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.

Meet The Neighbours

Close up detail of town house rooftops with chimneys against blue shy.

Due to some ‘life’ overload happening for me this week what I hoped to share with you is still in the oven.  That’s not something to be concerned about because it provides me with an opportunity to point out some excellent, inspiring, thought-provoking, and simply awesome posts I’ve read in the last week or so by fellow Christ-following bloggers whose writing I enjoy.

So let me introduce you to some friendly neighbours in cyberspace who I hope will bless, stretch and refresh you as much as they have me.  Let me know what you think of them in the ‘comments’ section (and comment in their own if they have one).  I may even make this a regular feature on Bread for the Bride.

Here we go  (just click on the link to read the recommended article):

Over at One Train Wreck After Another Tim Fall has a great post about the latest absurdity from some complementarian leaders eager to score points in the ongoing gender debate:  sanctified testosterone.  Yep, you read it right:  ‘sanctified testosterone’ no less.  That’s apparently the most recent catch phrase coined in support of exclusive male leadership in the church.  What can I say?  Read and weep…..or chuckle uproariously, as the case may be.

My friend Tiffany Clark shares some beautiful thoughts on what it means to be part of the royal priesthood in her post Priesting Lessons, When God Invites Us To Dinner .  Check her out at her blog Messy Theology.  Here’s a taste:

‘… just as communion is by nature a communal act, our priestly calling is anything but something to be limited to our private lives. We are those whom God has called into relationship with Himself so that we might represent Him to others and others to Him. His blessing on those around us is mediated by our faithfulness to intercede on their behalf before His throne and to speak on His behalf into their lives.’

Mr. Teague has a great post about The New Pharisees on his blog The Voice of One.  Quote:

‘Non-Christians often think phariseeism or fundamentalism is a religious problem. The thinking is that if we get rid of religion we get rid of phariseeism. But phariseeism is a human problem, not a religious problem. As society has grown more secular, we’ve seen the rise of new Pharisees.’

And finally, have your soul refreshed and invigorated by the stunning photography and healing words of Charis in her Ishshah’s Story post Behold, where she writes:

‘How is it that a young child can recognize beauty? Why are we attracted to beautiful things – music, art, poetry, dance, light, colour, design, order, balance, play? Who placed the appreciation of creation in our hearts? … Who planted the craving for beauty within us?’

(You can enjoy more of Charis’ posts at Charis, Subject to Change.)

Sometimes it’s good to get together with the neighbours, don’t you think?  I hope you find encouragement and enjoyment in this selection of writings from gifted disciples of Christ.

Exploring Community Part Three: Hierarchy and Leadership

community

Where does hierarchy fit in with authentic Christian community? What role, if any, does leadership have to play? These are questions many of us are struggling with as God continues to lead us out of ‘playing church’ into the day to day reality of Kingdom life. I offer the following two suggestions for consideration in the hope they will positively contribute to our search for genuine Christian community:

1.The absence of hierarchy does not have to mean absence of order;  and

2. The presence of leadership does not have to mean hierarchy, domination or control;

When believers consider the Three in One nature of God there is often a vague assumption that the Father is in charge and the Son and the Spirit are second and third respectively. I believe, however, the scripture is clear that there is no hierarchy within Elohyim. (For the sake of brevity I won’t go into my reasons for that belief here but I have written elsewhere about it in Hierarchy, Headship and All That Stuff which is easily accessible on this blogsite.)

The Father, Son and Spirit belong to one another willingly and without reservation in community, yet without the concept of exclusive ownership that we often subconsciously attach to the word ‘belong’. None of the three divine Members of Elohyim seek to rule over the other two Members, yet within this non-hierarchical environment there is perfect order.

Some who have witnessed abusive leadership within organised Christianity subsequently reject any place for human leadership at all within the Body of Christ. But the New Testament speaks both of a gift of leadership, and functional leadership gifts given by Christ to His church¹. Furthermore, Jesus did not rebuke His disciples for seeking to exercise leadership skills; He rebuked them rather for the carnal manner in which they sought to exercise that leadership through the hierarchical model they saw displayed in the world around them². He told them they would need to learn a new and revolutionary form of leadership that they had never witnessed before.

Just as there is authentic and non-authentic community, (see Part Two), so too is there authentic and non-authentic spiritual leadership. Genuine, God-endorsed leadership grows out of a desire to follow God, not a desire to gain followers.   We speak frequently about “servant leadership’, but one cannot be a servant of God’s people if one is not first and foremost a surrendered servant of God. True servant style leadership is essentially an act of service and worship, focused God-ward, not man-ward. Hierarchy, on the other hand, is the structure carnal authority builds around itself to maintain some semblance of perceived order and strengthen its power base.

Authentic, God-endorsed leadership doesn’t need the hierarchy on which organised religion is built because genuine spiritual authority does not require a man-made structure in which to operate. That doesn’t mean there are not examples of genuine leadership gifts within organised Christianity, but genuine spiritual authority will be evident regardless of whether or not it has the approval and recognition of an organisation. And often, too often, authentic gifts of leadership are hindered, stifled, and controlled by those who have found a comfortable niche within a hierarchical environment.

Jesus demonstrated a non-hierarchical leadership model that was radical and confronting both to His disciples and the religious leadership of His day.  At all times His leadership was evidenced by a genuine spiritual authority that was recognizable to those around Him³. He did not impose His will on people by emphasising that authority, or as we might say today, “throwing His weight around.” Those who recognised His authority He invited to join Him. Some did, some didn’t, but He didn’t rant against those who rejected His authority, labelling them as heretics and rebels.

Jesus never sought to prove His authority, even when faced with death⁴. He knew the level of spiritual authority He walked in and trusted the Father to confirm it. His leadership was an offering, God directed, not man directed. This is the authentic servant leadership He modelled for us.

Within the community of Three in One Elohyim none is less and none is more. Each Member is fully valued, fully functional, fully united in purpose and will, yet different in expression. Each delights in the Others’ fullness. We, in our fallen state, have yet to learn how we are to walk together in this kind of community if we are to be a Bride who reflects Christ on this earth.

There can be no true, fully functioning spiritual community where hierarchy exists. Hierarchical leadership is always dependent on the continual submission of someone other than the ‘perceived’ leader. Mutual submission one to another as we recognise Christ in each other is entirely Biblical. Requiring other individuals or groups to submit to us without reciprocity on an ongoing basis based purely on gender, race, title, position, or seminary training is not.

In Part Two I said the first result of the Fall was broken fellowship between Elohyim and humanity. The second result of the Fall was broken fellowship within the first human community, male and female. This male/female fracture is the oldest human division that exists, older even than racial division. It is entirely possible for us as God’s people to receive and embrace one another free of racial, social, economic and other divisions, yet still be clinging to hierarchy when it comes to gender relationships.

Christian community, to be complete and authentic, must be an inclusive atmosphere where both genders are free to exercise all their potential spiritual giftings and give and receive from one another without restriction, as it was in the beginning. This freedom to function as equals between male and female is foundational to true community, including in marriage, which was the first human community. Until hierarchy, i.e. the need to rule, is no longer an issue in either the home or the church, we will not experience spiritual community as God initiated it and desires it among us, for the broken fellowship between the genders will remain unhealed. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is addressing this injustice within the Body of Christ and many are having their eyes open on this issue.

We have built a religious system in which we have mistakenly equated hierarchy with order, and in doing so we have controlled, quenched and excluded the Holy Spirit who was the only One charged with organising us⁵.  We have failed to discern true spiritual authority from false and have too willingly handed leadership to those whose authority is carnal. We have thought to do community by our meetings, our programs, our conferences, our agendas, our doctrines, our law keeping, our endless activities; but we have failed to learn to simply be the living, vibrant extended community of Elohyim to one another.

But God is not finished with us. From the beginning it has been covenant that has been at the heart of true community. Our covenant is first with Christ, and through Christ it is then with every other genuine Christ follower. It is only as we immerse ourselves ever more deeply into covenant relationship with Christ that we will increasingly participate in the community of Elohyim and discover that same mysterious Community present and vibrant among ourselves.

¹Romans 12:8, Eph. 4:8-12

²Matthew 20:25-28

³ Matt. 8:5-10; Mark 1:22, 27; Luke 4:32,36;

⁴ Matt. 26:53

⁵ John 14:16, 26

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014   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.

Related Articles:

Exploring Community Part One

Exploring Community Part Two