Very early in the history of the Christian church the charge of cannibalism was brought against Christians. Any idea why? Rumors spread that these followers of Jesus were eating and drinking flesh and blood. A little misinformation can lead to some massively ignorant conclusions. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the “body” and “blood” were really unleavened bread and wine that Christians believed possessed a special presence of Jesus. In the end, it made no difference to the fate of Christians – many were thrown to the lions because Christianity was considered an illegal religion to practice until Emperor Galerius signed an edict of toleration in AD 311. Nonetheless, for our purposes today, the point remains that Christians being unjustly charged as “unloving” or “evil” because of other people’s ignorance of biblical orthodoxy is nothing new.
So is the case in a story hitting the news in Wisconsin this week. Feel free to check out the articles yourselves. It goes a little something like this:
At St. John’s Lutheran Church in Baraboo, WI, the principal was asked to resign after a doctrinal disagreement over the Scriptural principle of the roles of men and women. The principal apparently had been disseminating to school parents a paper written by his father years ago that challenged this principle. After 2 years of working with church leadership to resolve the issue, no common ground could be found. The principal was asked to resign.
This was not the issue that made it particularly newsworthy though. This is a private religious organization. In America, any private religious organization is free to teach the doctrine it so chooses. Why would a religious organization maintain an employee who was teaching a doctrine different from what the organization practices? Imagine if a rabbi at a local synagogue started teaching that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Should his synagogue keep him as a spiritual leader despite his promoting a doctrine totally foreign to their beliefs? Let me put this in business terminology: My wife works for Verizon Wireless. If she were promoting to customers that AT&T were offering a better product and a better network, should Verizon maintain her as an employee? You get the point. Retaining the principal as a called employee of the church is not the controversial issue here. If it is, then there’s a misunderstanding of freedom of religion.
The issue that people are getting all fired up about – the issue that makes this newsworthy in the public’s eye are the headlines that “women were not allowed to speak or vote” at the church meeting. Instantaneously, shouts of “inequality” and “intolerance” went up. People question how such an outdated church could possibly exist and recommend that worshippers take their offerings elsewhere – this is precisely the message of most all of the comments left by readers at the above links.
As mentioned, legally, the church has the right to dismiss employees for promoting teachings inconsistent with the religious body – it’s a free religious practice. The day this founding American principle is taken away is the day that Communism, the Holy Roman Empire, etc. are born here. Scary thought.
The real question is, biblically, can/should a church not allow women to speak/vote at a meeting like this. We should dig in our Bibles to figure it out rather than preach our sermons of what feels right, what’s unjust, and what should be happening in 2010.
A good place for us to start would be in the Apostle Paul’s 1st letter to Timothy, chapter 2. Here, in 2:12 he says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” The principle that we want to walk away with is this concept of a woman exercising authority over a man, particularly as it pertains to church and worship affairs (as the NIV heading would suggest). So, voting in general wouldn’t rule women out. Voting that clearly exercises authority over a man – for instance allowing him to continue in/removal from his called position – this would clearly be an exercise of authority. The same is true when a congregation is deciding on removal of a member from the church’s fellowship. It’s about as authoritative of a vote as it gets in a church. So, from a Scriptural standpoint, the onus of the argument that these women shouldn’t be participating in a clearly authoritative vote rests on someone who is trying to get around 1 Timothy 2:12. You can’t just side-step it.
The most common argument is that this is merely a cultural thing, that we’ve progressed far beyond these antiquated societal shackles. And you know what, if this was the only passage in Scripture that attested to the roles of men and women, I might be more inclined to buy that argument. However, it’s not. Read through the Apostle Paul’s inspired Word on “propriety in worship” in 1 Corinthians 11 or “orderly worship” at the end of 1 Corinthians 14. Read through God’s will for corresponding roles in marriage in Ephesians 5:22-33. If that’s still too narrow of a timeframe, go back to Genesis 2 and see God’s motivation & operation for instituting marriage and understand that different corresponding roles were established for man/woman, notice, prior to the fall into sin (Genesis 3). In other words, the world at that time was perfect, even with differing roles for genders.
I think a lot of people miss the point when it comes to issues of the roles of men/women, female participation in the body of Christ (Church), etc. It is NOT an issue of qualifications. No one is saying women are “less” in any way. In fact, truth be told, I have no doubt that there are women out there who are more intelligent, more compassionate, more caring, better public speakers, better organized, better communicators, and in general more “talented” than I am when it comes to “pastoral” qualities. That doesn’t mean they should be pastors though. It isn’t about qualifications. Let me share an analogy. I had a classmate in college and at the seminary who was one of the nicest and most caring individuals that I’d ever met. He was wonderful with kids. He was always sympathetic. He once made me a card for my birthday when we were 22 years old! I often joked to him how he was going to make a great mom someday. He turned out to be a fantastic, godly husband and father. My comments to him were obviously a joke, but the truth is, from a qualifications standpoint, he indeed would have made a better mom than many of the women that you or I have seen mothering before. He was quite “qualified” from a talent perspective. That does not, however, mean that it would have been wise for him to have a baby implanted into his abdomen and try to bear a child. Clearly, that’s not the way God intended it. We can see the obvious physical evidence of that in life, but it’s a principle (i.e. that women will bear children) that was established clearly in Scripture (Genesis 3).
Now, I have no idea why God chose women to bear children instead of men. Can you explain this? Likewise, I can’t fully explain why God chose male as the gender that was created first, the gender that God would also use to exercise authority in his church. To know that would be to know the mind of God. To perfectly know the mind of God would mean to be God himself. That means, for us created and flawed-by-sin humans, a perfect understanding of the way God ordains things escapes us.
The questions that we need to ask ourselves then are:
1) Do I believe the entire Bible is the Inspired Word of God?
2) Do I see that Scripture clearly establishes different, but corresponding roles for men/women?
3) Do I understand that one aspect to those differing roles is the exercise of authority, particularly in matters that possess clear spiritual connections?
4) Do I trust that God ordains what he does out of love and wisdom, even if I don’t always understand it?
If you can answer “YES” to these questions, you won’t have a problem with men being the sole voters in “issues of authority” in a church.
HOWEVER (you knew there’d be a however, right?), this does NOT mean that a woman’s opinions & concerns should not be heard. The beginning of Acts 6 might be a good illustration of this. The widows in the congregation were being overlooked in the distribution of food (6:1). This wasn’t right. They let people know they were unhappy and their concerns were addressed. Again, however, we see male leaders appointed to authoritative positions to handle the issues (6:3).
To neglect women’s concerns in a church would not only be foolish, it’d be unscriptural. Now, I have no idea why the women of the congregation mentioned in the above web articles were not allowed to have their concerns heard, particularly if they’d been promised at a prior meeting that they would have time to voice their concerns. But, I’m going to put the best construction on it. I’m going to give God-fearing pastors and leadership of this congregation the benefit of the doubt and assume I’m only hearing one side of story in these articles. We forget so quickly that the media’s top priority is to garner readers/viewers. They’ll pounce upon an opportunity to break a civil rights/”violation of equality” story just as fast as the Roman Empire would gladly eliminate some cannibal Christians. And the commentors on those articles will shout for equality with the same misguided thirst that Coliseum spectators would chant for the Christians’ blood. What I’m saying is that if we think we’re getting the full story from the media, we’re insane, and I hope we’re mature enough to understand that.
Nonetheless, the point remains that, yes, women’s opinions, concerns, and voices should absolutely be heard. That’s part of God’s plan for a loving Christian church just as it’s part of God’s design for a loving Christian marriage. If you read through the end of Ephesians 5, notice how God’s exhortation is for husbands (men) to love their wives (women) in the same way that Christ loved his Church. How much did Christ love his Church? Well, enough to lay down his life for her. And this wasn’t just some momentary romantic “jump in front of the bullet” expression. Rather for him to be a perfect sacrifice for his Church and make sure all of her members would be in heaven with him, he had to live perfectly every day for her. In short, every day of Jesus life was spent living for the glory and happiness of his bride, the Church. Alright ladies, you tell me – if it was evident that every moment of every day of his life, your husband was living to try to make you happy and bring you glory, would you have a problem letting him lead in an authoritative role? I can’t imagine too many women would have a problem letting a man lead if they were loved that unconditionally. Who wouldn’t want someone living every day with the purpose of bringing them happiness?
Sadly, many men don’t love that way (the God-intended way). In fact, the argument could be made that the very first sin (Adam & Eve eating from the forbidden fruit) was a violation of God’s intended roles for man/woman. Perhaps the feelings of inadequacy and inequality and discontentment were creeping into Eve’s heart and the sound of fruit that would give her knowledge like God sounded appealing. And remember when she ate the fruit, what did Eve do? She gave it to Adam. Scripture makes it sound like he was sitting there the whole time, abandoning his role as the spiritual leader. Perhaps a little laziness and refusal of spiritual responsibility was creeping into Adam’s heart. And so it is today that you find countless Christian women around the country on Sunday morning dragging children to worship by themselves, while the “spiritual leader” sleeps in, hunts, or unabashedly just doesn’t care at home.
What’s the point? Don’t blame God’s rules for man’s failure. Don’t change God’s principles because man isn’t perfect. Scripture is very clear that God intends “authoritative” issues in the church to be handled by men as an expression of God’s created roles for men/women. God has the right to establish and maintain these principles, even if we don’t intellectual grasp them. He’s God. We’re not. He has the right to inspire Scripture. We don’t have the right to change it.
While maintaining the established gender roles of Scripture, we will absolutely want our women’s concerns to be heard. If we don’t, we’re being unloving. We will absolutely want their numerous skills and God-given spiritual gifts to be implemented. If we don’t, we’re not only being unwise, but we’re robbing God’s Church of these many gifts. We will absolutely want to let our women know they are just as much a part of the body of Christ as any man is. If we don’t, shame on us, not God.