I enter this discussion with fear and trembling. I recently commended a wonderful article from our friend Rachel Green Miller concerning Priscilla. In that article, she repeated several times that she is NOT advocating for the ordination of women to office. I agree with her. I find it sad and disheartening that she has been bullied and hounded so fiercely that she has had to withdraw from social media for suggesting that women and men are equally gifted to teach theology. But history, scripture and simply observation of our times prove her correct. Bullying, insults, reviling, threats, contempt and hatred have no place in theological discussion. Christ has nothing to do with Belial.
The fact is that women and men are equally filled with the Holy Spirit and members of Christ’s anointing (See Heidelberg Catechism Q and A 32 for an excellent summary of what it means to be filled with the Spirit). The preaching of the gospel came to the rich and poor, bond and free, male and female, Jew and Gentile. All who believed on His Name were filled with the Spirit, united to Him, and thus were the firstborn of God and heirs according to the promise (see Galatians 3 and 4).
To men and women both were given the gifts of the Spirit. Some women are very gifted in theology, in writing, in speaking, in advocacy, in insight, in organization. Biblically speaking, there is no difference in the gifts given to men or the gifts given to women. They are all given by the free grace of the Holy Spirit, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 12. This is called “The Communion of the Saints”. For an excellent summary of that doctrine, I would direct you to Heidelberg Catechism #55.
In fact, this is so important that I will simply put question 55 here:
55. What dost thou understand by the “communion of saints”?
First, that believers, one and all, as members of the Lord Jesus Christ, are partakers with Him in all His treasures and gifts; secondly, that each one must feel himself bound to use his gifts readily and cheerfully for the advantage and welfare of other members.
Notice the emphasis in this 500 year old catechism on the universality of ALL the gifts. Believers, one and all, are members of Christ and partakers with him of ALL his treasures and gifts.
Why then do we not just ordain women to office? Isn’t it a contradiction between the Reformed confessions and the Reformed books of order?
This is what I would like to address.
First, I would like to stress those things that are NOT the reason. It is not because men are natural leaders. Many who are called to preach are not natural leaders. Many are introverts and far more comfortable in their study than leading any group. And many women are gifted with leadership.
It is not because women are more easily deceived. This is not the meaning of 1 Timothy 2, which I will address in its proper place. Adam also ate the fruit, being deceived by sin (compare to Romans 7) and through him the human race fell. There is nothing in scripture that teaches that Eve’s sin was imputed to every woman. The consistent teaching of scripture is that through one man sin entered the world and death by sin. I will address what the deception of Eve is further on.
It is also not because of the order that God has placed in the home. God has certainly not placed all women under the authority of all men, either in the church or in the home.
The reason that we do not ordain women has to do with what the office of bishop or elder actually is. It has to do with representation.
And that goes back to the nature of our salvation.
Jesus told Nicodemus that in order to see the kingdom of God he must be “born again by water and the Spirit.” In Adam, the human race fell. Every man, woman and child is born under the death penalty already, and there is nothing that they can do about it.
When you understand the problem, then you understand the impossibility of the cure. The problem is our first birth. We were born into the world spiritually dead, in bodies that were born dying because of the guilt of Adam already put on our account before birth.
And the only cure is a new birth with a new head of a new race. Nicodemus understood the impossibility of that far better than the revival preachers of the modern era. It isn’t fixed by walking down the aisle, by persuasion, by an act of the will, or by anything else that we as human beings are capable of doing.
We must “crawl back into the womb” and be born again under a new covenant head. And how can this be? Only by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. When we believe on Christ, we are “ingrafted” into him, our New Covenant Head, the second Adam. The same spirit that dwells in him dwells in us and so we are truly flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone.
Therefore, we are no longer under the curse of Adam for now we are in Christ, the firstborn, the heir to the throne of David according to the flesh.
(1Co 15:21-22) 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.
Again, the Heidelberg Catechism:
20. Are all men then saved by Christ as they perished in Adam?
No, only those who by true faith are ingrafted into Him and receive all His benefits.
But where does this faith come from? Is it the natural result of skilled persuasion? Once again, we must understand the nature of the problem. In Adam, we are not just a little off. We are not naturally pretty good people who just have some problems to work out. We are dead in trespasses and sins. We have an incurable disease. The exhortation to believe on Jesus Christ is exactly like preaching to dry bones (Ezekiel 37). Unless the Spirit “breathes” upon the bones, they will remain dead no matter how skilled or how eloquent or how learned the preacher is.
This is why Paul wrote:
(Rom 10:14-15) 14 How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!”
God has placed the salvation of the world in only one place: the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our great prophet, priest and king. He is, even today, ruling over all things and proclaiming the gospel of peace throughout the world.
To be sure, he is not walking among us according to the flesh, but he has sent preachers throughout the world proclaiming his word from ordinary pulpits every Lord’s day.
And some of these preachers are eloquent and wise. Some are rustic and simple. Some are erudite and polished. Some are colloquial and uncultured. But if they are “preaching”, then they are “sent.” And if they are sent, then they are representatives of Christ given to His Bride, the church.
If they are not “sent”, then they might be doing a lot of things, but they aren’t preaching.
The reason is this: The only way for anyone to be saved it to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. To that end, he has sent apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4) to build up the church. The ministry of the word is a representative ministry. When a preacher is sent to proclaim the word, he no longer is acting on his own capacity. He is representing Christ.
For this reason, Paul said to the Ephesians that Jesus came and “preached peace” to them. Jesus never went to Ephesus in the flesh. But he did go to Ephesus in the spirit, in the person of his ministers of the word.
So Christ chose 12 apostles, all of whom were men. They all came from every background, every social class, every education level, because faith will never come through the flesh. But they were all men because they were called to represent Christ as the groom to the church as his bride.
The great picture on Sunday morning is Christ breaking bread for his bride. The minister of the gospel is on one hand the bride of Christ, like everyone else in the congregation. But on the other hand, when he is breaking bread, administering the waters of baptism, or preaching the word, he is representing Christ himself.
Which is why Paul said, “Who is sufficient for these things?”
If we forget that, and think solely in terms of “who is a good, educated, learned, skilled leader”, then we are thinking in terms of the flesh, and denying that one must be born again by the Spirit.
I know that is a big jump to make for this culture. Perhaps an illustration from scripture would help.
Naaman was a Aramean general. He was very skilled and a feared and respected warrior, trusted and honored by the king. But he had leprosy and he could do nothing about it.
Through the witness of a little servant girl, he heard about a man in Israel that could cure leprosy. He came to Elisha, the man of God.
Elisha didn’t even go out to meet Naaman. Instead, he sent his servant with a message. “Dip in the Jordan seven times and you will be clean.”
Naaman was furious at the message. “Aren’t the rivers in Aram far better than the Jordan?”
Naaman was thinking in terms of the flesh. He was thinking that God had found a secret about the water of Jordan that he was telling him about, but leaving the decision as to whether it was true or false in the hands of Naaman.
But Naaman thought that the water in Syria was just as good. Elisha’s god didn’t know what he was talking about. If the secret lay in the water, then why not use Syrian water? It is better than Jewish water.
But the secret wasn’t in water. It was in the power of God. God had freely chosen to heal Naaman, but he connected that healing to a means – the River Jordan.
And so today, God has promised healing, faith, salvation – but has connected it to one thing. The preaching of the representative of Christ. It isn’t in the eloquence. It isn’t in the skill. It isn’t in the knowledge.
It is in the power of God alone.
The deception of Eve, then, is this. She thought that the secret of life and wisdom was in the tree and that God was wrong in forbidding them from taking it. She saw that it was good for food. It was desirable to make one wise. God was wrong.
But the secret of the tree wasn’t in the tree. It was in the command of God. Salvation doesn’t come because I do the right thing, make the right choices, live a better life, fix a few problems. Life was represented in the Tree of Life. But Eve thought that she had a better way. This was her deception.
Eve thought she could fix things by taking action. This was her deception. Paul’s warning was to the church of all ages. Eve was deceived. The problem in the church is not that “men are in charge”; nor is it that “women have taken over”. The problem is only one: mankind is dead in trespasses and sins, and there is only one cure. Jesus Christ crucified according to the gospel preached among you.
Adam rebelled and wanted to be god. He wasn’t deceived the same way as Eve. And death entered the world.
In order for me to live I must be born again, and this only comes when the spirit blows. And that spirit is not coerced, forced, manipulated, bought, or commanded. He blows where he wants to blow. He will have mercy on whom he will have mercy.
And so to illustrate this for all time, he has called weak and foolish men to represent Christ to the bride. He doesn’t call the most gifted, the most educated, the best leaders, the most eloquent statesmen. He calls the ordinary man, and puts his spirit on him and calls him to represent the Groom. Through the proclamation of the word, the Groom calls the Bride to himself.
10 “My beloved responded and said to me, ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, And come along.
11 ‘For behold, the winter is past, The rain is over and gone.
12 ‘The flowers have already appeared in the land; The time has arrived for pruning the vines, And the voice of the turtledove has been heard in our land.
13 ‘The fig tree has ripened its figs, And the vines in blossom have given forth their fragrance. Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, And come along!'” (Sol 2:10-13)
The deception of Eve plays out in every era. That salvation somehow comes through the flesh. We get better ideas, better skills, better leadership and that will somehow cause people to be saved. We flock to the next mega-church to the next guy who has a better idea on how to be saved from sin.
If salvation comes from making the right choices, then the one who can convince us to make better choices by skill and charisma is the one to follow, whether they are man or woman.
But if salvation comes only by faith, and faith is a gift of God, then we must go to where he is promised to meet with us. Where the Groom is feeding his Bride.
‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts. (Zec 4:6)
It has to do with representation, not sex, skill or charisma. The Lord Jesus must proclaim peace to us or there is no salvation. For this reason, God generally doesn’t call the most gifted, the most eloquent, or the most wise. Calvin writes,
“…This is the best and most useful exercise in humility, when (Jesus) accustoms us to obey his Word, even though it be preached through men like us and sometimes even by those of lower worth that we. If he spoke from heaven, it would not be surprising if his sacred oracles were to be reverently received without delay by the ears and minds of all. For who would not dread the presence of his power? Who would not be stricken down at the sight of such great majesty? Who would not be confounded at such boundless splendor? But when a puny man risen from the dust speaks in God’s name, at this point we best evidence our piety and obedience toward God if we show ourselves teachable toward his minister, although he excels us in nothing. It was for this reason, then that he hid the treasure of his heavenly wisdom in weak and earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:7) in order to prove more surely how much we should esteem it (Institutes, Book 4, chapter 3)
Like the girl in Naaman’s day, everyone should point the Naamans of the world to Christ, but that is different than preaching. Preaching is representing the Groom before the Bride.
How shall they preach except they be sent?