I don’t plan to cover every possible theological and Biblical issue associated with WO today. Others, including Matt+, have already covered the subject amply. I’m mostly going to summarize what has already been said in my own words and, perhaps, with my own twist or two.
Where I’m Coming From (if you don’t want to know, just skip down)
First of all, let me just say that I’m not even remotely Anglo-Catholic (AC). And I maintain vigorously that if you insist on being Anglo-Catholic, you have no business being pro WO—in the parousia, your head will explode from the theological inconsistency. So Ms/Rev Elizabeth Kaeton calling herself a ‘passionate Anglo-Catholic with a joyful evangelical spirit’ doesn’t make any logical sense. If you think that the priest ‘stands in the place of Christ’ in the Eucharist, a woman has no place on the altar. Jesus was a man. He was not some sort of androgynous man-woman person.
But I am not AC. I’m an Evangelical all the way down the line, Reformed in fact (more Calvinist even than my esteemed husband, who will not allow me to preach the full extent of my rabidness from the pulpit). In so saying I am not ascribing to the poison of relativism. I don’t really think its okay to be AC—I think they’re wrong, as surely as I think I am right, but I’m happy to live with them in love and Christian Charity.
Within the Reformed framework, Scripture is absolutely primary. Scripture is, apart from the person of Jesus Christ, the greatest and most precious gift God has given us. It is logical, consistent, it does not contradict itself, it does not err, and best of all it is sufficient. In so far as we do not understand parts of it, it is our own fault, not God’s (the result of sin induced blindness).
In the context of this discussion it is important to note that I stand within the rich Anglican tradition of Hookerian freedom: if a given idea, practice, or behavior doesn’t contradict scripture or principles directly derived from scripture (that is if Scripture doesn’t prescribe against it), then it is, generally speaking, permissable for the Church to exercise her own judgement.
What’s in the Bible
With that said, let's turn briefly to look at the relevant scriptures. I know, they’re all chunked together here, but its ok, go ahead and read through them.
"As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church." 1 Corinthians 14:33-35
"Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ and the head of every woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head–, it is just as though her head were shaved....For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God." (1 Corinthians 11:3-12)
"A woman should learn in full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over man; she should be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith, love, and holiness with propriety." 1 Timothy 2:11
"When Priscilla and Aquilla heard him [Apollos], they invited them to their home [which according to Paul in Romans 16:1 was a home-church] and explained to him the way of God more adequately." Acts 18.
Ok, let’s get down to the proverbial brass tack.
First, most scholars agree that though there were visible distinctions between men and women (head coverings for women), they were worshipping together, not in separate places as some have suggested. It is likely, however, that they were on different sides or ends of the church. It is very likely that women were not as well educated or as well-versed in the language being used in worship as men--some were, some, perhaps were not.
Second, we have a problem. One basic principle in Reformed theology is the principle or law of non-contradiction; that Scripture does not contradict scripture. God speaks with one voice.
So when Paul says, ‘women should remain silent in the churches’ (1 Cor 14:33-34) and ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or hold authority…she should be silent’ (1 Tim 2:11) and then turns around and says, ‘every woman who prays of prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head (1 Cor 11:3-12)’, he has created a paradox, an apparent contradiction.
Has he indeed contradicted himself? At first glance it would seem so. To ‘prophesy’ involves either giving a ‘word of knowledge’ (that is, a word about a future event or state of affairs through the prompting of the Holy Spirit) OR expounding on some Scripture or word already given, a sort of ‘testimonial’ or short exposition.
So it seems as if Paul is saying: women may never speak and teach in the assembly of the faithful, AND when they do they must cover their heads.
This cannot be the case for obvious reasons.
To quote my articulate and clever husband,
“If Paul’s admonition for women to keep quiet in all times and in all places in church is universal then his making rules to circumscribe the public praying and prophesying of women in the liturgical service of worship is not only difficult to reconcile, it is an outright contradiction. To say A can never act as B after laying down rules to apply when A acts as B is nonsensical. Paul was anything but nonsensical and the Holy Spirit is never the author of nonsense.”
So, for logic’s sake alone, it makes the best sense to presume that 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy are not to be universally applied. This makes further sense knowing that women, at that time, were not generally afforded the same educational opportunities as men and might, because of language and educational differences, not always have understood what was going on or being taught.
And, in their new found freedom in Christ, they very well might have risen up, in wonderment and curiosity, and remarked, out loud, that they did not know what was going on, or asked questions aloud. In which case, if Paul had been presiding (or, in this case, writing to a Celebrant or Presbyter who doesn’t know what to do with the loud and unruly women in his congregation) he would have requested that these women ask their husbands at home afterwards. In other words, don’t take that precious hour on Sunday morning to answer everyone’s questions. It will be too disruptive.
But when, in the usual order and structure of worship, and in the appropriate manner, women stand up to speak, make sure they cover their heads as is befitting and honorable. Most especially because if a woman is flitting around the church without a sensible head covering, it may seem to a new believer struggling with letting go of his past life, that all these nice Christian women are loose and available—definitely not the case.
Which leads me to my third, and probably, most controversial point: the Man is the Head of the Woman, just as Christ is the Head of the Church. Given the whole scope of Paul’s writing, and the Scriptures entire, order is paramount. The earth and all therein was created in order. When, through the failed headship of Adam, sin disrupted that order, Christ the true Head came and put everything back in order.
Therefore, the church, the very bride and body of Christ, must be in order. In creation, the man was created first, and the woman for the man. In the church, that order is sustained in that the man is the head of the household, just as Christ is the head of the Church. It is in this context that women’s ministry, especially in speaking, may be considered.
Pricilla ministered in conjunction with but under the headship of her husband. We know she ministered (her name even comes first, probably because she was more sparkling than Aquila—some people are just more interesting than other people), and we know she ministered with her husband (she is never mentioned alone—it doesn’t say, and then Priscilla took Apollos in to straighten out his weird theology).
Then, in 1 Corinthians, women prophesied in the order and regularity of a church of which a man was head, under the ultimate headship of Christ. They weren’t in charge, but when a word from the Holy Spirit came, it was given, not in some separate cloistered room behind a screen with a whisper, but in the assembly of the faithful AND, in good order.
What then may we conclude?
Primarily we may say with gusto and joy that this business of a lot of women occupying every place of leadership in the church is not biblical. Women did leading and speaking in the Bible, but they are by no means all over the place. For every fifteen Pauls, Apollos, Peters etc, there is only one Priscilla etc. Not only is it not biblical, it is not healthy. The fastest most efficient way of getting all the real men to leave a church is to put all the women in charge of everything and then encourage all these women to go home and nag and boss their husbands. I think we’ve seen this strategy carried out pretty effectively in TEC today.
Secondly, a woman should be in full submission to her own husband, and then, if she serves in a church, to her male rector. If her husband isn’t willing to step up to his place as head, he puts her in a precarious position when she steps out to teach. And, if her rector is fairly uninterested in leading as well, she is in a real mess. In other words, it is not always a sure provision (headship that is) but it is better than nothing. I say this not because I think the average believing priested woman is going to have bad theology and lead everyone astray, but because she is liable to be stomped on and she will then either have to step up and become the man (which is foolish and unhelpful) or become shrill. I am not speaking of the actual average ordained woman in TEC who, I think I can safely say, is teaching heresy with afore mentioned gusto.
But what is particularly damaging is having a woman rector, with a woman assistant, with two women wardens and then maybe a nice quiet man as the church sexton. Of all the heresies, of all the mess TEC is in, of all the hundreds of daily dysfunctional ecclesiastical situations, this one burns me up the most.
I know its tempting, pride not withstanding, to stand up in every situation and speak with scintillating brilliance. It’s particularly tempting, at the Narthex door, shaking hands and smiling, when people (women especially) whisper, ‘I just love Fr. Matt and he’s a very good speaker, but you, I really love your sermons’—its tempting to leap up, head enswelled, and volunteer for every job . It’s even tempting to lay it on thick to the highly dysfunctional, theologically clunky, biblically illiterate men in a congregation (although, really, there aren’t any), giving them the spiritual guidance they so richly deserve. But there is no quicker way to turn these same men off to the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. And when the men leave, the balance and order disappear, and you are left with a shell of a church, the walls ruined, the gates torn asunder, a place so tolerant and open as to be completely inhospitable. May God have mercy on those of us who would have helped create such a place.