I made a new friend recently. Within five minutes of meeting, it was very clear that we come from very different theological perspectives. Unlike most situations like this, our different perspectives profoundly add to our friendship and conversation rather than making it strained and adversarial (which leads me to conclude that I probably have a fair amount of responsibility in those situations where strained and adversial become our way of interacting ... but more on that elswhere.)
We met up accidentally again last week and talked through subject after subject – the atonement, our approach to Scripture, God's revelation, calling – and it was amazingly refreshing and challenging.
We also discovered that we have very different perspectives on women in ministry. He is a complementarian (believes that men and women are equal and have different but complementary roles which restricts women from leadership in church) and I'm an egalitarian (I believe that men and women are one in Christ and have interchangeable roles in the church and in the household).
The complementarian approach is based primarily on instructions within Scripture that Paul gives to Timothy and to the churches in Corinth:
'Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.'
- 1 Timothy 2:9-14 ESV
'For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.'
- 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 ESV
The egalitarian approach believes that these verses are valuable in their context but cannot be directly applied to the 21st Century as they are heavily influenced by the culture of the time.
The egalitarian approach also seeks to hold these verses of instruction in tension with the practice of the early church. Paul talks about Junia, a woman who is either 'esteemed by' or 'prominent among' the apostles (Romans 16:7) and Phoebe, 'a servant of the church' (Romans 16:1 - by which I don't think he means she makes great sandwiches and tray bakes). He also talks about Priscilla and Aquila, a couple who partnered with him in spreading the Gospel, and mentions her name first, leading us to belief she was the more prominent of the two, something that would be extraordinary in such a patriarchal society.
And what about Jesus? He had female disciples who funded his ministry. (Luke 8:1-3) The first act of evangelism in the book of John is the Samaritan woman who runs to tell her town about Jesus (John 4:28-30). It is Mary Magdalene who teaches the Apostles that Jesus has been raised from the dead (John 20:18) even though her legal testimony would have been considered worthless in a society dominated by male authority.
But here's the real reason I am writing this blog. However we choose to live, we have to be prepared to one day give God answers for the choices we make. And if he asks me why I have learnt from, been led by and invested in so many women ministers and, assuming that I can manage to speak on the day that I meet him, my answer will be:
'If you didn't want me learning from women then why did you make them so incredibly gifted?'
One of the first people to invest in my life was Jude Trenier who I'm now privileged to call one of my best friends. She saw something in me, invested in me, trained me and occasionally rescued me over a period of years. I owe so much of journey in Christian ministry to her.
My family owe a huge debt to Dee Brower-Latz from the Nazarene Theological College in Manchester for the theology and character she taught us through my brother, Tim.
My faith in the future of the church is shaped by women like Phyllis Tickle, Diana Butler-Bass and Rachel Held Evans.
I am proud to have handed the baton of Authentic Youth to Jude Barry who took it beyond what I could. Last week, our former intern, Jo Chipperfield mailed me and challenged me about one of my blogs and how I need to broaden my perspective and was absolutely spot on. I am privileged to have played a part in the shaping of young female Christian leaders like Kirsty Harnden, Geraldine Walsdorf, Kaddl Meißner, Janine Goldbach, Dee Kelly and others. I love working alongside women like Susie Keane, learning in my church from Dilys Jones and being led in compassionate ministry by Alex Fromholz.
And I'm delighted and proud to have a girlfriend who challenges both my character and my patience. (This line was submitted to and approved by her prior to publishing.)
Finally, one of my favourite quotes at the moment is from Julian of Norwich:
'In our eyes, we are always falling. In God's eyes, we are always standing. Both are true but God has the greater insight.'
This beautiful truth is shaping my life. And I would be robbed of that truth and its impact on my journey if I had to wait for a man to say it.
So lead on, women. Lead on.