Women in Ministry: Personal Practice & Belief

This is part eleven on the dissertation ‘Women in Ministry.’
For part ten, click here: Current Practice & Belief of the SBC.

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There are two elements that overshadow this debate. First, we are currently somewhere near the apex of contemporary feminism. Try as we might, our historical context has always affected our interpretation. During the era of American colonialism, Christendom proof-texted its way around slavery. In the late 18th century when countries were casting their monarchies and establishing Democratic Republics, what did the church do? –it began proof-texting its way into congregational rule. Why is it that in some tobacco growing states the preacher can preach against alcohol, but he had better not touch tobacco? In Northern California, where our churches are surrounded by countless vineyards and wineries, teetotalism is scarcely preached. Our culture affects our interpretation and there is heavy pressure on churches to convert to egalitarianism.

The second element is that most of the passages, given a straight forward reading, present a traditional understanding of gender roles. The egalitarians have an uphill battle because most of the burden of proof rest upon them. Anyone with a 5th grade education could read the pertinent texts and come away with some form of complementarianism. Egalitarianism must show how a straight forward reading is not a proper interpretation. In this pursuit they have failed.

Based upon a thorough exegesis of the pertinent passages of scripture, one could describe my position as very mild complementarianism. I would not, however, choose to describe myself using that terminology. Complementarianism is an unfortunate title. The name itself suggests that a woman’s place is only to complement a man. It smacks of her being a second-rate accessory to his creational perfection. Nonetheless, complementarianism is the known term, so I must use it.

The foundational principles of my personal practice and belief are that the genders are different in role or function, but not in standing or value. A person’s value is based upon the imago dei, which is intrinsic in all people, all places, and all cultures throughout time. Humans have intrinsic value. Our standing comes from either being in Christ or outside of Christ. Our value and standing have nothing to do with gender. Our roles and functions, however, are much different. Since I believe that God created the heavens and the earth, since I believe that the “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fullness thereof,” and since I believe He is absolutely sovereign, His word about the roles and function of each gender represents what is best for all people.[1]

These Biblical principles work their way into the structures of our churches in several ways.  See figure 9.

Figure 9: Personal Mild Complementarianism

  • Women may sing, read scripture, or speak from stage.
  • Women may teach men.
  • Women may have a significant leadership role within the church, including a servant-leadership role (diakanoi).
  • The ordination of women is mostly irrelevant.
  • The man is the head of the household.
  • Women cannot hold the position of elder/overseer or exercise ad hoc elder/overseer authority over the church.

It is curious to note that as Protestants, we tend to differentiate ‘Big church’ from other meetings. Some churches have it in their governing documents that the Lord’s Supper or Baptism can only be done in ‘Big church.’ For some reason, the main service tends to have a higher standard. Some churches will let a woman teach in the fellowship hall, at a retreat center, or even at a special event; but that same woman would not be able to teach (or preach) in the main service. This is illogical. There are no scriptural differences between the venues. In fact, we have very little idea of what the New Testament meetings looked like. We know they met in homes (Acts 5:42), we know that early on they met daily (Acts 6:1), we know Paul preached long (Acts 20:9), we also know they met in local halls (Acts 19:9), but what we cannot say is that they had various levels in their venues where women could teach in one and not the other. Once again, if a woman cannot preach, she should not teach. If a woman cannot teach in ‘Big church’ then she ought not to teach in the fellowship hall or the retreat center.First, women can sing, read scripture, or speak from stage. This includes the main service, or ‘Big church’ as some evangelicals call it. Second, women can indeed teach with men present. I find it hypocritical that some churches will allow a woman to teach on stage, give a speech, or a talk, but she cannot preach. This is semantic manipulation. If she cannot preach, she cannot teach. There is no scriptural difference. Therefore, women can be seminary professors, hold teachings positions at church, and even preach from the pulpit.

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Third, a woman can have a significant leadership role within the church, including a servant-leadership role (diakanoi). We have clear Biblical cases of women taking leadership roles from Phoebe to Junia. In fact, leadership tends to transcend position anyway. If a person is a poor leader—even though he or she holds a position—a leadership vacuum will soon develop, which will be filled by someone who does not hold the position. I agree with John Maxwell that leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less.[2] In the real world, women take leadership in multiple ways regardless of whether or not they are recognized. Therefore, it is appropriate to appoint women to non-pastoral leadership roles such as Education Director, Minister to Children, or Outreach Coordinator. They are not limited to working with food or children.

Fourth, the ordination of women is irrelevant—sort of. Since we have already established that Biblically, only Levites were ordained. Our practice of ordination, though not wrong, is also not Biblical. It is a practice we have established to set apart elders and overseers and other servant-leaders. It is somewhat relevant because, though it is not a Biblical issue, it does communicate the setting apart of a person as an elder or overseer. Therefore, I would not condone the ordination of a woman. Conversely, I would not push for a man to get ordained except that it is important for resumes and some quickly fading tax breaks.

Fifth, the man is the head of the household. This, of course, does not mean that he is the sole authority or has any right to act outside of scriptural mandates for behavior. It only means that, ultimately, he is responsible for the care, protection, and spiritual growth of his family. Finally, a woman cannot hold the position of elder/overseer or exercise ad hoc elder/overseer authority over the church. Not much more can be said here except that this is the scriptural line that does in fact separate the genders by role and function.

Women in Ministry: Intro
Women in Ministry: Genesis 3:16
Women in Ministry: 1 Timothy 3:1-13
Women in Ministry: 1 Timothy 2:11-15
Women in Ministry: Romans 16:1-2
Women in Ministry: Romans 16:7
Women in Ministry: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Women in Ministry: 1 Corinthians 14:33-35
Women in Ministry: Galatians 3:28
Women in Ministry: Current practice & belief of the SBC
Women in Ministry: Personal practice & belief
Women in Ministry: Epilogue

Footnotes:
[1] Psalm 23:1 (KJV).

[2] John C. Maxwell, 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and the People Will Follow You (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991), 17.

 

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