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Women…know your role!

February 4, 2010 Leave a comment

It would seem since the inception of time, women have been fighting an uphill battle in regard to the status of their equality and value as compared with that of men. From some of the earliest and most circulated texts that pervade the world today, such as the Old Testament, people of the modern era are able to look back through time to see how women in society have been treated for millennia. Startlingly, the discriminatory attitudes that women face today are strikingly similar to the struggles that women have faced for centuries.

One of the most difficult issues presently confronting women is exemplified within the prejudicial attitudes that their male counterparts hold.  This attitude is expressed in the worlds of business, education, and even faith. For centuries women have been trying to break free from the mold cast for them by historical precedence, but, thus far, have been unable to shrug off the stigma assigned to them. In order to better understand the fight that women face today, it is prudent to look into the roots of the gender bias that women endure.

The nocent feelings that men have toward women are not a new development in the human saga. In fact, they extend back to the first instances of recorded history with biblical and other ancient subjugation of women. It would seem that many of the beliefs that carry into today sprout from the ideas of the religious hierarchy that used to institute the majority of the governing policy. This is an observable characteristic in many of the cultures of the world, but specifically, in medieval Europe, the church was able to set policies that even kings had to follow. After the Catholic Church came to prominence, the clergy had the power to leverage their disdain against a particular group and the target of their wrath was often women. It was their prerogative to keep women in the category of substandard citizen.

It was in this light that women developed their identity. In medieval times, women were seen as property and vessels for childbirth. Their role revolved around caring for the home and the children while the man of the household was responsible for providing an income and protection for the household. The overwhelming perception of women was one of a weak gender prone to sin. These women were forced to repress many of the feelings and desires that they had in the interest of pleasing societal standards. A woman had to be extremely conscientious of her public image in order to maintain the honor of the household.

In many ways, the overall identity and perception of women has not changed over the centuries. Society’s view of a woman’s role is primarily that of a wife and mother. In today’s economy, however, the overwhelming majority of women have to work outside the home in addition to shouldering the burden of the traditional duties generally associated her role.

It is interesting to note some of the fictitious women who were depicted in the literature of the medieval period because they defied the social norm, being strong and independent and even dabbling in sexual promiscuity. This dichotomy is baffling to modern historians. However, many women in today’s literature are presented in a similar manner. The difference lies within the woman’s ability to actually embody the fictitious roles that are being written about in today’s literature. Of course there were strong women in the past, but a woman’s strength is accepted more readily today as opposed to that strength being repressed centuries ago. There are many instances that persist into today where women are bottled into traditional roles and repressed, but society has moved forward leaps and bounds in comparison to other times in history.

Unfortunately, many times in today’s society a woman’s worth is still determined by whom she chooses to marry. A fundamental difference of marriage today and marriage in earlier periods of history has to do with a woman’s right to freely choose whom she wants to marry. In times passed, it was imperative for a family to present an acceptable dowry─ which is money, goods, or estate that a woman presents to her husband to be prior to marriage─ in order to ensure that the woman would marry well and be taken care of for the remainder of her life. Many things regarding marriage have changed, but one social stigma remains. A woman is still judged on how “well” she marries. This is less prominent and given much less consideration in today’s society, but the fact remains that she will always be judged on how “good” her man is. This is highly unjust, but it is just reality.

Women in society today retain many of the traditional roles that they have served in times passed; however, in most cases, women must take on many other roles in addition to the “traditional” roles that a woman is expected to fill. Many of the stigmas from centuries passed also persist into today, but, overall, women have moved from a second-class status of simple property and into a realm where they are mostly respected for the amazing gifts and perspective that they bring into every situation in which they choose to take part. True equality might not be a thing of the present yet, but a time is coming when gender will no longer matter and only the ideas and abilities that an individual brings to a situation will be valued.

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Part Two: Women elders in a Baptist Church?

November 4, 2009 1 comment

QuestionsIf you missed my post from yesterday, you probably should go back and review what was stated there as this will make absolutely zero sense unless you have the background of where I am coming from and the restructure that my church is currently instituting.

When we left off yesterday, I was just beginning to probe the difference between practical and spiritual leadership within the body of the church. Both of these functions are fundamental to the responsibilities of the elder body, however, many times, deacons are responsible for the day-to-day service opportunities within the church while elders are mainly focused on the spiritual leadership and teaching the Word within the body.

Through the course of my study, I have also stumbled upon several elder led churches utilizing female deacons, but this seems suspect based upon the same qualification to be the husband of one wife that is set forth in 1 Tim 3:12 for the deacon body. However, in 1 Tim 3:11 the word “wives” can be, instead, interpreted as “women.” Therefore, this may lead the reader to believe that there are two separate sets of requirements for male and female deacons. Some scholarly debate centers around the question of whether or not women can operate as deacons in a different capacity apart from male deacons. I can speculate that perhaps the qualifications in verse 11 were related to the serious issues plaguing women at that time within the culture, but I honestly do not know with any certainty that this is the case.

It would seem, if there is no clear divide in verse 11 to apply those qualifications to specifically to women serving in a deacon role, then the passage is meant for the wives of deacons and not for female deacons. This leads my thinking process in two starkly different directions.

The first direction is that women cannot serve in traditional deacon or elder offices. This is strangely refuted when Phoebe is called a deacon, but it may be that she was a servant to the body as a deacon would be, not necessarily serving in the actual office role of a deacon. Basically this means that she would fulfill the same role as a male deacon but not holding the actual title of deacon.

In my discussion this week with a good friend, she stated that seemed to be pretty unfair to be able to do all the work, but not hold the title. I tend to agree with her, but I also know that God is not fair. Rather, He is just. I also know that our eternal reward is not based upon what titles that we attain in life, so I think that this argument is fairly meaningless when applying an eternal focus on our lives and service. When we begin to base our ministry on titles, we become more and more like the Pharisee sporting our wide phylacteries and reveling in our conceited positions of power at the head of the banquet table. We cannot forget the simple purpose for which we are placed on Earth. To glorify God, and to encourage and support others. Period. When we lose sight of that, we turn our backs from the true heart of God.

The second direction that my brain takes me is one that lends itself to the establishment of women elders. If women can serve as deacons in the traditional role with the qualification of “being the husband of one wife,” then it would seem that they could serve in an elder role as well. There is a biblical precedence for a woman to be a deacon, and if that is in the traditional capacity, disregarding a possible split at 1 Tim 3:11 between the male and female qualifications to be a deacon, then it would seem that there would be nothing to hold them back from being elders. I just don’t know how the requirement to be  “the husband of one wife” is ignored in that case.

Another argument that was brought forward was that the reader must consider the audience. It was stated that the letters of Timothy were possibly directed at a group of men; therefore, there needed to be no consideration for women. If what I garner from the first verse of the book, Timothy was written specifically to Timothy with instructions on how to run the church. It was not directed at a group of men. It was directed at one man with the qualifications that Paul himself used to choose elders within different congregations. I believe that Paul was attempting to teach Timothy on the proper way to choose elders from the body. I believe that he was attempting to accomplish the same goal in Titus, as Titus had taken over the leadership for a Cretian congregation.

I believe Jesus was a champion for women. I know that He respected their time, talent, and treasure. Some of the most amazing examples of biblical worship come from women. Some of Jesus’ closest companions were women. Jesus came to champion the plight of the socially downtrodden, and women were seen as second-class citizens during that time. He came and obliterated many social and cultural stigmas within the Jewish culture. However, when Christ chose the twelve who were set apart, He only chose men. I do not know what significance that this has, but I do believe that there is some significance attached to the reason behind who he chose. He picked several other socially outcast persons to become members of the twelve. Why didn’t he choose a woman? Was it a cultural stigma or was he setting forth a specific model to be followed?

I wholly believe that women can teach, but I am having a hard time with their placement in a position of spiritual authority over a man. I want to fully endorse women eldership with all my heart because some of the most amazing and valuable people who have guided my spiritual development have been women, but I have to be able to support myself with the Word, not personal experience. The Word seems to lend itself to male leadership.

The final argument that I was presented with centers around the cultural consideration of the Jews at the time. That if women cannot be in authority, then they may not wear jewelry or braid their hair as Paul forbids these. The heart of this passage of scripture, however, calls women to live modestly as all Christians are called to be of good moral fiber and to be good stewards of the resources that God has given to each of us. There is another passage stating that women should be silent. As far as this is concerned, a more accurate translation of the word silence would be settled, which seems to reassert Paul’s call for women to be submissive (not as a slave).

I have also thought through the cultural considerations, but I think that changing our doctrine just for the sake of being different or culturally relevant can start us down a dangerous path. The Church needs to be relevant, but I think that we must be truly careful about change that is based on culture and that cannot be fully endorsed by the word of God.

This is all a big mess in my head at the moment, but clarity is slowly coming as I hash this out with my friend the doctor and my spiritual wise counsel. As I stated previously, I actually lean more in the direction of allowing women to take part in the eldership of the church, but I must have the Word to stand on.

I appreciate you reading. If you have any discussion that you would like to add, feel free to light up the comments. Plan to see some follow-up on this in the very near future as I work this out in my head and come to a definite conclusion of where I stand regarding this issue.

All for His glory.

Jeremy

Women Elders in a Baptist Church?

November 3, 2009 1 comment

Questions...Let me begin this post by stating a few of my beliefs outright. I am not sexist. I believe that women are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do amazing things just as men are. I love women and believe that they have much to offer the church. The church has been missing out on women’s amazing gifting by misrepresenting the idea of submission within the body of Christ and reducing their ministry to that of solely children’s ministry regardless of the woman’s particular gifting.

My wife is one of the most amazing spirit-filled people who I have had the pleasure of knowing. It has been an amazing joy to minister with her and several other amazing women that I have been privileged to serve with in the past. So, I do have a strong background of taking part in ministry with women; however, this post is directed at exploring women in a position of spiritual leadership over a church.

I do not know exactly how I feel about all of this. I am just presenting the facts that I possess and what I believe scripture says. I am currently corresponding with a man who has his doctorate in the early church and working through this issue in my own head as well. Now for a bit of background.

My church is currently undergoing a restructure of the way that we conduct the general business. This encompasses our spiritual leadership and our practical leadership. What we have gleaned thus far from scripture is that there is no necessarily wrong or right way to do church government.

I do attend a Southern Baptist church (although we are the most non-Baptist, Baptists that you will ever meet) and the traditional governing body within a Southern Baptist church is the congregation. Business is conducted through business meetings (YUCK!) and congregational vote. This style of government is not scriptural. It is not necessarily wrong, but it is definitely abiblical.

Through our study, we have determined that an elder body is the scriptural model for government that Paul initiates during his travels and later gives specific instructions to Timothy and Titus regarding the selection and function of elders. As the restructuring process has continued, we have called several key Baptist beliefs into question that we are looking into the scripture behind these long-lived traditions. We are not necessarily looking to destroy tradition for the sake of destroying tradition, but we do want to our governmental structure and our core beliefs to line up solely with scripture and not worn out, unnecessary tradition.

That being said, we are looking into installing women as elders. This concept is not accepted within the Baptist denomination, but I have never been a huge fan of denomination anyway. As my study of the scripture in the original language continues, I have one main issue that I cannot seem to get over. Where is the scriptural justification for women filling the elder role within the body of Christ?

The thing that I can’t seem to get passed is the passage of scripture where the requirement is set forth to be the husband of one wife. Even in the Greek, this means a “man of one woman” or a “one woman man.” Perhaps there some  language syntax that I am missing, or there an alternate translation, or a cultural consideration that I am unaware of that would allow a woman to step into an elder role. However, if this scripture is taken literally, this would totally disqualify women from eldership as they cannot be  “one woman men.”

I know that Phoebe and her patronage in Corinth is often discussed as a key marker for this issue, but I don’t know if what is stated within Romans 16 conclusively proves that she was a governing elder within the church as her scope of ministry is not discussed in detail. The research that I have seen regarding Greek patronage in the time period where Phoebe would have been active leads me to believe that, while we can rest assured that she did act as the patron for a church in Corinth using her social and political power to further the body, it is possible that she held no official office within the church. This specifically came from a parallel of Junia Theodora.

This is not the Junia found in Romans 16. She was a patron for the Lycian immigrants coming into Corinth at the same time that Phoebe was acting as patron for one of the house churches in Corinth. Phoebe and Junia probably knew each other, or at the very least, knew of each other. Evidence of her patronage was unearthed in the 1950s during an archeological dig. While she undoubtedly wielded her political and social power for the betterment of the Lycian immigrants, there is no evidence that supports her holding a specific office, civic or otherwise.

It is almost assured that Phoebe applied practical leadership within the church, as they were most likely meeting in her home, but the question is, did she give spiritual leadership? I know that elders, traditionally, are in place to apply practical and spiritual leadership, but the most important function of the elder body is to set the spiritual vision for the church and then make sure that the congregation is in line with and pursuing the vision that God has given to the body. Did Phoebe assist in this? Did she help to direct the practical day-to-day business of the church? If so, does this make her an elder in spiritual leadership or does it specifically make her a deacon, as stated in Romans 16, serving the body?

This is just one of the concerns of scripture that I have been dealing with regarding this issue. There are several more, but I will tackle those tomorrow as this post has really taken on a life of its own. If you can’t tell, I have a really hard time telling any story or academic musing with a truly concise presentation. I like to hear all sides of every issue, so I present as many sides as I possibly can to you.

I hope that you enjoyed the read and will tune in tomorrow for more follow-up on this issue that has been dividing brothers and sisters for many years. Tomorrow, I will present several of the other arguments that have surfaced during the course of my study and what I believe scripture says regarding these issues. Feel free to comment if you have anything to add to this discussion. I am seeking clarity for this issue within my own brain as well. Thanks for your time!

All for His glory.

Jeremy