It does not take long, letting your fingers do the walking for you, to find many think pieces on how the church needs a vision for men. I also find it ironic, but telling, that the ones who do offer just such a vision are greeted with shrieks of dismay. The problem brought into specific relief by this is that in order for men to actually lead, the women who have been doing so either overly or covertly will have to give up their acquired power and, horror of horrors, submit. Terms like servant leader are bandied about with the emphasis being on servant but not so much leader. Add to that any time plain texts are presented to prove out that women preaching, being called pastor, or an elder are sin things like nuance, hermeneutics, word studies, and meta narrative suddenly bubble up to cloud all that clarity. And to make sure that you stay down, you are kindly reminded that you don’t want to be dogmatic, legalistic, or puritanical.
Well I will take two of those gladly, and I can handily disprove legalism, by appealing to Scripture. If I may paraphrase a great reformer and a great comic:
“How often must I cry out to you stupid egalitarians to obey Scripture some time! Scripture, Scripture, Scripture, you blind goat and deaf ass!” – Martin Luther
But we began by talking about the need for a vision, specifically a vision for women to embrace with obedience. And as I consider this the first obstacle is simply to admit that it is difficult to cast anything inspiring about what appears to be doing nothing. If I had more time, and I still may, I would look into the speeches of Fabian perhaps there was a way he got his troops to keep morale high during all that retreating. Or to use a secular example one politician (I can’t remember who) said something along the lines of “Black lives matter is a more inspiring message than don’t tread on me.” One pushes a cause the other is just communicating leave me alone. It’s a little hard to rally around people who want to have slow to no progress when people with a passionate cause are waving a flag. Or as one t-shit put it, “Introverts Unite! Individually.”
With the task set before me, I now will attempt it.
You are not Told the Middle of your Story
When Christ willingly went to the cross his disciples had a total meltdown. They fled, hid in upper rooms, chopped off ears, denied knowing Jesus, John may have even lost his pants at one point. They were, to put it kindly, a hot mess. And this was all in spite of the fact that Jesus had repeatedly told them the end of the story. He would die and rise again. He even told them the very end though numerous parables that this all ends in glory. He didn’t fill in the intervening details, and they were clearly not up to putting all the pieces together. Now you may say, “But we have the Holy Spirit and they didn’t.” True, which makes our shenanigans today even more embarrassing. We are told the end of our story, we will pass into glory. But we are not told the middle. We are, like the disciples, given instructions and principals. And we, like the disciples, are pretty poor at putting pieces together. One evidence of that is in how we try to weasel out of angular texts that upend our comfortable cultural moment.
Simply put the Church is an embassy of another greater kingdom. We are citizens and representatives of the Kingdom of God. And we are also an enemy embassy. Like the British consulate in Berlin in 1942. It may not look like we are winning but stiff upper lip chaps Our Man in London is about to do something bloody spectacular. We are to stand out, we are to appear different from the rest of the culture. We behave differently, we have a different law we are to obey. And it may feel awkward to do so, but that doesn’t matter, we serve a different king. It is our job to stand out, even when we don’t fully understand why. What is before us is the word of the King and we are pretty poor representatives if we twist his words to appease the enemy. Or worse if the appointed representatives abdicate to their opinionated staff who think they have a better view of how to handle this present situation.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:1-2
Restrictions Guide to Greatness
There is an obvious difference in the quality of the Original Star Wars films when compared against the prequel trilogy. The obviously better films were the originals and much of that greatness is bound up the the fact that George Lucas was forced to be more creative and original. He constantly had a studio breathing down his neck keeping the budget in check. He did not have free reign and he didn’t like it. On the prequels he had no such restrictions, and well we got brilliant romance dialogue like, “I hate the sand, it’s corse and rough, and it gets everywhere…” We don’t always know what restrictions are for, they seem like a trial, but they do build us up. Consider had Lucas not been told his script for a New Hope was awful (by Francis Ford Coppola) and to hire a screen writer who knew what they were doing; would we have the cultural touchstone we do today?
Is it possible that God, in His infinite knowledge and wisdom, knew what he was doing when He had Paul write the prohibitions on women speaking in the worship service? Is it possible that when He makes the point that a people ruled by women are under judgement, and then illustrates that several times in the Old Testament that He had a good point to make about how He designed this world and people? Is it possible that God knew what He was doing, and we do not, neither what He is up to, or even what we are about? Or as I am always putting it to my students, “At some point you have to decide for yourself, when God wrote down His Word, did He mean it, or was it for kicks and giggles?”
I rarely see articulated in the debate over women preaching or being elders the idea that maybe just maybe God has an eternity in mind. And lets just be honest any pastor worth their salt will tell you the half life of their sermon is, the parking lot. Sure they are up front, they get seen by everyone, they can manipulate things to become a micro celebrity if they want. But the sermon is a part of their ministry. They are a shepherd, the sermon is the staff that gets the sheep’s attention, but the wound binding, the going after the strays, the guarding the flock is the unappreciated hard work. The glory of a great sermon happens on this side of eternity, the crown of faithfulness is on the other.
Again God did not say women should be homeward, and forbid them from preaching or being an elder out of cruelty. He had a glorious other plan. Lewis may have been on to something with the woman with all the spiritual children that he witnesses in The Great Divorce.
“Only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.
“Is it?…is it?” I [Lewis] whispered to my guide.
“Not at all,” said he [George MacDonald]. “It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”
“She seems to be…well, a person of particular importance?”
“Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”
“And who are these gigantic people…look! They’re like emeralds…who are dancing and throwing flowers before here?”
“Haven’t ye read your Milton? A thousand liveried angels lackey her.”
“And who are all these young men and women on each side?”
“They are her sons and daughters.”
“She must have had a very large family, Sir.”
“Every young man or boy that met her became her son – even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.”
“Isn’t that a bit hard on their own parents?”
“No. There are those that steal other people’s children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives.” – C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
What eternal impact that was intended by God for many women has been aborted on the alter of pride? God has made women for something, it is arrogance to assume that He was wrong. Our present culture does not honor God’s design, and it would appear that neither does God’s church.
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” – James 3:1 (emphasis added)
Ye of Little Faith
It is not time for me to bring together these desperate threads and bring to bear some razor sharp clarity. The debate over women in ministry is ultimately summed up is being a lack of faith. The texts are plain, it takes a goodly amount of theological gymnastics to explain them away. I can also allow for there being a few who are genuinely convinced, be we should be honest and admit they are deceived. They have bought a lie. But in general what we are looking at is an idol that must be destroyed and it can only be done by strong men who will not only knock over the statue, but also cut down the grove. It is time to admit that we have cherry picked our obedience, both to God and to culture. And serving two masters never ends well. One master leads to destruction, the other to life. The vision for obedience is simply what the Scriptures and the Church have called for from the beginning. Just like in the garden we live in a world of yes with the no’s very closely guarded. Women preaching or being elders is one of those no’s. And like Eve there is a laser like focus on that any why it is unfair. Women in ministry is the same lie from Genesis 3, “God is keeping something from you, grasp it grab it, seize it by your own power you deserve it and you will be like God deciding what is good and evil.”
People like to make a lot of hay over this is a debatable issue. It is not a first tier gospel issue they say. We don’t have to divide over it. And in a sense that is correct, we don’t divide, we discipline. And if the sin is not repented of, we don’t divide, the sinner was not one of us to begin with, they are sent out and evangelized like an unbeliever. The reason we have this debate is not because Scripture is unclear. We have it because we did not adhere to Scripture to begin with. We have it because we didn’t preach a Biblical vision for women and stick to it, no matter what.
I teach a song to preschoolers that we all should memorize:
Obedience is The very best way To show that you believe O.B.E.D.I.E.N.C.E.