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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.”

February 4, 2010

Women in ministry: A questionnaire

Filed under: theology — Petros @ 8:29 am
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The role of women in ministry is not a moral issue.  It is not covered by the Ten Commandments.  There is no commandment for example that says that women can only do certain jobs and men others.  It is however a question of culture.  In certain cultures both men and women are prevented from doing certain tasks.  It is also a question of biology:  men and women have different roles because they are in general biologically better suited for those roles: e.g., women are far better at bearing children, while men are better at opening jars.

As a charismatic/pentecostal, I look at Spirit gifting as a sine qua non of ministry.  So let’s ask some questions about what roles women can perform:

(1) Does the cultural context prevent or strongly discourage women from carrying out a specific task?  If so, if women in the church performed that task would it bring the gospel into disrepute and prevent the advancement of the church?  If women were prevented from performing a task, would it bring the gospel into disrepute and prevent the advancement of the church?

(2) Does biology prevent women from doing a certain task?  I think here of jobs that require physical strength such as construction worker, fireman, or soldier.  Other positions would not be able to withstand maternity leave**–in which case married women in their child bearing years may wish to refrain from taking on certain tasks.

(3) Does a woman have a particular set of giftings that would make the performance of the task possible and beneficial?

(4) Is the woman the best person or the only person available for the job?

(5) Is the woman responding to the call of God in order to do the task?

(6) If a woman does a particular task does it help either the spiritual or numerical growth of the church, and thus, the advancement of the Kingdom of God?

**Maternity leave:  Sarah Palin apparently did not become derelict as governor of Alaska when she bore her child in office.  Thus, in some cases, highly motivated women leaders may overcome the obstacle of child bearing while performing a task.  The lengthening of maternity leave benefits to a full year in Canada, however, plays against this possibility in making it more and more onerous upon employers to keep a job open.  But then again, the little used “paternity” leave also makes that available to men.  Women however tend to use the entire benefit period.  It would be problematic if a woman pastor takes a one-year maternity leave from her job as senior pastor of church, let’s say five times during a ten year period.  The church then has a disjointed ministry going back and forth between woman pastor to interim.  This is obviously untenable.

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