Free Methodist Church USA "let there be light" with Dove-Flame Mark. Orange and Blue.

Free Methodist News

A Biblical Case for Women in Ministry Leadership

Is it biblical for women to be in leadership in the church?  My answer, the FMC answer, is a resounding “Yes!”

In this session I want to note the biblical warrants for this “Yes!”  First let me offer several orienting comments for understanding/applying the Bible, then note the flow of the Bible’s story; and then mostly tell you how I understand the two difficult passages that seem to prohibit women leaders.

 

ORIENTING COMMENTS (HERMENEUTICS)

“Hermeneutics” is the art and science of proper interpretation.  What is the appropriate way to understand a text of the Bible (or any document)?

Here is a foundation principle.  You must understand the Bible on its own terms.  A cookbook is different than a novel.  You read and benefit from each according to the kind of book each one is.  So, what kind of book is the Bible?  A Huge Question.

A big book.  In two parts: OT and NT; First covenant and Final covenant.  Each part should be read in light of the other.

The Bible is a huge story.  Gen—Rev. So, one should interpret one part of story in light of the other.  If it is a story, the way the story unfolds is important to observe.  If it moves from promise to fulfillment; from problem to solution; and if it unfolds to a climax in the person of Jesus, interpreting a passage in one part must keep all of these things in mind.

E.g., passage that describes the problem—say, what is wrong with world? must be read differently than a passage that describes the solution—how has God responded?

You cannot understand a passage on the problem without reference to the solution, and cannot understand passage on solution without reference to what the problem is.

If the story unfolds, progressively or purposefully in some way, you must take that into account when reading any part of the story.

Which brings us to note how the story unfolds in general terms.

 

THE FLOW OF THE BIBLE’S STORY

If one reads Genesis 1—2, and didn’t know anything went wrong, you would never wonder whether women could lead.

If you read Gen. 1—2 and then Rev. 21-22, you would know something dreadful went wrong in between.  But, again, you wouldn’t question that women could lead.

The limitation and frustration of both men and women come from the fall, from what went so dreadfully wrong.

Then, if Jesus—his ministry, cross and resurrection, and the kingdom he proclaimed and introduced into the world—provides remedy for all that is wrong, then we should expect a relational reality that reflects and fulfills Gen. 1—2 again.

The flow of the biblical story in its entirety does not disappoint this expectation!  There is no time to elaborate this here except to say: Given hints we find all throughout the middle parts (in Old and New Testaments), the way Jesus valued women, and what women did in the early church, I conclude: Whatever Paul meant in I Cor. 14 and 1 Tim. 2, should not nullify the clear indications from elsewhere in Scripture and the entire flow of the story.

But some are troubled when I draw this conclusion.  They ask: “If Paul clearly says women shouldn’t teach or exercise authority over a man, shouldn’t the church follow that rule?”  That is precisely the question that we must do our best to answer.

 

TWO DIFFICULT PASSAGES

There are these two passages that seem to suggest such things, but I maintain that there are reasons to question this.   Let me begin by stressing that the question, “what does scripture clearly teach?” is the all-important question but it is not as simple a question as it appears.

Paul tells the Galatians:

28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

(Gal 3:28 TNIV)

In the larger context, Paul is drawing out the implications of the gospel of salvation by grace through faith.  He clearly states that all who are in Christ become children of God, clothed with Christ, and as a consequence there is neither Jew nor …, neither slave nor … neither male nor female, for (this is the reason) you are all one in Christ.

Note, Paul speaks of all three sets of social pairs (ethnic, class, gender) in the same way.  He is not suggesting that we lose ethnic identity or that slaves are automatically free, or that there are no differences between male and female.  Yet, he is contending: being in Christ means that such social categories no longer determine who we are and how we live, as they did in Paul’s world.

In the first century there were definite limitations placed on people according to ethnicity, class, and sex.  But if there is neither male nor female, then being male or female does not limit whether a male or female may belong to the family of God; nor does it limit how male or female may participate in the church of Jesus.  Therefore, on the basis of this text, this scripture passage, we must conclude that being male or female does not determine either membership or ministry.

Our friends who disagree, commonly say that male and female are equal in value, but different in role.  But Paul does not say that here, and implies just the opposite.  We wouldn’t say that Jews and gentiles are both equally valuable but only Jews really are qualified to lead in the church.  We wouldn’t say that about persons ethnically different, and we shouldn’t say that about men and women on the basis of this text.

To be sure, the passage in 1 Corinthians 14 seems to say something different, as does 1 Timothy 2.  But on what basis do we conclude that in light of 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, Galatians 3:28 in its context (“no male or female in Christ”) must somehow mean something different than it clearly says?  Why wouldn’t it be the other way around, especially when we see there are some things in the 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 texts that are strange or mystifying?

What makes people almost automatically assume that 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 “trump” the teaching of Galatians 3:28?  Some might say, it doesn’t seem right, feel right, and therefore simply is not right for women to lead.  But that is not the Bible speaking; that is something else.

So what about those two texts.  Shouldn’t we follow what Paul clearly teaches?  I would say absolutely, but I do not believe these texts offer clear teaching, certainly not as clear as Galatians 3:28 (in the context of the whole of Galatian letter) does.  Why do I say this?  Well, let’s look at those texts.

 

1 Corinthians 14

31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.

32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.

33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace–as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.

35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?

37 If any think they are prophets or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.

38 Those who ignore this will themselves be ignored.

39 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.

40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. (1Co 14:31-40 TNIV)

In 1 Corinthians Paul is responding to several issues and questions that he has heard about or has been asked regarding the Corinthian House Churches (see 7:1, concerning the things you wrote about, 7:25; 8:1; 12:1).

Chapter 14 is part of Paul’s response to questions about worship, specifically the use of gifts of tongues and prophesy during worship gatherings.  Clearly, there is disorder and strife in the church and in its worship.

Note in this passage: in v. 31 we find mention prophesying, as also in v. 32.  In v. 37 and v. 39, again, Paul refers to prophets and prophecy.  And, in v. 33 and v. 40 Paul stresses God’s desire for there to be order and peace in the worship and among those who participate.  In other words, the context reveals chaotic worship practices relating to the use of tongues, whether unknown or in the form of prophetic utterance.

In this context, Paul says (v. 34), “Women should remain silent in the churches.”  That is the Today’s NIV version.  Literally, the Greek reads, “The Women are to be silent …”

Now, when the definite article “the” is used in Greek grammar it normally means that the noun “women” is either definite, referring to specific women in question, or generic, referring to women in general.  Many translators, including the TNIV which I quote above, translate it as though it is “generic,” that is, women in general or women as a class.  But a number of others include the article, “the women” (ASV, NAS, RSV—though not the NRSV, NET, ESV, CEV, among others).

How do you decide which is the best understanding?  The context is the primary determiner.  This verse either says women in general should remain silent; they are not to speak.  Or it says, the women, that is, certain ones whom you know very well, should remain silent and are not to speak.  I would argue that it is the latter.  Here is why.

Paul has already stressed that, in fact, women in general do not and should not remain silent.  He has instructed that when women pray or prophesy they must have a covering on their heads (See 11:5, 13).   The same language used in chapter 14 for prophesying is used in chapter 11.  Paul does not say they should not prophesy, he says it would be shameful for them to do so without a covering.  The same for when women pray, they must have a covering on their heads.

Read chapter 11 and you will see that it has its own share of mystifying and befuddling elements, but not at this point.  Paul clearly refers to women in worship praying (and it would be out loud, which was the custom in the ancient world) and prophesying.  That is, in chapter 11 Paul says women do speak, and it is fine when done appropriately, and in chapter 14 he seems to say just the opposite.

But he doesn’t say just the opposite if he is referring to a certain group of women, “the women” who in Corinth were misbehaving.  Since Paul is responding to questions which the church has asked, it would not be necessary for him to give more details.

This way of understanding makes good sense of what Paul then says.  They should be quiet, and if they have questions, let them ask their husbands when they are home.  In other words, they are disruptive and unruly and out of order, perhaps especially when others are giving prophetic words to the Body.

Paul goes on to say they should stop, and be silent.  It is shameful, in fact, for such a woman to “speak” in the church gathering.  The word “speak” is the common word for talking, not for teaching or other forms of utterance.  Which makes good sense if Paul is referring to some women who disrupt by talking and asking questions or otherwise commenting during the worship times.

This does not answer every question, but it does suggest a way for what Paul says here to be understood in its context without contradicting what he clearly says earlier in the same letter where he is assuming that women do not remain silent in the church.

Here is a final observation about this.  Most who disagree with my interpretation do not really obey what they understand to be Paul’s “clear teaching” here.  Not at all.  Paul says “(the) women should remain silent; it is not right for them to speak in church, wait until they are in their own homes.”  It doesn’t say—hereanything about women preachers or leaders, it says women should be silent period.  No one I know really accepts it as such and no church I know really practices it.  But that, in fact, is what Paul seems to say, the view I am arguing against.  The women should not talk—period.  Let them be silent.  This would not allow women to teach other women in church, or children in church, or even simply to talk about the weather or anything.

The way our friends who disagree handle this is to insist from 1 Corinthians 14 that women should be silent, and then soften or qualify it by referring to 1 Timothy 2, which I will comment on below.  But before I do, let me ask again: if you are not going to let 1 Corinthians14 stand absolutely and conclude that women should just be silent, period, but qualify it by something else Paul wrote, why not qualify it by what he wrote in Galatians 3:28?  Thus, you say, on the basis of Galatians 3:28, in general we expect some women in Christ to be called to do whatever some men are called to do (no male or female), but apparently there are some women who should keep their mouths shut … ?   Why should the only legitimate way of qualifying Paul’s absolute statement of 1 Corinthians 14 be that women must be silent as found in 1 Timothy 2?

 

1 Timothy 2

8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.

9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,

10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.

12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.

14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

15 But women will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.  (1Ti 2:8-1 TNIV)

Again I have quoted the TNIV along with verses that come before and also after the verses in question, for better context.

Once again it is important to note the context that Timothy is facing as he pastors in Ephesus.  There are controversies, arguments, and wrong teaching going on and especially in relation to the law.  Paul tells him to have nothing to do with endless speculations and arguments over difficult passages which just cause division and distract from sound teaching.  Then, he reminds Timothy that the law was given in view of behavior and lifestyle that is contrary to God’s will, not to establish credibility or standing in relation to God or other people.  The goal of it all, he says, is love flowing from pure hearts, a good conscience, and genuine faith, which some in the church have forgotten by using the law in ways it was never meant to be used.  They have been and are in grave danger (see 1: 3-11).   One final note.  Chapter 2 begins with a call to pray for all in authority so that the church might live a tranquil and quiet life in godliness and dignity, for the sake of the mission to bring salvation to all people (see 2:1-6).

In this context, when Paul repeats the call for silence for “a woman” who should learn in silence (same word) and complete submission, we should view this as a particular application of the calling Paul has just given to the whole church.  It is not that Paul all of a sudden calls women to be quiet but that he calls women to this quietness in terms appropriate for some particular situation.  Read on.

Paul says that a women should learn, but in quietness and submission (2:11).  In Paul’s world that was not common and would be unexpected, reflecting a different way of viewing women in general than the surrounding culture did.

In this context Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach” (v. 12).  But is that really true absolutely and is that the best way to understand this assertion?  When women prophesy, as in 1 Corinthians 11, are they not giving words that are instructive to all who hear them?  In Acts when Priscilla and Aquila take Apollos aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately (see 18:26) there is no indication that Priscilla wasn’t at least part of the teaching team with her husband.   Many scholars suggest that Luke’s habit of listing Priscilla first when he mentions them reflects that she was more the leader than he, because normally the man would always be listed first.

In Acts 16 when Lydia is the first convert in Philippi and the new church is hosted in her home, certainly she would have some legitimate occasion for teaching.  And when Paul lists women who are his fellow servants, ministers and even apostles, as he does in his other epistles, surely it is reasonable to think that they would be among the teachers in the church.  We have good reason to question whether he is really asserting that he does not allow women to teach, as it is often understood.

Then Paul adds something that suggests another way to understand him.  He says he does not allow women to “assume authority over a man; she must be quiet,” (v. 12).  The world translated “assume authority” is very rare and it means to dominate or lord it over.  There are other ways of designating and describing the exercise of authority and those words are very common.  Here however you have this word chosen by Paul.  I conclude that these are likely gentile women, converted and set free in Jesus, presuming to tell the men and other believing women what to do, thus dominating and disrupting.  And they needed correction.  Such women were not qualified to teach or to exercise any authority, not over men (which would be especially shocking and off-putting to the pagan culture) or women.

Add to this another fact.  These women were likely deceived and unreliable without knowing it. Paul described them at the beginning of this letter:

6 Some have wandered away from those teachings. They would rather talk about things that have no meaning.

7 They want to be teachers of the law. And they are very sure about that law. But they don’t know what they are talking about. (1 Tim. 1:6-7 NIRV)

This helps explain why Paul then refers to the Genesis account of the creation, the temptation, and the trespass of Eve, and then Adam which Paul strangely omits (vv. 13-16).  He notes it was Eve who was beguiled and deceived and in turn offered the fruit to Adam.   (We might observe however that if the woman was deceived, the man was simply defiant or careless.  The Genesis text says, 3:6, she ate it and then gave some to her husband who was with her!).  And when Paul says this about Eve, he is not blaming the women and suggesting she was more prone to deception than the man.  Rather, Paul is citing the text of Genesis 3:13, where Eve explains what happened by saying the serpent deceived her.

Paul refers to what Eve says in this text about being deceived because somehow the women Paul refers to are prone to error or are likewise being deceived.   This is not the way Paul usually talks about this sad episode.  Normally, when talking about the fall of humans into sin, Paul cites Adam.  See Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.  This is the only place where Paul makes Eve the central character, assigning blame.  Why does he do this?  The best answer is:  he saw such a reference as helpful in dealing with a particular situation Timothy was facing in the church.

Then, he adds that though the woman was deceived she can be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith etc.  This too follows the Genesis story which spells out the consequences of sin for Eve in terms of pain in childbirth.  Paul is speaking on several levels here.   Women (and men too) will be saved through childbearing in at least two ways.  In the Genesis story Eve’s and Adam’s posterity and future are saved through bearing children, the human race continues; then, in the ultimate story, everyone is saved through a woman bearing the Child who is Messiah and Savior.  In both cases, women and men are necessary if there will be salvation, and in both cases they/we are saved by faith.

Let me note two other things arguing against understanding that Paul is giving an absolute command against women teaching, ministering, leading in the church.  In this same passage Paul instructs, or commands, that when men pray they should lift up holy hands (v. 8).  But no one I know seriously regards this as mandatory.

Likewise, and maybe more to the point, Paul commands certain styles of dress, jewelry, and hair for godly women.  Hardly anyone takes this seriously anymore.  Few would call it a sin to wear socially appropriate clothing and jewelry, within reason.

FM people once did insist on such an understanding, but we now see otherwise and lament the legalism of the past that often threatened the spiritual vitality of the church.  Yet, these commands about dress and hair are in the very same passage as those concerning women’s roles and activities.  Few object to understanding one set of commands as context specific.  But, in the case of women’s roles, it is a different story.

On one hand, hardly no one insists women dress to Paul’s commands, but on the other many insist on taking the limitations on women’s roles in church as universal and binding even though clearly Paul himself and the early church, not to mention Jesus, did not.  On what legitimate basis can you pick and choose in this manner?

The 1 Timothy passage, more than that of 1 Corinthians 14, is difficult, and arriving at a confident or assured answer to all the questions may not be possible.  But remember what Peter said about some things Paul wrote.  They are hard to understand (see 2 Peter 3:16)!   Even in the first century some things were not clear to sincere followers of Jesus and there were those who were confused.

Thus, we are not alone in finding some of what Paul wrote hard to understand.  I would argue that these two passages are “difficult,” especially in light of other things Paul says that seem quite clear.

I have had people tell me they just cannot “get past” what Paul says in these two passages.  For my part, and the understanding of the FMC, we cannot get past what the whole story seems to suggest, namely, that the limitations on women in human history are mostly the result of sin and its brokenness, that in the beginning God created the man and women as co-stewards and co-trustees of the world he created,

that sin messed up these and all other relationships resulting in horrendous woe and evil—not least on women at the hands of men who lord it over and abuse them, and that redemption in Christ Jesus undoes this sin and its damage.

We are a new kind of humanity in Christ that approaches by grace the restoration of what God intended in the beginning.  We see signs of this undoing in the several notable women who appear in Israel’s story, in the ministry of Jesus, in the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy that the Spirit would fall upon and fill both men and women and both would prophesy, and so they both did in the life of the early church.

If we understand the big picture of this great salvation that God is working out, we cannot rewrite the story or dismiss it on the basis of two “difficult” passages from Paul, that are “difficult” even and especially compared with other things that Paul himself says.

David W. Kendall

 

Women in Ministry

The General Conference of 1974 passed a resolution “giving women equal status with men in the ministry of the church” (General Conference Minutes, p. 388).  According to the General Conference report in the Light & Life magazine, the vote was unanimous.  That vote, in the minds of many, settled the issue and they turned their attention to other concerns.

During the intervening twenty years, the denomination’s position has not changed.  However, outside the denomination, the voices opposing women in ministry and limiting the leadership roles of women in the local church have become more assertive.  Some of those voices are respected evangelical leaders (e.g., refer to J.I. Packer below) who seem to be ignorant of Wesleyan/holiness church history, inferring that anyone who differs from them is playing fast and loose with Scripture.  This is confusing to many.

On the other hand, within the denomination there is growing concern over the fact that, though women officially have access to full ordination and any role in the church, few women are in leadership positions.  At a time when women are entering formerly male-dominated professions in increasing numbers and providing community leadership, the percentage of women among Free Methodist pastors, especially senior pastors, and in church and conference leadership roles, is not growing as would be expected.

Given these concerns, the Study Commission on Doctrine believes it is time to articulate anew the church’s position on women in ministry.  In the following pages we will examine the historical support for ordaining women, the appropriate principles of biblical interpretation, and the Scriptural bases for releasing the daughters of God in leadership and ministry.

Our History                                                                        

Writing in Christianity Today, J. I. Packer claimed that the call for the ordination of women is a modern concern resulting in part from social changes since World War I.  He also stated that “Bible-based evangelical communities of all denominational stripes within Protestantism, agree in opposing this trend” (Packer, p. 18).  Packer apparently has no awareness of Wesleyan/Holiness history or the status of women within Wesleyan/holiness denominations.  The Salvation Army, the Anderson Church of God, and the Church of the Nazarene, all founded in the last decades of the nineteenth century, have ordained women since their beginnings (Dayton, pp. 94, 97-98).

Believing it is God who must place the call on any minister, they have accepted that God could choose to call women as well as men.  Since its founding, women, called and empowered by the Holy Spirit, have ministered in the Free Methodist Church.

As early as 1861, when the church was just one year old, the minutes of the Genesee Convention report the discussion of women preaching (see Richardson, p. 53).  Bishop B. T. Roberts believed strongly in the equality of men and women.  He argued that women should be working shoulder to shoulder with men in building the kingdom of God.  He tried to lead the denomination toward the ordination of women.

The General Conference of 1874 established a class of ministers called Evangelists.  They were persons called of God to preach the Gospel and promote revival but not called to a pastoral charge.  Both “brothers and sisters” could be licensed as Evangelists.  Thus, women were licensed and ministered as lay preachers in the church.

To the General Conference of 1890, “B. T. Roberts offered the following Resolution.  That the gospel of Jesus Christ, in the provision which it makes, and in the agencies which it employs for the salvation of mankind, knows no distinction of nationality, condition [or] sex: therefore, no person who is called of God, and who is duly qualified, should be refused ordination on account of sex, or race or condition” (1890 General Conference Minutes, p. 131).  After much debate, the motion lost by a vote of 37 to 41.  Deeply grieved by this action. Roberts took up his pen.  In 1891 he published On Ordaining Women–Biblical and Historical Insights.  In the preface Roberts states the purpose for his writing:  “that truth may prevail, Christ be glorified, and His Kingdom be advanced on earth” (Roberts, p. 8).  Unfortunately, Roberts died in 1893 without seeing women fully released to build the Kingdom of God through the Free Methodist Church.

Although the 1890 General Conference refused to grant ordination to women, a step of progress was made for women.  The Free Methodist (the denominational magazine) for October 22, 1890 reported, “Two of the lay delegates having seats in the General Conference [sic] are ladies….Both are doing some committee work.  Most of our readers will be glad to know that the question of admitting ladies as lay delegates did not in the least disrupt the equanimity of the conference.”  Throughout its history, the Free Methodist church has not officially limited the role of women in the church except in the case of ordination.

The General Conference of 1894 again addressed the place of women in ministry.  It added a paragraph to the section on Evangelists.  “When women have been licensed by the Annual Conference, and have served two successive years under appointment as pastors, they may…have a voice and vote in the Annual Conference; and in the transaction of Conference business they shall be counted with the preachers” (see Hogue, Vol. 1, p. 218).  Though Evangelists were supposed to be lay, non-pastoral preachers, the church acknowledged that women Evangelists were pastoring.

Ordination was finally granted to women by the 1911 General Conference.  But it was a limited ordination.  They could be ordained Deacon, “provided always that this ordination of women shall not be considered a step toward ordination as Elder” (Hogue, Vol. 1, p. 218).  Women could preach and pastor, but they were barred from senior leadership in the church until 1974.

In the Foreword to the 1992 reproduction of On Ordaining Women, John E. Van Valin says “for the last 132 years, the Free Methodist Church has with honor taken her place among many other groups within the Christian faith who accord to women honor and respect in ministry.  For our church this honor is in part symbolized by…ordination….The reprinting of this centenarian volume signals not so much a new era in the life of the church but a presentation of her cherished heritage.”

Interpreting Scripture                                                                            

In the search for truth, Free Methodists want to know what the Bible says on any issue.  Scripture is the ultimate authority on which we depend.  But Scripture must be interpreted to ascertain God’s message for us.  How one approaches the task of interpretation makes a great deal of difference in the meanings discovered.  Before examining the biblical bases for women in ministry, let us identify the principles which should guide interpretation.

First, Ward Gasque in his article “The Role of Women in the Church, in Society and in the Home” identifies several principles which need to guide our study of biblical texts. First the contextual principle. What is the author discussing in the surrounding verses?  How does the verse under study relate to the theme and logic of the whole passage?  The context provides insight on the meaning.

Second, the linguistic principle.  The Bible was written in Hebrew or Greek.  Translating meaning from language to language is a challenge.  Understanding God’s word for us requires an honest examination of a passage in its original language.  What meanings might words have carried?  Is that meaning accurately and fully translated into the English?  Have translators used different English words for the same Greek or Hebrew word in different passages?  For example, in Romans 16:1 Phoebe is called a “servant.”  The Greek word used here is usually translated “deacon” or “minister” in verses speaking of men.  Why is Phoebe not similarly called a “deacon” or “minister”?

Third, the historical principle.  Without an understanding of the historical setting in which biblical authors were writing, we often miss the revolutionary nature of Scripture in contrast to pagan ways.  Reading Paul’s letters to the churches without knowing the historical setting is like listening to one side of a telephone conversation.  Our interpretation may be distorted if we do not seek to understand the heresies being spread in the early church and the lifestyle issues which infant Christians brought into the church.

Fourth, interpret a particular text within the context of an author’s writing as a whole.  To discern Paul’s views on women, one must wrestle with all that he said on the subject and make sense of the whole.  When there seem to be contradictions, the historical and contextual principles may help unravel the mystery.

Fifth, the principle of the analogy of faith.  Christians assume the consistency of Scripture as a whole.  Any individual text must therefore be interpreted in the light of the whole.  Understanding the flow of Scripture is important in discovering its consistency.  Gilbert Bilezikian in Beyond Sex Roles suggests that creation – fall – redemption summarize the flow of Scripture (Bilezikian, pp. 15ff.).  In Genesis 1 and 2 we find God’s creation design;  Genesis 3 records the fall and the rest of the Old Testament tells of God’s first covenant with fallen human beings.  The New Testament proclaims the story of redemption and the new covenant through which persons can be redeemed and empowered by God’s Spirit to live in accordance with God’s will–the creation design.  When interpreting specific scripture passages it is important to distinguish between the creation design, descriptions of God working patiently with fallen humanity under the first covenant, and God’s vision for those who are redeemed.

It is interesting to note that where persons begin their study of what the Bible has to say about women impacts their final conclusions.  Some begin with statements from Paul and Peter which seem to limit the role of women in the church and make them subservient to men in the home.  They then see the rest of Scripture through these verses.  Others begin with Genesis 1-3 and move on through Scripture.  They are amazed by Jesus’ treatment of women, thrilled by Acts 2:16 and Galatians 3:28.  They celebrate the equality the Bible portrays for women and men.  In the light of the whole, they wrestle with the difficult passages and discover the harmony of these verses when sound interpretive principles are used (see Gasque, p. 1).

The last principle mentioned by Gasque is the history of biblical interpretation.  For centuries Christians used Scripture to prove the rightness of slavery.  Finally, principles similar to those identified above were applied to the verses referring to slaves and nineteenth century evangelical Christians began to call for the abolition of slavery.  Their approach to biblical interpretation also led them to support the ordination of women (see Dayton, p. 90).  It is interesting to note that in the first chapter of On Ordaining Women Roberts states, “If those who stood high as interpreters of Reason and Revelation, and who expressed the prevailing sentiments of their day, were so greatly mistaken on [the slavery issue]…, is it not possible that the current sentiment as to the position which WOMAN should be permitted to occupy in the Church of Christ may also be wrong?” (Roberts, p. 11).  Sound principles of interpretation are needed to clear up misunderstandings and destructive error.

Biblical Support for Women in Ministry   

In recent years, many excellent books have been written to articulate the biblical perspective on the place of women and men in the Church and home.  Many of the insights presented by these modern writers had already been anticipated by Roberts in his brief book.  Since we are here addressing Free Methodists, we will turn first to Roberts for help in seeing what the Bible says about women in ministry and amplify his work with insights from other scholars.  The bibliography at the end of this article provides resources for further study.

Old Testament Insights

Roberts begins his biblical study with Genesis 2:18, “The Lord said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.'”  Some use this verse to prove that women are simply to “help” men, to serve them.  Roberts reads this verse to mean that “woman was created, not as the servant of man, but as his companion, his equal.”  Adam Clarke, he notes, understood the Hebrew to imply “that the woman was to be a perfect resemblance of the man, possessing neither inferiority or superiority, but being in all things like and equal to himself.”  The word translated “helper” in Genesis 2:18 appears nineteen times in the Old Testament.  Fifteen times it refers to God helping needy people.  It therefore carries no connotation of inferiority (see Evans, p. 16).

To both man and woman, God gave the order to be fruitful and to take dominion over the world (Genesis 1:28).  There is no hint of woman’s subjection before the fall.  Roberts notes that when Jesus was asked about divorce in Matthew 19:3, he based his response on Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”  Why did Jesus refer back to the time before the fall?  “To re-enact the law enacted then.  Thus Christ restored the primitive law.  He said nothing about the subjection of women–not one word….Christ came to repair the ruin wrought by the fall” (Roberts, pp. 35-36).  Christ calls redeemed humanity to live out the creation design.

The Old Testament tells of two categories of religious leaders, priests and prophets.  All the Hebrew priests were male.  With the coming of Christ as our great high priest, the order of priests ended.  The prophets are therefore more the Old Testament counterparts of contemporary Christian ministers.  And there were women prophets including Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14).  The Scripture presents their stories, making no issue of their gender.  Women judges and prophets are both recognized.

Roberts concludes his review of the Old Testament by stating “there is nothing in the creation of woman or in her condition under the law which proves that no woman should be ordained as a minister of the Gospel” (Roberts, p. 37).

New Testament Insights

Jesus shocked his world by the way in which he treated women.  He respected them, taking time to talk with them (John 4), heal them (Luke 8:48), forgive them (John 8:11), engage them in theological discussion (John 4:19-26; 11:23-27), and welcome them as disciples–i.e., learners (Luke 10:39, 42).  He drew into his teaching parables from their experiences (Luke 15:8-10).  No other rabbi of Jesus’ time did such things.  Jesus’ treatment of women was revolutionary.  He even commanded a woman to be the first witness to the resurrection (John 20:17).  Moreover, Jesus made no statements limiting women in their ministry for him.

But, some may say, the twelve apostles were all men.  Does that not indicate church leaders should be men?  To this objection Roberts responded, “If gentiles are to preach, why did [Jesus] not choose a gentile among the twelve?  Why were the twelve Jews, every one of them?  The example is as binding in the one case as the other” (Roberts, p. 37).

The key  text on women’s ministry for the nineteenth century holiness movement was Acts 2:16-18, “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:  ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.'”  One Methodist woman preacher declared Pentecost as “Woman’s Emancipation Day.”  A new age began with Pentecost, an age in which the Holy Spirit anointed daughters as well as sons to preach and prophesy (Malcolm, pp. 120, 127).

For Roberts Galatians 3:28 was the key verse which settled the question of whether or not women could be ministers, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Some claim that this verse refers only to salvation.  To this objection Roberts replied, “If this verse referred only to salvation by faith, the female would not be specified….In the many offers of salvation made in the New Testament, woman is not specially mentioned….’He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,’ included woman as well as man.  Everyone so understood it….We must understand [Galatians 3:28] to teach, as it actually does, the perfect equality of all, under the Gospel, in rights and privileges, without respect of nationality, or condition, or sex.  If this gives to men of all nations the right to become ministers of the Gospel, it gives women precisely the same right” (Roberts, pp. 37-39).

But, you may be asking, what about the verses that seem to limit women’s involvement in the church?  Are they in conflict with the rest of the Bible, or is there a way of understanding them which is in harmony with the flow of Scripture?  Two such passages are 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12.

In 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul talks about women covering their heads when they pray and prophesy.  Those instructions would not be needed if all “women should remain silent in the churches” (1 Corinthians 14:34).  Paul’s theme in chapter fourteen is orderly worship.  Verses 26-35 identify three groups of persons who apparently were creating disorder and needed to be silent:  persons speaking in tongues when there was no interpreter (v. 28), those who continued to speak when someone else received a revelation (v. 30), and women who were speaking out during worship (v. 34).  John Bristow notes that the word translated “speak” in verse 34 is laleo which of all the verbs that may be translated “speak” is the only one that can simply mean talk to one another (Bristow, p. 63).  The Corinthian women were told not to interrupt the church service by conversing together; if they had questions about the topic at hand, they should wait and discuss them at home (v. 35).  Probably these women were experiencing new liberties as Christians.  They were not accustomed to being in public gatherings.  Paul is calling, not for the silencing of women preachers, but for the silencing of women who disrupted worship with their conversations and questions, along with the silencing of others whose behavior detracted from worship (see further Evans, pp. 95-108).

We have already noted that Free Methodists historically have not silenced women in the church.  Women have testified, sung, preached and taught in the church.  But for over one hundred years the leadership and authority of women were limited by denying full ordination. One speaker in the 1890 General Conference debate declared, “We would give her the same educational advantages, and the same property rights as man.  We would acknowledge her to be the equal of man in intellect, equal in ability, but not equal in authority (see Gramento, p. 77). 

Persons holding such a view would probably quote 1 Timothy 2:12 as their biblical support, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”  A look at linguistics and the historical context can help shed light on the meaning of this passage.  In verse 12 Paul uses the Greek word authentein for authority, rather than the common word he uses in all such cases.  Authentein carries the idea of autocratic or totally self-directed behavior, of usurping authority or domineering.  Paul forbids women to usurp authority that is not rightly theirs (Evans, p. 103).  The word translated “man” in this verse is the Greek word often translated “husband.”  Some scholars believe verse 12 speaks to husbands and wives as they relate to one another in the worshipping community and not to the role of women in general.

Pastor Timothy was dealing with false teaching in Ephesus.  Paul was concerned that Timothy not allow men or women to teach false doctrines (1 Timothy 1:3).  In the context of this concern, Paul stated that women “should learn in quietness and full submission” (1 Timothy 2:11).  The call for an attitude of quiet submission on the part of the learner probably reflected first century educational ideas rather than limitations prescribed for women.  But the significant point in verse 11 is that Paul wanted women to be learning.  In our day of education for all, we miss the radical nature of Paul’s statement (Evans, p. 102).

At the end of her study on 1 Timothy 2:11-12, Mary Evans concludes, “While the prohibition [to teach and have authority] is not absolute, it remains a prohibition.  No believer, male or female, has an automatic right to teach.  Any, particularly women, who are untaught and easily deceived, must continue to concentrate on learning rather than on usurping an authority which had not been given them” (Evans, p. 106).  When viewed in their literary and historical context with insights from the Greek, these passages do not contradict what we find elsewhere in Scripture.

Conclusion

What does the Free Methodist Church believe the Scriptures teach about the place of women in the Church?  Bishop Roberts summarized those beliefs well:

  • Man and woman were created equal, each possessing the same rights and privileges as the other.
  • At the fall, woman…became subject to her husband.
  • Christ re-enacted the primitive law and restored the original relation of equality of the sexes.
  • The objections to the equality of man and woman in the Christian Church, based upon the Bible, rest upon a wrong translation of    some passages and a misinterpretation of others.
  • We come, then, to this final conclusion: The Gospel of Jesus Christ, in the provisions which it makes, and in the agencies which it    employs, for the salvation of humankind, knows no distinction of race, condition, or sex (Roberts, pp. 103-104).
  • With these beliefs, women should be encouraged to take their place in all areas of church leadership and ministry.  Jesus calls us all,  women and men, to make disciples and build the kingdom of God.
  •  

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Women in Ministry — Some Hermeneutical Reflections

     

    Introduction

    Almost everyone believes and allows women to be in ministry. Even those who will disagree with my views on the matter do, in fact, recognize not only the privilege but duty of women to be in ministry (where would the church be if throughout history women had not served in nearly every form of ministry!) The first question is: what limitations have been paced on the leadership of women in ministry and why? The second question is: are these limitations general and universal or specific and contextual? I will return to these questions at the conclusion of this paper.

     

    How We Treat The Bible

    I begin with several assumptions I make about the Bible. First, the Bible is the Word of God and is therefore the final authority for Christian believing and living. The Bible is not so much a single book as it is a library of books — different kinds of literature, written over long periods of time, for different life settings of the people of God. Despite all these differences, however, we believe the Bible is unified in its witness to the one true God and reveals His plan for the world and humanity.

    These assumptions are critical to our discussion. Let me explain. It is not enough to find a verse or passage that teaches something and accept that as the only or the most important word on the subject. We must rather seek to get a sense of the flow of Scripture, a general sense of what God is doing in history that we gather from the whole Bible.

    One important implication of this approach is that we cannot understand all parts of the Bible as equal in value on a given subject. For example, in the Old Testament there was clear allowance for a man to marry more than one wife. Yet, in a discussion of marriage we would and should hesitate to take an Old Testament passage reflecting that practice and treat it in the same way we treat Paul’s discussion of marriage in Ephesians. Instead, we must see how specific passages in the Bible relate to the whole sweep of Scriptural truth.

    Another important implication of these assumptions is that when there are verses or passages that are unclear or difficult, or that seem to contradict other passages, we must set what is unclear or difficult into the whole biblical story and interpret the unclear by what is clear. The importance of these assumptions will be clear as we proceed.

    The Larger Picture of Creation and Redemption

    Let me put the question of women in ministry against the broader background of God’s work in creation and redemption. What did God intend in the original creation? According to Genesis 1, when God created human beings, male and female, both of them bore his image, both of them were called to be fruitful and multiply (something impossible for each alone), and both were called to exercise dominion or stewardship in the world (God said, “let them have dominion,” 1:26). There is no differentiation as to roles in the first creation account. Both together will take care of the world God created just as both together will multiply and fill the earth with their kind.

    The same conclusion rises out of the second creation account in Genesis 2. There God creates the man first and then declares that it is “not good” for the man to be alone (2:18). Read in light of chapter 1, with its frequent reports that God saw what he had made and judged it to be good, this statement that the man alone was not good is especially significant. Not good for what? In light of chapter 1, man alone could not fulfill the role God assigned to human beings. Only together could they multiply and only together could they adequately care for the world. Accordingly, God puts the man to sleep and makes a partner for him — a full partner who completes him and whose partnership makes it possible for God’s calling on humanity to be accepted and accomplished. Originally, the man and the woman are full partners — equal not only in dignity, but in responsibility.

    What did human sin do to God’s original plan? In short, all of the relationships God designed become corrupt, paradise was lost, and all hell broke loose. Specifically, we note the impact of sin on the relations and roles of the man and the woman. One verse especially tells the story: Gen. 3:16. The Lord says to the woman, “I will greatly multiply your pain in child bearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” This post-sin picture depicts a radically different human situation. Once they were partners, both responsible for carrying out God’s mandate, both expected to rule over God’s creation. Now, in the wake of sin, she looks primarily to her husband and not to God; while he rules over her as he does the rest of the animal world. Later in chapter 3 we read that Adam named his wife as he had done with all the other animals (3:20).

    Human sin corrupted God’s original plan for their relationship — now there’s a boss, a Lord, and now there is an underling to be ruled. From the perspective of original creation, the notion that there is a hierarchy with man above woman, no matter how well qualified, owes more to sin than God’s design.

    What, then, has God done about sin and its consequences? In the Genesis account we have a hint, often called the first good news. The serpent will bruise the heel of the woman’s seed, but in the end the serpent gets it in the head (3:15). And, so he has!

    Clearly, God intends to work full salvation from sin and all of its consequences. While some of those consequences may well plague us until the kingdom comes fully, in principle and in fact where sin has broken creation’s design, grace mends and restores it. According to Paul, Christ redeems us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13), and in that context the curse of the Law certainly includes the brokenness that sin has brought to every area of human life.

    The question of women in ministry must be answered against the backdrop of this larger story of creation and redemption. If all we had to go on was the creation accounts, there would be no issue, for nothing in those accounts suggests any limitations on what a woman might do in obedience to God’s call. Of course, after sin enters the picture nothing is as God intended. After sin, all sorts of limitations hassle both the man and the woman. But we dare not regard these limitations as normative, since God has acted to do away with sin and destroy the works of the devil.

    If this view is correct we should expect to see evidence in the biblical story that God is at work to reverse the consequences of sin with regard to women. In fact, that is precisely what we find. Throughout the history of God’s saving activity in the Bible God calls and empowers notable women to lead His people. Miriam is a prophetess and is classed with Moses and Aaron by Micah (Micah 6:4). Deborah was a prophetess and a judge. She performed the same duties as the men who judged Israel, even leading the army to victory in battle (Judges 4:4). Huldah and Noadiah also were prophetesses (2 Kings 22:14; Nahum 6:14).

    These exceptional instances of women playing important ministry/leadership roles among God’s people certainly foreshadow the Kingdom Jesus and the Spirit inaugurated in the first century. Joel promised a new age where young and old as well as male and female would receive God’s Spirit (Joel 2:28-29). Specifically it is said that they will prophesy — that is, proclaim the good news of new life in Jesus. And so it began on the day of Pentecost.

    Yet the full inclusion of women on that day came as no novelty of grace. Jesus had given extraordinary place to women during his ministry. The Samaritan woman, who quickly moved from new convert to village evangelist (John 4); the preference for Mary’s learning at Jesus’ feet (the traditional place of male students) over Martha’s work in the kitchen (the traditional place of the female); the blessing pronounced on the one who hears and obeys Jesus’ word as Jesus’ new family; the role of Joanna and other women disciples in supporting Jesus’ ministry; and the post-resurrection role of women — all these bear striking testimony to the dignity of women and their significant roles among the earliest disciples of Jesus.

    Indeed, in the early church of Pauline and non-Pauline origin we see much evidence that women participated in ministry and leadership functions along side of men. Paul’s declaration that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, … slave nor free, … male nor female, for you are all one in Christ,” interpreted in its context suggests that racial, social, economic, cultural, political characteristics no longer determine either a person’s status or function in the body of Christ. Now in Christ Gentiles, slaves, and women are full participants in the Body. And, as Paul elsewhere teaches, it is God who constitutes Christ’s Body, calling various ones to do various things, as He wills (1 Corinthians 12:11).

    When we look at the New Testament for indications of how God did, in fact, put together the Body of Christ in the first century world, we find women positioned in most of the places we find men, including as apostles (Junia, Romans 16:7), as prophets (Acts 2; 1 Corinthians 11:5), and as renowned co-workers of Paul (e.g., Priscilla, Euodia, Syntyche, Romans 16; Philippians 4:1).

    The Gospel transformation of persons and their social reality, however, takes place in a fallen and broken world, a world profoundly shaped by the consequences of sin. Accordingly, we also see plenty of evidence of unredeemed social reality still present in the New Testament era and in the church. The most glaring example of this would have to be the continuing presence of slavery as a social institution. But another example of social reality not yet entirely transformed may be seen in what appears to be the subordination of women and church life still largely dominated by men.

    But the word “appears” is a critical word. For God’s way is to subvert sinful social reality through grace, to over throw unjust structures from within the system, rather than simply to blow the system away. Precisely that was the approach of the early church to slavery. Philemon could be read as an endorsement of slavery (and it has). Yet, if Philemon does what Paul urges him to do, it would signal the virtual end of slavery as the ancient world knew it — at least within the Christian community.

    Similarly, Paul can teach on the respective roles of husbands and wives in Ephesians and Colossians. What he says can be read as an endorsement of a hierarchical arrangement in the home — husband at the top, wife subordinate. This arrangement was the common household structure in the ancient, pagan world. Yet, if husbands and wives will read the whole of Ephesians and Colossians and allow all that Paul says to shape their lives, their relationship will not conform to that ancient social structure. Jesus simply turned everything upside down — to be head as He was head will most often mean just the opposite of what it meant in the ancient world. To give only one example, to follow Jesus’ example of headship leads the husband to empty himself (Philippians 2:5), which looks very much like subordination, not headship!

    When talk of male headship is abstracted from the premiere model Jesus offers, at its best it leads to a soft but still unredeemed model practiced by good people. But when headship takes its cue from Jesus — the Lord who serves, the master who washed feet, the king crowned with thorns and dying on a cross — the model of headship itself is called into question. That is, Jesus actual way of life breaks the old social arrangements and calls us to altogether new relationships.

    Difficult Passages

    I’ve tried to sketch a flow of God’s saving work rooted in creation and intended to restore the brokenness caused by sin as the background for understanding the specific issues related to women in ministry. Against that background, the general flow of God’s work leads us to expect the full inclusion of women in the life and ministry of the church. And as we have seen, the New Testament confirms this general flow.

    There are however, at least two texts that would seem to run exactly counter to this flow. Here the observations I made at the beginning become critical for proper interpretation.

    These specific texts in question — Paul’s assertion that women are to be silent in church and never teach or hold authority over men, and that this represents the practice in all of his churches (1 Corinthians 14:34-35; 1 Timothy 2:11-12) — when taken at face value and literally, suggest practices that contradict the whole flow of biblical revelation. The flow is quite clear, whereas the precise meanings of these texts are disputed. On principle, we should defer to the whole flow of revelation we have seen, rather than pin our practices on two passages that all would agree are difficult.

    It is beyond the scope of this brief paper to explore these texts. Most critical commentaries offer analyses of the relevant historical, cultural, and social contexts in which Paul wrote. In each text, Paul most likely seeks to correct abuses, not lay down universal principles limiting the full participation of women in the life and ministry of the church.

    I return to the questions with which I began. The limitations that have been placed on women in ministry do not trace back to God’s intent, as we see it in either the original creation or the recreation through Christ. The limitations on women, particularly their subordination, traces back to the consequences of sin. Unfortunately, through its history the church has often failed to see this, and has embraced unregenerate social structures, such as slavery and the racism it encourages, and also the continuing models of male priority over females, at least in terms of leadership if not in other terms as well. I conclude that none of the limitations historically imposed upon women in ministry are universal and necessarily binding upon the church.

     

     

    Become a Humble Servant

    “If I am not a servant of others, by process of elimination I am then a servant to myself. And that serves no one.” – Craig D. Lounsbrough

    Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, He did and said many things that were largely misunderstood and confusing. In fact, the gospels tell us of an incident when Jesus was preparing His disciples for His death in Jerusalem. As the disciples processed the information they were given, they began to debate among themselves who would be the greatest among them in Christ’s kingdom. Jesus explained that they were not to be like Gentile rulers who exercise authority over others. Instead, they were to demonstrate true greatness by becoming a servant to others. He declared that He had not come to be served, but to serve and give His life for others (Matthew 20:25–28).

    If we are honest, we can admit there are concepts within Christian doctrine that are easy to accept and embrace and others that are not. Does it not feel good to focus upon love, salvation, honor, glory, joy, hope, and peace? Perhaps thoughts of righteousness, victory, or paradise inspire you. Clearly there is nothing wrong with any of these concepts. They are indeed biblical, but they depict an incomplete doctrine if left alone. We must not exclude the biblical teachings on sin, humility, service, and sacrifice.

    We Americans value personal achievement, self-determination, individual rights and privileges, material comforts, competition, and free enterprise. These values are not inherently wrong, but they often run contrary to how the Bible teaches Christians to live. The Apostle Paul tells the believers in Philippi to do nothing out of selfish ambition but to humbly consider others better than themselves (Philippians 2:3–4).

    Imagine how different our lives would be if we would willingly serve others and place the needs of others above our own. How might that impact problems with hunger, education, crime, depression, anxiety, homelessness, or health care? What would happen if we would do good to all people when the opportunity arises (Galatians 6:10)?

    Lent began on Ash Wednesday (February 17, 2021). As we prepare our hearts for Good Friday and the celebration of Easter, may we sincerely repent of the desire to live self-centered lives. May we look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others. May we embrace this challenge to humbly serve others as genuine followers of Christ.

    Rev. Amelia Cleveland-Traylor, M.D., is a superintendent of the River Conference and a member of the Free Methodist Church – USA Board of Administration.

    Moldable and Surrendered

    I’m a potter. In my free time, I love to throw a lump of clay on a rotating wheel and then shape and form it into something useful and beautiful.

    “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8 NIV).

    Until I started working with clay, I used to think this verse meant “relax and let God handle it.” Now? I recognize that there are two parts to the equation. Yes, the potter is the one who has a vision for clay, seeing its potential, and working it toward becoming a beautiful bowl or plate. The potter knows the clay body, and whether it’s clay that makes a great mug (a gritty clay works well) or a delicate vase (try porcelain).

    But the condition of the clay can either allow for that vision or stop it cold. If the clay is too wet, too dry, too cold, too airy or too dense, the potter can’t put it on the wheel. Thankfully, the clay can usually be reworked. Dry clay can sit in water for a while. Wet clay can be slowly dried out. Temperature can be changed (but don’t ever let your clay freeze; I did that once). Tough clay can be kneaded. Airy clay can have the air holes beaten out (but it takes work).

    Now that I understand the work of a potter, I have a better understanding of what my role is — and isn’t —  in my own spiritual formation. My loving Lord knows me, guides me, directs me. He has purpose and vision for me that fit with who I am. He is working toward making something beautiful.

    My first job? The condition of the clay. Am I moldable in His hands?

    Just as water, air, temperature and additives can impact the condition of the clay, Bible reading, prayer, fellowship and other spiritual disciplines impact the condition of my soul. These are the things that can make me moldable.

    But there’s a step beyond being moldable: It’s being surrendered. The potter at the wheel gets to decide what He does with the clay. I’ve had to learn that faith and trust are vital to the work my Savior does on the wheel.

    Some years ago, I was struggling with the “why” of something difficult in my life. I was grieving what I thought “should have been.” As I asked God “why?” the verse that states He was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3 KJV) was brought to my attention. Was it possible that the “why” for this difficulty was simply to make me more like Jesus? Was that enough? It was a moment of faith, trust and surrender. If that was the purpose of the grief in my life, it would be enough.

    When my soul-condition is moldable and surrendered, then I know God the Potter is creating something of beauty in me.

    Pam Braman, D.Min., is the superintendent of the Genesis Conference.

    Repaired and Reworked by the Master Craftsman

    I will openly admit that I am somewhat addicted to home improvement shows. I think it’s because you don’t often see the completion of a thing when you are in ministry. Thus, the tendency of pastors (myself included) to constantly paint walls. It is always refreshing on any of the home improvement shows to see something in great disrepair be brought back to life. It hits us deeply because it is connected to our calling, passion, and mission — where we are seeing lives impacted and changed by the Spirit of God.

    Last year my wife, JoAnne, and I stumbled upon a Netflix series titled “The Repair Shop.” The Repair Shop is where expert craftsmen use their talents and resources to restore sentimental objects that have become inseparable from people’s lives to prove that anything can be fixed up to be as good as new again. After binging the whole series, we both realized, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had a repair shop in our lives? What if we could drive down the street to the shop and drop off our lives, relationships, finances, stresses, health issues, bad habits, and our faith for a quick repair?”

    “The Repair Shop” brought the following principles to mind that give us great spiritual formation tips.

    Principle: If it’s personal, it has value.
    Lesson: Your value to a loving God is not professional; it is personal.

    Principle: Just because it’s in disrepair or non-usable doesn’t mean it can’t have the potential for usefulness again.
    Lesson: Using broken things on broken people only leads to more brokenness. Take time for your repair so that you are usable for others.

    Principle: Sometimes, it takes a group of people to help repair.
    Lesson: Don’t be afraid of leading with appropriate vulnerability. I have found that it always involves others.

    Principle: Every item, like every person, has a history to learn from and a legacy to give toward.
    Lesson: Your story is essential, but it is not finished. And it deserves to be passed on to others.

    Principle: You have to let go and allow the piece that needs repair to be placed in another’s hand who can restore, repair, and renovate it.
    Lesson: Placing your life, ministry, relationships, and faith in the hand of the Master Craftsman is to recognize your need for Him and His love for you.

    “The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him” (Jeremiah 18:4 NRSV).

    The Master Craftsman’s hands upon you are not to shame you, abuse you, or misuse you. His hands are to rework (commonly meaning to restore and return to original purpose).

    Everybody needs a repair shop — a place where the expert can begin to restore the value of who we are. As you start the Lent season, take the time with the Craftsman (Potter) and let Him restore value and what seems good to Him. He is more concerned with who you are becoming than what you are doing. And maybe all the “doing” has left us in need of being reworked again. He sees your value and invites you to His repair shop.

    You are worth it, and you are loved.

    Fraser Venter is a conference superintendent of the Free Methodist Church in Southern California and also the lead pastor of Cucamonga Christian Fellowship in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

    Embed FM Content

    Embed FM Content in Your Website

    “We Believe: Statements of Belief of the Free Methodist Church” and “The Free Methodist Way” are provided here in iframe code to embed in your website.

    iFrame code for “The Free Methodist Way”

    <iframe name=”The Free Methodist Way” src=”https://fmcusa.org/the-free-methodist-way” width=”100%” height=”900″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”auto” class=”frame-area”> </iframe>

    Copy the above code and paste it into a code snippet module in your website within any page where you want the content to appear. 

    Below is a sample of how it will look on your site.

    iFrame code for “We Believe”

    <iframe name=”We Believe – The Free Methodist Church” src=”https://fmcusa.org/webelieve” width=”100%” height=”900″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”auto” class=”frame-area”> </iframe>

    Copy the above code and paste it into a code snippet module in your website within any page where you want the content to appear. 

    Below is a sample of how it will look on your site.

    The Free Methodist Way

    The Free Methodist Way

     

    Free Methodists are first and foremost a Kingdom people. Yet throughout church history, God has raised up distinct movements like ours to enrich the larger body of Christ. Building on the legacies of John Wesley and B.T. Roberts, but always discerning where God is moving today, our identity is shaped by values that are both historical and aspirational. Of the many values we hold dear, these five lie at the heart of our movement. We view them as a whole, each one bringing necessary balance to the others. In a time of rising polarization in our nation, we resist the pull toward both fundamentalism and theological liberalism — not out of a spirit of compromise, but from a radical commitment to what Wesley called “the middle way.” It is a path that takes the whole gospel seriously and continually calls us to “both/and” convictions in an “either/or” world. We call it The Free Methodist Way.

     

    Life-Giving Holiness

    God’s call to holiness was never meant to be a burden, but a gift that liberates us for life that is truly life by delivering us from the destructive power of sin.

    All who are born again are made right with God by the finished work of Jesus Christ and called to experience the fullness of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Forgiven and filled, we approach life with confidence that we are acceptable to God even as He continues to transform our character and behavior to become more and more like Jesus.  Life-giving holiness, then, is the fruit of full surrender to the loving reign of God over every aspect of our lives, establishing within us love that is truly love.

    Leaving behind the legalism that once hindered our movement, The Free Methodist Way invites every believer to embrace the transforming work of the Holy Spirit that empowers us to love and serve God and others in joyful obedience.

     

    Love-Driven Justice

    Love is the way we demonstrate God’s heart for justice by valuing the image of God in all men, women, and children, acting with compassion toward the oppressed, resisting oppression, and stewarding Creation.

    We devote ourselves to our founders’ deep convictions around matters of injustice as they took their stand against the evils of slavery, the oppression of the poor, the marginalization of women, and the abuse of power in the church. Our heart for justice continues and expands today, fueled by God’s holy love for the unborn, the vulnerable, oppressed, marginalized, and people of all races and ethnicities.

    The Free Methodist Way is not only to realize a better society, but that all may be reconciled to God and one another in ways that reflect God’s just character.

     

    Christ-Compelled Multiplication

    The gospel of Jesus Christ — the message He proclaimed, the life He lived, and the ministry He modeled — set into motion a redemptive movement destined to fill the whole earth.

    Jesus’ approach to discipleship was primarily a relational one in which He poured His life into a few with the full expectation that they would follow His example. His aim was not merely the transmission of information, but the transformation of lives by empowering those who followed Him to do what He had been doing. His mission is now our mission. We believe this redemptive movement of multiplication applies to every believer and should permeate our Free Methodist culture at every level: the found reaching the lost, disciples making disciples, leaders developing leaders, churches planting churches, and movements birthing movements. 

    The Free Methodist Way is to see God’s kingdom expand exponentially as ordinary people are equipped by God’s power to do extraordinary things.

    Cross-Cultural Collaboration

    From the beginning, God’s intent was to have a people from every nation, culture and ethnicity, united in Christ and commissioned to carry out His work in the world.

    Today we celebrate the beauty of a multicultural and multiethnic church both in the U.S. and in over 100 countries around the world. In the U.S., we cling to the promise that we have been made one in Christ even as we dedicate ourselves to becoming a more diverse church that looks like the kingdom of God. Globally, we continue to send missionaries to other nations even as we rejoice that the nations are increasingly coming to us. Freely sharing our own gifts and resources, we are also challenged and inspired by the faithfulness, perseverance, ceaseless prayer, theological insights, and spiritual wisdom of our international brothers and sisters. Without question, we are better together. 

    The Free Methodist Way aspires to move beyond colonialism and ethnocentrism in favor of a collaborative partnership in God’s global work in anticipation of the day when a great multitude from every tongue, tribe, people and language makes up the eternal throng before the throne of God (Revelation 7:9).

    God-Given Revelation 

    We hold unwaveringly to our conviction that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and our final authority in all matters of faith and practice.

    Drawing on our Wesleyan heritage of engaging with Scripture through the lenses of tradition, reason, and experience, we keep Scripture primary. While the church will always be tasked with authentically communicating and applying biblical truths with sensitivity to cultural dynamics, we do not subjugate the Bible’s timeless truths to cultural norms or social trends.

    The Free Methodist Way is to fully align our lives and our movement on the unshakeable foundation of God’s Word.

    Sharing Our Stories

    What’s the story of your encounter with Jesus? Sometimes He meets us in a quiet, simple moment, and sometimes He makes His presence known more powerfully. But no matter what the encounter looks like, we’re always changed in the presence of our Resurrected Savior.

    Scripture is filled with accounts of Jesus’ encounters with ordinary people, and how He’s changed their stories. But these aren’t just stories from thousands of years ago. He continues today to meet with ordinary people like us. And each time He does, He transforms our stories.

    Each of us has a story to share. And now more than ever, during this time of necessary limited contact, we need to share our stories. Each story draws us closer into community and connection. Each story reveals more about who He is. Each story reminds us that God is working in us and through us, even on the darkest of days.

    Our church community needed to share and hear these stories in the past few weeks, to be challenged and encouraged, so we engaged in a five-week series called, “This Is My Story.” This was an opportunity for increased community and connection, with each other and with Christ. Each Sunday, we studied biblical encounters with Jesus. And we shared video stories from those in our church who have encountered Christ. During the week, we invited others to share their written story in our digital weekly newsletter.

    Here’s one story:

    I’ve known sorrow, pain, and rainy, gray days. My husband Mark and I were 32 years old

    “I’ve known sorrow, pain, and rainy, gray days. My husband Mark and I were 32 years old when Mark came home from the doctor with the diagnosis of malignant melanoma.

    Our daughter Erin was three years old. I remember not being able to go to sleep that night because of the nagging worry, ‘What if Mark dies? Who will take care of me and Erin?’ Then God spoke this answer to my spirit, ‘If Mark dies, I will take care of you and Erin.’ That gave me great comfort, and I was finally able to sleep.

    “Mark died two years later.

    “The first year after Mark’s death was very hard for me. There was a lot of stress from having to make important decisions, suddenly being a single parent, and the many daily responsibilities of life. What was hardest was experiencing the intense emotions of grief. Mark was a wonderful husband and father, and he was my best friend. That person who loved me, made me feel special, who I could talk to and touch, who encouraged me, who was part of my daily life and knew me so well, was no longer here. There was nothing I could do to change that!

    “I’d say to myself and to God, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to make it through this.’ Sometimes I’d feel drained of energy, have no desire to do anything, and feel so dead inside. God seemed so far away, as if He was nonexistent. That first year was like a natural disaster had taken place in my life. The second year felt like a desolate time of trying to deal with the great destruction. I don’t know how many years it took for me to grieve, but it was a long time. I had to walk by faith, not by feeling. I had to believe what the Bible says, just because the Bible says it.

    “The Bible says that God is; my believing it or not, will not change the fact. (Exodus 3:14)

    I chose to believe.

    The Bible says that God will never leave me nor forsake me. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

    I chose to believe it.

    The Bible says that God cares for me. (1 Peter 5:7)

    I chose to believe it.

    The Bible says that God loves me. (John 3:16, 1 John 4:9-10, Romans 8:37-39)

    I chose to believe it.

    The Bible says that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ (Romans 8:28)

    I chose to believe it.

    “I’m no longer in that painful and desolate time of my life, but the Bible still says those same things.

    And I still choose to believe.”

     

    Just like the biblical encounters with Jesus, our stories served as encouragement to each other and insight into who He is. And as we recognized the transformational power of these encounters, we closed our series singing:

    This is my story,

    This is my song,

    Praising my Savior all the day long

     

    Click here to listen to Cynthia’s story.

              Click here to listen to Temitayo’s story.

    Click here to listen to John and Shirley’s story.

    Stronger Together

    Raging fires throughout Northern California have taken many homes, creating smoke-filled air that chokes out oxygen, making every breath a labored chore, obscuring the sun, and has made life dangerous and miserable for months. One Free Methodist church, the Foothill Community Church, was evacuated and hundreds of Free Methodists spanning a 300-mile range of burning landscape have been evacuated or under warnings to do so. We know Christ is our rock, and through faith we can be encouraged and undaunted. Yet, how does being in a connectional church help during times of crisis?

    Simply put, we are stronger together. Pastors Chris and Kaydi Hemberry and their daughters were evacuated from their home in Oroville, California, and along with dozens of others fleeing harm’s way, were warmly received by the Table Mountain Free Methodist Church in nearby Thermalito. Two years earlier, when the Table Mountain Church community was reeling from evacuations and homes lost to the fire that destroyed neighboring Paradise, California, it was the Foothill Community Church that operated as the support network. Both churches rose to undeniably bless their communities. Further, the national Free Methodist Church, through the Bishops’ Crisis Response Fund, provided significant aid to help rebuild perishing lives through the FM presence in charred Butte County.

    Early in the 2020 fire season, the Corralitos Community Church housed and supported fire refugees fleeing the ravages of the CZU Lightning Fire Complex, burning through large portions of Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties. The churches of the Sierra Pacific Conferences provided financial aid and support for not only Free Methodists in the region but all suffering and seeking aid.

    Congregations closely networked together in a local community, throughout a region, and nationally provide deep spiritual bonds that are an extraordinary benefit of being a connectional church. Add to this the practical muscle that makes it simple to quickly transfer and provide aid, communicate with one another, and execute relief and guidance on a large scale, and we have a network of churches truly stronger together.

    Many today do not trust “denominations” or institutions in general. In some ways, however, we see denominations in the same way that Winston Churchill viewed democracy, when he said, “Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

    Free Methodists do not believe the denomination is perfect, all wise, or nearly as fruitful or beneficial as it could be. We do believe, with all our collective hearts, that despite imperfections, we are yet much stronger and wiser together. Our connectionalism remains, as John Wesley referred to it, a “means of grace.”

    Jesus spoke of a yoke, a device that binds animals together, as liberating. Indeed, two horses can pull 9,000 pounds together, but yoke a team of four and they can pull 30,000 pounds. If horses that are yoked together, are stronger together, then imagine the great power that exists when the churches of Jesus are yoked together under the Lordship of Christ? Our burden, says Jesus, becomes light, and our yoke, rather than being a restrictive hinderance, is easy (Matthew 11:29–30).

    Connectional church is nothing other than being yoked together under Christ’s direction. It does limit some freedom, and it does require that one church may sacrifice today for the benefit of another, which may sacrifice tomorrow for the blessing of yet another. But is that not what family has always done? Is that not the best scenario for a local congregation? Is that not then also the greatest hope for a national or global network of Christ-followers?

    We have seen how this works during a fire. During the pandemic, which has significantly altered how churches operate, leaders and members have been stressed and pulled from so many different angles in their communities that reactivity or despair could have resulted. But as a result of national guidance for best practice, offers of financial support, translating into regional (conference) guidance, training, equipping, spiritual and emotional support along with funding to offset significant losses — our churches are surviving, and in some cases, thriving during what would otherwise be a devastating national tsunami of loss. We are, during a historic pandemic, stronger together.

    But even in terms of “normal” church life, being yoked together has significant impact. Connections between churches in Redwood City, San Francisco, Modesto, Oroville and Ripon, California, along with financial backing from the conference, created the needed funds and volunteers to launch Iglesia Misionera Gracia y Amor. This church launched two years ago in a garage, grew to several living rooms, and is meeting now in a warehouse, reaching Stockton, California, for Jesus and could only have been birthed through connectional support. Sixteen new Free Methodist churches have been planted in Northern California and Nevada over the past four years alone, relying upon the mutual, connectional support of churches and church leaders working together. Leadership development and mentoring takes place between gifted church leaders, igniting emerging leaders and new calls, particularly among women and minorities.  This is only possible through connectional collaboration and impossible to accomplish well for a disconnected church that is not a mega-church.

    Cities are nourished through connectional ministry. The “Ghost Ship” burned to the ground in Oakland, California. This conflagration made national news as many homeless people and artists lived and worked in this large, abandoned, but densely populated building, and many died horrible deaths. It was the Bay Community Fellowship (FMC) of Oakland, strengthened and supported by representatives from several churches in the conference, that gathered around the ruins and provided pastoral care and opportunities for community lament and a way toward hope. We are stronger and more impactful in our communities when we act together.

    Perhaps the most delightful yoked-together outcome is global impact. While bashed by many across America as antiquated, denominations remain the world’s largest source of leaders and funds to bring the good of Jesus to every nation. The network of Free Methodist churches requires that each one actively participate as able in the Great Commission through prayer, giving and even going. Every local Free Methodist church, consequently, becomes a global church with global influence.

    In the Sierra Pacific Conference, for example, we share a sister relationship with the Free Methodist churches of Myanmar. Burmese Christians pray at every church service for churches in California and Nevada, and the networked churches in the USA pray every week for the beleaguered but undaunted brothers and sisters in Myanmar. A percentage of every offering any worshiper contributes to a church in our network is allocated to support churches and church planting in the 12th most dangerous place to be a Christian — Myanmar.  Our leaders swap stories and grow from one another’s perspective in theology, evangelism, spiritual life and church growth. We are yoked together across oceans. There are many other Free Methodist missionaries and global leaders that local churches choose to support. It is no stretch of credulity for a member of a church plant of 12 or a worshiping group of 1,200 in the Free Methodist connection to claim the status of global Christian.

    Whether across town, networked over hundreds of miles in a “conference,” united by national ties or connected across oceans by intentional faith and commitment as Free Methodists yoked together with Jesus, there is an undeniable truth. Whether struggling through crises, engaging ministry opportunities or supporting one another as individuals, it is clear. We are stronger together.

     

    About the Author

    Mark Adams superintends the Sierra Pacific Conference (Network of Undeniable Blessing), superintended the North Central Conference, and church planted and pastored at several Chicagoland locations. Mark has also worked as a mental health counselor, child welfare worker, social work supervisor and was on faculty at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. He is married to Kerrie, and they have four sons and eight grandchildren.