Comments are now closed. Thanks to all who participated in an invigorating discussion. To be continued…
One issue that came up in our recent series on The New Calvinism was that of the role of women in the church.
The TNC position (as well as that of others) is generally complementarian, favorable to a more patriarchal view of family, church, and society. Based on structures established in creation, reinforced in a fallen world, and not negated in the New Testament, men are designed to fulfill certain roles, including leadership. Women are designed differently. Though fully equal in personhood, they have been created to fulfill complementary roles that do not include holding positions of authority over men.
Complementarians would thus limit opportunities available to women for Christian vocation, particularly those of ordained, pastoral, or authoritative teaching ministries in the church.
I humbly disagree. In my view, complementarians misread the creation narratives, ignore one of the great consequences of the fall, neglect to appreciate the significant role of women in the Biblical story who subvert man-made authority systems to cooperate with God in bringing to pass his redemptive plan, fail to grasp the significance of Pentecost and the nature of the new creation community in Christ, and misread NT passages that restrict women as universal rules.
My own position has been called “egalitarian” (though I dislike the term). I believe the ideal situation is full partnership of men and women in the service of God’s Kingdom. I do not believe that strong role distinctions were part of God’s creative plan. Though men and women certainly do complement each other in many ways, are not identical, and do have some different tasks unique to their respective sexes that they are to fulfill in life, these differences do not indicate universal hard and fast “authority” and “role” structures.
My position can only be briefly outlined here. I summed up the “big picture” of what I believe in a post last week:
The entire trajectory of Scripture points to a kaleidoscopic people of God, ever more diverse, with always surprising revelations of unlikely people using their gifts in unexpected and even subversive ways to encourage [God’s] family and bless the world.
1. Man and woman were created, both in the image of God, to be equal partners in living in his blessing and representing him and fulfilling his calling in the world. The word “adam” in Gen 1 does not refer to a male individual, but to humankind as a whole, and it is humankind, male and female together, that God blesses and calls to rule over his creation (Gen 1.26-27).
2. The word “helper,” which is used to describe who Eve was created to be for Adam, does not indicate submission but a full complementary role with man (Gen 2.18). It does not imply in any way that the woman was created to be man’s “assistant,” but rather his full partner.
3. Gen 3.16 clearly states that conflict between the sexes is a result of the fall, and that man’s rule over woman will be the dominant outcome. Patriarchy (man ruling over woman) arises from a broken world, not God’s original design.
4. Much of the First Testament story leading to the coming of Messiah literally hangs on the surprising work of God through women who, despite their subservient role in society, acted in faith and sometimes took prominent or leadership roles against what their society permitted in order to advance God’s plan (examples: Tamar, the midwives in Moses’ day, Miriam, Rahab, Deborah, Ruth, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, etc.). Matthew’s genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1 even includes some of these women heroes, though in patriarchal societies women’s names were never included in such lists.
5. Mary is one of the Bible’s greatest examples of a true disciple. As Luke portrays her, she received, obeyed, and proclaimed God’s Word (Luke 1:26-56). This fits with Luke’s emphasis throughout the Gospel and Acts that God’s Spirit-filled people in the new community, both men and women, young and old, slave and free, will prophesy in the new Messianic era.
6. Women participated actively in Jesus’ ministry. It is true that none were apostles during his lifetime, but the way Jesus treated, accepted, taught, empowered, and received ministry from women sowed seeds for their full involvement in the life of the church later. The Samaritan woman was the first evangelist in Samaria, teaching the gospel to men. Mary was commended for taking the place of a disciple at Jesus’ feet rather than one who busied herself with serving, fulfilling the traditional role for women in the household. Women were the first witnesses of the resurrection, sharing the good news with the disciples themselves.
7. Was the Great Commission given only to men, or to the whole church? If to the church, that includes women, who are therefore commanded to be active in the process of making disciples and teaching them.
8. Acts 2 portrays a seminal turning point, showing that something entirely new is happening in the world: the Holy Spirit is being poured out on all kinds of people who had previously been in positions where they were not authorized to speak for God. We are now in “the last days,” an era which is marked by a priesthood of all believers. This includes women “prophesying.”
In 1Cor 11, Paul speaks of women prophesying in the church and does not disallow it. In fact, in 1Cor 14, Paul describes this as the ministry gift of the Holy Spirit that all should desire, and describes it as, “those who prophesy speak to other people for their building up and encouragement and consolation.” What is that if not teaching and/or preaching in the congregation?
(It is true that Paul issues a restriction with regard to women in 1Cor 14 as well, but this may be explained by local circumstances in Corinth. See below.)
9. NT examples such as Priscilla (named first in tandem with her husband, a very unusual thing) who apparently took a lead role and with her husband Aquila, taught Apollos; Phoebe who is called a “deacon” in the church, and Junia who is called an “apostle” (Rom 16) indicate that women held high offices in the church. In fact, when you read Romans 16 where Paul greets his friends and coworkers, there are no distinctions between men and women in the way he speaks of them and their participation in ministry. It is the same in Philippians 4, where two women are commended as Paul’s “co-workers” right along with the men.
10. Passages that seem to restrict the ministry of women may be understood in the context of local situations Paul was addressing. These situations are described in the surrounding context in each letter. Sound exegesis requires that what we draw from these passages must take that context into account, and the way we apply them in our own day must reflect the problems Paul was addressing as well as the solutions.
For example, Paul, by the inspiration of the Spirit, did not permit untaught women in Ephesus who were being influenced by false teachers (1Tim. 1.3-4, 5.14-15, 2Tim 3.5-6) to teach or usurp (seize) authority over men in the church. (1Tim 2)
In 1Tim 2, where some say Paul forbade “teaching and exercising authority over men,” the restriction is not stated as a command, but as a statement of Paul’s policy. The imperative for women in the passage is that they should “learn,” which in the ancient world would have been controversial and a huge step forward for women. Paul was restricting their participation at that point because they were not ready, and there was a problem with false doctrine that was attracting women in Ephesus. On the other hand, where women are well taught, hold sound doctrine, and are capable of teaching, they should be allowed to do so, and welcomed by the church as gifts from God.
11. Finally, the overall arc of the Biblical story is from creation to new creation. In Jesus, the new creation has begun to break in to this present age. This means that we who follow Christ must alter our views of all earthly categories that characterize this fallen world: family (Mark 3.31-15), marriage (1Cor 7, Eph 5), children (Matt 18.1-5), slavery (Eph 6, Col 4, Philemon), who may speak for God (Acts 2.17-18), and authority structures (Matt 20.24-28).
This is where a passage like Galatians 3.28 comes in, with its insistence that the old categories simply no longer apply in the same way they did before for those who are now in Christ.
To summarize: I believe the ideal situation is full partnership of men and women in the service of God’s Kingdom.
For Further Reading
For an excellent and fuller description of the way I understand the Scriptural teaching on this subject, check out the summary at the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. They don’t share my view, but do provide a very good summary of it, and I appreciate that they have taken the time to understand it and think through it.
Part 4 of Scot McKnight’s book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, is devoted to showing how reading the Bible as Story makes a difference when considering issues like women in ministry. This particular issue is treated as a case study of the various ways we approach the Scriptures.