The role of women in the church is a topic that has been debated for centuries (most things in the church seem to have been, they’re not the quickest to resolve issues) Recently the Pope has spoken about women having more roles and responsibility but ruled out them becoming priests. The Synod is due to vote in a couple of years on the subject of female bishops. This is just one small aspect of the wider (and more important) issue of how women are treated by Christians in general; especially Christians in relationship with each other.
Sarah, my fiance, is currently studying to be a youth worker. She is studying at CYM in Oxford, she’s been studying theology and is being prepared to lead, teach and support young people. Most don’t have a problem with this, possibly because I suspect the image of a woman leading Sunday school or looking after the creche comes to mind. Put a woman in the pulpit and suddenly everyone seems to lose their minds and it all seems to come down to one word; submission. There are a couple of places where this word occurs in the Bible, the most relevant ones being;
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything – Ephesians 5:22-24
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety – 1 Timothy 2:11-15
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 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 – 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
When I think of submission, wrestling and the quote from Jayne in Firefly comes to mind; “You know what the chain of command is? It’s the chain I go get and beat you with ’til ya understand who’s in ruttin’ command here” (Firefly:Train Job). Effectively, women must never be ahead of man either in church or in a Christian home; a woman must know her place. If they don’t, the man has to take the necessary action. This offends our sensibilities in the modern world and rightly so; this is before we get to the shameful fact that it’s been used to justify abuse of women. We live in a very different world in many ways to when the Bible was written, women weren’t even allowed to testify in court let alone vote; plus they didn’t have the internet. This is not unique to just these passages, the cultural context is an aspect that needs to be considered when applying passages to our lives.This inevitably raises the issue of whether we can choose to ignore passages and justify what we want. I think we do that anyway, by and large, probably why this debate is raging the way it is. Each side is choosing the passages that best supports their already determined viewpoint.
When it comes to women, believing that they should be in ministry leaves 3 conclusions regarding the passages;
– Paul didn’t mean women cannot speak/lead in church and we’re misunderstanding him
– Paul did mean it but it now no longer is applicable to our society
– Paul did mean it, it does still apply today therefore I think he’s wrong
No, you haven’t misread that last bit. If Paul believes that women should not be in ministry, indeed and/or totally subservient to men, then I think he’s wrong. This may make people cringe but its a logical conclusion. This of course doesn’t actually address the question of what Paul meant. Many scholars and theologians have put various arguments for women in ministry and various readings of Paul. My favorite is the one below from leading new testament expert N.T Wright.
The church I currently attend has a female pastor, it’s never bothered me. Neither has women leading church house groups. The message that is being preached is what matters. It’s why I listen to the likes of Rachel Held Evans and Amy Orr-Ewing because of the messages they send out and their approach to questions. One of the best sermons I’ve heard came from a woman preacher. Pointing out the fact they are women maybe contributing to the overall issue of men and women being considered separate, but it’s hard not to in the context of the discussion.
People talk about not being able to change the world but changing ourselves. When I read the Bible for guidance, I try to look at it from the perspective of what do I need to do; what do I need to change in me, what am I called to do? When it comes to Sarah, I’m called to love her and to me, loving her is to support her, build her up, to help her see herself as God sees her. I also need to pay attention to her and God in order for me to do that. It’s blatant to me God has called her to work with young people, to help them and bring them to Christ. I am not to get in the way of that, but to help nurture and grow that with her. But its not all one way. Her relationship with God is different to mine and she has helped me with the more spiritual side and relational side of being a Christian. She has in essence taught me and I’m perfectly happy with that. Why? Ephesians 5:21, she has knowledge and experience that can help me; she wants to help me. Relationships are about give and take, it’s about team work.
Frankly, I don’t think God cares whether the preacher is man, woman, child, CIA experiment or The Stig from Top Gear (though you won’t get much out of him) it’s about the heart, always the heart. If God can use anyone, who are we to say he can’t use women because of what Paul said?
Who are we actually following here?
First posted 21 August 2013