|Elizabeth Eaton is the ELCA Presiding Bishop|
Women should serve in the church. There should be no question, the question is in what capacity? In what role(s)? The Lutheran Church of Australia this October 2015 will deliberate on the ordination of women to the pastoral ministry. I wonder why I have this suspicious feeling that should it pass (because it failed many years ago), some ministers, in time, would leave this synod.
I have read some arguments favouring the ordination of women. Some interesting arguments do not argue exegetically though they claim that their arguments are based on the text of Scripture. Most of these arguments are theological using Justification of the believer as the ticket for either male or female to vie for the pastoral office. In this post I will use the following lines of thought to establish my case why I do not buy into the idea of ordaining women to the ministry. I will use my training in the Biblical languages to argue exegetically, then historically and lastly behaviourally why ordaining women to the pastoral office renders Lutherans in LCA irrelevant. Amazingly when I was a Pentecostal, this was not a problem for me, why is it a problem now? Hopefully in lining up my exegetical, historical and behavioural reflections will enlighten you why I do not buy ordination of women to the pastoral office.
The best question I believe one should ask exegetically is this - do we have texts from Scripture that women were pastors during the time of the Apostles? What were the terms used by Scripture for pastors and was this applied to any women characters mentioned in Scripture? One line of reasoning I have read is the mention of women in the house churches greeted by St Paul. In other words, since St Paul was greeting these women where house meetings are happening, they say that is proof positive that women were pastoring in the early church. What comes to mind are women mentioned in Romans 16, such as Phebe. She was called a servant of the church in Cenchrea. The word "servant" as used in the KJV was for διάκονος, this is where we get the word deacon. This is someone who carries out the orders of another. In fact it means attendant, someone who waits for instructions and carries them out. Yet others in favour of women's ordination latch into this and translates this word as "minister" broadening the significance of the word, thereby arguing that Phebe was a pastor too. This is not correct, the word deaconess is quite narrow, it is one who attends to the poor and distributes money collected for their use.
The there is the issue of Priscilla in Acts 18:26. Some argue that the "fact" (it is alleged) Priscilla was mentioned first in Romans 16:3, that shows that Priscilla had a dominant role between her and her husband Aquila. If one looks when these two people are named in Scripture, and we argue on the basis of first mention as being important, this argument is shot down. For in 1 Cor 16:19, in the Greek NT, Aquila was mentioned first. Now was Priscilla really mentioned first in Acts 18:26? Only if you go by an eclectic Greek NT Text, this is NOT so in the Textus Receptus(TR). In Acts 18:26, Aquila was mentioned first! Six times Priscilla was mention in Scripture, and using your eclectic Greek NT, 3 times Priscilla comes first and other times Aquila comes first thrice. Not so in the TR, we get 4 times Aquila coming first and only twice did Priscilla get mentioned prior to Aquila. If we follow this idea, then the Women's Ordination people appears to interpret Scripture by brute force. If carries no solid conclusion.
Then there is the allegation that Priscilla taught Apollos on her own in the home church setting! There is no such text in Scripture I can find that Priscilla ever taught anyone without Aquila being there. Such suggestion is more imagination than exegesis. You would have to have a very active imagination to suggest that Priscilla taught Apollos on her own (without the presence of her husband).
I dare say that indeed, those who promote women's ordination on the basis of house churches found in Acts are letting their imagination run wild - going forward where Scripture is silent.
So let us go back to the words used by the Bible to refer to pastors. We can name two - the first we have is episcopos επισξοπος were we get the title Bishop or Overseer and then the word prysbeteroous πρψβετερους where we get the word Elder or Presbyter. The first word occurs in 1 Tim 3. We can rule out that St Paul ever had in mine women to be Bishops here. The reason is that he used the pronoun he, and referred to this office as a person having one wife etc. All we need is to deal with the text of Scripture and it ought to be obvious that he had no idea that this could be an either male or female role.
The other one we need to deal with is the word elder or presbyter. Now, there was the office of old widows mentoring the younger women apparently this can be found inEllicott's Commentary. This is where this word might be applied to a woman. It is like an order in the Church. In other words, a woman who is by reason of age is a senior in the church whose job is to be a spiritual mentor to the younger women specially the younger wives. I am getting ahead of myself in discussing the historical aspect of this post, but more of that later. When St Peter and St Paul addressed the church, they used the masculine form of presbyter. Note that St Peter considered himself also as an elder in 1 Pe 5:1.
The last word is that of pastor - poimen (ποιμήν) - which is from the word "shepherd". In Eph 4 is the only place I know where this word occurs. However, it is attached to the idea of eldership. For example St Peter in 1 Pe 5:1 instructed his fellow elders to "shepherd" the flock of God. Most of the time, that title is reserved for Jesus - who is the Good Shepherd - the real Pastor of the Church. Since Jesus is male, by analogy, elders shepherding God's people from the male population fits the parallelism well. Besides, the job of herding sheep in Bible times was never regularly performed by women. It is unlikely that St Peter had women elders too in mind when he said this about shepherding God's people.
We have no surviving tradition of women holding the office of pastor in any known ancient Christian denominations from either the West or the East. I think this is a fair statement. It is probably of significant consequence. For there there is plenty of evidences of women in the priesthood of pagan cults. Correct. The pagans had no qualms in having women lead them in their religious affairs. In Ancient Egypt and Greece, women had already been in the forefront of religious leadership. It stands to reason that since pagans have female goddesses, it is natural that their priest who should mediate between the goddess and the people would be a woman akin to the goddess itself. See for example in the Eleusinian Mysteries. It is possible that this is one of those matters that made Christianity different from pagan religions - that of not having female leadership.
Then there were mention of women attending the altar around 400-500 AD. It is usually in and around a male presbyter who has become a heretic. So sure you will find some women who performed the role of priest in the churches but they were congregations with suspicious orthodoxy. You can find inscriptions of women being called presbytera but that does not mean they presided over the church as shepherd for as we said, there were these elderly women in church whose job was to teach younger women.
The most brief treatment of this issue is found here in a Christian History Institute Article.
Why we should look at history for this question? It is because the same way we treat the Canon of Scripture. For example it is known that St Paul wrote a letter to the Laodecians. What if suddenly historians found a papyri purporting to be that letter of St Paul? Are we going to rip our New Testament and make room for this letter to be included in our NT? I venture, no Christian will do such a thing. The reasons is that there is no tradition stating or which evolve to this effect that St Paul's letter to the Laodecians is Scripture. Therefore because we do not have clear evidence first from Scripture that women served as pastors (no question, the served as deacons!) neither from history (other wise we would see them operating in church, when we got born into this world of which we know the church is older than us) then in this counts it is deviant to to ordain women now in the pastoral office.
Let us face it women are numerous in church than men. Let us for the sake of argument we ordained women into the pastoral office. Then yet again, that is one more reason for men to abdicate their duty and console their conscience leading them to further laziness, cowardice and indifference to the call for ministry. As a man, I know how to reason and make excuses. Hey wait there is one keen woman here who wants to do the work, problem solved, just let her do it just like she does at home. We go sit in the couch and watch TV.
I cannot pin point what are the motivations of these present male ministers advocating for women in the pastoral office - is it really because they see it in Scripture? I am finding it hard to believe this because most arguments I have seen were either dramatical, emotional or bereft of fair even handed exegesis. Or something else is motivating this, perhaps a hero complex? Yeah sure ladies, I will advocate for you to be in the pastorate, I will be your hero, we got equal rights in the church too.
Often times I see Roman Catholic apologists hurling insults at Lutherans along this line - how dare they say they are more catholic than us Romans?
Well, when the Lutherans start ordaining women into the pastorate - I'd say they have left catholicism itself. They lose their right to claim a return to the catholicism that is Biblical and Evangelical. Certainly such a synod is not catholic anymore.