Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Answering Questions #3: women and ministry

This may seem like a subject to fit under the category of "hot topics" but in reality, this topic has matured beyond that point. 

While once a matter of debate similar to that of other theological controversy-- which is to say, largely theoretical and abstract for most-- the question of what role women have in the local congregation is now anything but abstract or theoretical.  Indeed, one who cannot answer this question to the satisfaction of his constituents will find one portion or another quite concerned with what the future holds.

The reasoning behind this is several-fold, in my analysis:
  • We cannot begin anywhere except the fact that our forefathers in the Church have mishandled this question terribly. Accusations hurled at the Church of misogyny and male chauvinism in years past were not far off the mark, at least as far as the practice of the Church goes.
  • This poor practice in the past (and to a lesser degree in the present) has unfortunately been tied to the theological truths that were (mis)used to justify such action, so much that these truths have themselves become targets for skepticism.  Coupled with a looser hold to the authority of the Scriptures, this is a treacherous association; however, even when the authority of Scripture is upheld, then the trustworthiness of the leadership that applies Scripture is weakened by poor practices.
  • None of this is helped in any way by the fact that mature, godly men serving in strong, careful leadership roles are more scarce today than ever.  While refreshing, it is often a surprising exception to find a great Elder who can lead women while esteeming their dignity. The absence of men who can handle this balance well is more the norm than the exception.
  • Meanwhile, a growing number of Christian women are becoming mature to the point of surpassing their male counterparts, and they take their mature faith seriously.  Thus, when called upon to lead, they do not shy away. More women than ever are, for example, pursuing training in seminaries, which prepares them well for leadership in a local congregation.
The question then becomes: in what capacity should a woman have leadership in the local church?

Without going much further into the underpinnings of an answer, I'll simply offer what mine is-- hoping that there is enough there for you to intuit some of the rationale.  Here's how I would answer the question immediately above:

I think the first thing that must be said is that women have been dealt with poorly in the Church at large, and more particularly in the Presbyterian Church in America, and they have not been given the dignity and respect they deserve as sisters in Christ and co-laborers for the Kingdom. I believe that there is much repentance and reparation to be done in that area, and that it is only with the gracious forgiveness of the women in the church that we can even begin to move further in considering the question.

That said, I believe that there is much available to women as opportunities for service and leadership within the local congregation. Traditionally, women have been offered leadership opportunities in Children's Ministry, Youth Ministry, and Women's Ministry, and these remain wonderful opportunities for women who are called to them. However, there are many other areas of church life and ministry that the gifts and abilities that are unique to women, or at least stronger in them, are a good fit: mercy ministry, hospitality, lay leadership development, and congregational care are a few that come to mind.

Furthermore, many women have gifts and abilities that equal or surpass those of their male counterparts, and in the appropriate contexts they should be encouraged and empowered to exercise them. My understanding of the Scriptural teaching on what women can and cannot do tells me that, apart from leading and teaching in corporate worship, women are free to perform whatever tasks a non-ordained man may do. In other words, if a woman is gifted for teaching, she may teach-- provided that the context is not teaching in worship.

One final distinction on the matter: concerning the question of women as Deacons or Elders, I believe it is Scripturally forbidden, and therefore prohibited for practice today, for women to be ordained as Elders.  I think that a reasonable case could be made from Scripture in favor of ordaining women to the office of Deacon, which is defined by Scripture as essentially an office of service.  However, the rules of government in the PCA outlined by the Book of Church Order forbid this, and unless this were to change I believe it would be unethical-- given the vows that I am prepared to take for my own ordination-- to go against these rules.  I am, however, grateful that the Book of Church Order allows for the appointment of godly men and women to assist the Diaconate in their duties.

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