Archive for the “Women in Ministry” Category

A question in a forum today took me back to a position paper I’d written on the role of women in ministry. I took the opportunity to update the paper making it easier to read. If it’s a topic you’re interested in, you can download it here.

Here’s an excerpt from the paper:

After wrestling with this topic for many years, my own position has changed considerably. I have transitioned from believing the surface reading of the difficult Pauline passages to believing that such a reading is not consistent with the Paul’s other words and actions or with the whole voice of Scripture. As such, I will deal with the difficult passages from this premise: While the culture of biblical times undoubtedly placed women in subordinate roles most of the time, Scripture both explicitly and implicitly allows women to freely use their gifts in ways that honor God. (Examples from Scripture are provided in footnotes 2 and 3.)

My own theology about the role of women in ministry derives from key passages that are not disputed or open to various interpretations: Genesis 2:18 and Galatians 3:26-28.

The paper goes on to discuss these passages as well as the Pauline passages that often present difficulties when developing a position on the role of women in ministry.

I recognize that this is a difficult subject that many Christian leaders do not agree on. My goal is not to encourage division within the Church, but to demonstrate how I’ve come to my position. If you do not agree with my interpretation of Scriptures, I’m happy to have a conversation, but let’s not turn it into an argument. Grace & peace.

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In yesterday’s blog, we read that the angel of the Lord greeted Gideon as “mighty warrior.” We learned that the word translated as “warrior” is chayil and means “strength, might, efficiency, wealth and army.”

We find the word chayil used in a curious place in an unexpected way in the book of Proverbs. You’ll find it right there in Proverbs 31:10. I’m guessing that most of the women reading this are groaning and crying out “Nooooo! Please, don’t make me read about this totally perfect woman that I can’t compete with!” That was my perspective for a very long time. Learning about the word “chayil” helped change it.

A Verse in Many Translations

Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
Proverbs 31:10 (KJV)

How does that make you feel, ladies? I like the part about rubies, but how do you feel about the “virtuous” part? Well, the longer I know the Lord, the more attractive “virtuous” is to me, but to tell you the truth, virtuous brings to mind words like prim and proper and…well, boring.

A wife of noble character, who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
Proverbs 31:10 (NIV)

A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.
Proverbs 31:10 (NRSV)

Who can find a virtuous and capable wife? She is worth more than precious rubies.
Proverbs 31:10 (NLT)

If you can find a truly good wife, she is worth more than precious gems!
Proverbs 31:10 (TLB)

The word that is translated as virtuous, noble, capable, truly good and excellent is chayil – which we’ve already said means “strength, might, efficiency, wealth and army.” There’s nothing prim and proper or wimpy about the word. In all honesty, it improves my self-esteem to know that God wants me to be strong, mighty, efficient and having great influence (wealthy).

There’s something interesting about the word chayil and how it’s been translated in the Bible.

What’s in a Word?

The word is used 249 times in 233 verses in the Old testament. It is only translated “virtue” or “virtuous” 4 times, always when referring to women. Hmmm. Whom else does it refer to, and how else is it translated? Well, generally, the word connotes power of some kind. Based on KJV, here’s how it’s translated:


Translated As

Approx. #
of Times

Army, Armies, Soldiers, Band of Men, Forces, Company, Able Men

81
Valor, Valiant, Valiantest, Valiantly (related to men)

61

Power, Might, Mighty, Strong, Strength

31

Wealth, Substance, Riches, Property/Goods, Worthy, Worthily

31

Host

28

Virtuous, Virtuously (women or daughters)

4

Aloud

3

War, Activity

3

Let’s use some of those words in Proverbs 31:

A powerful woman, a woman of valor is more precious than rubies. A woman of strength, who can find her?
(Sandy Hovatter translation)

That gives me a different view of myself.

I looked up virtuous in the dictionary and found:

Adj. 1. Conforming to moral and ethical principles; morally excellent; upright. 2. Chaste, as a person. 3. Archaic. Able to produce effects; potent (emphasis mine)

The King James translation, uses the word virtuous to translate chayil. In today’s language, that means morally excellent or chaste; in the time the translation was made, it most likely meant able to produce effects. Morally excellent is a wonderful, Godly thing to be. I’m just not so sure it was what the author of the Proverb was intending when he used chayil to describe what we’ve come to call The Proverbs 31 Woman.

This study, along with a study of God creating woman as a “helper” to Adam revitalized how I saw myself as a Godly woman. Perhaps another time I’ll bring you the “helper” lesson. For now, spend some time thinking about God’s Proverbs 31 Woman.

And be blessed!

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Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

Perpetua and Felicitas

She was 22 years old with a newborn baby, a son. A noblewoman by birth, educated and fluent in Latin and Greek, she was a young bride, a woman who had married honorably. She was her father’s favorite, his only daughter in a family of sons. She was also a criminal, by her own confession — a follower of Jesus Christ. The year was 203 and the emperor had declared it illegal to convert to Christianity. Her name was Perpetua.

Much of what we know about her comes from her own prison diary, which perhaps represents the oldest Christian writings from the hand of a woman.

Perpetua had a maidservant and friend named Felicitas. Felicitas was also a Christian. Like Perpetua, she was young, and she was 8 months pregnant. She was arrested with Perpetua along with three men. Felicitas gave birth in prison shortly before their execution.

Perpetua describes her initiation into prison life:

“After a few days we were taken into prison, and I was much afraid because I had never known such darkness. O bitter day! There was a great heat because of the press, there was cruel handling of the soldiers. Lastly I was tormented there by care for the child.”

Undoubtedly, Perpetua had never been in such a position.

In prison, her father came to her repeatedly, sometimes commanding, sometimes begging, sometimes angry — doing all in his power to convince her to simply renounce her faith and to save herself and her child. He pleaded for himself and Perpetua’s mother, that they might not lose their daughter. He pleaded on behalf of her son, that he might not lose his mother. He tore at her heartstrings to save her life. In one interchange, Perpetua tried to explain, in a way that He might understand, why she could not deny Christ:

“Father,” she answered, “do you see this vessel — waterpot or whatever it may be?…Can it be called by any other name than what it is?”

“No,” he replied.

“So also I cannot call myself by any other name than what I am — a Christian.”

Perpetua knew that to save her life, she must lose it. She wrote of her father after one visit:

“This he said fatherly in his love, kissing my hands and grovelling at my feet; and with tears he named me, not daughter, but lady. And I was grieved for my father’s case because he would not rejoice at my passion out of all my kin; and I comforted him, saying: That shall be done at this tribunal, whatsoever God shall please; for know that we are not established in our own power, but in God’s. And he went from me very sorrowful.”

Notice the phrase “he would not rejoice at my passion.” Perpetua had had a dream which convinced her and those around her that she and her friends would not be delivered out of the prison by the Lord, but would become martyrs. And their hope shifted from this world to the world to come. They rejoiced at the promise of suffering for her Lord.

At her trial, Perpetua watched her father be beaten because of her faith and her child taken from her, but she remained resolute. One biographer described Perpetua’s entrance to the amphitheater like this:

Now dawned the day of their victory, and they went forth from the prison into the amphitheatre as it were into heaven, cheerful and bright of countenance; if they trembled at all, it was for joy, not for fear. Perpetua followed behind, glorious of presence, as a true spouse of Christ and darling of God; at whose piercing look all cast down their eyes…Perpetua began to sing…

A wild, savage bull was let into the ring. Perpetua and Felicitas were wearing loose robes. Perpetua was thrown by the beast first. Upon landing hard, she sat up and arranged her robe “mindful rather of modesty than of pain.” She then asked for a hairpin to pin up her disheveled hair. In the culture, women wore their hair down when they were in mourning, and Perpetua wanted to be as one prepared to meet her groom with joy, not one mourning a loss. At one point, she encouraged believers around her saying “Stand fast in the faith, and love you all one another; and be not offended because of our passion.”

When the ladies were not killed by the bull, the crowd called for them to brought into the arena and killed with a sword, so that the people could witness their death. Perpetua and Felicitas, hearing the cries, rose without prompting, kissed one another as a sign of peace and came forward to be slain. The executioner was a novice, perhaps nervous in front of the large crowd. Perpetua took his hand and put the sword to her throat, demonstrating that she was giving her life of her own free will.

It is said that the adjutant of the jail where Perpetua and Felicitas were held became a believer, as did many in the crowd that day. Augustine noted two centuries later that joined together, “perpetua felicitas” means “everlasting happiness.” Most would not give that title to a martyr, but Augustine points out that it is exactly what the two women gained.

The next time you see a woman’s hair clip, let it remind you of the faithfulness of a young woman, her maidservant and their God.

Quotes taken from:

  • Paul Halsall, editor, Internet Medieval Sourcebook: St.Perpetua: The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity 203, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/perpetua.html
  • Dave Kopel, http://www.pitt.edu/~eflst4/PerpetuaFelicity.html

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A recent discussion on a leadership forum has raised the issue of the appropriateness of women in ministry again. I’ve briefly blogged on the issue here. In re-visiting the sometimes controversial topic, I see that I never posted the position paper I wrote on it. If you want more on the topic, you can check out the paper here.

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If you’re reading through the Bible with us, you might find the following blogs by a friend who is also blogging as he reads. You’ll find that he’s much better at writing short blogs than I am. 🙂

 Click to read his blog on…

The Tower of Babel (Genesis 10)

The Beautitudes (Matthew 5) 

If you’d like to share your thoughts on a passage, e-mail me at sandy@ApprehendingGrace.com. Who knows, there might be a spot for you here.

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This is a story of two women – one “very old,” the other quite young. The older one was married to a priest. The younger one was engaged to a local carpenter. The older one had prayed for years for a child and had been disappointed month after month, year after year. The young one was still a virgin, looking forward to her marriage.Both became pregnant.

The older woman, Elizabeth, went into seclusion for five months.

The younger woman, Mary, was visited by the angel Gabriel and told that she would become pregnant and that her relative Elizabeth was already pregnant. Mary left a few days later to visit Elizabeth.

The women could hardly be more different:

  • They are one, perhaps two, generations apart in age
  • Elizabeth had been married for many years; Mary was looking forward to marriage
  • Elizabeth’s husband was a priest; Mary’s fiancé was a carpenter
  • Elizabeth did not receive a heavenly visitation bringing news of the birth; Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel
  • Upon learning of her pregnancy, Elizabeth immediately went into seclusion; Mary immediately went to visit Elizabeth

Yet how very similar they were. Both women were obedient to the Lord. Scripture describes Elizabeth as “from the priestly line of Aaron” and “righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations” (Luke 1:6-7). When Mary learned that she would become an unwed mother, an action that would most likely cause her fiancé to break off their engagement and publicly disgrace her, replied “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever He wants. May everything you have said come true” (Luke 1:38).

This is also the story of two men – Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah and Mary’s husband Joseph. The men are an integral part of the story, and they are as different from one another as the women are. Zechariah was a priest and the angel Gabriel spoke directly to him before Elizabeth became pregnant. Joseph was a carpenter and received a dream after Mary had learned that she would be come pregnant. In the dream, he was told to that Mary would give birth to the messiah and that he should marry her.

And yet, like the women, they are very much alike. Both were honorable, God-fearing men. Zechariah had remained married to his wife even though she didn’t provide him with a child in their early years of marriage. When he learned that his wife would become pregnant, he finished out his service to God before returning to his wife. Scripture records Joseph’s response to his dream: “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded. He brought Mary home to be his wife, but she remained a virgin until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus” (Matthew 1:24-25).

Elizabeth and Zechariah. Mary and Joseph. Two couples who were used by God to change the course of history. Elizabeth was the mother of John the Baptist. Mary was the mother of Jesus.

So what’s my point? My point is that God uses people from very different backgrounds and in very different stages of life, if they are willing to be used by Him. One could even say that He uses them in spite of their current circumstances (Elizabeth was barren and Mary was a virgin). They key component for being used by God doesn’t seem to have much to do with our circumstances – which, let’s face it, we have very little control over, but a whole lot to do with being willing to be used by Him – which we do have control over.

Where are you? This Christmas season, are you bemoaning your circumstances and perhaps even using them as an excuse NOT to do what God wants you to do, or are you being like Mary and saying “I am the Lord’ servant, and I am willing to accept whatever He wants.”

If you have accepted Christ, He has an assignment (or two, or three) for you. Don’t back down from them. Let Mary be your example this season and be ready to say “yes” to whatever God calls you to.

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10. A man’s place is in the army.

9. The pastoral duties of men who have children might distract them from the responsibility of being a parent.

8. The physique of men indicates that they are more suited to such tasks as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do ministerial tasks.

7. Man was created before woman, obviously as a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. Their conduct at football and basketball games demonstrates this.

5. Some men are handsome, and this will distract women worshipers.

4. Pastors need to nurture their congregations. But this is not a traditional male role. Throughout history, women have been recognized as not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more fervently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.

3. Men are prone to violence. No really masculine man wants to settle disputes except by fighting about them. Thus they would be poor role models as well as dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.

2. The New Testament tells us that Jesus was betrayed by a man. His lack of faith and ensuing punishment remind us of the subordinated position that all men should take.

1. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep sidewalks, repair the church roof, and perhaps even lead the song service on Father’s Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the church.  

 OK, I didn’t write this. I cut and pasted it in it’s entirety from Adventures in Mercy who cut and pasted it from Serving Bread. And I think that suffices for giving credit in blogs!

 Admit it…you’ve said (almost) the same things about women in the pastorate, haven’t you? (I’ve certainly had most of them said to me.)

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Last week I had to write a paper for my grad class. We didn’t get to pick the topic. It was assigned: “The Role of Women in Ministry.” Quite frankly, I’m pretty tired of the topic. I’ve been dealing with it one way or another since I came to Christ in 1979.

At the time, I was an officer in the Air Force and had dreams of a business career. It’s what I had had wanted to be since I was in junior high school – a business woman. Not a normal dream for a young girl, perhaps, but it was mine.

In college I struggled with how to have both a business career and children. I didn’t really want children, I just assumed I would have to have them some day. It was what women did. But I didn’t think I had the energy for both. I guess God didn’t think I could either because He sent me a man who didn’t want children! As I was getting to know Phil (and starting to fall in love with him), I was surprised and excited to learn he also didn’t want to have children.

Shortly after we were married, I came to Christ…and I cried for nearly two years! We attended a small church in Southern California, and every woman in that church was either a stay-at-home mom or in a stereotypical women’s career. They all had a life that I truly didn’t want. (Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t de-value those choices. They just hold no interest for me. It’s not how I’m wired. In our family we joke about how my sister got all the “mothering” genes.) It was several years before I met another Christian woman who was committed to the business world and seeing Christ move in it. But until then, I struggled — was I required to embrace a life that I had never wanted and give up my dreams of a business career in order to be a “good Christian wife?”

Well, I’ve done a lot of reading and studying about what the Bible says is an appropriate role for women, in the home, outside the home, and in the church. And while you may think from my preceding narrative that I was prone to accept women in ministry, it’s not been so. For most of my Christian life, I’ve been overcompensating for my biases when reading material on the subject. But over time I have changed my position. At the risk of being too controversial here, I’d like to make some observations:

  • I’ve found that most people really haven’t studied Scripture to learn what it says about women in ministry. They just accept a surface reading or what the were taught by their parents or pastors
  • Yes, there are some passages that seem to limit the role women can have in the church.
  • There are also passages in which the apostle Paul clearly commends women who held positions at all levels within the early church (from apostle to lay positions), from praying to prophesying to teaching.
  • These two facts make for controversy in many Christian circles. And that grieves my heart. While writing this current paper, I read reviews of a book in which both men and women were so very angry toward the authors and readers of the book. Again, I cried. Because it hurts my heart that simply because I’m a woman I’m at the center of a controversy that causes such anger.
  • We have historical records that verify that women served in ALL positions within the church during the first 300 years after Christ’s resurrection.
  • When discussing the role of women in church in our class, a young man who started with the premise that women should not be allowed to be pastors said something that finally boiled it down for me: The very fact that there are “exceptions” (that were approved by Paul) in Scripture to Paul’s (seemingly contradictory) statements that women should not speak or teach says that it is OK for women to speak and teach and lead local congregations.
  • We ought to all be careful lest we squash the call of God on someone else’s life.

My desire isn’t to start a firestorm. Just to get people thinking. Feel free to add your own comments, but please, let’s remember to honor one another – no angry invectives here, please. Oh, and if you want to read the paper I had to write (danger, danger, danger), just drop me an e-mail.

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