Women, the Church, Masculinity and the Rest Pt. 2: Ordination of Women

This is the second post in a series of reflections stemming from recent comments regarding the role of women and the “masculine” nature of Christianity. You can read part 1 On Male Lordship in the Household here. Today, I want to address women’s role in the ministry of the Church, and more specifically the ordination of women as pastors, chaplains, missionaries, etc.

As I noted in part, I am part of a denomination (Canadian Baptists) who have ordained women for some time now. Here’s how it is expressed in This We Believe (the doctrinal document of the CBOQ):

Pastors, both men and women,
are set apart to preach the Gospel,
teach the word,
lead in worship,
and exercise pastoral care in Christ’s name.
Their ministry is a calling
initiated by God
and recognized by the local church
through ordination and induction.

I myself have sat under female pastors, and female facilitators in my field education process. Centre Street’s Sr. Pastor, Dorman has a daughter ordained within the denomination, serving alongside her husband. Obviously this points to my support for women in ordained ministry. So why then is that? Many argue that the New Testament is clear in prescribing a male only leadership. Again it isn’t as clear as we think if we read the New Testament carefully.

First though, do the Scriptures at any point give us words in favour of women in ministry. Well the obvious two examples are Romans 16 and the resurrection narratives in each of the four gospels.

Paul instructs the Romans (16:3-4):

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.

And then in 16:7:

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

Junia, a woman, is counted among the apostles, and Priscilla and Aquila are “co-workers” of Paul. Some would dismiss this, suggesting Andronicus is the one in Apostolic ministry, and Priscilla and Junia stand behind their men in ministry. But the plural “They” points to both being apostles. These women are clearly among Paul ministry team, leading in the churches, and Junia is clearly a seasoned veteran of Church leadership, predating Paul’s conversion (i.e. she is part of the earliest Church, probably in Judea or even Jerusalem- perhaps even part of the Pentecost Church).

Secondly, if we look to the resurrection narratives we see discrepancies in the events and names, but in all cases it is the women who first see and proclaim the resurrection. In Matthew it is “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary”; in Mark “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome”; In Luke  “The women… Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them”; in John “Mary Magdalene”. These women, who remained at the cross while the men disappeared (In John’s gospel just one of Jesus’ male followers sticks around long enough to see what happens) are told to proclaim the good news that the Lord was risen. Jesus chose to reveal himself to the women, and call on them to tell others. Ok, some may say that they simply go get the men so the men can lead, but I find that difficult to buy.

In Acts 1 we read that Jesus gave instructions to “the apostles he had chosen” to remain together in Jerusalem. The group that was waiting for further instructions is described as:

13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”

The women are described as being part of this Apostolic community. Perhaps they are simply there to support and care for the 11 remaining apostles, but I find it difficult to believe that these women have no share in the leadership.

Ok, now the contra arguments come from passages like 1 Corinthians 14:34-35:

34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

Once again, as with most proof-texting arguments I respond with context is key. 1 Cor. 14 as a whole is instruction on orderly worship. Verse 35 gives us an indication of how women speaking in church is causing disorder- they are interrupting with questions during worship. In a culture where women are segregated, when they suddenly join in worship, they have to be taught what is happening. Paul is saying, “hey, save your questions for later”. The disgrace is that the women have questions and no answers, and therefore, in worship they are a disruption and a distraction, not contributing. Consider the preceding verse, in which Paul tells those with Prophetic words and the gift of tongues to use them one at a time, and tongues must have interpreters present. When a prophetic word comes to one, the rest are to be quiet and hear what is being said. Same goes for the women; when someone is speaking, sit down and shut up. Stop asking questions. Make a mental note, and ask your husband, who has been hearing the word since boyhood.

As for 1 Timothy 3, men use it as weapon against women; a supposedly iron clad argument against women as Elders, deacons, and pastors. Well deaconness is in Scripture also, so we have to figure out if it is simply the feminine title for the same job, or a different job entirely. I see no reason to believe that no women in the early Church served as deacons (see the above statement from Roman 16). 1 Timothy is also advice to one specific leader in a specific context, and not law for the Church. Why would Paul tell Timothy to not allow women to lead, but then tell the Roman Church to greet the women in leadership. Obviously, it’s more complicated than many would argue.

While I don’t believe salvation rests on whether or not a professing Christian accepts the ordination of women or not, I think all Christians should be engaged, with grace, in understanding the tension within the New Testament, especially in Paul’s Epistles. Paul would hardly give contradicting commands to different churches. His words are to specific people/groups of people, and as such need to be handled with discipline and care. When dealing with Paul’s view on women, we have to keep in mind this;

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28)

When Paul wrote his letters which we now uphold as inspired, he was writing to Churches in response to challenges they were facing. The Galatians were turning from grace because of the influence of “Judaizers”. The Corinthians had factions and quarrels. Paul seems to still be working on the implications of grace for Church gatherings and structure. In 1 Cor. 14, he even appeals to the law in his instructions regarding women. Why would Paul encourage his audience to adhere to the law on women, but tell the Galatian gentiles they need not be circumcised? Clearly, there is a wrestling with grace and law happening in Paul’s mind, and not just among conservative elements.

The fact of the matter is that living in grace is not easy. We want rules to guide us, give us easy answers. But in our own historical context, the role of women is immensely different from Paul’s era. Scripturally it isn’t black and white, and we should not treat the issue as black and white now. The principle of oneness in Christ, when extended to gender roles suggests to me that men and women and co-workers, with equal access to education, and equal opportunity to serve.

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1 Response to Women, the Church, Masculinity and the Rest Pt. 2: Ordination of Women

  1. Dean Noakes says:

    Graham, thanks for a well written blog, hopefully helpful for folks outside the church to understand Centre Street better. I was a class-mate of Heather’s at MAC and count her a good friend. However, I do lean towards complimentarianism simply because I find the evidence more compelling than for egalitarianism (fewer ‘arguments from silence’ such as, “I find it hard to believe). Have a look at the decisions made at Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis, Minn. USA recently regarding this very issue. John Piper and the elders there went through an exhaustive time of reflection and actually changed their stance regarding women in ministry in their local context.
    I wish you blessing in Christ as you minister. Hi to Dorman too.

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