Women and ministry? It seems that I have been thinking about—wrestling with—pondering—this subject for ages. In fact, I recall distinctly teaching a series on the issue back in 1981-1982 at what was called by those involved “The Tuesday Night Bible Study,” a bible study of anywhere between seven or eight and thirty or so. [This bible study originated with the conversion of a number of individuals through the “I Found It” evangelistic campaign of Bill Bright in 1979 or so. This group of individuals became linked to Stanley Avenue Baptist Church in Hamilton, Ontario, where I was a member. They began to meet and somehow I became involved as a teacher. It ran for over fifteen years and it was a great training ground for me, as I taught through tons of Scripture and some church history as well].
Well, among the topics I taught on was the issue of the role of women in the life of the church. It was a contentious issue then and is even more so now. Over the years, having thought about the issue at a number of levels, especially with regard to what should be said and what approach should be taken in a seminary context, my convictions have deepened that the complementarian viewpoint is the only position that does justice to both the text of Scripture and its deep structures that address life in this world.
Of course, women should be involved in various ministries in the life of the church. One cannot read Romans 16:1-16, for example, and not see the evidence that women were involved in this way in the Pauline communities. But can they be ruling, teaching elders? To be sure, one’s answer to this question is not one that affects one’s salvation. In that sense, it is like other secondary issues, such as ecclesial polity or baptism.
Yet, unlike one’s decision on these two issues, contemporary egalitarianism (to be distinguished from that of the Methodist or Holiness movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) often does entail a denial of the sufficiency of Scripture. Yes, one can be an egalitarian and affirm scriptural inerrancy. But the egalitarian who is committed to inerrancy has to argue that scriptural statements on the whole range of male-female relationships in the church and in the home are no longer applicable. There are various ways this is done today, but common to them all, it strikes me, is an implicit denial of the sufficiency of Scripture.
Of course, those who recognize the discontinuity introduced by the new covenant also argue that portions of the old covenant are no longer applicable. But in the case of egalitarianism, it is new covenant affirmations that are being ruled as passé and this raises the question, “Does egalitarianism necessarily undermine Scriptural sufficiency?”
For further helpful reflections on this issue as it is currently impacting those in the Reformed community, see Ligon Duncan’s thoughts on “Complementarianism and the Conservative Reformed Community” at this post on the Reformation 21 blog.
HT: David Shedden.