I continue my review of Women Pastors? edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless here with a few brief comments on the introduction to Section II: Historical Studies. I thought it was worth commenting on due to the way it sets the table for the upcoming chapters.
Section II: Historical Studies Introduction
There are several claims made within this three paragraph introduction to the Historical Studies section. We will outline those claims, make a few comments, and then use this post to see whether these claims are supported and sustained by the arguments in the chapters that follow.
Claim 1: “The practice of ordaining women to the pastoral office is a novelty in the history of the church.” (107)
This claim is fairly straightforward, and the editors go on to clarify, noting that the first woman ordained in the United States was ordained in 1853. The implication seems to be that this was around the first time women were ordained into the pastoral office. This is a positive claim about a universal negative: to sustain the claim, the authors must demonstrate no women ever was ordained as a pastor in the history of the church before a time that could be called a “novelty.” We have already seen issues with this. One problem is the definition of the “pastoral office,” something the editors clearly struggled with. Some authors have simply not defined the pastoral office, assuming readers would fill in the gaps. Others have defined it in such a way that there is not a single example of anyone holding such an office anywhere in the New Testament. So the first step of a defense of this claim is to establish what the pastoral office is, and demonstrate it in the New Testament itself. The second step is to show the universal negative is true; something nearly impossible. Moreover, given that another author has granted some sects did ordain women (though they were, he claims, entirely Gnostic ones), one would have to demonstrate those were not examples of the early church whatsoever. Additionally, the examples in the New Testament of women leading (eg Phoebe, Prisca/Priscilla, Junia) have to be shown to clearly not be functioning as the pastoral office, however defined. Will these authors manage to show these to be true? If they do not, this claim is false.
Claim 2: “Fueled by theological movements that set the charismatic distribution of the Spirit in opposition to an established office, the emerging equalitarianism of the feminist movement, historical criticism’s distrust of the biblical text, and in some cases a pragmatism that saw the ordination of women as a way to alleviate the clergy shortage… many Protestant denominations took steps to ordain women.” (ibid)
The authors in the following section must show that these different influences are demonstrably what made churches ordain women rather than anything else, like a re-exploration of church history or the Bible’s teaching on women. We should see in-depth sociology happening here, done by authors with expertise in the history of ideas and social development of thought. They must outline the movement of theology from point A to point B by means of these various movements said to be the instrument thereby people ordained women. If not, this claim is falsified.
Claim 3: The women who are noted in the history of the church “were holy and learned but never pastors” (referencing an upcoming chapter’s claims).
I find this claim very important, but also very slippery. After all, we’ve already seen (links above) that the definition of “pastor” is unclear throughout this book. The authors must provide a very clear, textually sound definition of pastor. If not, how can they even claim that any one group of people were “never pastors”? So, again, we must see a clear definition of what a pastor is. Then, we should see the authors surveying many, many women throughout church history and showing how they do not meet that definition. The definition must not be tailored to make it beg the question against women pastors (eg. by saying “pastors are men who lead worship”). Instead, it must be a definition that can be used to show one person is a pastor, and another is not by virtue of the roles of the pastor. The author of whatever chapters involved in this should have expertise in church history.
Claim 4: “Ordination of women is a monumental turn in the history of the Church.” (107)
This claim is tied closely in with claims 1 and 3 and faces the same issues.
Claim 5: “[Ordination of women] puts those church bodies that practice it on dangerous ground, for it indicates that they are out of step not only with two thousand years of Christian history but with the will of the Lord of the Church.” (Ibid)
The first problem here is the editors already falsified this claim. 2000 years is a set period of time. Jesus died sometime around AD 33-35, though there are a few who move it a few years outside that range. Thus, 2000 years from AD 33 would be 2033. We have not yet reached that year, so people ordaining women are not outside of 2000 years of Christian history. The editors themselves note a woman ordained in 1853, which would be 1820 years of history, if it were the first ordination of any woman anywhere. One may object and say this is a petty complaint. But this section is the “historical studies” section. We should expect historical precision here, of all places. But “two thousand years” has better rhetorical value, so that’s what the editors used rather than an actual number corresponding to reality. The authors then have an impossible task: showing the history of the church is different from what it is. Moreover, they must demonstrate that the ordination of women goes specifically against the will of the Lord of the Church.
In the coming posts, we will see whether the authors sustain these lofty claims.
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Spot on. The issue is basically one of definition.