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).
Since the middle of the twentieth century there has been an ongoing, sometimes acrimonious debate over the meaning of “head” (Greek, kephalē) in Paul’s letters, especially 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:23. This article is an attempt to review the most significant scholarly literature that has emerged in the debate and to summarize each without critique.
Considered the most influential woman affiliated with the Welsh Revivals (1904–05) and earlier the Keswick Conventions (1875–1910), Jessie Penn-Lewis (1861–1927) distinguished herself as a writer, speaker, and advocate of women’s public ministry. A crucicentrist of the highest order, Penn-Lewis’s egalitarian theology grew out of her understanding of Christ’s completed work on Calvary. For Penn-Lewis, the cross provides not only forgiveness for sin (redemption), but also victory over sin and prejudice (sanctification). Crucicentrists like Penn-Lewis celebrated the social consequences of Calvary that included unity and reconciliation, not only between men and women, but also among individuals once hostile to one another. Thus, Penn-Lewis’s soteriology (what she understood about the work of Christ) shaped her egalitarian ecclesiology (what she understood about the work of the church). She promoted this view through her writings and leadership initially within the early Keswick Conventions and ultimately within evangelical circles around the world.
Esther shows us that leadership is responsiveness to God and to those who are hurting. It is a readiness to self-sacrifice, and it has everything to do with character, intimacy with God, and closeness to those who are vulnerable.
Upon first acquaintance with Ephesians 5:21–33, I was pretty turned off. The husband is the head of his wife? How could this be taken as anything other than an insult to women? My reaction: I already have a head, thank you very much. It may not be perfect, but it’s at least comparable to that of any male I know.
Many know the story of Queen Esther from the Bible. However, often our own culture and struggles can lead us to “discover” lessons that are not part of the text, or miss important details that are. Often in churches, Esther becomes obscured to the point where this brave woman who was mightily used by God becomes passively subject to the decisions of men. For example, a marriage book released recently by a popular pastor and his wife used the story of Esther to promote obedience to one’s husband, contrasting disobedient Queen Vashti with a “submissive” Esther. Is submission to one’s husband truly the lesson of this narrative?
The book of Esther tells the story of a Jewish woman who rises from obscurity into the royal court as the new queen of King Xerxes. This narrative includes models of leadership that could not be more different from each other.