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Orthodox Feminism

December 8, 2017

I was riding the bus home this morning and noticed an advertisement for the United Church of Christ. Their slogan was, "Our faith is 2,000 years old, our thinking is not." And all the world cheered. But the real crux of the ad was their proclamation that they had ordained the first female pastor, in the United States, in 1853. I want to first take care of the biblical precedent for church leadership, before I engage the social commentary. 


What does scripture say about gender and church governance? Are orthodox believers misogynists in need of reform? Does the church hate women? We see a few examples of women given the gift of prophecy (Miriam in Exodus 15:20, Deborah Judges 4:4-5, Huldah 2 Kings 22:14, Noadiah Neh. 6:14, and Anna Luke 2:36-37) so we know that God values women and uses them for His purposes. He even entrusted God incarnate to be born by a woman, continuing the blessing of child bearing that women have. Wives are to be loved as Christ loves the church (Eph 5:25). That is supreme value being placed on women. Who is loved more by God than the Church? He bled and died for the church, endured ridicule, forgives her sins, washes her feet, serves her, protects her, and keeps her. To any man guilty of treating his wife (or women collectively) as unlovely ought to repent with all haste and humility. 


Value, however, does not directly correlate to role. A tree's leaves have the same value as its roots. It needs both to live, but they serve drastically different roles. The leaves absorb sunlight, carbon dioxide, the provide beauty, and when they fall they help protect the tree from unwanted competition by blanketing the ground beneath. The roots anchor the tree, supply it with water, nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. It is one organism with parts of equal value but different roles. Such is the Church. The Church is comprised of people with a variety of gifts that would put a tree to shame, but we will focus on the central relationship between men and women in the church, specifically in leadership. 


In Ephesians 5, Paul writes that the man is the head of the household. The husband does not get elected, the family doesn't vote, he is appointed by God as the head. The anthropomorphic language insinuates another truth, can the head live apart from a body? No. Again we see equal value, distinct roles. The husband is to lead in sacrificial love, and humility, this verse does not condone authoritarian husbandry. It does put the husband in leadership. He is the protector, leader, and provider for his family. The way he handles that role directly affects the body he leads. Unhealthy headship makes an unhealthy body and vice versa. These roles, again, are suppose to be shadows of Christ relating to his Church. We cannot import worldly ethics into our theology. 


Does a man's innate leadership carryover into the church? In 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 it appears to, "As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church." A husband is to make sure he is being discipled and studying well, so he can shepard his wife and family. This verse also follows Paul encouraging women to prayer and prophecy (1 Cor. 11:5,13), so in context this is prohibiting them from speaking up in the gathering to judge prophecies to subvert male headship. In 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul again writes, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet." Again in reference to church government and public teaching, Paul affirms this role is for men, and later he cites creation as precedent. Men are made for headship, which is why men are to be heads of church bodies. This does not mean every man is qualified or should be in leadership, but everyone in leadership is to be a man. In 1 Timothy 3:1-7 the qualifications for an overseer (pastor or elder) are laid out. The second qualification is the husband of one wife. Women can't be husbands, ergo women are not to be overseers. 


Scripture plainly states the role of leadership in the assembly is for men, because Christ made men for headship, not because they are more valuable. As I mentioned earlier, women have plenty to do. In addition to prayer and encouragement they are to teach and disciple younger women, and children ( Titus 2:3-5). How is this not valuable? Why does this doctrine bristle the hairs of westerners? Quite simply because of the fall and curse. After Adam and Eve sinned God cursed Eve and all women in Genesis 3:16 "...your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." Women were destined to strive for the position of the man in marriage and elsewhere, if they are not first submissive to God. 


We ought not be surprised then when a secular culture cries for egalitarianism. Once a church begins abandoning orthodoxy and the authority of scripture, they see no differences in men and women. One can do the same job as the other, etc. They are just living out the curse. The irony is they cry equality, but they celebrate the first ordained female pastor in 1853. If people are people and gender is irrelevant, why do they care so much that a woman is a pastor? How is that cause for celebration, if you see no distinction between the sexes? This is the irrationality of sin. They mock orthodox Christians and condemn them for sexism and discrimination, yet they celebrate a female pastor, not because she is qualified, but because she is a woman. Out of the same mouth they shout praises BECAUSE of someone's gender, but tell us that their gender shouldn't matter. The hard truth is that God is the author of our gender, and he has distinct promises, and positions for men and women. We ought not envy or disparage the other, but rejoice in the roles God has commanded for us. We need harmonious roles. We need roots and leaves, heads and bodies, Christ and the Church. 

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