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Women in the Ministry a Matter of governance?

September 28th, 2012

By Tom Petter
Old Testament Professor
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

To discuss the quesiton of complementarian versus egalitarian views of women in the ministry is one issue that fits squarely within the “let’s not get into it” category among well meaning Christians. There are very strong opinions on both sides held by equally committed believers who would otherwise wholeheartedly agree on substantial issues: inerrancy of Scripture? Check. Deity of Christ, Trinitarian theology, commitment to world missions and evangelism? Check. Salvation through Christ alone, by grace, through faith alone? Yes, yes and yes. The list could go on. These are folks who stand shoulder to shoulder in their understanding of the Gospel.

Of course, differences come about when questions of church governance and ecclesiology are raised. Believer’s baptism vs infant baptism is obviously the main one, but episcopal, presbyterian and congregational forms of governance rank high as well. The same can be said regarding spiritual gifts. For some, miracles of the apostolic age do not occur today. Others tacitly believe God to perform miracles today, but it’s not really expected. Yet others seem to be always actively looking for signs. In the real world, I suspect many people find themselves somewhere in between. We would not presume to limit God in anything he wishes to accomplish today, including supernatural interventions and the bestowing of spiritual gifts. However, neither would we want to dictate terms to Him and demand He shows up, say every Wednesday night at 9pm to perform some power healing in our midst. A gift ceases to be a gift once it becomes an entitlement.

So it seems there is some room to move about within the safe confines of orthodoxy. In principle we are happy to live under a big tent as Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, Anglicans and independents, as long as the essentials of the faith are preserved. Of course within this eclectic bunch, there will always be some who are willing to die on the smaller hills, but overall I think there is a general consensus that we are fighting on the same side on the essentials, right?

Well, up to a point. These neat boundaries somehow get blurred when the topic of the role and function of women in the church gets a hearing (somehow the topic of women in the market place and politics takes a markedly greyer shade: no-one seems to question Margaret Thatcher’s gift of leadership). Here it seems the topic is treated along the following lines.

Some assure us the matter is a non-essential of the faith. We can’t place teachings on the role of women alongside, say, the penal substitutionary view of the atonement. Thus, as the saying goes, people then should be free to disagree on the matter. Others of course, are quick to point that this secondary element of doctrine involves a substantially large population, who, regardless of where we fall on the issue, hardly fit within the non-essential category.

So is there a way forward? Can we come to a place of consensus in this very personal matter? My answer comes in three parts: No, no and maybe. The answer will be no if we go after the exegetical question. People have drawn some strong conclusions from Paul’s intended meaning out of the key texts in 2 Timothy 2, Ephesians 5, 1 Corinthians 11, and others. I don’t think any amount of new lexical data will persuade them that we should view Paul in a different way. Positions, whether complementarian or egalitarian are pretty much established at this point (to outline the views wouldn’t fit in this post).

When we turn to the hermeneutical question (i.e., synthesizing biblical data into a coherent system), the answer, I’m afraid , will also be no. People approach the text with different systems and these usually compete with each other. For example, monocovenantal theologians focus on the unity between the covenants. For them the law-gospel contrast as envisioned by Martin Luther simply doesn’t exist. On the other hand, covenantal theologians and dispensational theologians would uphold a different covenantal relationship exists between the OT and the NT. There is in fact a law-gospel difference. Yet all these schools are equally convinced their system is the best to understand the overall biblical data. Thus, systems will go on competing with each other, each arguing their exegesis is the proper one and providing the most consistent way to read the biblical data, etc.

The same seems to be true with the issue of women in the ministry from a hermeneutical standpoint. For example scholars will interpret the ministry of Deborah as prophetess and judge very differently, depending on whether they restrict women from performing certain ministerial roles today. In other words, even with the best exegetical intentions, there are certain hermeneutical instincts we all carry to individual texts that will cause us to read certain passages with different outcomes. So what we know from past debates in church history still holds true: while we may all share the same view of the Scripture as the inerrant Word of God, our interpretations of the Word of God are unfortunately not all equally infallible! Nevertheless, as one committed to the task of exegesis, I refuse to capitulate and will continue to search the Scriptures for their intended meaning. But it is also wise to pause and realize we all suffer from the occasional bout of exegetical and theological myopia.

So is there a way out? This is where the answer “maybe” comes in. In practical terms, it seems that it is usually on the basis of differing ecclesiologies that contrasting views on women’s role emanate (and of men’s role in the church, the order of service, the kind of music we play, who officiates, who gets to be a deacon, elder, etc.). Thus, functionally, these decisions tend to fall under the rubric of governance. Of course we strive to draw our ecclesiology from careful exegesis, theological and hermeneutical reflection and historical traditions. Nevertheless, when push comes to shove, these categories of ministerial roles remain subservient to the larger theological essentials such as the Trinity, the authority of Scripture, holy living, etc.

While arguing from silence is not a strong way to make a case, I find it interesting that in Paul’s clearest articulation of the Gospel in Romans and Galatians, if anything, he is making the case for inclusivity rather than exclusivity in terms of ministries, roles and functions. Likewise, in the practice of the early Church, there is considerable freedom expressed in the ministry of say, Priscilla who, along with her husband Aquila, ministers at certain important junctures in the narrative history of Acts (e.g., 18:26).

The question then becomes, could we not apply the same broad-mindedness we seem to have concerning ecclesial issues such as baptism to the question of the ministry of women? If we recognize plurality in governance, perhaps we should also entertain a similar inclusivity by accepting one another’s contrasting views of the place and function of women in the ministry.

Some will be quick to point out that for them the ordination of women goes to the heart of our identity as man and woman created in God’s image (based on the order of creation in Genesis). So governance and theology can’t be separated. And they would add, there are fundamental differences, for example between Baptists and Presbyterians, which would be considered essentials. Evidently, such objections mark the end of the experiment for them. For some of us, however, we may be willing to set aside these differences for the sake of the proclamation and the defense of the Gospel, emphasizing our diversity of opinions on the matter yet without violating our own consciences along the way.

In practical terms, then, the matter becomes one of submission (e.g. Phil 2). If we are led to serve in a certain body of believers, for instance, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), then we will need to be prepared to submit to a Presbyterian form of governance, along with specific views concerning deacons (men only), ordained ministry and elders. Likewise if we join an organization such as YWAM, which holds the role and ministry of women in high regard, we will need to submit to that body. And if we find ourselves wishing to impose restrictions as to what women can or cannot do, going against the governance protocol of a particular body, we should probably seek to fulfill our ministry in other pastures. In the heat of the debates, we sometimes forget how God’s green pastures are vast and expansive. There is plenty of room for all of us to teach and preach the Gospel to a dying generation.

Patriarchy lives in the church

August 26th, 2012

Patriarchy is still alive and well in the evangelical church relative to authors we prefer to read concerning theology. In a recent Christianity Today poll [August/2012], 33% prefer male authors on theological topics. Only a little over 2% prefer women. The rest don’t care whether it is a man or a woman.

A Great look at Money in the church

June 4th, 2012

Report: Christian women give 300% more than the average American
by NCF staff | May 24, 2012 | Category: News | Tags: giving, survey, women

Women Doing Well announced the findings of a new survey among Christian women that measured key generosity motivations and barriers. In the nationwide study, over 7,300 women shared their opinions about why they give and why they don’t.

According to the survey, “Women own it, marry it, inherit it, earn it, save it, and spend it. As much as 90 cents on every dollar will pass through the hands of women. She inherits the family wealth: An estimated 70% of $41 trillion in wealth transfer will go to daughters. She receives the marital assets: The average age of a widow is 57. And she’s growing in personal earning capacity: 70% of women work outside the home, one in eleven working age women is an entrepreneur, and the majority of degrees are earned by women. Women are increasingly becoming the richer gender. As they grow in wealth, will they grow in generosity? Will this herald a new era in charitable giving?”

Key findings from the survey:

Christian women are generous – In fact, they’re more than 300% more financially generous than the average American (who gives 2.5%) and 400% more generous with their time.

More women are directing household financial giving – 92% make the decision to give within their household (39% as sole decision maker and 53% jointly with spouse).

There is a strong correlation between knowing one’s life purpose and giving – Those with a strong sense of personal calling and purpose gave 13.7% of income to charity versus those that were not sure of their calling (gave 5% less).

The #1 driver for generosity among women is personal spiritual discipline – As women grow in Biblical knowledge, their giving grows in lock step. Those that rated themselves as high on biblical knowledge gave an average 13.6% of income to charity.

Surprising Finding: Only about 1 in 3 (37%) women indicated that their church was very helpful in growing their financial generosity

Complementarian? Anthony Tony Campolo says “No Thanks”

June 3rd, 2012

Tony Campolo counseled the president Bill Clinton, has been a professor at Eastern Baptist Seminary [now Palmer]. Campolo addressed the complementarian question by asking the question is “Evangelicalism sexist?” in the compedium titled “How I changed my mind about Women in Leadership”. Campolo writes that he “got into big trouble” telling a large group of Baptist leaders that”those who prevented women from being ordained to the preaching ministry were perpetrating an evil practice”. Campolo later relates that when asked at a question and answer session “Who is supposed to be the head of the house?” Complementarians would wince in pain from the next statement in his article. Campolo writes, “When I hear such a question, I am inclined to say, “If you were really a Christian you wouldn’t ask a question like that.” ….”Fortunately” writes Campolo, “I don’t have to be that tough in my answer.” I am not sure how Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, and John Piper would give a complementarian response to that inner protected attitude.

Complementarian? Anthony Tony Campolo says "No Thanks"

June 3rd, 2012

Tony Campolo counseled the president Bill Clinton, has been a professor at Eastern Baptist Seminary [now Palmer]. Campolo addressed the complementarian question by asking the question is “Evangelicalism sexist?” in the compedium titled “How I changed my mind about Women in Leadership”. Campolo writes that he “got into big trouble” telling a large group of Baptist leaders that”those who prevented women from being ordained to the preaching ministry were perpetrating an evil practice”. Campolo later relates that when asked at a question and answer session “Who is supposed to be the head of the house?” Complementarians would wince in pain from the next statement in his article. Campolo writes, “When I hear such a question, I am inclined to say, “If you were really a Christian you wouldn’t ask a question like that.” ….”Fortunately” writes Campolo, “I don’t have to be that tough in my answer.” I am not sure how Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, and John Piper would give a complementarian response to that inner protected attitude.

Christianity Today Reports that Giving is way down

March 29th, 2012

Even as membership remains relatively stable in U.S. churches, the effects of the recession have caused contributions to drop by $1.2 billion.

According to the 2012 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, the almost $29 billion contributed by church members represented a 2.2 percent decrease in terms of per capita giving.

The $1.2 billion decline in 2010 was nearly three times as large as the $431 million in losses reported in 2009, and “provides clear evidence of the impact of the deepening crises in the reporting period,” the Yearbook’s editor, the Rev. Eileen Lindner, wrote

Hallelujah for the Trinity!!

February 2nd, 2012

T.D. Jakes Embraces Doctrine of the Trinity, Moves Away from ‘Oneness’ View
Michael Foust, Baptist Press | January 27, 2012 8:40PM

AURORA, Ill. (BP) — Bishop T.D. Jakes says he has moved away from a “Oneness” view of the Godhead to embrace an orthodox definition of the Trinity — and that some in the Oneness Pentecostal movement now consider him a heretic.

Jakes — long a controversial figure among evangelicals because of his past unwillingness to affirm the Trinity — stated his belief Wednesday (Jan. 27) at the second-annual Elephant Room (theelephantroom.com), an event that brings together Christian figures from different backgrounds for what organizers call “conversations you never thought you’d hear.” This year’s Elephant Room was held at Harvest Bible Chapel in Illinois and was simulcast to other locations nationwide.
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Jakes, founder and senior pastor of The Potter’s House in Dallas, was the focus of a motion at Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings in 2009 and 2010 by a messenger who wanted LifeWay Christian Stores to stop selling his books. One was ruled out of order by the SBC president, the other referred to LifeWay for study.

Jakes — who once made the cover of Time magazine, which asked if he might be the next Billy Graham — said he was saved in a Oneness Pentecostal church. Oneness Pentecostalism denies the Trinity and claims that instead of God being three persons, He is one person. In Oneness Pentecostalism, there is no distinction between the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. It is also called “modalism,” and it is embraced by the United Pentecostal Church International.

“I began to realize that there are some things that could be said about the Father that could not be said about the Son,” Jakes said. “There are distinctives between the working of the Holy Spirit and the moving of the Holy Spirit, and the working of the redemptive work of Christ. I’m very comfortable with that.” [See the transcript of Jakes’ comments at the end of this story.]

The doctrine of the Trinity — embraced by all three historical branches of Christianity — holds that God is three persons, each person is distinct, each person is fully God, and that there is one God.

Several key Bible passages, Jakes said, impacted his transition.

Bible Translator- In Honor of Eugene Nida

September 1st, 2011

Eugene Nida taught theory of translation and wrote many books on missionary practice. His contribution to the spread of the gospel worldwide in the last century is really not measurable. Apart from helping with missionary theory and translation theory for Wycliffe Bible translators, all modern Bible translations owe him a debt. God be honored, Eugene Nida went home faithfully recently to be with the Lord at age 96.

Memoriam: John Stott

August 2nd, 2011

In the early 1970’s as an undergrad student, I became acquainted with his writings. He published”Christ the Controversialist” and I realized that books like that existed. What a giant, he will be missed.

Memoriam: John Stott

August 2nd, 2011

In the early 1970’s as an undergrad student, I became acquainted with his writings. He published”Christ the Controversialist” and I realized that books like that existed. What a giant, he will be missed.

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