Saturday, October 26, 2019

Is There Room for Women Pastors?

We shouldn’t steer away from difficult conversations or controversy, and it’s important to understand opposing views if we are to influence the world around us with the truth of Scripture. This is a hard topic, and I ask that you don’t assume where I’m going with this subject. So here it goes…

What’s wrong with this scenario: in a public forum, a prominent minister was asked how he would respond to a certain woman’s name. (https://youtu.be/NeNKHqpBcgc) His response was direct and cutting: “Go Home!” From the response of the crowd, he obviously knew his audience. They laughed and applauded his response, creating a reason for a post-Christian culture to become outraged. In this case, the woman is wildly popular as a Christian teacher, the head a ministry that has inspired countless people. 

Let’s suppose for a moment that he had every reason to criticize her teachings as unbiblical. Was his response appropriate? Did he respond in a firm, clear and loving fashion to another believer? In other words, did he speak the truth in love? (Ephesians 4:15) Did he treat her as Christ treats His Bride? I believe the answer is clear; even if he was entirely legitimate in criticizing any wrong teachings, did he treat her as another person of great worth, created in God’s image? Remember in Genesis: male and female He created man in His image. (Genesis 1:27) He attacked the person and not the issues and by doing so did not represent God well. I would argue that for this minister’s public transgression, he should publicly apologize for how he conveyed the message. His apology should not flow from a utilitarian perspective of how our society perceives this jab, but he should acknowledge how important it is for each of us to repent when we do something wrong, especially godly leaders.

To be fair, there are reasons why people believe women should be pastors, and they reference both Deborah in the Old Testament (Judges 4-5) as well as Phoebe, Aquila, Pricilla and others in the New Testament (Romans 16) as precedent for women leadership. They look at when the Bible was written and point out that the culture wasn’t ready for women leaders, arguing that the Church fathers were pushing the envelope as far it could go to drive equal rights. 

But is that how we should look at Scripture? Are we like a Judge reviewing a law and examining precedent rulings to discern how to apply it? Should we read it in the context of our cultural environment, or should we look at all Scripture as timeless, God-breathed and suitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness? (2 Timothy 3:16) If we try to interpret the Bible in the context of relevance to our current culture, we will go astray. Instead, Scripture should be interpreted in the context of Scripture.

How can we pick and choose what we’ll believe in Scripture and expect that any of it is from God? If a person doesn’t believe the whole Bible, their belief system does not have a firm foundation, and it is based on whatever argument can sway them. Sure we may struggle in understanding certain concepts, but that is an invitation by God to press into Him for better understanding. If we conveniently avoid certain verses to fit with what we want to believe, we will be in error.  When righteousness is based only on what we choose to believe, it reflects the old testament description for the wicked: each doing what is right in their own eyes. They may be well-intentioned, but they are in opposition to God because they are not in agreement with His Word. They could be extremely sincere, but they are sincerely wrong… not because I say so, but because God says so in His Holy Word. (Hosea 8)

If I’ve offended you in these statements, it’s not because I’m insensitive. It’s because I am speaking truth to you with the loving intent that you understand and change the direction in which you are going! The entirety of the Bible is divinely written and inerrant; it is His chosen way to communicate truth clearly to us, truth that changes us.

So, what does the Bible say about women being pastors? We know very little about Phoebe, Aquila and Priscilla, and the specifics about their roles are unclear. Regardless of their specific ministry responsibilities, it would be consistent with the rest of Scripture, especially in the context of Paul’s other teachings. What the proponents of women pastors often overlook is 1 Timothy 2:12. Paul clearly writes: “I don’t allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. Instead, she should be quiet.” 1 Corinthians 14:33-34 states it equally clearly:
God is not a God of disorder but a God of peace. As in all the churches of God’s holy people, the women must keep silent. They don’t have the right to speak. They must take their place as Moses’ Teachings say.
Romans 16 states clearly that Phoebe is a deacon (leader) while Aquila and Priscilla are co-workers in the service of Christ. Clearly, they had a leadership roles, as did Deborah in the Old Testament. And while the qualifications for a deacon are described in 1Timonthy 3, the responsibilities of a deacon are not. (https://www.9marks.org/article/biblical-qualifications-and-responsibilities-deacons/) In 1 Timonthy 3, Paul refers to the wives of deacons as well, implying that deacons are men. So we may wonder if the women of Romans 16 were an exception to the rule or if maybe their leadership responsibilities didn’t involve teaching or having authority over men? Did they teach only women and children? Did they have a hospitality ministry? 

This is consistent with the recurring theme of headship established in Genesis and reiterated throughout Scripture. It is the man’s role to be a spiritual leader both in the church and in the home. And if we look at the full story of Deborah, it’s obvious that the man in the story did not demonstrate the leadership that he was called to live out. Exploring the story further in the song of Deborah (Judges 5), it’s clear that the men of Israel were not standing in opposition to the evil in the land. 

I personally believe the story of Deborah tells us that when men abdicate their role as spiritual leaders, a woman may temporarily fill it, but that is not God’s first desire. This is true in the home as well as the church. Still, we did not see Deborah picking up a sword to fight Sisera. Rather, she was encouraging Barak to step into his role and lead well. There was no power struggle for dominance in this story, and the victory song belongs to both Deborah and Barak. They worked together as a team to line up with God’s will and rejoiced together in the victory that God gave them through the woman, Jael. 

To be clear, a leadership role in the Kingdom is not the same as in the world where people lord it over others. The worldly kind of leadership is an abusive and misogynistic oppression that created an easily divided people, looking to find fault in others. Also, we should all understand that a person’s leadership role does not indicate greater worth; it is simply what God has called us to do. Role does NOT equal worth. A godly leader is a servant-leader, seeking to bring out the best in others, unwavering in righteous conviction because it is founded upon Scripture, yet humble and gentle in how we treat others. 

I can tell you we all fall short of this model of godly leadership. There is only One who demonstrates this godly model perfectly, and it should be our aspiration to reflect Jesus’ servant-leadership as revealed in Scripture and as He patiently demonstrates in our personal walk with Him. He is asking us to actively join Him, submitting to His ways as He works with us to become more like Him.
My thanks to my own wife, Deborah, who offered many challenges and suggestions as I wrote this.
copyright ©2019 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)