Friday, March 10, 2017

How can women minister?

The other day, I heard a woman on the radio, Christian radio, being interviewed about women's ministries.  She was from Moody Bible Institute, so I figured she'd be pretty conservative.

However, she kept saying that the church needed to step up and allow women more and better opportunities to serve in their giftings, which may even include teaching.  She remarked that the church seems stuck in old traditions of not allowing women to serve.

Obviously we shouldn't allow mere tradition to rule us.  However, in terms of women's ministries, it's not only traditions.  There are scriptures that address the issue.

1 Timothy 2:12 says, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.  She must be silent."  I was in a Bible study once when this verse uncomfortably surfaced.  The Bible study leader said, "Hmmm. Yes, well, that's one of the most unclear scriptures in the Bible."  I don't think I argued with him (he was a man and I am a woman), but my thought was, "It isn't the least bit unclear.  It is perfectly clear."  The only thing that isn't clear about that passage is how, in today's American culture, you can possibly apply such a scripture without coming off as a bigot and fiend.

People insist, "But it's cultural."  However, if you look at the context of the quote, it goes on to reference Adam and Eve, and original sin (1 Timothy 2:13-15).  This would seem to transcend culture.  I'm just saying.

Continuing on, people challenge, "So then if you want to implement all this stuff, are you going to make women wear head coverings?"  Of course, here they are talking about 1 Corinthians 11:5-6.  It seems to me that the issue of head coverings actually does qualify as cultural, as far as those sorts of things go, since hats are vanishing from American culture, unless you are in a blizzard or at a baseball game.  Our outer costumes are not as important as the condition of our hearts.  Earlier in the same chapter, 1 Corinthians 11:3 gives some heart-challenging, culture-transcending principles that I think we cannot so easily sidestep.  1 Corinthians 11:3 says, "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God."  In other words, God is the head of Christ, who is the head of man, who is the head of woman.  This seems to have nothing to do with one culture or another, and everything to do with the authority structure that God has implemented since the beginning.

But then the people say, "Well what about Galatians 3:28, where it says that in Christ there is neither male nor female?"  The actual verse says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."  The point is not that men and women, Jews and Greeks, slaves and free men, are all one and the same and indistinguishable.  The point is that no matter who we are, regardless of race, gender or economic class, we are all equally loved by God and have equal access to salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  It's about access to salvation, not access to the pulpit.  In other words, salvation isn't only for rabbis.  1 Corinthians 12:13 underscores the exact same idea (albeit leaving out the "male or female") when it says, "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink."  In context, this verse underscores that regardless of our gifts or function, we are all different, complimentary members of one body, the body of Christ.

Finally, of course, there is the argument, "But Deborah got to be a leader and a judge!"  However, if you are truly familiar with the book of Judges, and with that story (Judges 4), you realize that this was a time of national deterioration for Israel, when the leadership of the nation was in chaos.  A woman had stepped up to do the job, but--again if you are familiar with the book of Judges--this can hardly be held up as an example or an ideal.  Furthermore, when fearful Barak refused to go into battle unless Deborah went with him, she told him he would be shamed for his cowardice by having the honor of the victory go to a woman (Judges 4:9).  Clearly, the more desirable arrangement would have been for men to step up and be men.  Invoking the example of Deborah to endorse leadership rights for women in the church, this is on the level of invoking Habakkuk 1:5 to assure people that God always has benevolent plans for their near-term future.

Elizabeth Eliott used to say that she didn't write the Book, she was just pointing out what it said.  She even admitted to not always liking everything it said.  I'm with her, and at the end of the day, I think it is always a very bad idea to ignore what the Bible says.  That's all I'm saying.

Seriously, I don't like where it says that a woman should learn in quietness and full submission, that she must be silent (from 1 Timothy 2:11-12).  I especially don't like the part in 1 Corinthians where it says that women should remain silent in the churches, that they are not allowed to speak, and if they want to ask about something, they should wait and ask their husbands at home, because it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).  I don't like this, and I've never seen it practiced.  However, knowing that it's there, I sometimes wonder if we're embarking upon a treacherous route when we totally dismiss it.  Not liking a part of the Bible is no excuse for disregarding it.  If we're going to throw this out, what else are we going to throw out?  Shall we pitch everything that conflicts with our current cultural sensibilities?  Indeed, some churches do.  But isn't that what we call "friendship with the world"?   James 4:4 warns us that friendship with the world puts us at enmity with God.  Serious business.

I'm not saying I have the answers.  No.  I have no answers.  Myself, I've always just drawn the line at women teaching or having authority over men.  That's my comfort level.  I don't feel comfortable teaching or having authority over men, or being in a place where other women do.  However, I speak up in church.  I participate in Sunday school and small group discussions.  So I'm inconsistent.  I clearly disobey the parts of the Bible that say women should be silent in church.  I have simply selected my own personal comfort level and drawn the line there.  This probably isn't okay.

On yet another hand, I've been in situations where women are disrespected and marginalized in church settings.  I believe this is also contrary to principles in scripture.  The Bible speaks of wise women being consulted on certain matters (2 Samuel 14:2, 2 Samuel 20:16-22).  The Bible tells the praiseworthy stories of Rahab, Ruth, Abigail and Esther.  God honored Mary by bringing Messiah to earth through her very body.  Jesus was very kind to and accepting of women; He even defended some.  Think of all the gospel stories where Jesus reached out to women, too many to list.  Jesus did not demean women.  Although I believe that male leadership should be protected, nurtured and encouraged in the church, I also know that power corrupts, and males can be prone to lording it over women and oppressing them, just as females can be prone to usurping male authority.  It's such a mess.

What to do?  What are we supposed to do?

I have no answers.


Priscilla said...

This is a difficult subject to broach. I'm going to try and I hope I don't regret that I put my foot into it.

I agree that men need to be the spiritual leaders. Women should not be placed in a position of authority over man in the church. "She must be silent." (I don't like it either.)

However, I think that there should be caution against women "never ever" being able to teach men. Yeah...I know you are pointing to that scripture again. For the most part, I agree...but I think it has to do with being in a position of authority. As you said, there are women who enjoy being in that position and usurping the authority of men. I'm just thinking about the time that Apollos needed more instruction about the gospel. Here is the scripture that I am referring to in Acts chapter 18:24-26.

24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

The scripture includes Priscilla. It does not say "and Aquila invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately." It says "they." The difference is one of authority. Priscilla wasn't lording it over the situation. She wasn't usurping Aquila. They were ministry partners. I think this scripture indicates that Apollos learned something from Priscilla. She taught Him something. So did Aquila. There is nothing in this passage that says that Priscilla was out of line here.

Also...has the Lord ever shown you something in scripture and you shared it with Sean? Is that sinful? What if Sean got a blessing out of what you shared with him? Are you out of line? I suppose you might be if you have an ulterior manner in showing it to him. Like correcting him on something that annoys you...but somehow I doubt you are that sort of person. I wasn't picturing that when I started this little example. (Honest)

Priscilla said...

Sorry. I just realized that I spelled your husbands name incorrectly. Shawn.

Ruthie said...

This is a very comforting thought.

Haha! Of course you would remember the story of Priscilla in the Bible!

This is a comforting thought, and I thank you for sharing it.

Yes, certainly Shawn and I talk about the Bible together and learn from each other when we do! I don't think that's what the passages I referenced address (or, it would come under the "she should ask her own husband at home" part of 1 Cor. 14). I think the passages where Paul says a woman should be silent are specifically about what happens when the church meets together as a body for worship. Paul is discussing orderly worship.

I think I can be quite at peace with the idea of women being silent during the worship service and the preaching of the Word on Sunday morning in the sanctuary. Most people are silent in there anyway, except for the pastor. So as long as the pastor is a man, it should all be good.

I am deeply reassured by the example of Priscilla and Aquila teaching together in their home and over their work. This suggests to me that definitely in small group Bible studies in homes, and perhaps (I hope!) in Sunday school classes, it is not displeasing to God for women to participate and contribute.

Thank you again for your comment!