No gate by that name.
There’s a well-known story about a camel and the eye of a needle. Jesus said it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. This shocks and dismays his followers, of course.
Now, I heard a particular explanation of this story once or twice (Spoiler: this is wrong):
The explanation? That there was a gate in the wall around Jerusalem. And it was called “the eye of the needle gate.” JUST big enough for a camel. But not for a saddle or baggage or anything they brought with them.
A camel COULD get through, but it had to shed all its stuff. and everything it was carrying.
And so a rich person can get to heaven if they give up everything and follow Jesus, just like the rich young ruler Jesus was talking to.
I’ve heard this interpretation a half-dozen times. In different geographical areas. From different people in different churches. Probably on Christian radio or a book too.
What a tidy way to interpret that, right?
- It made sense of a story that was really difficult.
- It took it from hyperbole to application.
- It definitely touches on other principles in the Bible, and ties back to an earlier part of the story.
Except…it’s wrong. Because if there was a gate like this.. it didn’t exist yet.
If there was ever a gate like this.. it wasn’t there when Jesus preached.
Later on, someone might have stuck a gate in the wall and cheekily dubbed it the “eye of the needle” gate.
So that’s not what this parable was about.
It seems to fit SO well, right?
But it’s not true.
My pride at knowing “better”
Wayyyy back as a kid I remember feeling really good that I knew about the gate. I knew how to “correctly” interpret this parable.
I even found a kids’ book in the classroom downstairs. They talked about the gate! And I was happy to see they also had the “correct” interpretation of the parable with the gate in it.
And it wasn’t till many years later… I found out that interpretation was based on a popular “urban legend.”
It seemed to make sense… but it was still wrong.
It seemed to make a lot of sense.
But since that gate wasn’t there when Jesus was talking? Since if it existed, was something from WAY later?
Jesus didn’t mean anything about a gate. He just meant it was stinkin’ impossible for a big ol’ camel to go through the eye of a needle.
The gate explanation is simply not true.
It’s. Not. True.
In a similar way, there’s three ideas I heard about women in ministry that were flat-out-wrong. They aren’t Biblically supported. Sometimes they sound good, and they may even be popular. They may seem to make sense of things like how the world works and our human nature.
But I really had to look deeply and see what was going on. And turn away from perpetuating ideas that just weren’t what God meant.
In error because
There was a religious group called the Sadducees in Jesus’ time. They believed there was no resurrection. So they asked him a loaded question about marriage. It was designed to disprove the idea of resurrection. To make it look ridiculous.
Jesus sees their game. And he does give them a clear answer which makes their question look silly.
But first he responds with this (savage!) line: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”
You do not know the Scriptures
Or the power of God.
Harsh words for people who think they’re religious, right?
That’s clearly warning them how they got into this error.
I think about this verse a lot. If something isn’t clear to me…
- Do I know the Scriptures?
- Do I know the power of God?
If it’s not clear, let’s go back to that.
How lies break down
And these lies broke down because I got to know the Scriptures better.
- Because I got to know God better.
- Because I got to know his power – in people’s lives around me.
- To see their testimonies and the power of God in their life.
- Then these lies were shown up for the thin straws they are.
Fight the fall
One of the many teeny tiny bands in Ontario was called “fight the fall.” I remember exactly nothing about them. Sorry, guys. Not who they were, what shows they played, anything. Except I had a sticker on my guitar case I’d picked up at some show.
That phrase intrigued me. Fight the Fall.
Maybe they meant the season? Autumn is pretty short in Ontario, right?
Bu I thought of The Fall. What happened when sin entered the world and took things sideways.
What happened when sin entered the world. And the far-reaching effects of this.
This was the fall, not the creation.
- Work would be hard.
- Childbirth would be painful and difficult.
- Women would greatly desire their husbands, and husbands would rule over them.
This was not God’s intention when he created us. This was not the original plan. This was the consequence of sin working its harm and destruction on creation and relationship.
This was the fall, not the creation.
And as Christians, are we citizens of the Fall? Are we stuck perpetuating old ways and attitudes and fallen, sinful perspectives?
And the utter contrast of citizens living in the Kingdom of God? Under his redemption and truth?
It could not be more different.
I thank so many of my friends at Tyndale for helping me realize this. From the pastors I worked with to my friends, to a course on Mark and the Kingdom of God.
Later when I’d attend Master’s College, I would MUCH expand my appreciation for living in the power of the Holy Spirit. As a foretaste of the kingdom of God. Casting off what the Fall did, not glorifying it. Living as God created us – not in the fall. Because Jesus has purchased that freedom for us.
So a lot of these lies are based in bad “the fall is good for us” logic. That we should just accept this. Or that it sets up necessary rules for living until God takes us to heaven. Or a tiny minority even think things like men ruling over women continues in heaven. (Thankfully too teeny to make much impact!)
But as I learned more of the Scriptures – and the power of God – I so began to appreciate what God wants people of his kingdom to be like.
Redemption > fall
Societies operated according to the Fall. Human nature wanted to do things according to the Fall. The world operated that way. We had hard work. Males and females gravitate to this unequal pleasing/power structure.
But God didn’t make us this way.
We chose to screw it up. And we bear the consequences. But God loves the world too much to leave us in our sin and sinful behaviour.
So he is bringing His kingdom come, where His will is done.
He is always changing the game.
In the Bible? God is always anointing people to do something different.
God is always giving a preview of his Kingdom.
Through his people – men and women.
And in Acts 2 through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, ALL believers got in on that game. My job and our job? To witness to what God’s bringing!
As I saw more of that? Whoo man, did these lies start to look silly!
Submission for who?
Here’s the first lie: “Because men are created first, women naturally are to submit to men.”
This was a simpler one. It’s pretty easy actually.
There’s no reason to assume that the ORDER of creation in Genesis has anything to do with authority… and if anything?? the order of creation would imply the reverse.
The earlier created things don’t have authority over the later created things. Because Adam’s given authority over stuff that’s created earlier than him!
But Eve (created last) isn’t given authority over Adam. She’s made to be an “ezer” (an equal helper. “ezer” is a word God uses about himself elsewhere! it doesn’t imply submission).
So if we go with creation order… it’s actually last created over earlier created, which would actually put Eve as the authority. But clearly that’s not the case, as Genesis takes pains to record that she’s made to be an equal helper.
And the commission they get? to rule over creation? It is to both of them.
(I see this one put forward a lot, and I think it’s because it’s a fairly old line of reasoning. But it doesn’t have a rib to stand on).
This was easily an “eye of the needle gate” scenario.
It seems simple, but it doesn’t fit.
All men? really?
The second lie was this:.. that all men are the head of all women. Women always should submit to men. Especially in the church.
Errr… check the Scriptures.
In the church, we’re never told that all women submit to all men. There’s never a principle that generically, men are the head of woman.
The marriage covenant in Scripture is immensely important. The joining of a man to his wife is talked about early in Genesis. It’s reinforced by Jesus. It has enormous significance.
And when we stick marriage in a blender, and take that submission aspect out? And try to stick it on all men and all women?
That cheapens marriage. (Also, it’s not in the Bible. Which, much like the eye of the needle gate, is super important.)
Even that Fall back in Genesis? has to do with husbands and wives. So while the Fall may expand it onto everyone… while we all may feel its effects? While we all find ourselves living in these patterns and falling into those behaviours?
The church should not be parking itself there or calling it good.
Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Not a picture of men and women in general.
So what are churches told to do?
- Submit to each other out of reverence for Christ.
- Honour your leadership.
- Submit to the governing authorities.
- And all the other verses specifically about church leadership and how we live in society.
Is this how it works?
Do women often defer to men in a situation? Does that happen a lot in our flesh (our natural inclination)? Do we feel like that’s just the way things are? Is it more comfortable to work just with our gender at times?
Yeah. But we fight the fall. We don’t perpetuate or glorify it.
We witness to the kingdom of God, not the sinful state of the world.
We live such good lives among people we know that people glorify God the Father.
So let’s untangle the question of church relationships from marriage.
Let’s get practical
This was a hard one for me. I asked the pretty simple question: if God’s gifted men and women to lead, why do I see so few women leading?
- Are we that powerless against the Fall?
- Are we living THAT LITTLE in the Holy Spirit?
- Are we at that much mercy to our natural inclinations?
- So the third lie was the toughest for me. The pragmatic question. Does it work?!
Remember when I said I didn’t want to get into a losing scenario?
Like why would I set myself up for failure?
If this wasn’t a God-thing to lead? I was done. I was getting out of this game.
The biggest one
Lie #3 was that the Fall was just too powerful. Ever heard something like this? “Women taking leadership won’t lead to partnership. It will lead to an emasculated and ineffective church.”
Oof. Brutal. Early on in Bible college – I started to realize Youth Pastor wasn’t the best fit. And I was really wondering if I could ever correctly be a senior pastor. Lead adults?!?! Recruit?!!? If I could grow or start something. If that was even possible – ever!
There’s a popular preacher who was famous for church growth for a while. And he was interviewed by a man whose wife pastors a church.
I remember his questions to the interviewer. This popular preacher heckled How big is your wife’s church? Does she see the same success? How come women don’t get the big number results we do? Doesn’t that prove God is with us? And she’s wrong?
I’m so thankful I can see past some of that dichotomy now.
Part is that we don’t hear the stories of women preachers. Man, am I grateful that now I can see so many churches led by women and with women pastors on the team. Growing and beautiful churches!
Of course, there have been famous women who led revivals and planted many churches too. Even up North where I am there is an incredible history and legacy of female church planters! Incredible!
And my time in PAOC has given me so many more of these stories. I know much more of the power of God now.
But of course, most pastors will have a small church – whether they’re male or female.
(Funny thing about that famous preacher.. he faded into obscurity. His church folded… and an amazing church bought his building. They believe in women in ministry and do incredible missions work. They’re not only big and growing… they’ve got longevity).
But I also know there’s advantages to guys in leadership. People naturally follow guys (again, human nature). In settings like youth or outdoor preaching, a big booming voice helps. What about advantages to being female?
In my denomination most youth pastors are male, though we now have lots of great female ones also. Back when that wasn’t as common, a professor at Masters’ College made a remark. He actually thought women often made better youth pastors than men. That was so unusual for me… as I had rarely or ever seen it. (Now I see it all the time!) But he would be the first of many I heard testify specifically: women can and do make great pastors. And? I want them on my team.
I can lead men… and do it well
The funny thing was? Some of my logical Mer-brain characteristics started to make sense. If I was working with a lot of guys, it was no surprise I found them easy to talk to. Logical. Leadership stuff make sense to me.
I wasn’t always an effective leader. But I learned skills.
And later, I would pioneer and start projects. Restart ministries. Lead groups. And effectively recruit, lead, and even train men for them. Instruct. Delegate.
I’d respect the dynamic of “guys follow guys” and “girls follow girls” for some types of mentoring and some sorts of fun projects. Nothing wrong with enjoying being together, or starting out with people where they’re at. And being really really careful when you’re working with teenagers.
We work with all that. And we also guide people into more maturity.
I would see – later on – that there was NO “guys won’t follow you” trump card at play here.
Anointing and advertising
The early female revivalists and preachers had an anointing. A touch from God on their lives of unusual power and effectiveness. And I knew that there was no way I would make it without the power of God.
Later in ministry, I would often pray for a good chunk of the morning before setting to work. I need the Holy Spirit leading me. I need the power of God. I can’t rest in my own personality or factors. I know that.
But I would also learn the “anointed female preacher” had a real practical component too. Like Billy Graham, they’d also advertise. They would be great networkers. Use early media like radio to spread their message. There was skill and planning and great leadership at work too.
So it’s good I would train. Learn how to recruit. Speak people’s language. Do what I could myself.
I only have Jesus
Where does your mind go when you think “female preachers”?
In our current North American context, many female preachers are found in liberal churches. Some of whom don’t necessarily believe Jesus is the only way. Who don’t see the need for a conversion experience. Call people to repentance. Lead us to the only One who can save and change us.
That’s a big generalization, but there’s also a lot of truth there. That’s where a lot of people look where they say “look, female preachers are ineffective and lead dying churches.”
And those churches? They’re dying fast. They’re not where church growth is coming from. You may see the odd one with a great leader building something… but long-term, those denominations are declining.
I don’t think the problem is female preachers. I think it’s when you don’t have Jesus front and centre.
And as I saw so many more female preachers in the church worldwide? As I heard them speak and teach and lead ministries? I began to see something different than my limited experience. I began to see testimony – of how the power of Christ is always the power of Christ. Of how he continues to use all of us simple people – male and female – for his work and His glory.
I got testimony of the power of God.
Blood and word
In the final book of the Bible, there’s a dramatic scene where Satan is thrown to earth. The accuser. The liar.
And a loud voice from heaven says the brothers and sisters, the church,
“triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”
The liar can’t stand against Jesus. Lies can’t stand against Jesus.
The liar can’t stand against the testimony of faithful brothers and sisters.
And these lies broke down as I encountered the word… and also testimony. Lives changed by Jesus. Those who fought the fall.
- Those who preached and taught.
- Those in incredible marriages.
- Those who started churches.
- Those who took over and pastored in difficult situations.
- Those who faithfully served.
- Those who quietly modelled a life lived in the Spirit, not the fall.
And it took my academic heart back into the church.
As much as I love reading about the Spirit (An Amos Yong reading group, anyone? Come on! Let’s get it!) …
I need to experience the Holy Spirit and practice praying in the Spirit.
- We can’t sit in our silos and just study the Bible.
- Nor can we just listen to Christian media, read Christian books.
- We need to get out there and meet others and see how the word of God applies in their life.
- To ask for a fresh outpouring and presence of God in our lives. Our families. Our relationships. Our work.
And fight the Fall.
18. Females and finances
19. Two hundred bad sermons
20. Evangelical, Pentecostal, Female, and Not Alone
21. Strong arms or feeble hands?
22. Strength to strength