Feminism In The Church, Continued

In some ways, the previous post on this subject was more about the influence of culture on the church than it was about feminism in particular. After reading the comments to that article, I thought perhaps I should address feminism more specifically.

First, my closing paragraph to the previous post may have come across too harshly. I know more than one woman working as a pastor, and I wouldn’t say any of them is covetous of the role of men. In each instance I believe they feel they are doing God’s work, and the pastorate gives them the best opportunity to accomplish this.

Rather, I was referring to the attitude of a nebulous collection of women who believe as the culture at large does — that to be equal with men, women must do all things that men do (with the exceptions of fathering a child and bathrooming in a standing position).

These women who are true feminists have brought their beliefs into their particular church denominations, resulting inevitably in a movement in their direction. Hence, scholars have reexamined the verses that have long been understood to exclude women from the pastorate. Consequently, without adopting the whole feminist package, some women believe that the new interpretation does indeed make way for them to take this leadership role.

In addition, I’ve heard of women on the mission field who, because of the lack of any man knowledgeable in Scripture, have assumed the pastoral role until such time as a qualified man is available. Were those women sinning by stepping into the gap? Should a fledgling church be without teaching because no man is available when a women is?

Those are hard questions, and I might answer them differently today than I would have some years ago.

What comes to mind is fugitive David standing before the High Priest, lying about his need for food, and subsequently receiving the portion meant exclusively for the priests. Sin? Jesus used this very story to justify His disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath when they were hungry.

If it had been anybody else besides Jesus! But no, He who was with the Father when He struck down Uzzah for touching the ark as it nearly tipped over, who said He came to fulfill the Law, seemed to give David a pass for eating the bread of the presence and giving it to those who were with him:

Mark 2:25-26 – And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?” (emphases mine)

The operative principle seems to be need over law. After all, that’s why the Jews were allowed, even expected, to pull an animal out of a pit on the Sabbath if it had fallen in. Need.

Bringing this line of thinking back to women and preaching, it seems to me that need might create a mitigating factor that would allow for a woman to act as a pastor.

But let’s face it — in the US there isn’t often a lack of available men to take on the role of pastor.

I’m not here to judge who is or isn’t serving out of need. I’m more interested in the attitude that we in the church are developing that seems to support the idea that a woman ought to be up front just as surely as a man is.

It is this position of leadership, I think, that is at issue.

In case you missed it, in one of his comments to the previous post, Patrick brought up an interesting point — what’s the difference between teaching in a church building and doing what I do here on this blog from time to time? After all, aren’t a preacher and a blogger who writes about spiritual things both elucidating Scripture?

It’s a great question. If we understand “Church” to be the body of believers, not a building, and women are to be silent in the Church, then it seems we are never to speak of spiritual things. But we know from Scripture, that isn’t so.

There were women who served as prophets, for example. And Mary the mother of Jesus offered one of the great praise psalms of all time. The Proverbs 31 superwoman ( 😉 ) included teaching in her repertoire: “She opens her mouth in wisdom,/ And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”

The point Paul was making in 1 Corinthians 14 when he said women should be silent, seems to me to be uniquely connected with what happens in a church service. After all, most of the chapter deals with how to have an orderly service. Women speaking in that context also is in juxtaposition to submitting to their husbands.

So what’s Paul really saying? It seems to me, his point is that women shouldn’t interrupt the service with their questions or overstep their husband’s authority.

What are we going on about then regarding women and pastors?

Scripture sets out the clear qualifications of a pastor and then of elders. One such requirement was that each must be the husband of one wife (see 1 Tim. 3:2 and 3:12 and Titus 1:6). Not a lot of room there for a woman.

This post is longer than it should be already, so I’ll save for another day why it is important that we look at the bigger picture to understand the importance of this issue.

Published in: on September 29, 2011 at 6:06 pm  Comments (10)  
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10 Comments

  1. Seems you have restricted your focus to oppose those who believe women should be ordained ministers and deacons, and restricted that even further to ministers of worship services in physical church buildings? And not wanting to be too harsh you wouldn’t say the females you know who are ordained ministers are covetous of the roles of men, but are no less living in sin (deviating from God’s will) by filling a role you believe is specifically stated in scripture must be held by men (because it is phrased from the default male position as most of scripture is), and you believe the only women of whom this may not count as a sin (of spreading the Gospel through a position they should not have occupied) is if there is no qualified male available in a time of need? It also seem from these same verses that you site as your criteria all single men should be disqualified as well.

    Just trying to clarify what this post is actually saying, and wondering if this is really about feminism at all, or more about entrenched male chauvinism holding position as the norm. Nothing so arbitrary ever came from the lips of Christ, nor do I believe was ever the intentions from the heart of Paul, nor any of the saints who had a hand in writing the New Testament.

    It seems you have taken great liberties in narrowly defining a very odd & broad statement in scripture so that your own ministry conveniently falls outside its reach. I still believe the explanation in the article I tried to post the other day is more likely.

    I believe when the few statements seem to contradict the majority then the few must be misunderstood, misinterpreted, or apply specifically to the intended audience due to issues specific to that group in that time and place. When in doubt Love, and let God be the judge.

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  2. Becky, this issue has troubled me. I want to get it right. It calls for quiet-hearted reflection, obedience, trust—keys to peace of mind. Thanks for helping me think.

    About your posts: yes, I see your concern with the Church taking its orders from the culture instead of the Word of God. Yes, ‘covetousness’ is harsh if applied broadly; however, it does apply at times.

    About roles of men and women in leadership: Paul’s teaching about head coverings in worship is amazingly instructive. Woman is the glory of man, and so in praying in public this glory should be covered—man is never to glorified in worship. Man is the glory of God, and so his head should be uncovered. Perhaps that’s also why, ordinarily, women must not lead.

    Looking at exceptions to God’s rules: You mentioned prophetesses. Two come to mind, Deborah who judged Israel (Judges 4-5), and Huldah who spoke the word of the Lord to Hilkiah the priest and others (2 Kings 22). Were these women consecrated because of a lack of godly men? We simply aren’t told.

    Another thing to look at that isn’t simple: what do we do with Acts 2:17,18, where Peter quotes the Lord (Joel 2:28,29) that He would pour out of His Spirit on all flesh, his menservants and maidservants, and they shall prophesy? An example of the fulfillment of this: Philip the evangelist’s four virgin daughters prophesied; and, this doesn’t appear to be the result of need.

    Here is something helpful, I believe. Though there is the God-ordained order springing from the way things are, “…our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.” Psalm 115:3

    Forgive my long response…

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  3. I don’t understand how the specific sin of coveting is a verdict any harsher than calling it sin more generally. Sin is sin. Humans make distinctions in sin, but God does not. All sin is equal. A lair is no more or less guilty than a murderer.

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  4. Patrick, I’m not ready to say all women who are pastors are sinning. I think that’s between them and God. I look at it in the same way I do my Christian brothers and sisters who believe in infant baptism. I don’t believe that’s what Scripture teaches. They do. Are they sinning because they interpret Scripture in a way I don’t? Maybe, but maybe not. I’m not the one to say.

    I’m not the one to say a woman who pastors a church must be sinning.

    But covetousness isn’t a matter of interpretation of Scripture. If someone is jealously looking at the role God gave to men and wanting it for no other reason than that they want what others have, then that is definitely sin.

    More later. 😉

    Becky

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  5. Seems you have restricted your focus to oppose those who believe women should be ordained ministers and deacons, and restricted that even further to ministers of worship services in physical church buildings?

    I don’t think I’m the one restricting it, Patrick. Paul was talking specifically about the worship service, how things were to be done orderly. It was different then, obviously. They didn’t go in knowing who was to talk or what hymn they would sing. They didn’t necessarily have a designated leader, it doesn’t sound like. But in all that instruction, a few principles come out, one being that the women weren’t to interrupt and they were to be subject to their husbands.

    My guess is, if a husband spoke up and his wife disagreed right there in the service, it would be … what’s the opposite of God glorifying?

    So now that we have someone in charge and we’re all orderly, does that mean the women can speak in a worship service? I think so, but teaching is another matter. That’s what I think Paul was talking about, not giving announcements or singing a solo. Are women not to read Scripture or give a missionary report or a testimony? Some would say they are not.

    I go back to the principles I think Paul was laying down. Are they causing an interruption in the service or are they not in subjection to their husbands? If the answer to those is No they are not interrupting and yes they are in subjection to their husbands, then I think a woman can be involved in the worship service.

    But teaching? That goes to the issue of the pastorate and leadership.

    I do not think Paul’s instruction to Timothy and Titus about the qualifications of a pastor and elders was “phrased from the default male position” any more than God’s choice to refer to Himself as Father was. I believe that He inspired Paul to say exactly what He wanted Him to say. And I hope to explain why in my post today.

    It also seem from these same verses that you site as your criteria all single men should be disqualified as well.

    That’s not my criteria, Patrick. Scripture sets the qualifications, not me. How would you interpret the verses differently?

    It seems you have taken great liberties in narrowly defining a very odd & broad statement in scripture so that your own ministry conveniently falls outside its reach.

    You could be right. I’m not beyond being blind to my own error. But like you, I want to take the large picture the Bible paints and understand the particular verses accordingly.

    That’s why I feel comfortable speaking about spiritual things on this blog. We are told, without gender delineation, to teach and admonish one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16) and to edify others (Eph. 4:29).

    The pastor/elder roles are different, I think.

    Becky

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  6. Maria, I was raised in a conservative church that once taught women’s heads were to be covered when they prayed, a practice deriving from the passage you cited.

    I had to think about this a long time when I got old enough to decide for myself if I would wear a head covering or not. The clincher for me was the verse in which Paul said, “if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.” In this day and age, it is not a disgrace. While I think the outward practice was tied to Paul’s culture, I think he was teaching a timeless principle — the wife’s role in the home as the lineman, not the quarterback (to use the language of the football analogy I included in my first post on this subject).

    Thanks for those examples of prophetesses. There are quite a few others I discovered when I started digging. I know many in the church today equate prophecy with teaching. I’ve never thought that. I don’t think prophecy is predicting the future, nor do I think it is a vague statement of truth that could apply to anyone.

    I’ve had a few instances, some from a pastor and some from friends, when something that was said zinged me. I don’t know how else to say it. It was like an arrow with my name on it, saying, That means you! Those people, I believe, prophesied, though they may not have known it even. The counsel, encouragement, instruction was Biblical, and God’s Holy Spirit specifically applied it to my heart.

    If that’s what prophecy is, then of course women can prophesy even though they aren’t pastors.

    But my, we are getting into some controversial territory here, aren’t we. 😀

    Becky

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  7. In all this, I am reminded, as I frequently am when this topic comes up of 1 Samuel 1:1 – although, it might not seem relevant at first sight. ‘There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite.’

    This is beginning of the book of Samuel, the priest and prophet who anointed the first king of Israel. The significance of 1 Samuel 1:1 is that Samuel is not a Levite.

    Eli’s sons were sinning and Eli wasn’t restraining them.
    When those who are ‘called’, be they men or women, fail to heed the call or fail to keep to their calling, then God’s choice to fill the gap will fall where it does.

    Some years ago, I self-published a book on what the mathematics of creation tells us about God. There were many reasons I did not want to do this – including the fact I’m a woman and including the fact I felt I wasn’t anywhere near God’s first choice for the task. I felt I wasn’t even God’s hundredth choice for the task – that He’d called so many people before me to say what I did that they seemed to number in the thousands.

    I’ve met several since who say they know what I wrote is true because it confirmed what God had already told them. They were pleased I had written my book because it let them off the hook. I was surprised that people I respected, both men and women, had done nothing about what they felt God was calling them to do.

    Yes, I felt God was calling me to do the same thing, but from the first, I felt the job had come to me by default.

    This experience has vastly influenced my thinking. The situation of a woman’s role in the church is often far more complex than it appears.

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  8. Hi Becky,
    I consider myself and complimentarian and do not advocate for women elders or pastors. I don’t think it lines up with scripture.

    My concern, however, is that the more involved in church I get, the more I see a trend in the American church that I believe will only cause feminism to grow. And that is the lack of male leadership. I’m going to be blunt and state how I feel here. I am outraged and nauseated with the wishy-washy, non-confrontational style of leadership that I see between the older men and younger men in most American churches. It’s almost as if complimentarianism has caused the church to coddle and protect young men from the serious discipline/discipleship that they need.

    When I am in an informal setting and I hear the young men speaking foolishness and nonsense – everything from partaking in licentiousness to dabbling in the occult — I do not stand back idly and let these things go without confrontation. With the elders of the church present, I find myself often being the one to correct these young men and even in many cases having to defend myself from the elders for “over-stepping” my role as a woman. If the elders were doing their job, I would not have to open my mouth. The problem is that they are not doing it. And I CANNOT let it go undone. I will not stand by and witness a young life dragged away and torn apart by utter foolishness and by false teaching.

    The trouble is that we do need men to lead. And when I watch a man who has been placed in leadership cower away from his responsibility, I cannot abide his omission and error. So maybe, some of us are just spiritual Rosie the Rivetors — waiting for the men to wake up and lead again.

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  9. Becky, Patrick, Anne, ‘prophetess’,

    Lots of good discussion. I hesitate to discuss these issues in our church. However, God teaches us how to walk to please Him wherever we are, so trust, trust, my soul.

    These issues are simple mostly, but sometimes difficult. Simple: a wife’s respect and submission, and a husband’s self-sacrificial love. Difficult: why the Lord chose women for certain ministries. It’s hard to believe that women were chosen only when there was no available man. I know that women are not normally chosen to speak God’s Word, in the sense of preaching/teaching. But somehow it just doesn’t seem correct that He chose Deborah or Huldah because there was no man for the job. Or that Philip’s daughters prophesied for this reason. Is this rebellion in me? I pray it isn’t! I wonder if we may never know the reason why He chose them unless He wants us to know.

    Maria

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  10. […] we’ve looked at in the previous posts on this subject ( “Feminism In The Church”, “Feminism In The Church, Continued”, “Women As Leaders Of The Church?”) are remarkably backed up by the Old Testament when […]

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