14 March 2018

Women Teachers, Oh My!

So far on this blog, I've mostly discussed egalitarianism -- the view that God distributes His gifts, callings, and commands to men and women without regard to their gender -- in relation to marriage. However, as you've probably already guessed, egalitarianism doesn't apply only to marriage. It's highly relevant to the corporate function of the church body, as well.

This aspect of it took me a little longer to wrap my brain around. After all -- as far as I'd ever known -- women were "exempt", so to speak, from fulfilling certain roles and tasks in the church that the men performed. It was just the way things were -- as much a part of the environment as the air I breathed. And just like air, I simply took it for granted. Of course, the fact that I personally didn't want to do any of the "men-only" activities certainly helped, I'm sure.

Not to mention, the passages of Scripture that were commonly used to justify restricting women in ministry seemed so, well, clear. It was right there in black and white; how could I argue?

First Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 are the verses that get most of the blame (or most of the credit, depending on whom you ask) for the restrictions placed on women in ministry. I will not exegete these two passages in detail here, because it's already been done elsewhere, but I will point you in the direction of those works:

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 -- Most likely a quote from the Corinthians' letter to Paul; his rebuttal follows in vv. 36-37. Read more about this here.
1 Timothy 2:12 -- A command related to the false teaching of asceticism circulating among the churches in Timothy's day. What does this have to do with women "teaching" or "having authority over men"? The surprising but true answer is: not a thing. Read why not here.

By the way, even if you don't know the historical background of 1 Timothy 2, common sense should tell you something is "off" with the way we apply this passage. Read through the whole thing, and you'll see what I mean. Does it ever strike you as odd that nobody wants to take literally anything else in the surrounding context of verse twelve, except the command for women not to teach? For example, most churches today don't have a rule stating that men must lift their hands in the air when they pray (v. 8), or that women must never braid their hair, or wear gold jewelry (v. 9). But somehow, we've decided that a verse about women's "silence" is timeless and binding -- everywhere, forever. If that's not a dead giveaway that we're simply operating according to our own preconceived notions, I don't know what is. But I digress.

Here are the most common arguments you'll hear against women being allowed to preach, teach, and exercise leadership (and why they don't hold water):

1. Women can only teach children and other women.
The thought process goes like this: Women shouldn't teach men because 1 Timothy 2:16 says that Eve was deceived. Eve was a woman; therefore, all women are easily deceived.

Notice two conclusions we immediately take for granted here, that the Bible does not support: (1) Eve's femaleness was the cause of her having been deceived, and (2) the fact that Eve was deceived means all women, henceforth and forever, are more susceptible to deception than all men. Two major leaps of logic with nothing to justify them. (Here's what I don't get: Adam sinned willfully, with full knowledge of what he was doing. But do you ever hear anyone argue that this means men are more likely to deliberately disobey God than women are? Nope, me neither. Strange, isn't it?)

Oh, and I wonder: If it's women who are more easily deceived, then why are all the most infamous cult leaders male?

Anyway, let's think about this for a minute. If a woman's teaching is deceptive, why would you want her teaching anyone -- even other women or children? Especially children? Children are highly impressionable. They're much more gullible than adults, so it follows that they'd be more easily led astray. As the protectors and guardians of our children, why -- in theory -- would we be okay with that?

Essentially, what we're saying when we claim that women are easily deceived and therefore shouldn't teach men, is that there's more at stake if a man is deceived than if a woman is. It's more important for men to know the truth -- the misleading of women and children is of less consequence. How arrogant is that! Especially considering that Jesus said He is Truth, and the truth will set us free. Jesus did not prioritize the freedom of some people over others, and He still doesn't. That's an assumption entirely of our own making.

2. Women can only speak in a church meeting if it's not "a meeting of the whole church."
For example, most complementarian churches won't permit women to participate audibly in the main service, but will allow it during adult Sunday School or midweek small groups. Why? Well, the common reasoning is that women speaking "in church" (i.e., the Sunday morning service) are what Scripture forbids. Those smaller meetings aren't "a meeting of the whole church", so under those circumstances, it's acceptable.

In the first place, this view somewhat leaves behind the organic, Biblical understanding of the church as members of the Body of Christ, in favor of a more institutional view of church as "names on the membership roster of a 501(c)(3) organization." Because if you're going to go with the Biblical understanding of "church", then it's "church" whether there are two believers gathered, or twenty, or two hundred. And it's not limited to Sunday mornings, either. Now, I'm not saying the institutional definition should have no place at all in our thinking; what I'm saying is that it ought not to be the definition we use when we're defining and defending doctrine. If we do, we're imposing our modern definitions and ways on the text, rather than allowing it to speak for itself.

In the second place, this begs the obvious question: What is (or is not) "a meeting of the whole church"? The answer will almost always (1) be completely arbitrary, and (2) vary from church to church -- both major clues that this "Biblical absolute" maybe isn't (or shouldn't be) so absolute after all.

Imagine your average small-ish church with around 100 members or so. It's entirely possible that, on some weeks, a Wednesday night prayer meeting may have more people present than the Sunday morning service when attendance is low because of illness, inclement weather, people on vacation, etc. So, exactly what percentage of the membership must be absent before we can deem it "not a meeting of the whole church", and allow women to participate? (And if women are deceptive because they are women, what difference does this really make anyway?)

Why is the practical outworking of our theology based on the number of attendees at a meeting? Does anyone else think this is strange? ....Just me? Okay. Let's move on.

3. Women can teach boys until they become men.
No one has any problem with a lady Sunday School teacher presiding over a mixed class of girls and boys. But as time passes, church leaders start to get a little twitchy about it -- a little uncomfortable -- those boys are getting older, maybe now we have a situation where women are teaching men, and that's no bueno.

The trouble is, no one is sure exactly when the boys become men, and the No Women Teaching rule kicks in. We know that our society says a person is no longer a child once they turn eighteen, but is that a reliable indicator of how we're supposed to do things at church? Maybe our standard should be age thirteen, when Jewish boys have their Bar Mitzvah? That would count as a "Biblical" way of doing things, right? Even though it seems like we're really stretching things there. I mean, one has only to look at the way those 13-year old boys are behaving to see that they're still children! And besides, they're still under the authority of a mother at home, and perhaps a female school teacher during the week. Oh, the conundrum!

4. Women can teach "under a man's authority."
No matter whether you're in favor of women teaching or opposed to it, either way, it doesn't make sense to believe this. If it's wrong for a woman to teach -- and we have to assume that it is, if we're going to say that women's teaching comes from a place of deception -- then "a man's authority" doesn't make it acceptable. You wouldn't permit any other kind of sin under a man's authority; why should this be an exception?

5. A woman can teach as long as she's standing behind a small lectern or a music stand, not the pulpit.
Because we all know that the authority to preach and teach in Jesus' name is actually conferred upon us by our large, cumbersome sacred furniture. Next, please...

6. Women can teach, as long as we call it something else.
A man teaches, but a woman "shares" or "gives a testimony." This is about as disingenuous as the currently popular trend of calling male overseers "pastors" but calling women who do the same work "ministry directors" or some such. It's the same thing, people! If a woman's leadership is wrong and bad as you suppose, than calling it by a different term doesn't justify it. And if, on the other hand, a woman's leadership is good and right, you shouldn't be afraid to call it what it is. Labels don't have the power to change reality. A rose by any other name...

What about music? The same churches that wouldn't be caught dead handing a woman a microphone and letting her "teach" the congregation, have no qualms at all about handing her that microphone and letting her sing a hymn or a praise song. And all hymns and praise songs contain doctrine, or truth, or exhortation, or some other material that would be considered "teaching" if it were spoken instead of sung. But I guess as long as the teaching is set to music, and worded in rhyming couplets, it doesn't count -- right? Makes perfect sense to me...

7. God will allow a woman to teach if there's no man around.
This one is perhaps the most insidious and the most insulting. It's message to women is, "God prefers men, but in a pinch, you'll just have to do." Not to mention, it assumes a pretty low view of God: He created the world out of nothing, but He can't find a man to do what needs to be done.

Let me ask you this: Were there men around on the first Easter Sunday, when Jesus rose from the grave? Yep. There were. And yet who were the first ones to be tasked with spreading the news of His resurrection?


The very first preachers of the Good News, if you will, were women.

How do you think that would go over in churches today?

8. Women can't baptize, serve communion, handle the offering...
How, pray tell, did these activities get lumped in to the "no girls allowed" category? Some will say it's because we have no Biblical record of women engaging in these activities. This is, at best, an argument from silence.

Some will say it's because men are commanded to be leaders. If so, the burden of proof is on them to demonstrate the Scriptural connection between leadership and the particular activities they won't allow women to participate in. For instance, I'll bet you've never heard anyone try to argue that helping out in the nursery or the kitchen is "leadership", the same way passing the offering (apparently) is!

I think we need to be honest with ourselves: The answer for a great many of us is that we simply don't like the idea of women doing the same things men do. We're not used to it. We think God must be against it, because we've been told that over and over and over... and over...

For others of us, it's an "emperor has no clothes" type of situation, where we know something isn't quite right with what everyone else is taking for granted. Deep down, we know the reasoning we use to defend our assumptions is arbitrary. But it's extremely taboo to argue with or question these points, so most of us simply don't. As a result, everyone stays in the dark. In the meantime, who knows how many opportunities for blessing have passed us by.

And then there are those pesky few who won't be silenced, who don't mind poking and prodding a bit for answers. When I do this, I nearly always get some reiteration or rehashing of the points above, punctuated with the flustered exclamation: "Well, we don't know why this is, but you just have to take it by faith and obey!"

I agree that some things are beyond us and need to be taken by faith. But faith, properly placed, is always in what God has said. Faith must be placed in God's promises. God will never ask you to go along with some man-made assumption and call it "faith." You can rest assured on that.

I will end this by directing you to something absolutely brilliant, something that falls hard into the I Wish I Had Written That category. It's short and simple, but I guarantee it will make you think, and maybe, just maybe, start to ask some of these questions for yourself: Jesus and a Women's "Place"


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  2. I've been teaching, oh I am sorry, facilitating a group with both single and married men in it. Oh, the scandal! #7 is partilcularly upsetting!

    1. I know right? Well, good luck and may God reluctantly use you in your teaching -- I mean, sharing/facilitating ;)