Catching up on the posts here, I noticed that Jessica recently referred to ‘churchianity’. It’s an interesting concept – and a useful one. One difficulty faced by anyone who values tradition is the question of how old that tradition is? The other question to ask is whether that tradition is more important to a person than the plain words of Scripture? These are hard questions to ask, and even harder to answer.
So, Jessica told us yesterday about the history of women deacons in the early Church, and entirely as she predicted, the comments were all about women priests. Here’s the puzzle to me – why the tremendous effort to either avoid dealing with her evidence, or to address its implications now? I say this knowing that I belong to a congregation which does not have female elders and has no intention of having them. But then we do not take a sacramental view of the role of the elder and base ourselves firmly on Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 2:8-15.
None of this is to deny women important roles in our church, but it is to say that the Bible imposes two restrictions on the ministry of women: they are not to teach Christian doctrine to men and they are not to exercise authority directly over men in the church. These restrictions are permanent, authoritative for the church in all times and places and circumstances as long as men and women are descended from Adam and Eve. If we look at 1 Timothy 2:11-12 we can see what Paul was getting at in terms of restrictions. He is all in favour of women learning, but not in favour of them teaching men or having authority over them. There is no restriction on women doing other things in the church, or even in leading Bible studies classes for the children, but we hold that the exercise of the authority of an elder is reserved to men.
We can, and many do, take the view that in such matters the Bible is culturally conditioned, but where does that end? It is precisely that argument which has been effective in overthrowing, for some, the clear Biblical prohibition of homosexual practice. If we want the church to be conformed to the world, then this is the way to go – though this is the opposite of what Paul says in Romans 12:2. Of course, it is more comfortable to ignore Paul – but he who wants comfort should not embrace the way of the Cross.
To conclude, no one is saying that women cannot teach men per se. To say that would be to make a nonsense of the many times we read of women giving men information they needed. So, it was not wrong for Rhoda to tell everyone that Peter was at the door (Acts 12:14). It was not wrong for women to relay commands to men (Matthew 28:10). It was not wrong for women to tell the apostles that the Lord had risen (Mark 16:9). It was not wrong for the Samaritan woman to tell people what Jesus had done (John 4:29). It was not wrong for Priscilla and Aquila to work together to teach Apollos (Acts 18:26). It was not wrong for Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:8-9) to tell their inspired messages to men. It was not wrong for a woman to teach her husband by example (1 Peter 3:1-2). Women were allowed certain sorts of teaching from women – but not that they should have the authority of an elder. The functions of authoritative teaching, rebuking and leadership of an elder were confined to men. That leaves much room for women, and I can see no reason why they cannot serve as deacons.