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I feel like I’ve been missing out by having never seen John Piper preach: http://pipergifs.com/

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As part of my year as a church intern, I wrote quite a lot of short Bible talks. And, being female, this meant that the whole issue of whether women should be allowed to preach has been something that I’ve been quite conscious of recently. Personally, I know that I need to do some intense study – in a perfect world, I’d learn New Testament (NT) Greek and be able to brilliantly translate what they meant back then to what it means in a form of English that we can understand with crystal clarity now. But, sadly, I don’t have the means to do this at the moment. And my opinion tends to change as to what I think exactly. Currently, (based on talking to my vicar and hearing his reasoning) I think that it’s ok for women to preach, because the sense used in the ‘key’ passages in the NT is about usurping authority; and women preaching doesn’t necessarily usurp authority – unless, of course, they start inciting a coup/mutiny/rebellion and take the church as their own then and there. But in my experience, this isn’t what usually happens.

I’d love to put up some of my intern sermons up on here, so to warn you: if you don’t agree with women preaching, feel free to not read them 🙂

But here’s what I understand about the arguments at the moment:

From what I can tell, pretty much everyone agrees on a certain set of values, and the difference of opinion is on what exactly is meant by the text when it says certain things. The Bible verse that i have been particularly aware of as being involved in this issue is:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one who was deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be kept safe through childbirth, if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (1 Timothy 2:11-15)

(I know there’s a lot to talk about from this passage, but you’ll have to wait till later :P)

The really important thing to remember is that this is not about men being better than women, or women better than men. It is not a ‘battle of the sexes’ issue; it is not a male supremacy issue. More often than not, it’s an issue with our messy, sinful hearts. It’s easy to judge others for their point of view and think that yours is better. Obviously, you do think it’s better, otherwise you wouldn’t have that opinion. But talking about issues such as this one where things can get heated so easily means that we need humility and wisdom. We need to be prepared to actually listen to other opinions, but more importantly, to listen to what God says even if we don’t like it (we need to have the desire to honestly seek what God wants). My view could well be wrong, and this is a challenge to myself as well to be humble and willing to hold my opinion loosely.

I haven’t been able to study this too much as of yet, but here’s the basics of my understanding:

What people agree on:

Men and women are equal. Both are made to reflect who God is, to look after creation together and be relational beings. But also, both are equally guilty of sin and equally accountable for the Fall (so Eve let herself be lied to gave in to the temptation to eat the forbidden fruit, but Adam was right next to her the whole time and could have stopped her). However, both are equal in salvation – i.e. God saves men and women equally, and brings them both into a status of children of God and heirs of His Kingdom. So men and women are equal in value and status.

Men and women are not the same. God made a deliberate difference when He created man and woman back in Genesis. He made men and women to complement each other in the work that He gave them to do (look after creation).

God uses both men and women in work, whether Christian work or not.

Jesus involved women in ministry. He treated women equally to men, with value and respect.

Man is the head of woman. – I can hear you say, ‘Hang on there!’ The above points are fairly easy to go along with because they’re quite nice and non-controversial. OK, so this is not something that always seems natural, especially in our Western culture. But I think this is definitely a biblical view (especially because the Bible says it explicitly, so…). Let’s unpack this…

Normally, the first place people start is back in Genesis. But I think it might be more helpful to go back further than the beginning of the universe – to God Himself. You see, there is some form of hierarchy within God Himself, in the Trinity. And this isn’t about superiority or inferiority at all – all three Persons of the Trinity are completely God and so have utterly the same status as God (if you want to know more about the Trinity… er… you’ll have to look elsewhere for the moment, sorry. I’ve just started what promises to be a great book on the Trinity – The Good God by Mike Reeves – and it’s definitely something that’s worth delving into. Because, like, you know, it’s about who God is. You can’t get more important than that). There is a pattern of submission in the Trinity. 1 Corinthians 11:3 says that God (the Father) is the head of Christ (the Son) – they’re both equal, but the Son submits to the Father. There are other verses about this; John 5:19 (the Son only does what the Father does) and John 14:31 (the Son does exactly what the Father tells him to) are a couple of examples. I hope you can see what I’m getting at: the whole submission issue and the order that God has given is not an issue of superiority/inferiority, because it never was since it exists in who God is.

On to creation. God created man (Adam) first and gave him the first command before He made woman (Eve) (see Genesis 2). Adam’s responsibility was to pass this command on to his wife. Adam was given the responsibility of naming things, even the woman, and in the Bible, naming things is an act of authority. In Genesis 3, when Eve listens to the serpent instead of Adam (i.e. not obeying the command from God via Adam to not eat from the tree), and Adam does nothing, he is punished for a) listening to Eve, and b) failing in his responsibility as ‘custodian of the command’. This started the battle of the sexes:

“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16b)

“desire” here is all about possessing or mastering. i.e., women would have the desire to control and rule over men, and men would want to ‘lord it’ over them. But the God-ordained way of things is for men to be in authority. You can see the problem. Sin messes things up. It turned something that was always intended to be a wholesome and beautiful reflection of who God is into a twisted battle for power.

But God didn’t leave it there. When Jesus Christ saved us through dying in our place, He didn’t just restore our relationship with God. His continuing work in us is to restore the other relationships we have, including the order that God set out right at the beginning of existence. So the model we are given in the New Testament is that of Christ:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance like a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11)

Christ’s example is that although He is equal with the Father, He didn’t grasp at that equality. He submits willingly to the Father. Another helpful mode we have is that of Christ and His Church:

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. (Ephesians 5:22-28)

This is mainly about marriage, but I hope you can see that from this we can draw that our relationships are, in the appropriate extent, to reflect Christ’s relationship to the Church. Particularly, it’s important to remember what v25 says about husbands loving wives as Christ loves His Church – sacrificially, selflessly. But also, we can draw out that authority does not mean that you are dominating, and submission does not mean that you are a doormat to be walked all over.

What people disagree on:

How this works out in a church context, where everyone is not married to each other (thankfully – can you imagine how complicated that would get?).

There’s a decent amount of clear teaching (such as the passage above) about marriage and roles within that. It gets trickier when talking about male and female roles in church. A fair amount of detailed understanding comes from reading between the lines a bit – study of whether male or female words are used, the sense of the whole text, etc. Passages such as the 1 Timothy 2 one that I mentioned at the beginning of this post raise questions like: Can women have any authority in church? Can they preach to men, or only to women? What happens with children – can they preach to them, and when does a child become a man and hence can’t be taught spiritually by women? What counts as teaching? Does leading sung worship count? Or leading prayers? Or leading a service? Can women write books about Christian discipleship or theology?

To a certain extent, we won’t know for sure until we get to heaven, can see things clearly, and all go “Oooooohhh, so THAT’s what it meant!” I’m not saying that we can’t understand what the Bible says – not at all! But a combination of not being 1st Century Greek-speakers, our sinful hearts, and our ability to get things wrong mean that there is a difference of opinion on some things that are contentious.

My opinion

Let’s have a look at that 1 Timothy passage again:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one who was deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be kept safe through childbirth, if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (1 Timothy 2:11-15)

So, the last sentence is a curveball. A lot of commentators have seen it and gone ‘??’ and don’t really have an answer for what Paul is getting at exactly. But that’s not quite what we’re looking for here, so I’ll very annnoyingly brush over it.

When it says “silent” in v11, this isn’t the best translation of the word used. The word used is the same as used to describe “peaceful and quiet” in v2 (in relation to how we should live – “…that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”) – it’s about an attitude of listening instead of resisting authority, not women not being allowed to make a noise. When the passage above says “I do not permit a woman to teach” we need to be careful, because in other places Paul talks about women teaching in a positive way, such as Titus 2 where he encourages women to teach younger women, or when he talks about Timothy being taught by his mother and grandmother. And there’s the instance when a couple, Priscilla and Aquila, taught Apollos together. Paul isn’t saying that women can’t teach… so what does he mean? In v12, teaching goes hand-in-hand with authority. Much of 1 Timothy is talking about people who are appointed to have authority to lead the church and teach it; so Paul is prohibiting women from having overall authority in a church, i.e. being elders/vicars/pastors. It doesn’t mean that women can’t teach or preach, just that they shouldn’t take on the role of being in charge of the church.

This reasoning is followed in v13-14. Adam was formed before Eve. Being made first doesn’t mean that Adam was better or more important, but that Adam was to be followed. God made man to be the leader. Sin and the Fall messed this up.

So, my personal opinion (willing to change) is this: women can preach (so long as they are under the authority of a man, e.g. church leader/vicar/pastor/elder and this doesn’t upset the authority structure that God has set out), but overall authority is a role that God intended for men. However, this doesn’t mean that authority should ever be exploited – we are to follow Jesus’ example, whatever position we are in, whoever we are, and serve each other selflessly.

I hope my ramblings have been helpful 🙂

Thanks to Hilary Jackson and Fiona at MMTC for their instruction, and Henry Curran for his thoughts – both of which I have used heavily here.

Edit: I’d also recommend reading this article (and others in the series):

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabitianyabwile/2011/01/06/im-a-complementarian-but-women-must-be-taught-and-they-must-teach/

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