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 Male, Female, or both?

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purposedriven



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PostSubject: Male, Female, or both?   Sun Aug 14, 2011 9:19 pm

In the last couple of years, I have heard a lot of discussion against female pastors. I know that the Methodist church supports female pastors and I was wondering what Scriptures they use to support them in their decision.
One of the primary Scrpitures I have heard against females being in leadership is 1 Timothy 2-4. People often argue that (1 Tim 2:11) woman should submit to men. Adam and Eve were in a partnership, but (Genesis 3:16) Adam had authority over Eve. Colossians 3:18 also supports the idea of women living in submission to their husbands. How can a female pastor be in submission to the other leaders when she is the head of the church?
I know that women in Timothy's church were abusing their roles in the church and so that is partially why Paul adviced women to be quiet in church. Still, submission of women to men seems to be important to God.
Ephesians 5:22-24 portrays Christ as the head of the church and compares that to man being the head of his wife. Should then a wife take leadership in a church over her husband?
Scripture does not seem to be against women serving in the church, but should they be pastors?
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PostSubject: Re: Male, Female, or both?   Mon Aug 15, 2011 8:24 pm

purposedriven wrote:
In the last couple of years, I have heard a lot of discussion against female pastors. I know that the Methodist church supports female pastors and I was wondering what Scriptures they use to support them in their decision.
One of the primary Scrpitures I have heard against females being in leadership is 1 Timothy 2-4. People often argue that (1 Tim 2:11) woman should submit to men. Adam and Eve were in a partnership, but (Genesis 3:16) Adam had authority over Eve. Colossians 3:18 also supports the idea of women living in submission to their husbands. How can a female pastor be in submission to the other leaders when she is the head of the church?
I know that women in Timothy's church were abusing their roles in the church and so that is partially why Paul adviced women to be quiet in church. Still, submission of women to men seems to be important to God.
Ephesians 5:22-24 portrays Christ as the head of the church and compares that to man being the head of his wife. Should then a wife take leadership in a church over her husband?
Scripture does not seem to be against women serving in the church, but should they be pastors?

purposedriven,

That's a great question and I thank you for asking it. I always want to help people better understand the theology of our church so they can share it with others who disagree.

As you have pointed out, there are several scriptures that would seem to indicate that women should not be pastors, and you've mentioned the ones that are commonly given by those denominations that hold the other position. We, as United Methodists, differ in the way we approach Scripture, and so we tend to interpret those passages and many other in the Bible in a different way. Care must always be taken when looking at the Bible, for it can be a great tool of truth and wholeness or it can be a tool of evil and oppression. This has been true since the beginning, as words are transformed into law and used to justify power. Thus, when we hear people justify certain behaviors by repeating one or two verses over and over, we must take pause and ask ourselves if this is what God really intended for humanity. For me, the better approach is to look at themes that emerge in the Bible as a whole, and to rarely, if ever, take a single verse out of context and use it to argue a point.

So, with regard to women in the Bible, we certainly see themes that emerge - and these always should be looked at in context of what was going on at the time. Today women are treated with much more respect and equality than was true in the ancient world. Because of that, it's hard for us to grasp the impact of what the Biblical writers were saying. For instance, in the Genesis story, Eve was given a remarkable role of leadership. She had equal access to God and was able to convince Adam to make certain decisions (however unfortunate those turned out to be). The passage you referred to, Genesis 3:16, tells of God describing the consequences of sin. We have to remember that the 'curse' of sin was not what is written in verses 14-19. The curse was that Adam and Eve (and the rest of us) were banished from the Garden of Eden and must live in this broken world. What we see in Genesis 3:14-19 is a description of the broken world that has resulted from sin - but it is not what God intends for us. Thus, we are not so much living in punishment for what Adam and Even did thousands of years ago - rather we are living in a world that we all have created, with all of its pain and suffering and oppression. The call of God and the call of Jesus, though, was and is and will continue to be for us to work together to overcome the oppression and to restore the earth to the place God intended it to be. This is why when we pray the Lord's Prayer we say "on earth as it is in heaven".

The theme of women being lifted up in the Bible above and beyond what takes place in the broken world continues far past Adam and Eve. The book of Esther is a wonderful example of a woman in a leadership role who saves the Israelites because God has anointed her with the gifts of leadership. In the New Testament, God appears first to Mary when announcing the coming of Jesus, and Mary is the one who announces the coming of the Lord to her husband Joseph. Here we have an example of God asking Mary to talk to her husband about the ways of God, and in essence, tell him 'how it's going to be!'. Mary, of course, then becomes the vehicle for Jesus to come into the world - thereby giving her an incredible importance in the context of the story.

Throughout the gospels we see example after example of Jesus including women in his ministry. The story of the woman at the well (John chapter 4) is a wonderful example. Here we have a woman who was ostracized from her community because she had 'five husbands'. We often assume that the woman was at fault here, but the story does not say. Unfortunately, most sermons on this scripture focus on the woman being sinful and Jesus offering her grace. But the way it ends is even more incredible. The woman goes into the town and proclaims her testimony, causing many people to believe in Jesus. Before this happens, though, in verse 27, we are told that the disciples are astounded Jesus would even be talking to a woman. Since this scene is then followed by the woman actually bringing people to faith in Christ, we see that one of the major lessons of this story is that women do have something to say and to teach, and that they should be heard.

There are many more examples of women being lifted above their place in society (see the story of Mary and Martha, where Mary is in a study group with Jesus - Luke 10:38-42). But perhaps the most telling is what takes place after Jesus has died and been resurrected. The first people to the tomb were women (Luke 24:10 tells us that it was a group of several women who first arrived). These women were the ones that went and told the message of Easter to the disciples. In Mark 16:7 we read that the angels instructed the women to tell the men the good news, and for me there makes no greater sermon than that first announcement of the risen Lord.

Later, in the book of Acts and the writings of Paul and other early church leaders, we continue to see examples of women being lifted up. In Acts chapter 5, we read of a husband and wife team that made some poor decisions. Although the main point of this story is to show the importance of communal sharing, we find an incredible example of a wife (Sapphira) having equal authority in the household as her husband. Although the couple is punished for lying and holding back from the community, the account of Sapphira having equal rights is very telling.

Finally, in Paul's writings, we see him giving thanks to several women for their leadership in ministry. This takes place in an obscure and often overlooked section of the book of Romans - chapter 16. The first of these is Phoebe, who is called a deacon. The actual word in Greek is diakonis, which can mean deacon or servant or minister. Actually, the most common translation of the word in the writings of Paul is "minister". But even more exciting is Paul's thanking of Junia, in Romans 16:7. Here, Andronicas and Junia - another husband and wife team - are called by Paul "prominent among the apostles". We tend to think of the apostles as the 12 men who started the church in the book of Acts. However, there were more apostles than this, although they were all given special importance in the life of the early church. Here, Junia is listed as one of the apostles and is even called 'prominent' among them. For a fascinating read of her importance, check out the book "The Lost Apostle" by Rena Pederson.

So, what are we to do with the scriptures you mentioned? Obviously, they create some difficulty in light of the above examples. We may never be able to resolve these difficulties, but let me offer you some ways of looking at the passages you have referenced.

1 Timothy 2: This is perhaps the most striking example of women being told not to lead a church. One way people have dealt with this text is to say that this was a letter written to a particular church in a particular setting at a particular time, and that we cannot assume the same rules apply to our churches today. Certainly all or most of the letters in the New Testament were written to address something going on at particular churches, and we must keep that in mind. These letters were designed to strengthen those faith communities and we must take caution when universalizing their guidance. However, the early church did pass these letters back and forth to be shared and read aloud, so it's not entirely fair to say we shouldn't look to them for guidance ourselves. Here, though, we see some interesting things going on. In 2:8 Paul desires that "in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument." His point here is not that men should be the ones to pray and women should not - rather he wants to see men praying in every church as well as women. Also, he is criticizing the men for the ways in which they have been praying - namely using it as a time to argue and express anger.

When we get to 2:11, we find the verse that gives people trouble. "Let a woman learn in silence with full submission." There are several things that Paul is doing here that we tend to overlook. The first is in Paul's instruction to "let a woman learn". Whatever the rest of the sentence is, this is a remarkable instruction for the time. Remember the story of Martha and Mary? Martha was upset because Mary was learning at the feet of Jesus and not in the kitchen where women belonged. Here, we finally have a rule stating that women should be learning. The next part is that the learning should be "in silence and with full submission." It's unfortunate that we use the word 'silence' here. A better translation would be "with quietness" - or better yet, "with inward quietness." Really, this is advice we all would do well to hear. The best learning comes from quieting our inward voices and listening to what is being taught. We see this same word being given as a rule for men in other passages by Paul. (Acts 22:2; 1 Thess. 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:12; 1 Peter 3:4; 1 Timothy 2:2; Titus 2:2). As for being 'in full submission' - here Paul is talking about being in full submission to God.

Verse 12 if, of course, the main rub. Paul says "I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent." Of course, the latter part about keeping silent goes to the earlier point about learning with inward quietness. However, Paul is clear that women should not be teaching at this church. The problem with making this universal, though, is that it conflicts with what Paul says about other churches. In Titus 2:3-4, Paul tells older women to teach the younger ones. In 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul doesn't say "I permit no woman to teach a man or to have authority over a man" - he says "I permit no woman to teach…". In Acts 18:24-28 we read of Priscilla teaching others - the same Priscilla that Paul thanked in Romans 16. Unfortunately we don't know everything about the church that Paul wrote to in 1 Timothy. However, it is entirely possible that men were already chosen to be the teachers at this church. Since we know that both men and women were being disruptive in the worship and the teaching at the church, Paul is probably saying here "women - since you are not the appointed teachers at your church, do not try to make a scene and disrupt the learning by usurping the teachers." Of course, we have to ask ourselves - what's more likely? That Paul would be making a claim like that, or that he would be contradicting himself in his letters to the other churches and the examples of Jesus reaching out to the women and lifting them up to positions of leadership in the ministry? I like the earlier option myself.

Colossians 3:18 and Ephesians 5:22-24 give essentially the same advice: "wives be subject to your husbands." In the Colossians passage, we are not told why. We must read Ephesians for the rationale - "For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior." However, this main point of this passage is that we should have mutual respect - mutual submission - in the marriage. While Paul says the husband is head of the wife, he begins the passage with "be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." Remember that this is a big step for people at this time. He continues pushing the envelope by saying "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (vs 25) … "husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies" (vs 28) … "fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (6:4); … "masters, do the same to [your slaves]. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality." (6:9). Paul's point in 5:21-6:9 is not "women should be subordinate" or "children should be subordinate" or "slaves should be subordinate". Rather, Paul's point is "we all should respect one another." He is pushing the envelope here in every which way for how the culture operated at the time. The problem is we take the letter of the law over the spirit of what Paul was saying, and in so doing we destroy the mutuality that Paul was striving for.

We have to remember that the Bible stands to overturn the oppressive structures of society. This has been its point at the various times in which its books were written - from Genesis through Revelation. It is what gave the Israelites hope when they were in exile. It is what drove Jesus to overturn the tables at the Temple. And it is why Paul pushed the envelope in many ways, not least of which when he said "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise." (Gal 3:28-29).

As I write this, I know it will not close the book on this argument. People of faith have been passionately debating this on both sides of the issue. However, I hope I have given you some insight into why we ordain women as ministers in the United Methodist Church. On a more practical level, I should tell you that I am married to a female clergy, and one who is very gifted at that. While I put my faith in Scripture, I also recognize that God has a way of speaking in the lives of those who faithfully serve today. Many women pastors - my wife included - have been gifted with incredible gifts of faith, leadership, preaching, and teaching. We know from Scripture that these are not skills simply learned from a book, but rather are spiritual gifts from God. I do not believe God would grant gifts such as these to people not intended to use them, and I believe it is an act of sin to squelch what God has ordained.

If you have further questions, I invite you to stop by my office and talk with me in person. I can show books and commentaries that might be of some assistance, and I would enjoy the opportunity to dialogue with you.

In Christ,
Pastor Chris
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