Can Women Be Pastors?
When I was younger we attended a church where I was taught that women were not allowed by God to be pastors. Then we moved to a church that taught us that women could be pastors, just not senior pastors. When I was at seminary I really dug into the passages and ideas that are used to support this teaching and I don’t believe they are *from* the Bible but, rather, were brought to the Bible and used to understand it. There’s a very intense and detailed book about it called “Good News For Women” and a much easier read called “What Paul Really Said About Women” if you want to learn more, but I’m going to sum up what I believe. And, yes, I am a pastor. The Church of the Nazarene is actually the first church in America to ordain women and we are conservative and take our Bible very seriously.
First of all, I believe that the letters Paul wrote were in response to specific situations that were posed to him from different people or churches or groups and his purpose in writing them was to teach the new believers how to apply Scriptures (Torah and Prophets which is what was studied in the Synagogues at that time and in the early church) to their new situations and challenges. Never before had men studied with women, nor Jew with Gentile, and there were conflicts as well as false teachers running around. Paul had to deal with the Judaizers who believed that you still had to convert to Judaism before you could be saved and with pagan converts who wanted to still be worshiping like they were in the pagan temples. Essentially, in the early church, there were four primary groups of people coming together to worship: Jewish men who had spent their entire lives studying Torah; Jewish women who lived Torah but had never studied it; pagan men who knew nothing about Scripture; and pagan women who knew nothing about Scripture and were sometimes coming from being temple prostitutes or goddess worship that had very different ideas. How to integrate these people into one community of unity was a challenge that Paul addressed with wisdom and grace. He was able to be all things to all people to win them over to the Gospel. This is what understanding the culture is about. It’s not about deciding what to throw out because I throw out nothing from Scripture! It’s about understanding *why* he was writing, *how* he was writing and *whom* he was writing to. We need to understand his words in the context of the actual letter he wrote and not our modern day cultural perspective when we read the words in English. Yes! God can speak to us today and to our circumstances, but when it comes to studying we can’t assume that *today* and with no study we can read in a translation and understand it all.
Second, many people today do not understand the influence of Hellenism on the Church Fathers. With the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD the Jewish people became highly persecuted by the government and in response the Church began demanding that they abandon everything Jewish-looking, all Tradition, in order to be part of the Church. This kept persecution away from the Church but it also served to destroy the Hebraic reading of the Scripture written by Jewish men with a Hebraic mind. As more Gentiles became Christians that meant more previously pagan believers who brought their Hellenist minds and culture to their understanding of Scripture. Augustine, one of the foremost Church Fathers, was a Neo-Socratic and used the Socratic method to debate Scripture and win many to the Lord. This is great! Except Socratic ideas got in there and many of them are actually quite unbiblical, but have shaped churches understanding of the verses he explained. While women were not included in the study of Scripture in Judaism, they were the heart of the home (and the heart was believed to rule the body, not the head). They structured the home and life so that all of the feasts and festivals were observed properly, so that Shabbat was honored, so that the children’s early instruction was sound and so that their husband would have as much time as possible to study Torah! The “Excellent Wife” is doing everything *so that* her husband can be at the Synagogue and at the City Gates (where he is praising her) all the time! It is still this way in devoutly Orthodox circles. Women were valued and honored, just not included in the study of Scripture. Socrates, on the other hand, took Plato’s (his mentor) idea of Forms. Plato taught that in the eternal there is a perfect Form of everything found on Earth and everything here is an imperfect replica of the perfect Form. Socrates took this idea and taught that there is a Form of human and man is an imperfect replica, but woman is an even more imperfect replica and therefore she is of lower value than man. This is why Greek “love” is believed to only be true when between two men and women are for the purpose of procreation–preferably of male sons. This is where today’s patriarchal ideas come from. Augustine taught that even if you found a group of priests to lay hands on a woman and ordain her the ordination would leak out of her because she is an imperfect vessel. If you study his personal life you find that he had real issues with women. He carried on a long term affair with a woman and basically was a misogynist (woman-hater). But it is *his* teachings that have most shaped the teachings of Paul’s for the church today.