November 11, 2013

20schemes: Oh You Hate Women, Right?

“Women participate equally with men in the priesthood of all believers. Their role is crucial, their wisdom, grace, and commitment exemplary. While Scripture teaches that a woman’s role is not identical to that of men in every respect, and that pastoral leadership is assigned to men, it also teaches that women are equal in value to men.”

If you were to check out our statement of faith, this is what you would read. It teaches in two simple sentences a core conviction of the 20schemes ministry. I highlight it because in recent months 20schemes has, incredibly, been highlighted (largely by Church of Scotland Ministers and a few para-church organisations) as being “anti-women”. This is a charge I find incredible for a number of reasons: (1) Almost always it is coming from men and (2) We employ more women and female interns than any egalitarian and/or complementarian church I know of in Scotland. Far from holding women back, 20schemes places a great deal of emphasis on the supreme importance of recruiting and training biblically mature women who can play a vital role in the revitalisation and planting of new congregations in the schemes of our land. My response to all those who criticise our statement of faith regarding women is: “How many women do you currently employ and/or train for positions of leadership and ministry within your church and/or organisation?”

I want to take some time over the next week and explain the theological reasoning behind our statement of faith on this issue. It’s important to understand why we believe what we believe from a biblical standpoint. I would also like to take the time to explain why we believe this empowers women and frees them up for important ministry within the housing schemes of Scotland. Gavin Peacock, an elder from Calvary Grace Church, Calgary was with us this weekend and spent some time highlighting the importance of this issue for us.

Both men and women are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27). Both men and women receive the Holy Spirit and are heirs with Christ. We are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26–29). Women, as well as men, belong to the body of Christ, and their service and gifts are essential for the proper functioning of the body (1 Corinthians 12:7). It is within this context that discussion about the role of women in the church takes place.

So, to be clear: at 20schemes we hold to a complementarian view of scripture. In other words, we hold that the Bible teaches that there are complementary roles within marriage and the church between men and women. Furthermore, leadership in both these arenas is to be male. Let me quote from the FIEC Statement of Faith, which holds out the key biblical arguments. As a church, NCC (of which 20schemes is our church-planting arm), adhere to this statement in its entirety. We are also friends of the Council For Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, and you can download some of their resources on this issue here.

1 Timothy 2 and 3
Timothy was charged with bringing order to the dysfunctional Ephesian church (3:14–15). There had been problems within the leadership of the church (e.g. 5:19–20), and a key aspect of Timothy’s role was to make sure the church in Ephesus had suitably qualified elders (3:1–7). The qualifications assume that the elders will be men (3:2). This should not surprise us given that he makes it clear in the immediately preceding context that men, and not women, were to do the authoritative teaching (2:11–15).

1 Corinthians 11 and 14
At first glance, there appears to be a contradiction between 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, which assumes that women will pray and prophesy, and 1 Corinthians 14:33–35 which commands that women be silent in the church gathering. However one seeks to resolve this tension, it is clear that restrictions of some kind are being placed upon women. In 1 Corinthians 11, whilst Paul reminds us of the interdependence of men and women, he also makes it clear that issues of authority are at stake: man is the head of woman. The section in 1 Corinthians 14 also indicates that the women do not have the same freedom to speak in the gathering as the gifted men.

Creation and Trinity
Paul roots the prohibition of 1 Timothy 2 in creation (vv. 13–14) and that of 1 Corinthians 11 both in creation (vv. 8–9) and the nature of the Godhead (v. 3). These commands are therefore driven neither by culture, nor by a particular crisis in the church; rather, they are deeply rooted in who we are as creatures and the relationships within the Trinity.

Paul’s teaching on marriage also has some bearing on this discussion. There has been debate as to whether the term “head” implies authority, but the command for the wife to submit implies/suggests that it does. Husbands and fathers have responsibility for the welfare of their families, and they should exercise authority in a loving way for the spiritual and physical welfare of their wives and children.

Role of women in the Old Testament
What we see in the New Testament is, as we would expect, a reflection of patterns laid down in the Old Testament. Leadership and teaching were reserved for men; priests, prophets, and kings were men. There were exceptions with regard to prophecy, but these are few and far between. However, as in the New Covenant so under the Old, women are co-workers with the men. In the book of Proverbs, we note that both the mother and the father are to be involved in the teaching and training of the children, and the virtuous woman of the closing chapter has a wide remit in terms of service.

Role of women in the New Testament
Women, like men, receive the blessing of the Holy Spirit and are involved in the work of the gospel. Women are witnesses to the resurrected Christ (e.g. Matthew 28) and are to pass on this good news. Many of the gospel workers mentioned by Paul in Romans 16 are women. Women are included in the command for us all to teach one another in the body of Christ (Colossians 3:16).

Implications for church life

Reflecting upon the biblical data, we can see that the primary leaders and teachers of the church are to be suitably qualified men.

Teaching, though, is not to be restricted to pastor/teacher/elders. All Christians are to be involved in teaching and encouraging one another. This includes women who are to teach other women (Titus 2:4) and who may well be involved in teaching in other forums. How exactly this works out in practice may well vary from church to church.

I hope this is helpful. Our next blog will look at some of the practical implications for 20schemes and how we see the role of Female Outreach Workers.

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