(Part 1 of this series on biblical femininity and church authority is here. This is part 2. Please take this with the grace and love I have intended it. I’ve written this in one draft, although years of study and a book have gone into it. Laugh with me as a friend when I laugh, draw near as I reflect, and let us grow to find the Word of God together. My only goal is our edification. As my brother Doy says, “Demsicks are only serious about two things — God and humor.”)
Thank you for following this series of Touchy Tuesday posts. I’ve received some worthwhile feedback in different areas of this series, and I want to thank those of you who have connected with me for doing so. As promised last week, I will wrap this series up in this post with an analysis of the peripheral passages on biblical femininity in church authority that often are made central to the debate.
Please remember this is not the slightest attempt at encompassing the inexpressible power of womanhood; it is only a defense of biblical church leadership based on our design, the DNA that runs through man and woman that began at Genesis. We want to remain true to that in every area of our lives, playing the part God designed for us there, that he’s chosen for the archetypes of man and woman. And that brings us to the family and the church. Really, as we’ll see today, the church is merely God’s family, a macrocosm of the family that fits perfectly as a reflection of what he intends as his model of masculinity and femininity in the little family, as well. Just as your relationship with your earthly father is a symbol that mirrors the relationship with your Heavenly Father, so your family is a symbol that mirrors your relationship with God’s family. This application should not escape us.
Unfortunately, a huge percentage of Christians have abandoned biblical church order to join with the self-actualization of the world on this topic (what you can do I can do better, the world cries!), while at the same time holding to those old, archaic biblical ideals in the family.
This is an incongruity that cannot be. You cannot hold one without the other. It is a logical fallacy — it is intellectually dishonest to believe in complementarianism in the family (which is at root an issue of our designs), but egalitarianism (while having that same design) in the church.
It is inherently flawed. I have no desire to offend — many Christians who are quite possibly better men and women than myself believe this (who am I to judge?). However, it is mine to point it out.
If you disagree, that’s okay. I welcome it. I expect it. I only ask for prayerful consideration. Let some of these ideas ruminate, and let them, upon reflection, help form the basis of your ideas about what God intends for men and women in the church (not what we think is possible to change!). I’m aware it’s hard to reconsider one’s assumptions and that what you believe at the beginning of this post you will likely believe at the end, but I ask you to consider.
And if we find nothing other is accomplished than we are better friends for the journey, it is a success. God will etch his Word on each of our hearts for his good purposes in His Good Time.
Let us begin.
My Mom Could Actually Be the Head of My Parents’ House. Who Knew??
Okay, so I am going to have a little fun with this. You can read pedantic, stuffy theologians on some other blog than a Fools one. Through the humor, don’t miss the analysis and logic of what follows. Do you mind if we have a laugh in the process of high level exegesis? You do? Hey, I can’t change tones on a dime here.
One of the weakest arguments I hear in support of women pastors is Priscilla. People claim Priscilla is an example of a woman pastor in the New Testament who trumps Paul’s instructions not to have women pastors.
I’m sure you’ve heard of her often. Just so you know, this is what the argument is based on:
[Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. (Acts 18.26)
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. (Romans 16.3)
The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house. (1 Cor. 16.19)
That’s it. The most common claim is that — and wait for this because you probably won’t believe it — Priscilla must have been a pastor because her name was listed before her husband Aquila more than he was before her. Really.
By that logic my Mom has been ruling the roost in our family since I was a young ‘un. Because I always say Mom and Dad. In fact, everyone I’ve ever met has said Mom and Dad. In double fact, I do not know a conservative Christian who says Dad and Mom when referring to his or her parents. We always use Mom and Dad, because it’s natural. It flows. We’re going to have a heck of a time in this Bible study if we’re going to redefine biblical precedent and overturn explicit commands to the contrary based on no more than that.
And they find more. Apparently, because Priscilla and her grammatically subsequent husband have a church that meets at their house, it means that they both pastor it. Once again, logical fallacy at its finest. This is a very poor conclusion. Finally, since Priscy and her hapless hubby pulled Apollos aside and explained to the new fiery convert the way of God better, that somehow implies something about authority in the organized church and authoritative, official church teachings (we know as sermons) being given by women. I’m going to be more careful in the future when my wife and I (there I go again with the careless noun ordering) have a friend over to dinner.
In reality, these situations imply nothing about church authority or who oversees spiritual discipleship in a church. They are common, indirect implications that do not at all say what some want them to say. Please do not believe them. You will fall for some of the weakest logical fallacies.
Mary’s Pony Express Becomes the New Testament’s First Sermon
If I joke just slightly on this one, it’s because I really do find it that funny and we have to laugh at ourselves. Stick around for the next point and we’ll get serious. It’ll be very interesting, as well.
When I first heard this argument, I literally thought it was a joke. I laughed at the punch line before realizing it was serious. I’ve heard this point one other time in a life of heavily researching this field and the ridiculousness of that one repetition in the church of the Living God puts it on the list here.
Here it is:
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20.17-18)
The argument is that when Mary Magdalene went to the disciples and told them she had seen Jesus and what he had said to her, she was preaching the first sermon after the resurrection. It actually goes that Jesus was commissioning her to preach the first sermon as a statement of the new covenant that would now allow for women pastors and preachers. I might have sprayed actual fluid on the book I was reading in laugher when I read that.
If we make these kinds of conclusions, we might as well take crazy pills. We don’t have hope of honestly reading the Word of God and obeying. We don’t have hope of reading. We should really start at Green Eggs and Ham and work our way up again. Something dreadfully important has eluded us in this process of reading comprehension when we construe Jesus sending a one line message to his friends (through a women he meets at the tomb) as a precedent for authoritative church teaching. There is no connection to a church context here, nor should it be added for our whim. Jesus sent Mary with a message. She didn’t get up and start a dissertation illumining the Scriptures to the disciples from Genesis and the prophets on. She didn’t speak for twenty to forty-five minutes exhorting them to repent while pressing in to the Spirit on how they were sinners in the hands of an angry God. She didn’t teach anything. Or preach. Or pastor.
There was no tent meeting. No church service. No organization of how she would fit on the church board because of her new enlightenment.
She told them that she’d seen Jesus at the tomb. She told them that he said he’d be ascending. There isn’t a spiritual veil being torn in the background about church authority. No sky growing dark and dead rising. If we try to apply this, there’s no wonder there are such disputes over what “the Bible tells me so.” We can’t read.
Look, the fundamental problem here, aside from people trying to stretch a verse to say what they want it to say that it clearly does not, is a crucial Bible interpretation mistake.
I’m realizing this is at the heart of most exegesis mistakes. When determining your beliefs on a given subject, you must — I repeat must — always use direct, specific commands first, then interpret indirect, vague stories or references in the light of them. You may never do the reverse. Most mistakes come from people taking a very indirect, unrelated verse to the topic they seek and assuming (logical fallacy) something about it, that they then use to trump specific commands that clearly refute it on the subject.
Taking Priscilla, who’s name appears a couple times before her husband (NOT, incidentally, in the one verse they are mentioned with the church that met at their home), or turning Mary into an itinerant preacher or head or assistant pastor because she relayed a message to Jesus’ friends, when Paul explicitly says women should give sermons and pastor (teach or exercise authority), is doing exactly that.
It’s throwing out the command and clinging to a very weak, illogical assumption. It’s a Bible interpretation error.
In reality, the only way to properly interpret any area of Scripture is to start with direct commands, then look at indirect references from that framework. We know Mary was just relaying a message, not setting church precendent, because of Paul’s commands about church authority. We know Priscilla and Aquila’s name order is incidental, not significant, and that the church was pastored by Aquila or another man because of Paul’s commands that men pastor (oversee). There are many other direct commmands, but this is the one and only way to interpret Scripture and walk away with truth rather than confirming our own assumptions.
It’s the only way to allow God to grow us in his Word rather than form him in our own image.
Any other way we order our analysis is in some degree selfish and self-serving, putting our own ideas, not God, on the throne.
If we do this in the area of women pastors, what right do we have to look down on the guy who points to Jesus saying “Love your neighbor” and claims Love Wins and the church should openly embrace homosexual lifestyles or free love in unmarried relationships? While ignoring clear New Testament biblical commands to the contrary.
These assumptions of biblical application while ignoring mandate really aren’t that different from this issue. What it really comes down to is — are we honest enough with ourselves to see it?
And we really want to know the truth, not just be right here, right?
What I’m talking about is an essential lesson in Bible reading and interpretation that will transform our ability to understand his truth in every area, not just this one. Please cling to this method of understanding Scripture. It will serve you in ways that give you great joy and wisdom in all your reading.
Junia, Outstanding Among the Gender Neutral
“Greet… Junia… outstanding among the apostles.” (Rom. 16.7) Not a woman. Not a man. It’s a lot like a Pat. We don’t know. Before listening to an argument that the feminine suffix means he/she/it is a woman and this has anything to do with biblical femininity, realize this: no one knows (experts disagree whether this was a man or woman) and there’s nothing that indicates Paul means this person was leading churches anyway. Again, are we really going to throw away direct mandates and high reading lexile passage scores for what amounts to an unknown person with no known job duties named Pat not leading a church?
Baby Got Barak (Ma’am Mix A Lot)
Here is where I promised it would get interesting. I’m not going to joke here, because I think missing the context of this passage is very easy to understand. I’m talking about Deborah.
Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’”
Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”
“Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.”
This is the only passage we have about Deborah and her time with the Israelites. Do you see what the theme is? The point? It is not that a woman was leading. It is not only that Deborah was awesome (she was!). The theme, when one reads carefully, is that the men of that time, specifically one whom God called, would not lead courageously.
The end of the story hits this home. The point of this story is a curse. That because Barak, the king, was afraid to lead Israel in battle without a woman, the glory would go to a woman. This is meant to be a shameful thing, and a lesson not just to Barak but to all men who won’t lead.
For some reason, this crucial theme is overlooked whenever those who want to prove women should pastor point to Deborah. And this is the only story the Bible reveals about her. That is not invalidating her significance. Deborah was a strong, godly woman whom the nation depended on. My Mom was named after her. I don’t dishonor her in any way. I revere her, as I do my Mom. But we should not let this crucial message of the story elude us.
It also shows that women should step up when men won’t lead; it is not a shameful thing for them to do so. It is just a shame to the men. Someone must do it.
But we cannot look at Deborah without seeing even her through the lens of 1 Timothy, Titus, 1 Corinthians, and so many explicit commands on how spiritual authority should work. Remember, Deborah’s story is just that. It is, in many ways, an indirect, vague application of a principle about female leadership, because we do not know all the circumstances surrounding her story. That is the problem with assuming about a story or references without looking at it through biblical mandate. We come out with conclusions that look like our assumptions, not like God’s intent of the passage.
But now, in case you doubt how I am applying this passage, I’m going to connect a biblical insight I have never heard unveiled here, but that God showed me a couple years ago in my study.
About this time period, during which Israel fell into many years of disobedience and denial of God before the Savior’s restoration, Isaiah revealed a specific lament that makes the interpretation I’ve analyzed through New Testament mandates irrefutable:
Jerusalem staggers, Judah is falling… youths oppress my people, women rule over them. My people, your guides lead you astray; they turn you from the path. (Isaiah 3.8,12)
I am not saying Deborah led the people astray. That would be incorrect and illogical. But what is revealed here is a key principle of biblical church leadership (or in the Old Testament, nation). It is backwards for youths to lead the people. And for women to lead them. Isaiah says this explicitly, plain as day.
And Deborah’s story must be interpreted, along with Paul, in light of this. God never intended women or youths to rule the people, in this case a woman to have to rule. The verse says that. But, in Deborah’s story, when no man will step up and lead, which we can now infer from actual biblical mandate from the New Testament and principle revelation from that time period (Isaiah), a godly woman who reveres God in her heart should stand up and do it. Deborah does so, marvelously, to her eternal credit and to God’s glory, and she is honored for it. Praise be to God!
But we can also understand what God intends his men to do, instead of Barak and Israel’s Boys™ at the same time, which is lead like men. The curse at the end of Barak’s story reinforces it.
We need godly women like Deborah and my Mom, but we also need godly men — and to not misplace their purpose in the Body.
The Little and Big Family of God — Making Sense of It All
When I was writing Breathing In and Breathing Out, God inspired me to notice a connection in his requirements for church overseers (pastors, board members, vestry members, etc.) that helps make sense of it all.
It connects the loose ends for those who don’t see that the same pattern in the family of leadership has to be the pattern in the church because our design at the root of men’s and women’s natures stays the same in both.
This connection struck me as crucial, yet unnoticed.
God’s requirement states,
He (the overseer) must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) (1 Timothy 3.4-5)
What I realized is this — the big family of God is just a promotion for a successful leader of a little family (yours). It is the natural progression of leadership that God intends. He takes men who pastor their little families well, and he gives them the church, his big one.
It is the principle of being faithful with little in one family and being given much in another.
God takes men who pastor their families well, and he promotes them to pastor the family of God.
It would be illogical and fundamentally flawed for God to take people who aren’t pastors of their family, who do not have experience overseeing the overall spiritual discipleship there (which no orthodox Christian disagrees a man is called to do in his family), and give that person the greater responsibility of the spiritual discipleship of the church.
The world does not work that way. And this requirement of pastors shows the church does not, either.
Yet that is what we are advocating we do with women.
As an aside, I find myself sometimes in situations in which women I know pastor churches and yet, when we share a meal, defer to me to lead the prayer. They know from something inside them hinting at God’s design that we are meant to function that way. That there is something God-honoring and glorious when we assume his roles and fall naturally in step in them in obedience.
There is something satisfying to the soul when we do. And in the context of those meals, it nudges these women to do so, in the way they know deep down is archetypical. Is godly.
And yet, though they naturally defer to a man’s spiritual leadership in that practical, organic, small context, they take over in the overall, more important, big church one. Do we see something is missing here? That something is different from how God intends it to be?
I hope at the end of this you do.
It’s okay if you disagree. But I ask you to analyze your heart and your true influences in seeing it if you do. And what God most clearly has to say on the subject, not what we can defend or how we can make an argument.
But what He — God alone — is most clearly saying.
Because if we find it, if we seek to truly understand what God is saying and not what we want Him to or the way we’ve been shaped by culture to hear Him, if we find it echoes that whisper of God calmly beckoning in the quiet of our hearts and the simple, organic, small moments in which we see men and women most naturally interact, we’ll hear what He is saying indeed.
And it won’t really suprise us. It’ll be a message he’s written on our hearts all along.