How should one respond to the statement, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”?
“What Good is a Woman Anyway?” is one of my first writing projects that I completed in 2009 while pastoring in the East Bay of California. Having at the time three daughters and the bride of all brides, I felt a deep concern for the way many in the church just rested in a “misogyny” toward the idea of women in leadership of any kind. It was a nasty reality that after 10 years of pastoral ministry, my wife finally admitted that she didn’t know how men could be so called of God and be so hateful toward women in the church. I agreed, so the book was mostly an effort to understand myself what God needed, wanted and required of me so that I could teach my daughters, (now have four), what God desired of them. The text in Galatians 3:28 is a strong contradiction to what many men do in practice in the local church.
Galatians 3:28 (ESV)
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
To begin, it must be understood that all syntax prepares one to invest in the meaning of text received from the context. Therefore, in the case of Paul’s letter to Galatia, his purpose in writing 3:28 is to inform his readers of their stature in the presence of God as their Father rather than their social stature in contrast to the Jews. For Jewish social order, anyone who was a gentile was considered a “dog”, unclean and unworthy of respect. (If you see Greek syntax and context in John 3, it is very evident in the rebuttal of Jesus toward Nicodemus’ worldview.) Therefore, Paul’s intent was to challenge the believers of all races, cultures, economical status, gender and the like to submit to the equality that comes in Christ. This doesn’t mean that roles and gender differences are eradicated and that now slaves are free or free men are slaves or men are really women and women are men etc. What it does communicate is that just as these Gentiles are no longer “dogs” but “heirs” in Christ just as any believing Jew, but so are the walls of separation in inequality or superiority removed because of the cross. It’s very akin to the prayer of the Jew in Luke’s gospel who thanked God he wasn’t a publican. Because of the gospel, there is no more superiority in gender, freedom, ownership or culture.
The occasion of Paul’s writing was to answer the heretical bend of the Jewish-Christian community who were requiring the Gentile believers to exercise the Jewish rites of circumcision as a means to full acceptance before God and man. So, Paul argues against it in every social sphere, in as much that he places the subordinate woman by class in equality with her male counterpart. If the context were not available, then the imprint of the purpose would not be reachable. So, a woman, though she is to submit to her husband in “all things” (Eph 5) is equal to her husband before God. In the same manner, the life of the church is fully available to all Christians, not just Jewish ones, or male ones or freed ones. One must note here though that our cultural blindness in present day lays over a latent smearing on the church of the first century. In other words, what is seen “among” the church today is often thought of when considering the first church when that is the furthest from the truth.
F. Bruce says it this way: “No more restriction is implied in Paul’s equalizing of the status of male and female in Christ than in his equalizing of the status of Jew and Gentile, or of slave and free person. If in ordinary life existence in Christ is manifested openly in church fellowship, then, if a Gentile may exercise spiritual leadership in church as freely as a Jew, or a slave as freely as a citizen, why not a woman as freely as a man?” (Bruce 1982:190).
So, the gender, race or freedom of a Christian does not give credence to their standing among the body or within it. More to the question then would be “then why does scripture teach that overseer is for men?” Because in Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul makes clear that the essence of the nuptial relationship between husband (head/Andros) and wife (gune, bride) is to portray the Gospel picture of Christ (the head of all things) laying down His life for the sake of His bride (the church He redeemed.) So then, marriage is not about man and woman but about Christ and the church. In this, the relationship between husband and wife does not become void in the context of roles in the home due to the equality of Christ.
I personally like to share it this way with my five children, four of whom are girls, “I am a shadow of a husband but am really a bride, I am a shadow of a shepherd (I am a pastor), but am really a sheep. So my “image” bearing in my role only points to the one who is the true in those roles.” I further explain this to them, “Your mother and I will be husband and wife until one of us dies, but we will always be brother and sister in Christ, eternally.” Therefore, just as men are to shepherd at home as “Andros”, head, they are given the same grave responsibility among the temporal season of the church in order that the role of Christ continues in the picture of the gospel. In eternity there will be one shepherd/teacher, Jesus, and one body, all who are in Christ. To flip this picture based on precepts of culture or “pretexts” is a very grave error. To consider a man more qualified for the role of overseer/pastor because he is male is a misnomer, it is because of the picture of the gospel.
So, coming to this:
1 Timothy 2:12 “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet.”
Sounds harsh because that’s how we want to hear it. However, when one looks again at the context of Paul’s writing to his protégé they will see the creation order in a manner expounding on the marriage creation. There is a direct order of the picture of the gospel in all of this and one must be very careful to understand it in that context. Let’s peel through it briefly. Ish (Adam) was created by God and it “was not good” that he was alone, so out of Adam came Eve (Ish-sha) for she was made from Adam. God put the two together and together they are good, apart they are not good. So, in the context of understanding the purpose of marriage when God gave the first bride to the first man, believers need to understand that the role and picture of creation was to establish God’s rule and wisdom over the wisdom of what He has made. (See Romans 1 and 1 Cor 1 for more details). God paints a glorious picture of teaching Adam (a created being) to obey who then was to teach Eve (a created being who completed Adam as ONE FLESH and made him whole) to obey God. Then Eve listened to the serpent instead of her husband who then allowed it without rebuke and all of humanity fell. So, the very first place in scripture when humanity failed to live as God intended them caused the fall of all humanity. It wasn’t because of their gender or their ability or worth (they are one flesh), but because of God’s wisdom and purpose in redemption and the picture of Christ.
The church is to always tenderly be the hopeful submissive wife to the Lord Jesus and in the same way; the marriage relationship depicts this, not with ruling authority, but with Christ like surrender and submission toward each other. So, in the church, Paul is saying in 1 Timothy 2:12 that he expects the roles of God’s creative wisdom to continue within the confines of the body of Christ in practice. That if each part does its part, then the body “Grows itself up in love” (Eph 4). Without it, the body becomes proud, disfigured and most importantly, unholy and non-glorifying to Her Husband.
A parting shot to the plow of this race should be to remember Christ’s words: The first shall be last and the last shall be first and that anyone who seeks to save his life will lose it but all who loses for the sake of the gospel will find it. Just as everyone among the body has different gifts, callings and offerings, there is equality all for the good of the church. When man begins to consider how best to manage God’s commands we miss out of the joy of knowing God’s wisdom who is Jesus Christ.