Thursday, April 15, 2010

Some Thoughts on Women and Teaching (Part 4)

In Parts 1, 2, and 3 of this miniseries on women and teaching I've sought to explain that God forbids women from teaching in the church, and have then sought to clarify what teaching means in this context. I now want to turn to some ideas on how we can honor God in the way we handle this issue with others. Before I do, a quick addendum to part 3:

As a practical way of determining whether a woman was teaching or is planning on teaching at your church, i.e. to distinguish between teaching and not teaching, is to just think of the past 5 sermons you've heard preached on a Sunday. Surely those represent Bible teaching (or else you should go to a different church!). If you can't find a real difference between those sermons and the one you've heard the woman give, it's probably teaching.

Now, onto part 4: I would like to consider 3 general scenarios where the way we approach this issue really becomes a question of practical importance: 1. When discussing it with women 2. When a ministry/church we are involved with does not seem to us to be holding to this standard 3. When a ministry/church we aren't involved with does not seem to us be holding to this standard.

Before I get into those 3 issues, I want to share two passages that have helped me in thinking about this:

"Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes." - Proverbs 26:4-5

"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." - Ephesians 4:29

The 2 verses in Proverbs seem to contradict one another but I think what they really do is express practical wisdom: sometimes it's wise to respond to a fool, sometimes it is not. So there is some sense in which our reponse to folly depends on the occassion. Ephesians 4:29 further supports this by qualifying talk that does not corrupt as talk that "fits the occassion." What does it mean for talk to fit the occassion? That it would give grace to those who hear. So we should not assume that our response will be the same in every scenario. That said, I think there are some guiding principles we can apply. Now, for my thoughts on the three scenarios:

1. Guys, we really need to be careful in how we discuss this with women. I'll start by saying that I don't think we need to be evangelists about this. As the issue comes up we should certainly address it with what God's said on it, but I don't think after reading 1 Tim. 2 we need to find every girl we know and make sure they're aware that God doesn't want them teaching. I find with many guys that they are more than happy to beat girls down with arguments in this but too scared to share the gospel with a co-worker. These things ought not to be so.

God made men a women differently. 1 Timothy 2:11-14 reflects this by assigning men and women different roles. But the reality that men and women are different also means that as men we need to consider the way we approach women differently from the way we approach men. With this particular issue, I think that comes out in our rhetoric. When discussing these issues with guys I have a fairly high degree of freedom to exercise rigorous logic and harsh rhetoric. In general (and I stress in general, some guys like this style of discourse less and some girls don't mind it) this gets me in hot water with women. Often their feelings are hurt and they are intimidated. They don't feel honored or cared for and they certainly don't feel respected enough to offer a response. I've basically taken the situation and directed it completely for my ends: getting my opinion out there and smashing theirs to shreds.

Basically, myself and any guy who talks to girls like this is a jerk. Men are called to be gentle and not harsh towards women (Col. 3:19, 1 Pet. 3:7). I think the alternative is to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). We still take a stand on the issue, to not do so is to submit to cowardice, but we do so in a way that inentionally seeks to honor the women we're discussing it with. Some characteristics of that speech might be:

  • Pointing out the good ways in which God has made men and women different.
  • Reading the Bible together rather than turning it into a "me vs. you" "guy vs. girl" argument
  • Letting women know how much you appreciate their many gifts that you aren't gifted in (in my case: compassion, warmth, mercy, listening, multitasking, child care, emotions, practicality, to name a few)
  • Emphasizing that God and you do not consider those in public, visible positions (teachers) to be of any greater value to the church than those in other roles. In fact, in 1 Cor. 12:21-25 Paul argues that greater honor should be given to those in less "glamorous" roles in the church. A difference in role does not equal a difference in worth.
  • Thinking intentionally with them of the best ways to help them put the spiritual gifts God has given them into practice in the roles God created them for.

2. If you're in an egalitarian church/ministry (i.e. a church that does not even support the view that men and women have different roles or that teaching is a role restricted to men), my recommendation would first be to discuss the issue with your leaders. Ask them questions, find out why they believe what they do. Then ask them if you can share what God's been teaching you through His Word in 1 Tim. 2. If they're open, praise God, continue. If they're closed off to it and stuck in their view, I honestly think considering membership in a church that takes more care to derive their practice from Scripture is a wise choice. In Wayne Grudem's Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? he makes what I consider to be a convincing argument that churches who sacrifice this Biblical issue tend to sacrifice others as well. Not all slopes are slippery, but history suggests this one might be.

If you're in a complementarian ministry that draws the line differently on where teaching is (the issue discussed in Part 3 of this miniseries), I would tend to err on the side of charity. I don't find the scriptures to speak with a high degree of clarity on exactly what qualifies as teaching, though I do think we can follow some general guidelines. Therefore I think if you feel your ministry has or is considering crossing the line, that you should discuss it with your leadership. But don't do so assuming the worst about them. Don't assume they're doing this because they really just want to find loopholes in 1 Tim. 2 and play people-pleaser to the feminists in your ministry. Try to understand where they're coming from. Acknowledge that they have wisdom as well that you can learn from and that maybe you're the one whose view needs correcting. In that context I think you can also feel the freedom if you are still convinced of your position to share why you feel that way and to ask the leaders to reconsider. If in the end they are still complementarian but just differ in small ways as to where that line is drawn, I think we can submit to their leadership still, as there is certainly a Biblical precedent for that (1 Peter 5:5).

3. If you're just visiting a church and there's a female pastor, I think this is one of those scenarios where we don't need to feel like we have to rebuke the pastor. I think if we know someone attending that church we can ask them if they'd be open to searching the scriptures with us and encourage them to flesh this out in their church, but I don't think it's "fitting of the occassion" for us to come in to someone else's church on a temporary basis and point all the stuff that "I the expert" find wrong with the way "you the heretics" run your church.

Well, I really think that's about all I have for the time being on this issue, so no part 5! I hope this series has been to your benefit. I pray that we as the church would pursue Biblical faithfulness in this issue and trust God that what He has set out for men and women is really the best thing for us. I pray we would believe that these words have been given for our joy (John 15:11), so we don't have to try to find loopholes in them, but can joyfully submit to God's Word. I pray that men would honor women through the outworkings of this, and that God would conform all of us to the image of Christ for His glory.

"So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them"

- Genesis 1:27

No comments:

Post a Comment