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Lonny and Gerita Liebelt
When Jesus came to our earth and died on the cross, momentous changes took place. The gospel was opened to the Gentiles. The Jewish nation as God’s chosen people with its sacrificial system came to an end. Lucifer was confined to this earth, his true character unmasked. Best of all, the plan of salvation for the human race was sealed. But were there other changes? Did the Sabbath change from the seventh day to Sunday?
Certainly if the Sabbath day had changed, Jesus had a golden opportunity to tell the early Christians during the 40 days He was on earth after His resurrection. (“To whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:” Acts 1:3.) But He did not.
Did the role of women in the church change because Jesus taught the equality of everyone, regardless of their gender, race or background?
We know there were “many women” who followed Jesus on his mission trips and ministered to Him (Matthew 27:55, Luke 8:1, 2). They were at the cross when Jesus died (Luke 23:49). They were in the upper room with the disciples in one accord, praying and waiting for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14). There were many chief women and honorable women who were persuaded by Paul’s teaching who believed (Acts 17:4, 12). Paul made a point of meeting on the Sabbath with a group of women at the riverside and spoke to them (Acts 16:13). All through the New Testament we read that women were involved and active in spreading the gospel in the early church.
Certainly, if the role of women in the church had changed, the 11 disciples had a golden opportunity to replace Judas with a woman disciple to complete the “12.” But as Peter called the meeting in the upper room, and quoted scripture to fulfill, they appointed two men, Joseph and Matthias and prayed and cast lots and the lot fell on Matthias to replace Judas.
. . .And his bishoprick [office or charge] let another take. Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us. . . must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. . . And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles (Acts 1: 20-21, 26).
. . .the Master Worker chose humble, unlearned men to proclaim the truths that were to move the world. These men He purposed to train and educate as the leaders of His church (Acts of the Apostles, p. 17).
The early Christian church had another golden opportunity to be gender-inclusive. They were short-staffed and the 12 disciples called another meeting. Helped was needed in the daily ministration to the poorest widows. They had a golden opportunity to select godly women who were filled with the Holy Spirit, but we read: “Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.” And they chose seven men and they prayed and “laid their hands on them and the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:3, 6, 7).
Paul had another golden opportunity. He felt a burden to establish the early Christian Churches on godly principles that would be the pattern for ages to come. In fact, we find him writing a letter to Timothy even before he could get with him. Part of his concern was to address the offices of bishops and deacons. He says,
these things write I unto thee, hoping to come to thee shortly; but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:14, 15).
Instead of ordaining women, we find Paul speaking about the bishop needing to be the husband of one wife, ruling his own house and the deacon also needing to be the husband of one wife and ruling their house well. . . also they were to have wives that were grave, sober and faithful (1 Timothy 3:1-15).
Another golden opportunity to change the role of women in the church came at a meeting of the church in Acts 15, in regards to crucial questions about Gentile converts.
The council which decided this case was composed of apostles and teachers who had been prominent in raising up the Jewish and Gentle Christian churches, with chosen delegates from various places. Elders from Jerusalem and deputies from Antioch were present, and the most influential churches were represented. . . The entire body of Christians was not called to vote upon the question. The ‘apostles and elders,’ men of influence and judgment, framed and issued the decree, which was thereupon generally accepted by the Christian churches (Acts of the Apostles, p. 196).
In all these circumstances Christ, through Paul, had golden opportunities to re-educate the members in church governance and make all roles the same with no gender differences. Alas, they were missed.
We find ourselves living at a time when being “politically correct” is very important in our world and it is growing in the Seventh day Adventist Church as well. We see more and more efforts to add women to leadership-headship positions, in our divisions, unions, conferences and in the local church. But isn’t it more important to be biblically correct than politically or culturally correct?
In the early church and throughout Scripture we see so many golden opportunities for change—that were apparently missed! Or, are there some things that do not change?
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Lonny and Gerita Liebelt live in Libby Montana where Lonny was pastor of that district before his retirement in 2012. Before that they served in the Carolina, Wyoming, Colorado, California, Indiana, Rocky Mountain, and Washington conferences. They have three children and two grandsons. They love the Lord and His Church.