Wednesday, September 03, 2008

well, well...

Speaking of Margaret Feinberg, thanks to her latest blog post I have been informed that Irving Bible Church opened their teaching pulpit to a female pastor a few Sundays back.

Some of you are hearing crickets chirp right now, but for those of us in the deep south, this is BIG news.

Obviously, how teaching is handled in our congregations is one of the theological issues that has been weighing on my heart:

I've noticed, with any theological issue, I start by scratching at the most obvious itches and only later do I discover the true rash underneath. At first, it was a question of: Can a woman be a pastor of a church? Then I had to ask myself: By pastor, am I referring simply to ministering in a church, or to preaching before the church? Soon enough, it begged the question: Where did the role of a single individual standing before a watching congregation and teaching them in a monologue style originate, and does anyone have the right biblically to hold that position? and, How was teaching among congregations handled in the bible? The questions went on: Are there passages about women teaching in the bible? Does teaching equal authority? How should we teach one another as members of the body? What about dialogue?

...and so we beat on.

But with most congregations, you have to start by scratching the first itch.

Now, here in the South, its only those "liberal" churches that have women pastors, or maybe a few of those "holy-roller" churches, too. When churches down here first started adding women to their staff in roles other than secretary, there was a distinction in titles. Men who presided over certain ministries of the church were denoted "minister of ...", whereas women were designated "director of ... ministry". Women could "minister", they could direct "ministries", but they could not be "ministers". Some churches have loosened up over the years, allowing the women who directed their preschool, childrens and womens ministires to be called "minister of ...", seeing as these were "safe" areas where there wasn't too much controversy about their serving there. Letting a woman teach from the pulpit, where THE minister guides the church, was just unheard of in a "Bible-based" denomination.

I want to applaud the Elders of Irving Bible Church, and thank them for even taking the time to consider the issue and courageously ask the questions.

I had an opportunity to explore their building while at the LeadNow conference last fall. If you can't tell, my preferences lean more toward a "gather-at-the-table" type of communion experience, than a "mega-multi-purpose-with-espresso-building" type of church. IBC is big, there is no doubt. But I also would never want to discredit another part of the Body because they don't choose to worship in the same way I do. I loved their coffee shop. It was comfortable and refreshing, and the staff was downright delightful. The conference was amazing, and could not have been pulled off as effectively without the use of IBC's facilities. They are big, but they also seemed to have a big heart.

Irving Bible Church was in a comfortable position. They have great people, great facilities, great outreach and great connections. They did not have to address the issue of Women's roles. They did not have to question their status quo. They did not have to take a risk. The Elders of IBC made a decision to wrestle with scripture and prayer and discernment, and in the end decided that there was nothing hindering them from honoring teaching from their sisters.

Not everyone looks at scriptures and comes to the same conclusions. Some congregations are still strictly opposed to women teaching males at all, including youth males in Sunday School. Some denominations, such as the Anglican Mission in the Americas, have done extensive study and decided to ordain women as deacons but not as priests (though, they remain open to clarification and discernment). Some denominations fully open the pulpit and leadership of their congregations to women.

I still think a lot of the issues come down to the titles we give people and the offices and structures we've created in an effort to efficiently organize the growing Church and to preserve theological consistency, more so than how the Lord designed each of his children with unique gifts to be used in service to the Body of Christ. I think a lot of things. That's one reason I write. I write to wrestle with what I am learning and questioning and exploring through scripture.

I take no issue with a woman in the pulpit, though I kind of have issues with anyone being in the pulpit, or with the pulpit itself, for that matter. I take issues. I know this. But so does everyone, its just that some people's issues are for maintaining the status quo and some peoples issues are for questioning it.

Regardless, I am excited for the IBC news. I am excited to see Elders continuing to wrestle with complex theological issues. It would be expected that, despite wrestling, many of their views will not change. We can't make scripture say what it does not. But in the willingness to ask questions, to explore the mystery, to listen to the Spirit's teaching, to consider and reconsider, just maybe some truths will be revealed in a new light. I do not believe in the cessation of gifts, and I do not believe in the cessation of revelation. The Israelites watched Moses carry the commandments down from the mountaintop, having just experienced the presence of the Lord. They knew the covenant, but they still didn't get it. They still had to wander. They still had to learn. God still speaks. God still moves. God is still mysterious. I just want to learn to listen and respond.


Ramón said...

"In 1 Cor. 11...[Paul's] opening comments indicate that women normally prayed and prophesied in the gatherings at Corinth...His mention of female prophets is most significant for, as we have seen, Paul believed that prophecy was the most important activity that could take place in church [see 1 Cor. 14:1-5, 20-25]. This ministry of sharing a direct word from God with others had precedence over the activity of the teacher. (The reversal of this order throughout the succeeding history of Christianity and the conviction that prophecy no longer occurs have obscured the significance of Paul's remarks here.) Since for him women have as much freedom to participate as men, Paul would presumably agree with Luke's view that Joel's prophecy had now become a reality: 'In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy...yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.'"

--Robert Banks, Paul's Idea of Community, pp. 119-20, emphasis mine

Kimberly said...

emphasis appreciated.

And, yes, Paul's Idea of Community is in queue on my reading shelf...

Rachel P. said...

May I suggest that perhaps the elders of IBC did not change their beliefs, but merely just now allowed a female to teach from the pulpit? That, while there are some complimentarians who are definitely cultural traditionalists, there are those who do not have the hang-ups that you and I had the misfortune of witnessing in our younger years?

Marriage has brought into stark reality for me the differences between the genders - that, because he is a man, Jeff says and hears statement A a certain way...and because I am a woman, I say and hear statement A in a TOTALLY different way. This is one (maybe overused) example of the myriad ways we are seemingly opposite. And then there's the myriad that has to do with our personalities and not our gender. I don't try to put too fine a point on it. I do, however, now more than ever, believe that there are fundamental differences in the genders beyond biology.

The question that then arises is how to help my husband and my brothers be what God has made them to be, and what I shall expect (and require) of my husband and brothers in this area. I've said it to you before, that godly and secure men do not feel the need to objectify or regulate the women in their lives. Godly and secure people in general don't do this. And I think I've written the longest comment in the history of blogs.

As always, I appreciate your willingness to challenge and question everything.

Kimberly said...

I completely agree with you that there are differences between the genders. That is not the issue I have with complementarianism. I understand that there are kinder, gentler complementarians (*wink*wink*), but in general, this is not the "official" position. I do beleive that IBC changed their views - based on their 18 month study and resulting position paper. Do I think that they would lable their new perspective "egalitarian" - not necessarily. However, they have certainly caused an uproar with CBMW, DTS, and Bible Churches in general. Their position has been called "dangerous" and "a violation of the clear teaching of scripture" and "undermining to biblical authroity".

Do I think that people will find it hillarious that we are having this conversation online while we live in the same house? Of course! But what fun are blogs if you can't debate with your married housemates? It's much more fun to talk about episodes of Lost or cooking techniques in person, and air the sticky stuff in public... or, something like that... (ok, so yes, people will probably think we're weird).

Your kinder, gentler egalitarianish/yoder-complementarian friend & housemate!

Greg said...

Kimberly, now that I've met you I had to give you a thorough reading. Looks like we have the same questions/ suspicions regarding the role of women in the church. I think I'm more egalitarian than complimentarian, but I hate to pick sides on such a labyrinthine issue. People who don't want to think too hard make us feel like we have to pick sides.

I'm a fan because:
- I too believe in short sentences.
- I'm all about "writing as a mode of learning."
- I think you're weird because you and your roomate communicate via your blog.

Ines said...

SHUT UP??!! IBC is allowing women to teach from the pulpit?? WOW! Glorious. I miss Texas.

Rachel P. said...

So I actually went and read Margaret Feinberg's article. I now know the entire story. I shouldn't comment so hastily next time. :)

I think CBMW should read their own paper, b/c I distinctly remember a passage that agrees with IBC's new stance. And I will find it, when I have more time.

I also think you and I have more in common than we have differences, even if we do occasionally submit to opposite labels.