Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dazed and Confused: What about the Women in Ministry Question?

I have been wanting to get my thoughts down in writing for some time on this 'women in ministry' issue. This paper will not likely come to very strong conclusions but let's see where writing this down takes us.

First, Some presuppositions need to get stated. I strongly believe that all women who love Jesus should be in ministry. Everyone who has the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in them should be about the work of loving others well. Loving others well is my own definition of ministry. Christian women must be in 'ministry'. Most people don't say it this way and I realize that the way I have said this is not very controversial. There is controversy to come, I promise you. Second, I believe that God's Holy Spirit has protected the Scriptures and they are trustworthy. I may not understand everything the Bible says and Lord knows I disagree with what some people have said the Bible says but I believe that the Bible is inerrant even if, and perhaps especially when we are not. Some people approach the scriptures with a view that says everything I don't agree with must be wrong. I don't think that. I am also not a big fan of assuming we have mistranslated lots of stuff. We may have, but I don't like to fall back on that excuse for our not understanding what God is trying to tell us. If we assume that only people who know the original languages can rightly understand scripture then we set ourselves up for our own enslavement to worldly scholars and we minimize the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

My own journey has been vast in this area of theology. I was baptized in a very conservative Southern Baptist Church. The pastor always wore a tie and we believed lots of things to be true just because we believed them. As a teenager I never questioned that women should never be pastors and I was pretty suspicious as to whether in some circumstances they could be deacons. I had never heard a contrary opinion to this kind of thinking. There were many strong women around me. My mother and my sister are both very strong women. I respect and like strong women but in my early years I accepted without question that women, even strong ones, could never hold any kind of authoritative position in the Church. When I was 18 our youth group visited a church that had an 'Assistant Pastor' who was a woman. I questioned this and our youth group leader suggested that this was a great thing. I was baffled. Someone who I had not only knew but respected thought a woman could hold an authoritative position. Crazy. So, for the first time I began looking to see what the Word actually said. I was immediately impressed by two things. A couple passages of scripture seemed to very clearly say that women could not serve in any capacity in the church and second women in the New Testament clearly did serve in many capacities in the New Testament. Where was the disconnect? At that time I decided to abandon any idea that there were any artificial limits on women in ministry. I believed then that women were full equals and if what is grace and mercy in us is the Holy Spirit then women have as much capacity for ministry as men and therefore as much responsibility to minister as men. I assumed then that the passages that spoke against women ministering- and specifically speaking and teaching- must have a good explanation and I just don't understand them yet. In 1987 I went to Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. I came into contact with big words that tried to describe the positions of those who believed one thing or another. I learned the original languages and I studied the Word a lot. At the end of the day I could not undo the passages of scripture that prohibited women teaching men or holding authoritative positions in the Church. I worked on it, prayed about it and in the end I had to make a decision. Either the Bible was mistaken and women could hold such positions or it was not mistaken and I was. I decided that the Bible was right even if I didn't understand it.

At that point in my journey I was an unhappy complementarian. There are two categories used to describe the positions on this issue; Complementarianism and Egalitarianism. The simple definitions for these terms are:
Complementarianism- God has created male and female with distinct and complementary differences. Since men and women are different they obviously have different roles and ministries within the Church. The most important of these distinctions is that women should submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5) and men are to be leaders and teachers in the Church (1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, and the fact that all of Jesus' disciples were men).
Egalitarianism- Men and women are created equal and each can do whatever God asks them to do. There are no role or functions that are out of bounds for either to do (Galatians 5 and the many passages that list what women have actually done- like Deborah, Phoebe the deaconess, Philip's four daughters who prophesied, Lydia who helped Paul start the Church in Philippi, Prisca who helped teach Apollos, etc).

It should be duly noted that these two 'camps' are not uniform. There are many different expressions of these two groups. The extreme positions of these two are pretty horrific in my opinion. Radical egalitarians include women who hate men altogether. This radical element takes credit for getting women the right to vote and equal pay for equal work. These are worthy accomplishments but there are lots of women who were not radical feminists who also helped bring these things about. I would like to think there are egalitarians who love Jesus- even though he was a man, love the Word, and don't think all men are oppressive zealots. At the same time there are lots of levels of complementarians. The average Southern Baptist for instance, just believes that men and women are largely equal but that woman can't be pastor's of churches. There are radical complementarians who are pushing this issue much farther. They would like women to submit to men in all things and there is even a growing group promoting 'patriarchy' who believe that men are the rightful leaders in every aspect of society and that a woman's only role is to have babies and cook for their husbands. The 'quiverfull' group is particularly troubling in that they take this idea a step further and contend that since women are 'saved' through childbirth they should have as many children as possible.
What has made the whole discussion all but impossible is that each side attributes to the other all the extreme characteristics and accusations of being either 'women-haters' or 'Bible rejectors' get thrown around until the shouting gets quite overwhelming.

Let me be clear about where I am on this journey. I will not accept a position that indicates that a woman has value based on what she does. She is not more blessed if she has more children. She is not more loved if she pastors a church. She is not of more value to the Kingdom based on her contribution. Neither the woman nor the man is capable of screwing up God's plan for creation, redemption, or eternity. God loves women and men because it is His nature to love. Out of our understanding of His tremendous love for us we are ourselves set free to love. Our position on the position of women must not be based on a woman's value but our understanding of what God in His Word is asking of us.

In my next post I will identify the relevant scriptures and attempt to see what they say on this subject. Which scriptures we choose to evaluate and which we leave out have a big bearing on our conclusions here. Then we need to apply and let me just say it is in the application that both sides run into serious trouble.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for tackling this subject. I am more of an egalitarian than a complementarian. I eagerly await your post as you deal with the relevant scriptures. I appreciate those who deal with all the scriptures and not just pick and choose which ones to highlight.
I am blessed by your stories. Thank you for your ministry. There are those of us back in the states that follow your blog and pray for you.
May God continue to use you for his glory.
Hershel Adams

Strider said...

Thanks Hershel, I appreciate that some people actually read this blog. We need all the prayer we can get! I will have the next post up later today.