Victoria preached a wonderful sermon last night on the compassion of Jesus. It reminded me of the urgent need for the full participation of women in every aspect of ministry! At Manly Life we believe that the Spirit of God is the primary giver and determiner of gifts and leadership. Just as in New Testament churches, which were led by women (Priscilla), had outstanding Apostles (Junias) and faithful servants like Phoebe, we want to see the full body of Christ released into ministry.
Sadly there are still parts of the church that do not recognise the full participation of women in ministry. For that reason I thought I would post on how radical the full inclusion of women in the New Testament was. It literally turned the ancient world on its head. For the first time a movement was being launched into the world where women were as valued as men. So here is some background and thoughts…
Obviously the difficulty is in interpreting texts like 1 Timothy 2:11-15 where Paul talks about not permitting a woman to teach or have authority over a man. Well that is an interesting text… what do we do with that… The temptation is to skip over it… put it in the too hard basket. But before we start into trying to understand this passage particularly in view of the broader biblical perspective let me say a few things as to where I am coming from…
Firstly we need to be sensitive when dealing with passages like this. One of my hopes at Manly Life is that we are a community that can embrace some different viewpoints. I hope we are a learning community who are on a journey and we are in conversation with each other and the biblical texts. I also want to recognise that I am not a woman… In my experience this text and the one in 1 Corinthians 14 have caused a lot of women a lot of pain and that men in particular have often used passages like this to oppress women…
Sarah McKenzie from the Sydney Morning Herald expressed a common view in an article not too long ago. She wrote; “After all, the Catholic Church is just being true to form – it has actively discriminated against women since its inception. Perhaps rather than condemning the Church for this slip-up, we should be thanking it for the reminder that religious values and teachings have been used to incite, aid and justify discrimination against women throughout history.”
Well there are diverse views on this passage and the role of women in the ministry and mission of the church. It is sometimes helpful to remember that the Catholics, Baptists, Anglicans and Presbyterians all govern their churches differently and they use the same texts as their guide… (HA!)
I want to put 1 Timothy 2 into the broader biblical perspective and talk about the problem we are presented with. How does this text fits in with the rest of scripture? And we will have a look at the ministry of Jesus, and then the Apostle Pauls letters.
We all approach the bible with certain experiences of the church in hand, presuppositions, in place. It is difficult to come to terms with coming to the text without these… we may think we come to the text clean… I remember hearing about a bumper sticker that said – Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it… but what does bible say???
I grew in a typical conservative evangelical church. I was quite unaware of these texts for quite a while but on reflection my experience was that I never once heard a woman preach or teach in the church. Indeed I remember one group of men once leaving a service because they were allowing a woman to speak. My basic hermeneutical stance (the way we understand and interpreting the bible) is evangelical. In other words I assumes the text is God’s word, and thus authoritative. I have a great passion to hear from God, and to understand what it means to be obedient to God. But at the same time, I have presuppositions as to how the bible works and is to be interpreted.
A major shift happened for me when I lived in Africa for a year. Firstly I had a major experience of the Holy Spirit that opened my mind to who God is and how he still works today. Secondly I encountered some of the most wonderful female preachers. A message by Elizabeth Mbogo on prayer that I can still remember almost word for word to this day. The Holy Spirit had clearly anointed her to preach – and watch out devil!
So as my journey continued I wanted to remain faithfully evangelical and yet also open to what God had to teach me. So we all come to the text out of our own experience of the church. I am charismatic by experience and choice. In this heritage the starting point is the abundant experience of the HS. The church is said to be born on the day of Pentecost and it is about this new message and ministry revolving around Jesus and the outpouring of God’s presence into believers lives.
So Acts 2:6… Peter describes what is going on; “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”
So on men and women, God will pour out his Spirit, his presence and they will prophesy. Prophecy obviously is understood to do with what? – Ministry… it cannot be otherwise… And women having this ministry becomes the practice of the church. Indeed in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul gives instruction on how women should prophesy and pray in public meetings.
Gordon Fee the brilliant New Testament scholar puts the problem this way; The issue when we come to texts like 1 Timothy 2 is not between our cultural sensitivities and understanding and theirs. You know sometimes we read these passages and think, yes, but I know thousands of women who teach in schools, lead businesses, are involved in government. What do I do with these cultural dinosaurs of passages.
The problem though is not with us and them. It is with them and them. Put simply there is not consistency in the biblical data but considerable ambiguity. 1 Tim 2:11-12 seems to forbid women speaking and teaching in the church, but the problem is that it stand opposed against all of the other biblical data. It is not an our culture, their culture issue… but inconsistency in their own understanding.
So let me give 3 reasons why I support the full participation of women in every aspect and role in God’s church!
- Paul and the Spirit
- The need to read texts in their context
So firstly Jesus… You got to understand Jesus came into a man’s world (it was like that James Brown song – It’s a man’s world – on steroids…). Ben Sirak – a Jewish teacher…200 BC – reflects the very negative view of women In 42:14 he boldly says “Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good”. This was how people at the time perceived women.
Come to the Talmud. Ancient Jewish text, says “100 women are no better than two men”. In another place: “Woe to him whose children is female” – of course this is not just ancient view… The sad prevalence today continues in the abortion in China of female babies because they would prefer a male.
In Jewish culture – Women were not to be taught the law… so obviously they couldn’t teach the law if they had never been taught it themselves. It is obvious that a woman’s place was pretty low and the Greek world was no better. Socrates (beloved philosopher in universities around the world) – said that he counted 3 blessings…. First that I was born a human and not a beast. Second that I was born a man and not a woman. Third that I was born a Greek and not a barbarian. The average Greek man married at 30 and the woman was 18… By time of marriage he is experienced, slept with many women, including prostitutes. One ancient historian noted – “we attend prostitutes for our daily needs and a wife to bear us children.”
Into this world hear Galatians 3:28; “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (no you are not hearing it…), There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
So Jesus (God come as flesh who enters the world and begins to minister) ran rough shot over all of the expected norms. He ministered to women in the public sphere. Jewish leaders would not speak to or touch a woman but Jesus dives right in. To a woman with menstrual bleeding who was deemed unclean – Jesus responds with compassion and mercy.
In Luke 7 a woman called the “sinner of that city” – basically a prostitute comes to Jesus. She weeps over Jesus feet and wipes his feet with her tears. Jesus not only allows this to happen, he blesses her and forgives her…
We are told in Luke 8: 1-2 Jesus has women in his disciples… Now hear this – particularly with what I said before about women not being allowed to be taught the law. In Luke 10 – Mary and Martha… Martha is doing what is expected of inviting a well known Rabbi like Jesus into her home. But Mary is sitting at his feet listening to instruction on Torah – what it means to be God’s people. Jesus rebukes Martha mildly, not for serving (that is ok) but for being distracted and for not getting involved.
He says; “Martha Martha you are anxious and distressed about many things but only a few things are necessary.” Indeed he says only one thing is necessary and Mary has chosen the better part and it will never be taken from her… Hear this: Jesus is pronouncing that it is now time for women to receive instruction about Torah and it will never be taken away… Unfortunately we don’t hear texts clearly in our culture and what is really going on.
We have already mentioned the key text in understanding the new age we live in Acts 2 – men and women prophesying. But what about Paul? To some a misogynist to others the greatest feminist the world has ever known. Which is he? It has been said we create Paul in our own image… Well, Acts 18:26 – Who is doing the ministry…
“Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.”
Now hear this – something radical is going on – something turning the world on its head… In the ancient world you would never mention the woman when it came to whose house it was… And it is Priscilla who is mentioned first – and clearly they are teaching this man named Apollos. And Paul mentions them again in Romans 16 in a very interesting way. It is radical in light of their culture. He says the church that meets in their house. Again – Priscilla is mentioned first – so co-leadership in the church in their house. They are sharing the ministry.
In that same Romans passage, chapter 16 Phoebe is called a diakonas in the church – a servant. This is the same way Paul refers to himself in his letter to Timothy. This woman is not called a servant because she is cooking casseroles, she is clearly distinguished. I could go on… Romans 16:7 A woman named Junias – called outstanding among the apostles… From Pauls experience apostle has to do with teaching, with ministry, with giftedness… Now this is brilliant – in later copies of the text this woman gets her named changed to Junia a mans name, though in the Greek world this male name does not exist. Misogyny dies slow…
The point is this – the prophecy of Joel has come true in the early church – women are ministering, there is now no difference between men and women when it comes to giftedness… The ministry of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit has opened a new day. In Galatians it says the old things that have kept people apart, that have kept groups oppressed have been broken down. Ethnicity, status and gender divisions are gone! All are free in Jesus Christ
Well there you go… Hopefully this has been about how to read the bible as much as on the role of women in the church. Also that we need to read particular verses in their cultural context and particularly within the broader biblical perspective. Jesus – our Lord running roughshod over all expected norms with women. The church gets born with the fulfilment of a new age in which Joel predicts men and women will prophesy… will minister… We have countless examples of women in the early church having teaching and apostolic roles… And maybe most importantly, God is still getting on with his mission of restoring this world and to do this is sending his Spirit on men and women that we might minister and take the gospel to the whole world.
And at Manly Life Church I believe God is sending his Holy Spirit to enable us for His mission. Do you want in on this? Do you want to play your part? Male female, rich or poor, whatever nation you come from… Ask… and the Lord will give you his Spirit and include you in his wonderful ministry!