I have worded the title of this piece boldly, for I write it prophetically and not as a matter of academic discussion. I do not mean the piece personally in the sense that I do not think I am necessarily more spiritual, more informed, or more intelligent than anyone who is opposed to women in all roles of ministry. And I do not mean to say that someone is automatically unspiritual, uninformed, or unintelligent if he or she opposes women in all roles of ministry.
But I do mean to say that this position is wrong. And those who are against women in all roles of ministry simply do not know God's mind on this issue. The Christians of even fifty years from now will view such individuals as most of us view the Christians who were in favor of slavery 150 years ago. That future generation will have to pray for the Lord to give them strength not to think badly of such people. They will need the Lord's help to have faith that the problem was one of heads and not hearts. It will take some hard thinking for them to understand that such individuals could be spiritual even though they believed the way they did. Luke implied it best through the mouth of Gamaliel in Acts 5: This is of God. There is nothing you can do to stop it because you are fighting against God.
So what are some of the reasons why some Christians oppose women in ministry?
1. Their head is in the way.
I believe that perhaps even for most Christians, opposition to women in all forms of ministry is mostly a matter of their heads. In other words, some aspect of the way they understand the world and have formulated their faith is getting in the way.
I have the utmost of respect for many who don't really understand why (or so they think) God opposes women in some offices of the church. But their head tells them that's what the Bible teaches or what the church teaches. And indeed, in a culture where 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 have been highlighted again and again by some, it is easy to think God just mysteriously doesn't want women doing these things on earth--even though it makes no sense at all from any reasonable perspective. Just using our heads alone, it seems pretty stupid since we know factually that male genitilia have nothing to do with leadership ability or spirituality.
I have the utmost sympathy for the person who says, "I don't understand it. I know women who are more spiritual than I am. I know women who say they're called. I know women whom I think would make gifted speakers and leaders. But the Bible just doesn't seem to allow them. I don't understand it but I submit to it." I respect this person and pray for their heart to win out over their heads.
This is not the place for a detailed examination of the key passsages; I have done some of that elsewhere. Instead I simply want to point out that no one directly applies all the statements and injunctions of Scripture directly to today. And this is the way God wants it to be. Why?
a. Because Jesus and Paul did not directly apply the words of the OT directly to themselves without passing those words through a spiritual filter. In Matthew 5:38, Jesus tells his audience not to live their lives like Deuteronomy 19:21: "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." And in Mark 2:25-26 he actually argues that there are times when the right thing to do is to make exception for some of the most significant laws.
Paul sometimes takes the OT text allegorically in ways that contradict the clear original import of those passages, such as when he interprets the veil on Moses' face as a hiding of the fading glory of the old covenant (2 Cor. 3) or when he interprets Hagar in relation to the literal Jerusalem (Gal. 4). To be sure, some learned modernist evangelicals have applied their immense intelligence to wiggling out of these plain interpretations. But just because you're smart enough to come up with an ingenious alternative doesn't mean you're correct and it certainly doesn't mean that you're actually listening to Paul. So called "high views" of Scripture often have a way of shoving their preconceived views on the text when the text doesn't say what they want it to say.
b. The original meaning of so many passages is ambiguous or inaccessible to us. I submit to you that the connotations of 1 Timothy change drastically depending on the situation that stands behind it. Again, an honest listen to Paul's writings and the gospels must conclude that the tone and approach of these writings is often in tension with the others because of situational factors.
c. And again, if we really value the text of Scripture enough to listen to it rather than make everything fit together, we will find a healthy dialog within the text of Scripture. Once we allow for these things we will find that some parts of Scripture point in opposite directions from other parts. Ezra would point us toward divorcing spouses and children who are not "Israel" like we are. Jonah, Ruth, and Paul would point in the opposite direction. Luke-Acts is perhaps the most pro-women work in the New Testament. 2 Timothy would lead us in the opposite direction if we absolutized it and ignored the rest. But if we did not have 1 Timothy, we would not expect Paul to make some of its comments, since his other books make no issue of women in ministry roles. He seems to refer to one woman, Junia, as an apostle in Romans 16:7, and he calls Phoebe a deacon in Romans 16:1 as well.
d. Finally, if we really listen to Scripture rather than shove our preconceived theology down its throat, we will conclude that there is a flow of revelation that moves not only between the testaments but into the history of the church. The OT simply is not as close to our Christian beliefs as the New Testament is, and the New Testament books are not the end of the story on matters like the Trinity or the precise nature of Christ's divinity. As a scholar, I would claim that we will not believe Christ to be fully and ontologically divine, of one substance with the Father, unless we accept developments in Christian belief beyond the New Testament.
It takes more than just the original meaning of the Bible to know God's will for today. It takes the Holy Spirit more than anything else. And to hear the Spirit rightly, we need the church.
2. Their tradition is in the way.
For Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, 2000 years of church tradition stand in the way. This is a strong argument to be sure. But as someone who believes God had some part in the Protestant Reformation, I allow that truths can lie dormant in the broader church for hundreds and even thousands of years. The fact that large portions of the church are recognizing the clear trajectory of the Spirit on this issue is a sign of the latest Reformation. It will only grow.
There is always room for the prophetic element of the church, especially when its witness is on a path to become the view of the church at large. You will not have to exhume my body to burn it at the stake, for in a hundred years, even the Roman Catholics will allow for a woman Pope.
I am not concerned with other more recent traditions among fundamentalists or other American trends against women in ministry. They are largely a mixture of the early 20th century reactions to modernism combined with a reaction to the empowerment of women in the post-WW2 era. They are a blip that will not stand the test of time. We as individuals can often live with irrationality because of the comfort of the familiar. But our children may not have the same emotional attachment to traditions that cannot be easily defended in the face of reality.
3. They're really reacting to something else that's been lumped in with the women in ministry issue.
I know some people who really get irritated with things like Martin Luther King Jr. stamps and days off school for his birthday. Yet I also suspect that these same people would fully be friends with a person of color and would strongly oppose something like the KKK. The only thing I can figure out is that they are confused. Maybe they thought the protests of the 60's were wrong because people broke the law, believing that Christians should keep the law. Maybe they saw it as people fighting for their rights selfishly rather than being like Christ, who submitted to unjust treatment. Similar things are said about the women's rights movement.
But somehow these things seem like diversions and even resistance to change. It is irritating when someone suggests you should speak more inclusively and say "people" rather than "man." But at the same time, surely no one with a pure heart thinks that God actually values men more than women or whites more than blacks. We have to believe that as spiritual equals, God values men and women the same. So if you are consciously using your language to exclude women, then you have the beginnings of a spiritual problem.
It's irritating, but once you are aware of how male-oriented language is, it becomes increasingly difficult to talk the same way with a pure heart. The principle of the equal value of women pushes you to include them in your speech. To do otherwise eventually requires you to exclude them deliberately in a way you perhaps did not before.
Yet some Christian groups act as if it would glorify God to resist the inclusion of women in language. On what basis? Is it because of what they associate inclusive language with? If the original Greek does not specify male or female at a point, how does it glorify God to push the translation toward the masculine? I think more than anything such individuals are resisting change and resisting things they associate with groups they disagree with. Or perhaps they do not like being forced to do something by the broader culture.
To our shame, God sometimes uses Babylonians and sailors on their way to Tarshish--those who are not His people--to get His people to do what they should have been doing on their own and leading the way on.
4. They have a serious heart problem.
Finally, some men resist the idea of women in ministry because of a spiritual problem. They do not want a women telling them what to do. Or perhaps they would feel intimidated if a woman had authority over them. And some of the above reasons can become spiritual problems when the truth is resisted. Irritation of being forced to change can become prejudice or hatred, and so many of us really value our traditions far more than the truth.
And it is not simply men who oppose women in ministry. Women are some of the greatest opponents to women in all roles of ministry. This can be for all of the same reasons as I've mentioned above. Yet it can also be for spiritual reasons.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with a woman feeling called to stay at home and be the best mother in the world. But it's quite a jump in logic to say thereby that all women should do exactly the same thing. There are women who should be in ministry but don't answer the call because of their fear of what others will say in the church. They often face stiff opposition and difficulty finding a congregation that will take them. Others like a comfortable world with well defined roles and someone else to take care of them. They don't want to move outside their comfort zone. Would some women feel less valuable next to a woman minister? They shouldn't if they are doing what God wants them to do. Would some feel envious because other women have opportunities they did not have? They shouldn't.
Not all women are called to ministry. But woe to those who put stumblingblocks in front of those who are!
Conclusion: God is on the move. The kingdom is a place where men and women both have the Spirit equally. We know that women are just as smart as men and that there are gifted women speakers and leaders who are just as gifted as any male speaker or leader. We would need a really good reason to prohibit any one of them from any role in the church, particularly since some of them feel called to these roles.
There is none. Quench not the Spirit.