Saturday, January 09, 2016

Seminary PC5: God can call anyone to ministry.

My series continues, "Seminary in a Nutshell." The featured book today is Kristina LaCelle Peterson's, Liberating Tradition: Women's Identity and Vocation in Christian Perspective. She discusses women in ministry from a historical perspective. Thus far in this series:


The Pastor and Context
1. The Domains of Ministry
2. The Calling of a Minister
3. Ministerial Calling in Scripture
4. Ministerial Calling in History

1. It is my conviction and the conviction of my tradition that God can and does call anybody to be a minister. That is to say, God does not just call Jews to ministry, but non-Jews as well. God does not just call people of light skin, but individuals of dark skin as well. God does not just call Europeans to ministry, but Asians and Africans and South Americans. God does not just call men to ministry but women as well.

In the age of the Holy Spirit, anyone can hear from God and anyone can speak for God. There is no genetic or biological reason why a Russian cannot minister to an American or a woman to a man. Certainly there is no gap in intelligence between women and men or someone from Papua New Guinea and someone from Germany. There is no basis in concrete reality that would keep a person of any race or gender from ministering to someone else from another.

There are only cultural barriers and barriers in prejudice. Nothing more. Unfortunately, cultural prejudices are real in themselves. At times the barriers have been so strong that it has seemed counterproductive to the larger goals of ministry for God to address them. The Bible tells us that God sometimes accommodates hard hearts, such as he did on the subject of divorce in the Old Testament (Matt. 19:7-8).

We have every reason to think that God still sometimes foregoes the ideal in some places and times to see his larger mission accomplished. It would have been ideal in the South of the United States for God to call African-Americans to minister to slave owners in the early 1800s or to whites in the early 1900s. The prejudices of culture at those times limited such ministry to indirect occasions. So for much of church history, women only informally have ministered to men.

2. One of the great privileges of Western Christianity is that the broader culture has made it easy for God to call anyone to minister to anyone. Ironically, the barriers to ministry of this sort do not come from the world, but from pockets of the "church."

God currently is calling an increasing number of non-Westerners to be ministers to Westerners. Some in the Western church might initially resist a person from Mexico being called as a missionary to the United States. [1] Someone might, hardly even realizing his or her prejudice, think it strange that God might call someone from the Philippines to be a missionary to Germany or England or Japan. "Is not missionary work for the enlightened West?" No, God can and does call anyone to minister to anyone.

An increasing number of missionaries come from the two-thirds world, the rest of the world outside the industrialized world of the West, mostly in the Global South. It may rub some American Christians wrong to think that God is currently calling believers from Latin America to be missionaries to the United States. Yet God can and does call anyone to minister to anyone. God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34; Gal. 2:6; Jas. 2:1).

3. In the United States currently, the greatest cultural resistance is to women in ministry. The culture has come a long way to be sure. Those who resist God's calling on women at least have stopped arguing that women are not smart enough to lead or be ministers. Not too long ago, such arguments would have been made, just as it was argued a hundred years ago that former slaves were not smart enough to vote.

But women are as educated as men today, and a little cross-examining will show that men have no greater innate intelligence. There is no natural reason why a woman could not lead a man or minister to a man. So those who oppose women in ministry generally do not use this argument any more. They simply will argue that it is just not God's will for women to minister to men.

If there is no natural reason, there is also no spiritual reason. The Holy Spirit has come equally on all flesh since the Day of Pentecost. Indeed, one of the predictions of the Day of Pentecost is that "your sons and daughters will prophesy" (Acts 2:17). "In Christ Jesus... there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female" (Gal. 3:26, 28).

3. Indeed, there have always been female prophets. There are female prophets and leaders in the Old Testament. Deborah was the judge of Israel for a period of time. Nothing is said about her only being judge because there was not a man available. She is simply said to be the judge of Israel in those days (Judg. 4:4-5). She is the one who commands Barak to go into battle, and she ends up leading him into battle. She is so strong a leader--both naturally and spiritually--that he will not go into battle without her in the lead (4:8).

When the Book of the Law is discovered, the high priest does not trust himself to make a judgment on its authenticity, nor does the king. These two men instead go to a woman, a prophet, Huldah, to verify its validity (2 Kings 22:13-14).

Debates over one or two verses often obscure the fact that women were full participants in the mission and ministry of the early church. The four daughters of Philip were prophets, for example (Acts 21:9). A woman named Junia may very well have been an apostle (Rom. 16:7), someone to whom the risen Jesus appeared and whom Jesus charged to go and witness to his resurrection. Phoebe was a deacon (Rom. 16:1).

The apostle Paul regularly had co-workers who were women. Lydia played a major role in founding the church at Philippi (Acts 16:15). Euodia and Syntyche would later work with Paul there (Phil. 4:2-3). Most prominent of all was Priscilla, who seems to have been the dominant ministry force in a husband-wife ministry team. She is usually mentioned first when she and her husband are mentioned. God used her to found both the churches at Corinth (Acts 18:18) and Ephesus (18:19), not least to disciple Apollos (18:26).

The ministry of women to men is exactly what we would expect. The Spirit fills all people equally, and God can and does call anyone to ministry.

4. However, there are two passages that are sometimes used to feed the hearts of those who just do not want women to minister to men. And it is not just men who sometimes resist the Spirit on this score. Sometimes women resist other women in ministry more than men do.

The first is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which instructs women to be silent in the assembly. [2] However, since wives are praying and prophesying in the assembly in 1 Corinthians 11, these verses cannot be referring to spiritual speech but to disruptive speech. Indeed, 14:35 instructs these disorderly women to ask their own husbands questions at home, which indicates the problem is one of disruption, not "a woman's place."

The other is 1 Timothy 2:12-15. This verse warns Timothy about wives teaching their husbands or behaving autocratically toward them. [3] There is much that is unique and strange about this passage, not least the statement that wives are "saved" through childbearing or the suggestion that they remain in transgression because of Eve's sin. The weighty theological truth is that Christ died for all sins, including the sins of Eve and that no sin can stand in force against the power of his atonement.

Many have thus sought something in the context of 1 Timothy to explain a verse that seems uncharacteristic of Paul. For example, some suggest that the role of women at the Temple of Artemis was having a negative impact on the church. Others suggest Ephesus had a problem with widows serving as catalysts of false teaching. Still others suggest that 1 Timothy reflects the late first century church and its increased institutionalization in the light of false teaching.

It is important that we need not explain every verse. This impulse is actually dangerous, for it opens the door to what we might call the Pharisaic principle or the fundamentalist principle. The Pharisaic principle is the impulse to try to undo the weightier principles of God and Scripture with individual verses. It is rather on the level of the individual verse and passage that we are most likely to find the contextual and the unclear.

Both in terms of the weightier principles of Scripture (that the Spirit fills everyone equally, that God does not show favoritism) and in terms of the actual practice of the early church (where God used women to minister to men), 1 Timothy 2:12 is the strange verse.

5. Kristina LaCelle Peterson and others have shown that women continued to minister and play leadership roles in the church for several centuries. The pseudonymous Acts and Paul and Thecla may arguably preserve authentic memory that women ministered alongside Paul. This particular book from the second century was predictably squelched.

Perpetua was a late second century martyr who apparently served in some role of leadership. The late second century also saw a number of female leaders in the Montanist movement, a charismatic movement with an end times flavor. Women may even have been bishops in the first few centuries of the church. Inscriptions have been found referring to women as "episcopa."

Charismatic movements, because they focus so much on the Holy Spirit, frequently open the door for women to speak for God, because the Spirit is the great equalizer. This was certainly true of the holiness movement of the 1800s and early 1900s, which focused on the Holy Spirit before the Pentecostal movement even began. The sermon of the first woman ordained in the United States was preached by one of the founders of my own church in 1853.

Women often were preachers in full standing for the holiness tradition, and the holiness movement strongly participated in the women's rights movement of the late 1800s. The rights that they were fighting for then are now accepted by all today, such as the right of women to vote, own property, and so forth. At the turn of the twentieth century, no one blinked an eye for a woman to be on the pulpit preaching a revival in a holiness church.

It was only after World War 2, when men in the broader culture began to feel threatened by the inroads women were making in the workplace and public sphere, that holiness churches pulled back from women in ministry alongside conservative forces in the rest of the country. The last decade has seen a significant return to first principles here in holiness traditions.

God can and does call people of all types to ministry. Woe to those who stand in the way of someone God has called.

Next week: PC6: A Theology of Calling

[1] Traditionally, we have called people "missionaries" who are called to leave their own culture and bring the good news of Christ to a different culture or from one people to another people.

[2] Along with other scholars like Gordon Fee and Richard Hays, I do not actually believe these verses were in the original version of 1 Corinthians, but that they were added to the text at a very early point in its transmission.

[3] While there is debate, "wife" is the most natural translation of gyne when it is used in conjunction with the word aner, and the immediate mention of Adam and Eve, as well as childbearing, suggests that the husband-wife relationship is what is primarily in view in 1 Timothy 2:12.

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