We began this series with a hypothetical pastoral search committee faced with a dilemma. They need a pastor but all the applicants are women!
After our brief survey of the key texts that are involved in the complementarian-egalitarian debate, what should our search committee now conclude?
Some on the committee may argue that the women on our candidate list (all taken from Scripture) were exceptions in the Bible rather than the rule. Yet the Scripture presents none of them as exceptions. It presents them instead as exceptional role models for women and men of faith to emulate.
If these women were exceptions, then they demonstrate and prove that exceptions must be allowable and acceptable to God! So then on what basis can we exclude women today, whom God may want to add to his list of exceptions? How do we know that in this generation the prophet Joel's vision, quoted by Peter on Pentecost as initiating the New Testament era, might not have special magnitude for the church in these the last days, as God's sons and daughters are to prophesy? Perhaps this entire generation of women are to be counted as exceptions and added to the so-called "exceptions list."
In the last days, God says,No less a theologian than James I. Packer, who has opposed the ordination of women, had to admit that after reviewing the biblical data and the practice of the early church:
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men (elders) will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18, italics and parentheticals added)
"... the New Testament papers in particular make it evident that the burden of proof regarding the exclusion of women from the office of teaching and ruling within the congregation now lies on those who maintain the exclusion rather than on those who challenge it." (J.I. Packer, "Understanding the Differences," in Women, Authority and the Bible, Alvera Mickelson, ed., IVP 1986, p. 296).Perhaps our search committee should take a cue from how the early church handled leadership. They recognized leaders based on their having the gifts of the Spirit suited for leadership, not based on gender or sex. They looked at character, maturity, readiness, and godliness.
And so it is that the only deacon mentioned by name in the New Testament was Phoebe! In other words, 100 percent of the deacons specifically named in the New Testament were women! How then, can she be called the exception?
If our search committee would consider the giftedness and abilities of the women in question, dealing with each as individual cases instead of judging them categorically, the choices might seem less confusing. The gifts of the Spirit are given without respect of gender. There is no reason to prevent them from being used in the same way! If God in his wisdom and grace distributes his gifts to women, who are we to oppose women seeking to be faithful in using what God has entrusted to them to their fullest potential? If God called Deborah to lead Israel, and there were no objections, who are we to object when a New Covenant Deborah rises to God's call?
The purpose of this blog series has been to raise often-overlooked possibilities for understanding the full stature of women and for reunderstanding passages traditionally seen as obstacles to their leadership. If there is a multiplicity of equally plausible interpretations, then to make only one of them the standard for orthodoxy is both unfair and arbitrary. But, if out of the multiplicity of competing interpretations a less plausible one becomes the standard for orthodoxy, then wisdom and understanding have given way to prejudice. And this, I contend, is what happens when complementarianism gains acceptance over far more reasonable options.
We have seen:
1. The so-called "traditionalist" objections to women's ordination fail to take into account the overall picture that emerges from Paul's dealings with women.
2. They are out of kilter with the New Testament teaching on the priesthood of all believers.
3. Their objections focus on passages tightly connected to other biblical texts that the same "traditionalists" openly reinterpret or ignore.
4. This highly selective "literalism" therefore, constitutes only one (and a highly inconsistent one) interpretation, among many other possible and more plausible ways of understanding these texts.
It is my opinion that the alternatives raised in this blog series represent a superior and far more consistent way of understanding the New Testament's statements about women. They especially explain how Paul can speak of so many women as ministers, deacons, leaders, apostles, prophets, worship leaders, and equal co-laborers for the gospel.
Those of us who advocate ministry by, and ordination of, women in the church, are often falsely accused of being liberals. It is assumed that if we believe women can be ministers then we must not believe the Bible. I hope the reader can see now just how seriously wrong that is. It now appears that maybe the reverse is the case and that to be committed to the Scriptures actually requires a commitment to endorsing the practice women in ministry. Nowhere in this series have I suggested that a single word of the Bible should be ignored or doubted when understood as originally intended. In fact, it has been utterly to the contrary and I now challenge Bible believers to take the Bible seriously as the fully authoritative Word of God by recognizing the full stature of women as being equal with men. Perhaps the question of liberalism should now be turned around and presented to the so-called traditionalists (who really advocate a modern tradition unknown to the New Testament church).
Who is the real liberal? The one whose beliefs are consistent with there being women leaders and teachers in the Bible or the one who considers them anomalous and out of place in one's theological system? If you cannot reconcile Paul's statements and his actions concerning women, or if you cannot reconcile any part of the Bible with its other parts, then it is you who must acknowledge that either there are contradictions in the Bible or that you are unqualified to make assertions about its contents. Of course, to admit to contradictions in the Bible would be to allow for errors in it, which is to deny that the Bible is God's infallible Word.
So, who is the liberal? The one who selectively decides to be a literalist at the expense of the Bible's unity, or the one who consistently applies balance, common sense and scholarly study to understand every passage of Scripture in its original context? And who is the real literalist? The one who treats women like second-class creatures unequal to men? Or the one who can explain how and why the Bible empowers women like Junia, Priscilla, and Phoebe, to serve their Savior to the fullest of their abilities as equal coworkers with men?
The more I study the Scriptures the more convinced I become that in Christ gender is not an issue with him when it comes to who may serve and how. Instead, we will see God's image more beautifully and faithfully displayed as both men and women serve God by giving him all that they are as leaders, pastors, prophets, evangelists, deacons, and so on.
Paul Yonggi Cho, pastor of one of the the largest churches in the world, was once asked what the secret of his church's growth was. He said it was two things: effective small groups and women leaders. If we are faithful to this biblical inclusion of the sexes, imagine the benefits we can reap with time! Imagine the blessings that can come when we find ourselves serving God alongside a Priscilla, a Junia, a Phoebe! May that day come soon. As Amos 5:24 says, "Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream."
And if we oppose those who would serve God by leading, teaching, and advancing the Kingdom of God, then are we not opposing God himself and becoming, by default, enemies of the gospel by preventing its spread? I contend that this is what happens whenever someone opposes or restricts a woman from preaching or teaching the pure Biblical gospel.
Two questions now remain:
1. What will our search committee decide? And,
2. Will they have the courage to pull down any dam that restrains that river of justice?
The answers depend on you. For as you guessed, you are that search committee.