It seems like the Church might never find a clear answer to the question, “What role should women play in the church?” I’ve been reading and discussing this, as well as many other gender issues, over the last several months, and I wanted to continue the discussion here—with ministry leaders.
It seems like the Church might never find a clear answer to the question, “What role should women play in the church?” I’ve been reading and discussing this, as well as many other gender issues, over the last several months, and I wanted to continue the discussion here—with ministry leaders. A foundational verse for my understanding has been Acts 2:17:
“‘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.’”
In many circles, I’m considered a liberal for even suggesting that women have and should utilize their spiritual gifts. There are many that engage in this conversation that would reference 1 Timothy 2:11-12 in order to prevent women from using their gifts.
“Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”
Now unless we view these two quotes in the context of culture, how are they not contradictory? The women of Paul’s day were uneducated and, worse yet, treated as property which gives rise to this reference from Titus:
“Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.” (Titus 2:4-5)
These women are instructed to stay quiet, not because they are women, but because they are uneducated. But Paul does not discourage education as most men of his day would have. Rather, he brings a new light to his culture’s view on women when he suggests in 1 Cor 14 that “…if they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home…”
The New Testament was definitely a transitionary period from the Law to the Fulfillment of the Law, and we see radical glimpses of it in verses like Galatians 3:28:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Since most of us are gentiles, it’s easy for us to accept the “Jew or Greek” part. Since slaves are no longer part of our society, the phrase “slave or free” is a bit obsolete. But this “male and female” thing didn’t quite stick.
Acts 2:17 seems like something of a prophesy that began to rise during the book of Acts, but has been somewhat squelched in the thousands of years since. Even by Acts 21, we see women taking an active role in this prophetic gifting.
“He [Philip the evangelist] had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.”
There is nothing else said about these women. There is no condemnation for their seeming rebellion against Paul’s letters. There is no chastisement for their usurping of cultural norms. In the same way, Priscilla has taken an active role in pastoring in the book of Corinthians and is praised for it.
Phoebe is another female leader in the New Testament church. The NIV conveniently translates Romans 16:1 as
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant[a] of the church in Cenchrea.”
This translation seems to cater to the modern conservative view of women. But notice the footnote. The actual translation of the word diakonos into english is “deaconess.”
And if you really want to get deep into this, you can start by reading this Wikipedia article about the debate as to whether the name Paul wrote in Romans 16:7 was Junia, Junias or Julia when referring to an apostle. Two of these names are women’s, and one is a man’s name.
So, it seems that scripture and history support both an egalitarian and a complementarian view, yes? The question, I suppose, is, “What does Scripture infer about the future?” And this is where some of us might part ways. I see a pretty strong case that Scripture addresses first and second century cultural norms and implies a continued progression toward equality while some see the restrictions placed on women as timeless.
I’ll end with a story *
I have a friend named Kevin. When Kevin was four years old, his father died in a bad car accident. His mom, Janice, did all she could to try to be home with Kevin as much as possible, but after a few months and not much support from her family members, she decided going back to work was the only way they could survive. Before giving birth to Kevin, Janice had become an executive for the Walt Disney Company, and they had asked her several times over the previous four years to return to work. So, she had a great job waiting for her when she reluctantly returned to the workforce.
The company was really gracious and flexible to allow her to continue to be the best mom she could be considering the circumstances, but several days a week, she would have to take Kevin to a preschool at a church near their house. Kevin’s teacher was a single guy named Mark. He and Janice were about the same age, and after several months, Janice and Mark began dating. A year later, they married.
Mark had worked with kids for most of his life. He loved teaching and seeing them grow, but it wasn’t a job that could easily support a family of three financially. Janice loved her job and was making just over six figures every year. They chose to allow Mark to invest his time in taking care of Kevin while Janice continued to work.
Now, in addition to a progression toward equality, I see a move away from legalism in the New Testament. Let me clarify: The New Testament does not contain ambiguity on matters of salvation. On the contrary. The New Testament introduces the person of Jesus and sets us on a course toward knowing Him and making Him known. But such matters as gender roles and slavery are addressed contextually and seem to be moving toward freedom. So, today in 2009, what does God think about Janice, Mark and Kevin? Are they living in sin? Is God disappointed in their decision? Does God really care? Or could God even be pleased at seeing Mark and Janice live out their gifts and talents?
* the story about Kevin is fictional 🙂