This past weekend I ran the Naperville Marathon which meant I had to miss Renew Communities Central Gathering on Sunday. In my absence Bethany Solyntjes delivered a powerful sermon (you should listen – you won’t believe this was her first time preaching!). Since Renew is made up of many different people from various theological backgrounds there have been a few questions about Renew Communities’ thoughts about women in ministry and how we came to these conclusions. Since we didn’t come by these conclusions lightly and we think it’s an important issue I wanted to post a document we wrote a couple of years ago and can be found on our website. Tomorrow I’ll post some of how we came to that conclusion and then later this week I’ll post a few resources we’ve found helpful as we’ve wrestled through this over the years.
Before I post the “position paper” I do want to say that the primary reason we’ve come to the conclusion we have is because we believe it is Biblical. I know that one of the great fears in church and theology is that somehow people lean more towards progressive thinking than Biblical understanding and while you might disagree I think what you’ll find over the next several posts is a Biblical understanding of the role of women historically and Biblically.
From RenewCommunities.com “Our Beliefs” section.
WOMEN IN MINISTRY
WOMEN AND THEIR ROLES AT RENEW COMMUNITIES
We believe God pours out his gifts indiscriminately on males and females to be used for the sake of his church and his world.
We believe that women’s roles should reflect the roles given to women in the New Testament.
We believe that any mature Christian, male or female, can be used by God in leadership capacities within the Church community including eldership and teaching.
We believe that Renew Communities and all churches are responsible for entering into the biblical story and, by God’s spirit, moving it towards its completion. This means expanding the work of the gospel that began with Jesus and the early church in all areas of society. For are purposes here, expanding women’s capacity to live out their callings before God.
WOMEN AND THEIR ROLES WITHIN THE BIBLICAL NARRATIVE
In Genesis 1 and 2, God creates male and female as mutuals. They were made for each other and they were made to be one with each other. It was the first mutually submissive and other-exalting relationship. Together they would embody the Trinitarian image of God.
Sadly, humanity rebelled against God and in Genesis 3:16, God proclaims over the male-female relationship, “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” So from the Fall onward women sought dominance over men and men sought dominance over women. History tells us that men often won out and by Jesus time we lived a male-dominated society.
The Good News is that Jesus came to break all the divisions within humanity that originated at the Fall. Galatians 3:28 states, “There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no “male and female”; you are all one in the Messiah, Jesus.” Jesus destroyed the wall of domineering between men and women. God has enabled us to live in mutuality as he intended at Creation. The church should be offering to the world a model of the restored mutuality that is found in Christ.
The questions our Church must ask are: Where does our Church’s view of women and their roles fit into this story? Does our church view women and their roles in light of the Fall? Or Does our church view women and their roles in light of Jesus’ “abolishing” work of new creation?
The Church in Acts chooses to view women and their roles in light of Jesus’ “abolishing” work of new creation. At the Day of Pentecost, Peter quotes the Prophet Joel in Acts 2:16-18:
“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants[c] and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
Pentecost leads us to think of an increase in women’s capacities to minister, not a decrease. Women’s ministries are suppose to expand as the Bible’s plot moves forward to God’s goal of a new heaven and new earth. Pentecost is the “big bang” of God’s kingdom movement where all aspects of the Fall are increasingly being renewed.
WOMEN AND MINISTRY IN JESUS’ AND PAUL’S DAY
The cultures during Jesus and Paul’s time were patriarchal cultures. This means that all structures of society were male centered (workplace, family, religious, etc). The Bible is all about breaking oppressive cultural paradigms. Therefore, when one looks at biblical passages, one must ask “How is Jesus or Paul subverting reigning cultural paradigms and reclaiming them for Christ?” When it comes to this issue of women and their roles in society and the church, Jesus and Paul seems to be challenging the cultural paradigm and reclaiming it for Christ.
Here are two problem passages (of many) often associated with Women and their roles: 1 Corinthians 14 and 2 Timothy 2. It must be said that Paul is addressing a specific cultural problem at these churches so the first step is to discover what the problem he is addressing before generalizing specific verses to all cultures and all times.
1 CORINTHIANS 14:29-33
Problem: Woman who are asking questions in the worship service and disrupting the worship service. They are turning the worship service into a Q and A time.
Solution: Paul’s response to this is that women need to learn before speaking. Paul is advocating a temporary silencing to give women the opportunity to learn the Bible. Once the women with questions had been educated, they would be permitted then to ask questions in the gatherings of Christians. An implication of Paul’s statements is the responsibility of Christian men and leaders to educate women, which was a progressive idea in a culture that limited women in many ways. To further support the idea that Paul was only requesting a specific type of silencing, 1 Corinthians 11 explicitly makes clear that it is fine for women to prophesy and pray at the worship service.
1 TIMOTHY 2:11-12
Problem: High status women that he is trying to correct. High standing women are more educated in Greco-woman culture and more likely to assume that they should assume important roles in whatever religion they participate in. In the temple of Greco-roman religions they could be priestesses. So when a high standing Gentile woman comes into Christianity, they feel that because of their education and previous positions held in past religious contexts that they should be able to enter in a leadership role within Christianity very quickly.
Solution: Paul says to these women that you must learn the ways of Christianity and embody them before you can begin to teach. Listen and learn before you teach. They can’t just join a Christian community and think they can be in positions of authority and teaching. Paul advocates that unlearned women should not hold authority over a community of Christians. Once a woman is steeped in the faith, they can hold positions like the women we see in other places in the Bible.
A closing thought: When it comes to tough passages in the Bible we must ask ourselves what is going to be the lens in which we interpret those texts. We believe that God’s redemptive story as described above should be that lens. Interpretations that directly contradict God’s redemptive story should cause us to pause.
WOMEN AND THEIR ROLES IN THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT
The Bible seems to take progressive views of woman and their roles. The Old Testament provides a few examples of women who were exceptions to the dominant cultural perception of women as inferior. The New Testament provides many examples of women living out any and all the roles that the Lord has gifted them in.
Women in the Old Testament
Miriam – Spiritual Leader, Exodus 15; Micah 6:4
Deborah – Leader and Judge of Jewish Nation, Judges 4-5
Huldah – God’s Prophet, 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles
Women in the New Testament
Mary – Mother of Jesus , Mathew, Mark, Luke
Junia – Apostle, Romans 16:7
Priscilla – Teacher of Scripture, Acts 18:2, 3, 26
Pheobe – Deacon, Romans 16:1-2
Euodia and Syntyche – Paul’s co-workers, Phil 4:2-3