One year ago this week I wrote that Grace Church of Noblesville, IN, (a northern Indianapolis suburb) had publicly changed their position in their weekend services to support women at all levels of leadership. The previous article was viewed nearly 20,000 times and sparked articles about the sermon in national media. Readers were encouraged that a church of this size and significance would make such a bold move in spite of what it might cost them.
It would have been easy to back away from this commitment when challenges came. I’m not part of this congregation, so I don’t know what difficulties they faced, but changing a theological position will always raise disagreements. I’m glad to report that a survey of the church’s website now shows the effect of that position change.
There are now two women on their nine member Elder’s board. The Executive Assistant (a woman) is now listed as part of the Executive Leadership Team (I don’t recall if this were the case before the announcement). Of the church’s 19 pastors, six are women. This includes four that are in areas traditionally held by women, kids and women’s ministries. It also includes an associate pastor of small groups and the pastor in charge of “connections.”
While they have yet to bring a woman into a “teaching pastor” role and appear to have not had a woman preach in weekend services, they have made significant shifts in this first year that indicate that they take their new commitments seriously.
As I have pointed out many times, this is not anomaly but a growing trend among Evangelical Christians in America. Pew Research now indicates that 75% of evangelical leaders believe that women should serve as pastors. Some will view this as stepping away from deeply held biblical commitments. But organizations such as the Christians for Biblical Equality and The Junia Project as well as a rising tide of theologians, pastors, and bloggers are evidence that many are convinced that women’s leadership is the most biblical position. One side or the other of this debate among evangelicals must be wrong. But this debate cannot be framed as those that really believe the Bible against those that are accommodating culture. Leaders such as the Elders and Pastors of Grace Church are an example of those that have become so convinced that the Bible supports women’s leadership that they are willing to face the consequences of ridicule among those of their own communities. For those interested in this theologian’s positions, you can see what I have written on Paul generally, and 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy more specifically. I would also suggest the theological works of Scot McKnight, Craig Keener, Kenneth Bailey, Linda Belleville, and this excellent book from IVP.
Thank God for these brave men and women that are willing to stand up for truth, so that the Church may go forward with the help of all of her daughters and sons.
Click here to see all that I’ve written on women in ministry.
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Jeremiah, thanks so much for this follow-up on Grace Church. I have been curious as to how long it would be before women were added to the board. It is so encouraging to see the way that God is raising up the daughters of Abraham in this day and age. And thanks for mentioning The Junia Project! It is our honor and privilege to partner with you in advocating for the biblical egalitarian position. Blessings on your day!
I find it odd how many Evangelical egalitarians think the most important theological position in whether or not a Church ordains women as priests or not. My church does not but it is way more orthodox than any of the churches suggested by the Christians for Biblical Equality. When considering whether a church meets the criteria of a Christian Church or not is whether it agrees with the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creedal faith. Does it believe baptism remits sins? Most Evangelical Christians say no so this already destroys their orthodoxy to begin with. Do they believe that when we take the eucharist we actually consume the body and blood of Jesus? Most Evangelicals also say no destroying their orthodoxy. Do they believe that the new birth is by water baptism as Jesus said it was (John 3:3-5)? If they say no then their orthodoxy is non-existent.
I mean I might be wrong. It may be that having a woman priest is more important than soteriology and any sort of sacramental theology in this world and the Evangelicals may be right. Please correct me as usual if I misunderstand you but certainly coming to agreement on sacramental theology and soteriology is more important to do so before we even begin a discussion on women priests.
*I say priests because as an Anglican Catholic, I call the person that serves the eucharist on Sundays “Father” and “priest” and I believe that role is as a sacrificial priest. Not because I reject the priesthood of all the baptized as found in 1 Pet. 2:9–there are three priesthoods for my denomination–priesthood of all the baptized, sacrificial/eucharistic ministerial priesthood, and the high priesthood of Jesus.
Vincent S Artale Jr says
Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.
A disciple of Christ says
I often find it odd too that many Evangelicals would use much more energy to fight against women in ministry, a completely biblical notion, than to fight against injustice in the society, another important biblical notion… perhaps there is indeed a connection here?
If soteriology and sacramental theology have any real connection with ministry of the Church, i.e. God’s people doing God’s work according to God’s way for the glory of God, discerning God’s calling for people to do such work becomes paramount both in terms of personal obedience as a disciple of Christ and institutional submission to the will of the Head of the Body. Much is at stake, when (more than) half of the people of God are told not to worry about God’s will, with the other half playing the role of God for them…
I make no comments for Evangelicals here in the debate over women in ministry. I find the issue trivial in comparison to other important Gospel messages. I do not consider myself an Evangelical.
Soteriology deals with how we are saved and the process of salvation. If salvation is based on theosis then the way in which one is born again matters. Whether a sacrament conveys a deifying grace actually matters. What could be more important than the how of the way we are saved? Most people came to Jesus in the Gospels and one of the things they asked was as to how they were saved. No one ever said, “Can a woman be a priest?”
Sacramental theology is part of soteriology. There can be no Church without soteriology or sacraments. There can be no Church ministry without either sacraments or soteriology. Do you believe baptism remits sins? If not, then you would be a heretic according to the Church’s standards for measuring heresy (I am assuming the position that the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is the basis for all Christian belief of course).
I’m not saying we shouldn’t worry about God’s will. I’m saying that the way we understand soteriology and sacramental theology is more important than any position on whether a woman should be ordained or not. Most Christians though who hold to orthodox positions on the sacraments (baptism regenerates, eucharist is real, priesthood is sacrificial, confession, extreme unction, marriage, and confirmation and that these all convey deifying grace) do believe strongly though that the liturgical tradition (in order to maintain continuity) requires an all-male priesthood.
I’m not saying an all-male priesthood is right or wrong necessarily. I’ve often times lost it at my own Church for its position but I was gently reminded recently by an Orthodox Christian who has no position in this matter himself that I may think that an all-male priesthood is misogynist but at the same time, I need to be respectful of their position and remember that they do have 2,000 years of Church tradition going for them. He once had a female priest in a parish he went to and all they were concerned about was whether they got the liturgy right–hence, major on the majors (soteriology and sacramental theology), then we can talk about the minors.
Amazing!! The release of women into the freedom of the Gospel!