by Aaron Meeks, MAR student
Hi–my name is Aaron and I don’t always fit in well within church culture. You might think this odd coming from someone who has been in the pastoral ministry for over 12 years, but it is true. You see, I am either too conservative or too liberal depending on who you talk to. I guess you can label me how you want once you’ve read this blog (or not).
I grew up under the influence of some very conservative Baptist teaching, some results being good and others bad. The first result of this was that I developed a very high appreciation for the truthfulness, validity and applicability of all Scripture. I still carry a conservative theology largely based on the formative influence of the spiritual teachers of my youth. In this way I am proud to be “conservative.”
However, even within this conservative framework, I found myself questioning some long-standing teachings held dear by some of my conservative brethren. Issues such as alcohol consumption, rock and roll, women in ministry, and others were all handled in the same way. Rather than engaging in a discussion over the scriptural passages addressing these issues, it was just simpler to latch on to a few isolated scriptures (in or out of context) and leap to the simple black and white answer of “NO”. Never drink alcohol under any circumstance. Rock and roll is always evil. Women should never speak from the platform, let alone be involved in pastoral ministry.
Even as a young man, this reduction of complex issues to a simple “NO” bothered me. Could it be that simple? The fact that I even raised these questions got me labeled as a “liberal” within the conservative circles that I grew up in. Is it possible that it is ok to drink alcohol in moderation? Can rock and roll be used to glorify God? Do women have something worth while to add to the faith conversation? The answer to all of these is of course “YES”. And yet, I have been labeled liberal by some because I have come to this conclusion. In this way I am proud to be labeled “liberal.”
It is with this baggage that I entered the Urbana Seminary class on “Women in Ministry” last summer. It was a bit nerve racking after I realized that I would be the only man in a class on women in ministry. I knew that I probably represented a more conservative view than most on this topic, but I was more nervous that I would once again be met with a dogmatic “YES” or “NO” answer that would shut down the dialogue. You see, I was looking for the conversation. We had many conversations in this class.
The very cool thing was that as this class progressed, we grew in our ability to learn from those who disagreed with us. We recognized the presence of God within each other and allowed Him to speak through us to teach each other so that we could continue to grow as a result of the conversation. It wasn’t about who was “conservative” or “liberal”. It became about followers of Jesus exploring the scripture and personal experience together in community. We all grew and we all changed.
In the end, none of us completely changed our stand, but all of us left the class with a greater understanding of the others’ view. We all influenced each other in a way that drew us closer to God and to each other. I learned a great deal from these women of God. I have no doubt that He has great plans to use these women in His church.
If you are wondering where I ended up concerning the topic of women in ministry, you are in good company. I am still wondering that myself. I don’t believe that my personal exploration of this topic has ended. This I know for sure, women should have the opportunity to exercise their spiritual gifting within the local church. God has gifted women just as he has gifted men to accomplish His purposes. Women should be allowed to teach, preach and lead within the context of the local church. Some would label me as liberal for this view. I still have questions about whether the role of elder should be reserved for men. The fact that I entertain this question will have me labeled as conservative by others. I don’t personally put much stock in labels and you can feel free to disagree with my current tendencies. I just believe that it is important to keep having the conversation and to continue exploring Scriptural issues beyond what our opinion is at any given moment. Let’s talk it out…