Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Can Women Preach?

The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? I Corinthians 14:34-35

A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. I Timothy 2:11-12

Last Sunday I preached.

Please do not imagine that I did so cavalierly. Please do not think me ignorant or dismissive about what the Bible teaches about women in the church. Please believe that any time I open my mouth to teach from the Word of God I do so with great reverence and respect. I do not take exception to these passages. But neither do I choose to understand them apart from their context and the entirety of scripture. I do not wish to over complicate nor oversimplify the challenging passages, but attempt to understand them with care and discernment, that I might rightly handle and apply their truths. 

And so I have dug deeply and wrestled greatly with these texts. Though they were written by the hand of Paul, I believe them to be inspired by the Spirit of God. So if this is true, how in the world do I stand up in church and preach, actually believing that God both called and equipped me for the job?

I will admit up front that while I have made peace with some of the ways that my calling seems to contradict scripture, I am open to the very real possibility that I am mistaken. So as I share a bit of my journey and my understanding of these challenging texts, I hold that understanding lightly, keenly aware of the fact that I could be wrong. And I seek the Lord earnestly and regularly on this issue, never assuming that my current understanding is my final destination. 

First of all, most scholars believe that Paul is generally advocating for women. At the time, it was typically men who had the privilege of education. During church services, women, who had not been allowed to study, would have questions about what was being said. In a desire to understand the message, they would ask their husbands for clarification. This would get disruptive, and so Paul tells the women to save their questions and ask them at home. Some believe that it was extremely affirming of women that Paul encourages the husbands to educate their wives, which would undeniably empower women as never before.

This explanation makes much more sense than the idea that Paul is forbidding women from ever speaking in church. In fact, just a few chapters earlier in the same letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains that women can pray and prophesy during church as long as they do so in a respectful and orderly fashion. As praying and prophesying are verbal activities, it is illogical to conclude that Paul is insisting on silence at all times.

One of the more widely accepted explanations of these verses is that Paul was speaking to specific churches within specific cultural contexts, and that his words were not meant to be universally applied throughout time. For example, Paul also tells the Corinthian women that they must keep their heads covered and the men that they cannot have long hair. Most Christians today do not believe those instructions to be prescriptive for their lives. In his letter to Timothy, Paul says that he wants all men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer. But most churches don't insist that the men raise their hands when they pray.

I find that both camps (the complementarians and the egalitarians) acknowledge that not all of Paul's instructions are to be applied word for word in our modern context. The difference is in which verses are interpreted as timeless instructions and which verses are tied to their original cultural context.

I am indifferent to preaching. I can do it. I don't have to do it. So the question is this: Is God calling me to preach? Me, a woman?

***This is last week's sermon--in French. I know--for most of you, it means nothing! But might be fun for my francophone friends. Thinking of you PG, KK, LM :)

No comments:

Post a Comment