Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Concerning Women in Christian Ministry-I


Given that 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy seem to limit the role of women (at first blush, anyway), I have been asked how I could possibly consider my upbringing as anything other than un-biblical.


if the Bible says women can’t lead,
why did you think they could?

Well, the way we answered that in my home church was different than the way I’m about to answer it in this paper. If and when this issue arose during my earlier years (and it only ever came up when someone would read this 2 passages and ask for clarification; it never came up because there was a church in town trying to limit women…at least, not to my knowledge), we would simply re-frame those passages by pointing people to Galatians 3.28:

[In Christ] There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no ‘male and female,’ for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Our contention was that the old dividing lines were now no longer in play. To be fair, that’s an overly simplistic understanding of this text. I am now fairly critical of how we used this piece from Galatians for 3 reasons:

This rather vague text is insufficient to countermand the plain teachings of two other texts. Even if Galatians was meant as a “balance” to 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, it doesn’t work.

This text has nothing to do with public ministry – it concerns our salvation and our standing in Christ

Obviously, just because Paul says there is no “slave or free” doesn’t mean that every slave who becomes a Christian can now just slip off his chains and walk around without any fear; likewise, Paul simply cannot mean that men cease to be men and women cease to be women because they become Christians. There must remain some difference between each of these parties even though it seems like he’s saying those differences are somehow resolved.

Instead, I believe that Galatians 3.28 is about something else entirely; and yet, that ‘something else’ still has great bearing on the status of women in the church. My beliefs about the key significance of this passage can be summarized in 4 bullet points:

since Paul is obviously not suggesting that all differences between Jew/Greek, Slave/Free, Male/Female are abolished we must figure out what he’s getting at when we talks about those differences being resolved

his use of “no male or female” gives us a clue as to his meaning…the verbiage used here is the same as that used in the Creation accounts, showing us that Paul is once again (as he has in many other places) calling us to be a people of New Creation

as we’ll make plain later in this paper, Paul recognizes that the Creation was made “good,” and was then corrupted, before being restored and remade into New Creation

Paul is a theologian of New Creation, as it is always the affirmation and reaffirmation of the existing Creation with which he is concerned
Paul is referring, here, to the fact that things now must align with things as they were originally intended

remember that the key issue of Galatians concerns circumcision which not only set Jews apart from Gentiles but men apart from women as people of special privilege

in contrast, Paul speaks about baptism as being a spiritual equalizer, in which no one claims either inferior or superior status
Paul is ruling out any attempt to back up male privilege via either Circumcision or Ethnicity

This is important for us because…

one of the key concerns behind this “women in ministry” issue is that those who limit women effectively elevate men
much like the Jews who claimed special privilege because of their ethnicity…

…or the circumcised men who claimed special privilege because of their cultic sacrifice…

those who claim women must be subordinate to men claim special privileges for themselves in all matters of family, society, and church

as such, the issue of women in ministry is not just a theological issue, it is an issue of justice

the way that 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 have been used have not only limited women (a theological error and a hurtful slight against women) but they have also used the Scriptures to solidify their own power (a theological error and a root system for a wide labyrinth of sin)

Rather than discrediting 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, I think Galatians 3.28 is better employed as a reminder to men that our power is not secured by our sex and that we hold no special privileges.

It not a rebuttal of 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, but it does have some bearing on the issue of figuring out who God approves of to lead our churches.

Galatians 3.28 is a rebuke of men who keep power for themselves.

Moving on…

Rather than respond to the limiting passages (1 Corinthians 14 & 1 Timothy 2) I would like to begin by looking at the biblical passages that indicate both men and women are to be included in leadership roles within the church. I am confident that when we see the limiting passages in light of the whole text of the Bible they will fall into their appropriate place as specific instructions for particular situations rather than universal laws binding on every occasion.

If we choose to do it the other way, looking first at the limiting passages, it is much like trying to figure out what the Bible has to say about marriage by reading the passages on divorce.

This way, in contrast, will help us understand God’s intention and frame the limiting passages appropriately as variations within God’s plan.

To begin, let us look in the beginning…

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