Some people are born Baptists; others choose to be Baptists. I’m in the latter category, having spent the first fifteen years of my life as a Presbyterian. At the age of sixteen, I chose to become a Baptist by conviction and was baptized by the Rev. David Watt at the First Baptist Church, Dartmouth. I have never regretted my decision to become a Baptist. I value and appreciate the Baptist emphases on the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the sufficiency of Scripture, baptism of believers by immersion, and the other Baptist distinctives.
My love of my Baptist family, however, does not blind me to her faults. Indeed, my faithfulness as a Baptist pastor compels me to speak out when I see us marginalizing at least half of our membership many of whom, I believe, God has called to leadership positions. I speak, of course, of our treatment of women. Over the past several months in this column, I have talked about women from several different perspectives—the treatment of women in our culture, Jesus’ attitude towards women, and women who have impacted my own life and ministry. As a pastor, I thank God for the women whom God has raised up to leadership positions and who have helped to make our churches what they are today. My church would be immeasurably poorer and our outreach incalculably diminished were it not for the women God has used in leadership capacities.
As I said in a previous column, I am grateful as well to the female pastors who have impacted my own life and ministry. I long for the day when, in Baptist churches everywhere (and, indeed, in all churches), women will not only be permitted to lead but will be given the same opportunities as men to thrive in whatever capacity to which God has called them, including those of deacon and pastor. To me, our failure to open wide the doors of leadership to half our population is not only hampering the growth of our churches but is dishonouring to the God whom we serve.
Now, I know there are some who have genuine scriptural concerns about the role of women. They wonder whether the Scriptures allow women to have some leadership positions in a church. I want to acknowledge the struggle and concerns that some people (men and women alike) have around this issue. Unfortunately, there is not space in a brief column to address the arguments put forth both for and against women in leadership positions. Let me encourage you, however, to look at both sides of the issue (as I have done) in an open and even-handed way. At the very least, I think many of you will acknowledge that the issue is not black and white but grey. I think many of you will conclude that valid arguments can be made both for and against women in leadership positions (although, personally, I believe the biblical case for women in leadership capacities is much stronger than the case against it).
With that being the case, I would suggest that we err on the side of inclusion. Given that:
1. At the very least, the biblical evidence is equivocal against women in ministry;
2. Thousands of women across North America profess the firm conviction that God has called them to church leadership;
3. Countless women have demonstrated that the Holy Spirit has gifted them for leadership within the Church;
4. In His own day, Jesus, Himself, broke down countless barriers barring women from full participation in the religious life of their community;
if we deny women full freedom and participation in our churches we may find ourselves quenching the Holy Spirit and “fighting against God” Himself (Acts 5:39). It is a very serious thing to deny ministry to a child of God and, before we do so to half our population, we had better make absolutely certain we are on God’s side. Anything less is a grievous sin!