Monday, October 18, 2010

The Full Stature of Women as Servants of Christ in His Church - Part 2


It was Martin Luther who pointed out that one great mark of the New Covenant is its radical shift of the holy priesthood from a select elite to all who believe in the covenant Lord (cf. 1Pe 2:9; Re 1:5b-6). The shift to what Luther called "the priesthood of all believers" does more than make men who were not Levites now into priests; it also opens the door to Paul's great declaration:
"For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Ga 3:27-28, emphasis added).
The priesthood of all believers opens the door for all who would call upon the name of the Lord to be clothed in Christ, and therefore to become Christ's representatives, preaching, baptizing, discipling, and interceding as he did on earth among us. As Luther said,
"Everyone who has been baptized may claim already to be consecrated a priest, bishop or pope." (An Appeal to the Ruling Class, 1520).
Although Luther himself came short of making this application to women's ordination, Luther scholar Paul Avis clarifies that Luther's inconsistency is rooted not theological reasons but "purely in terms of social expediency" and asserts that today a consistent application of Luther's doctrine would require the opposite conclusion (Luther's Theology of the Church, Churchman 97, no. 2 [1983], p. 111).

Many traditionalist, when considering Galatians 3:27-28, conclude that though women may be equal to men according to this passage, that this still does not mandate equal or same roles. When we consider, however, how the early church and Paul himself, applied the principles stated here regarding the each of these categories mentioned (Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female), we see that in each of those cases equality did mean sameness of roles and sameness of opportunities. Therefore, there is no exegetical basis to be found in this passage for asserting that Paul did not mean the same application to be made for women.

In Old Testament times, while under the Law, God's people were still under the curse of Genesis 3:16 and men regarded women to be "second-class citizens." In the New Testament, because those in Christ are no longer under that curse, there is now no question that women too are fully Abraham's offspring and equal coheirs (Ga 3:29). Paul acknowleges each of these paired categories as "sons" with all the rights and privileges of sonship (Ga 4:6-7). For him, there is no "lesser" category of "daughtership." And Peter even goes so far as to say that any man who fails to honor his wife as a full "partner" and "fellow heir" of God's grace is in danger of having his prayers hindered (1Pe 3:7b, NASB).

Paul shows us how the New Covenant clarifies women's equality by noting how Jesus changed the covenantal sign. The Old Covenant sign was circumcision, which was obviously limited to males. The New Covenant sign, baptism, does not have this limitation; it is for men and women! The link between baptism and the priesthood of all believers is clearly in Paul's mind when in Galatians 3:27-28 (quoted above) he singles out baptism as that which eliminates the status differences between races, classes and sexes.

And so, there is no lack of examples in either testament of women who were godly leaders of God's people. The sample list of "applicants" in part 1 of this blog series is a case in point. Women were the first bearers of the good news of Christ's resurrection, sent by Christ himself to those he'd sent to be apostles. (For this reason some early theologians called these women "apostles to the apostles.") Can you imagine what would have happened if Jesus had told these women to sit down and wait for some men to arrive?

Paul repeatedly mentions and sends greetings to women who were involved in the work of ministry. He calls Junia (whom John Chrysostom confirms was a woman) "outstanding among the apostles" (Ro 16:7). In the same passage (Ro 16:1) Paul refers to Phoebe as a deacon (deakonon), which can also be translated "minister." It is significant to note that the New Testament nowhere uses a feminine form of this word. In fact, the word Paul uses to call Phoebe a deacon is the same one (to the letter) that he uses to call Jesus a minister to the Jews (Ro 15:8). Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian has pointed out that when Paul's other epistles introduce the positon of deacon, Phoebe is the only New Testament person we have as a reference point.

Paul also instructs the Corinthian church on how women are to lead in worship activities. For example, in 1 Corinthians 11, he teaches how they are to prophecy (a kind of authoritative speaking or preaching on God's behalf) and how they are to lead out in prayer (v. 5).

COMING UP:  In Part 3 we'll look at what Jesus had to say about authority and raise the question of what all the fuss is about!

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