“Women In Ministry” – I’m Over It.

“Women In Ministry” – I’m Over It. June 4, 2012
She seems quite happy to be in ministry.

Kudos for RHE running a week-long series on mutuality.

And to Scot McKnight for his repeated posts on this topic.

But seriously.

As I sat over my coffee this morning, reading the morning paper and smelling the garlic parmesan sourdough bread that I had in the oven, I thought about RHE’s series and wondered how I could write something that would help her convince “complementarians” to become “egalitarians.” And I’m completely stumped.

It is simply unfathomable to me that entire versions of Christianity today — be they Roman Catholic or Southern Baptist or Amish — restrict ministry to men. I grew up in a tradition that long had women preachers — beginning in 1853, with the first modern ordination of a woman, Antoinette Brown (I preached about that here, in my first (and likely my last) ordination sermon).

The fact is, as I preached in that sermon, God ordains, not man. The process of ordination is simply a human recognition of a divinely given charism. If God has ordained a woman to ministry and you deny or reject that ordination, woe betide you! For Jesus taught unequivocally that to blaspheme the work of the Holy Spirit is the unpardonable sin.

Let me interpret that verse for you: If the Holy Spirit has given the charism of preaching or teaching or pastoral care to a woman, and you deny the authority of that charism because of some head-in-your-ass biblical hermeneutic, you are committing an unforgivable sin.

Let me interpret it more pithily: The work of the Holy Spirit trumps your biblical interpretation.

Chew on that, Complementarians.

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  • jc

    sigh. tony, no sin is unforgivable.

    a lot of times you have good things to say, but sometimes you seem like a caricature of a left-wing fundamentalist.

    • I defer to Jesus. So sue me.

      • Melody

        Preach it, Tony!

    • @jc Jesus is neither left-wing or right-wing. No political party holds the rights to salvation or Christ. That being said, the bible clearly has women teaching and leading in both the old & new testament. From Priscilla, Lydia, to the prophetesses (Isiah’s wife was a one) So to ignore this scriptural fact and deny the Holt Spirit is akin to blasphemy and Christ DOES call this sin unpardonable.

      Matthew 12:31 Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.”

  • Yes, wonderfully ‘pithy’. Bravo.

  • Amy

    Very powerful words, particularly in this season of Pentecost. Thank you.

  • And that was, interestingly, the argument of Aimee Semple McPherson and many early Pentecostal women preachers — It the Spirit calls, who am I to resist — no matter what the text says!

  • Maggie

    🙂 cheers! Maggie

  • Phil Miller

    Pretty much sums up my position as well. Revelation trumps information.

  • To “complement” your thought with another, your/my/our interpretation of the work of the Holy Spirit doesn’t trump the work of the Holy Spirit.

    I wouldn’t disagree that the Lord calls women into ministry, because there’s plenty of evidence in the Bible to suggest this; however, the value of being done with a dialogue because it seems like a no-brainer denies/belittles the spiritual journey of others. One reason Jesus entrusted his followers to create a growing community of disciples is so that we would sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron.

    Likewise, such an attitude of “I’m done” can set us up into a place of potential arrogance. We may simultaneously give a future blank check to other issues that sound similar to us, such as the ordination of those of whom there is no biblical credence to be in ministry.

    Again, I’m not arguing the conclusion of women in ministry. What I am saying is that let’s never shut the conversation down. Sometimes “I’m done” can be as candle-snuffing a phrase as the word “just.” 😉

  • Erin

    Margaret Feinberg’s response to a man who demanded to know how she could speak to men about God: “I am his daughter.”

    • Brian P.

      “I am her daughter” wouldn’t have been bad either.

  • Frank

    Ths unforgivable sin in Matthew 12 that Jesus talks about has nothing to do with what Tony ascribes it to. Like much of his theology he incorrectly ascribes passages to mean something they do not. Another glaring case of eisegesis. How embarrassing.

    The blaspheme is saying and believing that Jesus does the work of the devil instead of the father. I don’t think there is any disagreement about this. Is there?

    • You’re right, that is the scriptural context of the unforgivable sin. But let me ask you, what is it that patriarchy says of egalitarianism? When a woman desires to go into ministry or have spiritual leadership, where is she told that her desire comes from? She is told that it is a worldly desire–a temptation from Satan. What she interprets as the calling of God himself is really the voice of the devil. Translation: They ascribe a work of God to the power of Satan, which is (as you have correctly pointed out) blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.

      • Frank

        Carlynn I actually do not think that complementarianism and women in ministry are in conflict. There are important and vital ministry roles for women while validating Gods design differences between man and woman.

        That being said you are falling into the same eisegesis trap. Its about Jesus’ power not ours.

        • Doesn’t Jesus’ power come from God? And isn’t it his power that empowers us through the Holy Spirit? I do not see a difference.

          • Frank

            Carlynn let’s take your position to its logical conclusion: anytime we are not following Gods will, according to you we are committing the unpardonable sin. Since everyone at times does not following Gods will than we are all hopelessly lost. No chance for forgiveness for anyone. Is that really what you are trying to say?

          • That’s not at all what I said.

          • Frank

            I never said you said that I just asked you to think out logically where your supposition leads. Are you unwilling or do you disagree with the path of logic?

            It’s quite simple, really, if you believe denying the HS in every case is unforgivable blasphemy than no one can be saved. That’s why Tonys “interpretation” and yours apparently is not only terribly incorrect but truly folly in the face of the Gospel.

            Don’t hitch your wagon to a dying voice or your will go right down with them.

    • Matthew 12:22-32 preaches to me about sowing division.

      “Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand … Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

      Satan lies, that is he makes a division in the Father’s truth. Jesus gathers into himself and sends into the world. The unforgivable sin is to cut apart the Image of God.

    • Not really, but a strong argument can be made that oppressing the work of God (and his workers) are blasphemy of the Spirit (and his Will). Is it a line we feel confident to cross? Not for me. Scripture provides enough to show that complementary-ism is not the design of God. Common sense backs it up. There’s a ‘form’ of complementary-ism that I’m willing to subscribe to, because it’s sensible. But what Tony is saying is that refusing to ordain women (which isn’t our right to begin with) and not acknowledging women whom God has called to lead us is foolishness.

  • Erin Wilson


    Doubt I’ll live long enough to see the end of complimentarianism, but every single post like this gives me hope.

  • Steve

    Wow… glad to know that I am now going to hell because I hold a position on a matter that is not even central to the Gospel!!!!

  • “Let me interpret it more pithily: The work of the Holy Spirit trumps your biblical interpretation.” How sad to wake up to this, an argument that defends an indefensible position by pitting God against his own self-disclosure. I guess that’s what it takes to defend this position.

    • Scot Miller

      Biblical interpretation is a human activity directed at making sense of a text which believers experience to be revelatory of God. That means that there is a difference between the human attempt of interpreting the Bible and the revelation of God. Of course, some people seem to think that their ways of reading and interpreting scripture is every bit as authoritative as God’s self-disclosure, that there’s no difference between what I think and what God reveals, that my human finitude and historical situation makes no difference in how I understand scripture. People who naively assume that their reading of scripture is identical to God’s self-revelation are making huge hermeneutical mistakes.

      • Frank

        I am glad you are beginning to understand your folly.

  • Rodion

    Tony I have seriously become a big fan of yours over the past month. I read The New Christians and have been following your blog. Great stuff. Love the debates you have with Tripp. Anyway keep up the good work.

  • I’m over it, too. But the big question is, how do we foster transformation? critical understanding of language helps, especially the use of “he-man” language to describe God. (our human language reflects our finitude in the face of God’s character. Therefore, only male (or female) pronouns don’t adequately or fully reflect who God is).
    Other ways may be kindness toward those who may disagree, courage to speak and stand, and the help of male lay leaders, pastors, etc. who allow women’s voice to be heard.

    As a woman in ministry, it’s hard to have patience.

  • Richard Jones

    I once served a church where there was an uprising over a female Sunday School superintendent! The objection was that she would have authority over male Sunday School teachers and that was unbiblical. If it wasn’t so sad and didn’t make me so angry, it would be funny.
    Another thing I find interesting is that the churches who do (rightly in my mind) ordain woman, choose to ignore or interpret culturally the verses that seem to restrict ministry/leadership to men. However, they refuse (United Methodists I’m talking about here) to give the same interpretational license to verses about homosexuality. Hmmmm. This just underscores the point that it is not really about Scripture, but about the personal opinions/feelings of those opposed.

  • Kim Benson

    Absolutely right… so many women in the early history of the church that we Protestants have missed. I stumbled onto one called Macrina the Younger, from the 300s. Her grandmother was the Elder, who was an early persecuted Christian. The Younger was the spiritual leader in her household–an advisor to her two brothers. One preferred to be an attorney but she convinced him to go into ministry. Their names? Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, aka two of the three Cappadocian Fathers, who were responsible for hammering out the Nicene Creed. Along with helping to form their faith, she also persuaded her mother to sell some of their land and begin one of the first monasteries for men and women. We need to “resurrect” these great ladies and talk about them more. Another is Margaret Van Cott, from the late 1800s, whose preaching led to the conversion of thousands. Some of her sermons can be found online.
    I am proud to say that, even though I was born in the 1960s, I have always known women to be ministers. One of the earliest ordained in our conference was retired when I was growing up. But what I never saw were women ushers!

  • Bobby

    Snide condescension. And we wonder why complementarians just dig in and fight harder.

  • Karen Spears Zacharias

    I’m with you, on this one, Tony. I am sooo over this entire debate. I wish we spent as much time doing Kingdom work as we spend arguing over who should be doing Kingdom work. What a senseless argument. As my own mother used to say, Sh** or get off the pot.

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  • SDF

    Yes, Tony, God calls to ministry, but I believe the call to ministry is given to us all at baptism, just as Jesus’ ministry began at his. That is why I think ‘minister’ should not be a title for ordained persons, but for all the baptized. And if God calls us to ministry in baptism, ordination is always only a secondary calling. Some even argue that God calls each of us to ministry in baptism and the church calls and deploys to support the mission of the church. I am fundamentally aware that God doesn’t need me to be an ordained person. (I am one.) But God called me to the priesthood of all believers in baptism and gave me gifts the church found helpful, so the church called me to take on orders, to help order the church (with God’s help of course, and no matter my weaknesses), in ordained life. It doesn’t make me better, holier, less human, or less dependent on God’s grace. Instead it makes me ever more aware how much I need to help all of the baptized see themselves as ordained to the priesthood of all believers in baptism. To your point, men and women are baptized, therefore men and women should be ordained by the church. By the way, I do however think the Spirit is present at ordination.

  • I have a post going up on my blog about this at 8:00 am tomorrow. Spoiler, I disagree vehemently with this post.

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  • lscottfreeman

    Here is to all the women on the front lines of this issue who can’t afford to just be “over it.”

  • “I’m over it” is an unfortunate statement insofar as it is dismissive. You happen to come from a corner of Christianity where this is not a current issue, great. But you recognize it is real and devastating for the majority of women in the majority of Christianity. I mean you’re not female so we can all just move on now right? Why bother talking about it because it only affects half the church.