A painstakingly difficult topic within the church today, and maybe for all time, has been that of the role of women. Here at my blog, I have probably made it clear where I stand – in the more egalitarian camp. Egalitarianism does not advocate that men and women are identical in all matters, for there are definitely some differences between the two sexes (hence, why some might argue that they believe in complementary roles). But egalitarians believe that both sexes are capable of equal standing in both the home and the church. And this is all based upon the calling and gifting of God, not one’s gender.
I’m not going to spell out all my biblical and theological reasons. Rather I’ll point you to my plethora of posts here.
Still, even within both the egalitarian and the complementarian perspectives, there are differing views (as with every theological approach).
One discussion within the complementarian position is whether or not women should ever be allowed to teach with men present. Many complementarians would argue in the negative, quoting such passages as 1 Tim 2:8-15 and 1 Cor 14:33-35 for support. Again, I don’t want to hash out my thoughts on these two passages. Instead, I point you to here for 1 Tim 2 and here for 1 Cor 14. But there is no doubt that, for some, to allow women to teach (or ‘exercise authority over’) men, this is not acceptable within the gender role structure God has set up.
But let me just share a very practical account, something recent with regards to the issue of women’s roles.
This past weekend, our local church, Cornerstone, held our first ever church weekend away. We headed not too far away to a monastery-turned-retreat-centre and decided upon the theme of Be Still and Know. From the teaching sessions, to the times of corporate worship in song, to the shared conversations and fun, to the fantastic weather, it was truly amazing. I look forward to making this an annual time together.
Another great blessing was that we were able to have our dear friends Ian and Carole Rawley with us from Cambridge, England. Ian and his wife have carried a very important role within our local church, being involved a full 2 years even before my wife and I moved to Belgium to serve within the church context. And though Carole was not always able to herself, Ian travelled over from Cambridge to Brussels every other month to be meet with the leadership team at that time, speak on the Sunday, and enjoy some fellowship with various people and families in the church.
Now that my wife and I are on the grounds full-time, they are not travelling over quite as often. Still, they look to travel over every 3 to 4 months in a similar capacity. They remain part of the relational accountability that Cornerstone, as well as my wife and I, have within our network of churches.
Hence, for our first ever church weekend away, I gave an invitation for them to join us, to be with us, to share from the word of God, and be available for ministry amongst the people. Such proved to be a fantastic time, no doubt.
And, so, in the midst of the weekend gathering, Ian and Carole concluded it would be good for Carole to take one of the teaching sessions. Now, you obviously know where I am going with this. Guess what? There were both men and women present at the weekend. Even I, a male and pastor-elder of this specific local church, sat there ‘under’ the teaching of Carole Rawley, a female.
Yet, all I could think is how not weird this occurrence was. No one, not any one sensed this was wrong and out of place. And I suppose a few people knew the words of Paul in his various letters.
Ian took the first session on ‘being still’. Carole followed up in the second session with ‘knowing God’. Ian took the final session on Sunday morning, focusing in on ‘I am God’, filling out the full statement of ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ (If interested, we’ll make the teaching sessions available at our podcast soon).
But there was Carole in that second teaching session, standing before us all (though behind a music stand rather than the more authoritative pulpit – I say this tongue-in-cheek). She utilised John 14:6 as a springboard into her focus of knowing God, knowing Christ. She focused in on knowing Christ as the way, knowing Christ as the truth, and knowing Christ as the life in regards to the situations we face in our lives. It was very solid and practical teaching. No if’s, and’s or but’s about it.
And, again, there was no weirdness. No awkwardness. No questions of, ‘Is this ok?’, or ‘Is this wrong?’, or ‘Can she do that?’
Now, I am glad to know I have many a complementarian brothers and sisters that would allow for such. Some would allow for it on an ongoing basis. And some would argue it is not the norm but is allowable if men are not available to carry on such a ministry. Well, in our situation, both Ian and myself were very present and very available to teach. But I think we would have missed something if Carole had not taught.
Not only that, but Carole was the first one during the weekend to bring a very pointed prophetic word in our first gathering. Very pointed with a strong sense of God speaking. I guess we can be thankful that 1 Cor 11:5 allows for such, though she had no head covering (but that is another issue I focus on here).
Finally, Carole, not Ian, sensed the need to pray over the church with a commissioning prayer for us to move forward in God following the weekend together. I know you were probably not present, but just as with the prophetic message on the first evening, or the teaching session on the second morning, Carole’s prayer on the third and final day carried a sense of God’s authority. That is the way I am compelled to describe the prayer. We were united together under her instruction and as she prayed with the authority of God.
Please do know that Carole is not one who feels the call to champion women’s roles in the church. By no means! For her, it’s not even about theological debates of egalitarianism versus complementarianism. She simply was stepping into what God had given her as a very gifted ministry (I use the word ministry not in the sense of an organisation, but in the sense of people being ministries, since ministry can only be done by actual people, even if those people are within an organised structure.)
I deeply appreciate the giftedness of both Ian and Carole. They are both deeply respected and looked up to by our local church, and by myself and my wife. Carole can continue to have a teaching role (and prophetic role) within our context as she is able to join us. Why? Because it is her calling and ministry and gifting. It had nothing to do with gender. It had all to do with our God’s empowering of both Ian and Carole Rawley. And I deeply believe this is the design of God for his ekklesia, his new creation people.