Sunday, January 13, 2013

Obeying God, Not Man

As a lifelong Southern Baptist, I was taught certain principles. For example, I was taught unapologetically that faith in Jesus is the only sure way to heaven. I was taught that every believer is responsible to share the love of God with the entire world. I was taught that as a Baptist I was to have a great deal of reverence for the Bible as the inspired Word of God. I was also taught about the priesthood of the believer, a doctrine that says each believer has opportunity to go directly to God for help, has the responsibility of reading, studying, and interpreting scripture, and is commanded to serve in the church and world in the way that God has called and gifted them to do so. I cherish many of the things that Southern Baptists have taught me, and I especially have embraced the passion for missions that is such a rich part of my Southern Baptist heritage.

Unfortunately as a Southern Baptist, I was also taught things that always troubled me because they did not seem to fit with the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer. I hold a very high view of the Bible, but I believe that God used the personalities and experience of the writers, allowing them to choose words that would speak to the people in their own context. However, if my understanding or interpretation of a particlar passage differs from the pastor or Sunday school teacher, or curriculum does that make it misguided and incorrect? Does God's inspiration only apply to the writer of scripture, and not to the reader also? Understanding how only certain people's interpretation of scripture could be correct has been one of my struggles for I find that there is no ONE  way to understand all scripture passages. Instead, I think God speaks through scripture in multiple ways, and the tension and diversity of scripture has power.

When we select only certain stories to be read and leave out other stories or aspects of stories, we are specifically promoting a particular view point. Selective reading does make it easy to create a "biblical" argument for just about anything. For example, a Bible study on the early life of Jesus from Luke's gospel that highlights Simeon and Zacharias but overlooks Anna and Elizabeth makes a statement to girls that their role is unimportant. I find that troubling.

The Bible has been used in this way in many churches, teaching girls that, though they are equal in salvation, they are not equal in the church. Just because I was born female, I could not be called by God in certain tasks. I am not seeking to argue a biblical case even, though I know some of you will want to engage me in such a debate. I could give scripture after scripture and example after example from the Bible to support my beliefs,  and many of you could do the same, but I do not want to debate. Instead, I want to share a personal struggle, and how I have come to terms with it.

For much of my life as a Christian, I have been caught between the person that my imbedded theology told me to be and the person I believe God called me to be. My Southern Baptist heritage has told me that my goal in life should be to glorify God as a wife and mother. I could work with children, sing in the choir, and make a divine casserole dish for homecoming supper. Maybe, once in a while, I could pray in church, or sing a solo. When I showed promise as a writer and better than average skills at studying the Bible, I could be encouraged to write a study for women or lead a youth Sunday School class. Certain things, however, I was not allowed to even consider, including preaching or teaching a mixed group of adults. I most especially should never aspire to be ordained. For years I tried to fit in to this mold. I suffered from severe depression in part because I never experienced peace. I never felt satisfied with the roles I was given.I never found contentment but instead was miserable. So I begged God to help me love my life.

Over the years, I also felt that God had called me and gifted me for something more than what I was allowed to do. As much as I tried to fight it, I knew I wanted to preach. As difficult and nervous as it was for me to speak in public, the Holy Spirit inside me compelled me to want to teach, and much like Jeremiah I felt the Word of God as a fire in my bones. The harder I tried to hold it in the more miserable I became. I also felt a call to do more than preach and teach. I felt a call to reach out to others with the presence of God in the midst of their hurts. Along with all of this, I felt God’s leading of me to be ordained, to be recognized and set apart by the church as having a call from God in my life.

I believe that God can use anybody and can and does call whoever God wills. My job, our job, is not stifle the Holy Spirit, but to live in the call. The road has not been an easy one for me, or for my husband, who is also a called, ordained minister of the gospel, but God has now put us in a place where we can both work out our callings and giftedness.

I have determinded that from this point forward in my life I will not try to fit myself in the mold some would try to place on me of "biblical womanhood." Instead I will celebrate the woman that God called me to be, happy in Jesus as I trust and obey.As of today, I am making the official announcement. In addition to my other titles of wife, mother, daughter, friend, sister, neighbor, I am adding one other: Reverend.