A Man Named Knofel
A man named "Knofel" says he's been wrong, all these years, about a divisive issue in the church: women in leadership.
Whatever you think of his conclusion, please allow these remarkable things to sink in:
1) This guy's name is "Knofel", and
2) He's in his 70's, and has made teaching doctrine -- while taking the Bible very seriously -- his life. And he's not only willing change his mind, he's allowing a much-younger woman (!) to inform his thinking, even mentor him in this area.
Like I say: Right or wrong, that's impressive, and possibly costly, one presumes, in his circle.
Below is my friend Don's column from the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, a fine paper I used to write for as well. I post without permission, in hopes that an ensuing lawsuit will allow me to spend more time with Don.
Don Follis 7/7/06 "Conservative scholar changes mind about women in church leadership"
When I 20 years old, I encountered a young scholar named Knofel Staton. Staton came to speak at the little Christian college where I was studying. Staton was raised in the Independent Christian church/Church of Christ denomination just like I was. The Bible was highly respected in my denomination, and Staton could make the Bible come alive as no one I had ever heard. I once drove 200 hundred miles to hear him speak at a conference.
A few years later I came to Illinois and Staton moved from where he was teaching in Missouri to California , where he has been a New Testament professor for 25 years. I have read many of Staton's 35 books, but I encountered his name a couple of years ago in a different vein.
Reading Sarah Sumner's "Men and Women in the Church," (InterVarsity Press, 2003), I discovered that she thanks Staton in the acknowledgments for reading her manuscript in its early versions.
Sumner, a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School near Chicago, argues that women should be released to use whatever gift God gives them, including preaching, teaching and leading in churches. Properly understood, Sumner believes the Bible allows this.
Like Sumner and like Staton, I grew up in a church where women did not take leading roles. They did not preach, serve as key church leaders, or usher guests to their seats. However, women did serve as my Sunday School teachers and Virginia Beamer was the best teacher I ever had. She brought life to the Bible stories.
A few weeks ago I discovered that Knofel Staton, now in his mid-70s, has written a book on women in leadership in the church. In 2003 Wipf and Stock Publishers published Staton's "The Biblical Liberation of Women for Leadership in the church."
Turns out, Staton's book is a revised edition of his doctoral dissertation from Haggard School of Theology at Azusa Pacific University, which is just down the road from Hope International University where Staton teaches.
At about 70 years old, Staton went back to school. That's impressive. But then he decided to write his dissertation on women leadership in the church. That's noteworthy, given Staton's high respect and influential voice within the Christian Church/Church of Christ denomination. In the acknowledgements of his book, Staton thanks Dr. Sarah Sumner, 30 years his junior but now his doctoral mentor. He praises her for her holistic understanding of the women in leadership, saying that she has been consistently and significantly helpful.
Staton held a traditional view on women in church leadership for more than 40 years. Based on his views of Scripture, he did not believe that women could be principal preachers, teachers or leaders in the church. But after seriously studying the matter, Staton changed his mind. The thesis of his book is that although women are restricted from leadership roles in many churches, it is God's intention for them to be included along with men.
While his careful study of Scripture is the main reason he changed his mind, Staton says there were other contributing factors. For one, he saw an increasing number of inconsistencies that prohibited women leaders in congregations while allowing them other significant leadership roles, such as writing Biblical commentaries used by men.
Moreover, Staton regularly had occasion to see gifted women in teaching and preaching roles, and he began developing a "growing perspective that the Bible does not prohibit women from teaching/preaching or holding other leadership roles."
The liberation of women is demonstrated by God's intention in creation, Staton writes. He argues that God put His Spirit in the first created persons. The first male and female were given the same initial service responsibilities on earth without gender differentiation.
Throughout Jesus' life, Staton believes He modeled how it was God's intention for women to be liberated from what was often a second-class citizenship. Furthermore, the early church includes both male and female leaders. Most impressive, perhaps, is Staton's challenge to the reader to understand in proper context the meaning of headship and the two biblical passages (I Corinthians 14:34-35 and I Timothy 2:9-15) most often used to prohibit women from leading in the church.
When you look at the whole of Scripture, Staton says you find the Bible siding equally with men and women as leaders in the church. Staton's church, Crossroads Christian Church in Covina, California, is a leading church in the Christian Church/Church of Christ association. Crossroads includes women pastors and women elders in their leadership structure.
When a denomination's respected scholar and prolific writer changes his mind on an issue, it is worthy of note. When a man of 70 continues to study and change his mind, it is an example to follow.
Don Follis is a pastor at the Vineyard Church in Urbana. His column appears on Fridays. Copyright 2006 by the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, Champaign, Ill.