A new study has been released showing that a majority of Americans are in favor of female pastors and priests. Of course, this isn’t at all surprising. It’s been a while since Scripture has enjoyed popular support in this country. There are probably more Americans studying “50 Shades of Grey” every night than the Bible, so you can’t really expect the mass of people to have a biblically literate view of things.
Still, the topic is worth a little attention because, breaking the numbers down, it’s revealed that over 70 percent of mainline Protestants support female pastors, while 80 percent of Catholics feel the same way. A full 62 percent of those who identify themselves as “practicing Christians” are on board with ignoring clear Biblical teaching on this topic (and many other topics). Only Evangelicals are, as a majority, in favor of sticking with the precedent set by Jesus and Paul and Adam and the prophets and the Church Fathers. But even in their case, it’s not a very large majority.
And why have all of these “practicing Christians” come down on this side of the question? They certainly didn’t arrive at it from consulting the Bible or thousands of years of Christian tradition, both of which are unmistakably clear. Let’s do a quick review:
Going back all the way to the beginning, Adam was formed before Eve. He was given dominion over the plants and animals. He was entrusted with this authority before Eve came onto the scene. She was created as Adam’s “helpmate,” to be his aide and his companion, not his spiritual teacher or authority figure. Much later, in his letter to Timothy, Paul uses this as one of the justifications for disqualifying women from pastoral positions. He explained that the Church adheres to the order of creation, which has put man at the head from the start.
Passing all the way through the Old Testament we find not a single instance where a woman was in a position of teaching or instructing a group of men in God’s Word. And did Christ overturn this order when He came to Earth? No, He followed it. All 12 of His apostles were men. This, in spite of the fact that some of his most loyal and faithful followers were women. And let’s not forget the seemingly related detail that He, Himself, is a man. He didn’t just take on the appearance of a man, like some alien shapeshifter assuming an Earthly form. He was fully man and fully God. This is relevant for obvious reasons.
Recall that the word “pastor” is from the Latin for shepherd. Christ refers to Himself repeatedly as the Shepherd, meaning that He was the first and ultimate pastor; the pastor at the head of all pastors. So we have the first Shepherd, a man, selecting shepherds, all men, to lead His church in His place after He ascends to Heaven. Those shepherds then delegated that authority to other men. Paul addressed the issue specifically, stating multiple times, particularly in First Timothy and First Corinthians, that women are not to be the leaders of churches.
And if all of this is somehow not conclusive enough for us, we are also told that the family is the domestic church, and as the domestic church it is supposed to reflect the Church. In that domestic church, the man is put at the head, which is explicitly prescribed in Ephesians 5. In this passage, Paul links the family and the church, explaining that the former should model itself after the latter. Then again in First Corinthians he makes the case about as straightforward as it can be:
“The head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”
To put the woman at the head of a the man is to subvert the order established by God, manifested by Christ, explained by Paul, affirmed by the Church Fathers, and basically adopted by all of Christianity up until a few decades ago.
Does this mean that women are unimportant or incidental to the life of the Church? Not in the slightest. After all, Christ came to Earth through the body of a woman. He performed His first miracle at the behest of a woman. It was a woman who came and wiped the blood and sweat from Christ’s brow as He carried His cross up Calvary, even as many of His closest male followers ran away and denied Him. Women are the ones who first learned of the Resurrection. There are many examples just like this in Scripture. Women played an integral and indispensable part in Biblical times, in the early Church, in the modern church, and, of course, in the domestic church. Christianity has from always extolled the beauty and dignity and power of womanhood. Scripture speaks of the equal worth of women about 1,900 years before feminists claimed to be the first ones to discover it.
Women have a crucial and utterly necessary role to play in the church and the family, but what they don’t have is the same role. A man, no matter how hard he tries, can never conceive life within himself and bring it forth into the world. That is a duty and an honor given exclusively to women. Likewise, no woman, no matter how enlightened and progressive she may be, can overturn the order of creation and install women at the head of men. That is a responsibility given exclusively to men, and so it always will be, no matter how our culture feels about it.
So, with that all established, I ask only one question of the “practicing Christians” who would overlook or deny the order created by God and confirmed by His Son and passed on by the Apostles: Why?
Allow me to suggest a possible answer: hubris.
There are many Christians who believe that we, somehow, are more enlightened than the various Biblical figures who espoused views that offend our modern sensibilities. They even think themselves more enlightened than Jesus Christ. I wish I was being hyperbolic there, but I have heard with my own ears, countless times, as Christians have explained that Our Lord was beholden to the “cultural norms” of the time.
This shouldn’t need to be said, but apparently I must: Jesus Christ was not beholden to the habits and customs of human beings. There was no “cultural bias” that He was unable to see through. He did not conform to the culture. Rather, He commands that we conform the culture to Him.
Something else that shouldn’t need to be said: It is an essential Christian belief that the men who wrote the various books of the Bible were guided by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, to say that Paul was a “sexist” blinded by his misogyny when he instructed women to submit to men, is to say that the Holy Spirit is a sexist blinded by misogyny. Or it is to say that the Bible is not, in fact, the inspired Word of God. But if that’s the case, why are we even talking about women pastors? If the texts that prohibit women pastors are not legitimate, there’s no reason to believe that the Bible itself is legitimate, which really renders the whole pastor discussion moot.
But this is all academic, I suppose. The popular support for something like women pastors is not rooted, for most people, in any kind of deep meditation over questions of exegesis or biblical infallibility. It stems, I think, from the instinctive feeling that we here in modern times are more enlightened than those who came before us. We are more enlightened simply because we exist now and they existed then. Now is right because it is now. Then was then, which makes it less right.
We can’t see that it is we – not Christ, not Paul – who are beholden to cultural norms. We are so beholden to them that when our norms and God’s norms differ, we side with our norms. Our norms aren’t just norms to us. Our norms are the new Gospel. They are infallible in our minds not because they were spoken by God, but because they were spoken by us.
It’s no wonder that every church that now endorses gay marriage and abortion also has female pastors. It’s not that a church must have female pastors if it also has homosexual marriage, but that to allow female pastors is to place our cultural norms over the authority of Scripture. It’s to say that on this topic we know more than the Bible. We have a deeper and fuller understanding than the Apostles and the Church Fathers and even Christ. But if we begin to go down this road — if we start to believe that the popular view is truer than the Biblical view on any topic — it’s not long before we come to that conclusion on every topic where the two views diverge (which is almost all topics).
The other problem is that we’ve basically disqualified every Biblical teaching if we’ve decided that there’s not enough in Scripture to support a prohibition on women pastors. If all of the things I just outlined don’t meet your burden of proof, tell me: what teaching does meet it? Do you demand that, in order to believe something, Christ must have plainly said it Himself in words that apply with exact specificity to modern times? If so, a great many Christian teachings no longer apply (which is part of the point), and every book of the Bible that is not one of the Gospels must be discarded. But wait. Do you actually accept the teaching that Christ did specifically and explicitly verbalize from His own mouth? I’m guessing not, because every church that allows women pastors also allows divorce and remarriage. Remarriage is one of the few things that Christ did actually prohibit in clear and unmistakable language: “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
You don’t get any clearer than that, do you? Yet “practicing Christians” in this culture are even more accepting of remarriage than they are of women pastors. It turns out that even Christ’s own words are not enough for us. We have put the entire Bible up for a vote, and determined, by majority rule, that almost all of it no longer applies. We have no actual Biblical justification for this. We simply refuse to accept teachings that contradict our own cultural biases. And seeing as how they all contradict our cultural biases, we have effectively done away with the whole thing.
Unfortunately for us, however, the universe is not ruled by a democracy. Our opinions mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme. All of creation is ruled by God and God alone. He is the one King, Lawmaker, and Judge. We have no say in any of this. There are no referendums or recall votes. He has not and will never consult us on this or any topic. He has spoken. And what He has spoken is automatically right, whether we like it or not.
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