Sunday, September 21

Women Clergy- An Open Forum

For a change of pace, this time the post is not answering any questions, or even claiming to have any answers. Instead, this is entirely about drawing out other people's points of view on a topic hot enough to prompt America's biggest Christian bookseller to stash a music magazine back for under-the-counter sales.

A recent conversation with my African pastor brought some things to light in my own thinking about the differences in our cultures, between the West and the more traditional societies, and one of these touched on the current interest in Women's Ordination. Now, A certain 19th Century evangelist pointed out that men and women were both present in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit fell on them. How was the promise of Acts 1:8 different for the women on whom the Spirit fell than the men on whom the same Spirit fell?

Paul wrote, "I suffer not a woman to teach or usurp authority over a man..." Was this originally to disadvantage women for societal reasons, or to recognise the dynamic that God had predicted in Genesis 3, or to keep the new Church from gaining the wrong kind of profile in the early communities, or..?

If Genesis 3 is the key, does that mean that women must never be set in any position of authority outside a women-only context, or that that dynamic needs to be kept in mind, or does it only apply within the marriage?

Is it possible for us to have women as preachers but not pastors, or pastors but not priests, or as priests (as elders) in an evangelical, but not priests (as celebrants) in a more sacramental setting?

Should women be expected to cover their heads before praying in the assembly, or, as one group maintains, should they cover their heads at all times and never make a peep?

Is this an issue of equal access to God, equal calling to further the Gospel, equal access to employment advantages, or a matter of putting everything and person in their proper place as if Church is all about obeying rules for rules' sake?

My answer? A lot of Christian leaders far wiser than me have been quite adamant on this question in a number of different positions, so it's a pretty safe bet that whatever I toss into this discussion will be just that- for the discussion.


  1. The late Dr. Gordon Clark wrote the following: “The Protestant Reformation, for all its opposition to Romanism, never questioned the practice of ordaining men only. Now, if this practice has continued from the time of Abraham down to 1960 or thereabouts, those who are innovators surely must bear the burden of proof. The Westminster Confession indeed says, ‘All Synods…may err, and many have erred.’ Therefore it is theoretically possible that the Reformed Presbyterian Church is in error. But when the agreement is worldwide over 4,000 years, it is, I repeat, extremely improbable. Therefore a mountainous burden of proof rests on those who advocate the ordination of women.”

  2. Thanks, TU. I guess that one point is the reason for this post. We do seem to have an early tradition with the Church in East and on Ireland of women in more significant roles, Bishop Brigid being the most notable, before Constantine, and the later Roman consolidation in the
    West (a fascinating story- book coming out eventually!)

    So while the appeal to tradition may be entirely right, it again may be simply an argument from silence, or ignorance, if indeed the women such as Brigid and Macrina were more the norm than we now realise.

  3. I had a discussion on this at lunch after church two weeks ago. For the sake of possible hurt feelings, I avoided a theological debate and simply noted my own church's position and some Scripture.

    Main points:

    To stay true to Scripture.

    And to love women and not try to put them down, regardless of the position I take.


  4. We've had quite the debate in our tribe on this. My position is here. You can link from there to the opinions and discussions on other blogs.

  5. Yeah, Russ, tiptoing can be a challenge, can't it?

    Don, Thanks- that is an excellent letter. Tnanks for sharing it.

  6. Oh, Don, looking at that picture you left- You might want to look into doing something with that ear hair!

  7. The picture, Bro, that you have linked to your ID & on your profile page . Looks like a serious hair problem there!

  8. By the way, TU, the "Reformation" left a lot of questions unanswered, and answers unquestioned. It all started when Luther affirmed the recognised (but overlooked) truth of justification by faith. So there were "protestant Catholics" wrangling with "Roman Catholics" over a small but vital part of the whole Message. Unchallenged, or unanswered, issues still remain in areas across the spectrum!


    Real Succession?



    Or the whole picture of life after we've been justified?

  9. I finally realised what was going on.

    You're right, the Reformation was an unfinished work. It's interesting to note that, after the CoE voted to allow women bishops, everyone concluded that they were truly a "Protestant" church.

    There are more photos such as the one in my profile here.

  10. There is a challenge in staying Biblical and respectful of the fact that many Christians even, do not know the Bible very well.


  11. The greater challenge is that probably most who think they do know the Bible very well merely know the "taught" parts- the passages their teachers use as proofs!

    Even in your experience, how many questions of the short list I offered have you heard addressed over the pulpit, or even in a lecture setting except that the lecturer could tic it off has having been "covered?"

  12. Robert,

    2 Short comments:

    (1) The appeal to tradition in this particular instance is actually an appeal to Scripture. I.e., it is tradition based on the historic (and current) understanding of what Scripture clearly teaches.

    (2) Tell me more about what you know about Bishop Brigid and Macrina and how you use them to support your argument for women's ordination.

  13. TU, I'm not discrediting the appeal to tradition, but just wondering if it is tradition or tradition as presented to our viewpoint. In other words, maybe there is more weight of tradition on the contrary side of the argument than what we've been told in our own pocket of history. Again, I don't know the whole picture, or pretend to have all the facts.

    Brigid was a wonder-working sister who was accidentally consecrated as a bishop instead of an abbess, and fulfilled that office with great care and wisdom. Macrina the Younger was the very holy sister of Basil and Gregory of Nyssa, and a rather astute theologian. I could have mentioned Mary of Egypt, the ladies mentioned in Romans 16, etc.

    My argument for women's ordination? I really don't have one- Not advocating here, just asking questions, stirring the pot, trying to see what else is in there besides what's naturally floated to the top in recent years, pro or con.

  14. In other words, maybe there is more weight of tradition on the contrary side of the argument than what we've been told in our own pocket of history. Again, I don't know the whole picture, or pretend to have all the facts.

    Maybe not. Dr. William Tighe shares the following:

    "What Mary of Egypt (an Egyptian "call-girl" who experienced a sudden conversion to Christianity and lived the rest of her life as an ascetic hermit) or Macrina the Younger (the theologically-educated sister of two famous 4th-century bishops, Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa) have to do with WO is beyond me, as neither of them were ordained or exercised any sort of "public ministry." According to one account, the well-born Irish princess Brighid of Kildare (d. about 540) went to an elderly and semi-senile bishop to get him to bless her as a nun, and by mistake he recited the episcopal consecration ritual over her. Even if this is true, she never acted as a bishop, or claimed to be a bishop, so it doesn't seem relevant to the question of WO, either.

    As far as whether Brighid "fulfilled that office" etc., it must mean she fulfilled "the office of abbess" (which she did) rather than "the office of bishop" (which she did not)."

  15. My goodness, TU, are ya trotting my answers over to Dr. Tighe for his response? Though not ordained (and I wasn't trying to set that kind of precedent to start with in their cases), we read that Macrina's influence in her brothers' lives, and Mary's on the asceticism of her day, class them as great role models for the Church to revere, and whether Brigid exercised the ministry of Bishop seems to depend on one's sources.

    Honestly, I tossed this question up for the one purpose of seeing who all would respond. I've got no ax to grind except to get a better handle on the whole picture my own self. If you want, I've got a list of books on the subject I haven't taken the time to read. I can send the titles to you if you have the reading time and interest. Personally, I've got a full seminary load here, plus a personal project on Irish history to look back into when I'm not busy preaching or finding a way to get ordained in the middle of this mad steeplechase!

  16. Well one could start mentioning Mirium, Deborah, Huldah, Isaiah's wife, Anna (NT), the prophetic words of Elizabeth and Mary ... Acts 2 & the universality of Gods annointing & equipping ... Gal 3.28 considered by F.F.Bruce to be Pauls default position on women, 1 Cor 10 & the head covering realting to the visitors from other churches rather than angels endanger of arousement, 1 Cor 14 .. let not the women speak as the law says being a quotaiotn of a position held by opponents of Paul quoting the Midrash ... & contracted already in 1 Cor 10 re prophesy & by the inclusive words of 1 Cor 12 & 14 ... Romans 16 & phobe holding an office ... the mention of Junia (sp?) referring to her as note amongst rather than by .. the aposltes ... ect ect & so forth ... blah blah blah ... but instead ... : )

    Why not just fix our eyes on Jesus Heb 12v1ff & remember his words to those concerned with religious legalism ... and the FLEXABILITY of life under the NEW covenant ... see Luke 5 or 6 & re refs to wineskins ect ..


  17. Good to hear from ya, Keith!

    You mentioned Bruce: 18th century scholar Adam Clarke left this in his commentary:

    Neither male nor female] With great reason the apostle
    introduces this. Between the privileges of men and women there
    was a great disparity among the Jews. A man might shave his head,
    and rend his clothes in the time of mourning; a woman was not
    permitted to do so. A man might impose the vow of nasirate upon
    his son; a woman could not do this on her daughter. A man might
    be shorn on account of the nasirate of his father; a woman could
    not. A man might betroth his daughter; a woman had no such power.
    A man might sell his daughter; a woman could not. In many cases
    they were treated more like children than adults; and to this day
    are not permitted to assemble with the men in the synagogues, but
    are put up in galleries, where they can scarcely see, nor can they
    be seen. Under the blessed spirit of Christianity, they have
    equal rights, equal privileges, and equal blessings; and, let me
    add, they are equally useful.

    At the same time, neither the early Church nor Clarke had the same spirit of abusive "victimhood" we see in our time, which sets received, traditional, theology aside for a self-centred "me-ology" which puts personal or group interest above the ministry of the Gospel. I could simplify the picture by saying that the Church needs to return to the "faith once received," but the fact is we need to get back to the sources to even be able to intelligently say what that even means.

  18. "At the same time, neither the early Church nor Clarke had the same spirit of abusive "victimhood" we see in our time, which sets received, traditional, theology aside for a self-centred "me-ology" which puts personal or group interest above the ministry of the Gospel. I could simplify the picture by saying that the Church needs to return to the "faith once received," but the fact is we need to get back to the sources to even be able to intelligently say what that even means."

    Hi Robert,
    Actually I agree that nowone should be above the gosple. But the difficulty is in agreeing what we are getting back to. The debate between those complementatians represented by Wayne grudem ect has become a little nasty. If the Early Church was egalitarian then complementarians are misreading their bibles and proclaiming a gospel which isn't quite such good news for women - as in Luke 4 & Jesus and the year of Jubilee.

    If on the other hand complementarians are right then egalitarians (like myself) are abusing scripture and going against God's natural order.

    My take on the whole thing is to look to known truth (scripture not in dispute) and reason - Acts 24? Pauls "words of truth and reason" ... and suggest that inflexible new convenant restrictions on women lack biblical support and are contradicted by even by the OT flexability for women prophets and leaders (like Deborah). Put another way ... if Jesus is the end of the law (though not the requirement for holiness and right living) then why would Paul think the New covenant consistant with legalisms concerning women not being allowed to do x or y or z. Rationally I just don't see the two as being in harmony.

    Best wishes,


  19. Keith, thanks for chiming in!

    One key I think we need very badly to use today is to ask what the earlier Christians thought and did. We have a viewpoint that assumes that we can look at a collection of writings from as early as possibly 1400 BC and as late as AD 100 m/l, and understand it all perfectly with no more effort in the reading than a popular magazine. This leaves a lot of questions unanswered, the "Women's Question" being only one of them. Three periods need, especially, to be examined: The native Israeli period before Titus, the Nicene period, generally, in Athens, Alexandria, Antioch, Carthage, Rome, etc., and the concurrent development of the Church on Ireland.

    It's really interesting how the theological Left paints the persecuted refugee Athanasius as a tyrant, his mentor Antony as one of their own, and Brigid as probably non-existent!

    Hebrews 12 tells we run this race with "so great a cloud of witnesses" who have already run the course: Wouldn't it be wise to ask their advice?

  20. My take is to be found here . This is about women as priests, now the question is are priest and bishops the only who are to be considered clergy? My position is no.

  21. Anony, I'll confess up front to not snagging the time to look at your article yet, but if I am guessing your plan correctly I have to disagree in all love and appreciation. If we look at Eph.4:11ff we see the distinctions the Church as traditionally recognised as "clergy." These are the offices of people charged with building and guiding the Church, speaking to the Church from the Word and by the Spirit. Does this mean the rest are left to warm pews and stuff the offering bags? Not at all! We are all His Body, and members in particular, and each is gifted, or should be, in his/her own particular way according to the Lord's own good pleasure and purposes. If we were all clergy, who would provide the direction or set the standards, or be available in times of crisis or officiate / validate the rites and sacraments? What of marriages performed by any old body who claimed the Name of Christ, or doctrine prescribed by a seventh grader who just felt inspired that this or that was the proper reading? I think this is a large part of the problem now, with a lot of clergy in Anglican & mainline churches who have actually stepped through the hoops (jumping no longer needed in a kinder and more inclusive environment) held by people who had no clue of the importance of the basic truths of the Faith, but held merely to the classic "liberal" Fatherhood of God / Brother-sisterhood of mankind pablum as the sum total of Christian Dogma. Oreos & whiskey for Holy Communion? Sure! Let try it!

  22. Robert, I did go through this article.

    If one accepts its internal logic, it is correct. It is impossible for women to be priests.

    To accept that internal logic, one must accept the Catholic (Anglo- and Roman) assumptions regarding the church as a formal mediator between man and God, and the priests as empowered to act in that mediating role via the dispensing (or witholding) of grace in the sacraments. It also assumes that the church has magisterium, that is to say, active authority to teach and speak for God in a manner that sticks.

    I spend a good deal of time on my own site demonstrating that such a church is contrary to the intentions of its founder, and those who want to discuss the matter are free to do so there. (One place to start is the link I provided in my first comment.)

    Once you reject such a concept of church, then the whole possibility of women in ministry changes dramatically. That is implied in the article from the Traditional Anglican in their distinction between priests and other ministers in the church.

    On the other hand, Evangelical churches have muddied the waters by claiming authority that amounts to magisterium while themselves being the product of rebellion.

    The issue of women in ministry is tied to the view of the nature of the authority of the church and by extension the role of its ministers, and there is no way of getting around this problem.

    The big problem with Anglicanism is that it is not univocal on the subject of the nature of the authority of the church, along with many other issues.

  23. Don, I've said it before- we agree on so many issues, it's a wonder we're not partners!

    Prayers are welcome, among other issues, my own parish is being passed over from Kenya to TEC this week. A bit of skullduggery on the part of some folks cast as "good guys" has resulted in us becoming the newest addition to the Dioc. of Mississippi. I'm understanding that I'm retaining my own Kenyan residency for ordination's sake, which puts me back into the same kind of trans-Atlantic limbo that the good old PECUSA was built on. Hmm. Some days I wonder why I'm not a Methodist or a Nazarene! I'm too much a smart aleck to to the Tiber splash- I'd be "advising" il papa on everything from the Mass to Medjugorge!


So what's your take?