Friday, March 10, 2006

opening the can...(part 1)

a can of worms is the prequel of this post, and where the name for this one came from.

I was doing some investigating on the website of a Baptist church that I used to attend (my brother was the worship leader for a time) when I came across a document that serves as the position paper for this church on the role of women in ministry. Specifically whether women can or should serve as the pastor/teacher office that has been traditionally occupied by men only.

The position paper that I read (as well as the church that endorses it) was unabashedly egalitarian in the approach to and conclusion for this question. It seemed to me that the entire flow of the argument in this paper hinged mainly upon two things (that are equally co-dependent as well): 1) interpreting Galatians 3:28 as the key verse about men and women issues, and 2) seemingly interpreting vague passages as precedent over clear teaching passages.

Because of the lengthy nature of this paper1 (21 pages), I am unable at this time to go over it in a step by step/point by point critique so I will try to summarize some of the parts that were most unsettling to me while doing my best to fairly represent their argument.

In the very beginning, this paper presents 4 possible interpretive methods that have been used to interpret this passage. The first and second are clearly unbiblical methods of interpretation and, to the credit of the authors, are quickly rejected as being denials of biblical infallibility. The third possible interpretive method basically says that the Bible says what it means, and means what it says – exactly. "Women are subordinate to men, unable to exercise any teaching ministry or even to raise a question at a business meeting."2

I found the representation of this third interpretive method very interesting. It is true, that this view does interpret the Bible to mean exactly what it says and that women are subordinate to men, but that is where the fair representation of this third view ends, and the straw man begins.3 Where does the Bible restrict women from any teaching ministry all? We see clearly that women are prohibited from teaching or having authority over a man (1 Tim 2:12). The kind of teaching referred to here is not saying that a woman cannot or should not teach ever or in any way - it means that a woman is not to be the teacher of men. One of the things that the Bible does encourage women to do is to love of her children and be a worker at home (Titus 2:3). In the same context where women are forbidden from teaching men, we see that "women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." (1 Tim 2:15) This shows the exact context where women not only have the place of a teacher (in spiritual as well as natural things), but we also know that in the biblical paradigm a woman has more influence (more time spent) with the children that she is teaching than her husband does. So it can rightly be understood that women are to teach their children, and this is a proper place of teaching for women.

What more glorious ministry is there than to shepherd a small number of children in the ways of the LORD from the earliest stages of life until the time when these same children are having children of their own? The amount of influence here dwarfs the amount of influence that a single pastor will have on any one given person in the duration of that person's life.

Where does the phrase "even to raise a question at a business meeting" come from? This is absurd! Church business meetings, as we are familiar with them in western culture, are place where everyone attends, asks questions, voices opinions or concerns, and decisions are made regarding the ministry of that local church. Would Paul have had any cultural context at all for the setting of a business meeting to be understood in this passage? No! The leadership committees of the early churches were seemingly the elders - they got together, talked and prayed over the issues, and made decisions. So, this insertion of the business meeting example is one of the most absurd and unfair ways to characterize what this text is really saying.

The closing to understanding this interpretive method is accurately stated that it "only forbid a woman to preach a sermon, or teach an adult Sunday school class if men are present, or hold a leadership office, such as elder or senior pastor." This is the way that this position should have been characterized.

The fourth interpretive method that we are shown is to seek to "interpret these statements in light of their context and historical background, while looking for the timeless message to the church of Christ in every age and culture. Admittedly, this is not always easy to do."

The way that this interpretive method, the one that is the standpoint of the writers of this paper, is set forth is also a little questionable. By only stating the importance of context and historical background information in this method implies that these factors were not important in the previous one...or at least they were not that important. The danger with this way of interpreting these passages, specifically the phrase "looking for the timeless message to the church of Christ in every age and culture", is that we must be careful to not water down the specific and implied meaning so that it is palatable to our current way of thinking.

That being said, there is a timeless message to the church that can be found here. The Bible has set forth many principles and practices that will not be accepted or understood and that will be challenged by any and all societies. The reason is that the very nature of the gospel and of the Bible is to reveal God's intent and plan - that Christians are to live differently, act differently, and think differently than the fallen world all around us. We live in a world where sin reigns supreme in the lives of the vast majority of people, and thus dominates all cultures and skews all thought and understanding.

A side note:

I was amazed at how much of this paper was aimed toward combating the abuse, degradation, and relegating women to second-class type citizens instead of dealing with the main issue that they are trying to address: namely women in ministry. The Bible has never endorsed or argued for the abuse of women. So lumping the issues of leadership and abuse together is not called for. The paper and its arguments start this skew early when it says, "We will begin by considering what the great pillars of biblical theology tell us about a woman's value and worth." 4 One of the chief errors of this paper and it's method of understanding these scriptures is seen by this whole phrase - the more I look at it, the more I think and see that both value and worth are irrelevant to this discussion. Women have the same value and worth as men do, of course: Other than being created in the image of God, we all are worthless (we have no intrinsic worth or goodness of our own accord) apart from being found in Christ.

I'll close this post with a summary of a comment that I heard Allestair Begg make when he was preaching on church roles and responsibilities. He said that it is a grave error to view the roles or ministries of pastor, elder, or deacon as positions of status or worth. They should rightly be regarded as positions of service. When we lose site of the fact that any Christian ministry is primarily about service (as seen when our LORD washed the feet of His disciples) and not status, we have a sad and wrong view of ministry.

1 Whenever the terms "paper" or "position paper" are used in this post, they are referring to "The Role of Women in the Church" which is the paper posted to a local Baptist church's web site.

2 "The Role of Women in the Church" pg. 1

3 "strawman" is a term used in debate where you mischaracterize your opponents statement or point of view so that it looks ridiculous and it is easier to defeat, debunk, or disprove.

4 "The Role of Women in the Church" pg. 2

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