Women And Priesthood

Some of you may be aware that for the last two and a half years I, along with three other women bloggers, have been involved in a joint project-blog called Ishshah’s Story.  Ishshah’s Story has recently been retired due to our various commitments elsewhere, but I want to share the last article I posted there because the subject of spiritual abuse and gender injustice towards women and girls within institutional Christianity is one I am passionate about.


Recently one of the world’s foremost Christian leaders reiterated his organisation’s official stance excluding women from the priesthood. Elsewhere in the Christian world woman’s entitlement to ordination on an equal basis with her male counterparts is still being hotly debated and is far from settled. Women who believe they are being called by God to serve His church pastorally or in other leadership capacities are anguishing about how to both obey God and fall in line with their denomination’s opposing stance on the matter.

The arguments from both sides of this debate obviously can’t be covered in one article and there are many resources available for those who wish to study more widely¹. In this particular post I want to focus on three core elements and consider each of these from a Biblical perspective: calling, priesthood and ordination.

Calling

Whatever pathway we choose in service to God, most Christians would agree His Word is our first guidepost, accompanied by the conviction of the Holy Spirit that God is desiring us to follow a specific direction in which our God-given gifts can be best utilised for His people and His glory. This sense of deep, consistent conviction is what most of us would recognise as a ‘calling’ from God in a specific area of service to Him (1 Tim. 1:9; Eph. 4:1-7).

There are certain areas of calling that are universal for all Christ followers, including the call to take up our cross and follow Christ, the call to love one another and our neighbour, and the call to share the good news of the gospel. Individual Christians, regardless of gender, can also experience a personal calling to a specific area of ministry, such as a deep desire to serve God in a particular location or within a certain people group.

Throughout Christian history women have sensed God’s calling to serve Him in the same way in which men have felt called to serve God. The Holy Spirit has not been poured out on females in a lesser measure or in a more limited way than on males (Acts 2:17). A man sensing God’s calling on his life may struggle with issues such as finance, education or social and cultural barriers, but a man is never restricted from serving God on the basis of gender. On the other hand a woman sensing God’s calling is frequently told she may not serve God in certain capacities simply because she is not a man.

Great swathes of Christianity still place severe limitations on the expression of a woman’s spiritual calling, regardless of how gifted she may be, based on a narrow, biased interpretation of some New Testament passages which are held above the fuller counsel of the whole of scripture.

Certain trailblazing women throughout history have challenged these restrictions and had fruitful ministries, usually at great personal cost. For the most part though, untold numbers of Christian women have historically been locked out from officially pursuing their calling to ministry by a church firmly dominated by male leadership and a culture of gender discrimination that does not reflect the words or the teachings of Jesus Christ. As the link in the first paragraph of this article demonstrates, in some powerful Christian circles things have not changed: calling and gifting take second place to gender.

Priesthood

So, despite this male dominated atmosphere, does the Bible shed any light on whether or not a woman who feels called to serve God in ministry can be a priest?

Under the Old Covenant, the whole nation of Israel, i.e. men, women and children, were appointed by God as a holy nation of priests among the nations (Ex. 19:6). Within that national calling to priesthood a specific priesthood from the tribe of Levi was also set apart from the general Hebrew community. Their role was to minister to God, observe the ritualistic Law, and serve as the people’s mediators before Him (Ex. 28:41; 29:44).

In the New Covenant, however, Christ alone is the one mediator between God and His people. Only He is designated specifically as our Priest and Great High Priest (Heb. 3:1; 4:14,15; 6:20). Christ has replaced the Levitical priesthood and became the eternally risen mediator between God and humanity (Heb. 8:4-11; 1 Tim. 2:5).

Under this New Covenant of grace all God’s people are called equally to priesthood, regardless of ethnicity, age, class or gender (1 Peter 2:5,9). Neither is there any hierarchy in this universal priesthood of believers, for all are set apart and placed ‘into’ Christ, in Whom there are no divisions (Gal. 3:26,28). The book of Revelation confirms this new priesthood of all believers (Rev. 1:5,6) and declares that this priesthood will reign with Christ during the Millennium (Rev. 20:6). Again, there is no indication in these scriptures that this universal priesthood is exclusively male. It is a priesthood of believers, not based on gender or any other factor, but solely on faith in Christ.

It is vitally important for anyone sensing a specific call of God on their life to understand this truth. All believers belong to God’s spiritual priesthood, set apart for God’s purposes and for His glory. In the Kingdom of God women are joint heirs with Christ and as such have been appointed as serving priests on the same basis as men (Rom. 8:17). The right to serve in any capacity to which God calls her is a woman’s inherent entitlement under the New Covenant.

Ordination

The problem area is around the word ‘ordination’. Generally speaking, ordination is acknowledgement that an individual can officially serve in leadership within a Christian denomination. It is recognition that they have undertaken the required educational process and have the desired spiritual attributes to function within that denomination in an official capacity. The dictionary defines it as the act of receiving ‘holy orders’.

Ordination, however, is not known in the New Testament. It is a practice that, like many other church practices, gradually crept in to church life as Christianity grew and increasingly merged with the religious cultures of the world. There is no New Testament evidence that the earliest Christian leaders distinguished themselves from fellow believers either by wearing certain items of clothing or taking such titles  as reverend, bishop, priest, pastor, etc. Some were called apostles, some elders, others deacons, but these were descriptions of recognised function, not titles.

Neither Peter or Paul in their letters introduced themselves as Apostle Paul or Apostle Peter, but as ‘an apostle’, in the same way as they described themselves as servants, or bondslaves (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; Gal 1:1 ; Titus 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1)

As Christianity began to embrace the practices of the surrounding world and formalised itself into rankings and heirarchy, a special title and specific clothing became necessary to set apart an individual from other believers and indicate his position in church leadership.

As an example of how Bible translators have sometimes interpreted scripture to support this creation of a priestly class let’s consider the following passage from 1 Timothy 3:1 in the KJV: “This is a true saying, if a man desires the office of a bishop he desireth a good work”.

In the original NT language, the word translated ‘man’ is not gender specific – it is a Greek pronoun meaning ‘whoever’.   ‘Bishop’ is the Greek word ‘episcope’ which means someone who takes general oversight (not a title but a function). And the word ‘office’ is not present in the original Greek at all.

The nearest thing to ordination we find in the New Testament is the ‘laying on of hands’ which is mentioned in relation to the filling of the Holy Spirit and impartation of spiritual gifts (Acts 8:18; Acts 9:17; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6; Heb. 6:2).

In Acts 8 we read about a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a city of Samaria during which ‘both men and women were baptised’ in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:12). When Peter and John arrived to witness what was happening, they laid hands on these new believers and they were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17). There is no indication at all that the laying on of hands was something reserved only for men in the early church.

Whether denominational ordination is God’s pathway for her is something each woman sensing a calling to ministry must work out prayerfully for herself. However, I firmly believe no Christian woman should ever believe herself disqualified from God’s holy spiritual priesthood on the word of any Christian leader or institution. If God is calling you, you have received your ‘holy orders’ – follow that call, even if it leads outside the walls of your denomination. God has not disqualified you, men have.

Summary

  1. Every Christian woman or girl is a member of God’s appointed priesthood by virtue of being ‘in Christ’, regardless of the rulings of human leaders and their institutions.
  2. Any Christian woman or girl may experience a calling from God and this calling is not Biblically restricted on the basis of her gender. It is restricted only by individual denominational doctrines.
  3. Some Christian women feel their calling to serve God lies within their denomination and therefore seek ordination within their chosen organisation. This decision should be respected, but denominational ordination should not be confused with God’s calling or appointment. God has already appointed women to His priesthood.

The full, equal and unrestricted priesthood of women and girls in Christ cannot be Biblically disputed. What continues to be sadly lacking is the ability and willingness of some Christian institutions to recognise and act on this foundational Biblical truth.

¹Women For The Nations is a good place to start studying if you’re new to this debate.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2017 and beyond.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

Your Help Needed!

Conceptional chalk drawing - Help neededFriends,

Two weeks ago Bread for the Bride launched a sister blogsite, Ishshah’s Story.  You can read the post announcing this here.

I realise this will be of significance to some of you, and to others it will be of little more than passing interest.  That’s fine.  The issues we are addressing on Ishshah’s Story and the vision we share there will obviously be of more importance to some than others, and let’s face it, we all need to prioritise what comes into our inboxes these days!

However, whether you wish to follow Ishshah’s Story or otherwise, I am appealing for your help in letting others know about it who may find it’s vision and purpose relevant.   There may well be people within your spheres of influence who would love to be part of, or even need to be part of,  what we are attempting to do at Ishshah’s Story.  Would you please help us spread the word about the new Ishshah’s Story blogsite by passing on the information about it to others in your personal and ministry networks?

Bread for the Bride enjoys a regularly increasing number of followers and supporters.  I believe, and hope, this is because you find the posts here Christ-centred, edifying and spiritually uplifting.  We are focusing on achieving the same depth of quality with Ishshah’s Story.

So, whether you are male or female, please consider assisting us in getting the word out about Ishshah’s Story.  Better still, we would love to have your comments, your feedback, your company and/or your contributions at the Ishshah’s Story blogsite.  And remember, it is not a ‘women only’ site and males who have a heart to advocate alongside us for women’s encouragement and equality in all aspects of church life are more than welcome.

Thankyou for your support of Bread for the Bride and in anticipation of continued fellowship,

Cheryl McGrath

Introducing Ishshah’s Story

wfnjpgimageI’m excited to be able to announce today the launch of a new joint venture blogsite, Ishshah’s Story (www.ishshahsstory.com).

Ishshah’s Story is a collaborative effort between myself, (Cheryl), Melody of Meanwhile Melody Muses, Nancy of Wellspring of Life and Pat from Women for the Nations, and will be a sister site to Bread for the Bride.

Ishshah’s Story is about women who love, serve and follow Jesus Christ.  Together we are going to explore, learn, communicate, contribute and discover what extraordinary creatures we women can be when we are actively encouraged to blossom into all we are in Christ.

But hey, I don’t want to give the impression Ishshah’s Story is a ‘girl’s only’ blog.  No, we’d love nothing more than to have the support and input of our Christian brothers who care enough to come alongside  as Christ’s female followers emerge from almost two thousand years of gender bias within organised Christianity.  So, guys, I know you’re out there and you’re more than welcome to add your support!

Ishshah’s Story grew, the same way many ideas do, out of two ingredients:  vision and frustration.  For many years I’ve nurtured a vision to see Christian women functioning freely in Christ on totally equal terms with men.  The frustration came with a growing realisation that there’s so much discussion around this issue (and that’s a good thing!), but still multitudes of ordinary women worldwide remain limited in roles and stifled in their spiritual giftings due to gender bias that finds its justification in what I believe is an incorrect interpretation of certain Biblical passages. (I shared a little about that frustration here.)  Friends, this is nothing less than spiritual abuse on a grand scale.

There are many bloggers contributing to the discussion on gender equality in the church, and doing it well.  Your will find some of them in the Resources Section of Ishshah’s Story.  I wanted to move beyond the discussion. I wanted to establish a practical avenue that would assist women, perhaps women who have never before been given a platform, to find their voices in a safe and affirmative environment.  Ishshah’s Story is the culmination of that desire.

So Ishshah’s Story will be an online hub where we hope you, (yes, that’s right you, shy little lady hiding behind the keyboard) will eagerly share your beautiful offerings for the edificaiton of Christ’s Body.   Nancy, Pat, Melody and I will facilitate, moderate, encourage and contribute out of the depth of our own journeys, but you, your gifts, talents and journeys, will be the main event.

We are inviting you to send us your original articles and creative input that will glorify Christ and testify of your journey as you have been learning what it is to overcome in Him.  We’ll also be celebrating the female heroes of the Christian faith, past and present, and offering in depth teaching on vital scripture passages.

Curious?  Then come on over and check out Ishshah’s Story, and while you’re there we’d love to have your comments.  You’ll find all the guidelines on how to be part of Ishshah’s Story on the blogsite.  Be sure to take your time and have a good look around, and consider following along with us.  Don’t forget to visit Nancy, Melody and Pat as well.

Oh, and who is Ishshah?  Come on over and find out!

Cheryl McGrath

Bread for the Bride

The Sound of Broken Silence

Jesus said to her, “….. go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'”John 20:17

 

“On the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed” (Deu. 19:15)

So said the Mosaic Law, but in the Israel of Jesus’ time, women, along with slaves and minors, could not be called as legal witnesses. According to the rabbis the testimony of women was valueless. 

God obviously had another opinion. As Joseph and Mary, in accordance with the Law, presented Jesus at the temple, the Holy Spirit had positioned two witnesses to testify to Israel the Messiah’s arrival. And one of them, Anna, was a woman. 

And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher…….at that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)

 She spoke of Him!  Well, isn’t that what witnesses do – give voice to what they’ve seen and what they’ve heard?  The Greek word here is ‘laleo’ which translates:  ‘to utter a voice, or emit a sound” and ‘to use the tongue or faculty of speech”.   

Before His birth Elizabeth, too, spoke of Him.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, as Mary approached carrying God’s Son in her womb:   

“…she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  (Luke 1:42) 

No quiet, gentle greeting, this.  The original Greek likens the sound of Elizabeth’s voice here to a clamour or an outcry.  (Other instances where the same Greek word for loud, ‘megas’, is used are Jesus calling forth Lazarus (John 11:43), the crowd crying out for Jesus to be crucified (Luke 23:23) and Jesus crying out His final words from the Cross (Mark 15:34, 37).) Again, we’re left with the image of a woman compelled to give loud and forceful voice to what she’s seeing and hearing, so that none standing near could ignore her words. 

Women were present as witnesses at each crucial event in Christ’s life:   at His birth (Luke 2:7), His presentation at the temple (Luke 2:36-38), His first miracle (John 2:1-8), during His itinerant ministry (Luke 8:1-3), His death (Matt. 27:55, Luke 23:27) and His resurrection (Matthew 28:1-9).  Women disciples were also present on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out and Peter declared to the amazed onlookers “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.” (Acts 1:14,15; 2:32). 

Jesus also could not have been much clearer in His instruction to Mary of Magdala immediately after His resurrection to “go” and “say” (John 20:17).  To who was she to ‘go’ and what was she to ‘say’?  To His brethren, that is the entire community of believers, she was to declare that Christ had risen and was ascending to the Father….arguably the very core of the gospel message.  

Sadly, despite the testimony of scripture and the command of Christ Himself, church history is also the history of the silencing of women’s witness.   In their eagerness to embrace an erroneous interpretation of Paul’s ‘women are to keep silent’ statement too many church leaders have disregarded the undeniable fact that the first person to verbally carry the gospel message was a woman.  The very direction of  Christ Himself that a woman should ‘go’ and ‘say’ has at worst been swept aside and at best been relegated to secondary importance.  Clearly, something has been amiss for a very long period of time.  

Still, throughout church history the Holy Spirit has continued to raise up women as public witnesses to the resurrection of Christ.  From the women persecuted by Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:2) to Perpetua the third century noblewoman, tortured and torn by beasts in a Roman arena; from Blandina the slave girl of Lyons to the fourteenth century female Lollard preachers; from the sixteenth century Anne Askew, burnt at the stake, to the twenty first century female martyrs of our own time, countless women, unknown numbers with names unrecorded, continue to pay the ultimate price for the privilege of being Christ’s witnesses. 

An important question therefore begs a just and adequate answer:  Why is the blood of women martyrs acceptable to large sections of the Christian church while the vocal witness of women is not?   

Innumerable more women, serving faithfully within denominational limitations, have been denied their birthright to witness verbally, loudly and forcefully that Christ is risen and lives within them.  Misguided opposing forces have done their very best to ensure that the voices of women can no longer be heard ‘crying out with a loud voice’ as Elizabeth’s and Anna’s voices did at the dawn of Christianity.   

Writing in 1859, the holiness preacher, Phoebe Palmer, stated:“We believe that hundreds of conscientious, sensitive Christian women have actually suffered more under the slowly crucifying process to which they have been subjected by men who bear the Christian name than many a martyr has endured in passing through the flames.” (Phoebe Palmer, Selected Writings, Thomas C. Oden.ed.New York: Paulist Press, 1988, p. 42)   

I would suggest a slight amendment to that brave statement in that  the numbers would surely not be hundreds but thousands upon thousands. 

Long ago in the Garden of Eden a heartbroken God, watched by a fallen woman,  prophesied to a serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall  bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Gen. 3:15)   

Then, at the appointed time, the voice of a woman was heard in Israel:   

My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.” Luke 1:46-48 

The word’s of Mary of Nazareth echo down to us and cannot be silenced. To those who teach women they are cursed, I say look again.  Woman is not cursed but blessed, for God has endowed her a unique and vital role in His plan for humankind’s redemption.  In Genesis 3:15 the promised Seed was called by God “her Seed”.  Is it any wonder such words of praise and worship flowed forth from Mary’s less than silent voice that day.  Did she not represent all women, past and future, when she sang from her heart “From this time on all generations will count me blessed”? 

How is it then that some sections of the church continue to demand that believing women willingly do what even the apostles Peter and John said is impossible:

 “for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20) 

To the daughters of the Kingdom wrestling with the ‘women must be silent’ mentality, I encourage you:  Find your voice and end the silence!  And when you find it ‘go and say”.  Do not stop speaking of what you have seen and heard. The brethren, the world and Heaven itself strain to hear the sound of your testimony that Christ is risen and indeed we women are also His witnesses.