Christian, ministry, women

Inclusion in the Church Age

The entire story of the Bible, for all nations and all people, heads toward an invitation to inclusion, not exclusion. – Sara Gaston Barton

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Separation

We don’t know how long it took for paradise to be ruined, but it happened with a single incident.  Between “It was very good” and “The Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden”, we find Adam and Eve eating from the only tree they were told to avoid. The intimate relationship that humanity had with God was broken. Separation occurred. The spoiled garden, filled with thorns, would ultimately spread its way across the globe. Our sin nature would come to taint every relationship and all things. Man and women, both created in the image of God, would now be mortal beings.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.

Romans 5:12-14

Exclusion

And so from Adam to Moses, humanity existed on the spoken promise of God that redemption would come. Moses would literally set in stone God’s plan for the forgiveness of sins. One man chosen from the nation of Israel, the Tribe of Levi, the Family of Aaron, would be given the opportunity to enter into the Holy of Holies on a single day of the year, and offer sacrifices on behalf of the entire nation. Forgiveness was available, but the nation would be dependent on a single man to act on their behalf. It was systemic exclusion established by God for a period of time.

 

The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die.

Leviticus 16:2

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Redemption

The plan laid out by Moses was an incomplete foreshadowing of God’s perfect plan. Just as humanity experienced separation from God as the result of a single incident, so would God’s plan for redemption be fulfilled in one lavish act of love.  Christ would sacrifice himself in an act of total selfless obedience in order to break the bond of sin. What was broken in the Garden was made right on the cross. The second Adam restoring all that was lost by the first. Jesus would be the perfect high priest and the spotless sacrificial lamb. He would be the mediator between God and all people. (1 Tim. 2:5)

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.”  1 Corinthians 15:21

Inclusion

It was finished. The earth shook, and the curtain tore from top to bottom. The barrier that had kept the people out was no more. No longer would the people need to wait for that one day of the year to have their sins forgiven. It was finished, complete. No more would people need to go through a priest to speak with God. Everyone was welcome: Jew and Gentile, male and female, young and old. It is the very nature of God that all may come. This is the New Covenant, an age of inclusion which demonstrates the heart of God. It is a foreshadowing of still another age to come.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28

The Church Age

Since the dawn of the church age, Christians have been breaking down the barriers that excluded people. Throughout scripture we see numerous examples of Godly women in leadership positions. Jesus stirred things up when he ate with tax collectors and sinners. He elevated the status of women and children. The early church continued living out Jesus’ teaching with the inclusion of Gentiles and female leaders. It seems that everywhere the church spread, the status of women would be elevated from their current situation. Unfortunately, our modern society is unlikely to use the word inclusion to describe today’s Christian church. While some of the criticism of the church is the result of a culture that stands morally opposed to the teachings of scripture, we should take some time to reflect on areas where that is not the case. Are our churches welcoming places for everyone, where everyone has the opportunity to grow and serve within the church community equally? Have we imposed restrictions on half the body of Christ in an attempt to meet the letter of the law but have missed the nature of God found within the larger story of redemption? It’s important to consider the impact of implementing unnecessary limitations on not only girls and women, but on boys and men. Are we displaying a false picture of the gospel to the world? How much greater could our impact on the world be if we fully engaged the entirety of the body of Christ?

It’s time for all of us to do better.

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IN READING A WOMAN CALLED: PIECING TOGETHER THE MINISTRY PUZZLE BY SARA GASTON BARTON, I WRESTLED THROUGH MY OWN QUESTIONS ABOUT THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN CHURCH LEADERSHIP. HER INSIGHTS, PARTICULARLY FOUND IN CHAPTER 5, “PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER”, WITH ITS ILLUSTRATION OF THE TEARING OF THE TEMPLE CURTAIN WAS A TURNING POINT FOR ME.  
SARA, THANK YOU FOR THE COURAGE TO NOT ONLY LIVE YOUR STORY, BUT TO SHARE IT WITH OTHERS.

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Further Reading:

A Woman Called: Piecing Together the Ministry Puzzle  Barton, Sara Gaston (2012) Leafwood Publishers

“Who’s Who Among Biblical Women Leaders” by Rachel Held Evans

“Christianity: The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Women” by Sue Bohlin

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