Isn't male leadership a thing of
the past, like slavery?
What about Deborah?
When is a head
not a head
A matter of justice
'But I feel called
A gospel imperative
Isn't male leadership a thing of
the past, like slavery?
Firstly, slavery is not a thing of the past. It is said that
there are more people in actual slavery today than ever there was at the
height of the slave trade. In the United Kingdom slavery is not legal yet
many people, such as domestic servants, live effectively as slaves and
we are content to buy goods which have been produced in sweatshops around
Given that such things exist how
should the Christian respond to it? The Bible does not call on us to
outlaw slavery, it simply treats it as a fact in a fallen world. We do
not find arguments for the abolition of slavery nor for the assertion of the
rights of the slave. Instead we find arguments about the duties of those who
are slaves, and those who are masters.
The expectation of slave and master
is that they will seek to live in a way that is honouring to Christ.
This is a principle that is relevant to working relationships
such as employee and employer. What is more, if people truly
followed the biblical teaching, the abuse that has been part and
parcel of slavery would be non-existent and slavery as a practice
would not survive long.
The principles that we see in relation
to the slaves and masters are directly relevant to the issue of gender roles
and ministry. The desire of the Christian is not to assert their rights,
but to live to please God.
In passing, it is worth
noting that in Ephesians chapters 5 & 6 when we read about
slaves/masters and husband/wife we find sandwiched in the middle
reference to children and parents. If you choose to say
that the pattern of relationship between men and women is a thing
of the past like slavery then are you prepared to follow the logic
and say the same for the relationship of children and parents?
It is argued by some that the example of Deborah, as a woman in
leadership, points us to the fact that this is acceptable. That
Deborah should be invoked shows how uniform male leadership is
in the rest of the Bible. Of course Jezebel would be another example,
but she is rarely cited!
We must read the bible properly, as a whole. The book of Judges
stands out like a sore thumb. Its leaders are not simple role
models - would you want a Vicar like Samson, who slept with prostitutes?
The book covers 400 dark years and resonates to the words 'everyone
did what was right in his own eyes'. Sadly this is becoming a
motto for our day too.
In Judges the commands of God and the book of the law are never
mentioned. It is strange, therefore, that people should see such
a lawless time as a model for the Christian Church. Moreover,
in the account of Deborah, part of the point is that the leader
of Israel is a woman. She, knowing that it is not good, pushes
Barak forward, but he refuses, this is interpreted as weakness
on his part. The prophecy that a woman will kill the enemy serves
to underline the point. (As it turns out it was another woman,
Jael, who used a tent peg to do the deed - hardly a glorious death
What the book of Judges does show is that in extremes the commands
of God are adaptable. In the case of women's ministry, women pioneer
missionaries sometimes led churches because there were no men.
Once men were up to the task, the God given practice of a settled
and well ordered church prevailed.
When is a head not a head?
In Ephesians 6 it is stated that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ
is the head of the Church. The logic of this position is followed through
in 1 Corinthians 11 with regards teaching and the roles of men and women
in a congregation. This is what people mean by headship.
Against this some say 'the commonly used word for headship is
a Greek word meaning "source", e.g. the head of a river
is its source'. This is a very misleading statement, indeed it
is simply wrong. The Greek word in question is kephale which means
head (the thing above your shoulders) - we still use it in a variety
of medical terms - eg. cephalic. In Ephesians 6 this play on words
between head and body is clearly intended. For most people the
head is the place from which the body is governed and this is
why in Greek and English head refers to authority and leadership,
as for example with a Head Teacher. In Greek literature head is
used thousands of times in this normal sense. There are a very
few instances of the word referring to the starting point of something,
or source. Where the word is used in that sense it is just a way
of speaking, it does not mean that the head is the source.
A matter of justice.
Many believe that allowing women to be priests is 'a matter of
justice'. Some who used this argument in 1992 in General Synod
have subsequently used exactly the same argument with regards
homosexual practice. It is deemed unjust to treat people differently
because of their gender or sexual practices. The often cited scripture
is Galatians 3.28: 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither
slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are
all one in Christ Jesus.' If the justice argument is right then
the Apostle Paul who wrote these words in Galatians, not to mention
the Holy Spirit who caused them to be written, obviously did not
see as clearly as we do what they meant to say. Paul evidently
saw no contradiction with the teaching we find elsewhere on the
different roles of men and women. Much modern theology is done
by taking a principle and applying it to every circumstance regardless
of whether the conclusions we reach are in accord with the bible.
The logic goes something like this, God is love (clearly true),
so love is always right and therefore homosexual love, however
expressed physically, is always right. But we must have the humility
to admit that if our conclusions contradict the bible then we
have gone wrong somewhere. Either our assumptions were wrong,
or our logic is wrong, probably both.
The bible teaches both the equal value of women and men, but also that they
are different and have different gifts and different roles.
'But I feel called by God.'
This is by far and away the most difficult objection to answer, and yet the
answer is simple. It is like the person who has prayed hard and come to the
conviction that it is God's will that they should marry X, only to find that
X is equally clear that they must marry someone else. One of them is wrong
(probably both), and the person who is wrong is either misinterpreting their
own feelings, or being misled. The Church of England has never ordained people
simply because they felt called by God. Calling must always be tested and
that must begin with the tests laid down in scripture. The scriptures precluded
certain people from being appointed as elders and this includes women.
A gospel imperative.
Some people believe that unless we have identical ministries for men and women
our message will be undermined, we will find that people do not listen. Therefore
it is essential, for the gospel, that we adapt to the modern world. A similar
argument was used 20 and more years ago in relation to liturgy. It was argued
that unless we use modern language liturgy people will not come to church.
Statistics prove the lie in both arguments - the numerical decline of the
Church of England has not been halted by these moves. Indeed what we have
seen is that as the Church continues to try and make itself more acceptable
and relevant to people today it has actually made itself more and more irrelevant,
because people cannot see in the Church any conviction or truth that is different
from the world around.
The gospel is the power
of God to salvation for them that believe. The modern world is
no different to the Roman empire of the 1st Century, biblical
teaching on morality and social order is a million miles from
the every day world which surrounded those first Christians. Yet
by their faithfulness to the word of God, and by the grace and
goodness of God, the world was slowly transformed. A pagan empire
whose standards were completely alien to the teaching of Christ
slowly accepted the message of the early Christians and in many
areas biblical morality took root. This is the challenge that
faces the Church of God today. Will we abandon biblical faith
which seems too hard for the world? Or will we trust that God
knows best for His creatures? Are you prepared to say with the
Lord Jesus, not my will be done, but Yours.
5 : Responding in the Parish