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February 9, 2010

Why men should be priests and pastors

Filed under: theology — Petros @ 5:39 am
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A few years ago, I read in First Things a very sensible article that suggested only men should be the senior pastor or priest of a church.  Tyler Wittman has argued for biblical complimentarianism in response to my post explaining why I am not a fundamentalist.  I pretty much agree with his point, but I also argue as a pentecostal/charismatic that we should not forbid women to do certain roles if they are capable, if they receive the call of God for that role, and if it will advance the Kingdom of God.

The article in First Things (unfortunately I don’t exactly remember the date and the author) appealed to the observation that Christianity with its values of of gentleness and mercy appeals above all to women, and hence, women have historically populated the church more than men.  Having searched the First Things website, it may have been Richard John Neuhaus’ review of an article by Kenneth Woodward in Commonweal (Nov 22, 1996).  Neuhaus writes (May 1997):

Woodward invokes Walter Ong’s insightful and undeservedly neglected book, Fighting for Life (Cornell University Press, 1981), that contends masculine and feminine are human contraries in a “ritual contest” that shapes maleness from “its biological base to its human heights.” Ong notes that the Church is always and overwhelmingly feminine—Holy Mother Church—and in that feminine environment the all-male clergy is a necessary countervailing force.

Woodward concludes: “I have spent time on the Protestant experience because I want to indicate not only what is happening among our Christian brethren but also to suggest that the loosening of this dynamic tension may be one reason why mainline denominations are in such dire straits. The church as a profession is not like the law, medicine, or finance. Women who enter these professions do not change them; they are changed by the professions, and if they do not perform well they are out. But religion is different. Whatever else it is, religion is a symbol system and to change the symbols is to change the meaning that religion expresses. Surely there is need to incorporate, expand, and deepen what is feminine in religion. But there are limits. And as we can see in the exponents of post-Christian feminism, those limits have already been breached. My concern is not with theory or theology but with the atmosphere of ordinary American churches as I find them. And what I find in them is the gradual disappearance of anything that might adequately be described as masculine, no matter who in the hierarchy is calling the shots.”

Therefore, it is important for the sake of evangelism and church growth that a man lead the church, lest all the ministries of the church be taken over by women, and men who come, unless they are the Alan Alda sensitive-type, will find that there is no role model, and by logical extrapolation, no role for them in the church.  This is a compelling argument for me.  If the local church has a woman senior pastor, the danger is the “chickification” of the church, just like our schools and so many other institutions in our culture.

Woodward invokes Walter Ong’s insightful and undeservedly neglected book, Fighting for Life (Cornell University Press, 1981), that contends masculine and feminine are human contraries in a “ritual contest” that shapes maleness from “its biological base to its human heights.” Ong notes that the Church is always and overwhelmingly feminine—Holy Mother Church—and in that feminine environment the all-male clergy is a necessary countervailing force.

Woodward concludes: “I have spent time on the Protestant experience because I want to indicate not only what is happening among our Christian brethren but also to suggest that the loosening of this dynamic tension may be one reason why mainline denominations are in such dire straits. The church as a profession is not like the law, medicine, or finance. Women who enter these professions do not change them; they are changed by the professions, and if they do not perform well they are out. But religion is different. Whatever else it is, religion is a symbol system and to change the symbols is to change the meaning that religion expresses. Surely there is need to incorporate, expand, and deepen what is feminine in religion. But there are limits. And as we can see in the exponents of post-Christian feminism, those limits have already been breached. My concern is not with theory or theology but with the atmosphere of ordinary American churches as I find them. And what I find in them is the gradual disappearance of anything that might adequately be described as masculine, no matter who in the hierarchy is calling the shots.”

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