We are going to make history this Sunday at Augusta Heights Church in Greenville, SC. For the first time in the 63-year history of the church, we will celebrate the ordination of a woman, Debbie Roper, to the gospel ministry.
Debbie’s official title at Augusta Heights is Minister to Children and Families, but her real job is Minister to Anything and Everything that Anyone Needs. With such a clear calling, it is a “no-brainer” at the church to ordain her to the tasks that she is already doing. There was never a question issued–at least not publicly–about whether or not this was the right thing to do. Never a question about how could we ordain a woman.
Most of you know that these things are not that simple in the larger world of Christianity.
First off, some have even questioned whether or not ordination continues to be a valid form of religious practice in the Christian church. Some would argue that the practice of ordaining is designed to put certain people above others, and to create a culture of authority of the ordained over the non-ordained.
What we are doing this Sunday is an ORDINATION, not a coronation.
In Baptist life in the south, ordination is strictly a local church matter. For our particular local church, ordination is not about prestige or power or authority. It’s not about creating a hierarchy within the church. It is not about deciding who God likes better or considers more important. It is not about pre-screening people to find out if they are educated enough, theologically pure (whatever that means), or worthy to hold authority. And most of all, it is not about playing church politics with people’s lives.
For us, the purpose of ordination is as simple as Acts 6:1-7: It is the setting aside of a person for a special purpose or ministry to which they and the church feel that they are called. We believe that it is still important to acknowledge such a calling and to have a special time of recognition, prayer and blessing for that calling. And this Sunday, we honor the calling of Debra Perkins Roper as she continues to respond to the call of ministry that she answered many years ago.
We live in a neck of the woods that largely opposes the ordination of women, particularly those being ordained to the Gospel ministry. The Southern Baptist Convention has long discouraged women in any kind of pastoral ministry, although Augusta Heights has never held to such a position. Some have even questioned the willingness of more moderate churches to hire women as ministers.
Judging from the raised eyebrows that I receive (as well as one irate phone call from someone I don’t even know) when I tell people who we are ordaining, this remains a hot-button issue. Why on earth would Augusta Heights, or any other church, ordain women when the Bible “forbids” it?
The short and simple answer is that we don’t believe the Holy Spirit of God refuses to call people to ministry because of which bathroom they use, or how they use it. The long answer is we are skeptical about putting limits on God that God does not claim for himself. The final answer is that we are seeking to celebrate the calling to ministry of a follower of Christ (who happens to be a female), and asking others to do the same.
I am skeptical that anyone can prove that God “forbids” the ordination of women in scripture. They could surely prove that men were predominantly selected to the ministry in first century middle eastern culture. It’s pretty clear that Paul had some issues in dealing with women in the church. And it’s very clear that the writers of the New Testament were not exactly ready to completely upset every aspect of the present social order, including the ones that identified women as subservient to men.
Yet, we seem to conveniently neglect the times that Paul puts women on equal footing with men (Galatians 3:28); or names them as equals in the work of the gospel (Philippians 4:2-3); or identifies a woman as a deacon (Romans 16). And we surely forget that, on the Day of Resurrection, the women were the only ones around to witness the actual event, while the guys were hiding.
I understand that some churches and Christians interpret the scriptures in different ways, and respect the decision of others to not ordain women. But I don’t agree with that interpretation, and neither does Augusta Heights.
Beyond that, it is naive to say that this is a “non-essential issue” to churches or Gospel ministry. How can we call it non-essential when half of the church is eliminated from God’s calling? How can we pretend that it’s unimportant to tell God who he can or cannot call to ministry?
I’ve heard it too many times from too many people: God “won’t” call a woman to the ministry. God “doesn’t” call women to ministry because Gog did not “make” women for ministry. And the crème de la crème, God “can’t” call a woman to the ministry.
That’s a pretty extreme limitation to put on God. The only limits on God are those that are self-imposed, and I do not find any compelling argument that God eternally denies the call to ministry to all women. I would argue that we should use extreme caution in telling someone that we call Almighty, Creator, Redeemer, and Deliverer what won’t/isn’t/can’t be done.
Our belief is that God, revealed in Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit, can call anyone at any time to a special designation of a life in ministry of the Gospel. Let there be no doubt that we are ALL ordained, all called to ministry in various capacities. But it is still our privilege as church to acknowledge when such a calling grows into a specific, unique life event.
This is really what we are doing on Sunday, by recognizing the unique calling on the life of one special lady. We are more than happy to announce that YES, we believe women can be called and ordained; and are thrilled to be a part of such an ordination. Whether or not you agree with us, we invite you to rejoice with us and pray for Debbie Roper as she celebrates her calling.