Monday, October 11, 2010

Concerning Women in Christian Ministry - IX


A couple of years ago I heard a famous pastor make a sarcastic remark about the issue of women in leadership. This pastor is a fundamentalist conservative who denies women the office of elder within his church and seems to enjoy the controversy that surrounds this (and many other) decisions.

In response to someone defending the full inclusion of women at the highest levels of church leadership, he said: the Bible clearly states women cannot lead; yet, somehow you’ve found a magical fancy way to try and make it say anything but that.

That’s a common (albeit thoughtless) criticism and I’d like to respond to it here precisely because it is so [1] common and [2] thoughtless.

This critique holds no water for three reasons:

1. The texts of 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 do not, in actual fact, plainly state that women cannot be elders, pastors, apostles, etc. particularly when we read the entire letters of 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy (though the surrounding sections will usually suffice), rather than just these 3 or 4 verses, we find that Paul is saying some revolutionary things, among them:

· women should learn

· women should be permitted to be involved in public ministry

· women should be permitted to lead gatherings and congregations

However, there are some stipulations: women must be modest and must conduct themselves in orderly ways. Additionally, women are warned not to try and exert dominance over men (as was the case in the Artemis cult) nor should they be permitted to chit chat all the way through church services to their friends or interrupt the service with pestering questions.

2. Our “fancy talk” is not clever rhetoric designed to escape the clear meaning of Scripture. Any fanciness is what scholars refer to as hermeneutical exegesis – it is the way we correctly interpret Scripture according to the basic rules of authorship, intent, content, recipients, structure, and (most importantly) context.

If I’m correct, the real accusation behind “fancy talk” is not our willingness to talk deeply about Scripture but a suspicion that we are trying to get around the unpopular bits of Scripture in order to appeal somehow to our contemporary audience. In this argument, I think our opponents believe we are catering to the popular vote and afraid to fully stand behind the teaching of our Bible.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth. There are counter-cultural (and woefully unpopular) teachings within the Scriptures – like abstinence, loving your enemies, and moderation in all things (just to name a few). We at Westwinds have no problem preaching counter-to-the-culture when the biblical text requires we do so; however, in this case no such requirement has been made.

3. Our engagement with the males-are-in-charge interpretation of this text is (again) not due to our cowardess in the face of cultural opposition but grounded in a deep-seeded belief that Paul’s letters should be properly understood through careful study, scrutiny, cross-reference, and care. We are not trying to get it to say anything other than what it says…we are simply trying to figure out what Paul meant his original audience to hear, and what his original audience understood Paul to mean in their setting.

In sum, I think it safe to say that any supposed prohibitions against women in leadership and ministry are easily overcome by proper biblical exegesis and the overwhelming precedent of biblical and historical examples.

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