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