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Women's roles are a topic of much discussion in Churches of Christ.
Editorial
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Editorial: In discussion of women’s roles, is there a middle path?


The Great Commission has no gender.

When Churches of Christ get bogged down in protracted debates — on issues from worship styles to gender roles — it’s easy for us to lose sight of Jesus’ blessed command to “go and make disciples of all nations.” 


Full coverage: Women in the church


That’s Job No. 1 for Christians, male and female, regardless of where we stand on the issues of what is permissible in the worship service.

We heard that sentiment expressed by Bobby Harrington at the recent Renew Gathering in Franklin, Tenn., which was attended by Christians from across the broad spectrum of our fellowship. 

Renew is a collaborative network with strong roots in the Restoration Movement. It seeks to equip disciples, disciple makers and church planters. 

We contacted Harrington, one of Renew’s founders, to confirm what he said and get his thoughts on discipleship and women’s roles. 

We shared with him the two definitions we have used in our coverage: complementarian (men and women are equal in the image of God but have complementary differences in their roles in church life) and egalitarian (men and women are equal in the image of God and in the roles they play in church life).  

Harrington’s response wasn’t what we expected. He expressed dismay at the notion of limiting discussion of women’s roles to these two options.


Related: Defining the terms of the gender-role debate


“I believe that definitions have the power to define reality,” he said. “The Restoration Movement is a fellowship that is dominated by perspectives and ideals, and the power of definitions is the power to create realities.”

“The Restoration Movement is a fellowship that is dominated by perspectives and ideals, and the power of definitions is the power to create realities.”

Harrington’s concern is that a restrictive view of complementarianism is driving believers toward a purely egalitarian view. What’s more, churches that move in this direction likely will lose members to other faith groups, including Episcopalianism.

Harrington recommended On Gender: What the Bible Says About Men and Women — and Why It Matters by Renée Sproles, available as a free download at Renew.org. Sproles is former director of the School of Christian Thought at the North Boulevard Church of Christ in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

“I think the Churches of Christ have gotten complementarianism very wrong in the past,” Sproles told us, “and yet are in danger of over-correcting in the future.”

Sproles, who grew up in Churches of Christ, once thought she was egalitarian. That, she writes, was the result of “heavy-handed complementarianism” practiced by her church, her Christian school and her university.

When she began working for the North Boulevard church, she and senior minister David Young discussed the issue of women’s roles. 

After much study and prayer, she writes, “I couldn’t conclude that Genesis 1-3 was wrong; I couldn’t conclude that Paul was wrong; I couldn’t conclude that cultural changes superseded Scripture; and I couldn’t conclude that my experience or anyone else’s was more important than Scripture.”

Gender reflects the image of God, Sproles writes, and she discusses how this impacts our roles in life, in marriage and in Christian community. 

She presents what seems to us to be a middle path between the extremes, exploring the concepts of headship, strong help, submission and love and respect in the Old and New Testaments. 

“Women are to be submissive, strong help,” she writes. They should not be elders or senior ministers over men, which violates the creation order. However, “women can serve in many ways with delegated authority, honoring the principle of headship.”

Whether or not we agree with everything she writes, we feel that Sproles’ words are worthy of our attention. We particularly appreciate the appeals she makes in her conclusion:

We pray for Spirit-led, thoughtful discussion of these issues across our fellowship. And we encourage all people of faith to remain focused on Christ’s call to spread the Gospel. 

“I appeal to rigid complementarians: Acknowledge the strength and spiritual gifts of women,” she writes. “Rightly apply the Scripture’s teaching on gender even if it seems strange or scary. … Men, lay down your lives for the women in your life and act like a proper head. Encourage the women around you to be strong, visible partners in your churches, schools and homes with all of their Spirit-given gifts. 

“And, I appeal to egalitarians: Let Scripture speak to your experience and the modern world in which we live. In a world already confused about gender, we don’t help clarify God’s words to us by flattening out or ignoring distinctions that he shows us in his Word. Submit to the Scripture’s teaching on gender even if it seems irrelevant or outdated. … Acknowledge the differences in the genders and how God intended to use them to bless us and others.”

We pray for Spirit-led, thoughtful discussion of these issues across our fellowship. And we encourage all people of faith to remain focused on Christ’s call to spread the Gospel. 

Disciple-making is a role for women, for men, for all of us. 

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Filed under: Church of Christ Editorial female elders female preacher headship Opinion women in leadership women's role women's roles

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