We’ve established that man and woman were created equal and that the “head of the household” label has more to do with responsibility and function than rank or authoritarianism. Yet church leadership often seems like quite the boys’ club, doesn’t it?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that only baptized males may be ordained for ministry, and it cites Jesus as the model, given that He chose twelve men as His disciples. “The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord Himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible.” Just to further clarify an already clear position, Pope John Paul II decreed in Ordinatio Sacerdotalia, “In order that all doubt may be removed, I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women…” Sorry, their hands are tied.
Similarly, many Protestant denominations hold views that women should never be in places of major or public leadership, often citing one or two specific passages from the Pauline epistles (which we’ll handle in the next couple posts) as substantiation for their positions.
It seems women aren’t equipped for such roles, and only men have what it takes to hear from on high, to perform in pivotal roles in the kingdom. A woman who wishes to make a difference for Christ should throw her support behind her husband and stay out of his way. And don’t shame him. And birth a litter of his progeny. And cook and clean and do laundry and wear an apron and… God, I get disgusted even writing such things sarcastically. What malarkey!
I’m going to start with my simplest argument against this misogynistic mindset: the all-male cast of disciples. There are strong indicators that women were found among His disciples, albeit not among the named twelve He appointed in Mark 3:13-19. Jesus named these twelve men apostles, a title which was both nonexclusive (Paul, anyone?) and impermanent (ahem, Judas?), and stated that the twelve would sit in judgment against the twelve tribes of Israel.
Clearly the number of initial disciples was significant, but it’s clear that other became apostles after the twelve.
As already mentioned, Paul is the most obvious example of an additional apostle (1 Timothy 2:7), but Barnabas (per Acts 14:4), Jesus’ brother James (Galatians 1:19), and the unnamed apostles referred to in Ephesians 4:11 reveal that more existed. Apostleship was one of many ministerial gifts seen, and it extended far beyond the named twelve. And nothing says women couldn’t be one. In fact… no, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ll return to this in a moment.
Instead I’d like to point out that Jesus had many disciples, or followers, apart from the twelve, and at least some were women. Mary of Magdala was so much a devotee, she was the first to see the risen Lord (Mark 16:9). Mary of Bethany was so much a devotee, she was overcome with love and broke an expensive jar of oil to anoint Him (Matthew 26:7). Mary of Nazareth (yes, that Mary) was so much a devotee, she followed her Son to the cross to watch Him die when most His male disciples fled and deserted Him.
If three of His followers were named Mary, are we to assume He just had such appeal to women if they were named Mary? Or is it reasonable to assume they were three of many women by many names?
But what about after Christ’s resurrection? Did women hold positions of authority in the church? Oh, where to start…
Well, we were just addressing apostles, so how about there? If you check out Romans 16:7, you’ll see two apostles listed by name, whom Paul calls relatives who did hard time with him: Andronicus and Junias —gasp! A female name!
While we’re here in Romans 16, we’ll see Paul mention several other women in leadership positions and in places of high influence.
In fact, he starts with one in the first verse: Phoebe, a deaconess in Lenchrea.
Priscilla is mentioned with her husband Aquila (and is mentioned first in this instance) in reference to the church the two of them lead in their home and their willingness to risk themselves for Paul’s sake, even sailing with him to Syria to do apostolic work. This pair is mentioned in four different books of the New Testament (Acts 18, Romans 16, 1 Corinthians 16, and 2 Timothy 4). In one place, we even see Priscilla correcting a male leader within the Ephesian church who needed reproof!
But back to Romans 16. Verse 6 mentions Mary (yet another one), cited as being a hard worker in the Roman church.
Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis are listed in verse 12 as hard workers in the ministry of the Lord.
Paul doesn’t offer her name, but he notes an appreciation for what the mother of Rufus meant to him in verse 13.
In verse 15, he mentions three women (Julia, Olympas, and the sister of Nereus).
Clearly, these women carried influence in the body, but note that only one of them is mentioned in a traditionally “feminine” role (the mother of Rufus was like a mother to Paul). All the rest were treated to praise similar to what he expressed to the men listed alongside them.
Apart from these eleven women listed in Romans 16 (roughly 40% of the people Paul mentions in the chapter), the New Testament is still rife with other examples.
Acts 16 shows a new Christian named Lydia holding church in her home in Philippi; without her, we may never have learned that we can do all things through Christ, since Paul might never have had cause to write what we now call the book of Philippians. That book (in fact, the same chapter as the “I can do all things” verse) mentions three of Paul’s co-workers in the Gospel, and two of the three were women, likely following in Lydia’s footsteps.
Acts 21:9 tells of an undoubtedly proud father — Philip had four daughters, and each one was a prophetess for God. Talk about a leadership gift! It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, though. Back in Joel 2, God warned us that our sons and daughters would prophecy and that He’d pour out His Spirit on men and women alike.
Paul seemed to acknowledge this, even expressing high regard for Lois and Eunice, Timothy’s mother and grandmother, who taught a young Timothy the Scripture from his infancy, leading to his pastoral gifting. Perhaps this is simply godly mothering, but it’s not plausible with some “inferior” female vessel for the Holy Spirit. Perhaps these non-inferior examples helped inspire Paul to suggest training widows to be deaconesses in 1 Timothy 5:9.
Suffice it to say, women had an integral, even irreplaceable role in the early church. And it wasn’t just popping out babies. Though that seems to have happened, too.
They taught, led, discipled, mentored, prophesied, rebuked, hosted churches, planted churches, and faced persecution right alongside (sometimes in the same cell) as the male leaders we all know of.
To say women can’t do such things is misogyny and malarkey. They did them and they did things no man could do.
Yet the Bible — Paul, in fact — has some specific instructions that seem to support such “malarkey”. I’ll discuss them next.
Originally posted 2016-08-22 08:00:04.