Tuesday, 10 July 2007

I have now prepared my arguments for the debate in which I am partaking on Sunday morning before our church's young people. The debate is on the role of women in the church - whether they should lead. I'd like to show them to you now for your scurtiny and suggestions, and purely for interest's sake.

Do bear in mind the Baptist attitude towards positions of leadership. I've avoided anything priestly, so don't expect to see the In persona Christi arguments, and the like, or the force of Sacred Tradition. Whilst I hold them to be powerful arguments, my audience would need some persuading. Accordingly, they are omitted, along with any other relevant Catholic theology (I hope). Nonetheless, much has been used from the work of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and its 1976 publication, Inter Insigniores.

Debate on the Role of Women in the Church

The arguments against women serving as church leaders are essentially divided into several parts, as follows:

· The example of Christ.
· The example of the Apostles and the early Church
· The teachings of Paul in his New Testament letters.

With each part, I have listed the key arguments and Scriptural quotations, with a brief explanation, below.

The example of Christ

1) Jesus did not call any women to become part of the Twelve. In doing this, he was not simply conforming to the standards of his time; throughout the New Testament, we see how dramatically he broke with the Jewish custom in his attitude towards women. Examples of this include:
· Talking in public with a Samaritan woman (Jn 4:27)
· Ignoring the legal impurity of the woman who had suffered from haemorrhages (Mt. 9:20-22)
· Allowing sinful women to approach him. (Lk 7:37-50)
· Pardoning the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:11)
· Teaching of the equality of rights and duties of men and women in marriage (Mk 10:2-11; Mt 19:3-9)

2) The role of the twelve Apostles was different from those of the other disciples: they were to be the leaders of the church. Jesus’ disciples included many women very close to him: ‘Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others.’ Yet these disciples were not – and never became – apostles.

3) Contrary to Jewish custom it is women to whom Christ entrusts the message of his Resurrection. Their role in telling the Apostles of the Resurrection was against custom because the Jewish mentality did not give women the authority to witness great events.

The practice of the Apostles

1) The apostles kept faithful to Christ’s attitude. Even though Mary had a privileged place amongst the disciples, she was not invited to replace Judas as an apostle. Instead, Matthias – unmentioned in the Gospels – was chosen.

2) When they apostles went beyond the Jewish world and worked within the Greek and Roman cultures, they maintained their stance against women in leadership. In the Greek culture, women were often priestesses in the cult of Greek deities. Greek feminism was strong. Nonetheless, the Apostles maintained that women could not have authority. Thus it cannot simply be because of the Jewish culture that they took such a stance.

3) Paul was assisted in his ministry by many people. Some were men, some were women. Examples of the women are found in Romans 16:3-12 and Philippians 4:3. Yet they were not leaders. This is seen in the original Greek text:
· The Greek text gives three types of ministry: episkopos, presbyteros, and diakonos, meaning overseer (or bishop), elder, and deacon, (or servant). The overseers and elders were figures of authority. The deacons – servants – had responsibility, but not authority.
· The woman described in Romans 16, Phoebe, was a deacon, not a leader. No woman was made to be an overseer or an elder.
· Similarly, Paul has two ways of referring to his colleagues. One is ‘my fellow workers’, which he uses of men and women; they are helping him in his work. Another is ‘God’s fellow workers’, used only of Apollos, Timothy and himself. This has been taken by many leading Biblical scholars to show the distinction between the ministry of leading the Church and the ministry of working in it. The leading is only done by men in the New Testament.

The teachings of Paul in his Letters

Paul’s letters are very important to the role of women. These are a few key verses from his letters:

Galatians 3:28
‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’
This is the great ‘equality’ verse of the New Testament, used by many to suggest an equality of roles in the Church. But is this correct? If so, it contradicts the other teachings of Paul:

1 Corinthians 11:3
‘But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of the woman, and God is the head of Christ’

As well as equality, Paul talks of a hierarchy as the best way of human living. Respecting and loving each other as equals, the husband is to exercise authority over his wife? Is this compatible with Galatians 3:28? It is only compatible if ‘equal’ does not mean ‘the same’ in Paul’s teaching.
The same ideas are seen again in Ephesians:

Ephesians 5:22-24
‘Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband d is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church…Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, subject to their husbands.’

Again, men are given authority over the woman. Why is this so? The answer is given in the famous verse in 1 Timothy on the subject of women teaching in church.

1 Timothy 2: 11-14
‘Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.’

Those supporting women in leadership often take this verse as contextual, or as part of Paul’s dislike of women. To suggest that Paul is sexist is wrong, because Paul was in favour of equality – he wrote Galatians 3:28. Even so, he taught that women could not have authority over men in church. Was this contextual?

We have already seen that the Greek culture in Ephesus had female priestesses, and so were used to having women teach. It cannot therefore be that Paul banned them leading because they would not have the respect of the men. The reason Paul gives is that it is because of Eve’s actions in the Garden of Eden. This is not a contextual reason for Greece in the first century, but a reason from the dawn of time. Thus, the argument still applies today.

The point is that unless ‘equal’ mean ‘interchangeable’, equality means nothing for the role of women as church leaders.

This is a counter-cultural message, like most of the New Testament. We are called to uphold God’s Creation of male and female as a complementary partnership, not as a uniform ‘equality’.

‘The questions are delicate: it is necessary to aim for a system where both men and women contribute effectively, in order that both men and women bring their own riches and activity in building a world, not levelled and uniform, but harmonious and united according to the design of the Creator’


GT said...

Pass me the smelling salts...

Gavin said...

This is great stuff Phil, and when combined with the "In Persona Christi" argument it is pretty watertight.

It is a shame that Greg has had to resort to sarcasm rather than constructing a serious, reasonable response. Perhaps he just couldn't be bothered at the time.

James said...

Good luck finding a wife!

Francis said...

Lol - that's a little rich for you Gavin - you're prone to sarcastic throw away comments yourself!

Gavin said...

Francis is gay.


The Lassalian said...

I hear many Christian men the world over whispering 'hear, hear!' Unfortunately, Pandora's Box has already been opened, and the horse (or mare) has bolted. I know that I'm mixing metaphors, but the notion that Sacred Scripture and Holy Tradition cuts an real ice in protestant circles belongs to a previous age.
All your arguments are 'sound' (you should have no problem joining Gavin's CLUB), and well published, but the spiritual backbone has been removed from many Church committees and leaders. Soluition ? Hard to move on where many people now find themselves. Much need for prayer.

Gavin said...


And the Club is not "mine", but a collective outpouring of our combined affection for all things formal and classy.