A little like the Three Bears’ porridge, some journeys are too fast, and others too slow. Only a few are just right.
My biblical journey regarding gender roles in the church has been slow – way too slow.
In retrospect, it included more than a half-century of traveling in the wrong direction. Maybe my way-too-slow-journey can help some others to get it just right.
When you’ve been walking in one direction for more than 50 years, turning around is a big deal – especially if the previous direction took you farther and farther away from the truth, however sincerely that path was followed.
In my book, “Should Women Be Pastors and Leaders in Church?” I invite my readers to join me in the journey. Allow the compass of the Holy Scriptures to judge whether I’m now on the right path.
So why should there be another book on gender roles in the church?
I write hoping my story and what I have learned may resonate with others who love and are committed to the Scriptures and who will take a fresh look to be sure they got it right regarding this very important theological and practical issue.
Perhaps my journey and shocking discoveries in key biblical texts will provide new insights about what the Bible says about gender-based restrictions in the church.
Looking back, I am embarrassed and regretful that my journey was so slow and pray this study will contribute to a reformation of biblical understanding and implementation in gender roles.
The outcome for churches, marriages and for men and women of all ages is potentially transformational.
During my 50-plus years of pastoral ministry, on a few occasions I briefly thought about gender roles only to defend my predetermined interpretations that someone had questioned.
I don’t recall ever seriously considering any biblically based arguments to the contrary. I didn’t think any of those arguments were credible.
Sometimes, I saw an intriguing book title or article on the topic, but, upon inspection, I was unimpressed by the “evidence” presented from the egalitarian side.
The arguments seemed based more on political correctness than on careful exegesis of the Scriptures.
For this reason, I was able to easily dismiss those few challenges that came even from people I respected and cared about because I felt conscience-bound to stand for what I believed to be a biblical mandate.
During those decades, I felt no need or pressure to re-examine or to change my position despite some discomfort about it that nagged at the edges of my psyche.
At the time, I was unaware of a growing body of literature based on solid exegesis that undermined the traditional view and supported egalitarianism.
Tribalism thrives when the culture, beliefs and values of other tribes are not sought out, largely ignored or summarily dismissed.
The “bubble” I lived in was such that evidence that might refute my views normally did not even appear on my radar screen.
My theological radio stayed on one station – the one that supported the convictions I had adopted.
Everyone lives in a bubble – some much larger or smaller than others. It requires curiosity, humility and serious intentionality to explore outside familiar and comfortable boundaries. I felt safe within my complementarian silo.
Knowing my displeasure with the sources I had casually explored, my daughter, Angela, sweetly encouraged me to look at a book she thought I might want to investigate because, she suggested, the author affirmed a different position than mine supported by serious biblical exposition. She was right.
In Stanley Grenz’s book, “Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry,” I was confronted with serious biblical arguments against gender restrictions in church leadership.
He suggested alternative and credible ways of interpreting key passages that I had thought could only be read as prohibitive mandates regarding women assuming the pastoral office and functions.
This was significant. Now to maintain a sense of integrity, I had to re-examine my understanding of those and related texts throughout the Scriptures.
I began to discover a large and rapidly expanding world of scholarly studies of the Bible that advocated egalitarianism. I had been unaware of these – but then, I had not been looking for them.
Editor’s note: This article contains excerpts from Rudd’s book, “Should Women Be Pastors and Leaders in Church? My Journey to Discover What the Bible Says about Gender Roles,” which is available here.
Bill Rudd has been a senior pastor for 50 years and an adjunct professor in two seminaries. After holding to the complementarian position for 45 years, a five-year intensive study of every relevant Scripture led to a change in his position described in his recently published book: “Should Women Be Pastors and Leaders In Church? My Journey to Discover What the Bible Says About Gender Roles.”