Part One: Women As Leaders In The Church (For Tim)

I’ve been preparing a major refutation of Wilson ally and evangelical patriarchy defender Tim Bayly’s contention that only a church that holds women in contempt would ever allow them to be elevated to positions of church leadership. Bayly, like most complementarians, contends that the creation order of Genesis 1 and 2 dictates that God always intended women to be subordinate to men. Egalitarian evangelical scholars disagree, and, in my view, make a far better Biblical case — the only case that matters — than the complementarians. Yeah, we’ve covered this before, but it’s clearly an issue that will continue — although I have to say that equating women’s ecclesiastical freedom with contempt is truly a novel approach that begs a response.

A good way to begin, then, would be to acknowledge that the issue of women in the church is not a new thing. Not only has the church for centuries debated the proper ecclesiastical role of women, and usually much more irenically than Bayly, but women also have been serving as leaders in Christian churches since its inception. The question of women in church leadership, much less the reality of women deacons, bishops, priests, pastors, and planters, is not, as complementarians would lead us to believe, a symptom of a feminism-influenced Christendom skipping daintily from the decadent 1970s. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit has gifted women for such roles and enabled them to serve since Pentecost. It’s the vitriol against them that, in recent decades, has increased to a point that it tragically mirrors the craven, mean-spirited, dubious morality of the world.

So I’ll open my series with this quote from an evangelical scholar and seminarian — not because all historical reality confirms Scriptural teaching, but because historical truths disprove the contention that it’s all the fault of feminist women, feminine men, and a feminized Church. As it happens, though, the words that follow are a compelling historical testimony that comports with the teaching of Scripture, and as a woman who’s been a pastor, evangelist, and teacher, I found them to be full of grace.

And so, in memory of Junia the apostle, Phoebe the deacon, Lydia and Chloe the overseers, and Priscilla the teacher . . .

“A major reason against women as head pastors is that we have no history of them serving as such in the early church. They are a modern innovation, and therefore suspect! But is this true? The archaeological material begins about the time the New Testament canon was being completed; it includes frescoes, mosaics, sculpture, and tomb inscriptions (in Latin and Greek) attesting to women as synagogue leaders, prophets, stewards, deacons, presbyters, and overseers.”

Dorothy Irvin, Th.D, University of Tuebingen, Germany

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