Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Evangelicals and evangelicals

I have been thinking a bit about what is the difference between evangelicals I agree with and evangelicals I disagree with (or, from another perspective, what might be deemed to be the difference between ultra conservative evangelicals and conservative evangelicals or between fundamentalists and evangelicals ... I myself am not too keen on such terminological distinctions).

Here goes. There are evangelicals who do not consider that they might be wrong and there are evangelicals who consider that they might be wrong. (Ditto, of course, for "liberals").

It can then get a bit complex. Evangelicals unable to entertain the possibility that they are wrong might be right! Evangelicals open to correction might need correcting.

My serious point is that communication and dialogue is easier to conduct with those open to the possibility that they are wrong than with those who are closed to the possibility.

Women in leadership: 1 Timothy 2:12-15

I have been involved in a conversation or two lately on the ordination of women (as well as making previous posts on this blog). I am convinced that evangelical arguments – i.e. arguments based on Scripture – against the ordination of women as priests/presbyters and bishops are flawed. (Mostly there is agreement that ordination to the diaconate is agreeable; that women may teach and lead other women and children. I do not deal here with arguments from an anglo-catholic presupposition that the church’s tradition rules out innovations).

In my understanding there are two main lines of argument brought to bear.

One, that the teaching and leadership of women over a mixed gender congregation is prohibited by 1 Timothy 2:12: I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority (authentein) over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet (ESV).

Two, that in social organisation men are to exercise headship over women (husband head of wife, father head of family, men to be heads of churches as elders and bishops). This latter argument extends to a response to charges that the first argument treats women as inferior to men by asserting that Scripture teaches men and women are equal but are called to exercise different roles. Headship combined with helpmeet (Genesis 2) undergirds the equal but different thesis.

In this post I want to focus on the first argument and leave the second argument for another post, suffice to observe for the moment that Scripture at best implies men are to be heads of churches rather than directly commands it to be so. That is, the second argument rests on an extension of what is said about the role of men in marriages and families (and what that role actually means is itself a matter of discussion).

One way to engage in interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 is to say there is this interpretation and there is that interpretation and there is another and the pros and cons of each are this and that. My reckoning on that approach is that our presuppositions drive much of that exploration. Thus if I am disposed to affirm the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopacy then I emphasise (e.g.) the difficulty of understanding authentein which is something of a rare word, and whose published meanings range from ‘exercise authority’ through to ‘excessively dominate’. On that disposition one is going to plump for ‘excessively dominate’ and thus apply the prohibition to such women and not to all. Conversely one might adduce supporting evidence in favour of ‘exercise authority’ and push forwards to the conclusion no women may exercise authority over men. Thus in a straight debate between pro-ordination and no-ordination each side is likely to feel winners! This is not to say that I think when all arguments are considered there is a balance between them – just that the issues are sufficiently complex for such argumentation not to lead to overwhelming conclusiveness on the part of those who support the ordination of women and thus those who want to hold out against ordination can feel logically entitled to continue to do so.

No, I think it is time to pursue a different line of argument. It goes like this. Let’s suppose, for the sake of the argument, that 1 Timothy 2:12 lays down a universal rule for every context of the church’s life through time. That is, under no circumstance of the first or twenty-first century, of Ephesus or Canberra (a modern city, created in the twentieth century) may a woman be the teacher or leader of a mixed gender congregation. (Let’s recall that in, e.g. the Diocese of Sydney this is how some Anglicans apply this verse, for there is a rigid application made there, right down to the creation of a special cadre of women leaders, “women workers”, who work alongside but never over the ordained priests of the Diocese). Then let’s pursue the logical implication of this understanding that under no circumstance such as discerning a woman to have leadership gifts or teaching gifts nor testing a women to see if she is faithful in service and sound in doctrine may a woman be appointed to teach or lead a mixed gender church. Nor is there any circumstance in which the church is perceived to be well beyond the dangers of false teaching of any kind touched on by the Pastoral Letters in which a woman may teach or lead. Further, even in the circumstance where, say in another parish or diocese, a woman is appointed to lead and to teach (i.e. to be a vicar or rector of an Anglican parish), and they are recognised by universal appliers of 1 Timothy 2:12 as doing ‘a good job’, being ‘faithful in the gospel’, or ‘an exception to the rule’, nothing changes. Such a woman at best will be recognised as a deacon, even though they are actually a canonically ordained priest or bishop. They will not be appointed to be vicar or rector in (e.g.) Sydney, and will not be invited to preach in a universal applier’s parish. (Aside: I understand that in Sydney there are some parishes that are flexible around the question of women preaching). In other words, no evidence from experience is entertained as constraining the interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 away from being a universal rule.

But its precisely at this point of recognising the strength of commitment to the universal application of 1 Timothy 2:12 in some Anglican places – not only in Sydney, by the way – that the case for universal application raises the question whether the grounds are sufficiently robust on which this verse is made a universal rule resistant to any alteration.

Here things get quite interesting. In my observation three lines of reasoning emerge. First is the line of experience of the alleged failings of women in leadership. Thus, for example, it is said that many Anglican women priests are feminist to one degree or another and thus liable to teach false theology, or it will be argued that it’s a great struggle to get men into church these days and having women vicars will only make the situation worse, or the point will be made that the Sydney diocese is extraordinarily healthy and successful in the growth and development of its parishes, especially relative to other Anglican dioceses in the immediately pertinent context of Australia itself where most other dioceses have women priests and are on the verge of having women bishops too. But this is all pretty easily kicked for touch! 1 Timothy 2:12 as a universal rule, let’s remember, is a blanket ban on women teaching and leading mixed gender churches in each and every imaginable circumstance. It is simply not the case that if, say, one sermon in twenty were preached by a woman, or a staff team of five priests included one woman priest, or a couple of parishes out of a hundred had a woman vicar or rector that the strength of men’s ministry or the commitment to orthodox theology, or the health and vitality of a whole diocese would be diminished let alone undermined. No, talk of experience in this context is interesting but not actually part of the real argument for the universal application of 1 Timothy 2:12.

The next two lines of reasoning are theological. The second works with the headship argument which I will tackle in another post, suffice to say here, that headship is not given as Paul’s reason for making the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12. The third line is that provided by Paul himself in 1 Timothy 2:13-14: For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor (ESV). So here we get to the theological core of the argument: there is something about women which makes them unsuitable for teaching and for leading mixed gender churches.

Again, let’s bear in mind we are talking about a universal application of 1 Timothy 2:12, so the supporting argument is that there is something about every woman which makes each and every one of them unsuited for teaching and for leading mixed gender churches. Its rough to say this but we must. The best women you could ever meet in the church, the finest womanly minds, the greatest female characters, the most learned and gifted ‘elect ladies’ of the church (cf. 2 John 1, 5), even our own wives whom we know and love and trust, according to this line of reasoning, all are unsuitable. Remember there are no exceptions, no matter who you think of. (After all if we could think of even one exception, just one 21st century Priscilla or Euodia or Phoebe or Junia, the universal rule would have to go and a more limited application of 1 Timothy 2:12 put in its place. Most of us can think of exceptions … that’s the problem with the universalization of 1 Timothy 2:12, it does not match evangelical experience, let alone general human experience)!

What might that something be that makes all women unsuitable for the task of teaching and leading? According to 1 Timothy 2:13-14 it concerns a propensity to be ‘deceived’ and thence to become a ‘transgressor’. Eve was deceived by Satan into thinking that obedience to God did not matter, thence led Adam to agree, and both transgressed. 1 Tim 2:13-14 has the sense that Eve was a double transgressor because she led Adam astray as well as sharing with him in disobedience. The sense of ‘Adam was not deceived’ must be that he was not deceived by Satan rather than not deceived at all since Eve deceived him. Thus 1 Timothy 2:13-14 understands the Genesis story in an archetypal manner: Eve as woman, representing all women, was deceived by Satan and in turn deceived Adam as man, representing all men, and the consequence was transgression. These verses thus offer the supporting argument and explanation to the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12: women should not teach or exercise authority over men because they are inherently deceivable by Satan and liable to lead men astray.

On the face of it this is a strong and well-grounded argument. But it raises a few questions when we read the passage against the whole of Scripture. For example, if women are inherently gullible, unable to resist the false teaching of Satan, why are they entrusted with the task of teaching children and women (Titus 2:3-5)? If the difficulty then is women-in-relation-to-men, were there special circumstances in Ephesus which made the Eve/Adam argument of 2:13-14 relevant to 2:12? Perhaps, it might be responded, there are always difficulties when women and men get together, always potential for proper sexual order to become disordered. Yet even here I think we are entitled to wonder if there were particular difficulties in Ephesus since (a) 1 Timothy 2:15 enjoins women to focus on child-birth (was it younger women causing difficulties?) and (b) 4:3 talks about false teachers who ‘forbid marriage’ (was there either some ascetic ‘the body is evil’ teaching or some licentious ‘casual sexual relationships are preferable to marriage’ teaching which troubled the church?). That is we are entitled to ask whether the Ephesian situation being addressed in 1 Timothy was a (seriously) disordered situation with respect to male/female relationships and not the usual human situation where orderliness is the norm but disorder affects some.

Other questions arise. Can we be sure that 1 Tim 2:13-14 is meant to bear the weight of expectation the universalization of 1 Tim 2:12 places on it? That is, the universal rule not only prohibits all women from teaching and leading mixed gender congregations, it also involves the belief that all women are intrinsically gullible and liable to lead men astray. Was Paul actually saying this with these words? There is an alternative possibility. We admit we do not know everything about the situation in Ephesus. Suppose for example that in the Ephesian church there was an argument around which went like this: women are more important than men, Genesis 1-3 is a load of nonsense, men know nothing, women have special knowledge of theology, including the real truth on (either) sex for pleasure and not for procreation (or) the body is evil, and women are immune to sin. This would make sense of the prohibition (stop these heretical women), the claim in 2:13-14 (Adam first, not deceived by Satan, Eve deceived, transgressed), and the encouragement to bear children in 2.15 (affirming either sex is for procreation or the body is good or both). In this case 1 Tim 2:12 has a limited application – not, of course, solely to the time and place of Ephesus when 1 Timothy was written – but to all situations in which false teaching is propagated by women, and perhaps especially to situations in which normal understanding of the holiness and wholesomeness of marriage and family is being perverted.

Or, we could take another tack. What was Eve’s deception in Genesis 3? It did not concern the suitability of apples as food! The deception was believing the lie of Satan that God had not really said what God had said. Were women teachers at Ephesus questioning whether God had really commanded this or that, and shouting down the men with those questions? Were the men steadfastly refusing to go along with this questioning but losing ground in the arguments. Perhaps the women were cheering the false teachers along and shouting down the true teachers, taking over the speaker’s place in the service when the true teachers were trying to teach. ‘Did God really say we should marry?’ may have been their catch-cry. (A bewildering cry whether it was motivated by stringent asceticism or by seductive promises of promiscuity. Nevertheless 1 Tim 2:15 raises the question whether the error was asceticism rather than licentiousness and thus the false teaching included the line ‘you will not be saved if you bear children which means you have succumbed to the temptation to have sex with your husband’). Again, 2:12-15 makes perfect sense on this scenario: I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man … Adam was formed first … Eve was deceived by Satan … Adam was not … she will be saved through child-birth. For our contexts 2000 years later Paul may have been too cryptic in these verses. A helpful expansion of 2:11-15 could go like this,

‘(With respect to your clash of teachings in your services and women shouting down the orthodox teachers) Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise (manipulative, disrespectful, excessive) authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet. (Contrary to the put-downs of men) Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived (about what God said, until Eve turned his head) but the woman was deceived and (this was not inconsequential because) she became a transgressor. (At this time when Ephesian women are deceived about what God has said about marriage, and confused about losing their salvation if they have marital relations, an Ephesian woman) will be saved through childbearing (that is, will not lose her salvation – this is not, by the way, smuggling in childbearing as an alternative to salvation by faith) – if they (an Ephesian woman, actually any woman) continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.’

Let’s catch up. The point is, it is not actually plain as day that either 1 Timothy 2:12 or its supporting argument, 2:13-14 is universalist in scope. It is plausible that 1 Timothy 2:12 applies to situations such as the one in Ephesians at that time, and to similar ones elsewhere – situations in which women are unhealthily and unhelpfully dominating men in the cause of false teaching. Those who universalise 1 Tim 2:12 make this verse and its support in 2:13-14 bear more weight that it can.

Put another way, a limited application of 1 Tim 2:12 makes good sense. It coheres with the remainder of the Pastoral Letters in the first instance, including their concern about false teaching on the one hand and their recognition of the trustworthiness of women in the teaching of women and children on the other. It fits with the sense we have that when Paul and Euodia and Syntyche and Phoebe and Priscilla were in a church meeting Paul did not prevent these women from teaching. It also fits comfortably with our own experience (to say nothing of other generations) of good women teaching soundly and leading safely, and their churches growing and maturing rather than diminishing and destructing. Finally, a limited application of 1 Tim 2:12 is an approach which differs significantly from another interpretative strategy which confines the relevance of 1 Tim 2:12 to the specific time and culture of Ephesus when 1 Timothy was composed. At any time a church may experience false teaching (on which the Pastoral Letters have a lot to say) and when this false teaching is associated with a domination of men by women teachers who query what God has said (like Eve) and attempt to lead men to heresy concerning ordered sexual relationships (like the Ephesian women), then the Pauline injunction is clear: prohibit, do not negotiate a compromise. But when these issues are not present, the normal life of the church is to involve both men and women in the leadership of the church.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Roles of Women in the Life of the Church

I am working on a couple of pieces concerning the roles of women in the life of the church. One piece focuses on 1 Timothy 2:12, the other on Ephesians 5 and related texts re headship. My argument in essence will be (a) 1 Timothy 2:12 cannot bear the weight of responsibility for a totalising or universal rule in which no women may ever teach or lead a mixed gender church in any context ancient or modern; and (b) Pauline talk of headship within marriage requires all in ministry (which in Ephesians is every member of the church) to be in holy, ordered relationships with each other, especially husbands in relation to wives and wives in relation to husbands, but does not require the church to preclude gifted, skilled, and called women from teaching and leading mixed gender churches.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What is ++Rowan up to?

UPDATE: It is not now clear what is the status of the letters referred to below. If they have been written they have not been posted. But have they been written? Baby Blue broke the news, and Ruth Gledhill provides the confirmation. LATER UPDATE: the letters have been written, according to a George Conger report, but they appear to have the air of 'Let me remind you that I have said when you come to the staff meeting you must be prepared to discuss the agenda for the meeting and not bring another agenda, Yours the Headmaster'.[End of update].

According to a paper delivered by +Tom Wright at a Fulcrum conference in London a few days ago, letters are in the post from ++Rowan Williams to bishops somehow measured to be less than enthusiastic about the Windsor Report ...

"When the Archbishop issued his invitations, he made it clear as I said that their basis was Windsor and the Covenant as the tools to shape our future common life. That invitation was issued only three months after the remarkable joint statement from the Primates issued in Tanzania in February 2007. After a summer and autumn of various tangled and unsatisfactory events, the Archbishop then wrote an Advent pastoral letter in which he reiterated the terms of his initial invitation and declared that he would be writing to those bishops who might be thought particularly unsympathetic to Windsor and the Covenant to ask them whether they were really prepared to build on this dual foundation. Those letters, I understand, are in the post as we speak, written with apostolic pain and heart-searching but also with apostolic necessity. I am well aware that many will say this is far too little, far too late - just as many others will be livid to think that the Archbishop, having already not invited Gene Robinson to Lambeth, should be suggesting that some others might absent themselves as well. But this is what he promised he would do, and he is doing it. If I know anything about anything, I know that he deserves our prayers at this most difficult and fraught moment in the run-up to Lambeth itself." (My emboldening)

Its always tricky, if not embarrassing, trying to withdraw an invitation. Is that precisely what the ABC is up to? Or is it a little more "English" in its gentlemanliness ... would you possibly consider the concept of readdressing your approach to the Windsor Report, old boy/old girl?

And what is he trying to achieve? Does Lambeth get better with less (GAFCON-only bishops out) and less (Windsor-phobic stay away) bishops? Perhaps. Its hard to tell. But there are some voices - I think my own is quietly there as well - which assess that we have now got to a point in the convolutions where all should be there, none should be left out. Yet Anglicanism always involves respect for episcopal wisdom. The sharia-episode excepted ++Rowan seems to know what he is doing. Perhaps he is making the point that the future of the Communion can only be around some well defined written theology which for now has to be the Windsor Report (Oliver O'Donovan's 'only game in town') and eventually will be the Covenant.

Watch this development!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Rural round up

What a rich and diverse experience the Trans Tasman Rural Conference 2008 turned out to be. Marae and mussels, olives and outings, workshops and wine, stories and song, umu and umpteen conversations. Once again I was reminded that 'rural church' and 'rural community' can be intertwined in a way in which urban counterparts mostly are not in a secular country such as ours - one community we visited estimates that 25% of its population is in church each Sunday! Also on my radar came the thought that rural ministry may attend to a very small proportion of the population but covers a very large portion of the land mass of our two countries!

Though one of the organisers I felt ministered to by the words spoken - challenged and comforted in my faith. A powerful reminder came through the wonderful devotional ministry of Fr Philip King-Turner S.M., Catholic priest of Reefton: God is with us, directing our lives, graciously and not depending on our worthiness.

God was certainly with us through this last week!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Rural Ministry

In a few days I am off to the Trans Tasman Rural Conference 2008, being hosted in our neck of the woods, Marlborough and Nelson, New Zealand.

I love rural ministry. I have not been a country vicar but I spent part of my formative years in a country vicarage. In my one and only parish as a vicar I was in a (so to speak) rural service town, Blenheim, in the heart of Marlborough with its mix of traditional NZ farming and burgeoning vineyards. In my present role I have often preached in small country churches and engaged in various seminars and forums with rural issues.

So I am looking forward to this conference. In particular I am looking for confirmatory evidence of my thesis that the future of the church in Australia and New Zealand is as much dependent on outstanding rural ministry and mission as it is on the same featuring in the cities.

One thing I really appreciate in the Diocese of Nelson is the strength of our rural ministry (out of 26 parishes, 23 include farms or orchards or vineyards or other rural means of making a living).

Report back soon.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Further note on women bishops

A posting elsewhere reporting about a current debate in the Anglican Church in Wales about women bishops (to change from no to yes or not) reminds me that I see issues on this one differently to some fellow Anglicans. "Tradition" or "Justice" or "Pauline prohibition" or "Pauline misogyny" are the catch cries from one side to the other and back again. Though its strong language I feel like saying, 'a plague on both your houses.' The primary question is not (IMHO) whether tradition makes it impossible or justice must be served or whatever. The issue at stake is the leadership of the church, and its a pretty desperate issue in the face of the huge islamo-secularist-materialist forces unleashed against us in this century - to say nothing of the heterodox-divisive-navel gazing forces we have let loose within our body. Who is called, equipped, and gifted to lead? If no woman is so able, then we should expect no women to be appointed to leadership such as the episcopacy. But if even one woman is so able, should there be a rule, of whatever rationale, which prevents that? Of course not! Arbitrary rules of that kind are utterly foreign to the spirit of the New Testament.

I came across a lovely article on women in church leadership by F. F. Bruce the other day. F. F. Bruce was one of the great NT scholars of the 20th century and a lifelong member of the Brethren assemblies, which for the most part of their 150 years or so in existence have been prohibitive of women in leadership. In this article he argues for inclusion of women as leaders of the church and makes this point among many others:

"If [God] manifestly withheld the gifts of teaching or leadership from Christian women, then we should accept that as evidence of his will (1 Cor. 12:11). But experience shows that he bestows these and other gifts with "undistinguishing regard," on men and women alike - not on all women, of course, nor yet on all men. That being so, it is unsatisfactory to rest with a halfway house in this issue of women's ministry, where they are allowed to pray and prophesy, but not to teach or lead." (from "Women in the Church: A Biblical Survey", p. 264 in his book A Mind for What Matters: Collected Essays, Eerdmans, 1990).

One final point needs to be made. The posting referred to above reports the concerns of those who see men drifting away from the church and worry that the trend will accelerate with women in leadership. This is, of course, a pragmatic and not a theological argument against women in leadership, and is easily refuted since if just one women led church has great men's involvement then the connection between women in leadership and men leaving is undone. (And such a church can be found).