Although we may idealize the early church, most of us would not have enjoyed a visit to a worship service at Corinth. The impression which one was most likely to receive was that of chaos and delirious insanity:
So if the whole congregation is assembled and all are using the "strange tongues" of ecstasy, and some uninstructed persons or unbelievers should enter, will they not think you are mad? (I Cor. 14:23, NEB).
We Lutherans all want to argue on the basis of God's revealed truth in the authoritative Scripture. Yet all of us come to this debate with our own personal history and agenda. My own history includes aversion to women in the public ministry as a result of experiences, first as a teenager, then as a student in Germany. More recently, I have developed a growing understanding of the just claims of Christian women who have been disempowered and marginalized in the church and a horror for what has been perpetrated in the name of male headship. A re-examination of the texts and another (this time happy) experience of having a woman as my pastor in the United States about a decade ago led me to abandon my previously held view that the ordination of women is not the Lord's will for his church today. I am now convinced to the contrary, although I do not like using the broad term feminist. My own personal pain is not only that close friends and relatives hold an opposing view, but that I fully understand that view as one who once held it (this is not said in any spirit of superiority).
When I have heard discussion about love and respect it is often applied as gender specific: a woman needs love, a man needs respect. But it isn’t that cut and dry. Men need to be loved as well, and women need to be respected, too.
Peter states what should be common sense: husbands, live with your wives in a considerate and respectful manner. He then goes on to say that if a husband does not do this, his relationship with God will suffer.
When I was five, my grandfather gave me a fishing rod. I practiced casting my line for hours in our long, skinny back yard using a rubber practice sinker. When a friend offered to take me fishing, I caught my first fish: a round, orange and yellow sunfish called a pumpkinseed. I admired its beautiful colors, then carefully smoothed down the spiny dorsal fin and removed the hook. As the pumpkinseed swam away, I wondered if it knew a few moments earlier I’d held its life in my hands.
“Delighted” would accurately describe my reaction to discovering Christians for Biblical Equality. I’m a man who knows something about marginalization and alienation — two themes central to CBE’s concerns.
When I reflect on my childhood and young adulthood, it’s not difficult to see why I struggled to understand God’s intent for gender roles. I was surrounded by mixed gender messages from my denomination, my family and my Christian college.
I grew up in fundamentalist churches where women were taught to know their “place” and stay there. My parents accepted these ideas in theory, but not so much in practice, and at the same time they questioned many of the other things these churches taught. During my freshman year of college, my parents ended their lifelong affiliation with this denomination and began attending a new church.
Each time I read Ephesians, I shuddered inwardly upon reading Chapter 5: “Wives submit to your husbands.” This passage was a neon light blinding me to the rest of the book. I felt the same shame when I read other passages with directives to women regarding silence, submission or authority. The worst was 1 Timothy 2, which implied that a woman could not be trusted with God’s word because of Eve’s deception. “Why, Father, did you make women this way?” I asked again and again.
At CBE we call marriage “ground zero” for the debate about women’s places in the church and the home. We’ve found that understanding God’s design for a woman and a man in that relationship is essential for understanding how women and men can work together to further the gospel. If the two can’t stand on the same plane in a one-on-one relationship, how will they be able to treat each other as equals in a ministry environment?