One of my favorite bloggers just put up a post entitled why women cannot be head pastors. He wants to argue that women cannot be head pastors because it’s not in them to be confrontational to the degree necessary to combat false doctrine. That only goes to show he hasn’t met my wife Paola. Paola is a head pastor who goes toe to toe with schismatics and those who turn theology into a bunch of wives’ tales. When she preaches she is never interested in toning down what the Bible says. She preaches the gospel cleanly and honestly and without feeling the need to improve on what the Bible says, a common ploy, I’m afraid, among liberals and conservatives alike.
I think I understand why Paul in his context wrote what he did in 1 Timothy 2:11-15, the passage to which Michael appeals. Women with office-based (as opposed to charisma-based) teaching and governing responsibilities were an anomaly in the Hellenistic Jewish matrix of Pauline Christianity. Since the Gospel was not thought of by Paul as a hammer by which to break traditional molds of gender complementation with respect to teaching and the exercise of authority in a polity made up of men and women, but rather, as a vital force which transformed the way authority was exercised within traditional patterns of complementation in marriage, the family, the master-servant relationship, and the assembly, Paul put the kibosh on those who wanted to fix what wasn’t broken from his point of view.
At the same time, Paul located the model and source of the exercise of authority in Christ crucified and risen. Insofar as that was taken seriously, it changed everything without putting an end to the basic foundations of society of the day.
If Michael thinks that gender complementation as he experiences it makes women unfit to be head pastors, that’s probably because they are, culturally speaking, in his context. At least as a general rule. As was the case in Paul’s day. But I would emphasize, as Michael does, that women in his context teach and exercise authority in countless ways in a polity made up of men and women – ways which seem natural in a 21st century North American context.
Nonetheless, it is to state the obvious that those same ways of teaching and exercising authority would be culturally inappropriate, for example, in many 21st century African and Asian contexts. They would probably have been considered inappropriate by Paul in his context.
In my context, a United Methodist one in which it is very hard for people to be countercultural in any sense, good or bad, I can think of colleagues who are clueless when it comes to confronting false doctrine, and other colleagues who are very good at it. But I don’t see gender playing a role one way or the other.
My prime takeaway from the pastoral epistles is the need to be under authority as a leader in the church. Under the authority of the Gospel first of all. But also, in terms of human relationships of all kinds. This works itself out in diverse ways in 1 and 2 Timothy, in the relationship between Timothy and Paul, in the relationship of Timothy to other leaders, in the concept of ministerial succession through the laying on of hands, in the contiguous “orders” of ministry Pauline Christianity developed in accordance with an understanding of hierarchy and authority as life-enhancing gifts to the people of God.
More on how hierarchy and authority are life-enhancing gifts in a future post.