Monday, November 13, 2006

In Defense of Limited Women's Ordination

So yes, I do believe in women’s ordination, with a whole lot of caveats, what might better be called Limited Women’s Ordination, or LWO.

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.


Robert Bonds said...

I find your posting interesting and yet I think you are torn between supporting WO and denouncing it.

There is a traditional ministry for women in the Anglican Church and that is of deaconess, whose ministry is under the authority of the local bishop and not that of the local rector.

This ministry is quite different from the pseudo-theological glob that the TEC priestesses proclaim.

One thing that I do like about your posting is that you are right on about the emasculation of the TEC and in fact the C of E.

I will have to save your blog address and check it on a regular basis.

Just a side thought, look at the duties of the wife of an Eastern Orthodox priest. Great ministry there.

Father Nelson said...

Anne, with all respect, your exegesis is a bit quick with the language. There is a clear difference between praying for prophesy and speaking. There is also a much further distance between speaking in church and presiding at the eucharist.

Further, your denial of universal applicability is denied by Paul's statement "As in all the churches of the saints..." He further asks the Corinthian church sarcastically whether they are the sole recipients of God's Word.

The Anglo-Catholic argument is not against women teaching or prophesying - it is in contrast to the Reformed understanding of ministry, understanding it to be a sacramental one - and you clearly know this.

But, your argument against universal applicability does not add up. It is comparing apples with oranges.

Anne Kennedy said...

I'm delighted and surprised that so many people are reading. Thank you for your comments.
Father Nelson, how do you resolve the 'tension' (for a TEC word) between the scriptures cited in the article? I imagine you would say that a teaching ministry is necessarily authoritative and therefore should not be exercised. But how, then, do you deal with Priscilla having any hand in the teaching of Apollos? On a personal level, I don't teach or preach anything without the full authority of my husband behind, or rather over me. He gives me the authority I have, such as it is. In this sense my head is 'covered' by my husband.

Father Nelson said...


I might respectfully say that your wishing that your ministry is exercised under the authority of Matt+, and perhaps even logistically working to make that a functioning reality does not make it so. Priests are ordained to carry out ministry under the authority of their Bishop, not the rector of a parish.

Though the NT examples of husband/wife ministry teams are manifold, we are not certain of the dynamics. What I do know is that my wife supports me in my ministry and may perhaps teach, by word or example, though not in any official sense. In this the assumption that I "would say that a teaching ministry is necessarily authoritative and therefore should not be exercised" is an assumption. I would say that there are authoritative teaching roles, or ordained teaching roles, as the case may be, and then the teaching role exercised when a lay person in conversation explains a doctrine of the Church. Of course, in a certain sense, all authority of anyone in the Church to teach is a derived authority.

Yet, Paul himself claims his authority as an apostle, and certainly commends this authority to, for instance, Timothy. The apostolic ministry of the Church does not pass away, it continues to this day. I guess my greater point is that in the NT, there are official roles with more authority than unofficial roles. You say that your authority is derived from that of your husband, but no such distinction is made in the scriptures. In short, your category for what you believe to be a faithful exercise of priestly ministry for a woman is based on a guess as to what the scriptures say.

I maintain that they don't say anything on the subject aside from a serious limiting of didactic roles from women when the church meets, and mentioning binary ministry pairs (Aquila and Prisca, Andronichus and Junias(if she was indeed a woman), etc. I also maintain that there is a difference between authoritative (meaning with apostolic or episcopal authority) teaching roles and the roles which all Christians have, and that this difference can be perceived in the NT and the OT. (Coming to mind are Eldad and Medad, unofficial in their prophesy, yet true nonetheless.) But, the role of presbyter in the NT is most certainly an authoritative role.

Might I say in closing this comment how much I thank God for your honesty and integrity in working through this issue, as well as your faithfulness.

Anonymous said...

As an Anglo-Catholic I think you have hit the nail on the head. I am not sure where you stand on sacerdotal miniseries, but I assume you are not sacerdotal, at least in the way I as Anglo-Catholic would use the term. As you mentioned, we will disagree on much, but given your understanding of what it means to be clergy, I find your position consistent with your understanding of tradition.

I have written, most recently here that the office that a women can hold is to a degree a function the understanding of the office. I fully agree with you when you say; “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.”

Yours in Christ

Anonymous said...

In the language of the BCP (even 1928)the priest's script does not have the priest speaking as Christ. We all represent Christ in the world. A priest is given unique authority and priviledge of calling down God's blessing on the elements of the sacraments and on the people. What does that have to do with gender? julia

Anne Kennedy said...

I think the BCP--I'm guessing on this (particularly since its the 79 one)--is purposely vague so as to allow for WO. I don't think it has anything to do with gender, but then, I don't think that the priest stands in the place of Christ. Headship is more the issue for me.
Father Nelson, sorry I haven't responded to you--I haven't been able to think anything longer than one or two sentences due to the screaming of the youngest baby. If I can get a whole night sleep I will try and put down my thoughts in the morning.

eulogos said...

Anne, I have asked you before and you said you kept meaning to write an answer (and I understand why you wouldn't have time and why your head might not be into it right now, really I do) but here is my question.

What is it that you believe that you do at the altar? What does Matt believe he does? (Are they the same?) Matt celebrates in a very Catholic way..genuflection, elevation....things the historic Calvinists would never do. What goes on at your church LOOKS LIKE a Catholic mass. Or, like what we Catholics call "the sacrifice of the mass." While there isn't an "orate fratres" (Pray brethren that this sacrifice may be acceptable...answered by, May the Lord accept this sacrifice at your hands for our good and the good of all His church) it does say afterwords "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast." Now do you propose that this statement does not at all reference the Eucharistic action?
In "Do this in memory (anamnesis) of me," anamnesis means memory in a very specific sense of "making present"-the priest makes present Christ and His Sacrifice for us.
It puts us at the foot of the cross. And that is THE priestly ministry; it is what defines priesthood. If you are not doing that, you are not a priest. Christian tradition says only men can do that, and the idea that the priest is the icon of Christ is a fairly strong justification for that tradition. But if Matt isn't doing that, doesn't do that, he isn't a priest either. However, as I have said, he certainly LOOKS as if he is doing that. I worship and adore at your church as if he is doing that, even though I don't receive. So, if not that, what is it that you believe you are doing when you celebrate the Eucharist?

As for preaching, I have no problem with a woman being a preacher and the passages in Paul about being silent really do seem to me to be like what Lawrence Wells wrote over on the Stand Firm thread; his attempt to shut up some female "enthusiasts." However if they have to be reconciled, Matt's reconciliation will do fine. I don't really have much of a doctrine of male headship except in marriage which I think is scripturally and traditionally unevadeable, but at the same time, I rather prefer male leadership (so long as it is leadership and not domination or worse) for reasons I can't articulate too well...and wonder if this preference and feeling of appropriateness does have some grounding in truth.

I don't think your sermons need to be preapproved any more than those of a male minister who was not the pastor of the parish. The pastor has responsibility for what is taught there. To my mind it should be just a formality; you have your own gift as a preacher, different from Matt's and it should be allowed to bloom. If Matt has any sense he knows that.

But back to my main question; if you do not believe that you are making present (anamnesis) the sacrifice of the cross...what are you doing when you celebrate the Eucharist?