There is raging controversy over the issue of women in ministry, particularly as senior pastors and elders.
Traditionalists contend that their position is on the basis of sound interpretation of Holy Scriptures. They argue that specific passages in the Bible prohibit it; in addition, women as senior pastors undermine the headship of men. Egalitarians object, suggesting that dubious methodology of interpretation were used to justify the exclusion, not sound exegesis of the ‘corrective’ Scriptures.
Sometimes the conversation between opposing sides shuts down because they speak from such different points of view. The issue antagonizes families, church groups and in particular, evangelical Christians. Is there any sound Biblical justification to exclude women from pulpit ministry? Can we demonstrate, historically, that the early church used women in positions of authority? Also, can we adequately address the “prohibitions” against women in ministry based on reasonable interpretations of scripture? Evangelicals, who are the ones who need to hear this message, only regard scripture as a source of authority, so that’s where we need to meet them.
The word “evangelical” is Greek for “good news” extended to everybody who’s been excluded by so called “insiders.” Today, the word “evangelical” has come to refer to a predominantly American voting bloc which is labelled as being anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-science, anti-immigrant, which champions narrow policies, and engages in ugly politics.
The political appropriation of the word “evangelical” as exclusive to this distinctive and hardly uncontested point of view is wrong. The Early Believers defended that the good news of God’s love extends to everybody. In particular, they held firmly (even amidst a predominantly patriarchal cultural context); that the priesthood of all believers manifested good news for all people, which includes women and men. If it isn’t good news for women, then it isn’t good news for anybody. “Good news Christians” champion the priesthood of all believers: Gentiles and Jews, women and men.
To the Apostles, patriarchy wasn’t God’s original order. Therefore, they refused to bless the existing fallen patriarchal order by calling it good! The earliest curse on Eve is revealing: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will lord it over you.” In other words, people’s cravings for power over each others subsists from the consequence of the fall. Sinfulness causes both male and female to seek dominion over each others. Suddenly, true love between equal parts of the whole disintegrated into a desire to subjugate.
This desire corrupted all ecclesiastical structures and social relationships. Patriarchy is a dramatization of the effect of sin on human relationships. The only way forward requires both men and women to repent of the power paradigm in relationships.
In his apostolic letters, Paul effectively engaged patriarchal culture. Paul knew where the people ought to be, but he started where they were. He engaged the existing male leadership structures. He placed more and more strictures on the head of the household to limit his power and the way he related to his wife, children and slaves. They are persons, too, created in God’s image. People are not property. All people are created equal. In Christ, there is no “male or female,” “Jew or Gentile,” “slave or free.”
Submission is no longer gender specific. Mutual submission trumps all social orders. What determines the leadership structures in the church proceeds from gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit – not gender or ethnicity. God is no respector of person or gender. Not surprisingly, Paul calls a woman named Junia an outstanding apostle in his letter to the Romans. The evidence in support of the exclusion turns, unjustifiable. In the eyes of God, women and men are equal by nature, both in dignity and human personhood. Functionally, they mutually subordinate and complement each other.
The pastoral letters are written for us – not to us. Therefore, Paul’s “correctives” demanding quietness must be understood against the backdrop of the prevailing culture. In the Greco-Roman festivals, women played vital roles in temples and worship services. They served as priestesses, prophetesses, teachers, healers, keepers of the eternal flames, etc. These high-profile women expected to continue their arts in the Christian assemblies when they converted to Christ. They encountered resistance by well-seasoned believers who demanded compulsive catechism: A person (male or female) who is not properly instructed is easily deceived. Catechism insured that novices were properly instructed and learned before instructing others.
Finally, under Constantine, churches were equated to Old Testament temples and ministers to its priests. Since only males could serve as priests, the church excluded women. The patriarchal family system dominated the landscape. It championed the concept of assigning roles to genders. There is no biblical prohibition against all women teaching and preaching that is applicable across all times, places and situations.
The deficit in the church is not a lack of strong and gifted women. Were it not for women, most churches would have closed. Society has unjustly excluded women and disintegrated human relationships through prejudice for way too long.
Good News Christians must unanimously reject any exclusion of women from pulpit ministry. In Christ, what sets the terms for people to occupy official ministerial roles proceeds from giftedness, not rights or equality with another. God wants his gifted people to be fulfilled, not frustrated. For the sake of the Gospel, let all gifted women preach the word!
The Most Rev. Dr. Daniel Zopoula
The Miz City Church, Lethbridge.