Women in Church Leadership, Part 1

Monday, March 31, 2008

Over the next few weeks, I will be devoting my blog to the issue of women in church leadership.  In this three-part series, I will explore 1) background issues of women in leadership, 2) arguments against women in church leadership, and finally 3) arguments in favor of women in church leadership.  This is a sensitive issue that tends to generate lots of heated debate.  I hope to strike a balanced, thoughtful tone in discussing this important issue, and I would encourage any commenters to be civil, too.

First, I must tip my hermeneutical cards for everyone to see:

  1. In accordance with my Reformed Protestant heritage, I strongly believe that the Scriptures are the written Word of God, and that they are “given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, paragraph 2).  I adhere to the guidelines of scriptural interpretation found in the Westminster Confession (chapter 1), which affirm the sufficiency of the Bible for our knowledge of God and salvation, the authority of the Bible as given by God, the rule of Scripture interpreting Scripture, the necessity of the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit, and Scripture as the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).  All of this is to say that I am a traditional, Bible-believing Christian.
  2. Therefore, when addressing questions of faith–the role of women in leadership specifically–I will begin and end with the Bible.  It is not as much a question of theology or tradition (e.g., Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy).  Surprisingly, the Bible gives a rather mixed bag when it comes to women in leadership, as I hope to demonstrate, and a clear answer to “the question” is more slippery than I first anticipated.  Since the Bible is God’s Word, we must listen carefully, and as much as possible, unbiasedly, to the whole canon of Scripture on its own terms without imposing our own predispositions onto the text.
  3. Women’s leadership in the church is not–repeat, NOT–a matter of “justice” (read = fairness), as many have made the case.  Women becoming ministers is not (or should not have been) an outgrowth of women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, or secular feminism.  Our rule for faith and practice is Scripture, interpreted and applied by the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and not external philosophies imported into the body of Christ.
  4. Women’s leadership in the church is not an essential tenet of our faith.  That means that sincere, thoughtful Christians can disagree respectfully over this issue.  If I were making a list of essential, non-negotiable doctrines of Christianity, they would include the Trinity, salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the incarnation of the eternal Son, Jesus’ bodily resurrection, and the authority of Scripture.  But church governance and women’s roles in the church would not make my list as essential for salvation.
  5. Often, in today’s discussions of women in leadership, we hear questions like, “Should women be ordained [as ministers]?” with the expected answer to be a clear yes or no.  In other words, the debate basically revolves around whether women should be admitted into our denominational processes to become credentialed as “professional” ministers.  I would suggest, up front, that this is not the right question to be asking.  In many ways, our twentieth-century concept of seminary-trained, ordained pastors is somewhat out of step with the biblical pattern of church leadership, which emphasizes gifts given by Christ (Ephesians 4:7, 11), activated by the Holy Spirit for the good of all (1 Corinthians 12:6-7).  I would argue that the Assemblies of God get it as close to right as anyone regarding women in church leadership; they are a Pentecostal denomination that adheres to traditional Christian theology and that ordains women to all offices of church work, not based on “justice,” but based on gifts for ministry.  It would be great if church bodies on both sides of the coin spent more time talking about gifts rather than gender!
  6. Therefore, because of the slippery nature of “ordination” discussions, I will try to use the term “women in church leadership,” which generally refers to women being set aside to serve in the positions of elder, deacon, pastor, and overseer (“bishop”), rather than “ordination,” which has a churchy connotation in today’s vernacular.

Having said all that, next week I will delve into the arguments against women in church leadership.  Tune in next week for the exciting sequel!


2 thoughts on “Women in Church Leadership, Part 1

  1. 1. Your choice, but I believe regretfully misguided.
    2. True
    3. Agree
    4. Agree
    5. Strongly agree
    6. Seems like the way to go

    I look forward to your future installments.

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