I pastor a church where women are free to be and do all God calls them to be and to do. In the last few years, we have ordained women to be deacons, elders, and ministers of the gospel. Today, we no longer talk much about women in ministry at Spring Creek for the same reason we don’t talk much about men in ministry. It’s just part of our DNA, part and parcel to who we are. For us, Christian leadership has nothing to do with gender.
Some people, especially some of our other Baptist brothers and sisters, believe this practice to be unbiblical, referencing texts like 1 Tim. 2.9-15, 1 Tim. 3.2, and 1 Cor. 14.34-36 as clear biblical prohibitions against women in leadership roles in the church. Given my last two posts, however, I would like to reconsider the “biblical” view of women in the church.
First of all, because Jesus is the interpretive lens through which we interpret Scripture, we must begin with him. When compared with all the other common views of women in his day, the way Jesus treated women was somewhat revolutionary. Jesus elevated women to a status they had never enjoyed before. While most people saw women as something like possessions, Jesus treated them as something like people! He included them amongst his disciples and commended them as examples. He equalized their marriage status with the men of his day in his teachings on marriage and divorce. Women were the first witnesses to the resurrection in all four gospels. Furthermore, Jesus’ announcement of a Kingdom where people live in mutual love and support becomes strained when one group of those people is a priori relegated to secondary status simply because of their gender. Unfortunately, the place where women are most restricted in our day is the place where people gather in the name of the one who most liberated them in his day. From the beginning, I must ask myself: do our views of women pass the Jesus test? Do our views of women pass the love test?
Secondly, most of the issues concerning women in the church stem from the Apostle Paul (as evidenced by the three texts mentioned above). Today, many people view Paul as oppressive at best and a misogynist at worst. However, several issues must be addressed here:
(1) Is Paul being descriptive or prescriptive? If prescriptive, is he prescribing decrees for all places at all times or for that particular time and place? Would our views of women in the church be congruent with our views of the length of women’s hair, which he also addresses?
(2) These aren’t the only texts in which Paul addresses women. Paul speaks of Phoebe who is a deacon in Rome (16.1-2), and he addresses how women should dress when they prophecy, which means PREACH (1 Cor. 11.5)! In several letters, Paul says something like, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3.28). In other words, the boundaries and categories which typically define us have been destroyed in the light of the one who gives us a new identity. Most of us would be appalled at the idea of racism in the church or classism- and yet many of us institutionalize sexism. Why would the church want to tear down these other walls and perpetuate the other at all costs? Would the “equal in status but different in roles” argument work for race and class as well? I sure hope not!
(3) Furthermore, we must address how literal we intend to take the “prohibitions” mentioned above. For example, 1 Tim. 3.2 states, “An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife . . . . ” It’s the “husband of one wife clause” that forbids women from serving in that capacity, some argue. However, many of those same people would have no problem with a single minister. At the most literal level, you can’t be the husband of one wife if you are single. Yet, many of the churches who argue so vehemently about gender never mention marital status. Why is this?
Finally, the overall biblical witness testifies to the irreplaceable importance of women in the history of God’s people. Women saturate the Bible in ways unique to most other ancient literature. Joel dreams of a day when “sons and daughters will prophecy (again preach),” and this text is remembered by Peter at Pentecost as a sign of the presence of the Spirit. Miriam aided Moses, and subversive midwives overcame Pharaoh. Deborah was one of the greatest judges, and Hannah gave birth to more than just Samuel. Mary is the paradigmatic disciple in Luke, and the Philippian church would have been drastically different if not for Lydia. Stories like this frequent the Bible from cover to cover. They also frequent every church I’ve ever been a part of.
Again, when we ponder all this, are we sure we ascribe to THE biblical view of women in the church?
Preston Clegg is pastor of Spring Creek Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This post first appeared on his blog, The Bright Field.