Question: Women in Pastoral Ministry – Greg Albrecht
I spent some time in two church organizations both of whom believed women should not be involved in pastoral ministry. But I now question this view.
I did make a sort of peace with the idea over the fact that I’d rather hear a woman speak truth than hear a man speak nonsense. In spite of that though, I’m still a bit troubled by the Epistles of Paul on this issue. I’m aware of the argument that Paul’s statements were directed to a male dominated culture but that raises the question that if the culture were wrong, why did God cater to it?
What I want to understand is the theology of this issue. I don’t think that I have an inherent prejudice per se. I’m just attempting for the sake of clarity to understand the question, what does the Bible actually teach? Any insights you could provide would be most appreciated.
I am well aware of the hermeneutical gymnastics performed by those who believe women should not preach or pastor, having once adhered to and preached many of the same propositions. That said, I find the theological pretzels into which such folks must twist themselves (and their interpretation of the New Testament) is flawed and a denial of the new covenant in Christ.
My conclusions about this topic are –
- 1) There are no biblical reasons why women should not be ordained and pastor. Some say 1 Timothy 2:12 teaches the subservience of women in all roles in life – but really, no women scholars, scientists, government leaders, medical doctors, dentists, lawyers … ? This verse does not restrict a woman’s role in authority to the church, so if it is true that women cannot have authority over men and “must be silent” “in” the church it is true throughout all society. This same letter of Paul directed to Timothy makes other demands and gives other instructions (about prayer and decorum in dress for example) that we normally understand as being with a historical-cultural context far different than our own– as well we should this one. Because Paul, for whatever reason, did not allow women to preach and hold pastoral responsibility in the first century gives us no reason to conclude this is a universal, for all time prohibition. Women within the Old Testament and the New Testament were given authority over men, and there are no commandments against such a thing. Some say 1 Corinthians 14:34 where Paul instructs women to be silent and that they not be allowed to speak (within the official services of the church) is another ironclad commandment. But once again, as with Paul’s instructions to Timothy most particularly relevant to the city of Ephesus, this statement must be understood in the light of the cultural milieu faced by Christians within the city of Corinth in the first century. There is a wealth of research about both cities that suggests reasons for Paul’s statements.
- 2) Some say that these two verses, and other inferences from other passages, prove that Paul hated women and suffered from gender phobia. A careful review of all that Paul said about the gospel of Jesus Christ, and about women in general (see, for starters, Galatians 3:28) demonstrates such a charge is baseless.
- 3) With that said, there are also no reasons, in my opinion, why women MUST be ordained and pastor. I do not see the topic as a critical test of faith – it is a practice which a Christ-centered church and congregation can embrace or reject. There are a multitude of examples about diversity within faith practices, and according to Romans 14:1-10 we must allow for diversity, as long as one particular practice which is in fact peripheral is not demanded as a test of faith. Churches within the body of Christ which are healthy, and well balanced in general differ on this topic, among other “minor” topics – we must not major in the minors and make our feelings and prejudices, or the teaching and doctrine of our denomination, or the long term historical practices of our denomination, the test of faith. Let us focus on the main and plain things – the Triune God, salvation by grace through faith, the unity of the universal body of Christ, among others. Whether women are ordained or not, how often or even whether one must frequent a brick and mortar church, the exact nature and frequency of the elements of communion, the nature of baptism (infant or adult) are but a few of the teachings that some demand, but do so outside of Christ, without any warrant to do so, and thus are far beyond and apart from the gospel in their dogma.
- 4) If women are ordained and pastor then they should be expected to have the same training and preparation as men, and undergo the same apprenticeship that men – their ordination should not be a political appeasement or a way in which a church or denomination proves themselves to be progressive. Women pastors should not be tokens.
- 5) Most importantly, no Christ-centered church or congregation should allow a woman to be treated as a second class Christian – it is not “optional” to regard women as having less standing before God than men. The gospel is clear about that – we are, as Paul tells us, one in Christ (Galatians 3:28).
In the course of my ministry and interests I have made a study, especially over the past 35 years, of published sermons – I have probably read several thousands of sermons, perhaps by now tens of thousands. Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest, is one of my all-time favorite pulpit masters, and while I do not attend a brick and mortar congregation, were I to find out she were scheduled to speak near my home, I would make every effort to be in attendance. She has published many books, and is well worth reading.
Thanks for allowing PTM to be of service.
In Christ, Greg Albrecht