Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Role of Women in Ministry

Why did it take Moses 40 years to get the people of Israel across a relatively small area of land from Egypt to the Promised Land?

Because he refused to stop and ask for directions.

Moses was a man. Men wander and wander, believing it is beneath them to ask for help.

I'm joking, of course. Yet, the gender wars seem to continue with both humor and, sadly sometimes, with hostility.

I am convinced that with the coming of Jesus, with his ministry to and with women, that a defining change took place in how women were viewed in a patriarchal culture. I believe that with the pouring out of the Spirit on the earth all kinds of differences that barred people from full equality with one another in the kingdom were abolished. Paul unpacks this equality in several of his New Testament letters. That equality is not just about equal standing before God, but equal status and function in the believing community. The equality in salvation is demonstrated in actual social change. Salvation opens doors for women, not closes them.

The dialogue/debate about the role of women in ministry continues in the USAmerican evangelical church. Excellent books about the issue from both the complementarian view (gifted women are excluded from some functions in the church) and the egalitarian view (gifted women have equal access with men to all functions of the church) are available. No one needs to be ignorant about the biblical, theological and practical dynamics inherent in the discussion. No one needs to be a "Bible thumper," either, as if the issue is cut and dry with no serious discussion needed. We have heard enough from those who say, ''The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it." Closed minds are not good in any arena of life, including the church.

When God created "man," that is, human beings, God created persons male and female. I believe in genuine, God-created differences between the sexes. Yet, when only half of the image-bearers of God (men) have "authority over" (contrary to Jesus' view of authority) all the people in the body of Christ, the whole body suffers a loss; the believing community experiences a deficit.

There are a few hot-bed texts about this issue. Those who are honest on both sides of the issue, admit that these texts are not "right out there," plain as day. There are lexical issues, textual critical issues (in some), exegetical issues, contextual issues, and cultural/historical issues in every text discussed about "the role of women in ministry." All these lead to differences in theological understandings and pastoral practices.

As a pastor, I think that men will always think and feel and talk and teach as men. How could they do otherwise? The same with women in Christ. Isn't it true that God does not have only a "masculine" heart? God's "image" includes the feminine heart as well. The Spirit does not distribute New Testament gifts--leaders, pastors, teachers--with a gender bias.

I have experienced the teaching and pastoral ministry of ordained, trained, gifted sisters in Christ. It is undeniable that I received something of God that I would never receive from a man. I did not sense in the least a "feminist ideology" in them. They were simply serving as God created, gifted and called them. With what I know now about the few hotly debated texts, I would never refuse a gifted sister in Christ full equality in ministry with me or other men. I don't want to face the Judge Who judges rightly with that decision on my shoulders. Our sisters are different from men and that difference-in-relationship-to-God-as-a-woman needs to be heard, appreciated and affirmed by men and by all the church.
*Google image above



At 4/26/2007 7:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

God bless you for sharing this.
BTW, I am completing a final paper for my pastoral ministry class this semester - your book, Jesus the Pastor will appear in the bibliography along with a couple of E. Peterson's books :)

At 4/27/2007 1:22 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Good post!
There are two things that I think we have to be careful of. Though I don't see you falling into either of these, I am wondering what your thoughts would be on them.
First, we have to avoid the danger of believing that the gender distinction can be cleanly mapped onto the sex distinction. All women do not fall cleanly within the cultural category of "female" nor do all men fall cleanly within the cultural category of "male". We are dealing with two different levels of distinctions; one biological and anatomical (sex) and the other cultural (gender). This distinction is often clouded.
Second, and more relevant to your post, the egalitarian approach to both sex and gender relations has to be careful not to simply reduce one sex or gender to the other sex or gender in the name of equality. This ignores important distinctions and proposes gender-blindness and sex-blindness. By highlighting the differences, you do not fall into this. However, it is often a danger that is fallen into. For example, when it comes to the Pro-Choice position concerning abortion, the woman is reduced to the modern, autonomous man in her individual "right to choose". The egalitarian approach should be focused on equality, not on sameness under the semblance of equality.
These are what I see as two dangers that we should be careful not to fall into when it comes to women in ministry.
Anyway, I have already written too much.

At 4/27/2007 8:41 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

Wow, Susan, I am glad that I made it into your paper :)

You are an inspiration to many, including me.

At 4/27/2007 8:45 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

I appreciate your reflection and concerns. I want to respect the God-givenness in male/female differences, not those "read into" men and women from either culture or pop-Christianity. On the other hand, I, like you, don't want a unisex version of humanity because we are male and female. That would certainly take the delightful energy out of the Song of Songs, wouldn't it?

At 4/28/2007 11:22 AM, Blogger Adam Gonnerman said...

This is one of those topics that I need to research and blog on, but just haven't gotten to yet. Prior to my ministerial breakdown I would have argued for men only in ordained positions, other than deacon (this assumes an evangelist/elders/deacons structure of church workers). Whether I'll change on this or not remains to be seen.

At 4/28/2007 12:16 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

Check out Scot McKnight's teaching over at

I think he has a side bar that addresses this topic.

At 4/28/2007 4:42 PM, Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

John, Good thoughts here. I posted on this recently.

I have moved where I am squarely comfortable with an egalitarian view. Though I know no view is without its difficulties. But I am satisfied that this seems to be the clear direction Scripture takes us.

Thanks for sharing on it, and bringing out facets that need to be understood for a good consideration of this.

At 4/28/2007 5:01 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

I appreciate your input on this. I believe that it's a matter of justice, not exegetical haggling.

At 4/29/2007 10:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. I think it is excellent that God freed us from the curse of Genesis 3 with HIs redemptive plan through the blood of Jesus Christ. When He spilled Jesus' blood on his threshold and invited us into His fellowship forever, there is no longer any condemnation for those who accept the invitation.

At 4/30/2007 3:59 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

I agree. Jesus came to initiate "new creation." All that was lost and cursed is being renewed to its original intent. Jesus' work was so much more than helping individuals "go to heaven when they die."

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