Friday, February 03, 2012

What About Women in Ministry?

For the last few weeks I have been teaching a class on How to Read the Bible For All It's Worth (partly inspired by the book of the same name written by renown Bible scholar Gordon Fee). For this coming weeks teaching I wanted to look at how we might wrestle with some of the passages from the Bible that are a little more difficult. So for this week's lesson I have been doing a lot of reading on the subject of women in ministry.

I have to say that I never really thought much about women in ministry at all (for or against) until about 5 years ago when the greater Vineyard movement began to really wrestle with this idea on a national level. The church of which I was a part at that time held to a soft complimentarian view on this subject meaning that women could serve in most aspects of the church except for being the senior pastor and perhaps even on teaching the whole church (I am not sure if that was the actual view or just how it worked out). I would say though that after years of wrestling with this issue from both sides that I have come down to more of an Egalitarian position on this subject which sees that both men and women can serve in any capacity in church even as a senior pastor or teacher for the whole congregation.

The bulk of the controversy on this issue arises from two passages written by the Apostle Paul. These passages are: 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-14

At first glance these scriptures seem very harsh. Forget about women ministering in church these seem to say that they must keep their mouths shut the whole time. I don't know of any churches that seem to take Paul literally enough as to make women completely silent in church (this would go for churches that are hard complimentarians as well). So most churches soften Paul's meaning while trying to keep some semblance of what he is getting at.

I realized this morning that the controversy of women in ministry is making its way into the national conversation due to some comments by John Piper on why the church needs to be more masculine. I read a little on this at Scot McKnight's blog: John Piper, What He Said

One of the best papers that I have read on the subject of women in ministry is by Frank Viola. Go check out his paper Reimagining a Woman's Role in the Church

Have you ever looked into this issue?
How have you wrestled with it?
Where have you landed on the subject?


Pete said...

John Howard Yoder “Politics of Jesus”--- Paul subverted patriarchy in his household codes. "Sure, you are the head (which actually means origin)! So then act meek and like Jesus, which means you will listen to the wife as a cherished equal.” My father is a humble man, and kind. He told me as a kid that marriage was 51/49 (man in change) and bought into complementarian stuff, but later said "it is always a dance of equals. it was never the man in charge. I valued your mother too much to treat her subordinately.” 

I was at Baylor when I switched my mind about women's ordination. I had a moderate baptist friend who kept picking away at my fundamentalism. he pointed out that in every move of the spirit, women are propelled into strong leadership roles. I am trying to think back to what specific things changed my mind. It was mostly that he took the bible seriously but saw it different than me. I am now in a denomination that ordains women. Some of the best preachers and pastors I know are women. Jesus gave women more freedom than I think Paul did. It is pretty obvious to me that the bible's context was a patriarchal, androcentric, and sometimes misogynist world. And that begs the question of Gender from what we know today. Gender is more complex that 95% of people every even think about. try being a guy in taxes who hated all sports and was raised by a father who said no christian could defend himself from violence, I never fit into the “manly man” model. I don't buy into male/female stereotypes. I stay at home and take grad school classes and my wife earns all the money. in Christ (so in the body of Christ)--there is neither male nor female). when it says women should be silent, it means "don't chatter on while people are talking" because women had new freedom and were abusing it. When he said women can't have authority over a man, it probably meant over their own husband (I am a prophet and god told me to tell you to do the dished!) “I do not permit a woman to usurp authority over her husband” think about it. Quiet introvert husband, firebrand wife who says she hears directly from god....women had great freedom in early church and Paul was trying to tamp down abuses of said equality and freedom.


greenturtle said...

Wow, this is a lot of articles! You should start a blog! Oh wait, this IS a blog.

As you know, some denominations don't allow women in ministry, and in fact some don't even allow divorced men to be in ministry.

I do believe there are certain qualifications for people to be in ministry and especially leadership roles, but, gender isn't one of them.

I don't believe it's enough to just be a Christian, or to "feel called" into ministry.

Experience, maturity, insight, wisdom. Someone who has taken a few years to work through their own personal issues.

While I don't believe age alone is a qualifier, I don't personally think anyone under 30, has any business in a ministry/leadership role.

That's not a biblical standard, and that doesn't mean God can't use them at any particular time.

It's just common sense; Most people under 30 simply aren't mature or experienced enough, for that kind of responsibility.

All too often, young people "feel called" into ministry, or are selected for it based strictly on a popularity contest.

So then they're thrust (or they thrust themselves) into roles that they're not qualified to do, and find themselves in over their head.

They can't handle the responsibility, so they end up doing more harm than good to the people under them, before they just get overwhelmed and quit.

I must reiterate that age alone is not a qualifier; Older people can be just as dysfunctional.

Longevity as a Christian alone is not a qualifier either. As I said, maturity, insight, and experience.

And popularity definitely isn't a qualifier, although that's almost always what the selection is based on.

So, to answer your original question, no I don't think being a woman has any bearing on whether you should or should not be in ministry.

I do believe that those selected should have some common sense qualifications, however, which are not in the bible, which is why common sense should come into play.

greenturtle said...

Having said all of that, and being a woman myself, I can say this:

Most women do have a tendency to fly by their own emotions, when making decisions.

And, having a tendency to fly by your own emotions instead of rational thought, can certainly hinder your ability in a ministry/leadership role.

I'm just saying.

Ben Davis said...

This is an interesting discussion, and actually my wife and I have been discussing this as of late. Crispin, you and Dina know my wife well. She was brought up mainly by a very accomplished, single mom who was very strong on women fending for themselves, getting their own degree, and never trusting men (understandable so given her experience). What's been absolutely amazing to me is my wife's own movement toward a complimentarian position in our home as well as the church. This has been without any input from me whatsoever!!! I've never demanded that she submit to me or voiced a strong male leadership viewpoint, and yet she has come to this firm conviction herself from her own study of the Scriptures. I just think it's interesting from a personal note that my wife, who is a very strong and gifted person, seems most fulfilled and flourishing when I assume the leadership in my home.

I do believe that men should hold ultimate authority in the church and in the home. The verse you stated from 1 Timothy (and others such as Eph 5) is the reason why. In that verse Paul goes back to the order of creation. Though it be unpopular in our modern context, God's order is that men assume ultimate authority. I believe that women should be free to do basically everything else imaginable in ministry and have been very blessed by women in ministry, but do not believe they should assume roles of ultimate authority.

Ben Davis said...

Let me just add that I believe this Divine order is God's best, His plan A, but that it is not the unpardonable sin. I would liken it to divorce in the sense that when Jesus was asked why Moses allowed divorce he stated that it was because of the "hardness of your heart." Jesus says that from the beginning this was not God's best plan. I think something similar is in play here. I believe the Scriptures clearly reveal God's best plan and created order is that man assume the headship. However, He does use women in these roles (In other words, I don't think a woman pastor is sinning).

greenturtle said...

Joyce Meyer is head of her own ministry, not her husband, and it seems to thrive.

I realize she's the exception, not the rule.

But it's not because women aren't capable; It's just tradition.

On the other hand, just because you happen to be the wife of a minister, doesn't mean that you yourself are cut out for ministry.

I've seen that happen too; The wife feels obligated to play some kind of ministry role, so they thrust themselves into something that they have no business doing, instead of just being the wife.

Not everyone is cut out to be a leader, male or female.

Penny Murray said...

I grew up in a complementarian faith culture. This was something I never really thought to question since I thought scripture was clear on this issue. In fact, I would have disagreed strongly with anyone who thought otherwise. However, over the past 10 years,
I've come to land in the Egalitarian camp.

When this topic comes up, I like to see the conversation shift from Power and Authority, over to Love, Servanthood, and Submission to Christ....because I think that is what Paul was getting at.

Sometimes I fear we have taken the corporate America organizational flow chart and confused it for Paul's words. We are called to be servants. To wake up and wash feet. To ask how we can love and serve those around us even when they aren't loving and serving us. Christ died for us while we were enemies and we are called to take up our own crosses in that same way. We are called to submit one to another. This would never play out in Corporate America. It would be considered foolishness. Why are we assuming the Corporate America model in our churches then?

We are called to see the Holy Spirit moving and honor and submit to what he is doing, and to remember that in the Kingdom, there is neither male or female but that we are all one in Christ. Christ showed us what it looks like to be the true King, when he emptied himself and made himself nothing and became a servant. This is truly the upside down Kingdom where the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

We know that God has given us all different giftings and I believe we are to be concerned about where the Holy Spirit is moving rather than whether it is a man or a woman he is using. (Acts 2:17-18.) There are certainly instances in scripture of women being afirmed in leadership roles and we have to consider this issue in light of the whole of scripture and the breaking in and the trajectory of the Kingdom.

Obviously, people who take scripture very seriously and follow Christ come out on different sides on this issue and I a respect this is a complicated topic. We have to stay respectful, humble, and open in our discussions. I don't believe it is quite as "simple" as either side makes it out to be at times. We are called to wrestle with scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-14 in their own context and the context of the entire biblical narrative and work out what is prescriptive and what is descriptive. I grew up in a Complementarian environment, but women were certaintly not "silent" in church. We were could talk to our pastors and ask questions. We could wear jewelry and braid our hair. We didn't cover our heads before we prayed. We are all trying to reconcile what verses are prescriptive and descriptive for women. Whether we like it or not, we must wrestle with the intention of Paul's words to his specific and original audience before we can decide how they work out in our day and culture.

Crispin Schroeder said...

I recently read The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight. I love his treatment on this topic as well as others. He would refer to the above scriptures by Paul as "blue parakeets". His analogy comes from watching birds in his back yard. One day a blue parakeet showed up. It's arrival caused the other birds to get riled up a bit. But also the arrival of the blue parakeet caused a lot of questions to arise: why is it here? Where did it come from? etc. McKnight observes that there are many blue parakeet scriptures in the Bible which cause us to stop and question and wrestle through the meanings of certain scriptures (though many people don't stop and wrestle but rather just ignore them and go on.)

These scriptures definitely fall in the 'blue parakeet' variety. I guess what makes me question the above scriptures is how harsh they seem nowadays. If the overwhelming majority of Christians believe that it is okay for women to speak in church, to come to church with their heads uncovered, to wear jewelry etc. then why do we stop there?

I think one of the problems with the way this question is dealt with has to do with using only a couple of scriptures to back up a point of view. The truth is that there were no women with the title senior pastor in the New Testament, but there weren't any man with that title either (this is more of a recent phenomenon). But there were definitely leaders of the church that were women: Lydia, who was the head of her household who hosted the church of Philippi in her home (Acts 16:12), Priscilla, who along with her husband Aquilla mentored Appollos, and then Junia who was counted as a fellow apostle by Paul (Romans16:7). These are just a few examples of women who lead the church in some capacity. The question is: how does one reconcile Paul's words on women being silent and not ruling over men with the fact that he obviously took no issue with these other women being in leadership roles (many of which would look like senior pastor roles today)?

This is what makes this a blue parakeet. These verses raise very serious questions with their arrival. Are we to take them literally? Were they simply speaking to issues in that church at that time? Was this a cultural issue that is now obsolete in our modern age?

Jesus had a few blue parakeet passages as well. In one of his teachings Jesus encouraged his followers to hate their mothers and fathers. Was Jesus saying that we have justification to hate our families? To answer this perhaps we should look at what Jesus said in that verse in light of everything else he said and did. The truth is that Jesus never did anything that wasn't out of love and much of his teachings centered around loving God, loving people, and even loving enemies. So when I read Jesus' words about hate I know they can't mean what they seem to mean on an initial reading because they would contradict the entire ministry of Jesus. He must have meant something else there!

The two above verses by Paul seem to contradict his own actions as well as some of his own writings so the question is whether what was written about women being silent in church was addressing a particular situation or wether it was a universal mandate for all time. The same goes for women not leading in the church.

I am no feminist nor do I care for feminist readings of scripture (or capitalist, socialist, republican, or democrat readings for that matter). This issue is not simply about women in ministry but of how we read the Bible (particularly these really difficult passages) and how we apply the word to our lives in this modern context.

Thanks everyone for your input on this topic. While I landed on a few things that seem to make sense on this issue I feel as though I am really still wrestling with what this looks like.

Ben Davis said...

Hey guys, I agree that each Scripture should be examined in light of the entire Bible and and the overall Biblical narrative. The best way to interpret Scripture is with Scripture itself.

First, let me say I don't think this is a discussion about what biblical, Christ-like leadership should look like. We all know that it should be a far cry from corporate America and demonstrate the servant heart of Christ. That much is crystal clear in the Bible. I think that's a completely different discussion. The question we're dealing with is whether or not women should be afforded senior leadership positions within the church.

If you take this question and examine it throughout the entire Bible I believe it is quite clear that the answer is no. You can certainly find references to women in influential positions, as well as, places where we understand that because of the cross all have equal access to God regardless of ethnicity, religious heritage, social status and gender (the verse mentioned in Colossians). My challenge to you would be to find any place in the Bible that speaks to issues of authority and the Divine order that do not teach that man should hold that position.

When Paul talks about head coverings, being silent in church, etc what is he really talking about? Symbols of authority. Order. The issue is not that women must cover their heads, but be under authority. Again, if you examine the Scriptures on the issue of authority you will find consistent instruction that there is a God-given order that should be honored.

A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man;9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.1 Cor 11:7-12

Paul gives a great explanation here and speaks of God's designed order, but he also points out that men are not independent of women and that everything comes from God. It is not an issue of inferiority but authority. And, as noted, we know what Christ-like authority should look like.

The above verse is not much different than the previous one discussed from 1 Timothy. Paul goes back to God's plan in the garden and the creation. Abuses in authority cause us to question it and rebel (been there done that). However, all authority comes from God and should be honored. I simply invite you to investigate what the Bible says on the issue of authority.

Crispin Schroeder said...


In the church of which you are a pastor, Deven and Kathy are both listed as pastors on the web site. Does Kathy have pastoral authority? Is it over men at all? Does she have any authority over you?

I am not trying to be argumentative here but to see how that works in your context. Because I wonder how you reconcile a woman on staff as a pastor with the views that you have espoused. Please don't hear any negative tone in my comment.

Ben Davis said...

I am only arguing that women should not hold positions of ultimate authority in the church (not that women should not have any authority). I read the articles you listed and they were very helpful and enlightening. I do believe there is a thread of God-appointed authority throughout the Bible. In our church, Pastor Kathy does exercise a considerable amount of authority, but she is not the senior leader. However, I have learned a great deal from her leadership in my own life and am happy to submit to women in ministry. Certainly we need strong male and female leadership within the church, and I fully embrace women being released in every aspect of ministry. My understanding of the Scripture is that it is best for men to hold the position of ultimate authority/leadership in the church. (This has been our practice...whenever Pastor Deven has been traveling or unable to function in that role I have held that position in his stead)

Again, thanks for the discussion and articles. Glad to learn and benefit from your perspective.

Crispin Schroeder said...

Thanks for clarifying. I have pretty much been where you are on this issue for most of my journey but I am just wrestling again with what this actually looks like. I appreciate the conversation on this one. Thanks for sharing bro.

Crispin Schroeder said...

I was sent a link to this article on the same subject written by a Bible Scholar within the Assemblies of God.