In history as recorded in the Bible, God often gave His revelation specifically to women, and often instructed women to pass on that revelation to others, including men. In the New Testament, at all of the most significant points of Christian revelation and proclamation, women played a role as significant as, or even more significant than, the roles played by men.
Upon this observation rests the notion that women, equally with men, are still entrusted by God with His revelation, and are still held accountable by God for its proclamation. Women are still called by God to the basic ministries, including pastoral ministry in the Church.
At the Creation
God’s first revelation was both to a man and to a woman. According to Genesis 1, once humankind existed as man and woman, both genders were equally addressed, equally blessed and equally called to the care of the creation.
The very reason Eve was created was that Adam might have someone equal to himself so that there be mutuality in fellowship, in pleasure, in worship, and in work. Before Eve’s creation, Adam lacked a companion. The animals were there, but they were not Adam’s equal. God, who appreciated His own pleasure in sharing among the co-equal members of the Trinity, therefore made Eve for Adam, so that Adam could have someone with whom to share on equal terms, both in the fellowship of the Garden and in the responsibilities of the Garden. Following Eve’s creation, God revealed Himself to both Adam and Eve, speaking to both of them (Genesis 1:28ff), and revealing His will and His work to both of them.
When sin came, domination and subjection came with it. But our business in the Church is repentance and redemption. When they come, there is a reversal, and the move is back once again toward God’s original intention: the sharing by equals in the fellowship and in the responsibilities of God’s work and God’s world. The task of the church is to overcome, not perpetuate, the sins of domination and subjection between the sexes.
Annunciation of Jesus’ Birth
God first told a woman the news that Jesus of Nazareth would be The Incarnate One, the Messiah, and that woman, Mary, was the first human to announce the Incarnation: to Elizabeth, and to the male John in utero (Luke 1:26ff).
Resurrection of Jesus
Women were the first to be told the news of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and then commanded to proclaim it to the men (Mark 16:6-7). There is no more important, no more authoritative, proclamation in all the world that can be made, by anyone, in any place, than the proclamation that “Jesus is raised from the dead.” Women were the first, by the command of God, to make that proclamation.
Giving of The Great Commission
Have you ever heard anyone suggest that The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) was given by Jesus to any group less than the whole Church (not just the men of the Church)? The whole Church, both women and men, is commanded by Jesus to: 1) go everywhere, to everyone; 2) preach to everyone; 3) baptize everyone who believes; 4) teach everyone who believes, everything about the Gospel.
Jesus includes women in the great task of ministry. Indeed, He commands them to do ministry, and will hold women accountable as to their obedience on the Day of Judgment. How can the Church tell women they can’t do what Jesus Himself told them they must do? How can the Church tell women they can’t preach when Jesus said they must preach? That they can’t baptize when Jesus said they must baptize? That they can’t teach men, when Jesus told them to teach everybody?
Promise of the Ascension
The news of the impending ascension was first given by Jesus to a woman, with the instructions that she should so inform the men (John 20:17-18).
Meaning of Pentecost
Of all the biblical texts Peter could have used when he explained what was happening on the Day of Pentecost, why did he choose one from Joel which emphasizes the equal roles of both men and women in the establishment of the new community, the Church (Acts 2:16-21)?
The Revelation About the Church
Can you name the pastors much less the “senior” pastors, of the churches in the New Testament? Who was the pastor of the church at Jerusalem? At Philippi? At Colosse? At Corinth? At Thessalonica? We’re hard pressed to answer. Unlike us, the Apostle Paul didn’t write letters as much to pastors as he did to churches. He wrote to the men and the women who made up the churches. In nearly every epistle he addresses all the saints, all the members of the body, the women as well as the men. Thus it is to the women, as well as to the men, that he sets forth the revelation. To both women and men he sets forth the critical theology of the church.
The Word is given to all believers, and it is all believers together who can best be trusted to properly understand and implement that Word over the years. Basic authority does not lie in the clergy. The basic authority lies in the Word. And it is the whole people of God who can best be trusted to safeguard, understand, and implement that Word, in good times and bad, over the generations.
Much of the current discussion about the ordination of women seems to lie in the question of authority, the assumed authority of the clergy; the male only clergy. To me, a discussion about the unique authority of the clergy is an odd discussion in Protestant circles. For Protestants especially, the locus of authority is the Word of God, as given to both men and women. The whole congregation, men and women, decide the issues of the church. The vote of a women counts as much as the vote of a man, certainly in those churches following congregational church polity. For Protestants, authority is not found in the ordained clergy (although perhaps that is the episcopal and Roman Catholic view). For Protestants the authority of the Word is interpreted, understood and implemented by the congregation as a whole, consisting of men and women.
So why all the concern about the authority of the male clergy?
Could this be the reason: As we have moved in Protestant churches to a pastoral model patterned on the American CEO business model, with pastors now serving as church executives, have we inadvertently moved the center of authority away from the congregation and its responsibility for “doing the Word,” and moved that authority into the office of the properly ordained executive clergy? Authority for a pastor where the whole church makes the decisions is one thing. Authority for a pastor where he and a circle of people, particularly men, around him make the major decisions is another thing. Executive leadership requires executive authority.
Has the shift toward an executive pastoral style inadvertently birthed a different perception of authority in the church? Have Protestants in effect moved toward a Catholic concept of pastoral leadership, where authority by definition lies in the office and in the man, rather than in the congregation and in the Word? And have we then stressed the very few biblical passages that (superficially) appear to support these views?
The World to Come
In heaven, hierarchical gender issues are passe. There is full equality in heaven. The task of the present day church is to model on earth those things already settled in heaven.
If God’s basic order is that women must learn the most important truths from men, (which seems to be the assumption when women are excluded from major pastoral ministry solely because they are women), then why at the key junctures of revelation, especially New Testament revelation, are women not only given revelation by God Himself, but in more cases than not are given the revelation first, before the men?
And, if women are not supposed to preach to men, why in many of the above cases were women in fact commanded by God to do that very thing: to proclaim to the men the revelation they had received?
As we have seen, at all of the important junctures of revelation and proclamation, the women played an important role, even the key role. To this day, women are still entrusted with the revelation, and still responsible for its proclamation.
We might even wonder, given the women’s often primary role, if we’ve had it backwards. Maybe it’s the women who should be ordained to pastoral ministry, INSTEAD of the men!