(This announcement was given by Larry Watson on behalf of elders on Sunday morning, February 14, 2016)
In January, 2004 – twelve years ago –, our congregation made a major change in our assemblies: women began serving in specified “leadership roles”. Those of you who were not a part of us twelve years ago may not be aware of the significance of that change. The practice of most churches of Christ throughout our history and still today is that only men “lead in worship”. This practice is based primarily on two passages in Paul’s letters which state that women are to remain silent in church and are not permitted to teach. Many sincere, faithful Christians, including some in our congregation yet today, understand these Scriptures to apply to our Sunday morning gatherings. Therefore, they believe it is wrong for women to play any speaking role in our meetings. However, there are others who do not interpret these Scriptures as applying to our assemblies today and strongly believe that women should fully participate in any role.
Our congregation wrestled with this issue for almost 30 years leading up to the change in 2004 because we had members who held passionate beliefs on each side of this issue. The change made in 2004 was a compromise based on the entirety of Paul’s letter to the Romans rather than just the two passages mentioned previously. In our 2004 announcement of the change, we acknowledged the validity of our members’ beliefs on both sides on this issue. We did not declare either side to be “more right” than the other. Rather, in keeping with Paul’s teaching, particularly in Romans 14, we declared this issue to be a disputable matter in which neither side must judge the other. We urged our members to accept one another in love through the power of God and His Holy Spirit regardless of their stand and our practice on this issue. In this way, those who believe that women should not lead in our assemblies must not judge women who do lead in our meetings. Likewise, those who approve of women leading in our assemblies must not hold in scorn those opposed to such. To make the transition to this new practice more acceptable, we included a provision by which women did not take part in two roles that, back then, were performed primarily from our elevated pulpits (which no longer exist) – song leading and preaching. To this day, we have continued to observe this compromise — to maintain unity within our congregation.
Over the past twelve years, visitors to our meetings have questioned me as to why we believe it is RIGHT for women to be “leading in our worship”. They were surprised when I answered that we do not know what is right in this matter; rather, we accept our members’ beliefs on either side of this issue. Instead, we emphasize the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD, which is evidenced by the love within our congregation. Our visitors questioning “whether our worship is Scripturally correct” are blind to what I have observed in our assemblies repeatedly and consistently these past dozen years – the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in remarkable ways. How so? Many of our members still believe that women should not be leading; many believe that the compromise limits women’s full inclusion. Yet, before and after our Sunday assemblies, and in countless meetings throughout the week, our members do not judge one another, do not argue with one another, do not plot against one another. Instead, we greet one another, hug each other, laugh with each other, minister to each other and genuinely love each other. I witness this and I believe that our congregation is living proof of Paul’s teaching in Romans 14 and 15, where he insisted that Jewish believers and Gentile Christians could and must overcome their significant disagreements on disputable matters in love through the power of God and His Holy Spirit. We may not be a “charismatic” church in the sense of displaying the miraculous, but we are definitely charisma – tic in the sense that we are full of the greatest Spiritual gift of all — Love for one another.
We believe that the twelve-year compromise that began in 2004 has served us well. Now we believe it is time for gifted women with a desire to fill these roles of song leading and preaching to be included in the rotations we have for both positions.
We still depend on the understanding which led us to the initial change in 2004, which has preserved our unity over the past dozen years and which has allowed the Holy Spirit to be a living and powerful presence in our church. This understanding makes our desire for the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD to be greater than our desire to be RIGHT on this issue. Over the past several weeks, we have met with many of you who may have strong convictions on this issue to encourage such an understanding. We encourage any among us who has a problem with this change or cannot accept this understanding to ask for a meeting with any or all of us elders to discuss this further — please.
Today, we declare that God is present and at work within us. We rejoice that we experience love for one another, not just in words, but in our selfless giving of time, money and attention for those of us in need of such. We strive intently not to judge one another but to accept each other’s differences — even on interpretations of Scripture.
Listen to the words that Jesus spoke during his Last Supper in John 13:34-35: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. We believe this to be true of our congregation. We do not strive to be known for the rightness of our rules, whether these are fully in compliance with “Church of Christ” tradition or whether these are politically correct by today’s cultural standards. Rather, we trust that we are a light to our world because we love one another. Let’s go forth today and in the years to come with this as our living testimony to our world.