Women studying at seminary… Women writing books of theological instruction… Women leading the liturgy and administering the Sacraments… Feminism’s self-insertion into the pastoral office has not yet slackened if these ongoing debates in ‘conservative’ churches are any indication.
Clearly, we are surrounded by a multitude of women who wish to teach and guide Christ’s Church. We are also surrounded by a multitude of weak men who want to score worldly brownie-points by encouraging women to get as close to being a pastor as possible without crossing “the line.”
The line, of course, refers to God’s explicit commands like “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” In light of that, anyone pushing women teachers (who still pretends to be faithful) must ask themselves how far women are really allowed to go in fulfilling their desire to be teachers and leaders. Congregational offices like voter and president aren’t explicitly forbidden in Scripture, right? Is writing theology books for my church body really “teaching” per se? Is standing at the front of the congregation and reading God’s Word actually “preaching”? How about preaching the weekly children’s sermon that’s also heard by the whole congregation? Their answers to these questions vary, but they universally produce some kind of “pastor lite” role for women.
And that should be our first clue that the problem is actually in the question. “To what extent does God forbid what I want to do” is not what Christians should be asking themselves. The better question is, “what has God instructed me to do?”
This question of vocation, or calling, is one of the highlights of the Lutheran Reformation. While many at the time saw the height of spirituality in the works of monasticism and its rigorous traditions, Luther the former monk knew how much of it was human invention that God never actually commanded. And unfortunately, the Church had lost the habit of searching Scripture, which is so replete with true instructions from God. Had they maintained that habit, no ordinary Christian would ever have thought there was a shortage of truly good works to perform outside of church work.
While Americans typically look at God’s rules as a string of thou-shalt-nots which fence us in, the reality is that taking them seriously will always provide us with an infinity of thou-shalts as well. For example, if our neighbor’s bodily well-being is so important that murder is a grievous sin, then we should also seek to care for his bodily needs. If his property is so important that we mustn’t steal it, then we should do what we can to help him keep and enlarge it as well.
Luther’s Large Catechism is an excellent work of theology that (among other things) explores each of the 10 Commandments in this way. And it includes many lines such as “Whoever now seeks and desires good works will find here more than enough to do that are heartily acceptable and pleasing to God. In addition, they are favored and crowned with excellent blessings.” Christians should be overjoyed to receive such treasures from our Lord.
God’s instructions for us don’t end with the 10 Commandments, of course. But my point is that Christians should not be looking to Scripture merely for limits on what we want. When we do this, we are still pursuing our own ends while “allowing” Christ to trim the fringes. Rather, we should be looking to the Bible for direction in what we ought to want and what God has given us to do. It is precisely in that respect that most conversations about women’s roles in the Church utterly fail.
Women who aspire to be teachers (and the men who encourage them) scour Scripture to try and find some license for what they’ve already decided to do. They take brief mentions of Phoebe or Junia and use them to spin great and expansive yarns about deaconesses and “women apostles.” They try to project “attitudes” onto Christ apart from His instructions, which always seem to match their own attitudes and always seem to allow exactly what they want to allow. They wax as legalistic as any Pharisee to explain why the specific teaching and authority they seek isn’t technically the same teaching and authority which God forbids them.
Very tellingly, however, most would-be female teachers ignore the places where God explicitly instructs women to teach. According to Titus 2, “[Older women] are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” You say you are called to teach in the Church? Very well, God has just explicitly assigned you both your students and your curriculum! What greater and more God-pleasing work could you ask for than for what He’s specifically set aside for you to do?
And this is not the only teaching to which women are called. Solomon begins Proverbs by saying “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.” Paul likewise says of Timothy’s faith, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well,” explicitly honoring the great and mighty works that the most important women in Timothy’s life had performed. After all, when God forbids women from teaching and having authority over men in the church, He immediately provides women with a different responsibility, saying “Yet she will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” Once again, what greater work of teaching could you aspire to than teaching the children God has called you to bear and to raise?
It is precisely these God-given vocations which are shunned by feminists. Most of these aspiring teachers would happily give up the most fertile years of their lives, spend a hefty sum of their parents’ money, and subject their future households to crippling debt all to prepare for what they want to teach. But what effort have they put into preparing themselves for the great tasks that God has actually given to them? Instead, how many have waited for a husband to show up rather than seek one? How many have deliberately put off marriage & children or minimized their time in the home for the sake of a career? How many have despised God’s instructions to submit to their husbands? And, of course, how many of the older women of the previous generations who should have been teaching them these things abandoned their own God-given posts and encouraged college above all else?
The sad reality is that American Christians–men and women alike–have long been taking their marching orders from the world rather than from the Lord. We make idols of education & career and then literally cannot conceive of any truly God-pleasing work outside of those narrow spheres. In the terminal stages of this worldliness, we actually become resentful of Jesus because He gets in the way of worshiping our idols. Far be it from Christians to live this way!
God’s instructions should not just be holding us back; they should be propelling us forward. That means we have to sit at Jesus’ feet and truly learn from him. And that includes letting him teach us about His creation of humans as either men or women. When God appoints men rather than women to teach & have authority in the Church and when He places fathers in charge of the home, it is not the result of a coin flip. It is not an arbitrary difference in roles for fundamentally interchangeable parts; it is what He specifically shaped each sex for. Scripture explicitly ties God’s command to both Creation and the Fall–two fundamental aspects of our nature which we cannot change. He has crafted men and women differently for the different good works prepared in advance for us to do.
So let us truly be His servants. Let us accept the works our Master has given us–even at the expense of the very different works which the world and its Prince acclaim. As our Lord said, one cannot serve two masters. So choose this day which one you would serve.