A Woman’s Place, In The Church – summing up my own view

“A Woman’s Place, In The Church – summing up my own view” is the first repost (the original appeared on Intellectuelle in March 2006) here to provide background in the continuing conversation on women authority and roles in the Church. The entire series is listed in links at the bottom of the article.

In my former post,A Woman’s Place, March 28 , I said this:

“the big questions are going to be: Do women have a place in the leadership roles of the church? If so, what forms and restrictions are there?
What does submission look like, and in the mutual submission what is “seemly”, proper? “

My view is not going to be a definitive statement on the matter, but a look at the scriptures and extrapolating some of the cultural realities within some of the answers that are forwarded by others.

I stated previously that there is a hierarchy within God-given parameters of this life, and within the Church. The question is not whether there is such a hierarchy, but what form that takes in practical expressions of life. I think this is what Paul expressed in “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” 1 Timothy 2:13, that the hierarchy of God, man, then woman, was still in place. Our freedom and egality of position in Christ does not abrogate the order of the natural position in this life (stated in 1 Corinthians 11, as well). These scriptures do not preclude leadership positions for women, but indicate recognition of the ways in which we are to interact as men and women.

While looking at this section of scripture, 1 Timothy 2, I’d like to examine the context. Paul is a church planter, an apostle, and he is writing to Timothy on the topic of instituting sound doctrine in the church, so this is a foundational type of teaching. These are general admonitions with an overview of what best serves the promulgation of the gospel. If we don’t see these things as general, rather than specific, I think we run into several problems. One is that of outward dress. When Paul first is mentioning proper demeanor for women, he addresses the tendency to use appearance as a measure of importance. Thus the admonitions to “tone it down”. This is a decisive break with the standards of the culture, and placing the standards of the inward character prominently, instead. It is not a commandment for Christian women. IOW, we are not in defiance of the gospel when we wear pearls, etc. The text that follows is also problematical if taken in this “commandment” type of view. It would then stand against the practice of the early church as recorded in other places, where women do teach, and do have positions of recognized authority,i.e. deaconesses.

So what does this mean?
“11 Let a woman learn in quietness, in entire submissiveness.

12 I allow no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to remain in quietness and keep silence ” ?
Wycliff ‘s version says it this way:
“11 A woman learn [she] in silence, with all subjection.

12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, neither to have lordship on the husband [neither for to have lordship on the man], but to be in silence. “

And another place in scripture (1 Corinthians 14, Amplified version) says this,
“33 For He [Who is the source of their prophesying] is not a God of confusion and disorder but of peace and order. As [is the practice] in all the churches of the saints (God’s people),

34 The women should keep quiet in the churches, for they are not authorized to speak, but should take a secondary and subordinate place, just as the Law also says.

35 But if there is anything they want to learn, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to talk in church [for her to usurp and exercise authority over men in the church].

36 What! Did the word of the Lord originate with you [Corinthians], or has it reached only you?”

In both places there are ideas of women in a learning capacity, and of the inappropriateness of “lordship over” or usurpation of authority over men. This is all in the context of “order in the Church”. The commandment is in forbidding the usurpation of authority. This is quite an old issue, and one dealt with continually in the account of Moses in Genesis, as well as earlier. It is a general principle in the Word of God.

In this specific instance, women will not always be unlearned in the scriptures or doctrines, but they will need to operate in an attitude of respect for men. The idea of this respect is mutual (1 Corinthians 11:11-12), but it seems that women need to be reminded of it in these scriptures. Experience says this is the case.

Ok. So what are the practical problems we face?

Woman Pastors

I think there is going to be a difficulty in the application of these scriptures under a woman senior pastor. If there is no male counterpart, the duties of discipline in the Church, of counseling, and implementing authority are going to require a woman to take authority over men in a way that even the most liberal of cultures frowns upon. Maybe because it ends up emasculating men rather than correcting them. We have to face this squarely. Woman may operate in preaching, in teaching, and in giving direction to the Church, but in the other capacities of discipline there is a direct opposition to the hierarchy and in the commands of scripture. This is why Paul underlines the characteristic of submission. There are times when gender does matter, and it will require the ideals of Christ’s servanthood to adjust oneself to these matters. If the Church is supposed to mirror God’s order for family and if women are not to “lord it over their husbands”, then the matter of final authority is going to require that a man lead the ship of faith. “What! Did the word of the Lord originate with you, or has it reached only you?” Are we going to say there are no men to lead, or that we refuse to follow leadership if women aren’t equally represented? Or that it won’t work if we can’t have the final say, as women? I discern a bit of the prioritizing of the cultures standards over the scriptural ones if we are going to bridle and be insistant on these points. And I have to ask, Is the culture so successful in its reordering of these things? That is one thing I want to look at…. is the culture’s view one that is successful, and in tune with the realities of men and women, especially in light of whether we should so deride the scriptures guidance? Because that is the insinuation of such protests.

‘Parachurch’ is a Thorny Hedge

An idea submitted within some comments, to the effect that it’s one way to circumvent these difficulties, is a concept of “parachurch” activities for women. A division of Church proper and of Church on the side. Aside from the impossibility of such a situation in my own view, let’s look at how it plays out in the application.

First, what’s “parachurch”?

“The defining characteristic of a parachurch is that it stands outside of the organizational structure of well-established religious bodies….The parachurch is effectively a new form of religious organization that dates from the early 19th century…. While parachurch organizations are organizationally autonomous, they typically function with a considerable degree of interdependence with established religious oganizations. “

That there is already a contention on this basis, as exemplified in this article: ”

“parachurch” ministry […] has no Scriptural authority. By definition, a parachurch ministry is one “raised up” by man supposedly to accomplish something churches are charged to do by the Scriptures. However, one should question raising up an organization outside the church (para-church) to accomplish objectives ordained by God to be produced by the normal, proper functioning of the local church and all its parts, especially for the evangelization of the lost. All too often, what is established to assist local churches ends up competing with them and introducing unscriptural philosophies and practices.”

protesting such a beneficial organization as Campus Crusade, outlines some of the criticism.

parachurch. It is a word comprised of two components, para and church. Para is Greek, and it is commonly translated as meaning beside [parallel], two things side by side. From this we can understand parachurch to mean beside the church, or side by side with the church. One thing that should be immediately apparent from this definition is that the parachurch is not the church. The church cannot be beside itself. In the same way, the parachurch is not the church. This is explicit in the prefix para.
The whole issue of the parachurch is an awkward and difficult subject at best.” -Credenda.org

Given that the parachurch is not outside the commands of Christ, for us as Christians, I don’t think this is the way to approach the issues. Outside of the Church institution does not mean outside of Christ. Or it shouldn’t. We will still run into a thorny situation when we seek to integrate Church life and the means of ‘parachurch’ organizations. All having the assumption of being Christian in nature. And the points of integration of women in the culture and women in the Church are where we will find the issues we need to address.

Points of Contact

One of the toughest points is going to be if one allows that there are women in leadership in the so-called parachurch venues, but as soon as that woman walks through the doors of the Church she is denied access to such a position. There is an inherent inequity there. And so, one cannot have it both ways. There is no weaseling out of making real lines along doctrinal decisions. To edit out the historical and scriptural examples of such women is even worse. If traditional Churchmen refuse to make a cohesive policy based upon what scripture -God – actually allows, they will find themselves in the ever tightening juggernaut of God building His Church His way against their small traditional views. Because in many ways this issue has already been settled.

Women have been recognized as capable. Women have been recognized as legally equal. These recognitions are in every way harmonious with scripture. What remains unresolved is how men and women should interact, not whether women have a place in the leadership of the Church. It is in the how-to of the leadership, and all contentions that serve only to confuse women unsure of their position and privileges in Christ are irresponsible. The Church of Jesus Christ cannot in this day afford such irresponsibility. And the leadership of the men should hold more gravitas than to stir up foolish contentions on this issue. “No blogging”. Indeed.

Because bigger issues are at hand in our culture. We have a feminist wave that belittles men and their roles, to the great detriment of society and individuals. We have men unsure of their roles and place, to the great loss of families. We have a general lack of respect for all authority, and general disrespect of women which piggybacks upon the liberalized versions of womens roles and purpose. We have people generally confused over the basic pillars of society- no longer even sure of definitions of what marriage consists of or why it should consist of anything.

And the Church can speak of nothing with clarity until it makes clear its view of women. Until it can articulate who God says women are, it cannot speak authoritatively. It is not as if we lack examples of godly women. Or definitions, if we will study them. We are simply afraid of making the statements with the humility of Christ’s servants. We want our places, and prerogatives, more than we want the truth. And that goes for both sides, as I see it.

Submission is not a dirty word, and we shouldn’t make it so. Leadership is not Lordship, it is an attitude of serving and that is never gender related. If the full-blown independence of women from men were the goal, then women such as Maureen Dowd, who complains that she can’t find satisfaction in her personal life, wouldn’t be so unhappy with their outcomes. This is similar to the situation of women leading in the Church. It isn’t satisfactory in either practical or spiritual matters to divorce men from the picture. Men have their position of leadership and responsibility for the oversight of souls, women are an adjunct in this capacity. There is a synergism there, and all the ways of quantifying that with ideas of “lesser” and “greater” have always been at odds with the entire structure of God’s Kingdom. The disciples of Jesus argued about this in His hearing and He addressed it. The Greatest is the servant of all. You just don’t get to jostle for position. Not whether you are male or female.

If we truly were busy about the honoring of one another in the proper way, concerning oneself with an “other” orientation, the example of such a fellowship would shut alot of mouths on the topic. Something superior and excellent has a way of doing that. So, whether you want to argue about the perceived position of someone such as Brigid or not, no one will deny that such a woman did a lot of good works worthy of note in history and had an undeniable influence in the establishment of the Church. This is an aspect to aspire to.

Along this line another point of contact is going to be whether we employ a double standard. In this case, are we going to allow for a double standard when it comes to giving men their due respect and honor? Will we insist men change whatever cultural ways they do not honor women, but we will not adjust our own cultural filter? That we can demean men and refuse them the place that the scripture outlines because we hold more to our culture-inflected opinions? Let’s be honest about this.

My Opinion In A Nutshell:

Women should be given opportunities in all forms of leadership, but with the caveat that it should be shared with men in all the final decisions of discipline and doctrine. Women should exhibit the type of respect that Paul described, to their husbands and to those worthy of it in places of authority. Women have a responsibility to share their insights and abilities, but in the proper venues and ways. These will differ among Church groups, according to convictions. One should obey God rather than man, and that will define the limits of submission and obedience for all Christians.

Yes, there are limits. True freedom has limitations which separates it from license, these are the guidelines of order; true obedience has guidelines of proper authority which denotes it from a system of tyranny and slavery. The gospel strikes this balance within the demands of life.

Our gender does not define us, but it does define functioning in a physical world. There is a difference that I think the gospel makes clear.

My posts in this series @ Intellectuelle began with: