Women in Ministry: An Introduction

Should women be excluded from ministries in the Church in which they would exercise authority over men? This question has been placed before countless leaders over the centuries as called and spiritually gifted women have come into their orbit seeking to fill a pulpit or ascend to another leadership role and exercise their God given gifts. In some instances, the recognition of the gifts and their Giver override the traditional prohibition and great ministries are born. In others, tradition and theology are understood to uphold the ban and the woman is denied the opportunity. While this is not generally counted among the theological essentials of the Christian faith, in an age of modern feminism it is an important topic to discuss and analyze in the hopes of settling your thinking one way or the other. In the same way that Peter extols us to be prepared to give the reason for the hope that we possess (1 Pet 3:15), when we should understand and be able to explain our theological tenets and the choices that we make based on them.

Allowing for a broad spectrum of intermediate points between them, the discussion of gender equality in Church authority is carried by two positions: the egalitarian and the complementarian. The complementarian position holds that ministry roles are differentiated by gender and that, according to the Bible, women are prohibited from holding roles in which they would teach or exercise authority over men. This is also known as the Traditionalist position. The egalitarian position believes in gender equality in church roles and points to the spiritual gifting of women as evidence of a theological shift. The question that we want to address is whether or not this difference can be biblically reconciled in favor of one position over another. We recognize that like so many theological standards (e.g. Calvinism and Arminianism) with equally valid evidence on both sides, we may need to accept that outside of divine inspiration we may need to accept that it cannot. An irenic spirit is an absolute necessity.

To adequately explore this topic requires that we examine a number of exegetical and theological issues that arise in the course of our study. None on their own make a solid case for one position or the other. In fact, many involved in the discussion find that the evidence supports both sides and that it is tradition that causes them to fall to one side. Given the variables and sometime controversy surrounding the issue, prayer and the guiding of the Spirit are the key elements in our movement forward.

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