So for those of you who are just joining us, the title says most of what you need to know. In the first installment, we discussed the biblical case for deaconesses and prophetesses — which we will revisit shortly in order to discuss the differences in the ways men and women minister. But the pressing question, for most of the conservatives, is whether we’re going to have women preachers. If I wait six installments before I address that question, that’s going to annoy some of the neighbors I’m supposed to love — so let’s go ahead and start that ball rolling this week.
The first thing we need to think about here is what we typically mean by “ordaining a preacher.” Within my tribe and the model I grew up with, we ordain a “minister of the gospel” to go out and take that lead pastor position. We know, of course, that not everyone we ordain will, in fact, be a lead pastor one day, but the lead pastor position is seen as the paradigm case, the example par excellence of what we’re ordaining the man (and in this tribe, it is always a man) for. The job description includes deciding on the vision and direction for the church, leading that church, counseling the congregation, overseeing the services of the church, preaching every Sunday, representing the church to the community and so on. There’s effectively only one office we do a full-blown ordination exam for, and this is it.
So here’s how the “we can only ordain men” thing works: That job description above is what we’re ordaining people for. Add in a dash of 1 Timothy 2:12, notice that the job description calls for exercising authority over the whole church, men most definitely included, and there you are. Can’t ordain women; the Bible says so.
But what’s biblically necessary about that job description? Is that job description what ‘pastor’ means in the New Testament, or have we just taken the biblical word and superimposed our own definition on it?
Yes, indeed we have. So is it okay for us to put a woman in that position? Of course not. But I’ve got a better question: Is it okay for us to put anybody in that position?
Let’s back up. How do we know there’s even such a thing as a “pastor?” Because it’s right there in Ephesians 4:11, right? Let’s look at that. Paul says in chapter 3 that the grace given to him is to proclaim Christ to the Gentiles, but then adds in 4:7 that grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of the gift Christ gave. What’s that? Christ rose up from His throne in heaven, descended to earth, won the victory, and ascended again, taking the spoils of His victory (i.e., the people He redeemed) with Him. He then gave these people as gifts to the Church: some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers (hereinafter APEPTs, just to save me some typing). The purpose of giving APEPTs is in order that they in turn equip the saints, so that the saints can do the work of the ministry, through which work Christ builds His whole body up into adulthood. So just as proclaiming Christ to the Gentiles is the grace given to Paul, we all have some function in the Body that is the unique grace given to each of us. Christ has given gifted people to His Body, and in turn the Spirit has given those gifted people their capacities to serve within that Body.
The ‘fivefold ministry’ school of thought would say that everybody’s gifting fits into the APEPT schema somehow, but that’s a discussion we can bypass for now. The gender question is what concerns us at the moment, so let’s look at the APEPT classifications with that in mind. Apostleship is not limited to the Twelve, nor even the Twelve plus Paul (see Acts 14:14), so there’s certainly a possibility that it’s a more expansive category, but I’m not aware off the cuff of any attested female apostles in the New Testament. However, there were certainly prophetesses, as we’ve already established. Nobody thinks gifted evangelists are exclusively male, nor does anyone think the gift of teaching is reserved for men alone. So why would the shepherding gift be reserved only for men?
“Because,” sputters my complementarian friend, “a woman can’t teach or have authority over a man. So how’s she supposed to be a gifted shepherd without doing those things?”
Gee, I dunno. How’s a gifted female teacher — and we all acknowledge they exist — do her thing without violating the same scripture? Not being a female teacher, I couldn’t say for sure, but I suspect she does it by not accepting teaching authority over men. Not exactly rocket surgery, is it?
So what if — and I’m just throwing out a wild idea here — we step up to the challenge of acknowledging women’s shepherding ministries as fully worthy of the dignity, celebration and recognition that attends men’s shepherding ministries? In other words, what if we male shepherds get up off our blessed assurance and treat female shepherds as “fellow heirs of the grace of life”? What might that look like?
Different than what we’re doing, to be sure. We’ll pick up the discussion of some of the differences next week.