Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Women in Ministry... and fidelity to the Bible

I had an interesting lunch meeting yesterday with a professor from Seattle Pacific University, centered around the topic of Women in Ministry. Ordained in a denomination that doesn't allow women in leadership, this man shared his story with me of transformation FROM a patriarchal view of the subject, to an egalitarian view.

I think what bothers me most in this realm is that the patriarchal proponents declare themselves to be upholding the faithfulness of the text, charging that anyone who allows women to teach or lead in the church is 'accommodating' the winds of culture and departing from fidelity to the text.

But here are some facts to consider:
1. the first two centuries of the church are nothing less than a testimony of women increasingly involved in leadership within the community. Their leadership is quite limited at the time the scriptures were written because the Roman empire was a culture of subjugation of women, and they thus lacked even the basic educational background that would have enabled them to lead. But as they came to Christ, they began to participate in the life of church, became educated, and those gifted as leaders took up that mantle.
2. It was only after Constantine mandated the faith as the state religion that its expressions became wed to the prevailing power structures of Rome which were, of course, patriarchal. This structure has held sway over most (but not all) of the church, ever since.
3. A careful reading of the text, to gather historical context, leads one to the conclusion that Paul is addressing specific issues for a specific time and place in the questionable texts of I Corinthians 14, and I Timothy 2. That this is true is evident because Paul enjoins absolute silence, for example, in I Cor. 14, while in I Cor. 11 he says that women who prophecy in church should have their heads covered. It must be obvious that the 14 passage isn't an absolute precept, because if it is, Paul violates the very same precept in his own teaching.

Here's an important bottom line for people to wrestle with: There are lots of us who believe woman can be called and gifted for leadership, and we teach this, not out of a desire to accommodate culture, but out of a desire to be faithful to the Bible. Careful study of text leads one heavily towards this conclusion, as demonstrated in this book. I don't mind people disagreeing with the conclusion. What bothers me is the charge that those of us who don't embrace patriarchal structures for the church are on some slippery slope towards a fateful abyss which will rob men of their masculinity and the Bible of it's authority.

My response to such charges - Study harder. Treat Paul's texts regarding women the same way you do the rest of the Bible: consider the cultural context as part of your hermeneutic, and consider anecdotes within the broader scope of scripture (such as Junias the female apostle in Romans 16) which contradict patriarchal readings of the broader text. Careful study, not cultural accommodation, is the basis for seeing that women should be called to use their gifts, whether serving or leading, just as men. This, it seems to me, is what being faithful to the text looks like.

Your thoughts?


At 12/4/07 15:48, Blogger BenMc said...

I have to note that, to remain faithful to the text, we also can't avoid the conclusion that Paul was partially "patriarchal." That is, 1 Cor. 11 makes a detailed argument from creation that is harder to contextualize (but actually at its heart similar to) 1 Cor. 14. Richard B Hays' commentary on 1 Cor. does a good job of pointing this out while still making it clear that women played a huge role in the early church.

Also, the texts by Peter about men and women have to be accounted for, and since all these were building on Genesis, Genesis itself.

In the end, I end up convinced that we have a female "Apostle to the Apostles" in Mary Magdelene and we have Junia the female Apostle in Rom. 16 and "Chloe's people" in 1 Cor., a Phoebe pastor of Cenchrea in Rom. 16. So bottom line is I'm for hiring female pastors, because I see female pastors operating in the early church.

However, the clear patriarchial slant of Paul and Peter must be understood. And, most importantly, it must be realized that despite that slant they accepted females as apostles, supporters, co-workers, and at least one pastor (Phoebe). And that one of Paul's foundational statements said "there is ... no male and female." If even your patriarchal-leaning guys were acting like Peter and Paul, then we clearly have something unusual going on in the early church with women doing a lot of good things.

So yes, let's be faithful to the whole Bible and let's put women where God puts them to announce the risen Messiah.

At 12/4/07 17:41, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

My own understanding of Paul's and Peter's 'patriarchal' elements is that they're more related to the husband/wife union than roles in the churches. The conversations about gender roles in the church need to be kept distinct from discussions of headship in the marriage, an issue worthy of its own blog entry.

At 13/4/07 09:19, Anonymous lisa said...

"A careful reading of the text, to gather historical context, leads one to the conclusion that Paul is addressing specific issues for a specific time."

So many of the arugments that you lay out in this post are the very same ones that I use to try to get people to reconsider what the bible says about homosexuality. When will we begin to apply this same standard and level of questioning to our assumptions regarding my life and the lives of so many others like me?

At 13/4/07 14:11, Anonymous donte said...

Perhaps I am more liberal than I’d like to admit in my interpretation of the Bible, but I’ve struggled to accept that the New Testament writers (excluding Jesus) were 100% precise in the elucidation of their God inspired letters. All of the writers (excluding Jesus) of the New Testament were humans born of sin and they were fallible, just as we are fallible. They were writing to fallen people in a fallen world; trying to explain Godly truths to new Christians and non-believers. Just as Pastors struggle to interpret God’s word today, I am certain that the Apostles struggled to propagate their views and understanding of the character of God.

With all that said, I still believe that the Bible should be the definitive authority in the lives of all Christians—not so that we try to apply every verse to our lives or compare and contrast what is or is not culturally relevant to post-modern Christians—but so that we remember God’s promises, understand His love, and model His character.

At 13/4/07 15:31, Blogger BenMc said...

Richard, I agree, the Peter passages are pretty much clearly husband-wife things, and 1 Cor. 14 is, but I don't think 1 Cor. 11 is. The thing is, all three contain arguments from Genesis, so that's why I think we should be careful to assign the first two to "husbands and wives" and the third to "gender in worship."

I think the strongest point is, even if we don't put the passages into separate categories, Paul clearly endorses active female leadership in the church (at the same time, he always refers to everyone as "brothers," so what's up with that?). If it's Actions vs. our interpretation of words, clearly actions win.

I think if we're too quick to categorize and dissect passages into "specific meanings" we leave ourselves open to other problems. The history speaks clearly on the prominent role of women in the 1st century, so let's build on that.

Lisa, although many of the same arguments can be made w/r/t other topics, I don't find any positive examples of the early church including, for example, homosexuals in leadership or even the hint of allowing that. The closest thing is Jesus' healing of the centurion's companion in the Gospels, but I think it's jumping to conclusions to equate a healing act of compassion with a normative rule for the entire church's sexual ethic. Obviously, comments don't do justice to this issue, so I hesitate to say anything more lest it be misconstrued, but I find a narrative throughout the Bible of liberation of the slaves and empowerment (for lack of a better word) of women. I don't see anything similar for sexual matters, which you term "refusal" but I simply say I've looked and I remain unconvinced. Perhaps someday Richard will start another thread on this if he's brave!

At 13/4/07 23:08, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for raising this topic. Why can't we, as Christians discuss things like this without arguing, pointing fingers, and perhaps in the worst case scenario condeming the other side? That is not to imply that I accept all things, but I think often outsiders see more of our bickering than they do our love.

At 17/4/07 07:37, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Men, for as long as women have existed, for the most part, have struggled with lust toward women. It's how we're wired. I wish I could ask God why He pretty much gave us a propensity to be tempted, and therefore sin...but who am I, the formed, to ask God 'Why did you make me like this?' So in the context of 2000 years ago to today, men are and have been struggling with the same thing. Then and now, God calls us to resist "how we're wired", and be holy. I don't see anywhere in the Bible--regardless of the time and space it was written--where heterosexuality, unchecked, is ok, any more than I can see that homosexuality, acted upon, is ok. To connect the topic of women teaching/leading in the church and homosexuality seems, to me, to be a comparison of the apples and oranges variety.

At 17/4/07 12:47, Anonymous Lisa said...

I've only asked others to honestly revisit the issue of homosexuality. I did not implore anyone to agree with me. And I never accused anyone of "refusing" either.

Furthermore, I think comparing unchecked heterosexual lust (or homosexual lust for that matter) to a committed same-gender relationship is comparing apples to oranges.

I wasn't comparing the issue of women serving in positions of leadership to the issue of homosexuality, only calling for a similar open and honest discussion of the way we approach the topic.

Finally, I think it's too easy to make blanket and definitive claims in anonymity.

At 18/4/07 10:36, Blogger BenMc said...

Hi Lisa,

Looking back at your earlier comment, I regret that I used the word "refusal" to characterize your question because you didn't use that word -- sorry about that! I was trying in 100 words or less to at least show some of the thinking I have done on that particular issue, taking the same historical/narrative angle that I take on the other issue (and the issue of slavery in the Bible), so I was attempting to answer your question with something substantive. My summary of your question was a bit too summary, and I apologize for that. Anything more on this thread is probably off topic!

Yours, Ben

At 20/4/07 18:07, Anonymous Anonymous said...

God bless you on your spiritual journey, Richard. This has warmed my heart in a special way today.
Paul (ICC)

At 24/4/07 18:26, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think of how I have spent my life, NOT being able to exercise what I feel is a call (teaching/preaching), and trying to work in other ways "acceptable in a patriarchal system" and not feeling fulfilled. What a waste of so many womens' lives ... to feel unfulfilled rather than challenged and mentored into the full use of gifts which is what would have happened were we men (even though, apart from the intellectual neglect I experience from conservative church leaders, I'm happy to be a woman!).


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