I recently traveled to Israel for a tour of biblical sites. The unexpected beauty of the Galilee, the historic walls of Jerusalem, and the tranquility of the Garden Tomb highlighted my trip but my most cherished memory was standing in the muddy Jordan River asking my daughter the essential question that every pastor asks before they baptize someone: “Is Jesus your Lord and Savior?” My journey to this place began two years earlier…
My friend Lou Ann invited me to visit a local church. Over the next several weeks, we agreed that this assembly appeared to be Biblically based. Soon, however, it became apparent that something was amiss—women were relegated to an inferior place. For example, women weren’t allowed to share in coed discussions; only men were allowed to talk. Even in a women’s only group, a man had been designated to facilitate. In another situation, a wife was warned that she must still respect her husband, even while he abused her. This disturbing treatment of women propelled us to the Scriptures to understand how these choices could be biblical. This led to an extensive study of the role of women in the church. Our goal was to understand the difficult passages that seemed to silence women and forbid them from teaching. Week after week we debated our findings. We explored the cultural context of Paul’s writings as well as God’s use of women as leaders throughout Scripture. We learned about egalitarians and complementarians. We read and evaluated proponents from each side. We even wrestled with whether this study would impact our lives. In our hearts, we knew that God’s truth always matters and our study of Scripture would not be in vain, so we pressed on.
Eighteen months later, we separately reached the same conclusion: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28) We noted that God used women as leaders throughout history: Deborah, a judge of Israel; Miriam, a prophet who served alongside her brothers; and Anna, who proclaimed the birth of the Messiah to every religious Jewish male at the temple. In addition, Queen Hadassah’s fearless courage saved the Jewish people from extermination. Finally, women led in the early church as disciples, teachers, and prophets. Who were the first evangelists? Women. (Mt. 28:7-10) Who taught Apollos, a great defender of the faith? Priscilla. (Acts 18:26) And Paul called Junia, a woman, an apostle. (Rm. 16:7) Further, on Pentecost, 32 AD, Peter quoted from Joel, who prophesied that “Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:18, emphasis added)
So why have women been muzzled throughout church history as well as in the church today? What had gone wrong and when? Answers to these questions would have to wait for another day. Meanwhile, our increased awareness of our equal role with men had immediate effects: in our marriages, where we began to understand our value as mighty ezers to our husbands; in our families, where we realized we had a domain to rule; and in our decisions, regarding what local church we would (and would not) align ourselves with. At the time, I thought that this was the extent of the study on my life. However, as I pondered my upcoming trip to Israel, Jesus’ words settled in my heart: “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.” (Mt 28:19-20) I came to an obvious but overlooked conclusion–Jesus wasn’t just talking to men when He said this. He was talking to women, too. Jesus commissioned women as well as men to teach, make disciples and baptize.
So as my trip to Israel approached, I began to wonder “What if…?” I discussed an idea with my daughter, who was going with me and planning to be baptized. What did she think? I conferred with Dr. Bramson, the Bible study teacher, and his wife, who would be co-leading the tour: what was their understanding based on Scripture? And I deliberated with my fellow ezers. (See what-is-an-ezer by G. Chinnock) In the end, after prayer and with the support of all involved, I decided to step out into new territory. So on a hot, sunny day in April 2013, in the muddy Jordan River somewhere in the middle of Israel, I had the privilege of baptising my daughter.
As I have reflected on this event, I have wondered how my daughter will remember her baptism. Will she remember it as unusual or extraordinary? I hope not. I hope for the sake of the kingdom and for women followers of Christ that she will remember her baptism as just another step in her own journey with Jesus rather than who baptized her, but I must be realistic. At this time, the majority of pastors in the evangelical church are men, women who pastor other women and children are called “directors,” and women must have a man’s “covering” in order to speak in church. To see a woman baptize her daughter is rare and extraordinary. I hope it will not always be this way. For the sake of my daughters as well as my sons, I hope the church will set aside its pride and re-examine the Scriptures. I hope that the church my children partner with will base roles and responsibilities on giftedness rather than gender. I hope it will be a church where women won’t be silenced and muzzled but where women will be welcomed by their brothers in Christ as equal partners in order to build the kingdom of God where “there is neither…male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In gratitude to:
Drs. Walter and Leslie Bramson for their love, support, faithful teaching and modeling of biblical equality in ministry. (www.drwalterbramson.com)
My fellow ezers: Lou Ann Perry, Denise Runyan, Jan Arnwine and Aly Sousa.
Dr. Mimi Haddad, president of Christians for Biblical Equality, for the invaluable resources provided at www.cbeinternational.org