I’ve been struggling with how to start this blog. Since my sudden burst of active Bible study a couple weeks ago — after a long, depressing rebellion of doing little more than showing up at church and asking God to forgive my tendency to swear in my head — I have been steamrolled by amazing, earth- and tradition-shattering thoughts and insights. The Holy Spirit is moving around the furniture in my mind; dusting away the cobwebs, redecorating, and airing out the rugs.
This has been a month of revelations, y’all.
And I’ve had NO ONE to talk to about them. (Until my husband came home from a long trip last week, that is. Even then, I was afraid to bring it up right away, for fear of his reaction.)
I’ve sat in front of this blank screen, trying to figure out how to even BEGIN to reconstruct verbally everything that I’ve learned that has turned the theology I grew up with completely, utterly, irrevocably inside-out. Because I needed to tell SOMEONE. I needed a place to parse these thoughts; get them out in the open so I don’t go crazy keeping them to myself. As my husband so wisely pointed out after I gathered the courage to talk to him: Whether or not I’m right, the conversation needs to be had.
You see, I’ve been a member of the Church of Christ all of my life. It’s where I’m most comfortable, because I so easily subscribed to all the theology preached at me since birth. Most of it made sense . . . until, suddenly, it didn’t.
It didn’t start out like a revelation, though. Some things began to chafe as I grew older. Some things didn’t make as much sense when brought to light and faced with logic (which God also gives us, and, indeed, supports faith because we are reasoned beings), but what could I do about them? I have my dad’s ear most of the time, him being an elder at the church we attend, but my complaints ran counter to his (and my mom’s) beliefs. It was heartbreaking that he could no longer be my [earthly] spiritual mentor or guide.
It truly was that heartbreak that prompted my immediate, frantic, desperate search for Big-T Truth, in hopes that I could finally have a clear explanation for my recent spiritual malaise and disappointment over the beliefs I grew up with.
My search began with instrumental music in worship. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer an a capella service over an instrumental service; I always have. I have just never been happy with the explanations given for why we insist on it, even to the point of believing instruments are sinful.
It led me to this post (scroll down past the broken picture link) by Patrick Mead, a Church of Christ preacher. (He has since taken down that blog, and I haven’t yet found an archive, so I am forced to use Google cache. The blog post linked above is the second in a series, but the first one I read. Here are One, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, and Eleven. They are worth the time it takes to read them.) [UPDATE: Those links are to cached sites that are no longer available. His blog has moved so many times, mainly because of servers he’s used, that it can be hard to track him down. Sadly, those posts aren’t available anywhere anymore, BUT! you can read his more recent available writings at patrickmead.net.]
Long story short, my mind was blown. Blown.
My study might have been prompted by the Church of Christ’s reasoning for instrumental music and the so-called “pattern” of worship that somehow makes us acceptable to God and makes or breaks our salvation (I won’t get started on that now; it’s a topic for another time), but I had more or less firmly held beliefs on the subject of women’s roles in the church — that is, I had talked myself into settling on what I’d been told. I had nothing to fall back on, I “knew my theology” on the subject, and knew I wasn’t ready to pursue any kind of changes because of my inability to be comfortable with the idea of a woman communion plate-passer, let alone a preacher or song leader. Even if I didn’t agree with Paul, because of our culture, I had to agree with the practice. I just didn’t have a better answer. I guess it was just what God wanted.
Or DID he??
After reading Patrick Mead’s posts, my eyes were opened to Junia; Phoebe; Prisca (whom I knew about, but had always been led to believe was secondary to Aquila, despite the name order in the epistles); the countless women who basically ran the home churches in the first century, because they ran the homes; Philip’s four unmarried daughters who prophesied; the fact that when Paul talked about head coverings, he basically condoned women praying and prophesying in the assembly (how did I miss that??); the “elect lady” and her “elect sister” in 2 John (whom I’d always been led to believe was code for a church congregation); the use of “anyONE” not “any MAN” at the beginning of the descriptions of elders and deacons; the honest, researched truth behind the cultural significance of the verses the church uses to keep women out of leadership; and on and on.
Most importantly, Galations 3:28 was brought to my full attention. I cannot say but that the Holy Spirit revealed the true meaning of that verse to me, and what it is really telling us when applied to the “fulness of scripture”. The way I suppose I’ve always read it has been,
“There is neither Jew nor Greek [racial equality], there is neither slave nor free [social equality], there is no male and female [gender equality, except where leadership and certain spiritual gifts are concerned], for you are all one in Christ Jesus [at least, your salvation is — as long as you “do church” right].”
But, really, it’s been this all along:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free — but male and female roles are subject to change based on context, for you are mostly one in Christ Jesus, as long as women don’t try to teach baptized male believers or go anywhere near the pulpit on a Sunday morning. But don’t worry! You can be baptized and saved just like men!”
It is not very easy to envision the culture of the first century church, especially if you’re not much of a history buff. I thought I knew about first century culture, but I did not! It IS easy to sit at this end of history and judge the culture, looking through the lens of our own culture, and make decisions based on that — which is what has been done with the favored verses the churches have been using for centuries to keep women out of whole-church leadership. However, I did some research (which didn’t take long!), and learned enough to turn my view on those scriptures completely around.
I also discovered, thanks to Patrick Mead, that the movement to equalize gender roles in the church has been A Thing for quite some time! I had no idea!! I listened to the sermons from “A Community Without Barriers”, the podcasts from “Half the Church”, read the mission statements at 1voice4change.com (and borrowed their logo), and it went on and on from there.
I bought a couple books from Amazon.com: “Ten Lies the Church Tells Women” and “What Paul Really Said About Women”, which I haven’t yet gotten around to reading, because I was reading what I’d checked out from our local library: “Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time” (EXCELLENT read! Very engaging and eye-opening!) and “The Lost Apostle: Searching for the Truth About Junia” (which I am still working on). I also want to get my hands on “Junia, the First Woman Apostle” and “I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking I Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence”. Right now, the prices aren’t right, so I’ll search for them elsewhere for a while. I’ve got plenty to keep me busy right now, especially with the research on instrumental music and the “pattern of worship”.
I also have stuff to work through — to get past. Long-held presuppositions and prejudices to wipe out. Resentment over lost opportunities to mollify. That niggling fear that I’ve got it wrong to pray unceasingly about. The bigger fear I need to face, of being a very small female person in my rather large church, and swimming against the current — and against my parents.
Let me tell you, that is the scariest fear of all. The only thing that steels me against it is the fact that I trust the Holy Spirit’s working in me, and I do not trust a works-based theology that keeps me in fear of my salvation. Their hearts were changed once, a long time ago. I think they can be changed again. But I also keep in mind Matthew 10:37:
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
This, of course, does not mean I will love my parents any less. I will just hold God higher — and challenge them because I love them and want them to see truth.
When I made this discovery initially, my heart did some flip-flopping, but mostly it sang for joy! I felt this intense freedom and empowerment (which was why it was so hard to not have anyone to talk to about it). Of course I questioned, but at some point I have to have faith that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the new-covenant law written on my heart and mind by God could not steer me wrong on this issue.
For now, though, with the exception of this blog and conversations with my Sweetie, I’m keeping quiet about it and devouring everything I can get my hands on. I have not been this On Fire for the Gospel since . . . Well, since studying with the Jehovah’s Witnesses a couple years ago, and the Mormons several years before that.
It’s liberating! I still believe the Church of Christ is my favorite denomination, if I were forced to choose, but I don’t feel enslaved to a works-based theology anymore that is in addition to believing, being baptized, and remaining penitent and faithful. I feel more at peace with the good parts, and strengthened to speak out against the wrong parts. But with love. And tact. Because I love these people, and, really, that’s what it’s all about.