There was an audible response from our morning congregation when the reading from 1 Cor 11 & 14 was read before I stood up to preach. We have been exploring the key themes of 1 Corinthians in a series titled “The church then and now”. After preaching at the morning service, someone asked, ‘why didn’t we just skip this topic? It wouldn’t have raised concerns then’. Its an interesting reflection; I’m pretty confident that had I ‘skipped the topic’ that definitely would have raised concerns because people would have wondered why I had not addressed it as it came up in the text. Throughout the day as I spoke with many more people than I usually do following our services, the overwhelming response (at least verbalized to me) was “Thanks for addressing the topic”. As for my internal response to a day punctuated by emotion; I am encouraged by those who expressed a sense of empowerment, humbled by those who expressed genuine appreciation to me for standing with them in their pain, heartened by the person who said they ‘love it that the church cares about me’, and a little anxious that my heart and passion for ‘equality in partnership’ might have been mistaken as triumphant arrogance by some who felt their view was not appreciated.
One presupposition: Scripture is the final authority so its important to let the full weight of scripture form our foundation for the ministry of women and men in the church.
Principles of Biblical Interpretation:
Every text has an original cultural context, so respect it and understand it. Any personal thoughts about a text are an interpretation. Let Scripture interpret scripture.
Process of biblical interpretation:
Read Genesis 1:26-28 and then into Gen 2 and 3, progress through the Gospels asking ‘What did Jesus say and do’, then consider the heart and dreams expressed in the account known as Acts and finally focus on what Paul has to say and appreciate what he did.
So, join me as we establish the basis of what we call ‘equal partnership in ministry’.
A Biblical Basis - Creation:
Genesis 1 reminds us that God made one species, humankind, differentiated not by roles but by their God-given nature, ‘male and female he created them’ and they are made in the image and likeness of God (v27). It is to humankind, male and female in partnership, that God gives his ‘blessing’ and commands them to rule over his creation (v28). As male and female they are differentiated by God, yet equal in essence, nature, being and authority. Genesis 2 informs us that the solitary Adam is helpless and therefore in need of a suitable ‘helper’ (ezer). Marg Mowczko, in her blog writes
‘The word ezer is used twenty-one times in the Old Testament. Twice it is used in the context of the first woman. Three times it is used of people helping (or failing to help) in life-threatening situations. Sixteen times it is used in reference to God as a helper. Without exception, these biblical texts are talking about a vital, powerful kind of help. Yet when ezer is applied to the first woman, its meaning is usually diminished to fit with traditional and cultural views of women’s roles’
Overwhelmingly, the word used for ‘helper’ is to be understood as referring to the women as a helper or rescuer and within the text, the obvious thing that she is to help rescue Adam from is his ‘aloneness’. Coupled with the qualifier ‘kenegdo’ which means companion, someone magnificently designed to be a corresponding complimenting equal partner. Not a hint of subordination of the female to the male is seen in Gen 1 or Gen 2. On the contrary, the reader can easily conclude that in the Gen 2 narrative, mutuality and equality are appropriate descriptions of what has taken place; Eve is taken out of Adam in order to partner with Adam. There is nothing within the Genesis text that allows for the subordination of woman to the man before the account of the fall. Genesis 3 demonstrates that any subordination of the woman to the man is as a consequence of the fall and outside of Gods ideal; “Man’s superordination and woman’s subordination reflects the fallen order, not the creation order” (Giles, 2002, p204)
A Biblical Basis - the Gospels and the Life of Jesus:
Jesus does not at any stage in the gospels, speak of the subordination of women; on the contrary he says much that denies their subordination. At every opportunity Jesus reached out to women, included them in his ministry team and commended them for undertaking activities such as learning from Jesus’ teaching (Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38ff). In John 4 Jesus encounters the Samaritan women and her ‘witnessing word’ which resulted in the evangelization of the whole town; an incredible testimony by arguably, the first written record of a female ‘apostle’ – given that an apostle is a sent one with testimony of Jesus and his work and words. Significant also is the indisputable evidence that bringing testimony to the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah is left to the female members of the community of faith; the core of the gospel is the proclamation that Jesus the Christ was Crucified and died for our sins and on the third day was raised to life. Significantly, it is the women of the church who first gave witness to this fact.
A Biblical Basis - the early church:
Luke’s account of the early Church as recorded for us in Acts is significantly important for our topic at hand. Luke teaches that through the empowering of the Holy Spirit, both men and women are said to be prophesying and ministering in the early faith community. The picture that develops of the early church is one in which women are engaged intimately in prophetic, teaching, discipling and leadership responsibilities. Some argue that what is provided as descriptive of what happens ought not be seen as instructive as to what should happen; this however is a most unimpressive argument if one honestly holds a high view of scripture. Certainly we ought not advocate described activity if such activity is not commending the gospel but where it clearly does and the descriptions are intended to demonstrate the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church, it is a most edifying and enriching commendation of what spirit filled life and witness looks like.
The Acts of the Apostles also make it very clear that women were instrumental in the disciple-making activity of the church. Most significantly we see this in the Philippian Church with the leadership offered by Lydia and then again by Priscilla who undertook a clear teaching ministry of young believers, most notably Apollos.
A Biblical Basis – in the Pauline writings:
Central to Paul’s teaching on ministry within the church is based on his ‘body of Christ’ metaphor and the equally radical concept of the gifts given to both men and women within the body of Christ. Paul speaks positively of the ministry of women in prophecy, teaching, leading household churches, prayer in gathered worship just to name a few. His commendation of a women apostle (Rom 16:7) sits gently but decisively within his theology of ministry in the early church.
Paul also unreservedly tackled three social issues of the day in his declaration that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28) Some have objected saying that Paul is referring only to the spiritual reality of freedom in Christ however the other ‘present day’ realities would have been confronted head on. In both the immediate and wider context, these words clearly speak of the reality of ‘what is’ when people are in Christ; the social divides as far as being acceptable before God and within the church, no longer apply. There is an extensive list of women who partnered in the Gospel with Paul beyond the ones already mentioned and Paul seems to make no distinction in roles or functions between men and women in ministry. Euodia and Syntyche (Phil 4:2-3) were fellow workers in the gospel, as were the four women noted in Rom 16. Phoebe is commended to the Roman Church as a servant of the church, a term synonymous with ministers of the gospel.
In tomorrows post, I will explore the key contentious biblical texts (1 Cor 11; 14; 1 Timothy 2) and demonstrate how the above interpretive process best helps us apply the Word of God with integrity and consistency; I hope you will journey with me.
Lead Pastor - GWAC