Changing My Mind on Women in Ministry, Part 1

It’s Not Easy to Change

When those of us on the Missio Alliance writing team were given this month’s topic—Gender and the Kingdom of God—I knew that it would be a difficult topic for me to write about.

Truth be told, it has been an extremely difficult topic for me to write about.

Yes, I’m limited by a word count. Yes, I have close friends who will think I’ve lost my mind (again). No, I will not say everything I believe on every topic in the entire universe in this one article and will thereby leave other things open to speculation by those who don’t know me and by my close friends, who will in turn think I’ve lost my mind (again).

I could go on an on, much like that last run on sentence, describing all of the ways that this article is difficult to write. However, truth be told, there is really only one reason that this article is difficult for me to write.

The reason: those who agree with my conclusions are already prepared to agree with what I have to say and those who don’t are already prepared to disagree with what I have to say.

Christian theology is often like a sports debate. Once you have decided on your team or your player, it matters very little what others have to say about their team or their player. I’m a Texas Longhorns fan, which means I despise the Oklahoma Sooners. In a debate over who is better, Sooners fans will endlessly point to National Championships and Longhorns fans will endlessly point to the head-to-head record of games played between the two teams. The debate does not escalate from logic to emotion; it begins in emotion and potentially appeals to logic.

It’s this way with so many things—Republican vs. Democrat, vaccines vs. no vaccines, public school vs. private school, gun ownership vs. banning guns, the list goes on and on.

This is exactly what Christian theology is like. No one wants to confess this is true, but if we are all honest we know this is the case. Once we have a team, subconsciously we are launched out of a cannon of emotion into debates that leave us enraged and engaged in heated arguments. After a certain point in time, when we have settled into a “deeply thought out” theological position, the chances of us changing our minds are very slim.

Those who do change their minds know that doing so is not easy; in fact it is painful on many levels—spiritually (it affects your relationship with God), emotionally (it affects your relationship with yourself), and socially (it affects your relationship with others).

I want to share with you my story of how and why I changed my mind on women in ministry. The change was difficult, in the ways that I have described above. I hope that my story gives you pause to consider, courage to think deeply, and Christian charity toward those whose position is different from your own.

Correct Theology Equals Faithfulness…or So I Thought

I planted a church towards the end of 2002, as part of a Reformed church planting network that was fairly new at the time. This particular church planting network holds to a very strong view on the roles of men and women in both the home and in the church. I not only agreed with that view, but I taught that view extensively and in very dogmatic ways.

I won’t take a lot of space spelling out that view, as it has been spelled out well by The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and others who hold to it. Basically I was a complementarian who believed that the Bible taught that men and women were both created in the image of God, but that women were subject to men both in the home and in the church because of the creation order.  In other words, wives were not subject to their husbands because of the Fall, but because of God’s original intent in creation. Like most of my Reformed friends, I held to a very patriarchal understanding of the home.

I believed this view was biblical, meaning I believed this was what the Bible taught. In fact, I believed that not holding to this view made one a liberal who held to a low view of Scripture. Such a person had succumbed to syncretism with the culture and was therefore living in disobedience to God’s Word—in other words, they were living in sin.

I was a product of my church background, education, and theological system. When I became a Christian, as an adult, I joined a small Southern Baptist church in a small southern town. The Bible was interpreted literally in every way. It was the infallible, inspired, inerrant Word of God.

Hey, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”

Feeling called to vocational ministry, I enrolled in a Southern Baptist college that had once been the headquarters of defending biblical inerrancy. I not only continued to have my view on the Bible reinforced, but I also was exposed to conservative evangelical Reformed theology. I now had a system that seemed coherent and theologically airtight.

The church I planted in 2002 was built upon my systematic theology. Yeah, I know, I’m supposed to say it was built on Jesus. Let’s be honest though, it was built on my systematic theology. The first teaching series I did in the church was on systematic theology. Some of the topics I taught on included salvation (which meant TULIP), the Bible (which meant inerrancy), the Fall and redemption (which meant Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace), and eldership (which meant males only).

In the context that I was part of, correct theology was equated with faithfulness. Therefore, if you didn’t believe the right theology you were incapable of being faithful. Because I was concerned for the people in my church (men, women, and children), I decided to write a guide to biblical manhood and womanhood (over one hundred pages in length). We then held special weekend events for men and women where I taught this material.

Suffice to say, the complementarian and patriarchal views that I taught were not only well entrenched in my own theology, but also in the theology of my close friends and church members. It is extremely naïve to say that changing my mind on this topic was easy and without cost.

Remember, for me correct theology was equated with faithfulness. Rethinking an issue that I was so convinced of plagued me with the fear of being wrong and therefore unfaithful.

So why would I ever be willing to rethink this issue? What would cause me to do so? What did this mean for my relationship with God, with myself, and with others? And why did I ultimately change my mind?

These are all answers that I hope to give in part two of this post (tomorrow). I hope you will stick with me until the end.

— [Image by Georgie Pauwels, CC via Flickr]