I’ve seen the question of women’s ordination come up quite a bit recently–not so much the question of whether its permissible, but the question of whether it’s tolerable. As is often the case, I find many self-proclaimed Christians sidestepping the issue of truth to focus on the far more subjective question of importance: “Even if women’s ordination is wrong, surely there are far more important doctrines. And surely there are sincere people of good faith on both sides. Is it really such a grievous error that we should divide over it?”
Well, first of all, YES. Pretty much any reasonable way of looking at it reveals the severity to those willing to see. From an empirical perspective, every denomination of so-called Christians who ordain women is steeped in heresy and dying. From an ecclesial perspective, women disguised as pastors aren’t actually pastors anymore than wolves disguised as sheep are actually sheep; so tolerating women’s ordination is essentially a confession that pastors aren’t necessary. From a theological perspective, it requires abandoning everything God has told us about human nature and creation. From an historical perspective, it’s utterly alien to the Church as anything other than an explicitly condemned error. From a philosophical perspective, feminism is as poisonous of an ideology that’s ever existed.
I could go on, but any way you slice it, it is a grievous sin for women to pretend to be pastors and for any Christian to play along with the pretense.
Nevertheless, that particular “yes” is a hard sell for many weak and faltering Christians whom the world has burdened with a phony moral obligation to “equality.” While the Church does need to address the equality lie, part of accommodating the weaker brother is considering where to start when arguing. There are times when an appropriate halfway house on the path to realizing it’s grievous is simply realizing that it’s obvious.
What do I mean by obvious? Well, consider God’s instructions to Naaman–the Syrian general who sought to be healed of his leprosy. Elisha told him to wash himself in the Jordan River seven times and he would be healed. Naturally, Naaman thought that was stupid–and it’s hard to blame him. Why should dunking yourself in a pathetic foreign river over and over again be in any way meaningful before God? Is washing in just the right way really that big of a deal?
But whether or not the instructions seemed absurdly trivial, they were most certainly clear. There was no room for Naaman to have a good-faith disagreement on the content of God’s instruction to him. He didn’t wonder whether six washings would have been sufficient, whether he could get away with using a different river, and so forth. His choice was simply to either reject that Word or accept it. Thanks to some good sense from his servant, Naaman ultimately chose the latter and was healed.
Women pretending to be pastors is also one of those issues which is so clear there’s simply no such thing as good-faith disagreement. Straightforward statements like “I do not permit a woman to teach and exercise authority over a man” or “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says” are simply incompatible with women in the pulpit. Almost all of the actual arguments against God’s restriction proceed from the heresy of theological liberalism, and involve explicitly setting aside these parts of Scripture for being insufficiently trendy. Heresy is never in good faith.
But for those who wish to maintain at least an outward adherence to Biblical inerrancy lest they set off warning bells in their churches, there are virtually no arguments left–only invention. They’ll slander faithful women of the New Testament like Phoebe, Priscilla, and so forth as usurpers of pastoral or apostolic offices. Then, on the basis of their impious speculation, they’ll insist that God couldn’t have really meant what He had Paul write. Or they’ll dive deep into what they imagine to be the “attitudes of Christ” and use their projection to cast similar doubt on the clear words of Scripture. Those are not arguments, but obfuscations. And they’re deliberate obfuscations at that.
The only real arena of good-faith debate on that issue is about how far God’s prohibitions on women teaching extend beyond the Pastoral office–to lectors, teachers, writers, influencers, congregational officers, and so forth. And even some of those stretch good-faith to the breaking point, for the church doesn’t need more female leadership. But any woman who tries to use these things as a camel’s nose pushing into the pastoral tent is unfit for that ministry in the first place because God’s prohibition on the pastoral office is blatantly obvious.
Whenever an issue of theology is obvious, it is also serious for the Church. Deliberately defying God’s clear instructions is simple faithlessness. The reasons and rationalizations don’t matter. Ignorance might matter, but as soon as the ignorant are made aware of God’s instructions in context, they cease to be ignorant and must choose between obedience and defiance. While simple weakness matters in many other kinds of wrongdoing, women’s ordination is hardly a besetting sin–it’s a deliberate one. The Church can never make peace with open, obvious, and unrepentant sin–not without selling her own soul.
To be sure, just because the instruction is clear to someone doesn’t mean it makes sense to them–as was the case with Naaman. And we do need to tear down the idol of equality because it’s always more tempting to disregard a seemingly senseless instruction than one we understand and are internally motivated to keep. But even someone who doesn’t understand–or even really wishes that he could have women’s ordination–can stand firm on the simple clarity of God’s instruction.
Women’s ordination is hardly the only issue where this applies. God’s very clear prohibition on homosexuality is another issue people talk about a lot where the same reasoning applies. God’s very clear statements about Baptism is another that people don’t talk about enough–I really do worry about Baptists on this one sometimes. But no matter which parts of the Bible we happen to hate, we need to take the posture of faith seeking understanding. In other words, sometimes we have to accept God’s Word even when it seems senseless before we can come to understand just how much sense it really makes.