Friday, May 16, 2014

Empathy Without Sympathy--A Musing On Women Pastors

Can the Lord call a woman into pulpit ministry? I'd say no, based on the assurance that He can neither lie nor contradict His Word. Sure, I can understand how a woman may feel gifted in ways that indicate a call to pastoral ministry, since I have sometimes considered myself to possess such gifts (except for my speech defect). I empathize with women who sincerely believe they have much to offer as pastors.

But empathy doesn't entitle me to redesign Scriptures so that they accommodate a woman's erroneous perception of God's call on her life. As a matter of fact, my personal struggle regarding this issue, and my subsequent submission to God's Word, qualifies me to tell my sisters that the "call" they feel doesn't come from the Holy Spirit who inspired Paul to write:

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. ~~1 Timothy 2:8-15 (ESV)

And no, I don't believe verse 15 connects eternal salvation with the ability to physically reproduce, since many other Scriptures clearly base that salvation on Christ's shed blood. The Believer's Bible Commentary offers excellent insight into this verse.

 This is one of the most difficult verses in the Pastoral Epistles, and many explanations have been offered. Some think that it is a simple promise from God that a Christian mother will be saved from death in the physical act of childbearing. However, this is not always true, because some godly, devoted Christians have died in the act of bringing life into the world. Others think that childbearing (literally, “the childbearing”) refers to the birth of the Messiah, and that women are saved through the One who was born of a woman. However, this scarcely seems to satisfy the sense of the passage, since men are saved in the same way. No one could reasonably suggest that the verse means that a woman receives eternal salvation by virtue of becoming a mother of children; this would be salvation by works, and works of a most unusual nature!
We would suggest the following as the most reasonable interpretation of the passage. First of all, salvation in this context does not refer to the salvation of her soul, but rather to the salvation of her position in the church. From what Paul has just said in this chapter, the impression might arise in the minds of some that the woman has no place in God's purposes and counsels; she is reduced to a nonentity. But Paul would dispute this claim. Although it is true that no public ministry in the church is assigned to her, she does have an important ministry. God has decreed that woman's place is in the home, and more specifically in the ministry of raising children for the honor and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Think of the mothers of the leaders in the Christian church today! These women never mounted a public platform to preach the gospel, but in raising their children for God, they have been truly saved as far as position and fruitfulness for God are concerned.
Lilley writes:
She shall be saved from the results of sin and be enabled to maintain a position of influence in the Church by accepting her natural destination as a wife and mother, provided this surrender is further ratified by bringing forth the fruit of sanctified Christian character.
It may be asked at this point: “What about those women who never marry?” The answer is that in this passage God is dealing with women in general. The majority of Christian women do marry and bear children. As far as the exceptions are concerned, there are many other useful ministries committed to them and yet which do not involve public teaching or having authority over men.
Note the qualifying clause at the end of verse 15: She will be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control. It is not exactly an unconditional promise. The thought is that if the husband and wife maintain a consistent Christian testimony, honor Christ in the home, and raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, then the woman's position will be saved. But if the parents live careless, worldly lives, and neglect the training of their children, then these children may be lost to Christ and the church. In such a case, the woman does not achieve the true dignity which God has ordained for her.
Let no one think that because woman's ministry is private and in the home that it is any less important than that which is more public. It has been truly said: “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” In a coming day, at the Judgment Seat of Christ, it is faithfulness that will count, and this is something which can be exhibited in the home as well as in the pulpit.
Not exactly the mindset of post-modern churches who would manipulate God's Word into conformity with current culture! But perhaps that attempted manipulation is precisely the problem. If a woman will employ all sorts of hermeneutical gymnastics to justify her pastoral position, should  a congregation trust her to properly handle the rest of God's Word? If she so willfully disobeys the Bible's teaching, how can she serve as an example?

Don't make it an issue of gender equality. Rather, keep in mind that all legitimate Christian ministry must uphold the authority of Scripture. While I very much empathize with women who wish they could be pastors, I have no sympathy for those who ride roughshod over God's Word just to pursue a career goal. I pray that women might delight in gender-appropriate ways of serving the Lord, trusting His ability to use their gifts in ways that glorify Him.

1 comment:

  1. This is Karen again, I guess I am kind of on the fence on this one. But the text you used literally argues for being saved through childbirth and there are other scriptures like DEBORAH who are women leaders and Percilla who taught Paul. So to sweep away the gold, pearls and childbirth as NOT literal but the preaching must apply to now seems a bit unfair, I'm good if you want to take it all, no gold, no braids and have some kids and your good...but this text is very strange and needs to be considered within the context of that time, I believe in infallible word of God, and am not totally for women pastors but THIS text is too complex to make your argument a slam dunk. And I would like to add that for centuries the only women preaching and teaching the lost tribes of Africa have many times been women as men haven't unreached tribes need to wait for a man to preach to them to hear the good news? It's in foreign mission that my heart is challenged by the "places" for women. Dare I say women's roles and social change are making this one harder to take literally. I'm not a theologian but these are things I too am challenged by. I don't think I'd be comfortable with a lead pastor as a woman...but it's good food for thought, thanks for sharing your thoughts:)


Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post! I'd love feedback, as long as you attach a name. Disagreement is fine, as long as it is presented respectfully. Please keep comments confined to a maximum of four short paragraphs. Sorry for making to do the Word Verification, but I've been getting too much spam.


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