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Should Women Hold Office as Pastors, Teachers, or Bishops?

Category Articles
Date February 8, 2011

Can women be ordained to Christian ministry? Should they be bishops or hold office as pastor/teachers in the 21st century? These and many other related questions, are being asked and acted upon in an increasingly fluid, controversial, and divisive atmosphere within the professing Christian Church.

A fresh appreciation in the light of contemporary church disorder

The practice of ordaining women for Christian ministry has occurred at the same time as a growing concern to ensure equality and rights in today’s liberal and so-called progressive society. Are we to follow the politically-correct agenda of the 21st century, or the clear teachings of the entirely trustworthy and final authoritative Word of the Living God? Today, too many decisions are taken, not on the basis of Revealed Truth, but in respect of expediency, function, and worldly approval. This is not the way to obtain God’s blessing. 2 Timothy 3:12-17 must remain the Christian’s fundamental charter. It must also be the unshakeable ground upon which the Christian Church, seeking first almighty God’s approval, takes its stand and builds its edifice, to his glory alone (Eph. 4:1-16; and 5:20-27).

The influence of the Church of England – not a model for faithful Christian Churches

Without doubt, the change from a male-only ordained ministry has been driven forward by the Established Church of England. Due to the support of many evangelicals within the National Church, some evangelical nonconformists are confused and could be in real danger of adopting a politically-correct agenda. Without evangelical support in the Established Church, the contemporary innovations would not have been possible. The Synod of the Church of England voted to allow women’s ordination in November 1992. In 1966, An Archbishop’s Commission published Women and Holy Orders. A narrow majority of the Anglican Consultative Commission gave support for the Bishop of Hong Kong to ordain two women deacons as presbyters in April 1977. When eventually consulted, 30 of the 43 dioceses of the Church of England passed ‘no fundamental objections in all three Houses’ (laity, clergy, bishops) for the ordination of women, although there was significant opposition from Anglo-Catholics and a few conservative evangelicals. The legislation for General Approval came in July 1983. But things grind slowly in the Church of England. Over the next decade the debate continued.

The final approval to ordain women to the presbyterate

When the General Synod met for the Final Approval in York, July 1992, any house could still by simple majority have stopped the legislation. By the time of the next Synod, 11 November, 1992, proponents and opponents alike expected it to go down. Such were the figures, if only two of the House of Laity had voted against, there would have been no Final Approval. However, the Church of England, under the enthusiastic leadership of Archbishop Carey, (a strong supporter of the ordination of women), became a different institution through that cliffhanging decision of 11 November 1992 to proceed. Strangely, George Carey, a professing evangelical, had actually argued that there is a parallel between the call and admission of the Gentiles, and the call and admission of women presbyters. He seemed to seriously overlook that the first was given by special revelation to apostles, the latter by authority of General Synod – for whom apostolic authority appears often to be a negotiable matter! Sadly, ‘Royal Assent was given on 5th November 1993 and the Synod met for one day, on 22nd February 1994, to promulgate the Canon and let the ordinations begin. Which they did,’ (Bishop Colin Buchanan, Taking the Long View -Three and a half decades of General Synod, Church House Publishing, 2006).

The rest is history, as is the growing aggressive secularism of our nation. So is Pope Benedict’s lifeline to Anglo-Catholics, the secession of hundreds of clergy, the departure of numerous lay people to other communions, and the subsequent relaxation of attitudes towards practising homosexuality. Now, pressure is building for the recognition of ordained ‘gay’ clergy, for gay bishops in the Church of England, and for full recognition of civil partnerships (the Bishops of the Church of England did not oppose the Government on the introduction of civil partnerships). It seems now, one politically-correct decision taken to ordain women, has given credibility to a supposed biblical support for practising homosexuals as well. Both are dealt with in the First Corinthian Epistle. If Paul is ‘culturally-conditioned’ on women-preachers, he must be on homosexual relationships? So the argument goes. Of course, God rejects all forms of immorality – practising homosexuality is just one deviation from God’s plan for sex within marriage (1 Cor. 6:9-20). Any professing Christian church rejecting this – not only the Church of England and the Worldwide Anglican Communion – will find itself in disarray and meltdown. The wisdom of God’s command is absolute and should be obeyed.

‘. . . that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 14:37)

The introduction of unbiblical practices appears to have brought the Lord’s hand of judgment upon the State Church and, despite protests to the contrary, the future does not fare well for Establishment Christianity. The move towards women bishops, which slices through to the very heart of the biblical headship principle, will promote further serious fracture, decisive secessions of laity and clergy, and an alien atmosphere for Christian mission and church growth. To achieve their liberal and innovative agenda, the revisionists will need to re-write the whole Bible, a substantial part of which they are already on the way to accomplishing, particularly in the USA. At least, they should have the integrity to concede, this is not original biblical Christianity.

There are also increasing financial problems looming for the dioceses, and amalgamation of parishes, even some dioceses, are under serious discussion. However, the words of James Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, come to mind: ‘God’s work, done in God’s way, never lacks God’s supply.’ The Apostle Paul is unequivocal. In his debate on the place of women in public ordained ministry, ‘I write unto you . . . the commandments of the Lord.’ (1 Cor. 14:33-40). Continuing disobedience to the Word of the Lord brings its own notable retribution.

The biblical background – some issues considered

It is difficult to write on these issues. Those who oppose any change to the biblical teaching, as it has been for two thousand years, are accused of being misogynists or dinosaurs. We are often presented as harsh and difficult people, with a hatred of women. We are accused of undermining the worth and importance of women, even denying their legal rights. Such arguments carry little weight. Not everyone can be or should be ordained. It is not only women. There are also men who have no call in this matter. Are they denied their rights, their worth, or their abilities? But women are good at pastoral and preaching/teaching ministry, exclaims another! If women can do the job equal to (or perhaps even better than) men, why deny the church their unique contributions? Why indeed?Few doubt the ability of women to do the work of an ordained minister. However, if ability is the sole criterion, the church will be plunged into an even deeper confusion. There are thousands in all walks of life, who have the ability to make valued contributions, but who are denied doing so because it is neither lawful nor appropriate. What about bank managers offering work to gifted criminals, wives employing successful prostitutes for their husbands, or mothers engaging skilled paedophiles to care for their children? The thought is ridiculous, if not offensive.

Live not by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God

For the Christian, ability and rights can never be the ultimate test of anything. The faithful child of God will always ask, ‘What does the Word of God say?’ Samuel, a devoted servant of the Lord, sets the standard. He said, to the compromised and disobedient King Saul, ‘Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.’ (1 Sam. 15:22). Regrettably, obedience to Holy Scripture is often the last thing considered today. And, yet, Jesus himself said: ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God’ (Matt. 4:4).

The devil did not like the answer given then, and he has not stopped opposing the Lordship of Jesus Christ today. Those women who claim, to have ‘been led by the Lord to be ordained,’ or called ‘to be pastors and teachers,’ should test their experiences by the authority of God’s Written Word. How we ‘feel’ or ‘think,’ is not paramount in matters of doctrine. Indeed, where it is, it becomes fanaticism. The articles of the Church of England warn against this, in respect of salvation (Art. 18). What almighty God says must be the final word, even if it clashes with 21st century culture. The Apostle Peter wrote, indicating he would rather affirm the authority of God’s Word, than his own unique personal experience of the Transfiguration: ‘This voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him (Jesus) in the holy mount. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed.’ (2 Pet. 1:18-19). Can anything further be said about these thorny matters?

Women and prophecy in the New Testament

In 1 Corinthians, there is mention of women being involved in a ministry of prophecy. We should not allow this to cloud the issue of headship, or ruling/teaching in the Christian Church today. The canon of Scripture is complete. The giving of final revelation has taken place. If we do not maintain this, we will have to recognise Mormonism, Islam, and other extra-biblical religions, as authentic and on a par with Christianity. It leaves us free to create any new religion, suitable for the times in which we live!

By its very character, the ministry of prophecy, being one of the initial gifts of the Holy Spirit (charismata) was of an intermittent nature. 1 Corinthians precedes the more settled and later revelation of the Pastoral Epistles. The exercise of prophecy did not give authority to lead, or teach as an ordained minister, in the congregation. It certainly did not bestow the office of eldership. The term prophet was descriptive of function not office. Indeed, prophecy and teaching are consistently distinguished in the New Testament. One commentator has written,

In the pastoral epistles, teaching appears to be an authoritative function concerned with the faithful transmission of apostolic doctrine or tradition and committed to men specifically chosen. (2 Tim. 1:13-14; 2:1-2, 1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17, Titus 1:9). It is within this context that the specific prohibition of 1 Timothy 2:12 must be understood. (The Ordination of Women to the Priesthood: does it Accord with Scripture?, Church Society, 1990).

The ordination of women undermines the sufficiency of Scripture

According to the teaching of the Bible, only men can be admitted into the office of a presbyter/bishop, which includes not only authority to teach, but also to rule. In the patriarchal period, men acted as the fathers of the heads of their families. This involved the responsibility of functioning as priests to other men and women. During the Mosaic period, the posterity of Levi acted as priests, leaders, and representatives in all cultic affairs. Our Lord Jesus Christ did not appoint female apostles. While showing deep respect and love for women, and willingness to receive their unquestioning devotion, he gave no position of prominence to a woman. Even Mary his mother was committed, from the cross, to the care and oversight of a man – the Apostle John.

New Testament practice is entirely consistent with the Old Testament revelation. In the Pastoral Epistles – 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titu – clear rules are laid down for the qualifications of a pastor/elder. Being male is one very important aspect of several other necessary qualifications. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul speaks of serious disorder and confusion in the Corinthian Church. The disorder is this – women are speaking in the congregation and overriding the headship principle. Please take note, the verses about ‘women keeping silent in the churches’ is not a blueprint by Paul’s hand to be silent in every situation. It is the important recognition of the creation order of headship, both for the gathered church and within the family. Many ministries are open to women; the ordained pastor/teacher is not one of them, if the Bible is to be taken seriously.

This is re-stated more fully in 1 Timothy 2:8-15. To those who say, ‘Paul is prejudiced. This is his personal opinion which can be ignored’, 1 Corinthians 14:37 is vitally significant: ‘If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord’. To ignore the words of an apostle, commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ to be the vehicle of an infallible revelation, is to set about constructing a new religion.

The roles of men and women in home and church are permanent

Sometimes women, and their supporters, bring forward Galatians 3:28 as closure to the argument. ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.’ Those who wish to be faithful to the teaching of Scripture on male leadership, do not deny the equality of women. In matters of salvation we are entirely equal. We are also created as different. We are not called to be competitive but to engage in complementary roles. There is a headship role which is God-given. The female is formed after the male to be ‘an help meet for him’ (Gen. 2:18). An ordered relationship is indicated. The man names his wife, implying a special responsibility for her. It is also essential to notice this is recorded before the fall narrative of Genesis 3. The Old Testament nowhere teaches the inferiority of women. Neither does Galatians 3:28 teach that the distinctions of race, social rank, or sex are obliterated in Christ.

Fundamentally, there is a headship principle to be upheld in the home and in the church. This is dealt with in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, and 1 Timothy 2:9-15, as already noted. In both cases, authority is the real issue. Paul teaches a divine order of creation. If we ignore this, confusion and disorder will result. However, it is clear from Titus 2:3 that women are expected to teach one another. Also, to some extent all believers share the task of teaching and admonishing one another (Col. 3:16 and 1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11-14). This is not in an official capacity, within the public worship meetings of the Church.

1 Timothy 2:12 definitely says ‘women must not exercise authority over men.’ Authority (authentein) means not having authority. It cannot mean, as some suggest, a reference to women not being ‘domineering’ over men. Having authority and domineering are completely different things. A military commander has considerable authority, but he does not domineer his troops, otherwise he would not achieve the desired end. An army functions by recognising equality and the value of all its personnel. While some take a recognised lead, in order to achieve success, others submit to obedience of the leadership shown, to reach the desired objective. Such is Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians, chapters 12-14, with respect to the whole body of Christ – the Christian Church. We are all equal but we have many different roles and functions.

Subjection, an indispensable blessing to the Christian Church

It is the same within the context of the family. Not just Paul but Peter brings forward the same principle (1 Pet. 3:1). The principle stands even where a Christian woman is married to an unbelieving man. ‘Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands.’ The problem for modern woman is her failure to understand ‘subjection.’ ‘Subjection’ is perceived to be something oppressive, undesirable, and not in keeping with our understanding of ‘the rights and freedoms of women’. But all Christians are called to a spirit of humble subjection, for the good of the family, and for the greater benefit of the church (Eph. 5:21-24). Where the issue is one between husband and wife, the command is for the man to love his wife, not to oppress her (Eph. 5:28). Yet, willing submission is a visible expression of Christ’s love for the church and it is intended to be a mark of our love for Him.

Jesus leads the way and he models humble submission

For those who see subjection as something to be vigorously removed from the Marriage Service (Book of Common Prayer) or from the pages of Holy Scripture, because it is antiquated, oppressive, and not in keeping with our contemporary society – something below the dignity and worth of a human being – long and prayerful reflection needs to be given to Luke 2:51. In order to achieve perfectly the will of His Father, to increase in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man, and to accomplish our salvation, Jesus subjected Himself to sinful human beings, to Mary and Joseph.

The danger of rejecting a headship principle in home or Church

Some Christians are willing to accept the principle of male headship within the family but not within the Christian Church. This breeds even more confusion. Seriously, it introduces irrationality into the debate. We can imagine a home where a man is married to a woman who is also an ordained minister. There are cases where this is already the situation. In the home they practise the headship principle. When the husband attends church, he submits himself to his minister, who happens also to be his wife. So his views on headship must change as he enters and leave his front door. The practice is without logic or consistency, particularly for the children who, presumably, are being brought up ‘in the fear and admonition of the Lord’ (Eph. 6:1-4).

There is a much bigger question altogether. Christ is still subject to an order of precedence, as is the Holy Spirit, within the glorious Trinity. In our Lord’s case, he is second in order in the divine Godhead. Now, adherence to the biblical doctrine of the Trinity has been the historic test for orthodox Christianity. Not one of the persons in the Godhead tries to usurp the role of either of the other two. The denial of the headship principle will not only bring down family and church, it will impinge upon our understanding of a God who is One and Three-In-One. This is now a reality. God is already being called and treated as ‘mother.’ Yet, Jesus taught us to pray, ‘Our Father which art in heaven.’ New Age religion has invaded orthodoxy via female priesthood, and the deviation will become much more severe. It would be tragic indeed, if evangelical nonconformity takes the same path.

To sum up, some words of a liberal Bultmannian scholar, turned biblical evangelical, are worth quoting:

Let us reverse course, if we are headed in the wrong direction. Let us ask God to show us our error. The error can at first be minor indeed, but it gradually comes to light that we have struck out in the wrong direction – here a couple of statements, now a reservation, the acceptance of a few critical thoughts which suggest themselves as answers to problems which we have, or we have been talked into having. Suddenly the Bible is for us no longer entirely the sacred word of the living God (E. Linnemann, Historical Criticism of the Bible, London: Baker, 1990).

‘To the canonical Scriptures alone I owe agreement without dissent,’ says Augustine. ‘My conscience is captive to the Word of God,’ cries Martin Luther. Martin Anstey writes, ‘the primary qualification demanded in the reader of the Bible is not scholarship but surrender, not expert knowledge but willingness to be led by the Spirit of God.’ Perhaps the old Puritan John Trapp is the shortest and most reliable of all commentators. ‘Where the Scripture hath no tongue, we must have no ears.’

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