"My brothers, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting, or a couple with two and a half children, and a woman unaccompanied by a husband. If you show special attention to the man and the family and say, 'you are just what we prayed for to built our church. Here's a place for you,' but say to the woman, 'we're happy to have you work and contribute, but the church is built on men and families," or "we have to close our doors because we have no men and families, only you,' have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen women without men to come to faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you have insulted them. Is it not those who are not present, who have disappointed you? Are they not the ones who have abandoned the church by their absence? Are they not the ones who give a bad name to Christ to whom we belong?
If you really keep the royal law found in the Scripture, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that has freed both men and women and treats them equally, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!" (From James 2:1-13, with my application of the Scriptural principle.)
I really wanted to say amen to the prayers of others when they pleaded with God to bring men into our church who could become leaders, to give us families who would serve as the foundation upon which we could grow. Nevertheless, the amen wouldn't come.
I would like to say that such prayers were not wrong, only incomplete. However, in my heart I don't believe that. As I listened to the prayers, I felt diminished, and I wondered if my sisters in the faith felt the same way. If the single women, the divorced and widowed, the women married to men who were not saved, sensed any bitterness, rejection, sadness at not being "good enough" upon which to build a church.
What does God think when we pray for people to come into our church and then, when He sends them, we beg Him for something other than what He has given? No insult can be worse than having your gifts thrown back in your face. "These women weren't what we meant when we asked for souls, Lord!"
What is the church? I didn't know it was only men and families. I thought it was made up of all those who belong to the One who saves us all equally, in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3:28). I didn't know that to be worthy of being the body of Christ expressed locally, I had to be a man, or at least, attached to a believing one.
That in itself is hard enough to take. But what really hurts is the knowledge that my gifts, skills, and money are welcome, but who I am, isn't not really.
I can hear the protests and denials already. However, the test comes, not in the words that we so glibly speak, but in the actions we so easily take. God forgive me, I've done it myself. I took a group of women through the process of closing one church and becoming part of another, based on that very lie, upon the deception that we were not sufficient to be a church without men. In a better world, I would have embraced these dear saints of God and said "we are the body of Christ. God brought us together and has set His seal on us by that very act." And, in a better world, they would have believed me. But we are programmed to think that we are less because we are women, and the establishment that calls itself the church, may God forgive it, perpetuates that in word and deed.
"How many men ?" becomes the standard, the litmus test of how well the body of Christ is doing. It doesn't matter if women are growing in faith and knowledge and reaching out into their families and communities. Our denominations and leaders only count male heads. The organism that is the true church, made up of male and female in whatever combination God allows, and without prejudice, dies under the wheels of the manmade machine.
That the church needs men and families goes without saying, but the church is not only men and families, nor is one member of it superior to another. I am the church. I am just as valuable in God's eyes as any man or any member of a family. How strange it is that families are welcomed enthusiastically into the church, but if the man of the household suddenly disappears, that same family is often considered a burden to the church, rather than the blessing it originally was. There is something wrong with that kind of thinking. It's prejudicial and evil. It offends God and breaks His greatest commandment.
Since I am so invisible, I am tempted to walk away. No one will see me. They may miss my gifts, my skill and my money, and another number on the membership roll. But they won't really miss ME. They didn't pray that God would send me; the truth is, they wanted someone else.
Lynda Schultz is a freelance writer currently serving with FEBInternational, the overseas arm of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada. She works in resource development and discipleship in Caracas, Venezuela.
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