Three Smoke Screens That Cloud Our Vision (May 1993)

By Matt Dabbs

by Warren Barrett
May, 1993

12I am writing out of a sense of disillusionment. I love my heritage in Churches of Christ, and am hopeful that the renewal Wineskins represents will be widespread. I’ve learned never to underestimate what our God can do. Disillusionment hasn’t quite frozen into despair because God’s Spirit is still working afresh in the hearts of men and women.

But the disillusionment stems from a broken promise. Many of us were told that our churches don’t have a creed, that we were free to return again and again to Scripture to guide us. “Don’t take my word for it,” our preacher encouraged us. “Study for yourself. Come to your own conclusions.”

But when we did and when our conclusions were a bit different, some of these same people asked us to exit. In other words we were free to study afresh, as long as we came to the same old conclusions.

The current discussion of the role of women in the assembly is a marvelous example. Many of us have studied and restudied Scripture and are convinced that the male-dominated assemblies found in Churches of Christ are not what Scripture calls for.

But this interpretation has produced a circling of the wagons. And one of the main defenses of those who are fearful and upset is to fill the air with smoky rhetoric. This article will look at three of these smoke screens.

Political Correctness

It is politically correct in some circles to bash the political correctness movement. So the idea is to say that people calling for more active participation by women is really a sell-out to the socio-political climate around us. Rather than admitting that honest searchers of Scripture might have arrived a different conclusions, this smoke screen pulls out the Rush Limbaugh formula for success and stamps “PC” on the whole search.

Some, undoubtedly, have come to their position without much regard for Scripture. Perhaps they didn’t want to be irrelevant as they reached out to the lost. Maybe they were told seekers wouldn’t come to a service with  all-male leadership. Some, surely, have just swallowed the feminist agenda.

But I could also point out that there are others who for the sake of “Church of Christ political correctness” have also changed their views. There are striking examples of leaders whose views have become more conservative in the last few years as it became clear that this issue would impact their churches or institutions. The sword has two edges!

Please don’t assume that all of us who have changed in our understanding have done so as a sell-out to culture. My change is based upon my desire to be true to God’s word in Scripture. I want women to participate in the assemblies of Churches of Christ because I believe it’s God’s will. My change isn’t because I disregard the authority of Scripture, but because I take that authority more seriously than ever before. God is the one who has gifted his people; we’ve been the ones to deny some the use of their gifts!

I want to recapture that part of Scripture that discusses God’s use of women in leading roles. What can we say about Deborah and Huldah and Priscilla? Or how about Euodia and Syntyche, who struggled beside Paul in the work of the gospel (Philippians 4:3)? How can we deny that Paul gave instructions for women who were praying and prophesying in the assembly (1 Corinthians 11:2ff)? When will we catch the powerful impact of Joel’s crucial text in Acts 2 that discusses the re-formation of a people of God – a people that will include sons and daughters prophesying?

There are precautions in 1 Timothy 1 and 1 Corinthians 14, I know. It’s beyond the scope of this article to provide an in-depth exegesis to those passages. But we have all put limitations on these texts! Do we really demand that women “keep silent in the church”? Everyone has managed some explanation for why there are limits on the command. Thankfully, scholars (both from outside and within Churches of Christ) have provided help in illuminating the background of these passages – to see how they apply to those specific situations.

I know the previous paragraph is frustrating to an inquiring reader. But the point of this piece isn’t to defend my position – I’m not even really laying out exactly what my “position” is right now – but to beg people to quit putting up smoke screens and to allow us to honestly and openly discuss this.

The Real

Issue Another smoke screen is to say that the real issue isn’t the role of women in the assembly but the way men treat women all the time. This common type of argument has popular appeal – because you look like a monster to deny it.

But it is just a bunch of smoke! It is appropriate to point out that the way men treat women is another important issue – even a more important issue. But both are real issues.

Rather than try to squelch tough, new inquiry into the Scriptures by saying the whole search is off the mark, let’s admit that the issue is very important and demands an openness that allows the best minds of both sides to participate in the discussion.

I might note that most of the people sending up this smoke already have avenues for leadership. So it may not be a “real issue” for them. This is a bit like a billionaire saying that the real issue facing us isn’t poverty! This is a real issue for many women who have been shut out from sharing their faith and gifts with the church.

Restoration Bashing

It’s strange to hear members of Churches of Christ complain that if we change we’re implying that the people before us were wrong. Haven’t we encouraged others to follow Scripture – even if it means departing with familiar paths from the past?

Respect for the faith and integrity of people before us demands that we listen to their voices. But we don’t canonize those voices – any more than they canonized voices before them. We must be able to continue the quest of restoration, even if it suggests that a former generation didn’t have “the full truth.” (Won’t future generations always be able to say that?)

There was a time (and still is!) when racism had to be challenged in our churches and institutions. There was a time when the lethal doctrine of “word only” (i.e., the Spirit indwells Christians only through Scripture) had to be exposed. This is a time, many honest, devoted believers think, that the limitations on women must be reexamined.

An Appeal

Please, elders… please, board of trustee members… please, editors… please, preachers – let us discuss this question openly. Please don’t make it a test of fellowship. Please don’t mark and destroy. Please don’t assume devilish motives. Please don’t try to keep your members/professors/ministers from contributing to this biblical quest.

We need the voice of all brothers and sisters in studying the role of women. We need clear vision. What we don’t need is a bunch of smoke screens!

Warren Barrett

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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