In my life it’s usually the difficulties that push me into uncharted territory. As I sit here writing down this difficult and painful story, I praise God for how he is molding these results into good.
A couple years ago a Christian woman entered my life when she brought her two older daughters to me for weekly piano lessons. As we got acquainted, she began sharing her story with me. I became involved in her circumstances as my heart encompassed her in her distress.
My friend’s story was one I’d encountered more than once in recent years. Her husband had embraced headship teaching under the auspices of a popular ministry and was now pressuring his wife to yield to unreasonable demands. He was insisting that she disown an older son who had failed a test of obedience.
My friend was alone in this horrific no-win situation. No amount of persuasive counseling could convince her husband to abandon this extreme position. She was being forced to choose between her husband and her son. I was one of those in the unenviable position of trying to give her good and godly counsel.
I watched my friend’s marital situation degenerate and shed countless tears with her. I had been careful not to phone my friend too often. When her husband was present he would quiz her about who it was and I didn’t want to add to her woes. Therefore, when two Sundays passed and I did not see her at church, I questioned a mutual friend about her status. This is the story she told me.
Our dear sister in Christ had endured as much as she could under her husband’s relentless railing against her. With the help of this mutual friend and her husband, she packed a truck with the bare essentials for living and drove away with her five young children. She fled — not giving us a destination so great was her fear of her husband, a man who claimed to be a Christian.
My head was swimming and I was deeply troubled. How could this happen to people who attended Bible-believing churches? How could it have happened right before our eyes?
More Discouragement in the Church
In the midst of my friend’s struggle, our small church hired a new pastor. All summer I’d been listening attentively to my new pastor in an effort to understand where he stood on the issue of male headship, as well as the many related subjects dealing with women and the church. All summer I prayed fervently that as this man’s ministry was just beginning, God would give him a teachable and humble heart in these matters. I longed for our church to blossom as a place where all people would be respected and each person’s gifts fully utilized. The week I heard the news about my friend who had to flee, I prayed with renewed zeal about these matters and felt very near to the Lord.
The following Sunday, the pastor preached a message on Ephesians 4:8-12. My husband had to work that morning, so I sat alone with my Greek interlinear poised, eager to hear what the pastor had to say about these gifts. He started out well by stating, “God gave gifts to men.” Good news, I thought. Anthropois (the Greek plural for mankind) get gifts. How very exciting: we all get gifts! After a few comments, he proceeded to verse 11 where instead of reading the normal wording in English, “And he gave some, apostles, etc.” or “some as apostles, etc.” or “some to be apostles, etc.”, the pastor read, “And he gave gifted men as apostles, gifted men as prophets, gifted men as evangelists, gifted men as shepherds and teachers for the perfecting of the saints…”
What? I checked the Greek, which sported a little dagger-like symbol after some (tou’s me’n or tou’s de’ in Greek), meaning that these words are idioms. The pastor didn’t explain that the English word “men” was referring to “people” and not only to male humans.
I found a scrap of paper and began writing notes on what he was saying. After a few more remarks, the pastor returned to the listing of the gifts. Once again he stated, “And he gave gifted men as apostles, gifted men as prophets, gifted men as evangelists, gifted men as shepherds and teachers…” Covertly, I studied the faces of the people nearest me. Bland expressions conveyed none of the concern that caused my heart to race and my stomach to churn.
In my distress I avoided talking to anyone following the service. As I drove home, the tears began to flow. I had to slow down because I could scarcely see the road. I prayed aloud and cried without restraint until every Kleenex in my purse was sodden. When I finally turned into my driveway, my alarm had started to abate. I was glad I was alone for I was a mottled, red-faced mess.
I started to gather up my Bible and purse when I glanced into the rearview mirror. Someone was pulling into the driveway! Mustering my courage, I got out of the car and faced my immediate future with a crooked smile.
It was my dear friends from church, Bill and Jan. The moment Jan realized I’d been crying she flew out of the car and put her arms around me. “What’s wrong, Carol?” she asked. By then Bill had come around from the driver’s side of the car and also expressed his concern.
There was no use dissembling. I poured out by gut-wrenching concern about the morning’s message. I tried to sort out my tangled thoughts about “gifted men” and the disintegration in my friend’s marriage. Maybe it was all a horrible misunderstanding on my part, but it seemed as if wrong thinking had suddenly escalated and I was definitely in the minority.
I couldn’t believe what my friends said next. “We want to pray for you, Carol. We believe that the Lord has a plan for you to somehow share your concerns with our church. We don’t know how or when, but let’s pray now for the Lord to show us the way.”
With great love and concern both Jan and Bill prayed for me. They prayed for the pastor and for all the leaders in our church. They prayed that we could begin to talk about and study these issues. They prayed that all of us would sincerely seek Jesus.
In late October, Jan came to me. “Carol,” she said, “could we start a study group with you? Bill doesn’t have the time to join with us, but I’ve talked with several women who are interested in learning what Jesus thinks about women.”
Hope is Renewed
A miracle is taking place here. Each Monday morning a small group of women meet around my dining room table and we have broken the Bread of Life together. We are working our way through Matthew, with no study guide or teacher, fully expecting to hear from the Lord. Best of all, it has come to be with the blessing of Bill and my husband, both elders in the church.
This is something I have dreamed about for a long time. I truly believe that the Lord has wanted an open spirit in my church so that we can reexamine harmful teachings that affect not only women, but also men and children. However, I also believe he was looking for a broken and contrite spirit on my part. And on that particular Sunday that’s exactly what happened…my heart broke.
At that precise moment, one good man and his faithful wife drove into my driveway and their hearts were touched. They witnessed how profoundly grieved I was at the devastation that had occurred in my friend’s marriage due to wrong teaching and wrong understanding of Scripture. It was good that they witnessed my grief at the pastor’s words that morning. It was good because Bill, who was an elder in the church, was the right man in the right place at the right time to pick up my torch of zeal. Because of that incident, other women now have been freed to join me in seeking Christ’s heart in these matters so near to our hearts.
It didn’t take a committee for our study to start. All it took was one good man and his wife with willing hearts to set things in motion.