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Women in Ministry: A Shock

I have long been an advocate of the full involvement of women, indeed of all people in the ministry of the church. It is the essence, I believe, of gifts based ministry. If you believe that the Holy Spirit gives gifts for service, and then you deny the use of those gifts to certain members who have them based on race or gender (amongst other things), then I believe you are flying in the face of the very concept of spiritual gifts.

In fact, to deny the work–any of the work–of the Holy Spirit in certain members of the body of Christ, is a step along the road toward blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Such denial is to say that the Holy Spirit has gifted and chosen someone, but you know better. If it is now “Christ living in us” rather than us living our own life, how is it that you justify making these distinctions. The clear trajectory of scripture is toward erasing such boundaries.

(26) You’re all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. (29) For as many as have been baptized into Christ are wearing Christ as a garment. (28) There is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. — Galatians 3:26-28

I know many deride the idea of trajectories as being too loose a form of interpretation, allowing people to go anywhere they please. But with such a clear destination point for the trajectory as that, how can we possibly miss the trajectory? There had to be a difference in Paul’s churches between Jews and Greeks because of the culture. That was the one element he personally fought in his lifetime. Slave and free took somewhat longer. Male and female is one that we’re looking for today. But I think that God’s desire, God’s goal for all his children has been plain to see all along.

God doesn’t like his children lording it over one another.

I have taught this repeatedly. Authority, especially spiritual authority, is dangerous. You create the potential for abuse as soon as you place them in charge and insulate them in any way from accountability. This is true in the home when a man is made “head of household” answering only to God, with his wife answering to him. It is true when one of the church offices is placed above all others. There are a number of teachers who emphasize that the pastor is the final authority in the church and insulate him from challenges because one cannot touch God’s anointed. But all of these options fly directly in the face of the gifts teaching of 1 Corinthians 12-14. God gives the gifts as he wills. They are all important, they are all needed in the church. None of them are to make one of us Lord over another. To fail to recognize this will ultimately result in abuse. If you’re teaching it, though you may not be abusing anyone yourself, you’re opening the door.

I come to this position from an entirely positive point of view. My mother was a professional woman, a Registered Nurse who worked in missions with my father, who taught and led in churches. My father was an MD who did much less public speaking than my mother, and yet was behind her all the way. So I grew up with the idea that a woman could be strong and could take a leadership role. Similarly, I married a woman who is a spiritual leader, and is also a Registered Nurse. We sometimes teach as a team, and people are blessed by the different perspectives on the same subject we offer. The positive feedback on those sessions reinforces my belief in ministry.

This morning when I looked over the blogs I normally read, I found Suzanne McCarthy’s entry at Better Bibles Blog. Suzanne has arrived at similar positions to my own, as far as I can see from reading her blog entries, but now I know that she got there the hard way. It is one thing to know that there are potential problems. It is another to have the testimony that such things are real. It is important, however, because people will avoid the danger signs as much as possible. Just as the church has avoided the issue of giving equal weight and authority to women for two millenia, so humanity in general will avoid the idea of giving up their improper authority over others. As my wife frequently says, Denial is not just a river in Egypt.

The rest of us would like to pretend these things don’t really happen, that it’s all just theory. Theory is nice, when you can avoid watching it play out in practice. But there is no such thing as “good in theory, bad in practice.” A valid theory works out in practice, and this one does so on a regular basis. I’m tremendously thankful to people such as Suzanne McCarthy who find the courage to give their testimony on an issue such as this. There is so much shame involved, though there should not be. The only appropriate shame should be that of the abuser, not the abused. It is a comment on how far we are still from Paul’s ideal of being all God’s children, one in Christ, that we can still reflect shame on the victim.

And that’s another trajectory in scripture–reconciliation. Jesus Christ wants to bring us all closer. He places his Spirit in everyone, not just the guys, not just the older folks, not just the ordained, and not just the church elders. Everybody shares in God’s Spirit. When we deny this to our fellow-believers, I repeat again, we are starting down the path to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. At the end of that path is the complete lack of reconciliation, the inability to even hear the voice of conscience or the voice of God, and finally spiritual death.

Thank you, Suzanne, for your courage in bringing this forcefully to our attention.

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  1. Well, Peter, I’m not going to take back the comment on blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, but rather I’m going to write a blog entry on what I mean and why I used the term.

    This course of action probably proves that I lack an adequate sense of self-preservation. 🙂

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