Results tagged “Gender roles” from Reformation21 Blog

Ethnic Inclusion, Gender Roles and the Diaconate

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In recent years, two ecclesiological issues have come to overshadow almost all others--namely, racial reconciliation and the role of women in the church. There is no shortage of Biblical and historical teaching on these issues, but a serious consideration of Acts 6 is in order if we are seeking to shed light on the way in which these two important matters are met by the formation of the Diaconate (diakonia). In short, Acts 6:1-7 is exceedingly instructive in helping to pave the way toward greater ethnic and gender inclusion in the church.

In Acts 6:1-7, we discover one of the God-instituted means of fostering unity in Christ among various groups in the church in which strong cultural and social differences existed. In the context of the early church, these difference were not limited to, yet included culture and language. At the inception of the New Covenant church, certain Christian Hellenistic Jews--who had not come from the mainstream Hebraic culture of the Apostles--began to complain about discrimination in the daily distributions. The Scriptures do not tell us whether the complaint was verifiable or whether it was a false accusation. Regardless, ignoring the complaint or dismissing it as a simple "misunderstanding" was not the solution proposed by the Apostles. Nor was the solution to follow the common temptation to separate minorities according to their language or cultural preference. Rather, the solution was to form the diakonia. The Apostles insisted that it was their duty to give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word (diakonia tou logou), while the church was to elect and ordain certain men to the ministry of the tables (diakonein trapezais). This was the way in which the Apostles solved the problem of disunity.

This solution secured the inclusion and appreciation of the Hellenistic members of the church. Interestingly, the majority of the seven men whom the church appointed to the work themselves had Hellenistic names--names that would have sounded foreign to any of the Christians whose principle languages were Aramaic and Hebrew. It would have been similar to the way in which Spanish names sound foreign to most in churches in the English speaking world today. Despite their Hellenistic names and cultural background, they were empowered to fulfill the office and role of the Diaconate.

It is important for us to note that the institution of the Diaconate arose in the middle of a crisis, in which the unity of the church was in danger. The Apostles were firm in their insistence that Christ was the reason for and source of their unity. The reaffirmation of the role of the Apostles and the institution of Diaconate reflects the radical character of that unity.

The Gospel came to break down the walls of separation between God and man through the ministry of the Word and prayer. That was part of the ministry of the Apostles and they devoted themselves to it with the goal of spiritual reconciliation. However, the impact of that vertical reconciliation also has the horizontal aspect of bringing unity among different groups under the Crucified One who is the center of the apostolic preaching and prayer. When Christ was on Earth physically, He was commissioned His disciples with the preaching of the Word, and, with the secondary but important task of giving attention to the physical needs of the people. This is especially so in the quest for compassion and unity. In Acts 6, the Apostles relinquished an important aspect of their original apostolic duties, namely, the duty of taking care of the physical and material needs of the poor. in the context of unity and reconciliation, it may be more fitting to call these seven men "apostolic deacons"--precisely because they were the appointed servants to whom this apostolic duty was delegated.

Deacons have been given the glorious and spiritual call to lead the church toward service. Racial reconciliation, unity, and the inclusion of believing minorities in the church is one of the important aspects of this service today. While reconciliation and unity is the duty of all members of the church - both officers and lay people - the officers are the ones who have been called by God to exercise leadership in this area. Diaconal work is important in order to achieve the goals of reconciliation and inclusion of minorities.

The second matter to which we must turn our attention is that which concerns the impact of this situation on the role of women in the Church. It was women who set the background and the raison d'ĂȘtre of this institution. There was an impression that a portion of the church was neglecting certain women in the fellowship. In the book of Acts, women play an important role in the expansion of the Kingdom. Whether it was the women mentioned and included as an important part of the early church (among whom Mary, is named - Acts 1:14) or the women who were full partakers of the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1; 17-18; 21:8-9; and 1 Corinthians 12:2-11) or Peter's allusion to Joel's prophecy of the outpouring of the Spirit on both men and women of all classes or the fact that the sign of the covenant began to be opened not only to male members of the covenant (circumcision) but also to female members of the covenant (baptism), it is clear that women came to the forefront in a much more significant way in the New Covenant era. However, while women were significantly included and mentioned in the development of the New Testament church, only men [andras] full of Holy Spirit were appointed to be ordained for the diaconal institution. Just as Christ selected men to be Apostles (i.e. the Twelve), so God ordained only men to be Deacons. This means that treating our sisters in Christ with all the dignity and honor of Jesus does not include ordaining them to the offices of the church established by Christ Himself.

Furthermore, a deeper question remains. Who were the women who formed the background of Acts 6? They were widows and Greek-speaking Jewish-Christian women from the diaspora who had no family to care for them.

I do not, in any way whatsoever, doubt the good intentions of those who are desirous of seeing women flourish in the church. However, I do wonder whether our current social context has had too much influence on the debates in the church. The fact that many women in our society fill prominent roles in the secular business market may serve to put unnecessary pressure on ministers to only address one aspect of honoring women in our churches. For instance, the PCA's Report to the Cooperative Ministries Committee insists that in the PCA there are many godly women who "have had successful careers where they gained the skills of administration or strong economic knowledge, or understand legal or medical problems." Surely, pastors ought to have a firm desire to utilize the training and gifts of such women in the church in a plethora of ways. However, there is the very real danger of only fixating on the inclusion of a single category of women while neglecting to see how the Lord is working in the lives of other Christian women who are not "successful" in the eyes of the world. Self-examination may lead us to conclude that we are often tempted to neglect other categories of women in the church because we live in a time when "the virtues earning the highest return are ... conversational cleverness, skill in social navigation, excellence in bureaucracy, and keenness in finance."

The ordination of the deacons in Acts 6 comes in the context of (and has as its primary service-driven purpose) not simply women, but widowed women. Are these women the type of women we think of when we seek the promotion of women in the church today? Do our friends--who are calling for a greater inclusion of women in the church's ministry--have in mind women who are in the margins of society? To ask the question is to answer it.

The Apostles and Deacons in the early church followed the tradition of Christ's ministry (diakonein). In the Gospels, we find wealthy women partnering with and supporting our Lord Jesus' ministry (Luke 8:1-3). Our Lord was concerned to redeem, dignify, include, and promote women who were underprivileged and disenfranchised in society just as He was with the poor, the sick, the tax-collectors, the soldiers, the children, and the Samaritans. Jesus engaged the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30 and Matthew 15:21-28); healed a woman with hemorrhage (Mark 5:25-34); compassionately served the Widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17); healed a woman who had a crippling spirit (Luke 13:10-17); and interacted with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4)--a sinner who was considered an ethnic outcast (in other terms, a product of miscegenation). These women were silent sufferers, seen by others as existing on the peripheries of society and religion. Hence, we need to think of the role of women in the church as going beyond the idea of women who are successful and gifted by worldly standards to include women who do not look successful or qualified by the standards of the world and our culture.

One way of honoring the disenfranchised women in our churches is by praying and acting towards a revival of the role of Diaconate. The members of the Westminster Assembly drew out the relation between the Diaconate and the poor when they suggested that it was the responsibility of Deacons to take "special care in distributing to the necessities of the poor." This was the way in which the Diaconate has been consistently portrayed in the New Testament (Acts 6), by the Reformers, and by the members of the Westminster Assembly.

As a minister of a multi-ethnic, bi-lingual congregation in the PCA, I am exceedingly grateful that our denomination is growing numerically and making progress in addressing and engaging these important issues. In addition to rejoicing in numeric growth, we should view much of the progress that we have made in understanding the role of women in the church as something for which we should be thankful. We should, however, not be surprised if we find that growth and progress often lacks biblical balance (we have the tendency to devolve into lines of racial and ethnic separation--as well as into separation by socio-economic background). And, we should be exceedingly cautious of defining progress in terms of the secular world's definition of success and usefulness.

In moving forward, practical and intentional actions should be considered. The PCA Book of Church Order encourages the elders of our churches to "select and appoint godly men and women" to assist the Deacons in "caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who may be in any distress or need" (BCO 9-7). Godly women in our congregations should be encouraged to reach out to the women and children of minority communities--intentionally welcoming and integrating them into the activities of our local churches. It seems to me that this is a tangible and positive step forward.

In order to achieve consistent progress on both racial reconciliation and the role of women in the church) we must emphasize the role of the diakonia in the life of the church. Real, God-honoring progress won't come by allowing the world to shape our thinking on these issues; rather, it will only come when we embrace the New Testament concept of the diakonia. We must encourage godly men and women to seek to assist the elders and deacons of the church in carrying out the important work of caring for the poor, needy and disenfranchised in church. This was an integral part of the mission of the early church and it must be so for the church today.


William Castro is a church planter of Emmanuel Upstate PCA, in Greenville SC, a multiethnic congregation of Mitchell Road Presbyterian Church and Calvary Presbytery. William has degrees from the University Seminary Evangelical of Lima (BA, MDiv) in Peru and from Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (ThM). William and his wife, Judy, have three daughters.

Mike Pence, "Truth's Table" and Fencing the Law

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The last week provided more disturbing information on the collapse of civilization and reason in secular America. Vice President Mike Pence revealed that he follows the "Billy Graham Rule," refraining from private meals with women other than his wife in order to protect his marriage from adultery. The secular media responded with hysteria, describing Pence's policy as "rape culture" (National Post), "sexist" (LA Times), "perpetuating patriarchy" (TIME), and "prophylactic gender separatism" (New Yorker).

Apparently, the leftist media has not noticed how sexual sin has destroyed the American family, wreaking untold ruin to marriages and causing heartbreak to children whose homes are broken. The same media that savaged President Trump (rightly) for his sexual offenses cannot stomach Mike Pence taking prudent steps to avoid the same. Not only is Vice President Pence seeking to ensure that he remains faithful to his wife but also for her to be free from anxiety over the kinds of marital threats that are rife in the workplace. Years ago, I also began practicing the "Billy Graham Rule," as I think all pastors are wise to do. (It's actually not that hard and it doesn't exclude women, since meals can easily be arranged to include more than two.) While the media savages Pence for having so little sexual self-control that he will not eat privately with a woman, the reality is exactly the opposite. Self-control is best manifested not in the face of temptation but in the avoidance of it. Leftist American culture simply does not understand fallen human nature: it is not perverse to think that close working relationships between the sexes are likely to lead to marital infidelity, but rather wisdom.

While the mocking of godly wisdom among pagan media elites is troubling, it is not surprising. But it is noteworthy to find similar reasoning coming from fellow Reformed Christians. At the same time that the liberal media was going apoplectic over Pence's Christian prudence, a group of Reformed women on the Truth's Table podcast took aim at "Gender Apartheid" in complementarian Christian circles. Interaction over this podcast has been fairly heated and I have been advised by friends to avoid raising concerns, lest I be charged with racism. However, I believe it is a sign of respect to interact with the views that are publicly stated and I also believe the issues at hand are of significance. I agree with the women of Truth's Table that men should be listening to the concerns of women. Yet affirming and respecting women also includes being willing to challenge and interact with their statements. I hope that I will be able to do so both courteously and fairly.

Before getting to the topic of "fencing the law," which relates to Mike Pence, the podcast issued the charge of "gender apartheid" among complementarian Christians, equating the exclusion of women from conference plenary addresses to Nelson Mandela's multi-decade imprisonment for opposing radical racial separatism in South Africa. I have argued before that complementarians need to be careful not to over-react to the ordination of women in liberal churches and that we must foster opportunities for women to exercise appropriately all their gifts in the church. But is it really "toxic patriarchy" for Reformed conferences to assign plenary addresses only to male speakers, out of respect for 1 Timothy 2:11-14? Some might challenge judgment calls like this and point out unintended effects, but does it warrant the statement that conferences should use "penis shaped microphones" to live out our oppression of female biology? And is there a single non-theonomic Reformed church in America where women are forbidden to greet at doors and are given "no visible presence?" If so, I haven't seen it.

The Truth's Table ladies then took a shot at "purity culture," as if prudent steps for avoiding sexual sin are not needed today. In virtually the same language with which the liberal media criticized Mike Pence, one Truth's Table host argued that "purity culture" in the church teaches that "women are predators and are to be feared." To be sure, there are abstinence strategies in evangelical churches that need to be rethought (I would put "purity rings" in this category). But the label "purity culture" ought to be used in praise rather than scorn. "Why can't a married Christian man take my single woman phone number?" a Truth's Table host asked. One answer would be found in Hebrews 13:4, "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled." It is one thing for the secular media to deny the tendencies of fallen human nature, but one would hope that Christians would critique Paul's "flee youthful passions" advice more positively (2 Tim. 2:22). Having been preceded in my last two pastorates by ministers who resigned over sexually-related accusations, I do not apologize for preserving my marriage, my family, and my congregation from passions that are only so natural for fallen mankind, and I do not think the "Billy Graham Rule" is too high a cost to be paid.

Of particular interest to me was the ladies' concern over "fencing the law." By this, they seem to mean the creation of extra-biblical rules designed to reinforce and protect the law of God among Christians. This is a subject that calls for careful reflection, to be sure. On the one hand, there is a kind of Pharisaism whereby the law is virtually replaced with man-made rules that become the basis for works righteousness. In some circles, the length of hems, the avoidance of restaurants that serve alcohol, and abstention from movies effectively displaces the good news of justification through faith. We should be willing to examine policies and practices that may have a similar effect in our circles. On the other hand, the Bible itself commands Christians prudently to avoid tempting circumstances. When Paul urged Timothy to "flee youthful passions," this was not hypocritical, gender-apartheid legalism, but godly prudence for those who wish not to sin. In Romans 13:14, Paul joined the active avoidance of sin together with the gospel message of Christ's righteousness: "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." By that standard, Christians should unite in praise for Vice President Pence and follow his example in proactively avoiding our pagan culture's morass of sexual sin. There is a vast difference between "fencing the law" as a form of man-made righteousness and the positive application of the law out of a loving desire to honor Christ and be faithful in our callings.

Anyone who listens to the Truth's Table podcast will detect significant differences from the secular media's treatment of these same topics. The hosts expressed many biblical aspirations that the media would never espouse. Moreover, male listeners should see that false and truly unbiblical gender barriers are removed, keeping in mind the burden of these concerned women. Is there a role for a Lydia, a Euodia, or a Priscilla in our church? If not, why not? Yet, were the arguments about gender used by the Truth's Table all that different from the secular media? Listening to the secular media's reaction to Mike Pence, I have little hope other than revival through the gospel. Yet listening to the Truth's Table ladies, I do have hopes. I prayerfully hope we can avoid the divisive effects of inflammatory labels. I hope the Lord will enable me to listen to the hurts behind the heated rhetoric. And I hope we can communicate about significant biblical topics - and sexual ethics today is one of them - in a way that will bring us closer together at a table of biblical truth.

The last year or so has witnessed some controversy about the meaning and value of the term complementarianism (not to be confused with complimentarianism, which is belief in people who pay me compliments) to describe men and women's respective identities and roles in family and church. That controversy seems to have evolved into more significant (to my thinking) debate over distinct Trinitarian theologies that may or may not accompany and/or inform positions on gender roles in family and church. I've largely lacked the time and mental energy necessary to keep track of the players and positions in this more recent squabble. To said players (if any) guilty of projecting distinctions proper to the economic Trinity on to the immanent Trinity (under the guise of exploring Trinitarian relations), I would merely repeat the eminently wise advice of renowned psychiatrist Dr. Switzer.

One positive fruit of recent Trinitarian debate has been a turn to resources and voices from the past for guidance in the present. Serious engagement with Christian thinkers and the Christian Church of ages past in toto invariably enriches present day theological discourse and judgment. (Superficial engagement with the past is a different matter). That being so, I wanted to highlight a valuable (or not) historical resource relating to men and women's respective roles in family and church before discussion moves entirely away from issues related to the same. That resource is the anonymously written Women's Fegaries, published in London in 1672 and pictured below:

Women.jpg

Fegaries, incidentally, are tricks or pranks. The wood-cut adorning the cover and the full title of this important work jointly serve to reveal its basic thesis and, by way of consequence, its significance to present day discussions of gender roles. The full title reads "The Women's Fegaries, shewing the great endeavours they have used for obtaining of the breeches." The wood-cut shows a husband and wife struggling for control of the "breeches," he wielding a sword for said occasion and she wielding what appears to be a ladle. The actual content of this noteworthy book sheds considerable light on the origin of that well-known saying "the ladle is mightier than the sword."

Women's Fegaries is a mixture of prose and poetry. It contains accounts of rather mischievous lengths that particular women living in and around London had gone to in recent years in order to "obtain the breeches," and concludes each with a short verse celebrating women's desire for authority in the home and skill in obtaining the same. So, for instance, there is the account of a plasterer from Clerkenwell who made it his nefarious practice to come home drunk from "the Ale-house" every evening despite the regular "scolding" of his wife. On one such occasion the plasterer came home, fought with his wife, and having put her firmly in her place "went quietly to bed, where he slept soundly." She, meanwhile, "lay awake studying of mischief, [and] in the morning before he awaked, examin'd his pockets for money (the common trick of a great many women) but found nothing in them save only some lath nails," fair enough pocket ware for a plasterer. "These did she take and set upright all about the chamber, which done she gets a pail of water in her hands, and called aloud commanding him to rise, which he refused to do, whereupon she throws the pail of water upon the bed. This so vext him that starting suddenly up, he went to run after her, when his naked feet lighting upon the lath nails, he was forced to slacken his pace...." This rather extreme treatment ultimately prompted the plasterer to beg his wife's forgiveness, "resigning the whole right and title of the breeches unto her," and to admit that "though he was superior to her in strength, yet he was inferior to her in policy."

Cue the poetry:

When as that women do themselves apply
To mischief, they perform it readily,
Nothing will serve them when their finger itches
Until such time they have attain'd the breeches.

The author of Women's Fegaries even goes so far as to provide both ontological and historical reasons for women's apparently inherent talent at mischief. Women are, he (or she?) notes, "made of a knobby crooked rib," and so "contain something in their manners and dispositions of the matter and form of which they were created." Aggravating this unfortunate state of being is the historical reality that "about two hundred and fifty years ago ... there was a great sickness [namely the bubonic plague] almost throughout the whole world, wherein their dyed Fourty five millione, eight hundred seventy three thousand, six hundred and ninety two good women, and of bad women only three hundred fourty and four, by reason whereof there hath been such a scarcity of good women ever since, the whole breed of them then being almost utterly extinct."

Well that explains a lot.

In any case, the significance of Women's Fegaries for present day questions about complementarianism, egalitarianism, or whatever other -isms now define one's position on gender roles in family and church should be obvious to all. So critical is this historical work, I think, that a reprint is almost certainly in order. Perhaps that's something the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals could take the lead on? I've been leaving messages at the Alliance's main office to discuss possibilities in this regard, but no one has been returning my calls. What's going on guys? Are you still mad at me for that post on parachurchism?

 

A Survey of Male-Only Ordination in Key New Testament Texts

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There can be little doubt that in years to come, when historians look back on our generation, the challenge of cultural pressure on the church will loom large. First, the theory of evolution challenged the Christian doctrine of God as Creator. This led to an assault on sexual morality, which has recently reached a crescendo in the cultural embrace of homosexuality. Having conquered sexual ethics, our culture has moved immediately to the topic of sexual identity. This being the case, it is essential that Christians and churches stand firmly on the biblical teaching of man created in God's image as male and female.

Given this context, it is not surprising that the fault line of biblical authority in Protestant denominations, one after another, has fallen on sexuality and gender relationships. For some years now, the evangelical community has upheld biblical inerrancy by standing firm on a complementarian view of men and women. In the face of increasing cultural scorn, the pressure mounts. Claims are made that our witness of Jesus is compromised by the belligerence of our stance toward cultural demands, and denominations face increasing challenges to compromise and accommodate.

With this vital cultural context in mind, it will be good to review the biblical case for gender complementarianism - the teaching that men and women have distinct, different, and complementary roles - especially as it pertains to the offices of the church. To this end, it will be helpful to review three biblical passages that, while not exhausting the biblical data, are widely seen as bulwarks of the complementarian position. In each case, we will not only recall how these passages speak to the issue but also how the arguments against them reveal the particular challenge of our time.

Acts 1:21-26

The first of these passages is Acts 1:21-26, where Peter instructs the church on the selection of a new apostle to replace Judas Iscariot. Acts 1:13 lists the names of the eleven people selected by Christ as his apostles, and all are male. In Acts 1:21, Peter specifies that the new apostle must be "one of the men" who had accompanied Jesus. The Greek word for "men" is the plural of andros, which the lexicon defines as "an adult male person of marriageable age."

This statement is relevant to the principle of male-only ordained leadership in the church, including both elders and deacons, since it is indisputable that Jesus appointed only males, with not one woman, to the apostolic office. Some will counter that Jesus' decision was demanded by the social conventions of this time, which supposedly left our Lord with no other possible approach. The idea is suggested that if Jesus were to start the church today, he would of course include women as apostles. But a little reflection will cause us to pause. The composition of the apostolate was of foundational importance to the future history of Christ's church. Is it not troubling to suggest that the Son of God would have compromised an important principle due to contemporary cultural pressures? If he did, what else did Jesus compromise under pressure? Moreover, is there a shred of evidence that Jesus ever bowed to wrong-minded cultural conventions? Jesus was literally willing to be crucified rather than go along with false cultural practices pertaining to the church's doctrine and worship. Moreover, the evidence of the Gospel shows Jesus refusing to bow specifically to false gender restrictions. In a culture where a rabbi was disgraced for speaking even to his own wife or daughter in public, Jesus displayed close public fellowship with his female disciples. His treatment of the Samaritan woman (Jn. 4) and the woman caught in adultery (Jn. 8) are prominent among many instances where Jesus brazenly flouted false gender conventions. It seems best, then, to accept that Jesus intentionally ordained only males to the apostolate and to reflect reverently on the implications of this fact for ordination in today's church. Jesus' ordination of only males to the office of apostle does not end the discussion on women elders and deacons. But if we will make a primary commitment for Christ to be Lord and King of his own church, so that his sovereignty and wisdom is glorified in our own actions, we will be biased to follow the principle that he so clearly exhibited: male-only ordination to church office. In a context where few watchful believers can doubt that secular views of sex and gender are drawing churches away from biblical authority, we should be resolved to follow the wisdom and example of Christ.

1 Timothy 2:11-14

This leads us to a second key passage, Paul's prohibiting of women "to teach or exercise authority over a man" (1 Tim. 2:12). This would seem to be conclusive as to female ordination, since the whole point of ordination is the conferring of spiritual authority in the church to office-bearers, which includes elders and deacons. Given the strength of Paul's statement, it is not surprising that a wide variety of exegetical strategies are taken to blunt its edge or minimize the scope of its authority. One approach is to state that the word authentein means not to exercise but to usurp authority. However, verse 11 states that women should "learn quietly with all submissiveness" and must not "teach. . . a man." If authentein means only to usurp authority, it is impossible to see how a woman could obey the requirement to be quiet and to sit under male teaching if women are permitted to have authority over men.

A second approach against the validity of this passage is to assert that Paul's teaching here pertained only to the local situation in Ephesus. Paul did not intend, it is claimed, to establish a broad principle, but he was concerned with harmful associations with the prominent temple of Artemis and its cultic female prostitutes. The problem with this approach is that it makes a historical feature that Paul fails to mention the absolute key for its interpretation. Moreover, what else in 1 Timothy involves only local matters rather than universal principles? Why is it only restrictions on women in office that we deem local, on the basis of uncertain extra-biblical materials?

In fact, Paul tells us the basis for his restriction of women from teaching and exercising authority over men: "For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" (1 Tim. 2:13-14). Paul appeals not to contextualized apologetics but rather to the order of God's design in creation. It is Paul who moreover states that the events of the fall indicate that the woman is less suited to exercise authority in the context of deception.

Christians today live in an age of rebellion that seeks to strike at the very foundations of how God created human identity and society. Our neo-pagan culture pursues an agenda in which all creation distinctions are destroyed and merged into oneness. According to progressive cultural revolutionaries, there is no longer a distinction between the Creator and the creation, life and death, truth and error, children and parents, or male and female. Seeing this strategy is a help to Christians who seek to gauge the significance of our resistance to cultural demands. Instead of conforming to secular demands that involve rebellion against God as Creator, Christians must confront the pagan vision of life with a Christian witness to biblical truth. By grounding male-only ordination in God's creation order, Paul identifies a vital arena in which our basic witness as Christians requires us to stand firm in the face of pagan demands for gender egalitarianism.

1 Timothy 3:1-13

The final passage for us to consider is Paul's qualifications for the offices of elder and deacon, given in 1 Timothy 3:1-13. When Paul states that an elder must be "the husband of one wife" (1 Tim. 3:2), he again uses the noun andros, signifying a male adult. The same wording is used for deacons in verse 12, showing that the office of deacon is likewise restricted for males. Those who would urge us to consider women deacons will note that when 1 Timothy 3:11 says that "their wives must likewise be dignified," that it is conceivable for this to be taken as deaconesses. Much is also made of Paul's description of Phoebe as a "deaconess," despite the conventional interpretation of this word in its common meaning of "servant" (Rom. 16:1).

The best that an argument for female deacons can achieve is a state of ambiguity based on disputed texts. But if this is so, how should we handle the ambiguity? I would urge that the overwhelming biblical pattern of male-headship practiced by Jesus and taught throughout the Bible should prevail. If male-only ordination pertains to the apostolate, the eldership, and the Christian home, by what logic would we assume that the diaconate breaks this pattern and promotes female participation in ordained offices, especially on evidence that is uncertain at best?

A Question of Our Witness

There is little doubt that church leaders who urge an embrace of women into ordained church offices are motivated at least in part by a desire to remove barriers to our witness of the gospel. The reality is, however, that our witness to God as the Creator, to Jesus Christ as the Lord of his church, and to the Bible as an abidingly relevant source of truth is ultimately compromised by accommodating cultural demands in the blurring of gender distinctions. Recent history shows a well-worn path that leads from such an acceptance of cultural authority over against the Bible. The biblical teaching on male-only ordination is not reasonably in doubt. What is in doubt is our commitment to the authority of Scripture in the face of mounting cultural demands.

1.  For a detailed analysis, see Peter R. Jones, One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference (Escondido, CA: Main Entry, 2010).