This seven part series, written by a graduate of Southwestern Theological Seminary, is intended to stir conversation among conservative evangelicals on the subject of women in ministry. I am currently reading "Women in the Church" by Kostenberger and Schreiner, and this guest blog series offers a counter view to that classic complementarian work. Proponents on both sides of this issue view Scripture as the inspired, inerrant Word of God. The goal of dialogue is to realize it is unnecessary to make women in ministry a test of Christian fellowship. Some of you may recall that Steve Harmon was up for a position on the theology faculty at Southwestern in the mid-1990's. He was recommended by Tommy Lea and Ken Hemphill. When interviewed by a group of trustees Harmon expressed appreciation for the Chicago statement on inerrancy. But, when asked about his position on women in ministry, he indicated that his understanding of the Bible allowed females to serve in ministry positions. The trustees then said that, because of Harmon's position on females in ministry, he did not believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures despite what he said. Harmon was out and he was labelled in print as a young man who didn't believe the Bible. He is now a fine instructor at Campbell University Divinity School. Southern Baptists need to realize that we will continue to lose the best and the brightest if we do not come to the realization that the women in ministry issue has conservative proponents on BOTH sides of the issue.
Part 1: History and Confessions
Part 2: Priesthood of the Believer
Any consideration of the significance of ordination must be set in the broad context of the doctrine of the priesthood of believers. We believe that Jesus Christ is our great High Priest. On the cross he was both priest and sacrifice. Now he is interceding for us at the Father’s right hand.
Nowhere in the New Testament is any Christian called a priest (iereus).There are, however, five texts in the New Testament (each of which is based on Exodus 19:6) which indicate that all believers have the standing of a priest before God. This doctrine speaks to the personal immediacy in that every believer has in relation to Christ.
Paige Patterson has concluded that the universal priesthood of believers implies certain important truths. Among these are: 1) it guarantees direct (or immediate) access for the believer to God, 2) it demands responsible service by the believer to the Lord, and 3) it emphasizes the evangelistic assignment of every believer for the Lord. The priesthood of all believers does not reduce the role of all believers does not reduce the role (or the need) of a representative leadership. It calls for the priesting of all believers, not the laicizing of all leaders.
Martin Luther made the priesthood of all believers a touchstone for the true Church and a mark of the Reformation’s faithfulness to an original Christianity too long subverted. Looking back across millennia in which the Church in Rome had come to distinguish sharply between clergy and laity, the Reformers could find no scriptural basis for this development.
In the New Testament there is no evidence of vocational difference. The New Testament word for clergy (kleros) refers not to a special order among Christians, but to all Christians. And the word for laity (laos) refers not to the pew-warming part of the congregation but to all Christians. All are called to one service, and all alike are God’s people. “And you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people (laos), that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
It is, of course, true that there were leaders and teachers, but they did no more than set forth the Biblical truth of every Christian’s obligation. An assembly of believers will select other believers to be their leader, but those people are priests only as are those who selected them. Since all Christians are priests before God, God’s requirements and expectations are the same for all.
This new idea of believer communities called for a new pattern of leadership. The key concept in the structuring of the new communities was to be service, diachonia. Service to God was no longer the prerogative of Levitic priest, but was to be the privilege of all believers. Jesus Christ had not only established a new community, but had set the example of perfect service. Just as voluntary humility (submissiveness) was typified by Jesus (Phil. 2:5-8), so also should all who take His name have the same spirit (Phil. 2:3-5). There was to be a mutuality of service, diachonia, pervading the body of Christ. “As each has received a gift, employ [diachonoutes] it for another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pet. 4:10).
The principle of mutual humility and service among believers is reflected in the vocabulary chosen by the New Testament writers. Words in secular Greek for civil and religious authorities are consistently avoided with regard to the ministries of the church. Time, for example, is used in secular Greek to describe the honor and dignity of office. Not once is it used of office holding in the New Testament, nor are arche or archon used in reference to leadership in the Christian community. Arche, always implies a primacy whether in time (“beginning,” “first principle”) or in rank (“power,” “authority,” “office”), means, in connection with office, a leading, a precedence or rule. The Septuagint does use the word in secular contexts and in religious ones. The New Testament uses it for Jewish and Gentile authorities and in a different sense for Christ (Col. 1:16), but never for Church ministries of any sort. Similarly the title archon (ruler, prince) is used for demonic powers, Roman and Jewish officials, and also for Christ (Rev. 1:5, “ruler of the kings of the earth”), but never for offices in the Church.
Words used of in Old Testament (iereus, leitoupyos) are likewise avoided in connection with the office of individuals in the Christian communities. Michael Green notes:
“It is simply staggering in view of the background of these New Testament writers, steeped as they were in the priestly system of the Old Testament, that never once do they use the word hiereus of the Christian minister. The Aaronic analogy for their ministry lay obviously to hand. But they refused to use it. It is hard to overrate the significance of this point when we notice that they did use it of the whole Christian community.”
Therefore, every believer is a priest before God. Each may enter the Father’s presence through faith in Christ alone. Each is also responsible to share his or her faith in a personal ministry. The New Testament church did not ordain people to positions of authority, (as we shall see more of later) but designated all people to the ministry of service.
One of the most repeated arguments from the less informed opponents of women in ministry or ordained positions is that, “Jesus was a man and He chose twelve men to be his disciples. Therefore, only men should be ordained by church as its spiritual leaders.” Note, however, that the twelve included no Gentiles, nor no slaves, yet the New Testament church became predominately made up of slave and Gentiles - and women!
Primary in the meaning of the priesthood of all believers is the standing of the believer before God as a mature son with all of the attendant rights and privileges which sonship entails. Although it took time, most of the New Testament church leaders finally came, through the help of the Spirit, to realize that God makes no distinction between persons. God favors no person over another. God rejects no one who comes to God. In Galatians 3:26-28: “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no ‘male and female’; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In the Greek text arsen kai thelu (“male and female”) is more of an interruption than English translations would indicate. These words are the technical terms from Genesis 1:27 “male and female created he them,” and their technical character is clear as they are not the ordinary words for “man” and “woman” but actually “male and female.” The conjunction “and” also interrupts the “neither/nor” series. We therefore have good reason to put “male and female” in quotation marks. Paul shows that the Law has been transcended in Christ at the following points: (1) the boundary line between Jews and Greeks has been abolished, the wall of partition which God himself had risen through the Law. (2) The boundary line between slave and free, which also is well attested in the Law, is overcome. (3) And, finally, the most primary division of God’s creation is overcome, that between male and female – the terminology points directly back to Genesis 1:27 and in the direction of man as the image of God, beyond the division into male and female.
Frank Stagg has characterized Galatians as Paul’s “free manifesto.” In this letter Paul rejects bondage to the Mosaic law in favor of the freedom for which Christ freed us (Gal. 5:1). The cultic right of circumcision is not to be imposed upon anyone who knows the freedom of living by faith (3:11-14). Our common humanity and oneness in Christ are not to be obscured by such secondary distinctions as ethnic identity, legal status, or sexuality, for “there is not any Jew nor Greek, not any slave nor free, not any male and female; for ye all are one in Christ Jesus” (v. 28). This text does not deny the reality of sexual difference any more than it denies the reality of distinctions that are ethnic (Jew and Greek) or legal (slaves and free persons). There are such distinctions, but so far as our being “in Christ” is concerned, being male or female is not a proper agenda item.