Bring on the exceptions!

I’m sometimes told that when God uses a woman to lead or to teach, it’s an exception–usually because he cannot find a suitable man. (This gives justification for women on the mission field.) I’ve even had Balaam’s ass cited as an example, as in, if God can use Balaam’s donkey, then he can even use a woman.

So I say, bring on the exceptions!

Bring on Heidi Baker and Anne Graham Lotz, Beth Moore and Joyce Meyer.

Bring on the women in India who start thousands of churches.

Bring on the women in the Middle East who are risking their lives to proclaim the gospel.

Bring on the authors–Rachel Held Evans, Carolyn Custis James, Sarah Bessey and a myriad more.

Bring on the Biblical exceptions–Deborah, Huldah, Esther, Ruth, Mary, Priscilla, Junia and Phoebe.

Lord, let me be an exception too!  Let there be an army of exceptions! (Psalms 68:11 NASB)

army of women

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My latest book, The Black Swan Effect: A Response to Gender Hierarchy in the Church is now available via Amazon

Guest post by theologian, Philip B Payne: Courageous submission

Regular readers of my blog know that there’s a book I quote perhaps more than any other (excepting the Bible itself.) That book is Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters by Philip B. Payne. It’s a 500+ page, deep theological study of the writings of Paul concerning women, written by a theologian who has been studying the Biblical languages since his youth. I was very grateful, therefore, when a mutual friend put me in touch with Phil. Since then, I’ve been pestering him with questions, to which he has very graciously and patiently responded.

One of the questions that has come up recently several times in the comment section of my blog concerns 1 Peter 3:1-8. It’s one of those passages that, at first sight, appears to insist on women submitting to men unconditionally. I wrote to Phil, asking if he has anything written on these verses. The following comes from a forthcoming (and as yet untitled) book by Philip B. Payne, Vince Huffaker and Tim Krueger. Phil’s portion summarizes the exegetical case in his Man and Woman, One in Christ (Zondervan, 2009).

1 Peter 3:1–8 Courageous Submission to Win over Unbelieving Husbands.

Peter wrote this letter to encourage believers suffering unjustly. In the previous paragraph he writes,

“18 Slaves submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and considerate but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if anyone out of consideration for God bears up under the pain of unjust suffering. 20 … if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God … 21 because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example….”

“Similarly,” in 1 Peter 3:1 explicitly associates the unjust suffering of submissive slaves to wives: “Similarly, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, so that some, even though they do not believe the word, may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives. … 6 let nothing terrify you.”

Peter encourages wives of unbelievers to be courageous like Christ was and to live out the Gospel. It is not a call to weakness but to Christ-like strength in the face of adversity. This no more affirms a hierarchical model of marriage than the parallel previous paragraph affirms slavery.

Peter chose Sarah as an example of courageous submission. Genesis 12:11–20 and 20:2–18 (and the parallel regarding Isaac in Gen 26:7-11) shows that Abraham put Sarah in threatening situations that even the heathen regarded as pernicious. Accordingly, this passage concludes in v. 6, “you are now her children if you do right and let nothing terrify you.”

It is clear that according to both Paul and Peter, women are to submit to their husbands, and that this is praiseworthy. As Paul argued in Ephesians 5, however, God’s desire for Christian marriage is for the wife’s submission in the context of mutual submission between husband and wife. Peter’s following two paragraphs likewise affirm mutual respect and mutual submission between husband and wife.

Peter’s words to husbands in v. 7 challenge them to repudiate the macho model of their culture’s repression of women and disrespectful view of women. He commands, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate of your wives’ physical limitations as you live with them, bestowing honor on them as joint heirs of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” “Joint heirs” implies the wives’ equal spiritual standing and inheritance with their husbands. That wives are joint heirs contrasts to typical Greek and Jewish customs that gave women smaller inheritances than men. Peter emphasizes how important it is for Christian husbands to bestow honor on their wives as joint heirs of salvation. Not to do so could hinder their prayers.

Peter immediately affirms in 3:8–12, “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. … For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears hear their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Thus, in order to be “righteous” and not “evil,” husbands must be considerate, like-minded, sympathetic, loving, compassionate and humble toward their wives, bestowing honor on them as joint heirs of the gracious gift of life. This is one of the Bible’s strongest statements of how essential it is for Christian husbands to treat their believing wives with respect as equal in spiritual standing.

When a theologian agrees…

I am no theologian. Nor do I have a background in ancient languages. So I’m very grateful for the many prominent theologians who hold the same position that I do on the topic of women in ministry. Scot McKnight, in his excellent book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, describes a visit to one of the most distinguished scholars of his day, FF Bruce, who specialized in the writings of Paul. Scot, (one of the best known theologians of our day) says this:

In the spring of 1981, as a doctoral student in Nottingham England, I piled Kris and our two kids, Laura and Lukas, into our small car and drove to Buxton. Professor F. F. Bruce, perhaps the most widely known evangelical scholar of the previous generation and a specialist on Paul, had invited our family to his home for late-afternoon tea. When we arrived, we were welcomed into the home by Professor Bruce, and we sat in the living room for about two hours. During that time our son managed to spill a glass of orange squash on the Bruce’s rug, which Professor Bruce dismissed with a “whatever can be spilled has been spilled on that rug.”

During a break, as Kris was talking to Mrs. Bruce, I asked Professor Bruce a question that I had stored up for him (and I repeat our conversation from my memory): “Professor Bruce, what do you think of women’s ordination?”

” I don’t think the New Testament talks about ordination,” he replied.

“What about the silencing passages of Paul on women?” I asked.

“I think Paul would roll over in his grave if he knew we were turning his letters into torah.”

Wow! I thought. That’s a good point to think about. Thereupon I asked a question that he answered in such a way that it reshaped my thinking:

“What do you think, then, about women in church ministries?”

Professor Bruce’s answer was as Pauline as Paul was: “I’m for whatever God’s Spirit grants women gifts to do.”

So am I . Let the blue parakeets sing!

(Used with permission)

The stained glass ceiling

Like it or not, for most women in the church there is a stained glass ceiling. Women have limits. In most churches, they are not allowed to baptize or to give communion. In many other churches they cannot teach from the pulpit or hold a position of authority.

The stained glass ceiling is a reality, and it’s painful for women to keep hitting their heads against it.

Even within the house church movement, where there are generally no barriers for women, those of us who were brought up in the traditional church still find it difficult to initiate or lead out. We have been conditioned to live within stained glass limits. As I observe the simple/organic/house churches I am familiar with, I find it’s usually the women who either were brought up in the simple/organic movement, or those who became followers of Jesus within it, who plant churches.

We recently held a round table at our home where people from many different church backgrounds came to listen to the Lord about where God is taking this movement of men and women working together as co-equals in the Kingdom. Several of the women described the stained glass ceiling they still experience in their churches, and the  incredible pain and frustration it causes them. These are women of caliber with professional qualifications who, in church, cannot fully use their considerable gifts and talents solely because of their gender.

Some of the men present described how, in the past, they have been responsible for creating a stained glass ceiling for women. They repented very specifically to the women for their personal role and for the church’s patriarchal attitude. They deliberately dismantled the stained glass ceiling for the women present.

I’ve been in meetings before where this has happened and witnessed firsthand the healing that this brings to women. I’ve experienced it in my own life too.

As I look around the world, it appears that the Holy Spirit is in the process of shattering the stained glass ceiling. As Gamaliel said in Acts 5,

“If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!”

If this move of men and women partnering together for the harvest is something God is doing, nothing can stop it!

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My latest book, The Black Swan Effect: A Response to Gender Hierarchy in the Church is now available. Check it out.

An opposite spirit

A few weeks back we had a round table at our home. The purpose of it was to follow up on The Black Swan Effect: A response to gender hierarchy in the church. What is God doing? Should we be doing anything more to follow up from the book?

To my amazement, even though the team responsible for the round table sent out the invitation to a very limited group of people, both men and women traveled in from all over the country to take part. They were all high-caliber people, many with ministries of their own.

After initial introductions, we each spent time on our own listening to what God was saying about the area of women in the church and specifically about men and women working together as equals in the Kingdom. When we came back to report on what we had heard, there were striking similarities in what people shared.

Any movement that results in women and men working together as co-equals is to be characterized by love, humility, forgiveness, laying down our lives. Nothing is to be done to get even or to get revenge, or even to demand our own way. As we willingly have an opposite spirit to the natural or world’s way of doing things, we’ll find that God is at work on our behalf.

Peter’s pragmatism

I love it when I discover pragmatism in a Bible story.

I’m sure you remember this one. An angel appears to the Gentile army captain, Cornelius, and tells him to summon Peter, who is staying in Joppa, a day’s journey away. As Cornelius’ servants near Joppa, Peter is praying on the rooftop. Through a vision, God persuades him that all food is good to eat. When Cornelius’ servants arrive at the door, the Holy Spirit speaks and Peter reinterprets the dream to mean that he is supposed to go with them even though they are Gentiles.

Arriving in Cornelius’ home where his household has gathered, Peter preaches the gospel. Even while he is speaking, the Holy Spirit falls on these Gentiles and they begin to speak in tongues. Peter regards this as evidence that the Gentiles, too, can enter the Kingdom of heaven, and baptizes them.

Later on, Peter describes this story to the leaders back in Jerusalem. Speaking into a context where the stricter Jews were criticizing him for entering the home of a Gentile and where people believed that Gentiles were not included in the salvation Jesus won, he makes a remark that to me seems full of pragmatism:

“… Since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17)

And the response?

When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.” (Acts 11:18)

Can we not apply that same pragmatism to the church’s attitude to women?

All around the world God is using women in remarkable ways. In China, around 80% of the leaders are women. In India, women are planting churches everywhere—I know a woman church planter who has started more than 6,000 churches. In a rapidly growing Middle Eastern church planting movement, 60-70 percent of the leaders are women. Our friend Heidi Baker, along with her husband, Rolland, has seen more than 10,000 churches begin in Mozambique and the surrounding nations. Women teach and preach, they baptize and give communion. They are free to follow the Holy Spirit however he leads them without being told they are usurping men’s authority or that they aren’t allowed to behave in these ways because of their gender.

I’d love for Peter’s pragmatism to apply here too. Since God sees fit to use women all over the world, can we not say with Peter, “Who was I to stand in God’s way?”

Jesus’ impact on Genesis 3:16

There’s been some interesting (polite, but at times, heated), discussion in the comment section on some of my recent posts (see here and here, for example). Mostly this discussion hinges around Genesis 3:16.

Then he [God] said to the woman, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.”

The idea that several have expressed is that  the other effects of the Fall are still with us–pain in childbearing for women and man having to contend with thorns and thistles etc. Therefore the verse in Genesis 3:16 about men ruling over women should be adhered to.

A couple of points:

  • The physical effects of the Fall: If we really believe that we shouldn’t try to combat the effects of the Fall, then women shouldn’t take painkillers during labor, and men shouldn’t use weedkillers or agricultural implements. Until we experience the new heavens and a new earth, we’ll have to live with the physical effects of the Fall, even as God, in his love and mercy, gives us tools like medicine to mitigate them.
  • The relational effects of the Fall: The relationship between God and humankind was broken, and the relationship between humans (think Cain and Abel), including between men and women was broken. I believe Jesus dealt with the relational consequences of the Fall through his death on the cross and subsequent resurrection. We now have the privilege of having God live within us by his Holy Spirit. And I believe that we can now go back to God’s pre-Fall purposes for men and women, that they can work together as co-equals. Peter preached that the impact of Pentecost was God pouring out his Spirit on all flesh, both men and women. Baptism rather than circumcision became the rite of entry for the people of God.

After all, we pray that God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. We in the church are supposed to demonstrate the Kingdom to the world. What does this mean for men and women?

When men open doors for women–The Black Swan Effect

I have been so blessed by the caliber of men who were willing to contribute chapters to The Black Swan Effect: A Response to Gender Hierarchy in the Church. Here’s a quote from the book by missiologist and author, Michael Frost.

But it is pretty hollow when we guys say we stand for the inclusion of women in leadership roles, but then belong to teams of all men, attend conferences at which only men speak, sit on all-male committees, and exclusively read books written by men. One of the important ways male leaders will encourage change in our churches is to model such change in our own lives and ministries. That means more than verbal or written affirmations. It means submitting to the leadership and insights of women and exhibiting such submission in the ways we speak about our lives and ministries. If people hear male leaders say we are encouraging women as leaders, they will understandably look for evidence of that in our lives. Are we learning from women? Are we being led by women? Are we modelling a more inclusive stance on gender in the church?

He shall rule over you– Genesis 3:16

The only verse in the Bible that gives any indication that men should rule over women comes in Genesis 3:16. As a result of the Fall, Eve is told,

“Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall (will) rule over you.”

For many years, well-meaning teachers used that verse  to persuade (read bludgeon) me into believing that I am to let my husband rule over me. He is to make all the decisions, I am to serve his vision, he is the important one and I am his helper.

It’s only been in more recent years that I’ve come to a different understanding. This is one of the things that has helped.

The word used for “he shall rule” is the simple future tense. It’s not a command. There’s no hint of “he should rule,” “he ought to rule,” “he must rule” over you. That would have been very simple to put in there.

Instead, he shall/will rule is a descriptive statement that has proven true through the pages of history. As we see from the story of the Garden, it was never God’s original intention. He desired for men and women to rule together.