Chances are good, women make up a large portion of your church’s leaders. They probably outnumber the guys in the choir, teaching Sunday School, leading local ministries, assisting the church office, and orchestrating worship services. However, the sermon is almost always delivered by a man. In fact anything requiring an ordained clergy member in your church is most likely performed by a man instead of a woman. And this has raised many questions concerning the prerequisites for spiritual leadership within the church. Why is it that being a pastor is a predominantly male career path? Why do some believers look down on co-ed ministers? If women are so heavily involved in the church at every level but the pastoral, then why deny them this area as well? Isn’t this a little backward given the current social trends regarding women in the work place and government? Well, maybe.
When people provide a clear cut yes or no, they usually do so without acknowledging the points made from the other side. For example, those who reference I Tim. 3 as proof that only men can serve as Church leaders rarely respond to the rebuttal that the Bible was written in a cultural setting where women were not granted the privilege of leadership of any kind. Even among those who worshipped the Greco-Romans, the male priest was considered more authoritative than his female counterpart, if there was one. Therefore, they conclude, Paul may simply be observing cultural guidelines that do not and should not affect the modern Church. Similarly, those promoting women to be within the clergy are quick to point to the fact that women were the first to declare the gospel message of the risen Lord. However, they seem to be silent when it is pointed out that Christ chose male disciples to be his apostles and that the apostles did not recognize women to be of the same authority as them. Thus the other side contends that God never intended or wanted women to lead the Church. The result becomes an unending gridlock between those who support female pastors and those who don’t.
This indicates that both sides are incorrectly interpreting this issue as a problem instead of a symptom to a much larger one. In fact, I would argue that many of the discussions and debates in the American Church involving women leaders, homosexuality, modesty, etc. are all inter-related because they belong to one common problem within the Church: the response of the faithful to a world with ever changing cultures.
Think about it. The argument for women pastors is often an argument from culture. Because the culture is different, we must then be allowed to change with it. In a way this goes back to the debate I wrote about earlier, Ancient Faith or Cultural Christianity. As I mentioned then, culturally based beliefs lack the objectivity needed to keep believers unified in the faith. But what about the times that the argument for women pastors is not based on cultural preferences? There are many women who feel called by God to lead a congregation and preach the gospel in a church on in the mission field. How do we respond to this?
Again, it is difficult to give approval or disapproval because now we’ve thrown God into the equation. When someone says, “God has called me to do this,” others tend to be cautious in their response. The person could be lying and using God as a means to give the deceit credibility. However since we were not the ones called, we cannot say for certain that God did not call them. If we look to Scripture to break the stalemate, we find that few women ever took on a role of leadership. And when they did, it was always because no man was either physically present or spiritually able to lead. The best example of this is the judge Deborah. When the Israelites were attacked by Canaanites, their general, Barak, went to Deborah for aid. And even after she had given it, he wouldn’t lead the Israelites into victory unless she came with them. Because of this Barak wasn’t given the right to be proclaimed judge or allowed to claim victory over the enemies of Israel because he didn’t have the faith needed to serve as a leader for the people. Another, from the New Testament, is Lydia the dyer of purple cloth. She is attributed for founding the church of Thyatira because no men were present with her to receive the gospel message.
However someone would again bring up culture as a factor for why women have been restricted in their roles as leaders of God’s people. After all, culture does affect our behavior and view points no matter how convinced we are that it should be irrelevant to what we do or say. But this line of thinking then begs the question. “What good is the Bible if its message is obscured by the cultural bias of the writers?”
The answer depends on how one views the Bible. If it is simply a product of men who may have by accident or happenstance discovered some truth about God, then I would have to question if you truly adhere to the Christian faith because the Bible is ultimately the greatest confession from men about God. And if their testimony is in question, then our faith is uncertain as well since it is based on what they proclaimed to be true. If, however, the Bible is the inspired, written word of God, then what’s the concern? God is not bound to time or limited to social constructs. In fact, Genesis 1 denounces a crucial aspect of ancient Near Eastern culture by denouncing pantheism. Seriously! Most ancient people in the Near East believed anything and everything were in some way divine or connected to the divine. But the Creation account in Genesis 1 says that all of Creation is just that, created matter and nothing. Even the Torah goes against other cultural practices like idolatry, human sacrifices, and the practice of magic. And Jesus also went against custom by letting Mary, the sister of Martha, sit as his feet as an equal follower with the apostles. It seems then that God is not limited to culture. With that in mind, it is reasonable to conclude that had God truly intended for women to be equal candidates for the clergy he would have permitted it already despite the culture.
Now does this mean women should become passive participants within the Church? By no means! Even in the Orthodox Church, perhaps the most conservative of the Christian traditions, women are sometimes regarded as equals to the apostles because of their deeds in spreading the gospel and strengthening the Church. Therefore, I believe we should encourage our sisters to do what is that God asks of them. And if they must teach as if they are pastors, let them do so in a manner that rebukes and encourages us men to do a better job to be leaders in our communities.