Thursday, May 05, 2005

Women in the Church

Kristen was discussing the role of women as teachers in the blogosphere recently. Her blog was in response to a discussion about this post from R.C. Sproul, Jr., which argued that women should not be blogging about theology. Or something like that.

Well. How to think about this? I find I enjoy the blogs of some very intelligent and eloquent women, some of whom are on my blogroll to the right. I'd start listing them, but I'd either forget someone, or this post would be waaaaaaay too long. I have enough problems with brevity as it is.

With all due respect to Mr. Sproul, I don't think scripture can in any way be accurately used to justify commanding Christian women to avoid discussion of theology so as to live up to a very odd reading of Titus 2. While it is possible God will correct me on this someday, I don't see any theological problem with women "teaching" via blogs.

But this question goes to a bigger question: what is the role of women in the church, especially insofar as teaching responsibilities and authority are concerned?

Unlike the "should women blog about theology?" question, I have no solid answer to the bigger one. It may seem obvious that the role of women as described in the Bible is one of silence (as noted here and here.) If these were the only two passages in scripture, I'd have a hard time being conflicted about it. But the Bible contains many, many passages that would seem to indicate these two "limiting" passages are intended to address a specific cultural situation in the first century, and not so much to be a rule for all times and all places.

For instance:

  • Junia is listed by Paul as "outstanding among the apostles" - which seems to indicate she was an apostle. Yes, there is some debate about Junia's precise role, but a strong argument can be made that she was an early apostle.

  • Phoebe was a deaconess in her church.

  • Priscilla helped teach Apollos.

  • Nympha had a church in her house.

  • 2 John seems to have been written to a church led by a woman.

  • Paul commends women who "contended" with him for the faith. This is a somewhat active verb to use for women who are supposedly to remain silent.

  • Deborah was a leader of Israel.

  • Huldah was a prophetess.

  • God Himself says women will prophesy. This is a "teaching" and "authoritative" position in the church.

  • Paul himself says women are to prophesy with their heads covered. Since prophecy is for the church, and since he seems to be saying it's okay for women to prophesy, I tend to think women can in fact speak out in church.

  • Phillip had four daughters who were prophetesses.

  • Jesus doesn't seem to limit who can teach.

  • The woman at the well was not told not to teach men.

There are probably examples I'm missing of women prophesying, teaching, ruling or evangelizing - even to/over men - without disapproval being noted. There are also probably people who can point out how none of these passages I cite have anything to do with Paul's admonition that women should not remain silent. Or that my citations are arguments from silence. I can point to arguments that likewise would say that Paul was addressing a specific cultural instance, and not making universal pronouncements.

So really, I have not the discernment to say, with absolute certainty that women should not teach men. I think the evidence is stronger that they may - although I will concede that the one place they may not be permitted to, in scripture, is in a formal church setting. God just hasn't convicted me on this, one way or the other.

To me the best solution is to not judge the ministry to which God calls a woman, but rather discern whether what she does teach is true and good. In my experience, women pastors tend to hold positions that are scripturally untenable. Granted, the sample size I'm working with is small, but so far I've yet to be in any service held by a woman pastor where I didn't come out scratching my head about, if I may put it this way, what she'd been doing during seminary when she should have been studying. (There are male pastors like this too - just not, in my experience, as many. And I'm sure there are orthodox women pastors too - I just haven't been in a service held by one.)

If women choose to not seek an authoritative or teaching position within the church, I see no reason to condemn them. But at the same time, if they do, then I will judge their teaching, not their gender.

And by all means, I'll keep reading blogs written by my sisters in the faith, even about those theology issues on which others think they should remain silent.

God bless!

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