December 17, 2011

Women In Ministry X: Biblical Pattern Recognition

[This will be the last post in this topic] I guess what this issue really boils down to is what one Christian over another considers a pattern. I personally don’t believe a handful of imprecise and non-uniform references condoning women in leadership of specific early churches are validation for wholesale acceptance across the board for female leadership in the Church. Specific churches that were written to in the Bible clearly appear to be the exceptions (since they have letters written to them). The very fact that they had letters written to them tells me that they are exceptions...most of them had some serious problems that needed to be addressed. I believe it is dangerous to take these letter's egalitarian references referring to the entire body in a generalized manner (Galatians 3:28) and assume they give irrefutable evidence for female leadership/ordination in the church (Harkness 213, Tucker et al 65). As a matter of fact, one would be hard pressed to ascertain with certainty that Paul is referring specifically to women in leadership in Galatians 3:28. In its context, Galatians 3 appears to be referring to the equality of salvation in Christ as it is no longer based in the Law. It is not referring to leadership per se.

As positive, stirring and meaningful as the new faith of Christianity was for the advancement and treatment of women it is clear to me that the overwhelming burden of the truth of Scripture points towards male leadership in the church…even this though this is in no way absolutely decisive either. I have agreed with the Assemblies of God position papers on the role of women in ministry (Assemblies of God “Role of Women”) and the often unclear nature of the exact roles of women in given situations. The thing that I disagree with is the conclusion they have drawn from the data and information. 

To that end I must state that I am in no way misogynistic or chauvinist. You can ask my wife. I adore my wife and put her first wherever I can. I give glory and honor to those that give glory and honor to God as their default mode male OR female. What does not bring honor to God is what I now frown upon and that includes all Scriptural issues that people disregard. I am a simple man that lives by simple rules based in the Bible. It is one of the reasons I went through this exercise of determining exactly where I stand on this issue. Now you know where I stand also. Because of where I stand I realize I am in direct opposition of 95% of the cultural mindset and probably about 75% of the "proclaiming Christian church mindset that has slowly inexorably drifted towards moral ambivalence away from the Bible and towards the culture and the "wisdom of the wise" of this age (1 Cor 1). This has been caused predominately by Bible illiteracy. No doubt I will be viewed as "fanatical biblethumper" and a "chauvinistic pig" by a morally misguided and reprobate be it. It isn't about that as much as that fact that I needed to know with precision so that I could educate others. So that I can draw closer to glory in Christ. This is something I could never explain to the unbeliever as it would be foolishness to them. My calling is pastor/teacher and at some point I will be asked the hard questions. I needed to be prepared with conviction to meet these issues head-on or people will go elsewhere for the answer. Based on the math above, many will be sorely misinformed or purposely led astray.

All things considered I believe the evidences throughout the Bible weigh heavier on the side of Complementarianism than Egalitarianism and if pressed, that is the way I will lean. The pattern for this starts as early as Genesis 2 not only in the narrative can it be found but in the syntax and grammatical structure. It is then elaborated on and spelled out in more specific detail in the Torah Law. Many will say that the ceremonial laws and civil laws that kept women in subjectivity and/or subjugation were abrogated in Jesus Christ but we must also remember what Jesus said in relation to the Law.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Matthew 5:17

Jesus fulfilled the obligations of the Law but the principles and patterns of the created order behind the Law (since the Creation) still hold sway or at least should in our Christian thinking as they are still beneficial to all Christians and humanity at large. We see the principles and patterns elaborated on and outlined in places like Ephesians descriptions of the family unit and the Church corporate (Big "C"). As the world has drifted away from these principles it has done so to its own detriment and in some cases...demise.

In addition, a closer look at the letters from Paul reveals that they are occasional documents. They are occasioned or caused documents that have salutations and conclusions addressed to 1st century individuals. They are letters whose purpose is to primarily address issues in the body of the letter not to address theology and doctrine in their salutations and conclusions. Letters are written to convey the ideas that are “meat” or “main topics” in their center not necessarily to address tough issues on the periphery of the letter. I suppose the same argument can be raised about the complementarian view being defended by verse from the occasional letters of 1 Corinthians and 1Timothy but there is a distinct difference. Paul addresses male leadership as an issue in the body of the letters of 1 Timothy 2 & 3 and 1 Corinthians 11. Conversely, this does not say that theology and God's truths cannot be "gleaned" from the edges. All Scripture is, "God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" 2 Timothy 3:16

Interestingly, outside of Acts, the strongest evidences gleaned from the prose of the letters to support egalitarianism are taken not form the “meat” of the letter but rather it is taken from the intro-salutation or outro-conclusion to Romans and Philippians. these areas of a letter are not necessarily dealing with the main issues in the letter but contained lesser or peripheral pieces of information. Not the driver but the filler. I realize Paul often used his salutations as places to establish his Apostolic credentials. Understanding this I also do not deny that even introductions and conclusion in the Bible are of immense value to teach us the things of God. What I am saying is I would rather have the meat of the passage in a letter as the mitigating factor in forming my orthodoxy, not interpretations of conditionalized peripheral comments relative to the Church the letters were written to. Salutation's and conclusions to me are more like "apostolic afterthoughts". They are still Scripture but in context they are not quite as topic or issue intensive as the bulk of the letter written. Since most all of the Churches and people Paul wrote to had rather unique circumstances that they were dealing with, they themselves were probably exceptions to other churches. They were not rules in terms of a pattern in the overall Church. Special circumstances mitigated the need to improvise and specialize.

My question to the read of this post is: How does this specialization or uniqueness of events constitute a pattern to base doctrine or dogma off of?

An Unconventional Alternate View

Having reviewed all this detail I would like to posit an unconventional theory. It is based in (1) The idea that the primary sources for the doctrine or theology that says women should be in the leadership of the Church comes from letters written to churches with known “issues” making them exceptions not the norm. (2) It is also based in part in my belief / conjecture that early Christianity was based in a culture and social mindset of male gender bias and primogeniture. (3) The following idea(s) also stems and springs from the idea that Jewish and Hellenized Roman/Jewish culture that saw men as infinitely more valuable in a social situation. This had a heavy influence on the new Christian church that grew out of and simultaneously away from Judaism.

When I say male gender bias I mean that women general were viewed as second-class citizens in first century culture. When I say primogeniture I mean the Jewish law or custom, of the firstborn to inherit the entire estate and the right to become the patriarch. This cultural mindset produced two distinct features of the New Testament church. I figure it this way: (1) If the enemies of Christianity, that thought in a primarily a male biased/primogeniture mindset could take out the “head” or the patriarchal figure, they had a better chance of eliminating the faith. As such, men are targeted more fiercely as evidenced by early martyr accounts (i.e.: Stephen, James, other Apostles, etc.). (2) In this vacuum we see the role of woman increase in the absence or death of men. This role and sense of egalitarianism is of course encouraged by the new found elevation of woman in status and standing in the Christian faith based in a Romanized/Hellenized culture (at least initially). This is evidenced by the egalitarian passages of unity in the Bible such as:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

As such, men tended to be targeted and singled out more quickly and aggressively as the leaders of a divergent sect of Judaism that ended up being persecuted and martyred. As such male leaders would’ve been in shorter supply. Add to this the new freedom and status given to women in a relational religious system that viewed women as equal in the body of Christ in nearly all matters except church leadership.

In the end I return to my introduction and my comparison of the nature of the roles within the Trinity. Jesus deferred to the will of the Father in functional subordination but not subordination of nature and it brought glory not only to Himself but also the Father and the Holy Spirit. This is excellent company to have when making a comparison. Because Jesus went to the Cross obeying the will of the Father in a passive obedience His name was lifted above all other names. Of course this will not happen for women but isn’t it ironic that the one that willingly submits to service in love with no expectation of glory ends up being glorified and honored and held in high esteem in God’s economy. Unfortunately, because of human’s prideful and sinful nature we have a hard time seeing subordination as anything other than a “put down”. Subordination is not a position of inferiority it is willing divesting of a role…just as Jesus submitted to the Father.


I suppose many will not like this examination of the biblical and historical data and that is a matter of opinion just as that one I have presented here. That is fine. I have simply presented the information, analyzed it and processed it into as biblical a worldview as possible. I have presented it as humbly and accurately as I a servant faithful to my call and in submission to my Lord. Never once have I tried to exalted anyone or anything except God in this. We must never forget that in God's economy, lowering is exalting and self-exalting is lowering...and He is above us all.

The fear of the LORD is the instruction for wisdom, And before honor comes humility. Proverbs 15:33

"Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." Matthew 23:12

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:7-11

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