Some suggest I advocate for women in ministry because I have been influenced by the secular culture of Australian society where egalitarianism is seen as the ideal. These people are mistaken.
Conversely, I suspect these same people reject the idea that women were leaders in some New Testament churches because of a poor understanding of how the first Christian communities (i.e. churches) fellowshipped and functioned. Their view of “church” has been influenced by a culture of large gatherings that meet in purpose-built sacred spaces, where a professional all-male clergy presides, and where the Sunday sermon or priestly rituals are prioritized. In this kind of church culture, which has been the norm for centuries, members who are not part of the clergy typically have little or no room for either regular or spontaneous ministry contributions during services.
New Testament church life shares almost nothing in common with modern church culture. Instead, many of the first churches were small, often consisting of an extended household that included relatives and slaves, as well as a few neighbours or clients. These churches met in homes where the householder could be a relatively wealthy woman (e.g., Lydia, Nympha, the Chosen Lady, etc) or man (e.g., Stephanas, etc) or a couple (e.g., Priscilla and Aquila). These men and women used their homes as a base for the church and hosted frequent gatherings. And they used their resources to care for the spiritual and material welfare of fellow members.
In the decades after Pentecost, both men and women had the freedom to exercise their gifts, sometimes spontaneously in church meetings (1 Cor. 14:26; Col. 3:16). Men and women could also initiate ministries or be commissioned by their church for various missions further afield (e.g., Stephanas, Andronicus and Junia, Priscilla and Aquila, Phoebe).
I advocate for women in ministry because I see in the New Testament that ministry and leadership were shared in the dynamic, inclusive, Spirit-led culture of the very early church, and was not restricted to men.
I advocate for women in ministry because I see that Jesus valued women, discipled them, and included them in his mission. Jesus is still commissioning women.
I advocate for women in ministry because Paul also valued women. He regarded several women as his colleagues, referring to them with identical ministry descriptions as his male colleagues (e.g., apostle, deacon, co-worker, labourer).
I advocate for women in ministry because godly women have vital contributions to make to the ministry and mission of the church today, some in the capacity of leadership.
I advocate for women in ministry because the scope and effectiveness of the ministry and mission of the church are diminished and reduced when gifted women are prevented from full participation in church life and are prohibited from using their God-given talents.
My advocacy for women in ministry has little to do with being influenced by the broader Australian culture.
Postscript: March 30 2022
B.T. Roberts, who published his treatise Ordaining Women back in 1891, made it clear that his positive views on the ordination of women were based on scripture and were not influenced by culture or “the spirit of the age.” The next time someone suggests my views were influenced by secular feminism or political correctness (they’re not), I may quote Roberts.
“I have purposely avoided all appeals to sentiment and to ‘the spirit of the age,’ and based my arguments mainly on the Word of God. Where texts have been interpreted contrary to the generally received meaning, reasons have been given, which, I trust, will be found satisfactory.”
B.T. Roberts, Ordaining Women (1891) (A PDF is here.)
Postscript: March 31 2022
James D.G. Dunn, an esteemed New Testament scholar, remarks on the different experience of church life among the first generation of Christians than that of later generations when Christianity became institutionalized.
“Increasing institutionalism is the clearest mark of early Catholicism—when church becomes increasingly identified with institution, when authority becomes increasingly coterminous with office, when a basic distinction between clergy and laity becomes increasingly self-evident, when grace becomes increasingly narrowed to well-defined ritual acts. … such features were absent from first generation Christianity, though in the second generation the picture was beginning to change.”
Dunn, Unity & Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity (Westminster Press, 1977), 351.
Postscript: June 29 2022
In light of 1 Samuel 8 where the Israelites ask for a king, John Goldingay, a respected scholar and translator of the Hebrew Bible, makes the candid observation that the church took less time than Israel in establishing a patriarchal hierarchy in the way she was organised.
“I have hinted that the story of the church in due course followed the same trajectory as Israel’s. It started off with the abolition of kings and priests* which re-established the order of creation whereby there was no fixed patriarchal hierarchy. But we took less time than Israel did to re-establish hierarchy, so that each congregation sat under the authority of one person, and the pattern has been the near-universal one ever since.”
Goldingay, Men Behaving Badly (Paternoster, 2000), 66.
*The abolition of kings and priests refers to the story of the church where, at the start, Jesus was our only king and our high priest with no other priests.
Women Church Leaders in the New Testament
The First Century Church and the Ministry of Women
Were there women elders in New Testament Churches?
The role of overseers in first-century house churches (1 Tim. 3:1ff)
Four Social Contexts where Women could Lead (AD 40–200)
A collection of articles on NT Women Church Leaders
My articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 are here.
My articles on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 are here.
My articles on Paul’s theology of ministry are here.
The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith … Gender?
Priscilla du Preez via Unsplash
This 4-minute video shows one main difference between what many of us think of as “church” and something more akin to what the first Christians experienced as “church”.