I hesitate to add my voice to the area of women’s roles in the Churches of Christ.  I say that, as a man, who gets to preach, and has no restrictions placed on him. I feel unqualified to add my words to the already full pools of thought going on in our congregations. Yet, sometimes you must speak.  There are times in our lives where we will feel like Jeremiah when he says, “ But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jer. 20:9, NIV). I believe fear, for the most part has kept me quiet on this issue.  I repent of that fear right now.

In my experience, there are places you don’t want to tread in a Bible study on a Wednesday night or Sunday Morning. The role of women is one of them. I have found that when even when the subject of the role of women is broached from a distance, it is immediately shot down with fury. Immediately the proof texts from 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy are bandied about and slammed on the table. This is where the terrible way of reading the Bible that says, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it,” comes into play.

These moments have become gatekeepers in our congregations that we have allowed to persist. Many of our congregations can’t even enter into any sort of meaningful dialogue, let alone serious studies of these passages without it devolving into an argument – an often-times very loud argument. This is tragic among a people who are born out of reconciliation and resurrection.

We’ve held our positions on the roles of women in the assembly and the church for a long time now. I don’t expect my voice to change your mind. Our heritage, which is a beautiful one, has preserved some of our general positions.  That’s commendable. I love our faith heritage and am proud to serve within it. Yet, on the roles of women in worship, let me just ask a simple, yet loaded question:

What if we’re wrong?

No one among us would even hesitate to admit that Jesus elevated the status of women in the first century.  They were integral in his ministry (Luke 8:1-3), and they were participants in some of the greatest moments in Jesus’ ministry. We read that they had an active, participatory role in the early church’s worship services (1 Cor. 14:26). Women even had leadership roles recognized by an Apostle (Rom. 16:1). I’m not advocating crazy changes – not at all.  I’m just asking if we’re honestly reading the text without dodging the uncomfortable parts.

I’m not promoting that churches begin immediately putting our dear sisters at the pulpit or to pass trays or lead singing or pray.  Instead, I’m trying to wrap my head around an idea; a question, really. First, let me bring up another Scripture before I bring out my question.  Writing to the Thessalonian believers, Paul writes, “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19, NIV). In context Paul is speaking of not treating the revelations and things of God with contempt.  He’s admonishing the believers to trust the Spirit, don’t block Him. Let Him lead. Don’t put Him in a box of “theology.” I know we’re all guilty of this from time to time, and repentance is required.  Here’s my question:  Are we quenching the Spirit?

Let me ask it in a way that terrifies me:

Are we keeping an entire group of believers from exercising their God-given abilities by hiding behind tradition and comfort?  Are we handicapping our women in their service to God?

These are honest questions.  And, if we find ourselves to be wrong in this, a deep repentance is required. How do we know God hasn’t spoken a word through a sister that someone needs to hear but never will because we don’t allow her to speak in front of everyone?  How do we know God isn’t raising up women with something burning in their hearts that we all need to hear? Are we so arrogant to hang our theological hats on one or two Scriptures that when read in the proper context reveals quite a different picture than we’ve been presented with?

We can go around and round on whether Scripture advocates an egalitarian view or a complementarian view. We can say, “Let’s talk about what women can do, not about what they can’t.”  To me, that’s become a fancy way of dodging the issue entirely.

The role of women in our assemblies will continue to be a contentious issue so long a we hide behind the demonic tyranny of statements like, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” Being closed-minded or too sure of our positions gets us nowhere.  This is a big issue, church.  It isn’t going anywhere.  Maybe its time we sat down and talked about it. Publicly. Humbly. Together.

Look, I’m not advocating a massive, church-wide change. I’m not saying we throw everything we’ve ever known in the trash and walk away.  I’m not pretending that there aren’t many brothers and sisters who sincerely believe with their entire being that God has set up women’s roles in a certain way. I’m certainly not going to force women into something they don’t want to do.

What I am asking is that we sit down with open Bibles, open hearts, and open ears and listen to God.  We need our sisters.  We need to hear their prayers. We need to hear what God is speaking to their hearts.  We need the collective wisdom God has given His people through His Spirit to guide us in these tenuous days. We need each other!

We must have this discussion.  We must stop labeling each other liberal, conservative, progressive, or traditionalist.  We are dividing the Body when we do that. Instead, we must come together and discern through the Spirit and the Word, what God wants us to do in our congregation – not everyone else’s. We cannot ever change just because.  Yet, we cannot afford to stay the same if we are perpetuating a sinful tradition. This is where clarity and wisdom must come into play. 

I plead with you, brothers and sisters, that we come together and ask ourselves, “Are we quenching the Spirit?” If we find ourselves to be in that position, then it is our Christian duty to change. May we pray that we can empower our sisters and let them be who God created them to be.  May we all humble ourselves and pray for wisdom on this issue.