We are praying for a movement of God in our city. We want to be a part of what God is doing to bring men and women, boys and girls, from different backgrounds and diverse perspectives, to put their faith in Jesus Christ.
In short, we are asking God to “do it again” when it comes to the multiplication, joy, and energy that we see in the New Testament church.
But what was essential to the early church to see such a profound movement of God?
They were small. They had very little money. They didn’t have government support. They didn’t have mass media.
The greatest multiplication of the church had no church buildings. They didn’t have fast transportation, except for a donkey if you could afford one. They had nothing like we think we need for the spread of the gospel.
But the church exploded. Within five centuries, it became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire with over 20 million believers.
What they didn’t have didn’t matter. What mattered is what they did have. They had faith. They had fellowship and a family. They had a new way of life focused on love and caring for the poor and living differently. They had their testimonies. They had absolute confidence that Jesus was alive.
Most of all, they had the Holy Spirit. Everything they needed was given on that first day of the church when the Holy Spirit fell. The Spirit fell on both men and women, empowering the mission of God to sweep the world.
How did Jesus support and affirm women?
Unlike the other rabbis of Jesus’ day, Jesus was radical in that He had both male and female followers. He told stories where women were the main characters, such as the persistent widow (a model for prayer) and the woman looking for a lost coin (an echo for God’s diligent search for people who are lost).
Then Jesus gave the Great Commission to all believers, both men and women: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV).
Women, as well as men, were called to make disciples. They’re called to go, to baptize, and to teach.
Another indication of Jesus’ radical way comes from John 20:17, when Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene after the resurrection. He chose a woman to be the first witness to the resurrection — the first “preacher” of the gospel.
Then, on the day of Pentecost, both men and women were filled with the Holy Spirit and enabled to proclaim God’s power in languages other people couldn’t understand.
Each of these examples stems from Jesus’ radical way when it comes to women in ministry.
As a church, these scriptures have led First Baptist to affirm both men and women in whatever way God calls them. That includes serving, teaching, and even preaching. We currently have women serving as chairpersons in each of our four councils — worship, community, missions, and discipleship. Approximately half of our deacons are women (again, there is New Testament evidence of the early church affirming women as deacons), and next year’s chairperson of our deacon body is Dianne Forry.
We don’t just believe in this interpretation of scripture. We celebrate it! We believe both men and women are essential to the Body of Christ and the fulfillment of our mission. We believe women and men are crucial to seeing a new movement of God.
Why have Southern Baptists not agreed with this interpretation?
There are a few scriptures in the New Testament that seem to suggest a contrary view. For instance, in 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul writes, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have the authority over a man (NIV).” Commentators point to the fact that while Paul identified ten women among 16 noteworthy helpers in ministry, none of them served as pastors.
For this reason, the guiding document of the Southern Baptist Convention, The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, states “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
There are other scriptures that challenge the idea of a woman being in authority over men. For instance, 1 Corinthians 11:3 (NIV) says, “The head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” However, the very next verse states, “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved…” (1 Corinthians 11:4-5, NIV).
I don’t know any Southern Baptist churches that require women to cover their heads when they pray. Yet these same churches continue to uphold the idea that women are not allowed to speak or serve in the way that God leads them by the Holy Spirit.
An alternative is to recognize that there are some things in the New Testament that are cultural words for a particular congregation, but perhaps not carrying the same weight as other teachings.
I believe that we must always come back to Jesus — His words and example — when we don’t know how to interpret a scripture. While I don’t fully understand why Paul wrote what he wrote, and I continue to hold up the Bible as the authority for my life and the church’s life, I go back to the way Jesus called, empowered, and gifted women.
As a church, we believe in the God-given freedom for every Baptist to interpret scripture as they are led. We will continue to affirm, encourage, and assist women in the fulfillment of their calling and we pray for those who disagree with us.
Furthermore, we don’t believe this should be a test of fellowship with the Southern Baptist Convention. Last week, however, they “doubled down” in affirming their conviction that women cannot serve as pastors, in any capacity.
What does this mean for our congregation?
It’s my belief that we will have a choice to make in the upcoming year. Will we continue to give to the Southern Baptist Convention or not? Will we stay for the sake of unity, or will we cut ties with the Southern Baptist Convention?
In many ways, the Southern Baptist Convention has left us. It would not surprise me if we were disfellowshipped from the Convention just as other churches were disfellowshipped last week for this very reason. We will discuss this question as we begin a new church year with a new Church Council at our August meeting.
I grew up Southern Baptist. My roots go deep, as my grandfather was a Southern Baptist pastor for four decades. It would give me no joy for our church to make a voluntary move to leave the Southern Baptist Convention. However, the Convention has acted over a number of years, as one church member stated well, in a way that is “incongruous with our church’s practices based on our understanding of the gospel.”
Let us commit to praying together about the right course of action for our church. Let us celebrate the women who serve so faithfully through First Baptist Church. And let us ask the Holy Spirit to “do it again” — that we may see a mighty movement of God.