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Monday, April 18, 2005

Theology Tuesday: Women and Church Leadership

The recent passing of Pope John Paul II has led to a (not unexpectedly) plethora of polls and pundits claiming that changes need to be made with the next pope. One of these, also expected, is the demand to put women in the priesthood.

The Catholic Church has a long establish set of doctrines to explain why there are only males in the priesthood. It is not my place to defend the Catholic Church’s doctrines, as I am no longer part of it. However, we can reasonably conclude that they likely have a solid theological justification for their restrictions.

We start with the somewhat controversial command by St. Paul in his first letter to Timothy:

But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
-St. Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy, Chapter 2, Verses 12

The very first thing said when this verse is brought up is ALWAYS “That was just the culture of the time”. However, if we can use that argument here, why can’t we use it everywhere? I do not present that we should not understand the context of Scripture, but that we should examine the whole context, not just those portions which support our 21st century Western ideas. Specifically, we should always start with the Scriptural context before considering the cultural context. Here:

I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array. But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
-St. Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy, Chapter 2, Verses 8-15

Clearly, commands are being given to men and women here. Men are to pray, and to maintain their faith and their patience – not an easy command, as men tend to want to fix it themselves and get mad when we don’t! Women are, by contrast, cautioned against focusing on their outward appearance. Why are the women cautioned on this and not the men? It’s common sense – women are more likely to be a distraction due to their outward appearance then men are. It doesn’t matter that we don’t want to admit it – the truth is timeless.

We can also get some help from Matthew Henry, who wrote 1600 years after St. Paul:

“According to Paul, women must be learners, and are not allowed to be public teachers in the church; for teaching is an office of authority, and the woman must not usurp authority over the man, but is to be in silence. But, notwithstanding this prohibition, good women may and ought to teach their children at home the principles of religion.”

Many in favor of making women priests like to bring up Timothy’s mother and grandmother, as well as Pricilla when debating the subject. Henry again:

“Timothy from a child had known the holy scriptures - who should teach him as a child but his mother and grandmother? (2Tim 3:15). Aquila and his wife Priscilla expounded unto Apollos the way of God more perfectly; but then they did it privately, for they took him unto them, (Acts 18:26).”

“Then there are two very good reasons given for the man's authority over the woman, and her subjection to the man, Adam was first formed, then Eve; she was created for the man, and not the man for the woman (1Cor 11:9); then she was deceived, and brought the man into the transgression.”

We have to overcome our desire to be liked and to make everyone happy with our doctrines. We have clear guidance from the Bible in this case – part of the “curse” of Eve was that women were to be subject to their husbands, as the curse of Adam is for men to work hard to provide for the families that they are responsible for. However, just as women have their own curse, they have their own blessing – that of childbirth, which men can never experience. “Though in sorrow, yet she shall bring forth, and be a living mother of living children; provided they continue in faith, and charity, and holiness, with sobriety: and women, under the circumstance of child-bearing should by faith lay hold of this promise for their support in the needful time.”

The revelation that men and women are equal in Christ (Galatians 3:27-29) proclaims our equality of worth – not our duplication of assigned duties. Men are to lead, and are responsible for the actions of those they lead. Women, who have played a vital part of Christianity since the beginning, have critical roles as well – however, the office of priest or pastor is not one of them.

Redefining roles and explaining away Biblical truths based upon our current cultural norms (which are of men, not of God) may seem smart, but it is merely another example of how “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1Co 1:25), and how we should instead ensure that “our faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:5).


  • Hammer
    I wouldn't know how to begin to answer that.

    Though I could try...

    By Anonymous pia, at 4/19/2005 12:08:00 PM  

  • Pia,
    I hope you understand that it isn't about value or worth of the person, merely roles. Most non-Christians feel that traditional roles are somehow oppressive or bad. They only become that if somehow value is attached to that role. In most churches, the church would collapse without the contributions of the women. The pastor isn't any more important than any of them - he just has a different task.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 4/19/2005 12:23:00 PM  

  • What about the daughters of Philip the evangelist, who prophesied? (Acts 21:9--see also Acts 2:17). Were they the equivalent of modern ministers? I don't know, of course. I Corinthians 11:7 indicates that women prayed and prophesied.

    Thanks for the post.

    By Blogger Martin LaBar, at 4/20/2005 08:55:00 AM  

  • Martin,
    That's a good question. I do believe that women can be evangelists, Sunday School teachers, deacons (or deaconesses, some prefer), music ministers and other high profile, prophecy/exposition oriented positions. It is the office of pastor/priest, which is the primary church leader, that I would say the Bible clearly prohbits women from serving in.

    Thanks for stopping in!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 4/20/2005 09:09:00 AM  

  • I absolutely agree with you that women should not be pastor-teachers or elders.
    However, I do believe this passage is NOT talking about the teachers in I Cor. 12:28. That is, IF the male elders of a church invite a women to teach once or twice in the church service UNDER the elder's authority, then I am taking it that you do not agree with this. If you don't agree with that, then you really must throw women as evangelists out too as they are also teaching non-Christian men the gospel as well as the new converts. For a long time there has been a double standard in churches on this point. Women missionaries can come and "share" (which is actually in many cases teaching) with the congregation, but non-missionary women cannot.

    Another hypocrisy is--how old are "children?" In some churches women are permitted to teach teenage boys up to 18. In others, they actually teach the college group BUT are not permitted to teach men in a church service.

    Another hypocrisy is that many men who hold this view will gladly listen to a woman teach on the radio, TV or through books.

    All I want is the hypocrisy to stop and a clear consistent policy put into place.

    Thanks for listening.

    By Blogger Diane, at 4/20/2005 10:24:00 AM  

  • Diane,
    Excellent points - although I actually agree where you suspect I disagree.

    It is the responsibility of leadership authority that is restricted, not the exposition of scripture. I have no problem with visiting (or selected church members with the appropriate gift) women bringing the message witht he approval of the church leader.

    I don't see the "children" question as hypocrisy, but it is a question the church as a body should decide. There is a point in a male's life when women become women primarily, and whatever they are serving as, second. I plan on doing another post on the non-Scriptural aspects, with the same conclusions.

    Thanks for stopping in and taking the time to comment!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 4/20/2005 11:01:00 AM  

  • Hammer,

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful answer. I will check back often to see if you write more on this topic...:)

    By Blogger Diane, at 4/20/2005 10:23:00 PM  

  • It's important to distinguish between inconsistency of though and hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is when you believe something and don't apply it to yourself. Inconsistency of thought is when you believe a principle and don't see how it applies to another instance and therefore don't apply it there. You can be inconsistent without being a hypocrite.

    I'm not sure the principle in question requires inconsistency anyway. The regular teaching of the congregation is not the same thing as the preaching of the gospel to the unsaved. It might be possible to distinguish between the two in some important way, since they're not the same thing. It would be much better to ask if there's such a principle rather than accusing people of inconsistency from the outset (never mind of hypocrisy).

    There's a question of how old someone can be taught. Someone could have a view on that. Their view might be that it's the age our society determines as adulthood, which is 18. It might be the age Jews considered old enough to be taught the law by the priests, and I don't know what that age is. It might be a judgment call as to a child's maturity by the elders or by the parents. Whatever position you take, it doesn't amount to inconsisteny (and again, never mind hypocrisy).

    Also, it's not hypocrisy to listen to someone teaching when you think those in authority to allow her to teach have made a wrong decision. The decision of whether a woman should teach in a local gathering should be made by the elders. If my elders changed their view on that, I would submit to them. That's what scripture tells me to do. It wouldn't be hypocrisy for me not to walk out if a woman got up to preach on Sunday just because I believe it's not in God's purpose for women to teach in that setting. Neither is it if I'm listening to a Christian radio program. It would be hypocrisy if I were in a leadership position to make such decisions, and I thought it wrong to allow it but did it anyway.

    By Blogger Jeremy Pierce, at 4/22/2005 04:11:00 PM  

  • Jeremy,
    Thanks for stopping by and giving your insight, which is well put and, by my reckoning, all correct. You have a great blog, although I don't comment often when I stop in.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 4/26/2005 09:34:00 AM  

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