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!

 Photo Credit: goreckidawn via Compfight cc

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

17 thoughts on “The stained glass ceiling”

  1. Felicity, I quote your above post: “In many other churches they cannot teach from the pulpit or hold a position of authority.”

    Here is the very clear commandment of the Lord concerning women ‘teaching’ and ‘having authority’ (over men) in the church, given to us through Paul the apostle writing to Timothy, his true ‘son in the faith’, and instructing him on how the church ought to be ordered and function:

    “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.”
    ~ 1Timothy 2:11-14

    So I can with assuredly tell you that what you are speaking of is not ‘something God is doing’ – unless you would claim that God changes or is acting unfaithfully (which is to say ‘is unfaithful’) in not keeping His own word to us, and even clearly contradicting it? If this be the case with God, that He changes and is unfaithful and goes back on His holy word, what can we ever truly know and trust to be the absolute truth about Him and how can we ever know who He is?

    Since God Himself is the Truth, if this God is not unchanging and absolute, then is not the very Truth itself subject to change? If this be the case, how can we ever truly know that God isn’t saving mankind through Mohammed today and not Jesus? How can we ever truly know anything for sure?

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      1. I don’t need to confer with a theologian, I have the plain truth in the text. I have the letter my Father wrote to me, and His Spirit in me to lead me and guide me in understanding the truth of it.

        Why not just explain in plain language how I am misunderstanding the above passage? Why not respond to the scripture I present?

        Why resort to bringing a theologian into the discussion? Are you ‘of Philip Payne’?

        Can we not discuss this as two born again and Spirit enlightened children of God?

        What say you of the word of the Lord presented above? Is it outdated? Wrong? Please, share your take on it.

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      2. Forrest,

        I’ve engaged with you on this same text, a few times I think, yet when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, you don’t want to engage with my argument any more than you want to engage with Dale’s. I

        When we read the text, interpretation is going on just as it was going on in translation. You interpret Timothy to be written to you; whereas, I interpret it to be written to real people in real time, Paul to Timothy. Though not written to me, its message and instruction are for mine and others benefit. Next, I interpret Paul to be addressing real issues in Timothy’s context which I do not share with him. Paul is giving a conditional instruction, and I have confidence in their shared knowledge of a specific context that this instruction made sense without undermining the character of God as revealed in Jesus and does not contradict what Paul has written elsewhere about the full participation of women in local church ministry.

        You keep bringing up this text but have yet to address what I or Dale have written in “plain language”. On another thread I wrote “plainly” in response to you:

        “So, Adam deliberately disobeys and all males for all times are given authority over women? Eve is deceived and she and all females for all time are relegated to subordination? This makes no sense and paints God as less just than I
        or any other good-willed parent. A god that gives authority to all men for all time over women for Adam’s deliberate transgression when Eve’s transgression was born of deception is irrational, capricious, and arbitrary. When one of my own children has been deceived or misunderstood an instruction whether given to them by me directly or
        received second hand, I do not necessarily hold them to the same standard I would a child who heard my instructions first hand, yet chose to deliberately defy or disregard. How much more just is God, particularly as revealed in Jesus Christ.”

        Once again I have responded in “plain language” to your understanding.

        I am also awaiting your response to my repeated question about 1 Co 14 and where in the Torah is the law that plainly states women are to remain silent?

        Your sister in Christ,
        Angie

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      3. So seeing as none of the biblical letters were written specifically to you, I guess you can choose what applies to you and what is only for the initial recipient…

        Adam sinned willfully, man is not rewarded for this, God’s order simply carries on… God did not give men authority because Adam sinned willfully, He gave it to him when He created him.

        It seems to me Paul is saying women may well be more susceptible to deception, whereas with men it is more an issue of the will rhan deception. For this reason it would make sense that men would be in authority..

        In 1 Cor 14 Paul refers to the law general law or rule or order of God. It needn’t be a word for word quote (nothing tells me that it is). I assume you are going to claim it was a civic law, but I am aware of none amd many men of God before us have took it to be a reference to Gen 3:16, and so do I.

        ‘Full participation’ in the gathering by women does not equal authority over men and teaching doctrine. I don’t deny that women ought to participate, just that they must do it in agreement and obedience to God’s law.

        I hope this helps. I will leave you ladies alone now, I do pray you hear from God Himself on these issues.

        Blessings and Grace in Jesus Name, and I apologize for my bad attitudes at times and thank you for your patience and godliness in dealing with my sin.

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      4. I’ll take your points in turn:

        1. Unless you greet all your brothers and sisters in Christ with a “holy kiss”, so do you. (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 11 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26, 1 Peter 5:14) We are all selective. The difference is I recognize and acknowledge it and others do not. I try not to extract the epistles or any biblical text from God’s metanarrative as revealed in the whole.

        2. Assuming an “order” existed from the beginning is far from convincing because it is based purely on conjecture. Historically, men were given authority over women because women were considered inferior in essence. When this was no longer culturally acceptable, the basis for female subordination was found based on subjective criteria divined from a narrative. It is not convincing and the fact that those who use this approach are subjective in their application is glaring. For example, it is directly stated and not derived by conjecture, that man was put in a garden and post-fall is to work and till by the sweat of his brow. If hierarchicalists were consistent in their interpretation of Genesis 2, they would teach all men are to be gardeners/farmers and those who do not fulfill their God-given design are living in sin.

        3. “It seems to me Paul is saying women may well be more susceptible to deception…” If Paul is saying this, then the bible is faulty for we know men and women are both prone to deception and God is capricious and arbitrary to make one gender inherently susceptible to deception. If women are more susceptible to deception, why would children be put in their charge? Why would they be allowed to teach other easily deceived women? Also, are you aware prominent hierarchialists e.g. Piper and Grudem do not accept this view?

        Second on this point, you said “with men it is more an issue of the will [than] deception. For this reason it would make sense that men would be in authority.” I find this untenable because it makes an illogical and unreasonable god. As I said on another post which you did not address: “So, Adam deliberately disobeys and all males for all times are given
        authority over women? Eve is deceived and she and all females for all time are relegated to subordination? This makes no sense and paints God as less just than I or any other good-willed parent. A god that gives authority to all men for all time over women for Adam’s deliberate transgression when Eve’s transgression was born of deception is irrational, capricious, and arbitrary. When one of my own children has been deceived or misunderstood an instruction whether given to them by me directly or received second hand, I do not necessarily hold them to the same standard I would a child who heard my instructions first hand, yet chose to deliberately defy or disregard. How much more just is God, particularly as revealed in Jesus Christ.”

        4. Re 1 Co 14: Please provide a quote by an academic theologian who through research can support the contention that Paul is referring to a “general law or rule or order of God.” As far as I know, this is not the way observant Jews such as Paul would have understood “law” though he would have been familiar with oral laws and the Torah. I think there are explanations for the text that remedy any contradiction with what Paul says and does elsewhere as a result of your interpretation. If you are interested, I will provide you with links.

        5. I contend neither male nor female should seek to authentein and that full participation by women is in obedience to God’s design and in agreement with the missio dei as revealed in Creation and reinstituted in New Creation.

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  2. Here is another thought, didn’t you previously say the you and your husband were engaged on a “race to go lower”? This post seems to reveal a desire to ascend higher in status and position in the church, not one to wash feet and humble oneself to a seemingly unimportant role (in the eyes of man anyhow) and to hold no ‘position’ of authority in a human sense.

    Just to be honest, this does sound like it may be ‘selfish ambition’ taking root… A desire to advance and climb the ladder of success in the church…

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    1. Thankfully, within the simple/organic church movement, of which Tony and I are a part, there is no such things as a hierarchical leadership. Leadership is signified by going lower.Check out my article in Christianity today http://bit.ly/1p7Jr07.

      However, for many women, who are currently in more traditional forms of church, the stained glass ceiling is a reality.

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      1. If there is no ‘hierarchical leadership’ then you are free to ‘lead’ in humility and service and submission as the scriptures say…

        But one seeking a ‘position of authority’, as you put it in your post, likely does not have a pure heart…

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      2. Sorry, I don’t see anywhere in my post where it says that women are seeking a “position of authority.”

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      3. I quote: “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.”

        You may not have expressly said that they are ‘seeking a position of authority’ but you did use the words ‘position of authority’ in relation to women having a secondary role in the church in a blog post where you are (as you frequently do) reflecting on the…shall I say ‘injustice’, of ‘patriarchy’ in the church.

        In short, you pointed to the fact that a woman can’t hold a “position of authority” while questioning/confronting a patriarchal system working in the church (which you here dub a “stained glass ceiling”) which keeps women from going higher – one which you claim the Holy Spirit is “shattering”.

        It is clear that I did not misjudge or misrepresent you with my words.

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      4. Forrest, three sets of people were told to be silent in 1 Corinthians 14. Are you suggesting that all of them are silent in church for all time?

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      5. Again, I don’t think you are of an honest heart in this matter. The context of each verse makes it clear…

        The first two groups of people are:
        1. Those speaking in tongues without an interpreter.
        and
        2. One who is prophesying when another receives a revelation and is lead to share it.

        In both of these cases it is clear from the context that the ‘silent’ applies to speaking in tongues in the first example, and stopping speaking to let the other speak in the second.

        As for the women, the silence is not so directly and immediately qualified – therefore it is implied (when taken in harmony with the apostles other teachings elsewhere) that this applies to teaching (men) doctrine/divine truth in a formal way and/or from leading/presiding over the gathering.

        I am all for the women sharing and exhorting, I am routinely blessed by it, as long as it is done in a quiet, gentle and submissive spirit – with all respect and honor for the husbands specifically and men in general.

        This is the word of God to us.
        (please do your best to hear what I am truly saying and not to project an image on me that you may already have in your mind)

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      6. Forrest, I am so very used to the arguments you use–don’t forget I lived by them for many years. But I find they just don’t hold water. Basically there are two passages that appear to limit the role of women, (I Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2) but they stand in stark contrast to the general trend and tenor of the Bible as a whole. When there are equally valid ways of interpreting those two passages that many theologians agree with, that don’t limit the role of women, why take the restrictive understanding? Is it tradition that prevents you being open to viewing the Scriptures in a new light? I bet the slave traders didn’t want to see an alternative understanding of the passages about slaves either.

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