Paul Prather

If your faith hasn’t evolved, then’s something’s wrong

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This past Sunday our congregation had a service entirely planned and executed by women.

Our faith tradition, Pentecostalism, has welcomed women at all levels of leadership, including as pastors, for well over 100 years. I may be mistaken, but I believe Pentecostals were the first modern Christian movement to do that.

In our congregation, women make up the majority of our deacons. A woman leads our music program. Women serve communion, take offerings, lay hands on the sick and, when I’m out of the pulpit, occasionally preach.

However, recently the women said they wanted to do a whole service, which was fine with me and, as far as I know, the rest of the men.

As they ministered, I thought back to the churches I grew up in, in another denomination that believed women were to keep silent in the church. Women couldn’t preach, couldn’t hold offices, usually couldn’t even teach a Sunday school class if grown men were among the class’s members.

I was a kid back then. I didn’t have any ideas about whether this was right or wrong; it just was. It was a fact, like gravity.

How far time and circumstance have brought me, I thought this past Sunday. From no women to, today, all women.

The woman who organized Sunday’s service, our administrative deacon, had asked my wife Liz to preach. I don’t think Liz was asked because she’s the minister’s wife, but because she’s a schoolteacher — an excellent teacher — and thus experienced at speaking before hostile audiences with short attention spans.

She did a fine job, as I figured she would. She talked about the power that comes from praising God by accessing the Holy Spirit who indwells us, rather than using our own limited emotions and intellect.

As she talked, I was still thinking back.

A dozen years ago, when Liz and I were dating, we went out to eat one night at a local restaurant. Not for the first time, our conversation turned to faith.

Liz had grown up in an unusually strict sect I’d describe as fundamentalist, with a multitude of legalistic rules to be obeyed, and a big focus on sin and hell.

After going through a divorce, she’d left the church of her youth. She was so bitter about the circumstances of that split she’d nearly forsaken religion altogether.

By the time this particular night arrived, she’d already told me she wasn’t keen about being yoked to a preacher, of all things. She loved me, but she didn’t think she would ever marry me unless I left the ministry.

As we sat in the restaurant, she started interrogating me about what I believed, about what a Pentecostal worldview was like.

I explained that we believe the Holy Spirit still acts as he did on the Day of Pentecost in the New Testament, that he sometimes cures the sick miraculously, or gives Christians gifts of prophecy or tongues or uncanny wisdom.

I told her about having seen my own dad instantly healed of terminal cancer.

I told her I thought our life with the Lord has comparatively little to do with how well we obey rules and far more to do with God’s own grace, compassion and love.

The longer I talked, the madder she got. Paradoxically, everything I said managed not only to conflict with the only Christianity she’d ever known — and rejected — but with her recent skeptical, secular mindset, too. She couldn’t relate on any level.

Finally, in exasperation, she fumed, “That’s all just ridiculous. You’re too smart to believe anything so dumb!”

Our courtship almost ended that night. But it didn’t.

Not only did we eventually get married, but in the meantime Liz gradually became a Pentecostal herself. She recently completed a 10-year run as a deacon in our church. And here she was this past Sunday, preaching a heartfelt sermon on a classic Pentecostal theme: praising God through the Holy Spirit.

My point here isn’t about women’s roles in the church or about Pentecostalism, either. You, like me, are entitled to your views on such matters. More power to you.

I feel no compunction to convert anybody.

My point is there’s a reason the pursuit of God is often called a journey of faith. It’s called that because it truly is a journey. God’s leading us on a perpetual trip.

He might not take each of us down the very same road. He’s got an individual map for each of us. But he’s taking all of us somewhere.

Our faith evolves. We gain insight. We shed old beliefs that proved unproductive.

There’s a common Christian saying that goes something like this: God loves you right where you are, but he loves you too much to let you stay there.

If you look back over your life and find you’re exactly where you were a decade or two or three ago, there’s probably something wrong. You might be in the same spot geographically, and that’s OK, but you shouldn’t be in the same spot spiritually.

It’s both natural and good to change. You never in this life reach the destination. You’re always on the journey.