an outlet of encouragement, explanation, and exhortation

Category: Community (Page 1 of 3)

Notes for Hot Topics – Approaches of Various Churches to LGBTQ+ Issues

These are notes that may be of interest to those who have heard my message for May 28, 2023 in the hot topics series. It addressed some approaches of various churches to LGBTQ+ issues in church life.

For convenient access, we have hosted a page with the Friends Church Southwest counsel on contemporary issues from 2016 on our church website. The 2016 version of Faith and Practice is available as a pdf file online here from FSW. The 2016 counsel on contemporary issues begins on page 11. You should be aware that new statements on contemporary issues were included in the revision to Faith and Practice approved in February, 2023; however, the 2023 version does not seem to be published online yet. In the interim, we have a pre-publication draft of the 2023 Faith and Practice that can be downloaded here. The new counsel on contemporary issues begins on page 18. There may be small changes in what was approved at the annual conference that are not in the pre-publication version.

This is the website for City Church Long Beach, which I mentioned in the message for May 28, 2023. There is a 2018 YouTube video in which the City Church pastor, Bill White, explains how City Church came to their approach to being radically welcoming. He cites Romans 14 and 15 as being foundational to their approach. The video is about 14 minutes long and worth your time to view. Bill writes much more, and writes well, on this topic at this website.

Mark Yarhouse is a Christian counselor who has written a number of books that many Christians find helpful. He works with the Center for Faith, Sexuality and Gender, which offers many resources oriented towards addressing sexuality from a traditional Christian perspective. This is their statement of faith. If you hold a traditional Christian view of sexuality and need resources, check him out. His knowledge is broad and his advice practical and loving.

Redeeming Sex is a challenging book by Debra Hirsh, who with her husband Alan led a church that welcomed those from unusually difficult or broken life backgrounds – people who were quite uncomfortable in most churches. I found quite compelling the Hirsh’s approach to the ministry to which God called them, described in the later chapters of the book. Essentially, they accepted broken people as they were (we are all broken) and focused on Jesus. This book is open and frank in its discussion of sex and sexuality.

Beyond Gay by David Morrison is a book in which the author describes his journey from working with a major gay advocacy organization to a very different life with Jesus. He began worshipping at a church accepting of LGBTQ lifestyles (for which he remains thankful) and then moved to a church with more traditional teaching on Christian sexuality.

Matthew Vines started the Reformation Project as an organization committed to “advancing LGBTQ inclusion in the Church,” where he serves as Executive Director. His goal is to offer “theological resources for an orthodox and affirming Christian faith.” Matthew Vines is one of the most prominent Christian advocates for same-sex marriage.

The website I mentioned that lists churches to clarify their approach to LGBTQ issues and women in leadership is There are other similar websites.

Notes for the Hot Topics – Abuse Message/Podcast

In the Hot Topics – Abuse message, I referred to a newsletter from Kristin Du Mez. You may want to read it for yourself. The newsletter refers to this Christianity Today article.

I also mentioned a helpful website with resources related to child abuse.

Also in the message, I gave some scripture reference recommendations for further study. They are reproduced here for your convenience.

Matthew 20.25-28 NIV – Jesus’ example as Lord and Teacher

Titus 1.5b-9 The Message – what to look for in church leaders

1 Timothy 5.19-22 NIV – how to handle sin in a church leaders

1 Corinthians 5.1-13 The Message – Paul told the church it must deal with a serious sin in the congregation!

2 Corinthians 2.5-11 The Message – The church listened to Paul but now it was time to forgive the sinner.

Colossians 3.5-15 NIV – Paul contrasts abusive behavior with our new life in Christ

All of the messages are also available as episodes of the LBFC Weekly Sermons podcast, available from your favorite podcast source. (Or if it is not, let me know. I use Libsyn to publish the podcast.)

Isn’t tissue from an aborted fetus involved in making the Covid-19 vaccines?

For a Christian, this is the most serious objection to taking the Covid-19 vaccine that I have heard. Here (in a nutshell) are the facts as I have found in my research.

According to the Nebraska Medical Center and the Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement in Minnesota, and quoting ICSI:

For the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, no fetal cell lines were used to produce or manufacture the vaccine, and they are not inside the injection you receive from your doctor/nurse. Fetal cells may have been used to test efficacy and/or proof of concept.

The Johnson and Johnson vaccine did use fetal cell cultures, specifically PER.C6 (a retinal cell line that was isolated from a terminated fetus in 1985), in order to produce and manufacture the vaccine.

Other sources indicate that fetal cell lines were, indeed, used to test the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. So there you have it. This is far from an ideal circumstance for pro-life Christians, and some are refusing vaccination because of this. Let’s be clear: This is not a health risk issue for anyone taking the vaccine. It is an ethical issue based on the means used to produce and test the vaccines. There are a number of reliable sources of more information.

This is not a unique situation for the Covid-19 vaccine. Many vaccines – say for chicken pox, rubella, and rabies – make similar use of fetal cells. Other medications are tested or produced using fetal cells. Cosmetics and some food additives are developed or tested with fetal cells. All of this makes me uncomfortable. It should make all of us uncomfortable. There is serious research progressing toward finding other ways to develop and test medicines and products that are less fraught with ethical concerns, and one hopes that this will become a thing of the past. But we live here, today. So what to do?

As followers of Jesus we are not against tissue donation per se. For example, it can be an act of loving care to donate a kidney, or designate that one’s organs and tissue be donated after one dies. What if a pregnant woman spontaneously aborts and donates her dead child’s tissue to medical use? What if parents of a dying child donate the retinas of the child after death to be used to help others?

But abortion on demand is a different thing. An unborn child dies by someone’s choice. We generally object to one human killing another to get their organs or tissue! And to be fair, those having abortions would most likely shudder at this description and deny that this is what they did. We can imagine those perspectives; we’ve heard them a thousand times. But what about those who view abortion as simply wrong? Must we then refuse vaccines developed or tested using fetal tissue from an abortion?

You’ll have to make up your own mind about this, as do we all. But don’t allow it to be a political statement about Covid-19 more generally, the way this disease has become a political football in America. And be consistent. If you are going to refuse vaccination for Covid-19 on these grounds, then by all means find out what other products are developed in ways you consider unethical and avoid those too! And then, like Christians have done through the ages, accept the consequences of your decision. Those consequences may mean loss of a job or not being allowed to attend various functions in person because of public health concerns.

What do I decide? I decide to live in the imperfect world I was born into. I live on (and “own”) property that was arguably stolen away from Mexico who arguably stole it away from native Americans who arguably stole it away from some other human group before them. I live in an economy in which people of my race built much wealth by violently oppressing others who didn’t look like them. I live in a nation formed by the violent revolution of one set of “Christians” against another set of “Christians” who killed each other until one group gave up because the war was too expensive (shades of Afghanistan?). Meanwhile, my ancestors who argued at the time that God’s people shouldn’t be shooting one another with muskets, rifles, and cannons were persecuted and had their churches confiscated by the revolutionaries. Pile up the list of unethical things that go into making the world, nation, society, and wealth that we live in and on…. It is pretty awful looking. And of course I don’t want to ignore that there are the good and noble things that reflect the image of God well, too – like medical researchers doing their best to save lives by producing vaccines that protect against awful diseases.

That’s the kind of world into which Jesus came. He entered into and worshiped at a temple built by Herod the Great, who attempted to murder him when Jesus was a baby – and who successfully murdered numerous others. He accepted a traitorous tax collector as one of his disciples. He ate bread made from wheat some of which was undoubtedly produced by slave labor. He ate meals with tax collectors and prostitutes. And so on. And He spoke the truth of a better way, under God.

Paul wrote that we should not participate in the feasts at temples to other gods, but that Christians need not be concerned about eating food purchased in the market that had been sacrificed to the idols of other gods at their temples. Perhaps this is the closest parallel in the early church to these vaccines available in the “medical marketplace” of our day. Of course, Paul also told us not to violate our consciences or put stumbling blocks up for others of “weaker” conscience. There’s much room for us to live out our lives in a fallen world while maintaining a clear witness to Jesus, His ways, and His kingdom.

Choose wisely. I chose to take the Covid-19 (and other) vaccines and medications offered to me, while simultaneously advocating that we find better ways to develop them. Why should my neighbor potentially get sick and die when I can take this step to protect the living around me? Will more death improve this fallen world? Will I increase the frequency of unborn children dying by taking the vaccine? I think not. In fact, Covid-19 infections in pregnant mothers will increase this more. Am I denying Christ by taking this vaccine? Certainly not! The past is past. What steps can you and I take to make a positive difference for the future, showing care and concern for our families and communities?

Note that the article from the Nebraska Medical Center was written by an infectious disease expert who is a practicing Catholic.

“Is accepting a Covid-19 vaccination taking the Mark of the Beast?”

Short answer: No.

How can I be so sure? Because biblically speaking, the “Mark of the Beast” as noted in the Apocalypse of John (aka Revelation) is a way of declaring a higher allegiance to a power other than Jesus/God. It is not as if someone could slip “the mark of the beast” into your drink while you were not looking and then you become damned to hell by drinking that drink unaware. It is not a trick, though it is deceitful. It is taking what seems an easy way (perhaps under duress), or a powerful way (under temptation) that sets another authority above Jesus.

Let’s go with the drink example. Let’s say someone offers a toast to the emperor above all other kings and authorities, and you drink to that. Or what about offering a pledge of allegiance to a flag without “under God”? One could argue that this is much closer to taking the “mark of the beast” and certainly not an action a Christian should take. The mark need not be a tattooed “666” on your forehead, either. It is declaring loyalty to a power above your loyalty to Jesus.

So, if you had to sign an oath declaring your loyalty to a government or leader above all other powers including Jesus in order to take a dose of vaccine, then by all means, refuse the vaccine on those terms. To my knowledge, no one is requiring anything like this. Health officials and leaders in our society just want you and our community to live and be as healthy as possible.

You may wonder why I am even addressing this issue. It seems so obvious to most; am I serious? Well, this is apparently not obvious to everyone. I know this question has been asked earnestly by those who believe it to be so. So, just in case….

“God told me not to get a vaccination”

To start with, you might want to read David French’s column It’s Time to Stop Rationalizing and Enabling Evangelical Vaccine Rejection. I will try not to repeat what he has already said quite clearly in what I write below.

I am not going to attempt to lay out the science regarding masks, vaccine statistics, Covid-19 transmissibility, etc. If you want good information on that sort of thing you should listen to this podcast by Dr. Michael Osterholm at CIDRAP. He’s an expert on infectious disease transmission who is not playing politics – a reliable source of sound medical information and (when there is enough data) advice.

What I’m going to do is write as a Christian about our responsibilities as followers of Jesus in times such as these. We need clear thinking, and respect for Jesus’ teaching. We should be leading the way toward life through our care for one another and our communities!

I’ve had dear friends or family tell me that they prayed sincerely and that God told them not to get a Covid-19 vaccination. Secondarily, they may report that deeply spiritual friends confirmed this advice. The next portion of the conversation often goes to nutritional supplements and various schemes for “building the body’s natural immune system”. There might even be an “I don’t trust the people who developed this vaccine” or “this vaccine is new and untested” thrown in.

Frankly, many times these dear ones are generally impervious to counter-evidence. So why write something like this? Oh, I don’t know… perhaps I have a naive hope that truth matters? Or maybe I am scratching an itch to vent the considerable frustration that comes when people drag God’s reputation through the mud? Or from watching people I care for make really bad choices with far-reaching consequences?

Let me start simply by saying if God tells you to do something, or not to do something – then do what he says. That’s what it means to be Christian. What I question is two things:

  1. Why is anyone asking God whether or not they should act in a good and loving manner to care for their community and their own health by getting a vaccination in the face of a preventable disease?
  2. Did God really say that? Did God really tell them not to get a vaccination? Or is something else influencing this decision and being interpreted as “God said”?

A tree is known by its fruit. The “tree” of anti-vax is bearing noxious deadly fruit of suffering and death. It is spreading disease, particularly within the communities of those who are refusing vaccination. And it is spreading Covid-19 to children for whom vaccines are not yet available and others who have compromised immune systems. Covid-19 is more contagious and more dangerous and deadly to those who are not vaccinated and have not had the virus previously. Every ICU doctor can testify that those suffering the worst impacts of Covid-19 are now the unvaccinated and others having immune-deficiencies. ICU doctors report that anti-vaxxers hospitalized with Covid-10 are quite often resentful and angry toward the medical staff trying to help them! The increased stress on medical staff and medical facilities makes a difficult time needlessly more difficult. Others are very sorry they didn’t listen to good medical advice and get the vaccination. Much of this could easily be avoided! This is the fruit of the anti-vax tree.

I don’t need to inquire earnestly of God for special leading as to whether or not I should do my part to care for my community by getting a vaccination. Rather, I would need a special intervention by God to tell me not to be vaccinated, were this his plan for me! I would seek confirmation from trusted advisors because such a course of action is so radical – like being told to go as a naked prophet to preach in the local supermarket or the like! I would expect to bear consequences for such a fraught decision. God expects us to think clearly and act with love toward our communities. That is our calling – God has already spoken!

Generally, I don’t get my medical advice from spiritual experts. I ask the elders of the church for prayer for medical conditions; but I don’t go to them (as elders of the church) for surgery. I don’t ask them to fly an airplane for me or design a bridge or a cancer treatment for someone I love. I go to trustworthy medical experts to get medical advice and treatment. I look at high-quality research and question my doctor’s advice when warranted. (I am trained as a researcher, though not in medicine.) But last I read (and these numbers are likely outdated by the time you read this) over 200 million Americans had received Covid-19 vaccines with fewer harmful side effects than (get this) taking aspirin(!) (according to trustworthy experts in disease). On the other hand, the danger of Covid-19 is very clear. It is a fire raging through those who remain unvaccinated and uninfected by previous disease. There are well over 600 thousand dead Americans so far, and many more suffering long-term damage to their health and well-being. Over 8000 died in the last week alone – and they’re getting younger. ICU staff are often overworked and stressed with many hospitals having few, if any, available ICU beds. Today I heard a reliable report of a man who died in an emergency room after a fruitless 7-hour search for an available ICU bed! He didn’t have Covid-19; but all the ICU beds were taken by Covid-19 patients.

(I don’t mean to ignore the millions of non-American casualties – but the anti-vax community I interact with is American, and the vaccines for which I have data are the American vaccines.)

The choice to get one of the Covid-19 vaccinations should be an easy decision for anyone. For a follower of Jesus trying to show love and care for his or her community it should be crystal clear…. except that apparently many American Christians do not find it so clear. I’m writing for them and those who care for them.

Financial Interests

There are those promoting nutritional supplements and the like for financial gain. There is no evidence that nutritional supplements provide anything like the immunity to Covid-19 that is provided by vaccination, and much evidence that it does not. Those indicating otherwise are simply wrong. They are motivated by something other than truth.

Are there those who financially gain from vaccination? Of course there are! And we need to watch carefully that the best interests of our communities are well-served in the face of these interests. In the meantime, the fruit of the vaccination tree is very, very good. Will our current vaccines remain effective in the face of new variants of the virus? That remains to be seen. Will booster shots be needed? Most likely, it seems. We will need to watch and listen to those medical experts who are not financially vested in the vaccine industry who prove to be trustworthy advisors. Covid-19 is a new threat, and humanity is still learning how to combat it.

Social Movements

There is a social movement within which vaccine avoidance seems a prominent mark of membership. This is a dangerous (but not new) phenomenon. The pressure that is mounting for vaccination may well harden this movement into even deeper opposition. I hope that the fruit of health versus suffering and death will be properly noted and this phenomenon will be minimized, for the sake of our communities. It’s a horrible thing to watch loved ones march to the beat of deadly drummers. It’s even worse when this phenomenon takes over Christian groups and is used by the evil one to make those following Jesus look foolish.


I hear that we must not give up our freedom – that we must be free to decide what to inject – or not inject – into our own bodies. Well, yes…. but if you choose not to take the vaccine, it is the right of your community to protect itself from your bad choice. You are endangering others – co-workers, customers, patients, students – by your choice. Avoiding your proximity is not forcing a needle into your arm. It is you facing the consequences of your choice.


I see people pointing at those who received a vaccine and then had a health problem. See! Vaccination is dangerous! It is natural to associate the health problem with the vaccine if it comes after vaccination; however more consideration is needed to arrive at the truth of the situation.

Let’s take any set of say, 1 million people. A certain number of them will have a stroke in the next few days. Others will have heart attacks and other health problems. Now, give that same set of 1 million people a vaccination. A certain number of them will still have a stroke in the next few days, but now those near the stroke victim will tend to associate the stroke with the vaccination. Are more of the 1 million having strokes (or whatever) after the vaccinations than would have had strokes anyway? This is the important question.

Let’s take this example of 1 million people being vaccinated a step farther. Let’s say that 1000 additional people have a particular medical problem after receiving the vaccine than would have had that problem without the vaccine. OK, we’ve established that there might be a danger related to receiving the that vaccination. 1000 additional medical issues seems pretty bad. So is the vaccination worth this risk?

We have to look at the whole picture. If the chance of getting the disease is (for example) 20%, and 10% of those who get the disease have those same medical issues or worse, that must be considered as we evaluate the risks associated with taking the vaccine. A little math: 20% of 1 million is 200 thousand. 10% of 200 thousand is 20,000. So, in this example, the chance of the medical problem is much higher if one does not get the vaccination even with the increased chance due to the vaccine. It’s 20,000 to 1000, or 20 to 1!

The problem here is that we live in a world with disease. Our choice is not simply vaccine or no vaccine. It is vaccine or diseased-world-without-vaccine. What the increased chance of medical problems should drive is more research to find out how the vaccine might increase risk and how we can reduce or eliminate this risk. In the meantime, the prudent course is to take the vaccine anyway because living unvaccinated in the world with the disease is more risky than vaccination! It is the responsibility of medical authorities to evaluate these things and determine when vaccinations are warranted. It is big news if they fail in this, and we will certainly (in our society) hear about it from competent medical experts.

In my example above, the numbers are made up. There is nothing like this amount of risk associated with the any of our Covid-19 vaccines – with 200 million doses worth of experience in this country alone! There is, however, enough risk associated with Covid-19 that it regularly overfills hospitals and morgues.


Propaganda exploits the tendency to associate any health issue that comes after vaccination with the vaccine. I see it frequently. Recently, I’ve seen the “meme” of a young woman who developed myocarditis after vaccination. This is known to be a danger with one particular vaccine – though less of a danger than with Covid-19 itself. My question is, why is the story circulating attached to a picture of an attractive, scantily-dressed young woman in a hospital bed with wires running everywhere? I think: this is propaganda, not a serious pursuit of truth. And yet I see Christian friends promoting and sharing this article! This is irresponsible. (If you’d like to pursue responsible participation in social media more thoroughly, I recommend Alan Jacob’s excellent book How to Think.)


If you care about your community or even just your own health (selfishly speaking), get fully vaccinated against Covid-19. I know that many are part of communities where it is the fashion to “say no to the jab!” You may not only be part of such a community; you may value it highly. It’s family. Spiritual family. And yet…. Jesus calls us to be salt and light – as yeast spreading through our communities. It is truth that sets us free. You can be an agent of truth in your community by showing your care through vaccination. That’s a God-calling. That’s love. Human beings are living the image of God that He placed in us when we develop medical treatments and vaccines to care for one another. The Covid-19 vaccine project is a remarkable, historic achievement that reveals the glory of God, whether those who worked on it realize this or not (and many do)! The rest of us also carry His image well when we think clearly and resist being driven by powers and principalities of a fallen world. Let’s love one another and carry His image well!

Monday, June 1, 2020 – Cleaning Up

Note: Sunday evening, May 31, 2020, after a day of peacefully protesting the murder of George Floyd and the treatment of Black people in our society, looters descended upon many parts of Long Beach, doing great damage to property and engaging in brazen acts of theft and violence. This note was written as cleanup was taking place and Covid-19 health measures remained in place.

First thing Monday morning I went down to the church building and found things were fine. I went to the roof and scouted the surrounding area; everything seemed calm – no columns of smoke like in 1992!

I started walking toward the downtown area, greeting people and being greeted… hearing stories of Sunday and Sunday night. Those I spoke with said they thought the looters were not locals and not protesters at all.

The Market between Linden and Elm on 7th

At least some looting crews were organized simply to loot while the police were distracted elsewhere, crassly taking advantage of the protests for thievery. There were crews with hammers and matching masks and shirts working in teams – some even with caravans of cars – who beat down any protesters who attempted to stop looting. That some would choose to dishonor the protests of the murder of George Floyd in this manner is unspeakable. So I’ll not speak of it more.

As I neared the downtown area, I saw what seemed like the entire city of Long Beach (and others) turn out to clean up, encourage, and stop any remaining looting.


Young, old, all kinds of people – mirroring the city’s population but with a lean towards the young. People were being reasonably careful to wear masks and such; but there were many people walking the streets and many cars passing through – sight seers? People in some cars were passing out water to cleanup crews. The downtown area was pretty much clean by 10 am – cleaner than I’ve ever seen it. The people cleaned litter in addition to broken glass and stuff from looting. Numerous folk were scrubbing off graffiti. There were (at least) hundreds of people milling around with brooms and bags and shovels with nothing left to clean and more people arriving. So the newly arrived were recommended to head for north Long Beach and other areas where it was rumored that cleaning was still needed. (By Tuesday artists were covering graffiti on boarded storefronts with artwork.) What remains now are repairs to broken windows and doors and other stuff that takes longer, and then getting back to carefully opening downtown business on account of past, present, and future Covid-19 measures.

I wanted to check on the new Antioch Church building on Pine, and was invited in and greeted by Pastor Wayne Chaney, Jr.

I found that Eric Marsh was also there; and Eric recruited me for the noontime Long Beach Prayer Collective prayer time online. I gladly agreed. Later, he also recruited Susana Sngiem to report in during the prayer time on her efforts through United Cambodian Community to help the businesses that were impacted at Anaheim and Atlantic, and elsewhere. After checking in on Antioch church on Pine and making a new friend (Wally), I walked on down to the Pike where I saw and greeted National Guard units. They said they were from nearby Southern California communities. They seemed a little ill at ease, so I thanked them for helping us keep Long Beach safe and peaceful.

I made my way back to the Friends Church building in time for the noontime prayer online, which included Pastor Gregory Sanders of The Rock (and President of the Long Beach Minister’s Alliance), Bishop Todd Ervin of Church One, and Noemi Chavez of Revive Church, and (of course) Eric Marsh. What a privilege to be part of that prayer time! I heard sirens a few times through the day, including during the prayer time, and prayed. The mayor (online) said there had been a few isolated attempts at looting. They were shut down fast.

Long Beach Church Collective Prayer at Noon

The remainder of the day was more online meetings and finally organizing Long Beach Friends Church people for a prayer time at 8 PM to pray in concert with many other Long Beach churches for God’s peace in our city.

A sampling of the churches participating in the 8 PM Prayer Time, from Eric Marsh

All in all, it was very encouraging to see the city turn out in force to clean up. I heard many who wanted to maintain the focus on protesting George Floyd’s murder – to overwhelm the distraction brought on by violence and looting. May it be so.

Here is a link to a few more pictures I took, and few that Eric Marsh sent me.

12. Constructively Moving Forward

Some paint the issues surrounding the place of women in the family and the church as an issue of autonomy; that is, Man seeks to decide for himself and not let God be God. The issues are bundled with other contemporary issues of sex, life choices, materialistic goals, and so on. However, what I argue is not for an expansion of human autonomy, even though some see it that way. It is no argument for allowing Christians to move into what the Bible defines as sinful behavior. Rather, it is standing against human systems of oppression that oppose God and His purposes. My goal is not to free humans to choose their own way. My goal is to remove human oppression that stands against what God has created and that attempts to thwart what God is doing in the lives of women. It is to open the way for women and men to be who God created them to be, exercising the gifts he gives them as he calls without interference from other humans who hold up old traditions or ways as being God’s ways when in reality they were ways born in the curse.

No one should seek place or prominence in the body of Christ. We should all follow the example of Christ, humbling ourselves to serve in whatever manner He determines. If God lifts one into leadership or a place to exercise a spiritual gift, who should oppose Him? No one. But if God does not lift one to such a place, who should presume to take it on their own ambition or will? No one. The way I am advocating is to avoid ruling out a particular direction that God might lead. It is undeniable that God has used women in positions of leadership among his people in scripture. Some claim this was because the men were falling down on the job. Some say this is because God does not intend for women to be restricted to certain roles. Either way, if one opposes what God does for whatever reason he does it, one is opposing God. I caution Christians about proclaiming what God cannot or will not do with women, or standing legalistically on what we will allow God to do with or through women. We are not talking about a license to sin; we are talking about not standing against God when he leads or teaches through a woman when that is what he chooses to do. I believe God creates women and gives them gifts of teaching and leadership to be exercised at his calling for the benefit of the body of Christ as a standard part of life in his kingdom. However, even if you disagree that this is a normal path for women in the body of Christ, it is very dangerous to argue that we should stand against what God has demonstrated he may do when he sees fit – even if you think he only leads through women to shame sinful, distracted men!

For the women, though, there is a caution here. It is never safe to take on service in the kingdom of God just to prove that you can do it. The church is not the place to prove women are capable for the sake of human pride. God calls his people and arranges the members of the body as he sees fit. The essence of sin is to ignore God and seize autonomy to do what we determine in our own hearts and minds is “best”. Eve demonstrated the folly of that approach. Paul’s words in Philippians 2 apply to women, too. The church is not first a battleground for women’s liberation; it is the kingdom coming among us.

Every local church has to make a decision about how it will approach this issue. Either there will be limitations placed on women in the church or there will not. Either women will have the opportunity to lead and teach and preach, or they will not. There will be women as elders and pastors or there will not. God can organize us as he chooses. God can move us to change as he chooses. There is a practical issue of how each local church will approach this issue. Let us make our best attempt at faithfulness and move forward to do the work of the church without apology and also without antagonism toward brothers and sisters who choose a different approach. As much as it is in our power, we should be at peace with others who decide differently than we decide on this matter. And yet we must speak the truth in love when God says to speak.

We should want nothing more and nothing less than to allow Christ to lead us according to his priorities for his kingdom in a particular time and a particular place. What is helpful to communicate the gospel? What is helpful to advance the kingdom of God? What blesses the church? I believe that God will move his people to release women from the bondage resulting from the Fall that is reflected in human societies and cultures around the world. The timing is in God’s hands. Truth spoken in love, as God leads, is in our hands. God will move his people to change human society in the direction of his will. God’s enemies will oppose this movement.

I earnestly sought for God to guide me in this issue. In His time, He spoke, and said, “You shall have no other gods before me.” The other gods are falling. Traditions of men and false spiritual powers are being disarmed. His kingdom is advancing. Good news is preached. Prisoners are freed. The blind recover sight. The oppressed are released. It is the year of the Lord’s favor.

“to the pure, all things are pure”

– Titus 1:15, NIV

Next… 13. Further Reading – Links and References

11. Practice and Experience

Theoretically, allowing God to call people into the ministry He chooses without seeking to promote one’s own place or position will lead to the same results, whether one is a complementarian or an egalitarian or something in between. However, in practice, expectations matter. Examples matter. It is all too easy to conform to externalities, regardless of whether these externalities limit the possibilities for women’s ministry or encourage stretching the boundaries of tradition.

No one can deny that women have been vitally involved in leadership among God’s people and in the church over the years, beginning with Miriam and Deborah in scripture and continuing with others.

In the history of the church, one simply cannot deny that women have carried the lion’s share of the ministry and leadership on many mission fields, producing healthy national, regional, and local churches. This ministry on the mission field often required women missionaries to teach and disciple national leaders who were men.

Some complementarians explain these awkward facts by claiming the sometimes God will use women in leadership in situations where the church is weak, but that his ideal is that leadership should be carried by men. Therefore, they argue for maintaining limitations on the leadership of women in the church in spite of the numerous examples of God using women in ways that obviously exceed these limitations.

Let us assume for sake of argument here that these complementarians are correct, and that God has only used women in leadership and teaching positions under in circumstances where the church is not healthy or weak. If this is so, then would it not be improper to institute church regulations that prevented God from calling women to lead a weak or unhealthy church?

My own experience, however, stands against this claim. I’ve had the blessed experience of knowing some excellent leaders, both men and women. My own assessment of the various leaders I have served with at the denominational level, for example, is that the best board chairman that I served with was a woman. She did an excellent job of leading the board to listen to the Spirit of God and obey. It was a privilege to learn from her and see God glorified through her leadership. There was no shortage of gifted male leaders available on this board; and there were still other gifted men who could have served on this board. And yet God called this woman to lead. I could not say otherwise without denying God the glory He deserves from what He accomplished through this woman’s leadership.

And that’s just the point. When the church is operating as it should, God raises up leaders who are not self-serving but rather God-serving. They are not advancing a feminist or patriarchal agenda. They are faithfully serving as empowered by His Spirit, and it brings glory to God in magnificent ways that are a blessing to all involved. How can it be justified to set up barriers to what God has chosen to do, both in the history preserved for us in scripture and in the history of the church since? How could it be right to set up structures that would exclude the possibility of what God has already done?

Lastly, the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. I’ve been in ministry long enough to know that there is an overall serious shortage of leadership in the church. Leadership can be lacking because the wrong people are placed in positions of responsibility to which they are not called by God. However, when God calls, I’m delighted to serve alongside his chosen leaders no matter their gender. We need more leaders, and I’d guess that about half of them will be women!

My own wife, Susan, for example, is a gifted and excellent leader. She has been a leader all her life, in all sorts of situations, with all sorts of people. My profile is similar. For my whole life, I’ve naturally migrated into leadership in groups that I work with. I don’t think it has simply been a prideful thing of wanting to be the leader for either of us, generally speaking. (I should confess that I am sure, for my part, that it has sometimes been a matter of human striving or pride, more so when I was younger and (hopefully) less so as I have grown in Christ’s likeness. I don’t know any people with leadership gifts for whom this has never been an issue.)

Yet while both of us are accustomed to leadership, we are quite different in our natural and spiritual gifts for leadership. I am a starter and problem-solver who thinks strategically and likes to develop other leaders. Got a crisis? Call me; I thrive on them. I grow bored when leadership becomes more administrative, managing the details of a large organization. Susan is one who values having a plan and making it work, and is very gifted at making sure that all the details are planned and organized just as they should be. Which of us should be in charge of the checkbook in our home? Which of us would make the best COO? We’re both quite capable of doing a fine job, but it would be a fool who chose me over her for that sort of responsibility.

God handed out the gifts, and it is up to us to use them appropriately. It’s not a matter of me being a man and her being a woman! In fact, if I am to be a good leader, it is incumbent upon me to recognize her gifts and make space for them to flourish. God will be glorified in that. God would not be glorified by me insisting that I take roles in our relationship for which God did not suit me and for which he has created in her amazing gifts and talents.

(I do not mean to imply that God never chooses to stretch people by calling them into particular responsibilities of leadership for which others might seem more qualified. He seems to do this regularly. And then there is the small detail that God sees things that we don’t see; and Goliath falls to David, the son of Jesse that Samuel least expected to anoint as king. And even that is to say nothing of the times that God seems to choose leaders so as to leave no possibility of anyone mistaking that success came from anyone other than God; Jacob or Gideon come to mind. Dwight Moody positively reveled in the fact that people saw him and the ministry God was doing around him in this way.)

Another matter of practical experience is that there is a need for female leadership in every church, even those who sincerely believe that the place of women in leadership should be very limited. The practical issue is that we can expect roughly fifty percent of the church’s members to be women. These women need leadership and teaching and shepherding that is not best done by men. How will that be facilitated in the church if there are no women acting as elders?

There will be women with leadership abilities and gifts in the church. There should be a legitimate way for these gifts to be employed in service to God and his church. The alternative is that women with leadership gifts will grow frustrated with the lack of outlet for the gifts God has given them. The “natural” result of this is that there grows to be informal, unofficial, and sometimes unhealthy mechanisms for leadership and influence to be exercised by women. When these mechanisms are forced “underground”, everything about developing these gifts and talents is vastly complicated and subject to distortion and abuse. That seems a poor way to organize!

Next… 12. Constructively Moving Forward

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