Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Case Against Women's Ordination

For one of my seminary theology courses, I wrote an "utrum" paper, an analysis of a theological issue in a style first used by Thomas Aquinas. The task is to lay out two opposing positions as thoroughly and fairly as possible, before offering one's own conclusion. The issue I chose was the ordination of women to Christian ministry. The work I did in preparing this paper really served me well; it equipped me for conversation with people who doubt my call to ministry, and the faithfulness of denominations that ordain women. I'll be posting the paper here in three parts. What follows is my understanding of the case against ordaining women.

: Whether it is theologically sound to ordain women to Christian ministry.

Videtur: It would seem that it is not theologically sound to ordain women to Christian ministry. There are two significant places in scripture that seem to forbid women from leadership roles in the church. In First Timothy, the author instructs: “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (2:11-14). Here, the writer, who in deference to tradition will be referred to as Paul, asserts that women are forbidden from having authority over men because of the Genesis story of the Creation and the Fall. Paul employs the Genesis 2 story of creation in which Eve is formed from Adam’s rib in order that Adam might have a companion, interpreting it to mean that women are secondary. Furthermore, the inheritance of sin can be traced to Eve’s gullibility; thus the descendants of Eve, women, are forbidden from teaching and from positions of authority.

A second instance of biblical witness against women’s ordination occurs in First Corinthians: “As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church” (14:33b-35). If women are to be subordinate in the church, as Paul writes here, that certainly precludes granting them leadership roles within the church. Furthermore, a final element of scriptural witness against the ordination of women can be inferred by considering the religious leaders of the New Testament. While it is sometimes asserted that Jesus’ maleness is not significant, it is nonetheless important to note that the major leaders of the church identified in scripture are men: Jesus, the twelve disciples, and Paul. In the New Testament, the most significant leaders of the ecclesia in the New Testament are all men.

The ordination of women is also judged to be theologically unsound by catholicity -- continuity with the church around the world and throughout the ages. Women’s ordination began to be granted by some denominations in the nineteenth century; up until that point it was widely unknown. Furthermore, many significant Christian traditions hold the ordination of women to be unacceptable up to this day, including the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, some provinces of the Anglican Communion, and several Protestant denominations including the Southern Baptist Convention, Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod), and Presbyterian Church of America. These traditions justify their decision not to ordain women based not only on scriptural witness, but also on continuity with apostolic tradition.

Finally, it is important in considering this question not to be swayed by the tendencies of contemporary society. The past two hundred years in the United States have seen great advances in women's rights. However, it is important to remember that the church is not necessarily beholden to the ethical norms of the world. We as Christians must decide questions about the rites and sacraments of the church based not on contemporary identity politics but on scriptural witness and faithful theological discernment.

No comments:

Post a Comment