I’ve mentioned before that the denomination I’m affiliated with is called the Free Methodist Church. Besides being a theologically Wesleyan in background, our church is also part of a larger group of churches called “holiness” denominations. I know you’re asking, “what does that mean?” So in a very brief way I’ll tell theologically what a Wesleyan Holiness type church would believe:
Through faith, Jesus draws us in to relationship with him. Once we believe He is who He said He was, and we believe He has broken the power of death over us by submitting to the cross, we are free to follow his example to be more like him. The strength He gives us to overcome sin is only through His Holy Spirit. This is called sanctification. It get’s confusing because most people feel they can never reach what is called “entire sanctification,” because it sounds like you would be “entirely perfect,” right? And that is surely how it sounds, and of course there is much friendly debate over this even in holiness churches. But the best way to look at it is that a person who desires holiness, to be more like Christ, is one who desires any pattern of sin in their lives to be broken. And to be entirely sanctified would mean it would no longer have power over you.
Like the Free Methodist Church, most of the Holiness denominations took root in the late 1800’s. Most of them were shockingly considered liberal and progressive for their day because of their outspoken concern for social welfare. The Free Methodist Church began in upstate New York during the same time as the Women’s Suffrage Movement was taking place. It is not a surprise then that the founder of the Free Methodist Church took the time to write a book called “Ordaining Women.” Other social concerns at the time for BT Roberts and his followers were the following “Freedoms.”
1. Freedom from Slavery. The founders of the Free Methodist Church were opposed to slavery.
2. Free Pews. No person should be denied a seat in church because they could not pay for it. (it was a custom at the time to get better seat the more you paid to the church.)
3. Freedom from secret societies. We believe everything should be done openly and not in secret.
4. Freedom in worship. Worship should be fluid and not rigid.
Other holiness denominations grew in much of the same way, with special concern for those who were socially disadvantaged and disenfranchised.
Several of these Wesleyan Holiness denominations support women in ministry. I know this surprises many people, but many evangelical denominations do not support women in pastoral leadership positions. Consider the Salvation Army, who’s co-founders over 100 years ago were William and Catherine Booth, and the way the Salvation Army continues to battle oppression of the poor. In many ways it is almost harder now for a woman in ministry than it was in the late 1800’s simply because many evangelical denominations have only recently spent much of their time working against women in leadership. Consider the organization that sounds so supportive of women, but is not, called The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The sad thing is that so many hurting people are waiting for human touch, support, a clean cup of water, yet many people are entirely way too concerned with “who and who should not,” minister to them.
Several of the holiness church got together to start an organization to support and encourage women who are considering, serving, or trying to serve in pastoral leadership within a holiness denomination church. The denominations included in this effort are: Free Methodists, Wesleyan, Nazarene, Salvation Army, Brethren in Christ, Church of God (Anderson), and the Evangelical Friends Church.
This event, called “Come to the Water,” takes place every 3 years. The next gathering is schedules for March 31, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri.
Today my focus wasn’t on one specific woman, but many who serve in the holiness denominations. I am proud of my denominational heritage and am thankful that even though some would try to pull us from our Biblical roots in equality for men and women, that our denominations continue to support women who feel called to leadership.
If you are a woman who is considering pastoral leadership, this is an excellent opportunity to meet other women who share the same joy, frustrations, fears and challenges. There are often scholarships for students so check the web site and contact them through email if you are interested.