egalitarianism

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Why I Left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: Points of Fracture: Women in the Church Part 2

The reasons I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod were complex. Whether it was the science I was taught as a child not aligning with reality or the misogynistic and racist actions of pastors and those training to be the same, or any of a number of other issues I had, these all were contributing factors. Now, I am going to spend some time on perhaps the biggest reason I am no longer part of the LCMS, which is their views on women in the church and home. This is a deeply personal subject for me, and I have numerous personal stories related to it. Names and other details may be modified for privacy.

Points of Fracture: Women in the Church, Part 2

I wrote before about being confronted about the possibility of women being pastors when I was in college and dated a woman who wanted to be a pastor. I went straight to texts approved by the LCMS to try to prove that women could not be pastors. For a while, I was in a comfortable space thinking I was right, despite a few hiccups here and there. But one question that I’d never thought of before continued to plague me: why couldn’t women be pastors? It was one thing to read the texts a certain way and believe they excluded women from the ministry, but why would that be?

The answers I received when I asked LCMS pastors–who were plentiful at my school and the churches I attended in college–were unsatisfactory. With few exceptions, they boiled down to “Because God said so.” I could accept that. There were plenty of things I believed God had done or determined that I either couldn’t understand or hadn’t the information to even begin trying to comprehend them. But what bothered me more is that this didn’t seem to be the reason given until very recently. When I looked into why women were excluded from the ministry in older LCMS works or in church history, the answer continually came up that women had less ability to pastor. That is, they weren’t as smart, or they had some inferiority in them. Or, because of the curse from the fall, women had to submit to men. Another answer was a reading of 1 Timothy 2:14 (“Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner”) that claimed women were inherently more prone to being deceived.

These reasons, while they didn’t align with reality I observed, at least were reasons apart from “God said so.” As someone who was becoming increasingly interested in Christian Apologetics (a branch of theology in which people work to defend the Christian faith against objections and provide positive reasons for belief), I was especially sensitive to the “God did it” type of reasoning which many non-Christians accused Christians of appealing to when it came to questions of how the universe works. To me, having a reason why women shouldn’t be pastors, even if it was a poor and transparently misogynistic one, was better than having no reason other than a bare appeal to authority. But this reason didn’t stand up when I raised it to others. At one point, I recall even foolishly raising it to the young woman I was dating who wanted to be a pastor. She shot the reasoning down with all the scorn it deserved. After all, did I really, truly believe that men were any less inclined than women towards sinfulness? And didn’t the Lutheran confessions themselves teach that all people–men and women alike–are inherently sinful? How did men somehow get a free pass on this?

I realized that the reason I’d found didn’t work pretty quickly. Not only did it not match reality, but it also was blatantly misogynistic on a level with which I was uncomfortable despite the misogyny in my own background (see, for example, here). This left me adrift. I thought the Bible taught women couldn’t be pastors, but I could find no adequate as to why that should be the case. Then, one day, I walked into a Christian bookstore and came upon a book: Man and Woman, One in Christ by Philip Payne.

The first few pages of the book had the author talking about how he affirmed inerrancy but believed that men and women were equally gifted to serve and lead in the church. Here was someone who claimed to believe as I did about the authority of the Bible while still affirming women in leadership. I bought the book and over the course of the vacation I was on I read it, underlining copiously, looking up Bible passages (“Does it really say that!?”), looking at my Greek New Testament, and more. Payne focused on the Pauline corpus related to women in the church, but as that’s where the most significant “clobber passages” were drawn from in my own tradition, that made it a nearly comprehensive study of the topic. And what I found is what I’d begun to suspect: the reading I had been taught was mistaken. Not only did it ignore the cultural context of the text, which I’d been taught was important for understanding the true meaning of the words, but the readings were simplistic on the highest level. They relied, often, on English translations by people already inclined to exclude women from ministry in order to make their points. Payne’s analysis was insightful and absolutely cut the core out of my own view.

I still wasn’t ready to accept women as pastors, but I realized I had massively oversimplified the biblical debate. Then, one day, push came to shove.

My girlfriend had changed her career path because of my objections to her chosen field. She’d decided to study psychology and possibly do some kind of family counseling. But then she came to me telling me that her sense of call from the Holy Spirit into the pastoral ministry hadn’t gone away. Indeed, in some ways it had strengthened. Could I accept what she felt called to do?

I prayed fervently that God would show me the way. I believed–and believe–that God answers prayer, and I dedicated most of my free time for over a week to ask God to guide me. Finally, I prayed one night something like, “God, I know I should not test you, but even your servant Gideon asked for a sign[1]. Please, show me a sign.” I set my Bible on my bed, and flipped it open.[2] It landed on 1 Corinthians 12. I started reading, and became greatly agitated. There it was, about as plain as it seemed it could be, 1 Corinthians 12:28: “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” The verse showed that God put an order in the church. That order seemed to be a kind of authoritative or hierarchal order. First were the apostles, second the prophets, third the teachers, and then other gifts. But those first 3 were numbered in an order form first through third. And every understanding I’d seen of pastors in the Bible would say the word “teachers” could be applied to pastors. And, while Junia was an apostle in the Bible, I hadn’t yet read enough on that topic to realize how important she was or even acknowledge that fact. No, what mattered is that women were prophets in the Bible. Absolutely no one could deny that. But if that was the case, then women prophets were set above teachers in the church by God Himself.

It can’t be emphasized enough how much this verse shifted my understanding of the topic. I had been taught that men were suppose to have more authority than women. Indeed, the word “authority” was absolutely essential to an understanding of the topic of women in the ministry. Women just weren’t supposed to have authority over men, they were supposed to submit to them in everything. But here was a verse that plain as day stated that prophets ranked above teachers–the word I’d been assured was one of the biblical words for pastors. And because women prophets existed and no one denies that, that meant that women could be above pastors in whatever sense the verse meant.[3]

It was a revelation, and one that had struck me at the very moment I’d been most fervently praying for a sign from God. There it was. What more could I do than acknowledge it? My mind had been changed, and not because I wanted it to be changed for the sake of my relationship. It hadn’t been changed by “the culture,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. It had instead been changed by prayerful consideration of the text and a strong adherence to carefully reading the same. My mind had been changed. Women could be pastors. I realized this was going to be a major life-changing event for me in a way that people outside some obscure theological debates might not be fully able to grasp. It truly was a paradigm-shifting moment in my life, and one about which I’d not yet realized the full implications and consequences that would follow.

[1] The book of Judges has been a longtime favorite of mine, ever since I was enthralled by the illustrated kids’ Bible in which the action hero nature of this book made it jump off the page. Gideon’s story can be found in Judges 6 and following. The part I was referencing was Judges 6:37-40.

[2] I realize some readers might be uncomfortable about thinking God works this way. So am I. I don’t think God typically works in such a fashion. I can only report what I experienced and my belief that, in the moment, God used a broken, mistaken understanding about how God works to bring me to a better understanding of the Bible.

[3] Obviously much more nuance is needed here, and I’ve since thought and read quite a bit about this issue. However, I’ve yet to see a complementarian answer about this specific verse that is able to read the words on the page without somehow subverting the order in the church as stated here.

Next: Women in the Church Part 3- I write about my experience within the LCMS on the other side of the issue of women in the church.

Links

Formerly Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) or Wisconsin Synod (WELS)– A Facebook group I’ve created for people who are former members of either of these church bodies to share stories, support each other, and try to bring change. Note: Anything you post on the internet has the potential to be public and shared anywhere, so if you join and post, be aware of that.

Leaving the LCMS/WELS– Not sure about whether to leave or thinking about leaving? Do you want to others who are thinking along the same lines? I created a group for those who are contemplating leaving these denominations, as well.

Why I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod Links Hub– Want to follow the whole series? Here’s a hub post with links to all the posts as well as related topics.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Two “Historical Studies” chapters in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless -a critical review

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless. I have decided to critically review the book, chapter-by-chapter, to show that this teaching is mistaken.

Two “Historical Studies” Chapters

“Liberation Theology in the Leading Ladies of Feminist Theology” by Roland Ziegler

Pless and Harrison’s introduction to this section suggest the chapters included will demonstrate certain claims to be true. Ziegler’s chapter could be intended to support the following-

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.” (Pless and Harrison, Section II introduction, 107)

Ziegler gives but the briefest historical survey of the origins of feminist theology and liberation theology. The point of the recent-ness is important, because Pless and Harrison claim in their historical section introduction that ordaining women is a novelty in the history of the church. As such, the authors must be at pains not to trace the lineage of ordaining women back too far, lest it not be such a novelty. Unfortunately, the author of the previous chapter already falsified that claim, noting that women were ordained in the earliest times of the church. The internal inconsistency of this collection of essays continues to pile up.

Anyway, Ziegler himself notes the origins of feminist theology reach back into 19th century (138), though he fails to cite any specific examples. Nevertheless, he asserts that feminist theology only “became visible” in the 1970s, thus supporting the “novelty” claims of Harrison and Pless. The 19th century is when we can find the origins of the LCMS itself, though. If novelty is such an argument against the truth of something, would these pastors also argue the LCMS is a “novel” development in the history of the church? Doubtful.

Ziegler moves on, dividing feminist theology into a somewhat arbitrary “radical” and “evangelical” segmentation. Then, over the course of two pages, he traces the “method” of feminist theology (notably, all from just one author). Then, he outlines various alleged beliefs from feminist theology, whether about its doctrine of God or Christology. Again, one author’s work looms large here, though a few others are cited.

The conclusion Ziegler offers is basically just that Confessional Lutheranism cannot accept feminist theology. But none of this supports the claim that the ordination of women directly arose out of the streams of feminist theology he traces. No attempt is even made to show that connection. Liberation theology, briefly referenced and defined at the beginning of the chapter, makes no impact on the rest of the chapter. It’s not clear to me at all why the chapter even attempts to cite both liberation and feminist theology, given the focus is entirely upon the latter. Readers looking for support for Harrison and Pless’s theses will find basically nothing here. It’s just a very limited look at (largely one author’s perspective on) feminist theology and then a rejection thereof.

“Forty Years of Female Pastors” in Scandinavia by Fredrik Sidenvall

Sidenvall asserts that because of women pastors, “it is impossible to proclaim any truth based on Scripture in our church” (154). With rhetorical flourish, he refers to women pastors as a form of “spiritual terrorism” (ibid). Most of this chapter is just that: rhetorical flourish. Sidenvall knows his audience will be people who agree with him, so throwing out one-liners to the crowd for applause takes up a great deal of the chapter.

The chapter turns to a short historical overview of how women’s ordination happened in Sweden. It all began, of course, with giving women the right to vote (154). This nefarious practice [my words, but not off tone for the chapter] led to liberalism taking hold. A neo-church movement then arose which led to an orthodox pushback. But then, the state appointed an exegete “who, though far from having any position in the faculties, had the qualifications to produce the answers the politicians wanted” (156). And what did the politicians want!? Women pastors! Or… something. The political pressure put on the church meant the church caved. So goes Sidenvall’s story. The facts he shares speak a slightly different tune, as he complains about the democratic organization of the churches, which thus allowed theology to flow with the times (157).

The rest of this historical survey holds up the tiny confessional remnant as a kind of heroic effort against a liberalizing church, apparently making one of the confessional leaders the “most hated person in Sweden” (162). Again, this rhetorical flourish plays well to those in agreement, but it seems little more than lionizing on the outside. Finally, Sidenvall turns to the impact of ordaining women, which includes stories of “horrifying… psychological torture” happening to those who are against women pastors going to “pastoral institutes of the Church” (165). Sidenvall ends on a hopeful (for him) note: Perhaps there will even come a day when the culture as a whole will find itself in chaos after having experimented with the roles of gender and deconstructing family, and there will be a desperate need for change” (166). This hopeful (he uses the word hope) message is alarming, showing a pastor genuinely hoping for societal chaos, breakdown, and turmoil. Rather than praying for peace, he hopes for destruction.

The chapter, of course, does basically nothing to demonstrate the claims Harrison and Pless said would be shown by the chapters in this section. And this chapter ends the section. My previous post noted how the chapter actually contradicted Harrison and Pless’s claims on a number of points. These two chapters basically do nothing to advance them. And that’s it! There’s nothing left. What we’ve been offered is an oddly terse summary of feminist theology (with the very briefest gloss of liberation theology at the front), and a rhetoric filled look at women pastors in Sweden followed by a hope for societal chaos. How does this support the claim that women pastors aren’t or should not be ordained? I’m unsure. It’s those opposed to them here who are hoping for destruction.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35– Those wondering about egalitarian interpretations of this passage can check out this post for brief looks at some of the major interpretations of the passage from an Egalitarian viewpoint.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Why I Left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: Points of Fracture: Women in the Church Part 1

The reasons I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod were complex. Whether it was the science I was taught as a child not aligning with reality or the misogynistic and racist actions of pastors and those training to be the same, or any of a number of other issues I had, these all were contributing factors. Now, I am going to spend some time on perhaps the biggest reason I am no longer part of the LCMS, which is their views on women in the church and home. This is a deeply personal subject for me, and I have numerous personal stories related to it. Names and other details may be modified for privacy.

Points of Fracture: Women in the Church, Part 1

My dad was an LCMS pastor, which meant that I’d only had a male pastor–him–my whole life. I don’t recall ever hearing anything about whether women could or could not be pastors as a young child. I met several other pastors and families, of course. My parents formed lasting friendships at seminary and many of their friends and circles they were in were LCMS pastors as well. I never really thought about the fact that all the pastors I met were men.

The first time I remember encountering anything about whether women could be pastors was in middle school, at an LCMS school. We were in small groups talking about future careers and in my group there was a girl who said she wanted to be a pastor when she grew up. Again, I’d never really thought about it one way or another that I can recall. I mentioned it to a few LCMS people in the school and was told that no, women couldn’t be pastors. It was against the Bible. Nothing could be a higher authority than that. There wasn’t an in-depth discussion of why women couldn’t be pastors, or what verses allegedly made that the case. It was just that: because the Bible says so. Carelessly, I then went back to that girl and told her she couldn’t be a pastor. Why not? Because the Bible says so. I felt a kind of righteous vindication, because I was telling her what God had said about what she could or couldn’t do. I’m sorry.

It wasn’t until college that I would have any further reflection on women pastors. After a deeply religious experience, I decided to become a pastor. Knowing the LCMS well, I knew that involved a kind of commitment to doctrinal purity. Whether it was biblical inerrancy, ordaining only men, or something else, I knew I had to be ready to fight the ways of the world when it came to these things. After the summer, I was in student leadership as a spiritual life representative–think of them kind of like Resident Assistants, but for spiritual life. We did devotions in the dorms, were there for talking, that kind of thing. I helped move the freshman in on their first day, and I met one young woman. We hit it off and decided to hang out later.

Later that week, I was at breakfast for pre-seminary students, those who were planning to go on to be pastors, and she showed up at the breakfast. I was stunned. Why… was she here? It turned out she was there because she was planning to study to become a pastor–something she was manifestly Not Supposed To Do. The series of events after that is difficult to piece together, but I know that the theological question of whether women could be pastors went from something I couldn’t be bothered to learn more about to something that I needed to be able to prove to others. I needed to be able to show that women should not be pastors.

Like some of my favorite literary characters, when confronted with a challenge to something I thought, I hit the books. And, like most people do, I hit the books on my own side to see how I could refute this belief. The first book I dove into was Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless. The book was published by Concordia Publishing House, the publishing arm of the LCMS. It had, in other words, a doctrinal seal of approval that meant I could trust implicitly anything that it had to say therein. I knew that this book would have the answers I was seeking. However, as I cracked the cover and skimmed through the chapters, I found some things of deep concern. While passages like 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 were cited and used to silence women in the church, other exegesis did not align with what I was being taught about how to read the Bible.[1]

For example, in a chapter about the Trinity in the book, I read, “Even though [God the Son] is in all ways equal to the Father and in no way inferior to the Father, he is nevertheless utterly subordinate to the Father… Christ’s relation as Son to his Father is therefore characterized by his subordination to the headship of the Father” (222-223, first edition only, the chapter by John Kleinig). This was not what I’d learned about Trinitarian orthodoxy. Indeed, it seemed to be skirting the lines of Arianism. I was strongly put off. Much later, I’d learn that this chapter was either removed or heavily edited in a subsequent edition. At the time, I was shaken. If this was the kind of thing that got past official doctrinal review, what would it mean for other doctrinal issues?

Of course, this hardly caused a collapse of my position. Other chapters seemed more solid in their approach, and I felt like I was armed to show people, especially this young woman, why women shouldn’t be pastors after all. I don’t recall exactly how our discussion played out, but I do know it didn’t escalate into an outright argument. She decided to switch from the pre-seminary program to a different one, and I thought that’d be the end of it.

It wasn’t. The question was opened in my mind. It was even more open because I realized there were people who appeared to be faithful Christians who nevertheless believed women should be ordained and, shockingly, there were even ordained women pastors who weren’t clearly working to undermine Christianity at every step. I know this reads dramatically, but this is truly the way I thought, and certainly the way many pastors and others I interacted with thought about women pastors. The Bible, it is assumed, is simply so clear on whether women can be pastors that anyone who disagrees and even engages in the opposite practice absolutely must be some kind of heretical person or someone actively working to try to discredit Christianity. But because the question had been opened, I couldn’t just drop it. I kept investigating, despite the fact that the woman I was dating had changed course. This wasn’t the kind of thing I could just drop and leave aside. The very question of whether God was calling women into the ministry was at stake. If I really believed that God wanted to keep one half of the human population from even being possibly called by the Holy Spirit, I wanted to be sure that I was supremely confident that I was right.

I kept reading the Women Pastors? book, but became more and more disillusioned with the LCMS arguments against women pastors. Contradictory arguments abounded, and the exegetical principles used to conclude women couldn’t be pastors were simplistic even by the standards I was being taught in LCMS pre-seminary classes. It was like the pastors and theologians who’d written the book had abandoned things like the historical grammatical method when it came to this one issue.[2] I began to start asking questions, mostly in private, about the LCMS teaching on women pastors, but was met with either horror or a blanket statement about how clearly the Bible taught against it.

It’s worth a brief aside here at how often people–including more than one pastor–would try to silence the questions I was asking about women pastors or other issues by quoting Satan in the Garden of Eden: “Did God really say?” [Genesis 3:1]. This was used time and again as an answer to any questioning of the LCMS’s supposedly clear and exclusively biblical teachings. So, when it came to Genesis 1-3 and I pointed out that it seemed to be based upon ANE myths while turning them on their heads to refute aspects of them, not a literal, blow-by-blow account creation, I was told that I was like Satan in saying “Did God really say” that creation happened a certain way. When I asked about whether a verse truly taught what I was told it did, I was again questioning not the interpretation, but the word of God itself: Did God really say what the LCMS said it did–oops–what the Bible says God did? This clobber passage in context, of course, isn’t intended the way these pastors and others were using it at all. Indeed, the phrase itself is ripped from the middle of a sentence from the serpent’s mouth in which he was asking specifically about whether God had told them not to eat from any tree in the garden. The way the passage was being used against me was abusive and did cause trauma. Imagine being told that you’re just like Satan, tempting others with your nefarious questions just because you genuinely care about and want to know what the Bible says. It’s terrible.

My questioning would continue as I kept reading more about the topic, but while I was no longer convinced the Bible taught women shouldn’t be pastors with certainty, I was also unconvinced by arguments that women should or could be pastors. I was stuck in a kind of confused middling view. It was deeply uncomfortable, and not just because the woman I was dating had agreed to change her life based upon my discomfort. No, the very way God worked to call people to the ministry was at question, and I struggled to find any reason why God wouldn’t call women apart from a trite “The Bible says God doesn’t do that” type of answer. But did the Bible say that, or did it only read that way if one adopted the overly-simplistic hermeneutic I saw time and again in LCMS works on the topic–a hermeneutic that was different from the one I was being taught in LCMS classrooms? It was a question that would loom larger soon.

Next Time: Women in the Church, Part 2

There had to be some kind of reason why women weren’t called to the ministry. Only in some older LCMS works or references to earlier Christian teaching on the topic would I find any kind of answer.

[1] I wrote more about this same phenomenon when it came to young earth creationism. Time and again, despite being told to read the Bible contextually and take care to try to find the original meaning, the historical sense, etc., I did not find that reading reflected in LCMS teaching or reading of various texts. And, when I challenged those readings, I was told that I was challenging the text itself.

[2] I have been critically reviewing the Women Pastors? book chapter-by-chapter. Not all of the issues I raise with it in my reviews were ones I realized at the time I’m writing about now, but the more one reads the book, the more one realizes the poorly argued nature of it. See also note 1 above and the link therein about how I found on other issues the hermeneutical method I was being taught and the one actually being used did not align.

Book Review: “Discovering Biblical Equality” Third Edition edited by Ronald W . Pierce, Cynthia Long Westfall, and Christa L. McKirland

Discovering Biblical Equality: Biblical Theological, Cultural, & Practical Perspectives is a massive tome defending the equality of women in the church and home from a Christian standpoint.

The book is organized around 31 chapters plus an introduction and conclusion. The chapters are broken up into four parts: Looking to Scripture: The Biblical Texts; Thinking it Through: Theological and Logical Perspectives; Addressing the Issues: Interpretive and Cultural Perspectives; Living it Out: Practical Applications. There are highlights in each section, and each essays has its own strengths. Linda Belville’s “Women Leaders in the Bible” goes through many names readers might be familiar with, but also dives into details about some of the specifics, such as the background info we can see in the text for the importance of Huldah (p. 73) and some surprising examples readers might be unfamiliar with (74-75). The discussion of both marriage and singleness with regards to mutuality in Ronald W. Pierce and Elizabeth A. Kay’s chapter (“Mutuality in Marriage and Singleness: 1 Corinthians 7:1-40) is refreshing because so often the discussion centers entirely around marriage. The so-called “clobber passages” of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 each get their own passage, as do many other related passages.

Kevin Giles’s chapter on “The Trinity Argument for Women’s Subordination” shows the lengths to which some have gone to try to ground women’s inequality. Jeffrey D. Miller’s chapter on gender accurate Bible translation was fascinating and shows how the issues that are often dismissed regarding translation issues can have real, spiritual implications. Mimi Haddad’s chapter on global perspectives and why gender equality matters helps demonstrate the real-life applications of theology.

The book is the third edition of this collection. I own the second edition, which I read some years ago. I compared the table of contents for the two editions, and there is in the third edition a significant overhaul of the included essays. There are 31 chapters in the new edition vs. 29 in the previous one. Several chapters have been entirely replaced, and several new topics are introduced in the third edition. For example a chapter on “Gender Equality and Homosexuality” by William J. Webb in the second edition appears to have been replaced by “Biblical Equality and Same-Sex Marriage” by Ronald W. Pierce in this third edition. The third edition also addresses race and gender, a topic that I don’t recall or see a chapter dedicated to in the second edition. In other words, readers interested in knowing whether it’s worth re-purchasing should rest assured that it very much is. This new edition has a huge amount of new content. I cannot comment on whether essays that appear in each are revised in any way from the original.

The chapter on “Biblical Equality and Same-Sex Marriage” is written by Piece, who is non-affirming in his stance on same-sex marriage. The thrust of the chapter seems to be that one can be a fully committed egalitarian while not affirming same-sex marriage. Such a topic is certainly of interest to the many people who are caught in the middle on these issues. For my part, I’d have liked to see another chapter from an affirming perspective, though I wonder if it wasn’t included because that’s a less controversial pairing. The chapter on race and gender is fascinating and shows how these topics often intersect and overlap.

Discovering Biblical Equality is unquestionably the standard text for those wishing to explore the basics of egalitarian theology on a scholarly level that remains accessible. Every chapter has something to add to the discussion. The depth and breadth of some of the chapters is truly remarkable. I recommend it extremely highly as among the best books on the topic.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates links

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Billy Graham Rule is a Capitulation to Secular Society

Put most succinctly, the “Billy Graham Rule” is a practice for Christian men in which they live by the moral stricture of never being alone with a woman who is not their wife. This means that Christian men who hold to this rule will not, for example, give a woman a ride home from a meeting. Many interpret the rule in such a way as to mean any one-on-one meeting between a man and woman. This interpretation would even preclude the possibility of a man meeting a woman for coffee in a public space.

The Billy Graham Rule has been criticized for many reasons. Some have argued that the Billy Graham Rule unnecessarily targets women as being universally “seductresses.” Others have argued it objectifies women, making them nothing more than a foil for men. Still others argue that the rule is inherently sexist because it targets women specifically for exclusion. Distressingly, many have pointed out that the Rule makes certain work relationships impossible, because one-on-one meetings can be required between supervisors and subordinates. While I think each of these arguments has value, I want to make my own argument against the rule. Namely, the problem with the Billy Graham Rule is that those who practice it are, in the name of alleged Christian values, in fact giving in to a complete capitulation to non-Christian thought patterns.

The message that is given in our culture is one which pushes the necessity of male-female relations being inherently sexual. On television shows, time and again, men and women who are “just friends” end up together. People who are dating other people start hanging out, they discover a rapport, and the message that is delivered is something akin to “Hey, they’re so good together because they can talk about X, Y, and Z! So now they’re dating.” The same thing plays out in many, many books. Men and women who start as friends inevitably start to wonder about the possibility of dating and often end up together. The message is pushed time and again: men and women can’t be just friends. Even the sitcom entitled Friends features these relationships happening. Secular society states the message loud and clear: men and women who get together one-on-one or who are friends will end up dating or at least one of them will develop feelings for the other.

The Billy Graham Rule presents an attempt to counter to this non-Christian message. It does so by undercutting the scenarios presented by simply making it impossible for a simple one-on-one chat over coffee or a ride home because it’s raining to develop into romantic or sexual feelings. But in doing so, it presents a solution to a problem that itself is what Christians ought to be confronting. Thus, among other possible problems with the Billy Graham Rule, it must be challenged on the front that it cedes to non-Christian society the possibility of male-female relations that remain Godly outside of marriage.

Rather than giving in to the message in secular society that men and women cannot hang out one-on-one without developing romantic or sexual feelings, Christians can offer a better way, a way that embraces the full humanity of both male and female. Men and women are told to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21). This mutual submission is paired with a radical equality in which there is no male and female in the body of Christ (Galatians 3:28). The very Word of God calls us to challenge the secular message that undercuts male-female relations and reduces them to mere sexual/romantic endeavors. Instead, we are to acknowledge our mutuality and our equality.

So go ahead men, give your women colleagues rides home after meetings. Go out for coffee to talk over a tough time. Do these things as a challenge to secular society and as a witness to the goodness of God–a God who calls us to mutuality in ways that only Christ can demand.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts” by Andrew Bartlett

Andrew Bartlett’s Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts is a major study on the question of how women and men are to relate to each other according to the Bible. Bartlett approaches the question from a more judicial approach, using his experience as an arbitrator as well as his background in theology to shed light on the biblical texts.

The book is more than 400 pages of text and it is filled to the brim with exegetical insights. The first chapter is about tradition and unity; the second explores 1 Corinthians 7’s implications for marriage and male-female relations; the third interprets Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5; the fourth focuses more closely on Ephesians 5; the fifth examines what Genesis 1-3 has to tell us about men and women; the sixth looks at 1 Peter; the seventh through the eighth focus on 1 Corinthians 11; the ninth and tenth look at the meaning of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and its place in Scripture; the eleventh through the thirteenth are about 1 TImothy 2; the fourteenth surveys the biblical evidence for women leaders; the fifteenth asks about women elders in light of 1 Timothy 3; the sixteenth and final chapter brings the conclusions together and offers a way forward. Appendices explore methods of biblical interpretation, arguments against mutual submission, uses of the Greek word authenteo, the structure of 1 Timothy 2:12, interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:15, shortcomings in complementarian readings of 1 Timothy 2, and translation issues.

Bartlett begins with a chapter on “revising tradition, seeking unity” in which he looks into how these issues have become as divisive as they are alongside the development of various views. Here it is particularly of interest that Bartlett spends some time arguing that the “complementarian” view is not the traditional view of the church. It is demonstrably the case that complementarianism is not, in fact, that traditional view, despite many of its proponents claiming that title. Bartlett shows that the traditional view, in fact, viewed women as ontologically inferior to men. Woman, on that view, was by nature inferior. By contrast, Jesus explicitly went against his cultural conventions and elevated women throughout the NT. Additionally, modern complementarianism at least claims to support the equality of men and women, itself a direct contradiction to the traditional view.

1 Corinthians 7 is extremely important to the questions related to male-female relations. Bartlett notes that this chapter gives the only explicit details about how decisions are to be made in marriage. Despite the clear importance of this passage to the questions at hand, then, it is curious that so few complementarians offer thorough exegesis of the text. Bartlett notes the various qualities of male-female relations brought to the front in this text, including that they have equal duties in the marriage bed, equal authority to the other partner, the same advice to both widowers and widows, same restrictions on divorce, same rule about unbelievers for men and women, the spiritual impact of the spouses on each toher, the same advice for engaged persons of either sex, the same advice for married/unmarried persons of either sex, and more (25-26).

1 Peter finds that husbands are to give honor in the same way as wives are to do so. English translations may obfuscate the mutuality of the relevant passages, but in 1 Peter 3:7 there is a clear wording that parallels Peter’s other use of the same notion, thus leading to the conclusion that the honor/respect that many complementarians so often attribute only to the male side of the relationship is mistaken. Bartlett challenges egalitarians to see that there are specific biblical obligations for husbands to wives that he says are “asymmetrical” and thus not something wives must do. Specifically, the concept of self-sacrifice, argues Bartlett, is something husbands are called to do in marriage (62-64). His argument here is indeed challenging, but one might counter that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence–having “asymmetry” in this specific instances does not imply asymmetry in function with certainty.

Bartlett’s careful exegesis of 1 Corinthians 11 deserves a thorough read. Essentially, he notes the various unjustified conclusions from word studies people have drawn from this text. Additionally, he notes problems with Trinitarian theology as taken from the text. The question of what exactly is the “veil/symbol of authority/etc.” looms large, and Bartlett makes a convincing case for reading these passages as referencing sources and hairstyles (143-148). Additionally, he argues that the reading of “a woman ought to have authority over her head” is to be preferred because it avoids major pitfalls of rival views (148ff). It both goes along with Paul’s context in which he specifically mentions women praying and prophesying and also fits in with the concepts related to “source” in the passages.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is one of the best known passages in this debate, and Bartlett makes a convincing case, going along with several other scholars, that this text is, in fact, an interpolation that was not in the original text. This is due to both internal and external evidence, such as preserving the unity of thought in the letter, questions about what the verses are supposed to be referencing, and numerous textual evidences related to the floating of the text in different locations as well as marks that indicate it is likely an interpolation.

1 Timothy 2 is another major section of the book, and Bartlett does a service by laying out the context of the text in great detail. There is little doubt that 1 Timothy was written to discuss false teachings and false teachers, with numerous mentions throughout the letter as well as in 2 Timothy of these problems. Bartlett, however, goes more deeply into the context and uses primary sources to note that it appears as though the letter is referencing astrology specifically in numerous places and that the false teaching is related to sorcery/astrology. This puts 1 Timothy 2:9-12 contextually in a discussion of wealthy women with ungodly conduct who should learn to do good works and learn in full submission to God. The nature of the letter as a periodical sent for a specific purpose must not be ignored.

A survey of women church leaders leads to numerous examples of women in various leadership roles in the church. This leads into a discussion of 1 Timothy 3 and whether women may be elders. English translations have mangled these verses in a number of ways, adding male pronouns prolifically where there are none. Additionally, interpreters have failed to take into account that the list of qualifications parallels qualifications Paul explicitly gives for women throughout the letter as well (318-319).

Bartlett ends the book with a call for Christian unity in spite of sharp disagreements on the place of men and women in the church and alongside each other.

If there is one point of critique of I have for Bartlett’s work, it is the occasional uncritical acceptance of anecdotal evidence in questions of modern application. Nowhere is this more clear than in Bartlett’s discussion of the alleged inherent differences of men and women on pages 82-83. Here, Bartlett chides egalitarians for being “sometimes shy of acknowledging innate differences between men and women” (82). What evidence does Bartlett offer for his own perspective, that some differences beyond child-bearing are “innate”? He offers a journalist’s comment from a game show in the UK, who, in trying to offer a good reason why two all-male teams should be the best representatives for a quiz show, offered the example of her husband who arranges his books in alphabetical and chronological order, and whose “proudest boast is that while on holiday in North Wales in 1974, he won a hubcap identification competition. Who could compete with that? Who would want to?” (82-83). It is honestly difficult to fathom how this single anecdote can be taken seriously as an example of alleged innate differences between the sexes. [Edit: The author contacted me and let me know this was intended as a joke–a possible cultural miss on my part not understanding the joke. I’ve made a correction in the rest of this paragraph.] He also offers a footnote referencing a study that argues for hard-wired differences in how male/female brains have differences. I haven’t read that study, so I can’t comment on it specifically. Again, this is a minor complaint in a massive text, but it seemed out of place and worth commenting on.

Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts is a monumental achievement. It sets standards for rigor as well as for Bartlett’s attempt to find unity in Christ among such hotly contested issues. Anyone who is truly interested in engaging in the questions related to women in the church and home from a Christian perspective will find this book a must read. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Women Prophets, Complementarianism, and Submission

I have seen multiple complementarians recently on Twitter asserting that women prophets in the Bible were in submission to men; particularly to male teachers who were in the role of what we have turned into the modern pastor. Denny Burk, the current President of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, responded to a lengthy series of questions and comments about a post he wrote supporting complementarianism recently. One of the questions was about women who were prophets in the Bible and whether they submitted to men. Burk wrote:

“Right. They [women prophets] would be subject to teachers/preachers AND to other prophets. The spirits of prophets are subject to prophets, except for female prophets. They are to be in subjection, as the Law also says. That’s my understanding.”

Another complementarian, John Carpenter, pastor at a Reformed Church, wrote “…I’m a lax complementarian, believing that women can ‘pray and prophesy’ in church under the authority of all male elders. But I could be wrong. The stricter [complementarians] may be right. I know the egalitarians are wrong.”

The problem with these and related statements is that they actually directly contradict Scripture. This isn’t an issue of interpretation that allows for disagreement. Instead, complementarians, by asserting that women prophets would explicitly be under teachers in the church, are going directly against the Word of God.

1 Corinthians 12:28 quite clearly states “…God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues” (ESV).

So in the church, we find that prophets, in fact, rank above teacher/preachers, though Denny Burk, the President of a major evangelical group that promotes complementarianism, says they do not, and that instead “they are to be in subjection as the Law also says.” We might ask Denny Burk where he finds that verse in the “Law.” Which verse in the Hebrew Scriptures state that women prophets are to be in subjection to teachers/preachers? There is none. But not only that, he and other complementarians who make this argument are going against the very Bible they purport to affirm when they hold to complementarianism.

Links

A Brief Biblical Proof for Women Pastors– Read why 1 Corinthians 12:28 is an even bigger problem for complementarians, as it effectively guarantees women may hold the same or more authority than that of pastors.

On the Femnization of the Church– It is frequently alleged that the church is being “feminized” and that this is a bad thing. Check out this post, wherein I analyze this notion from a few different angles.

Women in the Ministry: The philosophy of equality and why complementarianism fails– I argue that the position in which women are excluded from church leadership entails inequality of being.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Section II: Historical Studies” in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

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.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35– Those wondering about egalitarian interpretations of this passage can check out this post for brief looks at some of the major interpretations of the passage from an Egalitarian viewpoint.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Ordination of Women: A Twentieth-Century Gnostic Heresy?” by Louis A. Brighton in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison (who is the current President of the LCMS) and John T. Pless. I have decided to take the book on, chapter-by-chapter, for two reasons. 1) I am frequently asked why I support women pastors by friends, family, and people online who do not share my position, and I hope to show that the best arguments my former denomination can bring forward against women pastors fail. 2) I believe the position of the LCMS and other groups like it is deeply mistaken on this, and so it warrants interaction to show that they are wrong. I will, as I said, be tackling this book chapter-by-chapter, sometimes dividing chapters into multiple posts. Finally, I should note I am reviewing the first edition published in 2008. I have been informed that at least some changes were made shortly thereafter, including in particular the section on the Trinity which is, in the edition I own, disturbingly mistaken. I will continue with the edition I have at hand because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of money to use to get another edition. Yes, I’m aware the picture I used is for the third edition.

“The Ordination of Women: A Twentieth Century Gnostic Heresy?” by Louis A. Brighton

First, do an exercise for me. Search “gnostic heresy” on your preferred search engine. Now, look at Gnosticism on Wikipedia. Confused yet? I am–because Gnosticism is a radically diverse set of beliefs that has effectively had that label slapped on it. And, in modern times, virtually any position anyone wants to condemn theologically has been referred to as Gnosticism. The fluidity of the label is notorious, leading some thinkers to effectively give up the term, or at least argue it is much more diverse than we may think. But here, Brighton makes an effort to rebrand egalitarians–those who support the ordination of women–as some kind of modern Gnostic heresy. Let’s dive in.

Brighton begins the chapter with a series of questions, ultimately concluding with questions that effectively present Brighton’s thesis: “How did the role of women in Gnosticism relate to Gnostic theology, specifically the article of God? Secondly, this paper notes the oopposition of the early church to both the Gnostic practice or ordaining women and the Gnostic doctrine of God” (91). Related to this claim is his assertion that “It is quite clear that the early church saw an important and intimate connection between the practice of women serving as priests… and the doctrine and teaching about God” (ibid).

Brighton then cites a few church fathers speaking poorly about women being teachers in the church. For example, he quotes Tertullian as saying it is audacious to allow women “even to baptize!” (92). It is odd that Brighton would favorably quote this, because this goes against the Lutheran Confessions. The Augsburg Confession in Article VIII, states “Both the sacraments and the Word are efficacious because of the ordinance and command of Christ, even when offered by evil people.” In The Large Catechism, Fifth Part, “The Sacrament of the Altar,” Martin Luther states “Our conclusion is: Even though a scoundrel receives or administers the sacrament, it is the true sacrament… just as truly as when one uses it most worthily. For it is not founded on human holiness but on the Word of God.” (See more here on a Sacramental/Lutheran view of women in church leadership) Moreover, at various levels of being taught by people, including pastors, in the LCMS, I have been told that women may baptize, at least in the case of an emergency. But Brighton makes no reference to the Confessions, nor to the possibility that Tertullian may have gone too far. Instead, he presses on in his point.

Next, Brighton notes various ways women interacted in society in the Graeco-Roman world. Ultimately, he accurately states that “It is difficult… to be dogmatic… and certainly it is not possible to make a blanket statement about what was or was not socially acceptable” (93). After giving a very brief survey of some Gnostic sources, Brighton moves on to the role of women in Gnosticism. “In some of the Gnostic texts women appear equal to men in being authorities for the establishment of doctrine” (95). What is odd here is that though Brighton notes positive examples of women in the Gnostic texts, he ignores or excludes those which are negative. This is, perhaps, because he’s seeking to support his conclusion that “The role of women in Gnosticism is in striking contrast to the role that women held in Orthodox Christianity” (96). This statement, to put it bluntly, is historically vacuous. Brighton doesn’t demonstrate this whatsoever. Simply citing a few positive statements in a select few Gnostic writings does nothing to demonstrate the following essential points for Brighton to support his thesis: 1) that “orthodox Christianity” was a single unit with unified teaching in this time before Nicaea (and after, for that matter); 2) that Gnostics universally held to a different position on women than “orthodox Christians” universally did; 3) that Gnosticism spoke with one voice; 4) that orthodoxy spoke with one voice on women; 5) that Christians treated women differently in every case; 6) that no “orthodox” Christians had women as leaders (something which is demonstrably false–see concluding paragraph below). Any one of these points is deleterious to Brighton’s point, but together they show that he hasn’t even begun to make his case for such a strong conclusion.

Brighton states that in Gnosticism, God is portrayed as feminine. He argues that this is in “marked contrast to both the canonical scriptures and the orthodox church’s belief, in which the feminine element is absent in both thought and symbolism of God” (97). This is a surprising claim, given that very clear statements in the Bible itself are made in which feminine symbolism is used of God. For example, though Brighton earlier decries Gnosticism for seeing God as Wisdom and therefore feminine, Wisdom in Proverbs 1 and 8 has long been seen in many strands of orthodoxy to be a reference to God or even Christ, and is a decidedly feminine portrayal. Both men and women are created in the “image” of God in Genesis–which would suggest that both masculine and feminine aspects are present in the Godhead. In the Bible, God is seen as giving birth (Deuteronomy 32:18, which unites masculine and feminine imagery); as a comforting mother (Isaiah 66:13); as a mother bear (Hosea 13:8); as like a woman in labor (Isaiah 42:14); as a mother hen (Matthew 23:37); and more. If even one of these is a feminine symbol of God, Brighton is wrong, but it is clear that every single one of these is a feminine symbol of God and in church history there are plenty of “orthodox” Christians who saw feminine imagery of God as well, especially surrounding the Wisdom passages in Proverbs. Brighton is just wrong here, and it undermines essentially his entire argument in this section, which is based on a denial of any such imagery.

What is remarkable is that in the very next section, Brighton actually lists several of these examples, but doesn’t acknowledge in any way that this would present a problem for his thesis that it is “absent”! The rest of this section is spent on Brighton noting various other sources certain Gnostic groups used to see feminine imagery, but it hardly undermines anything that is actually present in the Bible! Brighton then attacks one strand of Gnostic thought that equivocates on good and evil and sees God as the source of evil, spending a few paragraphs attacking this notion. But nowhere does he actually link this to any modern feminist theology, nor does he link it to egalitarianism in any way.

In another surprising turn, Brighton’s conclusion follows this, and he re-asserts that the theology of God of Gnosticism was rejected, but then goes on to say that “this paper concludes that orthodox Christianity of the early church, with its theology of the Triune God, could not but reject the practice of the ordination of women into the public ministry” (105). What? Where does Brighton even make this connection in any real sense? He doesn’t actually argue that the early church saw this connection, nor did he demonstrate that there was a connection! Indeed, he even lists Bible verses that disprove one of his central claims! Yet here, he turns around and argues that somehow modern egalitarians are Gnostics? There is no connection made anywhere between the two schools of thought, other than the incidental fact that each ordains women (and Brighton even fails to adequately define Gnosticism or show that ordination of women was a universal Gnostic practice, which it almost certainly was not). There is no evidence here mustered against the ordination of women; it’s just a survey of Gnostic texts followed by Brighton’s rejection thereof.

A significant issue with Brighton’s thesis is that it doesn’t actually align with all of Gnosticism. In attempting to link modern-ish egalitarianism to Gnosticism, Brighton failed to take into account the whole breadth of Gnostic thought and factions. Instead, he simply asserts without argument that the two are equivalent. But Brighton doesn’t deal with those Gnostic texts or beliefs that run contrary to his thesis. For example, in the Gospel of Thomas, one of the very texts Brighton cites to push his point, one finds saying 114:

Simon Peter says to them: “Let Mary go out from our midst, for women are not worthy of life!” Jesus says: “See, I will draw her so as to make her male so that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who has become male will enter the Kingdom of heaven.”

Does this saying appear to align with Brighton’s theory that Gnostics favored women and are somehow equivalent to modern day egalitarians? Clearly not. But Brighton should have been aware of this and many, many other sayings and beliefs detrimental to women in Gnostic thought.

Perhaps the most significant problem with Brighton’s position is that it discounts entirely those examples in the early church that run contrary to his point. For one, there are numerous examples in the New Testament itself of women in roles of leadership. Junia is an apostle; Phoebe and Priscilla are various levels of church leaders, women were clearly named as prophets numerous times, Lydia and Nympha are stated as having churches in their houses, and the fulfillment of Joel 2:28, in which there doesn’t appear to be a distinction whatsoever between men and women prophesying, is affirmed in Acts 2. For more on some of these, see here. But Brighton doesn’t account for any of these examples, nor does he deal with the documentary evidence in the early church of many other church leaders. Yet these are direct refutations of his thesis. Either he doesn’t know about these counter-examples, or he intentionally does not mention them. Either way, it is a significant oversight, and one that refutes him. Moreover, as we have seen several times above, simply charging others with Gnosticism is hardly a fruitful way to engage with other positions. This chapter is most accurately described as a lengthy move to poison the well against egalitarians.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35– Those wondering about egalitarian interpretations of this passage can check out this post for brief looks at some of the major interpretations of the passage from an Egalitarian viewpoint.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

I’m a Christian and I (still) Read Books by Men

Tim Challies, author of the post this one parodies. Image Source: https://s3.amazonaws.com/bg3-blog/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/18092519/TimChallies.jpg

[Note: this post is a close parody of Tim Challies’s article, “I’m a Complementarian and I Read Books By Women.” Challies’s self-congratulatory attitude towards himself for deigning to read books by 50% of the human species touched a nerve, and that kind of nonsense needs to be called out.]

I wonder if you have ever noticed that heresies in Christianity have tended to be authored by men and spread by men, while very few historical heresies are named after women. Heresies tend to be invented by men, while women have tended to be the first preachers of the Gospel (like Mary). In general, heresies have tended to be from the voices and pens of men, while women’s voices have tended to be silenced by those men.

I am Christian. I believe God created the world and made man and woman in the image of God, like the Bible says. I also believe that the historical heresies have been rightly condemned, and these are almost entirely the inventions of men. Yet I gladly read books written by men. This is true whether the books are written specifically for Christians, or whether they are for a general audience. In every case, I am glad to read the and to learn from them.

For some Christians, this is obvious and unremarkable. Yet it probably should come as something of a shock. After all, historically, so many heresies have come from men, while women’s voices were silenced or ignored. Someone, looking in from the outside, might say it may be worth just telling men to stop writing about doctrine for a while. To the contrary, I believe we can and must encourage men to write non-heretical books and that all Christians can gladly and confidently read them for the benefit of their own souls.

As far as I can tell, there are few heresies exclusively reserved for men or women. Though it is true that men throughout the history of Christianity have worked to silence women, despite the biblical call for sons and daughters to prophesy (Acts 2:17), the appearance of women in roles of leadership (eg. Junia in Romans 16:7), and the clear biblical teaching that in the body of Christ there is “no male and female” (Galatians 3:28), men still can have good things to say.

Men and women are equal in gifts and equal in ability. They are also equal in wisdom. Both men and women are able to learn, to understand, to interpret, to apply. Both men and women can know the facts of the Christian faith, both can have a deep knowledge of Scripture, both can have insight that allows them to apply this knowledge to life’s circumstances. Women can be theologians in the same sense that men can be theologians—they can have a deep knowledge of God, his Word, his will, his ways. In fact, when the book of Proverbs personifies wisdom it does so in the character of Lady Wisdom, not Sir Wisdom. [Block quoted- direct quote from Challies’s article.]

Men have taught, capably spread, and filled others’ minds with heresy. Despite this, God is able to overcome these heresies with the Truth of Christ. God gifts women to teach, makes them capable, and fills them with wisdom. Though this is all true, we should not reject reading books by men entirely, because God has called both men and women to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. There is no indication that God goes against God’s own words about men and women prophesying together, or that writers in the Bible thought God was wrong when God made both men and women in God’s image, or when God revealed that there is no male and female in Christ.

So I encourage Christian men to write and to do so with confidence that this is an affirmation, not a denial, of Christianity, so long as they avoid the heresies made by men. I encourage Christian men and their publishers not to restrict themselves to men’s versions of books on important subjects. They can write to all of us. We don’t need to let historic fear of heresy silence  voices of men in the church.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

This post is a parody of Tim Challies’s original, subtly misogynist, self-congratulatory post about how he actually reads books by women which I have linked here. I parody it under fair use.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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