I just became a Christian a few years ago and I’ve noticed a trend in my church that bothers me. There is a lot of great leadership in my church, but it feels like women are sort of regulated to only really doing women’s or children’s ministry. As a single woman who’d like to be more involved in different areas of my church, I want to bring this up, but I don’t want to step on any toes or go against the Bible. What can I do?
Leah, to say you’ve asked a good question would be a drastic understatement. In your first few years as a believer, you’ve perceived and now verbalized one of the great conversations of our age. Welcome to the debate, friend.
To be completely transparent, I am what would be considered an egalitarian. That is, I am of the belief that a women is fully equal in every way to a man. I believe that a woman can hold any position in ministry including, but not limited to: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher (list found in Ephesians 4:11). In my interpretation of the Bible and after prayerful consideration, I believe that both the qualifying and excluding factors for work in ministry are blind in regards to gender. Here’s why:
There is a pretty interesting conversation happening around an idea called the Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic. This fancy seminary term was coined by William Webb in his not-at-all-funny, quite boring, but phenomenal book titled Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis. And before I go any further, I need to warn you that I’m about to try and sum up the main idea of that book in a few paragraphs. Doing this is like playing Beethoven’s ninth on my daughter’s Playskool piano—I admit that much will be lost. You should read the book.
That being said, the main idea Webb proposes is that as we read the Bible, we see movement on an issue either toward a more broad worldview, or toward a more narrow worldview. By way of example, the issue of slavery: In the Old Testament of the Bible, there is clear direction for the proper treatment of slaves (Leviticus 25:44-46, and others).
Now you could read that and, as many do, say, “God’s OK with slavery? That’s messed up.” However, what we fail to see is that while God’s view of justice is perfect, He is keenly aware that ours isn’t. A pastor friend of mine used to put it this way, “God knows A to Z, but is wise enough to not freak us out. So He takes us from A to B, then to C, and so on.” This progression in thought is not God’s character changing, but our character changing and giving us the ability to see more of what He sees.
That’s what is happening in the Bible in regard to slavery. In the Old Testament, God’s giving humans the first step toward what we now know, ultimately, will be Christians unanimously declaring that slavery is wrong. God’s saying (in so many words), “First, just don’t treat them ruthlessly” (that’s A). And later, as we read in the New Testament, God continues to broaden the scope of our understanding. In a letter to Philemon, Paul says of the slave Onesimus, “He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord” (Philemon 1:16). That’s the next step, B. See what’s happening? There’s a progression in thought. A: Just don’t beat them all the time. B: Love them as a brother or sister in Christ. And on and on to Z: Slavery is unjust.
That’s the broadening of our worldview in regard to the Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic. And it’s this broadening that, in this egalitarian’s opinion, explains why we’re having this conversation now. Because as I read the full canon of Scripture, I see progression. I see God giving more and more instruction to a people who started as misogynist.
In the time that the Bible was written women were, at best, second-class citizens. But slowly, God revealed the narrative, and we see that women are held in high esteem. From Jesus to Paul, women are not only valued as people, but as laborers in the Church. Laborers who are called to spread the Gospel to the four corners of the world.
Who were the first people that saw the resurrected Christ and were given the lofty task of changing humanity? Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women who came to the tomb. Who was called by Paul, “A fellow worker in Christ” and held up as great teacher? Priscilla. Who was given the responsibility to answer to angels, take scorn and shame, bear the Son of God and encourage Him to greatness? Mary. Women aren’t footnotes in Scripture, they’re some of the most vital players in all of Christianity.
All right, I’m fully on the soapbox now, let’s settle down a bit…
Clearly, I’m of the view that God has given us clarity and continues to broaden our worldview. But, with very little effort, holes can be poked in everything I just said. In fact, I’ll do it for you:
1. This article pretty much destroys the Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic by Webb. If you read it, and you should, you’ll see other really brilliant people are saying that progression in thought is counter-scriptural and wrong.
2. I have daughters and am hugely biased because it’s impossible for me to think that there’s anything in the planet God couldn’t call them to.
3. Tim Keller, John Piper, Wayne Grudem and likely C.S. Lewis all disagree with me. They respect and value women as God’s creation, but wouldn’t allow the same roles in ministry as I would. Those people are smart and they shouldn’t be discounted.
Which brings us back to your question, Leah. You asked, “…I want to bring this up, but I don’t want to step on any toes or go against the Bible. What can I do?” What I would do is study, pray, consider and then engage in the conversation. Your male leaders aren’t bad guys for not being 100 percent certain that women should be allowed into all facets of ministry—really, they’re not. So have patience with them. We don’t know everything that there is to know yet, and the conversation is still being had. Someday, we’ll be at “Z” and all be on the same page (whatever that page may be). But until that point, we need to be patient and kind with each other have a civil discourse on those things that have yet to fully reveal themselves.
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Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.