Byrd’s heart comes across clearly. She wants us to realize that the Bible does call us to biblical “manhood” and “womanhood,” but conformity to Christ regardless of gender.

Byrd shows how the biblical manhood and womanhood movement, spearheaded by CBMW, has perpetuated this segregation between women and men in the church. According to CBMW, women exist to support, encourage, and hold up men as leaders (chapter 4). For example, in Piper and Grudem’s book, biblical femininity is defined as “a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s different relationships” (p. 105).

Byrd points out that Scripture simply never states that all women must submit to all men, but the biblical manhood and womanhood movement would make us believe as much. She shows convincingly that this movement believes women are second-class disciples who do not and should not receive the same training and equipping opportunities as men. 

Conversely, Byrd takes us from one Scripture to the next (particularly in chapters 3 and 4) to show how the Bible “takes us behind the scenes and gives us a story behind the story through the female voice…implementing women as tradents of the faith” (p. 73). Ruth, the Egyptian midwives, Deborah, Rahab, and Mary are just a few examples that show “patriarchy is not the Bible’s message…[but that] it is the cultural backdrop against which the gospel message of Jesus stands out in sharpest relief” (p. 56).

One of the primary theological problems Byrd finds in the CBMW is the doctrine of the eternal subordination of the Son, or ESS for short. I won’t take a deep dive into this doctrine here, but in a nutshell ESS is the belief that the Son, the second Person of the trinity, has always been in subordination and submission to the Father. The CBMW uses this as the foundation for their view of gender roles. Of course, this is a doctrine at odds with the church councils of Nicea (AD 325) and Constantinople (381), summarized in the Nicene Creed. Byrd circles back to this throughout the book. Unfortunately, the CBMW has allowed room in their movement on different views of the Trinity, but not how men and women function in the church (pp. 120-121).

As Byrd closes the book, she write beautifully of two women’s co-laborship with Paul: Junia and Phoebe. We meet these women in Romans 16. Phoebe was the courier of the letter to the Romans and Junia is even identified as “renowned among the apostles” along with Andronicus. While churches today are arguing about whether or not woman can make an announcement or pass out bulletins, Paul commends these women for their ministry (p. 213).

Phoebe, as the courier of the letter, was thus authorized to not only deliver but communicate (i.e. instruct) what was in the letter that the Romans may not have understood. At the very least, this reveals Paul’s heart to include women in global, apostolic work. It reminds us that “having a coed team of apostles in Rome sounds wisely strategic in reaching the diverse men and women” who lived there. It’s a lesson we ought not forget today.

I do have two gentle critiques. More like pet peeves that I hope won’t detract the reader from the content of the book.

First, It was much more academic than I expected and wonder if that will work against Byrd in the long run. Why? Because while many of the men who are behind the Biblical Manhood and Womanhood movement are academics, the people who have been influenced by their writings, sermons, and conferences are not professional theologians. They are everyday, ordinary Christians.

Second, Byrd is an Orthodox Presbyterian. And, oh, does that come through clearly! In my estimation, she has too narrow of a view of “the church,” reducing much of her focus to local fellowships and what happens during a Sunday morning liturgy. She also places a very high emphasis on church officers, as a presbyterian would—an emphasis that I think the New Testament doesn’t even give. (But that’s another post entirely).

If you, reader, are the average “layperson,” let me encourage you press in and not get hung up on the academic tone and institutional preferences of the author. Press on and engage with her actual arguments without setting up and destroying straw men (or women).

Overall, I’m happy to recommend Recovering From Biblical Manhood & Womanhood. No matter your position on gender roles in the home, church, or world, if you are a Christian or church leader, you need to wrestle with the issues and problems Byrd brings to light. And I hope you do.

Categories
Life

Reading the Bible in 2016: Knowing How to Read

As 2016 gets underway, many of us are starting a new Bible reading plan (and you can even start today though it’s January 7!). What is essential to making your Bible reading worthwhile this year? There’s a lot we could say, but let me boil it down to three things we must do: we must read successively, thoughtfully, and prayerfully.

First, read successively. By this I mean read whole books of the Bible at a time. The Bible is a collection of 66 books with unique genres, and specific themes, tones, and purposes in mind. Each book was written by unique people who had their own personalities and perspectives. If we are to honor this reality and mine the entire Bible for all its riches, reading books from start to finish is necessary. Otherwise, the Bible will become a grab-bag of fortune cookie sayings. You’ll end up abusing God’s word rather than honoring and obeying it.

This does not mean that you need to read the entire Bible from start to finish, though you may do that. But if you to start this year in Romans, for example, then begin at verse one and read to the end—rather than just your favorite parts. This forces you to deal with the everything in the text (even the controversial or difficult portions) and deal with everything in context. Reading in context reminds you that nothing is stand-alone. No one verse says it all. And no one book says it all. Each passage is a part of the whole book, and each book is a part of the whole Bible.

Second, read thoughtfully. By this I mean meditate as you read. Ponder what you are reading! This is not casual or flippant reading. On the other hand, it’s not deep study. I do not recommend that every time (or most of the time) you sit down to the Bible you do deep study. There are times for that—but the preponderance of your time in Scripture should simply be ingesting the Story. As Eugene Peterson writes, “There will be time enough for study later on. But first, it is important simply to read, leisurely and thoughtfully. We need to get a feel for the way these stories and songs, these prayers and conversations, these sermons and visions, invite us into this large, large world in which the invisible God is behind and involved in everything visible and illuminates what it means to live here.”

So jot down notes, make observations and connections, and consider why it matters. But keep the Greek and Hebrew dictionary on the shelf. Enter the world of Scripture and get lost there. And relish it.

Third, read prayerfully. If you divorce Bible reading from prayer, it will all be for naught. The Bible is not a book for you to read to acquire information. It’s a book of transformation because it reveals God and what he is up to. Therefore, you find out, pretty soon after reading it, that it is actually reading you. It exposes you. It brings you face-to-face with God. When this reality sinks in, your thoughts and words are suddenly caught up in conversation with the God who comes to you through ordinary words on a page (or a screen!). Take what you have thoughtfully read and turn it into prayer. Interact with the text. Interact with God. He is very real and he is very much there with you. Look at who God is and what he is doing and praise him for it. See your sin in light of his holiness and confess to him. Marvel at God’s work of redemption, culminating in his Son and thank him. Ask and trust him to fill you with his Spirit so that this text comes to life in you today.

Read the Bible successively, thoughtfully, and prayerfully. If we do this, I think we’ll see God move in and through us, because of his word, in ways we could never have imagined.

Categories
Life

Listening Is the First Thing

Here is an encouragement to all who make it their regular rhythm to read and listen to the Scriptures. Not to mine it for religious information or obscure facts or historic controversies or proverbial nails in your friend’s doctrinal coffin. But for shaping. For transformationFor God.

This comes from Eugene Peterson’s introduction to The Message.

“Revelation” means that we are reading something we couldn’t have guessed or figured out on our own. Revelation is what makes the Bible unique.

And so just reading [the Bible] and listening to what we read, is the first thing. There will be time enough for study later on. But first, it is important simply to read, leisurely and thoughtfully. We need to get a feel for the way these stories and songs, these prayers and conversations, these sermons and visions, invite us into this large, large world in which the invisible God is behind and involved in everything visible and illuminates what it means to live here—really live, not just get across the street. As we read, and the longer we read, we being to “get it”—we are in conversation with God. We find ourselves listening and answering in matters that most concern us: who we are, where we came from, where we are going, what makes us tick, the texture of this world and the communities we live in, and—most of all—the incredible love of God among us, doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

Categories
Theology

Roundup of Posts on Scripture Application Questions

Over the past several days, I wrote several posts about questions to ask to help with meditating on and praying Scripture. Ultimately, these questions help us to aid in heart-level application of Scripture. This is the only kind of application that will have lasting value. Now, these questions are not the only ones we should ask, but they are important ones. For quick reference, here are the links to those posts with a brief summary.