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.
“tolerating women’s ordination is essentially a confession that pastors aren’t necessary”
I don’t disagree – and, for many reasons, ordination of women has always been followed by decline, apostasy and assimilation of churches to mainstream leftism.
But – since 2020 – that applies at all major churches anyway. I think it is now too late for any such specific issue to make any significant difference – church decline is so generalized and so universal; indeed it seems to be an active policy of many/ most high level church leaders.
In other words, the ‘pastors aren’t necessary’ option seems to be the one that is being taken – like it or not.
The other thing is that several generations of Biblical Scholarship has made every statement based on the text ‘controversial’ at the highest level of expertise. NT Wright seems to be regarded as the premier New testament scholar alive – and he interprets the Bible to approve ordination of women.
Now I am certainly not saying Wright is right! (He is an activist leftist, for a start.) But I know that his work (e.g. commentaries on Gospels and Epistles) has been greatly respected and much used by Bible-based/ ‘fundamentalist protestants (including conservative Anglicans). When the likes of Wright argue that women’s ordination is proved by the most scholarly textual/ linguistic/ scholarly analysis – then the argument has been lost – at least, so far as actually-existing churches are concerned.
My guess is that churches need to be rebuilt from the ground up and with a family-based structure, completely outside the world of formal institutions – which are now monitored and controlled by tax and employment laws, taxes, building regulations and the rest of it.
And if the family continues to be penetrated and subverted by these institutions, then even this may not be possible.
In other words, things are so bad now, that this debate which began (and was lost) in many mainstream churches some 40-50 years ago, has been left behind; as evidence by the parallel corruption of such as the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Mormon churches – all of which have (so far) retained male-only priesthood
I think you’re correct in many respects. Things are in terrible decline, and there are a whole lot of denominations and other church/para-church organizations that are simply going to die. And despite all the other troubles, family is also at the heart of it. The failure to reproduce is killing many denominations that are relatively sound in doctrine and practice otherwise.
But I do think you’re being too pessimistic on a few points.
First, the Church is going to survive until the very end, and Pastors are an organic part of the Church. Where new shoots spring up, there will inevitably be pastors as well. So while there may be a lot of people who consider them unnecessary for various reasons, they’re going to be there regardless of that opinion.
Second, “Biblical Scholarship” in the modern sense of the term is also on its death-bed. The Academy in general is in terrible shape–huge college/university bubble built on utterly unsustainable debt giving fewer and fewer practical returns–and it will have a very different place in the public consciousness a generation or three from now. There will be few such teats for theologically liberal scholars to financially suckle at, and much less institutional reputation to give them prominence among worldly Christians. People will always study the Bible, but more and more that will be by those who actually want to learn *from* it.
Third, there will be another huge institutional shake-up in the Church, but I don’t think it’s going to take the form of razing and rebuilding from scratch. I think it will be more like the early Reformation. Elements in existing denominations will either take-over their hierarchies or build new ones while retaining their deeper heritage. But while there will be elements which attempt a great ecclesial reset, the most faithful new traditions will be rooted in old traditions which have been cleaned up and recovered to some significant extent. They will be largely apart from the current world of formal civil institutions as you indicate, but in large part I think that will be more because those institutions are also failing.
At the end of the day, the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church. God will always preserve a remnant, and that remnant will rebuild based on what it has already received. It’s going to look different, but it’s also going to have continuity with us today. It will genuinely be *our* posterity rather than something new and alien.
Someone once told me the ONLY reason Paul didn’t let women preach was that per Roman law at the time if a man slept with your wife you could have the govt execute him UNLESS she worked in public in which case she was considered fair game. They didn’t like it when I told them I think we should bring that law back!
HA! I’ll bet they didn’t.
Everybody loves trying to tie these instructions to dubious Roman laws & customs. But it’s not like Paul doesn’t give any reasons in the text–which tend to involve universal things like Creation and Fall.
As I recall, there were also a great many priestesses among the various pagan cults in the Roman Empire. Therefore, the notion that Paul forbade women’s ordination because of Roman patriarchy is rather absurd. Of course we know that it was/is actually the Holy Spirit, speaking through Paul, Who forbade/forbids women’s ordination, and He does not base His instructions on human law/custom.
Yes, that is indeed the case. I’ve heard people claim that all these priestesses were also temple prostitutes, and *that’s* why Paul forbade women pastors. But A) I’m highly skeptical that *all* of them were, and B) again, that’s not among the actual reasons given in the text.
This is also where the opposition will bring up slavery. “The same Paul who said women can’t speak in church also said slaves obey your masters.” So unless you’re prepared to just outright say blacks are the mark of Cain and meant to be slaves, you WILL lose the women preacher argument.
Slavery is a custom that’s much broader than Hamites, but I’m perfectly willing to say “then I guess your slaves had better do so.” But that’s a bad-faith theologically liberal argument anyway.
The long/serious version of my take on slavery is here if you’re interested: https://matthewcochran.net/blog/?p=1937
Personally I would say slavery is objectively wrong, not for the wrong done to the slaves but to the wrong done to one’s own people, to their descendants and their own race once slavery is ended. If a society has enemies, its better to kill them than enslave them, because enslaved peoples will eventually gain their freedom somehow and bear a grudge against theit slavers descendants or more generally their race. Therefore for wronging their own people of the future, by robbing them of the potential of a peaceful future, the slaver will burn in hell. The slaver will have no mercy and would have found more potential for mercy as a murderer, because then at least his injury would not have been to all his descendants and all his race.
I couldn’t care less if the “opposition” brings up slavery. I believe the NT to be God’s inspired Word, full of truth and grace. We either obey or rebel against it.
“the Church is going to survive until the very end”
The questions about this are:
1. You need to be clear what is meant by ‘The’ church, because most denominational-churches understand this it refers to their church but not the others.
But if you mean the ‘mystical church’ of true Christian believers (across several or many denominations) – then this has nothing necessarily to do with the survival of any particular institution.
I would interpret the sentence to mean little more than that there will be *some* (real) Christians still alive at the end of this world.
(I would say that you also need to consider the thought experiment of individuals without access to any Christian churches (except maybe those who are anti-Christians organizations pretending to be churches – but maybe even these will be obliterated soon). And then ask whether this entails damnation.
Or whether, on the contrary, God (Loving Father and the creator) will *always* ensure that every person who is open to Him will be provided with everything necessary for salvation – regardless of whether there happens to be a real-and-good church accessible?
For me, to ask this question is to know the answer; and that churches cannot be necessary for salvation – although they *may* be very helpful.)
2. Do you personally *really* believe that this text-proofing, verse-at-a-time, way of reading is the correct and proper way to understand what the Bible ought to mean for Christians? I certainly don’t.
1) I do mean the invisible church, which is pretty much what you’re calling the mystical church–all believers throughout time and space. So no, not tied to any specific denomination or congregation. They’re all fair game for dying off.
But at the same time, there will always be an “institutional church” because the Church is inherently institutional. By way of analogy, I’d compare it to hair. Hair doesn’t *have* to blonde. It doesn’t have to be brown. It doesn’t have to be black or red or gray. But it does have to be *some* color, or it’s not really hair. In the same way, the Church is always going to have *some* institutions or it wouldn’t really be the Church.
God will always provide means for grace for His people. That means He will always provide Word & Sacrament as well as appoint & equip men to deliver and administer these things. That means He will always provide some manner of institution. And despite the many changes of the past 2000 years, history has amply demonstrated that there is always continuity and familiarity in what He provides.
2) Proof-texting is similar to creeds and confessions: very useful for summaries, reminders and guides, but not a substitute for a more holistic approach to learning. Like any tool, it’s good for some purposes and deficient for others.
I’m using it here because the intended audience of this post is faithful Christians. Accordingly, I’m not convincing anyone here that women shouldn’t be ordained. I’m reminding them of what is already clear so that I can offer insight about some of the implications of that clarity.
“Almost all of the actual arguments against women’s ordination proceed from the heresy of theological liberalism, and involve explicitly setting aside these parts of Scripture for being insufficiently trendy.”
Perhaps I’m reading this wrong, but I think “against” should instead be “supporting” or similar wording.
Good catch, Richard; thanks.
I’m so discouraged by the ongoing trend of more and more churches changing their position on this. I really can’t stand a woman preaching in church. To me it so obviously goes against NT commands, I really have a difficult time tolerating this, in the name of Christian unity. I’ve been following the debates for years, but somehow it boils down to “back then maybe this applied, but now things are different.” I truly hate that.
Here is an interesting post concerning both women’s ordination and feminism in general.