Imagine that you are a soldier crawling through the underbrush, trying your best to stay alive. It’s the Civil War, and you are right on the edge of a brutal battle. You’re crouching alone in the mud behind a large, rotting log, when through the mist you spy a soldier striding through the woods straight toward you. Your heart pounds as you focus intently: what color is his uniform? Is he in blue—or gray?
Within the body of Christ today, an alarmingly similar mentality is escalating. Whenever a certain topic enters a conversation, the brethren lean forward anxiously, trying to discern: which side is this person on? They visibly bristle if their fellow “soldier” is discovered to be on the “other side.”
The topic is, of course, women’s ordination. Suddenly families, churches,ministries and friendships are being ripped apart based on loyalties to what are declared to be the only two “sides.” I am astonished at how quickly people are labeled and defenses are lowered.
I’m afraid for our church. This movement is stark evidence that being “all of one accord” is now of far less consequence to us than conquering each other. Instead of pre-Pentecost putting away differences and coming into sweet accord, we’re bickering like the disciples in the Upper Room. Once again we have fallen into the deadly distraction of arguing about who is the greatest.
Before we start sputtering the arguments of either “side” regarding unity with our supposed enemies, let’s set aside what is, to me, the largely irrelevant discussion about whether we can call women pastors, or pray for them by laying hands on them. In other words, don’t try to figure out what color of uniform I’m wearing as you read this, because if you’re on either side, bad news, I’m not on your side. But good news: I’m also not on the other side.
I’m suggesting that maybe God’s side isn’t either one—that He is the God of unity,not war. He is the God of love, of perseverance in covenant relationship, not of divorce. Because while we argue, because we argue, souls are dying. I know. They’re emailing me. Dozens, no, hundreds of them, from around the world. And those are just the few who have found my email address somehow, or looked me up on Facebook.
And only those actually doing personal ministry like me realize what’s happening. Let me shift gears and explain why.
Decades ago, the humanistic psychology movement duped Christianity. Spiritual leaders were assured that “professionals” could now take over the messy work of counseling. Many relieved pastors escaped hours of tedious counseling regarding marriage problems, addiction issues, depression, anxiety, and the emotional scars of abuse. When concerns arose because secular psychologists were dragging scores of people away from dependence on Christ for answers, “Christian”counseling materialized. Christian counselors could listen non-judgmentally too, helping people “find the answers within themselves” without reference to Scripture unless such was requested (since the gospel was seen as optional for emotional healing). Pastors also dutifully accepted training in Christian counseling,although some pastors admittedly became frustrated at how little actual progress was attained using professional “unconditional positive regard.”
Counseling became synonymous with a huge waste of pastoral time. As it became more and more of a time-waster, pastors were forced to refer out much of their counseling in order to have time to tackle the “real” work of pastoring—administration, preaching, setting up committees strategizing for church growth, and a few stop-smoking seminars and prophecy seminars thrown in for evangelistic fervor. After all, they weren’t really trained to help people with all that other stuff.
In one generation, humanistic psychology replaced the gospel.
This ministry focus shift was one of the most colossal mistakes in Christian history. In one generation, humanistic psychology replaced the gospel as the“well” to quench to the thirst of the heart. Even worse, it became the placebo preventing people from seeking the only cure for idolatry disguised as addictions, marriage problems, and depression. The Christian church abandoned the Word of God as the key to unlocking heart issues. In one generation, we forgot the simple principle of the gospel: if I don’t worship God, I will worship self in the form of whatever idol captures my heart. And without the gospel, I will be powerless to break free.
It’s no shock that divorce, abuse, depression, anxiety and addiction have skyrocketed within the church in nearly identical proportion to the world in the last few decades. In the place of an uprooted gospel that boldly broke the chains of sin, a humanistic self-help culture has mushroomed. No one falls for the ludicrous idea that the water of life could transform a sexually addicted woman into someone who “thirsts no more.” Come on, Jesus. We know better than that now! She needs counseling.
But suppose that nothing but Christ could quench the thirst of the woman at the well—how would He do it? By sending this serial adulteress to her male pastor for counseling regarding her sexual addiction and codependency? Hold on a minute. What pastor wants to be thrown under that bus?
Actually, I’m not sure who would be in greater danger in that situation, her or the pastor. Most pastors at present don’t even know how to apply the gospel to their own addictions. Statistics tell us that nearly 50% of pastors are now addicted to Internet pornography—never mind TV, movies, social media, work,popularity, other forms of sexual deviancy, or—the list goes on.
So where would we send the woman at the well? The secular humanistic psychologist? I hope not. The Christian counselor who will only bring up Jesus if she requests it—and then only as an optional addition to a curriculum of “unconditional positive regard”? That’s scarcely any better.
What she needs is a woman in ministry to come alongside her and lead her to Jesus. And considering the looming disaster that is her life without Christ, I’d say that whether that woman in ministry is called a pastor, or has had hands laid on her in prayer, is somewhat irrelevant. What matters is that she is biblically trained (as a biblical counselor, perhaps?) and available for service.
In this context, it suddenly becomes clear why our church has been advised, from the earliest years of its organization, to put women into ministry positions,and pay them similarly to men. In the current context of explosive controversy,perhaps it is best that, rather than arguing about historical or biblical limitations or opportunities for women in ministry, we focus on at least obeying what all of us agree God has commanded: that we put women into ministry, at least to other women, and pay them. Because I can tell you, while we stand on the shore and argue about lifeboats, our women are drowning by the thousands for lack of personal ministry from other women.
The woman at the well is not an irrelevant example. As I write, one-third of those watching Internet pornography are female. Lest we think that sexual addiction is still primarily a man’s problem, add to that the number of women addicted to novels, music, movies and fantasy. Based on my experience as a biblical counselor, I’d say we should be as concerned about sexual addiction among women as among men.
But it’s not the only crisis crying out for personal application of the gospel. What about the women dealing with bitter marriage problems, who will only too eagerly welcome the caring attentions of a godly male pastor? In addition, with the skyrocketing of porn has come sexual abuse like the world has never seen. Conservative statistics tell us that at least one-third of our women have already been sexually abused by age 18. That number is escalating every year. Where should we send these women for help? To male pastors? Seriously? I’m asking the question because these women need answers.
These women need personal ministry, and they need it from other women. Sexual abuse strikes at the heart of a person’s ability to keep the law of God, because it is one of the most powerful arguments against God being a God of love. If God does not seem loving to me, how can I love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength? Never mind loving my neighbor as myself! To love and forgive abusers is impossible without the empowering love of God within us.
In this context, how can we shrug off the desperate need for women in ministry?Let’s stop arguing about calling them pastors and ordaining them. Let’s focus on what matters: obeying the commands of God. Let’s put women into ministry,at the very least to other women, and pay them. I have a hunch that if we prayerfully focus on Spirit-filled obedience to what 99% of us agree is the clearly revealed will of God, the other stuff will work itself out. Unlike a bitter couple hurtling toward a nasty divorce, let’s focus on our 99%agreement: we need women in ministry, at least to other women.
What I am proposing is simple and radical, and could change the face of the debate: Let’s lay down our crusades for all-or-nothing. Rather than making our goal“winning,” like the disciples in the Upper Room, we can instead make our goal Spirit-filled unity in doing what we all agree God has commanded.
Either way, we are defying the commands of God to put women into ministry, at the very least to other women, and pay them.
Let me be more specific. If you are convicted that women should be pastors, big deal–seeking to unitedly obey God’s clear commands is not failure. If you are convicted women shouldn’t be pastors, big deal–see previous answer. Because all of the options on the table right now are, in my opinion, bad ones. Put women into ministry only in cultures where calling women “pastor” is culturally acceptable, while shrugging off the needs of our desperate sisters in other regions of the world? Those women are writing me despairing appeals for help, and I’m telling you, that’s not enough. Successfully ban all women from the main avenue to paid ministry currently available in the church? Practically, how does that solve this desperate need for women to help women? Either way, we are defying the commands of God to put women into ministry, at the very least to other women, and pay them.
Perhaps this battle has not been a distraction from God’s call. Maybe it has been the opposite: a wake-up call from our loving Savior, showing us how far we have fallen from Spirit-filled willingness to put aside our differences and wash one another’s feet. Maybe, rather than being a call to arms, this is a call to service, to radical humility, to the “one accord” experience necessary for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s not make the same mistake made in 1888. Because I don’t know about you, but I want to get off of this rock and go home.
“The righteousness which Christ taught is conformity of heart and life to the revealed will of God.” DA 310
Nicole Parker was once a zealot intent on changing the world, but is now an astonishingly domesticated homeschooling mom living in quite possibly the tamest town on earth–Collegedale, Tennessee. While engaged in her mundane tasks of chopping veggies and sweeping floors, she enjoys lofty theological ponderings, a pursuit also enjoyed by her husband Alan, a professor at Southern Adventist University. This penchant has led her to inch her way through a master’s degree in biblical counseling, and now has her devouring a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Andrews University. However, she has zero intention, and even less desire, to become a pastor. Check out her website at www.heartthirst.com