Why Complementarians MUST Ordain Women

Because men and women are different, and that difference is expressed in they way we minister.

Got it?

No?

Lemme unpack that a bit.  Two things we need to think about here: How do men and women minister, and what does ordination mean?

Let’s not mince words on this: there are some roles that a woman ought not to play, just as there are some roles a man ought not to play.  Scripture describes some of these.

The description “husband of one wife” in the qualifications of elders (Titus 1:6) and overseers (1 Timothy 3:2) would seem to require that a male fill those positions.  People try to finesse this by arguing that filling these positions with a man was an accommodation to the culture of the time, but since the apostles and prophets do not seem to have ever been interested in catering to the culture of the time in essential matters of church order (note what Paul did to their dining customs in 1 Corinthians 11), I see no reason to believe that they caved in at this one point.  No, they had only men in the position of elder/overseer because that’s what God wants His church to look like.

Of course, for the same reason, they had deaconesses and prophetesses.  Now, I’m aware of a couple of lame arguments against deaconesses, but let’s be realistic.  If Romans 16:1 contained a man’s name instead of a woman’s, there would be no discussion at all: the verse would be taken as proof positive that he was a deacon in the church at Cenchrea.  The reason we doubt that Phoebe was a deaconess is only because of an underlying prior theological commitment.  Those who share that commitment will regard the translation “deaconess” as a priori unlikely, and will insist that the burden of proof is on their opponents.  I say that anyone who presumes to interpret the Word of God had better have a good reason for their understanding, and “burden of proof” arguments are about evading the necessity to do some actual work.  I don’t think that theological construct can hold up, but I welcome any theological dance partner with a work ethic who wants to take up the project.  Let’s discuss it.

More of that anon — for the moment, let’s move on to prophetesses.  The existence of prophetesses, Old and New Testament, is well attested.  Miriam was a prophetess, as were Deborah, Huldah, and the wife of Isaiah.  In the time of Jesus, Anna (Luke 2:36); in the time of Paul, Philip’s four daughters (Acts 21:8) and the women of Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:5, who needed only cover their heads).  In the time to come, both sons and daughters shall prophesy (Joel 2//Acts 2:17).

Now, what is the normal biblical pattern for a prophet’s ministry?  Elijah was commanded to anoint Elisha as his successor (1 Kings 19:7).  It appears that the anointing can be literal, with oil, or metaphorical, through some other type of consecration ritual.  For the latter, consider Psalm 105:15, in which the entire nation of Israel is considered as God’s anointed prophets.

Now, if one ought to anoint a prophet, who could complain if we anointed a prophetess?  Shouldn’t we?

If we would lay our hands on a deacon to consecrate him (Acts 6:6), then what would stop us from laying our hands on a deaconess to consecrate her for the ministry to which God has called her?

Prejudice, that’s what.  Prettied up in theological language, to be sure, but simple prejudice nonetheless.  What we’re dealing with here is an institutionalized conviction that the ministries of women need not be treated with the same dignity, nor attended by the same celebration, as the ministries of men.  That’s an offense to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it needs to be denounced high, wide, and publicly.

My stance here will be denounced as “blurring gender distinctions.”  It isn’t.  It’s a search for good answers to hard questions — and the people who accuse me of blurring the lines are just mad because they haven’t got any.

Want me to prove it?  In a number of churches in my tribe, we’ll cheerfully lay hands on a missionary couple (husband and wife) and commission them to their ministry; we’ll even do that for a single woman — if she’s going to cross an ocean to teach little brown children.  If she’s staying here to be a Sunday School teacher to little white children, not so much.  Hm.  Does it take a greater anointing to minister to brown children, or is it just that Jesus loves them more?

What about other public ministries besides teaching Sunday School?  Youth leader?  Young Life worker?  Counselor?  Intercessor?  House mother in an orphanage?  R.A. in a dorm?  How do we recognize these ministries?  How should we?

But someone will say, “That’s not ordination.  Ordination is for preachers.”

Ah yes.  Preachers.  We’ll be talking about that next week…

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5 Responses to Why Complementarians MUST Ordain Women

  1. FedExMOP says:

    Tim,

    I like where you are going here, but I do not think you are going far enough. You state: “The description “husband of one wife” in the qualifications of elders (Titus 1:6) and overseers (1 Timothy 3:2) would seem to require that a male fill those positions. If we accept that there was in fact a woman who held the office of deaconess, then the passage in 1 Tim 3:12 declaring that the deacon, like the bishop in 3:2, is to be the husband of one wife must be dismissed out of hand as evidence requiring maleness. This is an example of fallaciacal reasoning since the absence of positive evidence is not itself evidence of a fact. One more passage that I think we should look at, is 1 Tim 5:1-2, the first part of 5:1 is almost universally accepted to be speaking to the position of Elder (or Bishop or Presbyter as they are commonly used interchangably in the NT). However, when we see the exact same word, “presbyteros” used explicitly of women in verse 2 it is never translated to be anything more than older women. I will argue that if Paul is expressly speaking of the office of Elder(Bishop or Presbyter) in verse 1, then he is not changing topic entirely by using the same word again in verse 2 differently. He is in fact simply stating that the way we treat MEN AND WOMEN Elders should be with respect as parents.

    This is, as I see it, one of the largest problems with thecomplimentarian ideology. It does not go far enough to create genuine equality in the body of Christ as expressed in Galations 3:26-28. This is not some distant reality, but is supposed to be the reality of the church here and now, and is part of making things here on earth as they already are in heaven. This is why I have left complimentarianism for a more egalitarian view and why I no longer accept circular reasoning and logical fallacies as reasons for silencing one half of the created image of God within His body, which of all places should be reflecting the realities of heaven (such as Gal 3:26-29) here in this fallen earth.

    God Bless you, Brother.

    FedEx,
    President,
    Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry.

  2. Tim Nichols says:

    FedEx,
    Thanks for commenting; I always enjoy hearing from you. I’m not sure where you’re getting your information on 1 Timothy 5:1, though. The interpretation you’re putting forward, far from being near-universal, is actually pretty rare. I’d say it’s pretty plainly talking about an older man, not an elder in the bishop/overseer sense — most translations will translate it “older man” for exactly that reason. The context is covering Timothy’s relations to the whole church: men and women, older and younger — excluding the non-bishop-qualified older men (and, perhaps, women) from consideration doesn’t make any sense.

  3. FedExMOP says:

    Tim,

    Thanks for the response, The point in 1 Tim 5:1-2 was relatively minor in comparison to the rest, but I see where you are going. In the churches that I have formerly attended, this passage was always used to show that it was wrong to rebuke someone holding the office of elder, and I have personally not heard much teaching from the other view. I did look at several commentaries online, however, and with the exception of Matthew Henry, none that I read interpreted it that way, so I guess you are probably right on this point. Although later in 1 Tim5:17 he again uses presbyteros in what does appear to be a specific address to the office of elder.

    I would like to hear your thoughts on the other points I brought up though. I especially would like to hear how there is a difference between deacons and elders both being called to be husbands of one wife in 1 Tim 3, You seem to accept the idea of women deacons, but not elders, I would like to know how you reason this hermenutically.

    Thanks Again Brother,

    FedEx,
    President,
    Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry.

  4. Tim Nichols says:

    FedEx,
    As far as I can see, “husband of one wife” does not really admit of a gender-neutral interpretation; that one kinda falls flat on the face of it. My reason for accepting the idea of deaconesses is that the text directly addresses it, both in Romans and in the passage you mention. If you keep reading in 1 Timothy 3, you’ll come to verse 11, which gives specific qualifications for female deacons. Some translations read “Likewise, their wives must be…,” but the Gk word means “woman” (and by extension, can mean “wife,” but doesn’t have to). Reading it as a qualification for deacon’s wives raises the question of why there are no qualifications for elders’ wives — seems odd, doesn’t it? — whereas reading it straightforwardly as a reference to female deacons makes great sense in the passage. The general qualifications for the office are in vv. 8-10, followed by the gender-specific qualifications in v. 11 for women, and v. 12 for men. Deacons must be husbands of one wife, rule their houses well, and so on. Deaconesses must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, and faithful in all things. I see no hermeneutical problem here; the qualifications articulated nicely address the common areas of failure in each gender, things one should watch out for in appointing church leaders.

    God made men and women different; those differences make a difference. Real liberation, for both men and women, lies in embracing and celebrating the differences in the ways God calls us to minister. Complementarians often miss the latter; egalitarians fall flat on the former. I am a complementarian because men and women reflect the Trinity, and the Trinity is a complementary, not an egalitarian, entity. I grant that complementarian theology has regularly been abused to justify relegating women to second-class citizens in the Kingdom, but this is to say that such complementarians have failed to celebrate the differences God made. Egalitarians propose to solve the problem by opening up the celebrated (i.e., masculine) roles to women, thereby failing to embrace the very real differences God made. This is not a solution; the solution lies in straightforward repentance of the failure to recognize and celebrate the roles God has called women into — deaconess among them.

  5. PB says:

    I agree with you on Romans 16.1. Even as a complementarian, I can’t get around that one. Early Christianity did give women positions in the church, which sure is plenty more liberating than what anyone else was doing at the time.

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