Introduction to series by Derek Gilbert
Recently the Southern Baptist denomination refused to readmit Saddleback Church into their fellowship, rejecting appeals by the megachurch to reenter the fold. Why were they and other such congregations summarily kicked out? They were rejected over the biblical practice of hosting female pastors.
Women in ministry walk a tightrope. Many are led to serve, and to do so in amazing, inspiring ways. But there is a line—especially in traditional, conservative churches—that they are never supposed to cross. Paul’s first letter to Timothy seems to make it clear: “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:12, KJV).
Okay, then. We don’t let women preach or teach, unless it’s to other women. If they try, we smack them back across that line—hard enough so they learn their lesson!
Is that what Paul meant? Did he know about Deborah, who pushed a reluctant Barak (who told her, “If you will not go with me, I will not go”) into leading Israel to victory over a large Canaanite army?
What about Huldah, the prophetess consulted by Hilkiah, the high priest during the reign of Josiah? Hilkiah went to her to inquire of the Lord at the command of the king. (See 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34.) Think about that. King Josiah had just learned that his kingdom had been ignoring the Law for generations. He wanted to know God’s will. So Josiah, the ruler of Israel, sent the high priest, the spiritual leader of Israel, to hear the word of Yahweh…from a woman!
Maybe Paul was misinformed?
No. More likely we’re not reading the true intent behind Paul’s words.
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THEOLOGIAN: JESUS HIMSELF STARTED THE FIRST WOMEN’S LIBERATION MOVEMENT
There is context we often miss in the Bible because we live nearly two millennia after the last books in it were written. Just as a first-century Jew wouldn’t understand some of our idioms—such as “cool,” “out of left field,” or “selfie”—there are references we miss because of where and how we were raised.
Then there are choices made by translators over the years, and some of the choices in translation are made by pastors and teachers. For example, consider how we handle Deuteronomy 22:5: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.” Some pastors take that to mean women and girls shouldn’t wear jeans, slacks, or pants of any kind. I’m all about women dressing like women and men dressing like men, but as a father with a daughter who had to wait for a school bus in Midwestern winters, the “all skirts, all the time” rule was a non-starter in my house.
The key to correctly applying that verse, and every verse in the Bible, is understanding what God meant by what He said, not just our interpretation of ancient words on modern paper. And reaching that understanding means first understanding the context in which it was written—cultural and religious.
Donna Howell tackles this issue because she’s been pulled out of her comfort zone in recent years. She was happy behind the scenes as researcher and writer for Defender Publishing, but something stirred in her heart. It looks to me as though God is not taking “no” for an answer as He pulls her into a new phase of her life—preaching.
Some people find that disturbing. That was obvious after her recent appearance on The Jim Bakker Show. She blew away the Bakkers and the studio audience, who gave her two standing ovations: one during and one after the program. And the reception from those who heard her preach at Morningside Church not long after was just as enthusiastic (again, resulting in a standing ovation). This girl can bring it.
And when she preaches, it’s from the Word. She points to Christ, and Him crucified.
However, that didn’t matter to some. We at SkyWatch Television, proud to know Donna, posted a highlight video to YouTube of some of her most impactful moments with Jim Bakker. The responses, before we shut down comments, were absolutely vile. I mean insulting, inconsiderate, and in some cases, downright profane.
Having come to know Donna and her family over the last couple of years, it is a joy to watch her grow into this new role. We know her well enough to say with certainty that she’s not after the limelight. Her favorite times are with her husband and their two children (who, by the way, are awesome).
But she feels compelled. She can’t not do this. And yet there are some among us who insist that she should not—that by following what feels like the clear leading of the Spirit, she’s transgressing, trying to elevate herself above the teachings of the apostles, and should therefore be cast into the outer darkness.
Now then, if the Holy Spirit is genuinely calling her—or you, dear reader—to preach, teach, or even prophesy, then what?
In her book Radicals, Donna argued from the book of James that the Church needs a fundamental shift in the way we “do church” to reach a generation that’s growing up believing their gods are programmed and saved on silicon chips. Her point was not that we need to throw out biblical doctrine—it’s that we need to get back to biblical doctrine. We need to strip away two thousand years of tradition that has, in places, obscured teachings of the Spirit-led apostles like barnacles on the hull of a very old ship.
This isn’t feminism. I know Donna, and she is not about that. This is about loving the Lord our God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds—and doing whatever we have to do to extend that love to the lost. It’s about context.
If we get the context, we’ll get the true meaning of the Word—and we’ll find that women have been meant to play a bigger role in the Church than we’ve been taught.
With that in mind, I will now turn this series over to Reverend Donna Howell.
If you or a loved one were to find salvation in Jesus Christ as a result of a female preacher’s message, would your salvation be less valid than it if it had come through responding to a man?
I (Donna) would that you’d ponder that for a moment…
Several years ago, I started experiencing something so supernatural that I knew I, myself, could not have caused it. I would lie awake in bed at night, praying that God would just let me sleep—but in my mind, I was preaching. It didn’t start with a few minutes here and there and then gradually increase to occasional all-nighters. This thing hit me as suddenly and powerfully as a silent freight train and wouldn’t let up for nearly a year. I admit, it happens now and again even still.
I remember one night, as usual, I was preaching a sermon in my imagination. I looked out to the crowd and there were thousands of people, both men and women. Each time I delivered another point, their response was unanimously positive. I started to quote Scripture passages, and even listed the book, chapter, and verse numbers. I’ve read the entire Bible several times, and have been well educated in certain theological studies, but for as many verses may sound familiar to me, there are many others that I have not yet memorized well enough to quote, let alone tell you the precise references. Yet there, on my bed, within my imagination, I was preaching to an enormous congregation and listing biblical details I would never be able to recall on the spot during the day.
As soon as I awoke, I rose up, noted the Scripture references, wrote down what I remembered saying in the dream sermon, and then went straight to my KJV Bible. Sure enough, the verses I had delivered in my imagination were an exact match to the words in the Bible.
This happened several times. It’s like the Donna of my imagination was twenty years ahead of the Donna who existed on that bed. In the natural, I wasn’t nearly as intelligent or articulate as I had been in these intuitions. And my messages weren’t limited to verse memory. There were occasions when I would preach on subjects that are profoundly theological, drawing conclusions that are nowhere near what is taught in the sphere of mainstream teaching. When that happened, I would get up in the middle of the night and research the topic, learning afterward that what I had said in the strange vision was a revolutionary truth that leading scholars are only just starting to piece together. In my mind’s eye, I spoke of historical and cultural facts that I didn’t think I knew—but, again, when I climbed out of bed to look them up, I found that, once again, I had nailed it.
Night after night after night, I was being shown something I couldn’t understand. Was God telling me I was going to speak to the multitudes? Was He showing me a picture of my own future? Or was He trying to communicate something else? I had no idea, but I knew, based on the desires of my heart as I could identify them then, that I had not caused these imaginings.
Did I want to speak to the multitudes? Did I want to be a preacher? No. Not even a little bit. In fact, I had prayed for God to call me into any service but that. The very thought of standing in front of even five people to lead a casual Bible lesson during a small church’s Sunday school class made me want to hide. With every fiber of my being, I loathed the idea that I would be called into the kind of ministry that persistently popped into my late-night thoughts. These strange occurrences did not originate from my own desires or fantasies, and the bizarrely accurate facts I somehow just “knew” in my mind as I preached were an additional layer of proof that whatever was happening to me on that bed was from Someone higher than myself. I was being called.
The reason behind my resistance is explained in chapter 8, wherein I share the rest of my story. But the purpose of this book was born when I decided to be obedient beyond my own comfort and do what I believe God told me to do.
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WAIT… A WOMAN PREACHING IN A CHRISTIAN CHURCH… WHAT DOES GOD THINK ABOUT THAT?!
I opened my mouth.
It was then that the opposition came against me. From everywhere at once, I was under attack—not from the enemy, but from people. Nobody questioned my theology, not a soul said they took issue with what I looked like or how I dressed, and not one person challenged my anointing. The issue, they all stated, was that I was a woman.
I was born female, a circumstance I cannot change; therefore, they said I was “limited.”
Therein rested my first resolution: If God, Himself, was calling me, a woman, to preach in His service, then I would do what He had asked. I couldn’t allow myself to be stopped because of critics who wouldn’t be bothered long enough to consider what the original Greek and Hebrew texts said about women. I wasn’t about to fall under the weight of those who evidently hadn’t studied God’s heart toward women. I will someday stand before the Lord and be held accountable for the things I have—and haven’t—done, so to I didn’t believe I owed an answer to those who hadn’t looked into what the Bible actually says in its authenticity.
However, it occurred to me early on that an uncountable number of women have experienced the Holy Spirit’s call upon them, also—and they stand today with that bitter and invisible tape over their mouths, wanting to obey the Lord yet confused about what that obedience looks like in light of what today’s culture allows women to do.
I am not by any stretch of the imagination a feminist, as this series relates, and this work was not penned to support or begin any kind of “women’s liberation movement.” Nor was this project motivated by any internal desire to join the raging who’s-right, who’s-wrong debate that has been going on since the Garden of Eden. But for the women who are caught between the intense, surging sensation of God’s call on one side and the muzzle of prohibition on the other, resigned forever otherwise to exist between the duality of these two great forces, a study such as this is in order. My hope is that every woman who feels she is called will be able to look herself in the mirror and repeat the words of T. D. Jakes: “Woman, thou art loosed!”
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