From time to time on the floors of presbyteries, we have to endure the age-old debate of women in ministry. And I will be completely honest – I am SO OVER that debate. While I am still willing to chime in on gay marriage or divestment issues, I cannot even muster the energy to speak about women’s ordination anymore. I am thinking, “That was 70 years ago! Are we still having this debate?” I mentally check out in many ways.
Today, in Romans, is Paul attesting to the ancient roots of women in leadership for Christianity. (Yes, it’s true. Some people think Paul is anti-women. Well, it turns out, he offers conflicting info, or different advice to different churches. More on that later.)
Paul is nearing the end of his letter to the Christians in Rome, and greets his personal friends and former associates. At the top of the list is the minister of the church and two of the key movers and shakers, all three of which are women. First there is Phoebe, the minister of the church at Cenchreae. He goes on to say “help her in whatever she may require of you.” So much for “women are not to be in leadership over men” (as the list goes on it is apparent there are many men in the church as well).
Then there are Priscilla and Aquila, who “risked their necks for my life”. We are not sure what this means, but appearing elsewhere in scripture it is obvious they are instrumental in the daily operations of the church.
I find it odd that Paul sets the tone for women in leadership, as did Jesus, and that somehow so many churches got lost along the way. The Roman Catholic church remains firm in that women are not to be priests. A few of their bishops have ordained women, against the pope’s directives, only to have their own ordination questioned. One of my friends, a long time Southern Baptist minister and also a woman, no longer has her ordination recognized by the Southern Baptist Convention. Few remember these days when Baptists used to ordain women. But they did. The anti-women craze came later, surprisingly. Today it rears its ugly head again from time to time. It astonishes and amazes me.
Four people have greatly influenced my call to ministry. The Holy Spirit has spoken strongly through them. Two of the four of those people are women ministers. So it is hard for me to believe that scripture is wrong when it elevates women or when Paul speaks of women in leadership roles over men. It is hard to discount Paul when he says “In Christ there is neither male nor female” and speaks of the variety of spiritual gifts and the need to use them.
It is true that in another of Paul’s letters, for that specific place it was best for women not to be in leadership over men. But it seems odd to me to ignore the passages where they are, jumping to conclusions that women should never be in leadership, when in scripture they clearly are. Context appears to be everything.
People who argue that women should never be in leadership, also talk about how they want us to “focus on God’s Word” more. But what they fail to realize is what the scriptures principally teach. They are failing to focus on God’s Word, instead focusing on just a couple of God’s Words that fit in with their agenda. They also are guilty of dismissing all those places in scripture that talk about the Holy Spirit, and how Peter had a revelation on the roof about a new code of being in compliance with Scripture. They also fail to remember a similar tactic to theirs about women was used to justify slavery.
Please pardon my soap box, but I felt it must be said, especially because of the nature of the church lately – to be stuck on spin cycle about a couple of hot button issues. It is like we are playing the same song over and over again, stuck on REPEAT or REPEAT SHUFFLE, and dismissing the workings of the Holy Spirit.
I will conclude by saying that as a whole, Paul’s passage for us today in Romans is a wonderful example of the church in harmony. At the end he states, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” We all know he had disagreements with many of these people. But at the end of the day, they are all family, reconciled to each other, committed to Christ’s mission in the world, and committed to recognizing each others’ spiritual gifts.
I am thankful that the sun is breaking through the clouds in these areas, for the church of today is hungry and needing a renaissance in this area.