Sunday, September 16, 2007

Why Women Shouldn't Lead Churches

I've said before, and I still think it, that the theological arguments seem to me to be inconclusive, and that in the C of E at the moment, it should be an issue of conscience as to whether women lead churches. I'm part of a denomination where women do lead churches, and I'm fine with that. I've got friends who are women who intend to lead churches, and I'm happy to support them in that. I wouldn't be happy to be a woman who led a church, but that's because I'm a bloke.

I've also said before that there are some things which seem to me utterly obvious from the Bible, which are relevant to the whole area.

  • Leadership is about service. The point of the "leader" is that they are meant to serve, to equip everyone for using their gifts to build one another up.
  • Women should be involved in positions of responsibility in churches, including doing stuff "up front"
  • Men and women are not identical. The marriage relationship is equal but not symmetrical.
  • Faced with a choice between a woman who believed in the Bible and a man who did not, I'd much rather have the woman leading my church.

But given all of that, if I was going to vote on whether women should be appointed from now on to lead churches, I'd vote against it. Here are some reasons:

  • The early church was socially revolutionary in lots of ways. Yet while they had women in leadership positions, and churches led by married couples, even couples where the woman seemed to be more theologically aware or in some way dominant (e.g. Priscilla and Aquila) I am not aware of any churches where the sole senior leader was a woman. Why not? Theological education does not seem to have been a requirement. Neither does social status. If we apply the famous principle from Vincent of Lerins - that we should interpret Scripture in accordance with the way it has been done everywhere, always and by everyone, it is clear that the interpretation which allows women to be the sole leaders of churches is an innovation, and so more likely than not to be wrong.
  • If we examine those groups where women have been allowed to lead churches, the first one of note is the heretical Montanist group (in many ways similar to some modern Pentecostalism). More modern examples are generally churches or provinces that are dying and where the authority of the Bible is respected less, which suggests it is an unwise route. I am not saying there is a causative influence in any direction; I am making an observation about the company we keep.
  • As it stands, with women leading churches, there is an inconclusive Biblical argument that we should not (but strengthened by tradition), a strong cultural argument that we should and a strong argument from tradition that we should not. To my mind, the arguments against probably have it on balance.

My mind may of course change in the future.

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