I have been contemplating writing on this topic for some time. The catalyst for me really goes back about 25 years to a conversation my wife and I had when we were 18 and I was not a Christian. It was the first time I ever heard the view espoused that I would later learn was called Complementarianism. I was quite shocked and horrified that God would design an order in the relationship between a husband and a wife. Over time, that shock dissipated and became more of an “ok, that’s what the Bible clearly teaches” type of thing, and I acquiesced and became a Complementarian. Something always bugged me about it though. The idea of marital hierarchy was problematic with other things I read about God in my Bible. God’s nature didn’t seem to dictate that conclusion, but then I would study passages of Scripture like I Corinthians 11:2-16, I Corinthians 14:34-46, I Timothy 2:9-15, Ephesians 5:22, and I Peter 3:1-7 and I would run back to my Complementarianism. As our church leaders would say: it was obviously exactly what the Bible taught, however; my wife didn’t cover her head with a veil, all the churches we were in allowed women to talk (and teach select groups), and none of them thought women were redeemed through having babies (though all were Complementarian). It was quite a conundrum, and a haphazard application of these same texts.
Now let me be very honest, I do not really care much about what other people think. If the Bible clearly taught Complementarian theology, I would be a proponent of it no matter what anyone thought. As I studied more and more theology, I became more thoroughly convinced of a Reformed understanding of theology, and women fully included in ministry was clearly not something endorsed as a Reformed Baptist. As I read and studied modern Reformed people, it became clear to me that most people I interacted with equated women ministers as an anathema, on par with the other favorite cultural punching bag of self-righteousness, homosexuality. These two issues are not related. Almost all of the arguments cited the above texts, without exegesis and interpretation, and declared victory.
That was not a viable alternative for me because women not serving festered (even though I didn’t really want it to). I knew so many great women that were amazing teachers, shepherds, and who had borne so much fruit for the kingdom, that their systematic exclusion bothered me. I thought of my wife and how her gifting, outside of our theological bent, was that of an Execute Pastor or a Youth Pastor, a strong teacher and leader; and I had a very hard time squaring the party line with my reality of experience.
I decided I wanted to tackle this topic seriously and apply the old adage ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda: the Church reformed, always reforming. This means that we should always study our methods and beliefs and compare them with what the Scripture teaches. As we make that comparison, we adjust to Scripture and not persist in error. I have found that most people I know have inherited their stance on this issue from their parents, tradition, or pastor, and very few have actually studied it. I purposed to study the issue and figure out exactly what the Bible taught and apply it to my practice of the faith. Fortuitously, I started taking some doctoral classes at a Baptist seminary. My first class gave me 3 options of research topics and one was Women in Ministry, so of course I jumped at it.
In this series of blog posts I want to share what my study led to, what conclusions I came to, and how I think this should practically impact the church. I have felt like I should share for some time, but have not really sat down to write. Part of the reason is it will take a while to properly flush all this out, part of it was an unwillingness to write on a divisive topic while I have been looking for a new pastorate. Ultimately, the shocking revelations of abuse emanating from the church in the past months motivated me to want to address the topic of “does our practice cause abuse, and is our practice Biblical?”
I know that some of you will disagree with what I conclude, which is fine. Disagreement between family is going to happen. The Bible may leave a topic unresolved (because its ultimate purpose is about redemption, not leadership), but I would ask that all of us have an open mind considering the topic. Let’s not lean on our previous understanding, traditions, and inherited bible interpretation; but let’s look afresh at what the Bible actually says. The charge to us is serious: keep reforming and to understand why we believe what we believe.