Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy. A Book Discussion. (Index here)
Part III: Thinking it Through (Logical and Theological Perspectives)
Chapter 16 – Biblical Priesthood and Women in Ministry. Stanley J. Grenz.
Grenz writes near the beginning of his essay:
Advocates of male leadership are united in the conviction that some restrictions are to be placed on the service of women in the church. Nevertheless, they do not speak with one voice as to what specific offices are off limits. … those arguing for male leadership build their theological case for limiting the role of women from the fundamental belief they all share that God has placed within creation itself an ordering of the sexes that delegates to men the prerogative of leading, initiating and taking responsibility for the well-being of women, and entrusts to women the role of following male leadership, as well as supporting, enabling and helping men. (272)
Grenz notes the strong tendency of some to model the role of pastor on the role of the priest in the Levitical priesthood. Certainly this view is understandable among Christian’s in the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican communions but Grenz raises they peculiarity that hierarchical Protestants would implicitly, and often explicitly, rest claims on the same rationales.
Offering examples of such thinking by hierarchialists, Grenz quotes Bernard Seton, “The days of the Levitical priesthood have passed; the apostolic age was about to dawn. But in each age men filled the priestly roles.” and Thomas Schreiner “There is a suggestive pattern in that women functioned as prophets in both the OT and the NT, but they do not serve as priests in the OT nor as elders in the NT.”
Grenz draws our attention to Hebrews where Jesus is described as our high priest. Because of him we (men and women) may enter the Holy of Hollies and draw near to God. (see Heb 10:19-22) Peter tells us that all believers have been made into a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5, 9). John the Revelator opens his letter:
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. (Rev 1:5b-6; also see Rev 5:10, 20:6)
Jesus warns against elevating ourselves as teachers and masters over other people.
But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father -- the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. (Matt 23:8-11; also see Mark 10:42)
Furthermore, we learn in 1 Timothy 2:5 that:
For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human,…”
There is no human priest mediating Christ to others as occupant of an office and there are no husbands acting as mediator for their wives.
Another aspect that Grenz doesn’t raise are passages like Ephesians 4:11, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, …” Notice that among these gifts (not offices) “priest” is not listed and it isn’t listed anywhere as part of the New Testament church. All this despite the fact that many early churches began among Jews in synagogues and we would expect them to transfer over such a concept unless there was a theological reason for not doing so. That reason is that the church is “… a fellowship of believer priests.” (275)
Simply stated, ordained ministers are persons chosen by God and acknowledged by the church, who have been charged with the responsibility of leading the people as a whole in fulfilling the mandate Christ has given to the entire church. (277)
Within in the sacramentalist traditions (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican) the priest is understood to represent the people to God and God to the people. The Orthodox tradition, with its belief in iconography, believes that using an improper icon (female priest) would be equivalent to worshiping a different God. Protestants have in theory rejected this perspective, yet many still have the idea of the Eucharist as of the Last Supper with the officiating pastor playing the part of Jesus. Concerning this distortion of the Protestant view Grenz quotes Madeleine Boucher:
We affirm – and affirm properly – that Christ redeems us as a man, as a Jew, as a poor person, and so on. The difficulty arises when it is implied that Christ redeems us by virtue of the fact that he is man, as though his maleness were a necessary condition for God’s saving work in them. (282)
That said, Grenz makes this observation about Jesus’ maleness:
Because Jesus was a particular historical person, his maleness was integral to the completion of his task. More particularly, being male facilitated Jesus in revealing the radical difference between God’s ideal and the social structures of his day. Only a male could have offered an authoritative critique of those power structures. Coming to this earth as a man, Jesus liberated both men and women from their bondage to the social orders that violate God’s intention for human life-in-community. (282)
In the final section of his essay, Grenz includes this statement by Marianne Meye Thompson.
Both those who favor women in ministry and those who oppose women in ministry can find suitable proof texts and suitable rationalizations to explain those texts. But if our discussion is ever to move beyond proof texting, we must integrate these texts into a theology of ministry. I suggest that the starting point for such a theology of ministry lies in the God who gives gifts for ministry and in the God who is not respecter of persons. (283)
Grenz suggests there are two issues with regard to woman serving as pastors. First, we have to determine what the relationship of the gifts are to pastoral ministry. Grenz argues that most Christians agree that people who are to engage in activities like preaching, teaching, and leading are to have received the charismata from God. A pastor is someone who the community recognizes a exhibitng the gifts associated with pastor. It is based on the gifts given by the Spirit for “works of service” (Eph 4:12) in leading the people of God. Spiritual gifts are foundational.
Second, Grenz argues that the Spirit endows the gifts essential to pastoring to men and women and he claims that few dispute this. So why should women not be pastors? Those that believe the position should be restricted to women maintain charismata is not the only determining factor. Instructions concerning those who can hold ecclesiastical authority also have to be considered. As Grenz notes this drives a wedge between charismata and the ordained office. “…An artificial dichotomy between the Spirit’s gifting and the exercise of the ordained office” is created.” (286) It subsumes ecclesiology under anthropology.
Christ established the church not merely to be a mirror of original creation but to be the eschatological new community, living in accordance with the principles of God’s new creation and there by reflecting the mutuality that lives at the heart of the triune God. (286)
The corruption of the idea of the priesthood of believers and the creeping clericalism connected with it have in my estimation been some of the most debilitating developments in the life of the church. The hierarchicalist are hardly responsible for the these developments but they seem to have codified this into their institutional structures. Therefore, the consequences extend beyond the impact it has on women to the understanding individual believers have of their ministry in the world.
Stanley J. Grenz received his M.Div. from Denver Seminary and D.Theol. from University of Munich, Germany. He is Pioneer McDonald Professor of Theology at Carey Theological College, Vancouver, B.C. He is also an ordained minister with the Baptist Union of Western Canada. His publications include The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Image Dei; Renewing the Center: Evangelical Theology in a Post-theological Era; Theology for the Community of God; What Christians Really Believe…and Why; The Moral Quest: Foundations for Christian Ethics; A Primer on Postmodernism, and coauthored with Denise Muir Kjesbo Women and the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry. Stan and his wife, Edna is minister of worship at First Baptist Church, Vancouver, have two children.
(Note: Stanley Grenz died unexpectedly in the spring of 2005, shortly after the publication of this book.)
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