A stirring Sermon
I recently delivered a sermon (timestamp 31:38) at several different venues in which I tried to show why the Bible makes a difference between men and women in church. It was a large argument in that it looked at how women and men served one another in the previous divine covenants (as priests, kings and prophets). These thousands of years of Biblical history, along with Jesus’ gendered choice of apostles, give the background to the New Testament gender instructions. God does this, I claimed of course, for what women and men do for each other in church relationships.
Although I sought to show how God values each gender in what He calls them to do, and the sermon helped some, from others it drew a vociferous reaction. One particular illustration I used—of myself as an associate pastor submitting to a senior pastor—drew especially strong criticism. As a non-lead pastor, I have experienced being an equal, just as invested in the work, directed toward the same goals, but having to submit in disagreement and acknowledge that a particular decision wasn’t my call. I came to accept, and even enjoy that place, out of trust in my God and love for my senior pastor. I could see how it was okay. In fact, even good. I compared that experience to, say, a wife in a marriage, equal and just as important in the work. I qualified it, though, as not the whole experience of women.
A Strong Response
Despite my attempt to bring out this comparative dynamic, there were strong protests to the leadership where I preached. At one location, two families left the church afterwards. At another, the pastor felt the need to publicly apologize the next week for the sermon and announce that they were removing it from their website.
What was it that drew such denunciation? Whatever my failures in communicating, which no doubt there were, the conversations I endeavored to have afterwards concerned me more. I asked different women and leaders to discuss their thoughts about it. I received good criticism. Many of the women I spoke to subscribe to gender distinction in marriage and church. They trust that the Bible is telling them something good to do. But they did not want to talk about why.
Consider this exchange:
Sam: But do you believe that God tells you to submit to this other person?
Sam: Do you believe it is good?
Sam: Why is it good?
Friend: It is good because God commanded it and God is good.
It was clear that that was to be the end of the conversation.
A Troubling Silence
To my dismay, I find many godly women don’t care to have the topic brought up. There are several different reasons for this, some of which sometimes can be addressed. But often cannot. As another pastor friend of a large church explained to me, “We do practice gender distinction here but we do not talk about it.” (He said he may change that strategy later on.) I get the impression that savvy pastors, who nonetheless wish to be faithful, have come to this. These days, the way to retain needed peace in the church is to not bring it up. Even if you do it, just don’t talk about it, or talk much about it. As another woman, who called the associate pastor illustration one of the best explanations she had ever heard, confided to me, “Sam, you are poking the bear.”
That is a big loss. The thing is that submitting and heading is not the thing. It is a thing, but it is really a signpost. It points to something God wants to do between brothers and sisters, equal in the image of God, in relationship. And the Bible gives us that reasoning as well as the instruction.
A serious Gap
Furthermore, we might be okay with just following the rules: submitting to husbands and elders, without probing the deeper apologetic that the Scriptures give us for it. But our daughters will not be okay with it. Because, in the culture in which they have grown up, it will contradict their common sense.
I may not be the one who is able to have this conversation about the ‘why,’ but the conversation must be had. In the face of profound cultural denial, the answer of “Just because it says so,” will not make for faithfulness in the rising generation.