The Traditions of Men and Womens' Ordination

By Eric Wilson

The real issues underlying womens' ordination might be less about gender than first meets the eye. The problem might be with leaders such as bishops – or senior elders – vesting too much authority in regulation rather than hands-on oversight. The result tends to be a system of ministry licences rather than ministry freedoms – sometimes making it necessary for both sexes to become 'fully ordained' simply to function. Is this a case of doing the right thing the wrong way?

Many women seek ordination for permission to effectively work their spiritual gift. But in most congregations, unordained men are in fact equally disenfranchised. This is because to hold "everything decently and in order", the bishoptry (eldership) often uses a ministry licensing model rather than personal mentoring. In crude terms, the sheep are fenced in more than called out by name; then they're traditionally educated instead of discipled in the Way.

An example for many Anglican/Episcopal congregations is holy communion, where churchy regulations more-or-less forbid 'officiation' by common people. Yet Jesus himself wasn’t ordained since He wasn’t qualified either:

"For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law." - Hebrews 8:4 (NKJV)

So with Jesus not being a son of Aaron, they challenged Him:

Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, "By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?" - Matthew 21:23 (NKJV)

Of course it was Father. And so the communion meal is unmistakeably grounded in the Passover not ordination – “I earnestly desire to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” our Lord said. Under Moses' law, this ‘service’ as scripture calls it, is performed in every household – through an old covenant priesthood of all believers (Exodus 12:3). Likewise, Jesus commands us to “Do this as often as you drink it” not “Do this as often as a bishop or elder licences it”.

Bishops and elders – being the legitimate ordained ministry of Titus 1 – are supposed to watch the flock, making sure we minister to each other correctly. This is because all of the ‘saints’ (set apart ones) are supposed to be equipped for the ‘work of ministry’ as Ephesians 4 explains.

The same can be said of the pulpit. Paul writes one who receives revelation ought to interrupt – yes interrupt – the one in church who’s merely speaking, while others judge it, as 1 Corinthians 14:29-30 explains. "You can all prophesy one by one" the apostle says. So if women are supposed to be muzzled, why then does he also write they should have their heads covered while praying or prophesying?

In Paul’s book, head coverings symbolise that women in Christ are not born again in Eve’s likeness. They don’t minister independently of men but with actual male authority. For he says in Galatians 3 that all who believe are ‘sons of God’, explicitly including females.

Yet in our 'modern' church practice, often both men and women are effectively muzzled except for pre-approved responses chanted together or perhaps a short cacophony of unintelligible personal tongues. Paul would say whether male or female, ministry shouldn’t be defined by such heavy licensing but encouraged through real relationships – see 2 Corinthians 3 for example. Paul’s injunction that ‘women should hold their peace’ as 1 Corinthians 14 literally reads (since ‘to muzzle’ is a different Greek word), is to curb interrupting questions - not quench the Spirit of Christ within them.

In this context of real freedom of speech in church - which is absolutely foreign to most of us - Paul unashamedly writes that women should not teach men or hold authority over them. On this he's absolutely emphatic, relentlessly pitching every possible argument from nature to nurture at the stubborn Corinthians. But years later to Timothy, the issue is distilled down to what happened in the Garden of Eden:

"For Adam was formed first, then Eve." - 1 Timothy 2:13 (NKJV)

Paul's issue - and he was no fool - is that Eve was deceived to think she could negotiate with Satan for hidden knowledge, leading Adam to fall. Of course this is the basis of witchcraft. Reading between the lines to Timothy, when it comes to the free exercise of spiritual gifts Paul seems terrified such tainted ministry could corrupt a truly free church - as happened in 2 Corinthians 11:3. His solution is to urge all female sons of God to live completely opposite to Eve, and enjoy a corresponding relief from her curse in childbirth (1 Timothy 2). Yet the eternal and overwhelming truth is that in the twinkling of an eye, we shall all be like Him – ‘sons of God’ and ‘sons of the resurrection’ as Jesus puts it in Luke 20.

So even when reading the scriptures sideways while squinting, the ordination of women is hard to find – yet examples of women in ministry are plain to see. This is no paradox. It’s a challenge for us to recognise the apostolic authority of the Spirit in whomever He wills to gift; while not confusing this ‘authority-by-gifting’ with ordained leadership rightfully charged to encourage these gifts to work together in love. Furthermore, we shall never come to "the unity of faith" if we keep ignoring the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers which "He Himself" has given us (Ephesians 4:11-16).

Concerning ordination then, there's no prohibition in scripture against women elders, save the difficulty in holding the required authority over men. But in Paul's view of the Kingdom, ordained eldering has little to do with women ministering - that's our cultural baggage not his. It's time for us to recognise that implicit authority to minister also issues from the Spirit's distribution - not centralisation - of gifts throughout the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:11-18) Even the least of gifts - the tongues of men or angels requiring interpretation  - are prohibited from being forbidden:

"Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order."
- 1 Cor 14:39-40 (NKJV)

The error of issuing ministry licences at the expense of overseen ministry freedom is quenching the Spirit of God (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20) throughout body of Christ. This human practice runs contrary to the priesthood of all believers, where spiritual gifts become "a way of excellence" where liberty becomes directed by love itself (1 Corinthians 12:31-14:1). So womens' ordination would become a side issue if the gifted ministry of many wasn't restricted to an ordained few. Yet factions for fictions abound, when traditions of men supplant the word God.

First Published 20 December 2006
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Wednesday, December 20, 2006   printer friendly version | 10104 reads