Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Thoughts on Women in Ministry, Part 2: Doing Church Then and Now

Imagine Timothy on a Sunday morning in Ephesus. He goes to church after a week spent studying Jonah 2 in his office (of course following the standard one-hour-of-study-per-one-minute-of-preaching rule) and is ready to deliver the second sermon in his four week series on the book (which he's cleverly titled "Belly-Aching in a Bulimic Fish"). 10 a.m. rolls around and Timothy sits in the front row and enjoys the first song, which he and everybody else knows is really just a warm-up. When that finishes, he goes before the congregation, makes the announcements with a smile, dismisses the children to go to Sunday School (which is in another wing of the church building), makes sure the guests know that they're welcome and asks them to fill out a Connection Card, then tells everybody to give a holy kiss to someone they haven't met before. After worship Timothy delivers his sermon, another song finishes the service, and everyone leaves until the next week.

I think not. I bring up the situation as a reminder that church in the first century looked a lot different than church does now. Scholars are almost entirely agreed that the earliest Christian churches were house churches (thus "in every place" in 1 Tim. 2:8 probably means "in every house church"). The idea of a "worship leader" would have been entirely foreign (despite that hymns were most definitely sung congregationally) and each house church would need at least one teacher. Further, 1 Cor. 14:26 (and probably Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:19) gives the impression that church was a time for everyone to participate in some way or another. And if you can find me a New Testament church ministry specifically to kids, young adults, or any other niche group, I would be learning something new.

Too often when we try to apply NT ecclesiology to the modern church, we fail to recognize the vastness of the structural and sociological chasm between them. This comes to the fore in the gender debate especially when we consider that major difference between the number of voices contributing in a regular church meeting. Think about it like this: if a woman cannot teach or have authority over a man and the only (or almost only) person that gets to edify the congregation when it gathers is the one preaching the sermon, then it is easy to understand why women feel slighted for being born with two X chromosomes. What role do they have if they don't want to do children's ministry?

There are a few things that ought to be considered to remedy this problem, but I will focus on one that I think is especially important and invite you to share any others you think relevant. One of the most important things we can do to recover the proper place of women in the church is to rediscover the importance of the charismatic spiritual gifts (i.e. those charismata that Paul addresses in 1 Cor. 11-14). 1 Cor. 11:4-5 makes quite clear that women contribute with prophecy and prayer in edifying ways in the congregation. But except in overtly charismatic churches today, most women will simply not have that medium for edification.

And that is a shame on any number of levels, at least two of which are worth enumerating here: (1) I am an unabashed charismatic and cannot help but remind the reader that if the charismatic gifts are for today, our not pursuing them is essentially a denial of the importance of the Holy Spirit's ministry to us. (2) If women should be contributing in certain ways and we stifle that, we are hurting both them and ourselves. They need the opportunity to minister and we need to be edified by them. It's that simple.

I should close by making a specific point of asking for more input on this point (especially by women!). I would be interested to hear in particular what other ecclesiological differences you see that make the application of complementarianism difficult, and what other ways you think your and my solutions could help.


Jason said...

As a proponent of nouthetic biblical counseling, I would like to see more women involved in counseling women. I am a complementarian and think that men should run the church. However, there are few counseling options for women who don't want to talk to a male pastor.

I'm not saying that these women should be pastors, but they should be on staff and available for counseling.

Carrie Allen said...

Andrew -
I think one of the main problems is in dealing with a situation where a woman has more biblical knowledge than any of the men. This often takes place on missions trips. I have heard some complimentarians say that women should still not teach or have any authority in this situation, and others say they of course they should teach and have authority.

Or, I will give you my personal situation: I am going to go on staff at a church and I am going to be very involved with the missions aspect of it all. Actually, I have been asked to sit on the board for our missions "department". I have a feeling that I will be teaching classes, and leading trips throughout the next few years, and I feel as if God has equipped me for this kind of ministry, through my Biblical education at Biola, better than some male leaders in my church (obviously, I hope that this statement would not seem prideful, I am only trying to be honest about my situation. There are many great men at my church who are learned in business, and the sciences etc., but have never studied the Bible in an academic environment). But this might not be too much of a problem because I don't think complimentarians have a problem with women teaching Sunday school...am I right? But what about leading a missions trip? What if a female would be more qualified to co-lead with me than a male?

Jason -
I do agree with you that women counselors are extremely needed in the church today. I am praying that God will provide for me to enter into a marriage and family therapy program (for cheap) so I can graduate and stay in the church setting to counsel. Here I will be able to use my knowledge from studying the Bible at Biola, and also in more of a therapy type of setting in my masters program. You definitely cannot find a professionally trained female counselor at my church, and that is very sad.

dcljoy said...


Thank God that you are thinking about the issue ... and not just accepting your 'privileged' position as a man.

Why would God gift women for work that they cannot do? ...

Or why is it ok to make exceptions where no man can be found e.g. in the mission field.
If those who believe in 'men only' want to be logical in applying their arguments .... then there should be no exceptions. Otherwise, who decides when an exception applies?

The sad part is, that there are valid alternative interpretations of the texts used to justify this doctrine .... but of course these can't be right.

Personally, I think it should not be a matter of either/or ... but we should function as the Creator made us to do ... as a team - each one complementing the other.