Having a baby changed everything.
For years, my husband and I struggled to find a church home. While we are theologically conservative in many ways, we are less so in the area of women functioning in the church. As we sought a church home, we consistently felt that we were forced to make a choice that would compromise our faith in one way or another. If we chose a church where women were warmly encouraged to use their gifts, we were faced with compromising on essentials of the faith. If we chose a congregation where the doctrinal standards and theology were strong, we were faced with compromising on the issue of women freely serving.
Because I grew up Baptist, I very much wanted to stay in that denomination, and so we considered many Baptist churches around us. We muddled along for a number of years, dropping in and out of churches of various denominations. If we compromised on the theology issue, we were unhappy. If we compromised on the women’s issue, we were miserable.
A Matter of Urgency
Then one day in the midst of it all we were delighted to discover that we were finally expecting a baby after nine years of marriage. We had prayed all of those years for a little girl. While we would have loved a boy as well, it had always been the longing of our hearts to have a daughter. Nine months later we were blessed with the birth of Caroline. We dedicated her at the Baptist church where we were members at the time. But the church’s views on women and the lack of ministry opportunities for me weighed heavily on us.
With this little girl to raise for God, the issue of women using their gifts in the church became more urgent in our lives. This was no longer just about the opportunity to use my gifts. It had become a question of what our daughter would see and hear each week in church. A question about the kind of teachings our daughter would absorb and the theology she would hear year after year regarding how God views women and the gifts they receive from the Holy Spirit. After spending years wrestling with the issue of women in the church, I had learned to filter what I was hearing when necessary. But I did not want to have to constantly reteach my little girl if she heard things at church that we felt were not in line with our beliefs.
While there was never a single defining moment that pushed us to the choice, there was a steady development in our thinking. We would not compromise on the gospel or the essentials of the faith. At the same time, we believed that it was imperative for us to raise our daughter in a church where she saw women actively involved every week in the service. It was not enough for us to know that women were working behind the scenes. Caroline needed to see women leading the congregation in prayer. We longed for her to see and hear godly women reading Scripture. We wanted her to interact with the female deacons who would visit us in our home.
After much prayer and conversation, we eventually ended up at our current church, Beckwith Hills Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. Yes, the issue of where to raise our daughter relative to teachings on women was more important to us than the mode and view of baptism. This life-long immersionist chose to embrace infant baptism so that my daughter could experience freedom as a woman in church.
The CRC was the answer to our years of struggling and wandering.
The CRC Is a Gift
I’m fully aware that the debate about women using their gifts in our denomination has been a difficult one for decades. I don’t wish to minimize either the concerns related to this issue or the pain it has caused many of our brothers and sisters. But as an outsider who has become a part of the CRC, I encourage my fellow members to consider the unique gift the denomination can be to the body of Christ.
The CRC offers a strong, God-centered, Christ-honoring theology. It honors the sovereignty of God, God’s love for us, and the beautiful work of Jesus on our behalf. At the same time, the denomination demonstrates a commitment to the value of women and their gifts. Sadly, fewer and fewer churches and denominations bring both of these to the body of Christ.
There are many women (and men) outside the CRC whose faith requires both a strong overall theology grounded in the authority of the Scriptures and a steadfast commitment to the value of women exercising their gifts in the local church.
It is my prayer that the CRC will continue to welcome people such as our little family. I hope there will be many other little girls like our Caroline who will worship each week in congregations where godly women read the words of life aloud. I pray that many little girls will look up to vibrant Christian women who preach or teach the children’s sermon or lead the congregation in prayer. And I long to see our churches filled with little girls who will know their entire lives that God is real, God deeply loves women, and God delights to see them fully participate in the life of the church.
It is a difficult line the CRC currently walks. We must be aware of the danger of falling into error, as has happened in other denominations, and guard against it. But I hope that the members of the CRC will keep in mind that the impact of their choices about using the gifts of women in church goes far beyond only current members and those who grew up within the denomination. Those decisions also impact other believers outside the CRC who long to find a congregational home full of both truth and freedom for women. The CRC is truly a beautiful gift to these brothers and sisters in Christ.