Sometime ago, Darrian and I thought it would be a good idea to collaborate on a blog series about women in ministry. He posted the first part of the series, and here is the second part, written by me.
If you’re a somewhat attentive person you may have noticed that thats a picture of Taylor Swift. And although in retrospect she may not have been the best image to choose from for a post about women in ministry I chose it because it’s Spunky, and I’m sure nobody but my grandma reads my blog anyways…Oh wait, I just asked her. She doesn’t. (it may have been better to have a picture of a woman doctor or lawyer, images that directly oppose a stereotypical view about the traditional roles of women).
Oh well, at best my shot at such a post is limited. If you want a really good post on the equality of women, and women in leadership roles you probably need someone of the female sex to actually write it. (This is the first time I’m thinking of that, so I’ll work on it.)
In addition to this my approach to ministry and calling is going to seem radical to some, and maybe outright dangerous to others. I want to validate how readers may feel when reading my ideas, and say that I respect a great many people who disagree with me on this subject. It also would be arrogant of me to undermine roughly 1,900 to 2,000 years of church polity without the statement that I could be wrong. We’ve been doing church polity like this a long time (Bishops, Priests, and Deacons), and that says something. “We should be slow throw it out the window.” But it also maybe says something else, “Maybe we’ve lacked much of the prophetic presence and voice throughout that church history.” Just because something has been done a particular way for a long time doesn’t mean its right, and for that matter it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. This should be a conversation. One in which we first affirm our Lords imperative to love and accept one another. One in which we do the hard work of scholarship for 2,000 years of history, theology, and biblical studies. And one in which we have open ears and hearts to the work of the Holy Spirit. We very well may have been ignoring the calls of Jesus back to faithfulness, and the way of love. With all of this we should strive forward in this conversation with an attitude of accepting the best of what the past has to offer and letting go of the worst for the better that the Spirit has awaiting for us in the future.
In light of all those introductions and disclaimers it’s time to actually discuss the point of this blog post.
So Women in ministry?
Can Women be in Ministry? This question to me is actually the wrong question, or at least not the first question we should be asking. The better question in my opinion is, “What is the nature of Ministry in the first place?” To answer this question I think we need to address the issue of the Clergy/Laity Divide. Is there such a thing as Laity? And what Is the nature of Clergy? In the Traditional Liturgical Churches (I’m thinking Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican) you have a three-tiered order or Ministry or Clergy System. Bishops, Priests, and Deacons (I’ll call it BPD from now on). Now to be fair this system is really old. Much older than some of the Evangelical Clergy systems. And those traditional liturgical churches would I think claim (I’m not an excerpt) the three-tiered clergy system dates about to Jesus and the 12 Apostles themselves. Although from the little I’ve read that’s granting the BPD a little too much.
For beginners, according to Rebecca Lyman (Anglican professor at The University of California, Berkeley) in her book “Early Christian Traditions,” she briefly, although honestly, discusses the historical development of the clergy and ministry system in the life of the early church. Notice the term development.
As humans I think we have the tendency to take the way things are in our time and place and transmit them unto those who have gone before us. We assume the way we think and the way we do things are the ways people have always thought and done things. But I think a little honesty, historical and cultural research quickly debunks this notion. Things are rarely entirely (but not always) the way they were back then. Just like everything else the system of ministry and clergy also has developed, it wasn’t always the way it is now or has been.
Unfortunately, for this discussion there are few sources of “physical evidence about early Christianity before the third century” (Early Christian Traditions). One of our sources are the various written documents from the first century known as the New Testament. From the second century we have letters written from a collective group of people now known as the Apostolic Fathers. One of our primary sources from the first century is the letter to the Ephesians dated anywhere from the 60s to the 80s depending on whether you believe Paul authored the book or not. The epistle written by Clement is also an important document for this topic. Clement wrote his epistle most likely around 90 AD, his is one of the earliest view of a clergy consisting of Bishops, and Deacons.
Another primary source, this one from either the second half of the first century or early part of the second century is the Didache. (This source describes more of the kind of gifting as seen in the letter to the Ephesians.) It lists four functions or roles in the church operating on the local level and regional level. Apostles and Prophets as regional leaders who are assumed to be nomadic and aren’t tied to a local area. And Bishops and Deacons as local leaders who are assumed to be local leaders of individual churches that meet in houses. My current opinion is that the Bishops and Deacons mentioned seem to be understood as offices rather than explicit gifting’s as we see listed in Ephesians. There is also mention of the Bishop Ignatius who was said to be gifted as a Prophet along with another Bishop named Polycarp who was said to be, “a teacher in our own day who combined both apostle and prophet in his own person.”
For the purposes of seeing this development of leadership and understanding of ministry I will quote extensively from Rebecca Lyman in her book “Early Christian Traditions.”
In the Didache,
“we already see a distinction between those chosen by the community to do ministry within it (bishops or deacons) and those who presented themselves to the community as possessing spiritual gifts of prophecy or teaching. In the early church these qualities were not necessarily exclusive: Ignatius, for example, was a bishop who also had prophetic gifts. Leadership in the Didache was not limited to the office of the bishop, but shared with those having charismatic gifts.”
In other words at least in one source (I believe there is more than just one source), and in one region of the early church, leadership wasn’t a three-tiered ministry of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.
“Drawing on the tradition of the Jewish council of elders (in Greek they were called “presbyters”), early Christian communities elected one presbyter or a council of presbyters to lead worship and direct community affairs. “Bishop” literally meant ‘overseer,’ and the distinctions between bishops and presbyters were not always clear at this point in time. Either title could indicate a variety of tasks both charismatic (healer, prophet, leader of worship) and pragmatic (discipline of community, money manager). Although by the third century the title “priest” also came into use, it was not used in the earlier centuries, perhaps because of pagan associations.
Some communities developed a twofold ministry shared by bishops and their assistants, called “servers,” or “deacons,” while other communities had a threefold pattern of one bishop with several presbyters and deacons. Eventually, in the third century, bishops oversaw the administration of a whole city with presbyters presiding at various house churches. Deacons supervised the distribution of money or goods from the bishop’s treasury to the poor of the community. These various ministries were eventually formalized as our three orders of ministry, yet they emerged from a variety of offices and tasks shared in the early community by teachers, apostles, and prophets.
Because we see the early church in the light of our own later experience of formal orders of ministry, we may not realize how domestic and personal leadership was in these house churches.”
That was certainly a lot to quote but I hope it gives you some idea that our current order or ministry; Bishop, Priest, and Deacon has not always existed in its current form but took about three centuries to develop and solidify in its current structure. Of course this is from one book and many I’m sure would disagree with Lyman. However, I think that as someone that’s from a tradition (she’s Anglican) that functions with the Ministry of the BPD she’s more credible as a source than say a Presbyterian or Baptist that doesn’t subscribe to this form of leadership.
So back to the original question. “What is the nature of Ministry in the first place?”
I think some of our oldest sources that give us some idea about the 1st centuries view of ministry is the letter to the Ephesians and 1 Peter, and Mark’s witness to the Gospel. (All following scriptures are from the NRSV unless otherwise stated)
The author of 1 Peter 2:9 states,
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
At least according to the author of 1 Peter we as the people of God collectively are part of the Priesthood.
The author of Mark 10:42-45 records Jesus as saying, “So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Jesus points out the hierarchal leadership of the world, and rejects it saying that the leadership of the church is not be hierarchal. We are not to be over one another but like a servant we are to be under one another. As Paul reiterated in Galatians, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Hierarchy has been abolished in the Kingdom of God, and everyone has been made equal before Christ. Which includes women.
The author of Ephesians 4:1-16 states,
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, (note that in the context of this passage the calling he’s referring to is from verse 11) with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
(Note that he says each of us, he does not qualify it to just males, or just clergy, but is referring to the entire Body of Christ; Also Note that this grace gift he is referring to is the five gifting’s listed down in verse 11)
Therefore it is said,
“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.”
(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)
11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry,
Specifically for verse 11 I like how the Amplified Version translates it,
“11 And [His gifts to the church were varied and] He Himself appointed some as apostles [special messengers, representatives], some as prophets [who speak a new message from God to the people], some as evangelists [who spread the good news of salvation], and some as pastors and teachers [to shepherd and guide and instruct],
for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”
So pulling all of this together, and I know it’s a lot, ministry as I believe is defined by the earliest Christians in the first century as recorded in the New Testament as not something a special class of people we’re called to. But that there is no such thing as a clergy/laity in the New Testament. It wasn’t seen as an office, but as a gifting, as a calling. And it was seen as a calling that all followers of Jesus are called to according to their specific calling/gifting. And those gifting’s, again to beat a dead horse, wasn’t specified to Male, or Female, or Clergy/Laity but was distributed by Christ to all followers of Jesus. So all of us are called as an Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, or Teacher. Men and Women.