WHAT ARE THE MAJOR DIFFERENCES OF OPINION?
Religious leaders, scholars, congregations and individual Christians have debated the role of women in the church for many years. It should be no surprise that the debate has been quite heated at times.
There are various views on the subject, but this short blog post will focus on the major division, which is female pastors.
Gretchen E. Ziegenhals writes about the division in a paper entitled, “Women in the Ministry: Beyond the Impasse,” which is posted on the Baylor University website at www.baylor.edu.
Ziegenhals is project manager of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School and graduate of Yale Divinity School.
She says that most Christians believe women should use their God-given gifts in the church. The division is over whether or not women should become ministers.
On one side of the argument are complementarians, who believe men and women have different, but complementary roles in the church and the home, says Ziegenhals.
This group believes that the leadership role belongs to men, and they oppose allowing women in the ministry.
On the other side are people who firmly believe men and women are equal and have equal gifts, she explains. This group, called egalitarians, believe men and women should share power on a 50:50 basis, and no door should be closed to women.
The two sides are sharply divided at present, but Ziegenhals believes they can move closer together by truly listening to the stories of Christian women. Listening is the only way men and women can develop a loving and respectful relationship in the church, she says.
It’s sad that people have stopped listening to one another. Our minds and hearts are closed. We are too angry and entrenched in our own beliefs to hear other people’s views with an open mind.
WHAT DOES PAUL SAY?
Both sides of the argument can trace their views to the Bible and the Apostle Paul, who was one of the most influential Christian leaders in history. He preached the gospel and established churches throughout the known western world. His letters to those churches make up nearly half of the New Testament.
Complementarians say that Paul ordered women to be silent in church. They use 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 as their source. The group also believes that women should never assume authority over men or preach to them. Women can teach children and other women, but no more, according to this way of thinking.
Egalitarians say that Paul was writing about very specific issues in these passages. They say he did not intend for his words to be generalized or used to denigrate all women.
These leaders hold up Paul’s recognition of a woman named Phoebe in Romans 16: 1-2 as “a deacon of the church,” which is the rank of minister. Paul also introduced her as his emissary or representative to the Christian church in Rome.
Paul acknowledged a woman named Priscilla and her husband Aquila as teachers who held church in their house in Romans 16: 3-5. He said they risked their lives as they traveled with him and helped him spread the gospel.
He also mentioned a woman named Mary in verse 6 and said in Acts 21:9 that Philip the evangelist – not to be confused with Philip the disciple — had four daughters who had the gift of prophecy.
WHERE DOES CHRIST STAND?
People’s beliefs and teachings about women in the pulpit may give us food for thought, but Christ’s behavior and teachings are what matters. He is the Son of God, and it is the Christian church, after all.
Christ sees women in terms of their relationship with God rather than their sex or marital status, according to Crossway, an evangelical not-for-profit publisher of Christian books.
Yes, Jesus chose 12 men as his disciples, probably in keeping with the mores of the time, but he welcomed the women who traveled with him and shared the gospel with others.
A post on www.crossway.org points out that Christ spoke directly to women in public, as he did to the woman with a bleeding disorder whom he healed.
Society said he should not have spoken to her because of her gender and her disorder, which made her unclean. Yet, Jesus teaches us through his words and behavior that society’s rules are not necessarily right.
When he spoke to women, Christ spoke in a caring way, as he did when he healed the bent woman. And he treated a woman caught in adultery with compassion, telling her accusers that the one without sin should cast the first stone.
No one could claim to be sinless, and the crowd dispersed. (In keeping with the times, no mention is made of the man who was caught with the woman.)
The Lord gifts women as well as men. When he gives women the talents of preaching and teaching and calls them to lead a church, what right do mere human beings have to prevent women from using those gifts?
It’s presumptuous of us to overrule the Lord, is it not? It’s arrogant to say a woman cannot be called when God can do anything, isn’t it?
Christ’s teachings should be the final word in the divisive battle over women in the ministry, shouldn’t they? I think they should.