Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“God, Gender, and the Pastoral Office” first appeared in the Fall 1992 issue of Touchstone.
God, Gender, and the Pastoral Office
by S. M. Hutchens
In the brave new world of the public elementary school my daughters are confronted daily with graphic assurances that boys and girls, men and women, are mere variations on the theme "human." This means that as a Christian father I am obliged to supplement their education by explaining that while I have no direct objections to women doctors or truck drivers, the differences between men and women are less superficial than their schoolbooks imply. The deeper problem involved is that in omitting something about us they are also omitting some things about the God in whose image and likeness we are made. There are connections between what God is and what we are that define our existence, that tell us what we are as human beings who are men and women, connections which the egalitarian gospel of modern culture and the secularizing churches must because of its very nature deny or overlook.
The time will no doubt come when they will ask me why if a woman can direct a ship or a school she can't be a pastor. It is a reasonable question. Anyone can see that women can teach, address the congregation, and handle the elements of the Lord's Supper as well as men can. Why should they be forbidden to do these things? What denies them but an absurd old prejudice, akin to the sort that regarded women as incapable of education because of their intellectual inferiority? Perhaps Daddy, as nice an old fellow as he might otherwise be, has a bit of a problem, and as soon as his consciousness is raised to where it can accept women's equality, the difficulty with their pastoral ordination will likewise disappear.
But perhaps not. Those who favor the pastoral ordination of women are frequently willing to attribute little more than reactionary motives to those opposed--who for their own part justify the attribution all too often. It must be understood, however, that the theology which excludes women from the pastorate is not shallow, desultory, or (necessarily) the product of mere conservatism. Nor does it depend on a few verses in the Pauline writings of the New Testament. Rather, the well-known statements of St. Paul on the place of women in the church simply represent, explicate, and apply, a massive and logically connected body of doctrine common to both the Jewish and Christian scriptures and the indelibly patriarchal faith they describe so that no argument for women’s ordination based upon egalitarian premises can persist in Christian theology. It might have been otherwise: a strong rationale for women’s ordination may be developed along ancillary--Marian, in its purest form--lines, which I will identify below, with apostolic direction, on grounds other than those upon which it has been denied. But it was not, and the church has no authority to alter the dominical constitution in which its practice of pastoral ordination is defined. Whatever theoretical arguments, even in the context of orthodox theology, might be adduced for women’s ordination to pastoral offices, they fail because the offices are defined within scripture and tradition as patriarchal.
Those who, therefore, wish to reject the traditional practice on egalitarian grounds--and that is where the vast majority of the debate has taken place--should know, as the more radical feminists have repeatedly attempted to tell them, that they cannot pluck this piece from the whole without causing a collapse far more extensive than they have shown themselves willing to anticipate. The pastorate as an exclusively male office has from the church’s beginning been placed in the ground not merely in religious and social convention, but in the very life of the Holy Trinity they profess to worship. Because God the Creator is the depth and origin of all meaning, no created distinction, especially any distinction found in the creature made in his image, can be insignificant. The office of the man as pastor is part of this structure of meaning that has its deepest root in the person of God himself. It cannot be overthrown without denying his character and bringing confusion to the churches that presume to do it.
One needn't look far for the evidence of this. The institution of women's ordination is farthest progressed, as might be expected, in the part of Christendom already most deeply ravaged by modernism, whose faith is the weakest and most deeply compromised, and whose spiritual life is the most secularized and chaotic. In mainline Protestantism, and increasingly among Evangelicals, the presumption that women are as ordainable as men is so strong it is generally believed there is no basis upon which fair-minded people can oppose it. If one is tempted to wonder whether there are good reasons to move against this flow, given that for the last two millennia it has gone in another direction, he is assured by august legions of bishops and professors that there is not. No less an authority than the archbishop of Canterbury has said that the heretofore universal practice of ordaining men only is based on a “serious theological error.” With this he joins a chorus of church leaders who affirm (usually “joyfully") that our generation (guided by them) has advanced so far in faith and knowledge that it can unblushingly declare the Church's belief and practice to have been wrong up until now. This being the case, they have felt it their duty to correct a state of affairs into which even our gentle Lord feared to tread because he was, they typically say, unwilling to offend or confuse his contemporaries. Making himself equal to God, he was simply unable to take the more radical step of making women equal to men.
Some Concessions, Some Hard Words
Let us first acknowledge that apparent novelty is no conclusive argument against women's ordination, or for that matter, against any alleged innovation in the Church. The Lord did not scruple to offend tradition, even that of pious and reasonable traditionalists, when it was being used to diminish some more fundamental truth--truth that was heard by his frequently bewildered disciples as nothing less than new revelation. Christ and his apostles scandalized a great many biblically informed conservatives. There is nothing, for example, more disturbing to mere conservatism than St. John's record of his teaching that "He who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these, because I go to the Father." When this is added to the possibility that there are certain things the churches have been unable to receive because they are not ready for what St. Paul called "solid food” the argument that refusal to ordain women is based upon an expiring indulgence cannot be dismissed out of hand.
It would be easier to reject the institution as eccentric if it could be treated as the exclusive domain of the feminist ideologue. But in fact it cannot be, for many who believe in it firmly, or at least do not find themselves opposed, do not call themselves feminists, and their allegiance to the creeds appears otherwise firm. Among these are no small number of theologians who appear able to pull up all the strongest counter-arguments by the roots, yet without seeming to attack the main lines of Christian authority. Even if at the end of the day one is still not quite convinced of the rightness of it all, if there are, for example, certain parts of the Epistles that persist in giving trouble, it still may appear that the sum of the arguments put forward against appointment of women pastors is not conclusive enough to defeat the sum of those opposing. Placing the burden of proof on the innovator does no good, because he can in fact produce proofs, and whatever weaknesses they may have are more than adequately compensated by the receptivity of the forums to which they are taken. In the Protestant world not even the strongest presumptions and demonstrations are decisive enough to take into battle against ideas and practices that have already become "tradition" under the sponsorship of some of the brightest and most powerful people in the churches. Where women's ordination is fait accompli, the only real choice that has been given is to accept it with good grace or leave.
Although I hope what I am going to say in this essay is said courteously and with no unnecessary cause for offense, I am not going to mince words. This is a tu quoque, addressed particularly to church leaders who believe that those opposed to ordaining women are guilty of a serious theological error, or who are willing to allow all this to slip by as though it were a mere adjustment to a mere convention that conservatives will oppose because they are naturally inimical to change. No, friends, you are the ones who are guilty of error, a calamitous error that lays violent hands on the very heart of the Christian doctrine of God. You must stop evading the clear meaning and intent of apostolic doctrine by clever and specious arguments, and bring yourselves under authority once again. You must cease making women pastors and repent of the offense of doing so. At stake is nothing less than the integrity of your witness to God in Christ and your accreditation as witnesses to the gospel.
Why I Changed My Mind
The history of my own opinion on the question has been that of one who wished to affirm the ordination of women to the pastoral offices, and has in fact participated in such ordinations. But this was abandoned when I found, for the reasons set forth in this essay, that I simply could not justify it without violating the apostolic constitution of the Church. During this time I was a member of a denomination that ordained women and found it convenient to say that while I was personally in disagreement with the institution, the issue was a hill upon which I was not prepared to die--that I would reluctantly tolerate it.
After looking into the matter more closely, however, I became convinced that it cannot be tolerated and must be actively opposed. In a different context, in a different age, with different sorts of people sponsoring it, it may not have been worth bothering this much about--to strain friendships, damage career prospects, and sever valued denominational ties. But things are different now. When an increasing number of the people zealous for women's ordination are those who have reason to know better, the disputed ground begins to look far more strategic than it did. Blood must be shed when Roman Catholics, confessional and evangelical Protestants, and even some Eastern Orthodox, begin to circumvent large tracts of Scripture by ignoring them or making them mean what they have never, or hardly ever, been taken to mean, when they create local and temporary confinements for dicta from the Epistles clearly intended to have timeless and universal significance, reduce apostolic commands or teachings to the personal opinions of men with silly, malignant, or antiquated biases, uncritically employ the principal modernist criterion of truth by treating counter-theses as false because obsolete, introduce speculative meanings into biblical passages where those far less so are closer to the hermeneutical surface, deal with rare and widely scattered exceptions to the rule of the male pastorate as if they were more than anomalies, treat high offices held by women as evidence for the involvement of a feminist principle in their establishment, claim ambiguities as firm evidence for their own position while reducing clearly hostile authorities to ambiguity, suppress the massive weight of historical consensus, pretend that the essential question has never been addressed before, conceal the judgment of the Church at large on figures and movements whose opinions on the ministry of women resemble their own, claim the patronage of highly regarded authorities by non-contextual presentation of their views, and accord the same measure of dignity to canonical and non-canonical, orthodox and heterodox sources when making general statements about the beliefs of the early Church--in short, to add to a host of tortions and clever dodges a grand illusion of substance by the multiplication of insubstantialities, as if a hundred well-marshalled fleas and the ghosts of a hundred more could, when finally reckoned at full weight, overbalance an elephant.
When the defense of women's ordination appears to require so many distortions and evasions, the movement begins to look as though there were something far more ominous than a mere mistake at the bottom of it. The divisions which must be made between those who hold to it and those who do not become correspondingly deeper, and the hill upon which we are fighting looks more like ground worth dying for. Anyone who has been exposed to denominations that ordain women will readily testify that there are female pastors and people who believe in female pastorates who are devout and well-intentioned. (Make no mistake: I would not claim otherwise.) The existence of this practice among serious Christians, however, should be reckoned a measure of God's patience rather than of a human wisdom that has made so remarkable a discovery after all these centuries of serious theological error.
Hierarchy and Equality in God and Man
The question of the propriety of the ordination of women to the pastoral offices in the Christian Church places two enduring principles at issue, that of the equality of men and women--which is not only a part of general human consciousness, but recognized in both the new covenant and the old--and that of the male hierarchy, of which the same may be said. The fundamental attribute of feminism in either its egalitarian or gynarchial form is its denial of the second. The confusion in Christian circles on the ordination of women comes primarily from the teaching of those within the churches who, in (often unwitting) accord with feminist ideology, use the egalitarian principle to annul the hierarchical. Orthodox Christianity retains them both, insisting that they are equally true and must be held together in a way that agrees with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
Where the Church has the highest measure of self-awareness, its intuitions on how these principles relate to one another are controlled by its understanding of the life of the Holy Trinity as reflected in man. Created male and female in God's image, humanity's dual gender is a reflection of the nature of God, in whom hierarchy and equality each have their place. Because of the persistence of the egalitarian principle, the ordination of women to the pastoral offices of the Christian Church becomes a theoretical possibility--a possibility exploited to the fullest degree by those who favor the institution. More shall be said on this below. The Church's understanding of the equality of persons, however, rests in revelation that places it in the context of patriarchy in the domains of both created and uncreated being. The equality of God’s persons is contained not in a principle of balance so that he is equally, for example, Father and Mother, but in the consubstantiality of the Son and Holy Spirit with the Father from whom they respectively are begotten and proceed. When viewed as principles, that of hierarchy and equality are equally true, but one is greater than the other as Christ and the Father are One, and equally God, but the Father being, according to our Lord's own testimony "greater than I." It is this very equality and hierarchy that is reflected in the relation of man and woman; their equality in the image of God does not efface headship of the man any more than the deity of the Son and Holy Spirit effaces the patriarchy of the Father.
I cannot say this better than Patrick Henry Reardon did in his Touchstone article on "Imaging God" [Winter 1990].
Indeed they are, and widely disliked. But no matter, for holding to them is holding, as Fr. Reardon says, to the "substance of revelation.” The belief to which we refer is not the invention of Maximus, the Cappadocian Fathers, or even of St. Paul, but is the natural and necessary understanding of Divinity and its created image in a faith where a divine Son, who is himself one with God, names God Father and tells us to do the same. We do not say that the equality of the Holy Trinity resolves into patriarchy as if it were sublated or destroyed (when we speak of "principles" we remember that these are symbols for the realities in which they participate) but that the Father loves the Son whom he generates in eternity, who is himself obedient to the Father, and whose life we have the privilege of living among ourselves in the way he prescribes. We live this life not simply because it is demanded by tradition, or even because it is taught in holy Scripture, but because these sources as faithfully received reflect the very nature of God and of our being in Christ.
The Preeminent Man
The task of the Church, its reason for being, is to bear witness to God in Jesus Christ, and thus show forth his glory, by the power of the Holy Spirit. All aspects of its ministry are parts of this. As the bride and consort of Christ, it exists not for its own sake, but to give him praise by reflecting his life in all it does. As the body of Christ, animated by his Spirit, it is the presence of Christ in the world. To put it another way, in the words of St. Paul, the Church is the body of which Christ is the head. It exists in him, and is therefore "Christic" in its very nature.
The witness of the Church to Christ extends beyond its own being in him to his Lordship over creation. In the natural world, as with the Church, he is not simply a detached sovereign. The relation of Christ to creation as a whole is sublimely intimate. Creation is, like the Church, an expression of his being that exists because it was created by and coinheres in him--another great mystery: "Through him all things were made; nothing that was made was made apart from him;" "in him all was created, in heaven and on earth. . . . He is before all things, and in him all things subsist;" "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End."
It is this doctrine and the intuitions it has nurtured in the Church that account for its insistence that its pastors be men. We are not dealing here with an arbitrary ordinance carried along in traditional Jewish patriarchies and reinflicted on the churches by St. Paul, but with the shape and meaning of created reality as expressed in the in the gospel of Christ and recapitulated in the life of the Church. If what the Scriptures say about the nature of Christ is true, that this carpenter from Nazareth contains heaven and earth in some astounding way, being universal in his particularity and particular in his universality, the Everlasting Man, the Life and Light of the world, the Beginning and the End of all things, then how can it be a matter of indifference that when he was manifest in human flesh he came not as a woman, an angel, or some tertium quid, but as a man? His maleness, like everything else about him, cannot be regarded as incidental: it has timeless, cosmic significance. The flesh in which he came was not simply human, but that of a male, a particularity toward which the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant pointed. The Christian faith understands that the God who does new things does them through One who has existed with him from eternity, being the same yesterday, today, and forever. That which is truly new in the Church and in all things is based upon the being of him who does not change. The new creation in Christ incorporates and transforms (the Lord said "perfects" or "fulfills") the old, transfiguring, not destroying, what is good and true.
It should therefore be no surprise that when the ancient promise was fulfilled. God came to us and remained through his death and resurrection a Son and a man, not obliterating the original gender distinction but glorifying it, emphasizing it as a foundational matter in both the new creation and the old, and showing the lordship of the Man (who is male) not to be a matter of economy or dispensation, but a revelation of the nature of the unchanging God himself, whom our Lord called Father.
Jesus Christ is therefore not simply an everlasting person in the sense used by those who would dissolve his maleness in his humanity, but the eternal Son of God the Father, who is also the Son of Man. The concept of generic humanity apart from its personal expression in the lordship of particular males--Adam and Christ--is completely foreign to Scripture. Because the world was created, exists, and will be consummated in and through Christ, his sonship, which includes his maleness, cannot be treated as if it were a mere accident of a gender-neutral personhood. The ontology of his entire being, including his maleness, touches, forms, and transforms every particle of created being, for all that was made is made in and for him. In this is revealed the character of the Everlasting God that lies at the root of both the old creation and its redemption in the new. Nothing of what Jesus is maybe placed aside as incidental, or used to nullify anything else that he is. (To do such is a christological heresy, and those who absorb the Man in his humanity are doing precisely this.) To assert that when one speaks of God one is no longer in the realm where gender is of significance,
or to use the humanity of Christ to obscure or defeat his maleness, is to deny the Incarnation, that is, to refuse to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh--the solid, substantial, flesh that was actually his, in which the chromosomes of each cell identified him as not only human, but a human of a particular sex.
The Man in the Church
It is because of the maleness of Jesus Christ that the Church has confirmed and advanced the doctrine ofmale priority found in the Old Testament. The Second Adam is like the first: the man is found in the woman because the woman was first found in the man. Creation was in God before God was in creation. Mothers exist because the Father came first, and the Son in and with the Father from eternity.
This is at least one of the things meant when the Church speaks of the headship of God in Christ as the incomparable First through, by, and in whom all things have their being. Everything it believes about the headship of the man over the woman [Note 1] flows from its belief in the headship of the preeminent Male over all creation and in the necessity that it be re-capitulated in both the world at large and in the life and witness of the Church. In the First Epistle to the Corinthians St. Paul declares "the head of every man is Christ, the head of the woman is the male [kephale de gunaikos ho aner], and the head of Christ is God," thus explicitly relating the subordination of the man-woman relationship directly, through Christ, to that within the.godhead [Note 2]. The relationship of God to Christ, Christ to the man, and the man to the woman are all described in the concept of headship; one cannot deny one of these without breaking a chain of analogy not only described by St. Paul, but acknowledged through the length and breadth of a Scripture which teaches that man came from God and is to be subordinate to him, and woman came from man and is to be subordinate to him--as Paul himself notes when he says that the woman is to remain in submission "as the law says."
The most discerning feminists have seen the point clearly and quite properly stopped identifying themselves as Christians. They understand that feminism, even that which is elaborated on an egalitarian paradigm, owns as its foundational principle a denial of the unique headship of the Man, which it recognizes as a pervasive feature of biblical religion.
Feminist doctrine cannot accommodate the Church's insistence that all must bend the knee before the Man who is the perfect and complete revelation of God, for it simply does not believe God can be perfectly and completely revealed by a male. In consistently egalitarian theology there must be at the very least a feminine co-principal. But this orthodox Christianity denies, agreeing here with the more thoroughgoing feminists, that those who wish to retain their alliance with the faith by styling themselves Christian egalitarians can only do so by misunderstanding both Christian doctrine and the telos of their own ideology. You cannot have both at once; Christianity and feminism, whether of the egalitarian or gynarchial variety, exclude one another.
Nor can one change the emphatic and unified witness of Scripture to the revelation of God by a divine Son in both promise and fulfillment by chopping a few bothersome passages out of Paul, referring to the liberality of Jesus, or trotting out biblical similes that compare God to a hen. (How these bumbling defenses must irritate the more consistent feminists!) Belief that the Christ of God was a male, even apart from elaboration on what this means for the life of the Church in the Epistles, suffices to contradict the Denial which is at the heart of the egalitarian gospel. The instincts that the mass of scripture’s teachings on the character of God and Man have bred in the Church with regard to the gender of its pastors are strong and natural. It has insisted on an exclusively male pastorate because it understands that its offices of authority, of headship, must reflect and bear witness to the greatest degree possible [Note 3] to the person and character of Christ himself, and that the sex of the office holder is therefore no less important than the sex of Christ himself [Note 4]. The maleness of the Church’s head is an indispensable aspect of his being; it therefore is and must remain an essential part of the Church's witness to him. To give God the "right glory" it must show forth the person of Christ before God and in the world. As the great Ancilla Domini, its task is not to point to itself, but, as the icons of Virgin and Child show, to point to Christ.
The male in the office of church authority (a reflection of Christ in the womb or the arms of his mother) is the appropriate symbol. When one walks into a Christian sanctuary--itself a kind of womb--what should be seen and heard is pre-eminently the Man. The idea pervades the whole thought and being of the Church--its Scriptures, its theology, its art, its liturgy, its architecture, its self-understanding, and has from the beginning.
Why the Confusion?
The churches' present muddle comes from its toleration of egalitarianism, and the latter’s attempt to merge its own idea with Christianity, producing a hybrid in which the feminist aspect is weighted to prevail. Many a church has taken in this foundling (presented to it by feminism as its own) but is now discovering that the larger it grows the fewer family traits it exhibits, and the more likely it is to beat the legitimate children out the door. The logic of egalitarianism, that equality excludes or neutralizes hierarchy, is difficult to resist in churches (liberal or conservative) that have adopted an idea of reason that excludes paradox, a religion that spurns mystery, and a dogmatic and catechetical tradition that attempts to make sense of Scripture by systematizing it in accordance with these exclusions. While the Bible as a whole may be accepted as authoritative, or even inerrant, once fundamentalism--the only attitude that can keep rationalism orthodox--is discarded, the mechanisms by which the egalitarian principle may destroy the hierarchical are firmly in place and ready to be used.
Subversion of the Paradox: The Methodology of "Christian” Feminism
The method of argumentation used by those who believe that all church offices should be open to men and women on an equal basis is not always consciously feminist. It may be believed to be grounded in the idea of sexual equality taken from the Bible and reflected in various ways through the history of the Church. But like all classical heresies, it ends up telling only half of the story. The proofs adduced are frequently complex and sophisticated, emphasizing, wherever they can be found, the scattered exceptions to the rule of male-only episcopate and presbyterate as if these reflected fidelity to an apostolic principle abandoned early on by a patriarchal church and long overdue to be revived by ordaining women to offices they have been unjustly denied.
At the center of the argument of the "biblical egalitarians” is a playing off of the egalitarian against the hierarchical principle, with the egalitarian principle prevailing because of its superior moral quality, its alleged affinity with evangelical instead of legal principles, or the like. The game is usually centered, as one might expect, around the writings of St. Paul, in which both are manifestly found. The Pauline dichotomies are admitted, but after considering both sides the question is posed in a form something like this: Given what is said on the egalitarian side and on the hierarchical side, how do we balance them out" or “reconcile" them to one another? Predictably--but never without painful contortions around the hierarchical passages--they are reconciled in favor of the egalitarian principle, which is then used as a hermeneutical tool to work over the rest of the Bible and the history of doctrine.
After such treatment the story of Adam in Genesis, for example, may be brought forward in witness that Adam is the name God gave to the race with both its male and female components, who together reflect the image of God. The female is Adam, and so is the male. From this premise, which is hardly disputable, it is argued that men and women, considered separately, can re-present God in equal ways. Thus a quick and nearly imperceptible move is made from Adam and Eve to Adam/Eve, to man/woman or woman/man, to the concept of generic humanity so beloved of feminist theology, carried along on its characteristic raft of slash marks and otherwise mutilated grammar. All of this reflects back upon a God who bears the same qualities and is therefore obliged by virtue of God's very nature to relieve the woman of the intolerable burden of patriarchy, since She/He is no longer troubled with it Him/Herself.
Since hierarchy is no longer under consideration it may be conveniently forgotten that Adam is the personal name of the male, and not the woman, who is named by the man--something of no small theological significance--and that the race is presented here as comprehended by and defined in the male person in whom it originated [Note 5]. It is this to which St. Paul is referring when he mentions that the man was formed first [protos eplasthe], denoting, in the context of his argument, both ordinal and dominical priority--a point with powerful Christological overtones in the context of the theology of the New Testament. The confession kurios Christos as the second Adam, the first lord and head of the race, contains the whole theology in nuce.
Why do so many Christians seem anxious to believe that hierarchy and equality annul each other? It is essential to the pattern and teaching of the faith that they do not. Christ, who declared himself to be the Lord and Master of his disciples also called them his brothers. The mystery of our redemption is based on the incarnation in which the Lord of heaven and earth (becoming no less the Lord) became one with us--our equal, flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone--even to the point of taking our sins upon himself. On what basis is it taught that one side of St. Paul can be used to exterminate the other? The Apostle said that in Christ there was neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female. But he also taught that the gospel was for the Jew first, that the slave was to obey his master, the wife her husband, and that the women were not to usurp the peculiar authority of the men in the churches.
The declarations that men and women under Christ are equal and that the woman is subordinate to the man are perfectly situated within the larger landscape of Christian doctrine, and must be accepted and taught together. It is not a question of either/or, as those who use equality to defeat hierarchy would have us believe. The alternative is to assert that Paul (whose own teachings faithfully reflect the shape of the Bible's theology) was contradicting himself, that there existed in his mind two incompatible ideas of the relations of men and women of which he was really unaware, even when he mentioned them both in close proximity, for it is simply not true that in Christ there is no male or female (in the sense that the proponents of women's ordination assert) if women are, merely because of their sex, prohibited from doing certain things that are permitted for men. On the contrary, I must insist that St. Paul articulated the only possible position mat can be taken on these matters by a theology based upon the incarnation of God. If he had declared hierarchy without equality, he would have been a stranger to the God who became Man. If he taught equality without hierarchy (indeed, patriarchy), he would have made salvation impossible, for salvation must be accomplished for us by God. Orthodox trinitarianism is also impossible without equality and hierarchy perfectly coinhering within a patriarchal relationship--a relationship which is at the foundation of all that was, is, and ever shall be, of the mind and finger that wrote the world, and created man, male and female, after his own image.
The dignity of the woman as man of very man ("flesh of my flesh, and bone of my bone") is not compromised because she submits herself to him. The great error of religious feminism is believing that there is something essentially inglorious about the kind of subordination to which women are called. This is an anti-Christic position, denying the doxa of the Christ by denying the subordination after which it is patterned--that of the Son of God himself--treating it as an unworthy thing, by implication diminishing his deity in proportion to his obedience, and confusing submission with qualitative inferiority. In the same manner even "Christian" feminism in effect diminishes the humanness of the woman to the degree she is submissive to the man. But this point of view in fact has nothing Christian about it.
The answer to the question of what St. Paul means by saying that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, bond nor free, must be that there is in all these aspects of human existence a perfect equality based upon their analogy to the equal deity of the persons of the godhead, which does not, however, obliterate the distinction of persons and the roles that accompany those distinctions. The Son and Spirit are still obedient to the Father; the woman is still subordinate to her man. The servant is to be submissive to his master, and the Jew is still the native branch with prior rights to the gospel. All attempts to subvert one aspect of this single (yet multiple) truth by the denial or virtual exclusion of its complementary aspect is in essence heretical, the method of heresy being the use of one truth to destroy another. Arius, for example, was correct in confessing the incomparable humanity of Christ but wrong in denying his deity. The feminists are right in confessing the equality of the woman with the man, wrong in denying his lordship over her.
The Authority of the Christian Woman and the Command of the Lord
We must still speak to the other aspect of the image of Mother and Child, where the infant Jesus points to the blessed Woman who holds him. While the Church must identify egalitarianism as a non-Christian ideology and deal with it as such, this does not in itself settle the issue of the nature of the ministry of women who reject it and remain Christian. We must make a strict division between the Christianity that raises the question of women's ministry under the Lordship of the Man Christ Jesus, in whom mere is neither male nor female, and the feminism that rejects it on principle. The first clarification that needs to be made in these exceedingly muddy waters is that egalitarianism and the question of women's ordination are theoretically separable.
When the feminist dogma of the absolute equality of the sexes, grounded on denial of male headship, is used to justify the ordination of women, it must be exposed and rejected. When, however, the reasoning offered is based upon Christian teaching about the worthiness of redeemed womanhood and the equality of men and women under Christ, the Son of God the Father who is the head of us all, it merits careful and respectful consideration.
If indeed the glory of the Church is to show forth Christ--and I think it must be granted that traditionally this has been unthinkable apart from a male priesthood and pastorate--still, logically speaking, is not the arch-paradigm for this ostention the Mother who through her obedience gave our Lord to us and to whom the Master himself was subject in his youth? Then why cannot those of her sex in like manner give to us, as she
did, the body and blood of our Lord? Why can they not exhibit and express his life from altar, pulpit, and in all places? This is not only the most convincing argument for the legitimacy of ordaining women to pastoral offices; I would insist that it cannot be defeated merely by asserting the principles of male headship, iconic representation, patriarchy, or hierarchy, for it needn't deny these to be true itself, and rests firmly upon the
same theological foundation. An exclusively male pastorate or priesthood does not follow with absolute necessity from the principle of male headship, and the significance of the maleness of the Lord of the Church.
One must consider, for example, the authority that the mother has over her sons--derivative but real--an authority that carries the weight of the father's. There are mothers in the Church whom I doubt not should be heard, reverenced, and obeyed. The Church itself is the mother of every true Christian and as such rules us all.
The matter at issue between orthodox Christians, however, concerns the Lord's own example of selecting a male-only apostolate, as followed by apostolic instruction on how the equally true principle of male authority over the woman as reflecting the priority of Christ over the Church is to be demonstrated among us. The Church, obeying not only its apostles, but following the example of the Lord who chose only males for this ministry, has persisted in placing men in its offices of pastoral authority, despite episodes of resistance. (The Epistles show opposition from the earliest days. It appears that certain women have always claimed the privilege of "speaking in church.")
Given that men and women are equal in one sense, and that as far as this sense goes, the woman indwelt by Christ can represent him as well as the man, there are excellent reasons for the persistence of males in the offices of authority: Despite what may be said about the theoretical possibility of women representing Christ as pastors, the fact remains that the Fatherhood of God and the male headship of the cosmos are best expressed in the Church by--male headship! The presence of women in offices of authority has the powerful tendency to give a wrong impression on what Christians believe about the nature of God and creation. It is a necessary part of our teaching to retain the male in these places, for he reflects the being of Christ in a way that no woman can, however godly she may be. Christians are not dualists, believing God is composed of masculine and feminine coprinciples--and while we do understand that men and women can in a sense represent him equally well, in another sense we hold they cannot, for the man, simply because of his sex, is a symbol of Christ, re-presenting his being in a way a woman cannot. (Those who mock "genital theology" are scorning dignities, as if the things that make men and women different from each other are trivial or meaningless, as though they do not point beyond themselves to the greater things upon which they are based.) We must be careful that those who observe our doings from the outside do not misunderstand the witness to Christ in our corporate life--something which concerned St. Paul and should concern us too. The placement of women in the offices of authority, especially in a society that is increasingly coming to see such things as concessions to feminism, is in fact a way of speaking unintelligibly to the world we are supposed to be giving the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God the Father.
The arguments for the ordination of women are, moreover, being placed in public view by people who anomalously consider themselves Christian egalitarians, or who are in friendly alliance with feminism. In mainline Protestantism the ordination of women came with this ideology and remains inseparable from it--a decidedly unchristian camel now very much at home in that tent and obviously there with every intention of staying. The movement to ordain women in the Roman Catholic church is headed and dominated by feminists. The witness of the Church to its confession of the lordship of Christ and the Fatherhood of God has suffered and continues to suffer from the distortions inflicted upon it by promiscuous and decayed forms of Christianity, less recognizably Christian from year to year. The movement to ordain women simply does not have the flavor that would be given it by those who are pointing to an aspect of biblical teaching the Church needs to consider more closely. It looks far more like an act of rebellion. The voice we hear is not that of a modern Deborah, a Kathryn Kuhlman arguing that she was given her task because the men chosen for it defaulted. Rather, it is one that says very loudly and clearly that the Church has been wrong from the beginning and the enlightened of this age have come to set it right. This is a challenge which cannot go unanswered, and I can see no fitting way to do it apart from a decisive non valet emphasizing the role of the man in the offices of authority.
Whatever force these arguments may have, however, should not be viewed as based upon their cumulative weight as much as their consonance with the apostolic prohibition of women "speaking in the church." While we may readily grant that the details of what this demands in practice are not perfectly clear, in St. Paul's teaching it minimally means that a woman, simply because she is a woman, cannot stand before the congregation as though she were endowed with the authority symbolized in the sex of the man, for that would be an act of "usurpation.” A restriction is placed upon the woman--simply because of her sex--which is not placed upon the man, and the silence enjoined upon her is identified by St. Paul as a command of the Lord (1 Cor. 14.37).
There is an argument that would attempt to subvert this dictum on strength of the (hardly disputable) fact that not all authorities have been agreed on its precise method of implementation. But in doing this it characteristically refuses to acknowledge the historical consensus of the churches: that the pastoral offices, which include in them what we might call the public presidencies of the church--bishop and presbyter--certainly are to be held exclusively by men, and that refusal to appoint women to these offices is based upon a consensual interpretation of a dominical command, conveyed by an apostle--whatever the reason for that command might have been, and whatever reasoning might be held against it. Feminists who forthrightly reject the authority of Bible and Church can see clearer than those who are still trying to reconcile Christianity with egalitarian doctrine. They no longer are burdened with the necessity of inflicting grotesque interpretations on the Epistles or explaining away a practice heretofore universal among Christians to justify their offices and opinions. They can call patriarchy patriarchy (écrasez l’infâme!) and get on with their attempt to exterminate it.
No matter how powerful or distinctively Christian in theory arguments for the ordination of women to the pastoral offices may appear, they fail because an Apostle has told us that of the two theologically possible roads that open before us here--both of which may be paved with Christian rationales--the Lord has directed us, for reasons known best to himself, to take one of them and not the other. As one under the magisterial authority of Christ's apostles, whose own authority depends upon theirs, I am free to see why things might have been otherwise, and perhaps even free to remonstrate with the Source of the command. But I am not free to disobey it or stand idly by while others do. The directive is as clear to me as it is to the more thoroughgoing and scrupulous feminist, whose less radical ally’s contortions around the salient passages on the places of men and women in family and church are strong evidence that she doesn't understand the Bible nearly as well.
My own attempts to interpret them out of existence in hopes of retaining favor in disobedient churches have been unable to vault the bars of Scripture, tradition, reason, or conscience. There has been nothing for this but repentance, renewal of the mind, and weary acceptance of the pitying smiles these archaic prejudices elicit among my more open-minded friends.
1. I am aware of the debate on the Pauline notion of headship, and intrigued by the exotic argumentation of those who would narrow its definition to mean something (anything!) other than "authority over." But given the apparent singularity of the Apostle's use of the term in places like I Cor. 11 and Eph. 5, should not the meaning be understood in accordance with his thought on the relation of husbands and wives in general, by the immediate as well as the larger context of his teaching on the subject? Why should we restrict the definition unless there are sound hermeneutical grounds for doing so? Indeed, it would appear that there are excellent reasons to understand kephale in these places as meaning nearly everything it has been alleged to mean, including "source" and "lord" for these are both made possible by the text and are part of biblical doctrine on both the natural and covenantal relation of man and woman ab initio, echoed strongly and unmistakably throughout the Pauline writings. That this idea of headship could be employed to exclude the authority of the husband over the wife is as improbable as the notion that Paul did not think Christ to hold authority over the Church, not only because he employs an analogy that should make this obvious, but since he makes it eminently clear in other places that this is exactly what he holds to in both instances. There is simply no reasonable way for those who style themselves biblical egalitarians to enlist St. Paul in their party without corrupting him.
2. The most theologically alert egalitarians understand that the analogy drawn here--that of the sexes as re-flecting an intrinsic quality of the uncreated being of God--is at the base of their opponents' argument and must be defeated for their own to hold. It is at this decisive point where they do some of their most elegant theologizing. But alas, the project is doomed to fail, simply because the Scriptures teach that Man, who is male and female, is created after the image and likeness of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Whatever one may say about the nature of the analogy (that is where Barth thought he and St. Thomas were at odds), the analogy itself cannot be denied. For those who would qualify it out of existence or assert its invalidity because of the impossibility of an analogy of being, I simply say that the idea is not a modem aberration invented by theologians who refuse to acknowledge the infinite qualitative distinction between God and the creature, but pervades Scripture and is explicitly applied to the matter at hand by St. Paul. Where he declares "the head of every man is Christ, the head of every woman is the male, and the head of Christ is God," he rides roughshod over excessively fastidious doctrines of analogy, relating the subordination of the
man-woman relationship directly, through Christ, to that within the Godhead. In the Mediator the persons and affairs of heaven and earth are bound together. By him we not only can, but must, speak of their concurrence.
3. This is behind the requirements for the episcopal or presbyterial offices in the Pastoral Epistles. Perfection is not demanded, but it is understood that the incumbent will be a mature, self-controlled Christian man with the gifts and accomplishments necessary to represent his Lord to the Church and the world. What of the argument that on the premise the pastor must be male, he should also be required to be a Jew, or unmarried,
or, ad absurdum, a carpenter named Yeshuah from the town of Nazareth? While the question is often posed in a mocking and frivolous way, the problem to which it points is theologically significant. It is something over which the Church has frequently agonized, beginning with the difficulty of receiving the Gentiles. Christ- likeness is required for admission to the Church and for accession to its offices, but given that no one attains its perfect measure, what degree of Christ-likeness, including Christ-likeness of sex, is necessary to retain membership and to hold office? Those who insist that compared to the relative importance of other qualities mere gender should not rank high, or rank at all, on the list of qualifications for the pastorate, might have a strong point if we were at liberty to decide the matter ourselves.
4. Leo Steinberg demonstrates the strong awareness of the theological significance of Christ's maleness among Renaissance artists in his astute monograph, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modem Oblivion (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983).
5. The point is obscured by egalitarian Bibles such as the New Revised Standard Version, which consistently translate as if the hierarchical principle reflected by both Hebrew and Greek grammar were a dead letter. This method accords with neither the language nor the anthropology of the Bible, in which from the beginning the man and the woman appear together under the name and title of the man. In the English Bible, the only unambiguous translation of anthropos, for example, is "man," meaning either (depending on context) the male person or the race as comprehended in its male head. Consistent elimination of this usage and substitution of equalized or gender neutral designations reflects an ideology foreign to the Bible. The implied teaching is the same as that to which I refer in the opening paragraph of this essay and enlarge upon later with
relation to its christological implications: that men and women are coordinate variations upon the non-gender-specific theme “human." This stands opposed to the Scripture's teaching that humanness is never without gender, and is defined by and contained in the archetypical and prototypical Males, Adam and Christ.
S. M. Hutchens is a senior editor of Touchstone.
“God, Gender, and the Pastoral Office” first appeared in the Fall 1992 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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