If someone asked you to highlight the most obvious biblical fact supporting your position as an egalitarian, what might you say? If you were pressed to give ONE reason for believing that Scripture advances gift-based, rather than gender-based ministry, what would that be? Perhaps CBE should hold a contest and give awards for those who offer the most concise and comprehensive fact supporting an egalitarian interpretation of Scripture.
If I were asked this question, I might be tempted to suggest that because Scripture celebrates the leadership of numerous women throughout the Old and New Testament, even though there are a few places where women are silenced from teaching and excluded from holding authority, it is clear that God does not universally oppose the authority or public ministry of women. Given the patriarchy of Bible-culture, it is astonishing to observe God’s favor rest upon so many women who served as apostles, deacons, prophets, judges, teachers, church planters, house church leaders, business leaders, and women who were keepers of the city and temple gates. And, as we noted in last week’s Arise, three women were said to be the “heavy laborers,” working beside Paul in the gospel. Because of their work, Paul asks the churches they serve to respect and submit to their leadership.
Because God places women in positions of useful leadership and service throughout Scripture (and all of history), this alone suggests that limiting women’s leadership is not a universal biblical principle! If God’s design was for only men to teach and hold positions of authority and leadership, we would not anticipate seeing so many women in Scripture doing just that! And, in every place where women exercised authority and leadership we would expect to observe both God’s consistent condemnation and also negative consequences stemming from their leadership. If giving women leadership was against God’s will, it should lead to destructive consequences for the church and therefore God’s persistent rebuke. We all know this is not true! In fact, we observe just the opposite!
Throughout history, Christian women offered enormous spiritual and moral leadership, bringing renewal and vitality to Christian faith and practice all over the globe. During the Golden Era of Missions, when women outnumbered men two to one on mission fields around the world, their efforts led to the largest expansion in Christian faith of all time! Women have been and are faithful leaders and servants of Christ. If this is the case—and history shows that it is—then limiting women’s leadership has its own negative consequences.
When we tell our children to turn off the television, a child may ask “why?” The parent provides the answer, “That show is filled with values and ideas that will hurt you.” Now, the child understands that the parent is not condemning all shows on television. It is not the television the parent condemns, but the particular show. If the parent gives the child permission to watch most TV shows, and limits only a few, the child will discern that the parent does not condemn television per se, but a specific show on TV! Like children following a parent’s advice, let us also follow the teachings of Scripture with discernment, understanding that if God allows a practice in one place, while prohibiting it in another place, the practice itself is not the problem. Instead, there is something else that needs to be considered! Let’s read Scripture wisely and not woodenly. Will you join us?