Ladies of the Court; or, Women in Ministry.
Well I was planning on getting to this issue sometime this year, but the Germans beat me to it. Last week in Berlin, the Lutheran Church of Germany announced that it had elected Margot Kaessmann as its first woman to lead the church where she received 132 out 145 votes in their general assembly. Some of the folks there described her as a “cross between Mother Teresa and Demi Moore”. I like Mother Teresa, but I’m not sure how being like Demi Moore qualifies someone for church leadership. Ok, honestly I really don’t know anything about Kaessmann and don’t have a lot of time to do homework on her. But of course it all does bring up that tumultuous question of how women fit into church leadership. Like just about everything else with theology and practical ministry, there are extremes. But where’s the balance? Where are the Kingdom principles? I don’t have all the answers, but what we’ll do for now is look at three Biblical observations and then follow that up with six practical points. So grab a cup of java and let’s go.
The first point to ponder is to set the stage right in countering all the bad media about the Catholic Church or any form of Christianity that’s down on women and is male chauvinistic. While many factions of Christendom through the years have been exactly that, the design of God is not a burden to true womanhood. One such example is in Galatians 3:27-28 where Paul makes it clear that in the Kingdom there is neither “male nor female” but that we are all one in Christ. While both the Jewish and Roman world basically gave no rights to wives and women, Jesus and the New Testament both held women in high regard. When you look throughout the history of authentic Christianity, you’ll see a consistency of honoring women.
The second point is that the Bible offers evidence for specific and ongoing areas of ministry and maybe even official offices if you want to look at it that way. One illustration of this is in the person of Phoebe who was charged with a great responsibility in being sent by Paul to the Romans (Romans 16:1). Here, Phoebe is commended to the church in Rome as a (diakonon). The Revised Standard Version renders this word deaconess in this context though the Greek does not carry a feminine ending. However, this interpretation can be justified when considering all the other data. In the middle of 1 Timothy chapter three where Paul addresses the elders and deacons of the Church, he also spends time discussing women who are serving in official capacities. While many English translations of 1 Timothy 3:11 interpret the (gunaikos) as wives, the immediate context does not lend itself to such an interpretation. When looking at the syntax of the preceding and following text, Paul addresses groups of leaders. First the elders, then the deacons, then the lady deacons and back to male deacons. There is no clear grammatical reason to indentify the wives of the deacons here. In addition, if Paul had meant to address the wives of the deacons, why did he forget to address the wives of the elders? But when considering the grammar of the text, Kent points out that the opposite is actually the case. The commentator states that “there is no pronoun used with gunaikos to relate them to the deacons, nor is there even an article which might be used in that sense. Thus, there is no grammatical connection between the women of verse 11 and the deacons of verse 8-16.” So because these women fall between stipulated requirements of deacons, it would follow that they can serve in an auxiliary branch of the deacons doing the work of service.
The third point to look at would be the most controversial of them all. Here the question arises as to whether God calls women to be pastors, elders, ministers, or in Margot’s case, head of the Lutheran church. Because men and women are equal before God, does that not mean that they can both serve in the same roles and thus women can be “Pastors” just like men? Apparently the apostle Paul did not think so. We’ll address this more later, but the issue is not about equality, but of roles. What we glean from 1 Timothy 2:11-13 is that God’s intent for women was that of a supportive role rather than in the lead teaching and directional function which is purposed for the male eldership. The first reason is found in verse 12 where Paul employs the present infinitives, “to teach” and “to exercise authority”. These are two permanent and ongoing areas of service opposed to random teaching occasions. Secondly, Paul refers to the creation order of Genesis 1-3 in verse 13. Both the man and the woman were created in God’s image and therefore are both equal. Though equal before God, the creation order stipulates a functional difference. The woman was created second. This position does not indicate inferiority, but rather a role. As in any institution, there must be a leader for unity and direction to exist in order to flee chaos. In this passage, Paul points to the male elders as being responsible for the leadership of the Church under Christ.
Ok, so those were some pillar points from the text, now what do we do with them? Here are some suggestions to chew on.
1. In addition to the whole theological discussion, “I” not God, but “I” believe there are some areas where having a woman leading and teaching might be less effective and possibly damaging to some degree. For example, consider a 22 year old hot babe of a youth minister trying to teach Junior or High School boys anything. Say what you want, but those boys are not being jerks when their minds innocently wander into thinking about it to their “youth minister’s” physical physique without realizing what they’re doing. They’re just being boys. While a continual looking and lusting turns into sin, the thoughts that come out of nowhere are just part of being a teenage boy with tons of hormones going nuts. Why put them in that position? They aren’t going to learn anything anyway. But a follow up to this point is the simple fact that it really takes another man to teach a boy to become a man. Nothing personal ladies, that’s just how it is. Though a woman may read about struggles in manhood all she wants, she’ll never experience it firsthand. I think that is another reason why I always feel funny when women strive to become leaders in Boy Scouts.
2. The Church today really needs more women serving in areas where men should not be serving. Paul noted in Titus 2:3 the need for older women to train up younger women. For the same reason above, I can teach head knowledge to younger women, but I’ve never been one. I only have a head knowledge while other women have truly, “been there.” In addition, having more women involved in Biblical counseling might also eliminate a lot of potential and needless tempting situations between men and women in the church.
3. Women can and have taught heavy theology. I think the question would be in what context. I’m reminded of a huge mentor for many named Elisabeth Elliot who was a missionary to the Accua Indians in Ecuador for years. When the men there came to Christ, she would teach the leaders there on individual basis and then they would go back and teach their tribe. Elizabeth did not flaunt authority which she could have, but respected the eldership in the tribe.
4. Much of the present hype and tension in the Western church today is actually the fault of male leadership. On one hand men in the past have been abusive to women. On the other hand, there are many occasions where they have claimed a title of authority, but have wimped out of the responsibility to serve. Thus many women through the years have seen needs, both physical and spiritual being unmet and have risen to take matters into their own hands.
5. By ladies willingly taking a supportive role of service, they actually bring more honor upon themselves. When you think about it, by making both sexes equal in all ways give us less reason to treat women with respect. If we’re all the same, then why should men open doors for women or give them more honor than themselves. An example of this was seen in the years I lived in the former Soviet Union where the Communist party tried to erase not only class, but gender. There were so many times on the subway when I saw men sitting down while women were forced to stand on the trains. I always wanted to go over to one of those wimpy guys, grab him by the ear and jerk him up so that a lady could sit down. But if there is no difference between the sexes, then why would it matter. On the other hand, when men take their job of leadership more seriously, then they begin to honor women more.
6. A final point to consider is the fact that in creation, Adam was just not right without Eve. He was incomplete and she was his helpmate. Not only that, but when you think about it, Eve was the pinnacle of God’s physical creation. So an application point is for men to really listen to the godly women in their lives and of the life of the CHURCH. On my part, some of the dumbest decisions I’ve made over the past 18 years were because I didn’t take my wife’s advice.
So there you have at least somewhat of a Kingdom perspective on Women and ministry. What would you add to the conversation?