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The Church Matter: Does it matter? 2 Mary Veeneman

FlemingRutledge.jpgThis is Mary Veeneman’s second post about Harper and Metzger’s new book: Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction
. This sketch by Mary of the book asks one of the most profound questions that must be asked in the discussion about women in ministry, about women like Fleming Rutledge at the right.
I did not grow up in evangelicalism and while I was somewhat exposed to
the evangelical debates about gender while in high school, I was not
fully aware of them until I attended a Christian college.  Although
these issues were new to me in college, I grew tired of the debate
fairly quickly, in large part due to the apparent exegetical impasse at
which those on opposing sides often arrive.  

Harper and Metzger, in their chapter, “The Role of Women in the Ordered
Community,” in Exploring Ecclesiology, open their discussion of gender
and the church by pointing to this impasse, writing that while
exegetical studies have been helpful, they have been far from decisive
on the issue of women and the church.  They suggest in their chapter
that a way forward may be found through connecting eschatology and
ecclesiology.  Their essential argument is that if we view the church
as a community that is fundamentally eschatological that reaches toward
the future and pulls it back toward the present, it will become
necessary to move towards a more egalitarian philosophy of leadership
in the church, even if leadership in the family remains hierarchical
(Harper and Metzger, 202).

 In the eschaton, Harper and Metzger claim, the church is seen as the bride of Christ.  As a result, the picture of submission that is seen in the eschaton is between the church and Christ rather than between husbands and wives.  The question then posed is this:  If the eschatological people of God will not function based on a hierarchical social structure, is that a reality upon which the church should be drawing now? Harper and Metzger argue that while Paul sees the lack of hierarchy as something that comes in the eschaton, he also seems to think that believers should view their present lives through the lens of their future lives, thus moving towards the eschatological goal now even though it is not fully realized.  

To answer the question of whether Paul gives any indication of how this should be done, Harper and Metzger point to Paul’s letter to Philemon.  There, they argue, Paul shows how the master/slave relationship is transformed in Christ when he encourages Philemon to receive Onesimus back, not as a slave, but as a brother (Harper and Metzger 205, they cite Philemon 16). 

The implication of this for them is that the church becomes the new family unit for believers and takes priority over all other authority structures.  This has specific implications for relationships between husbands and wives.  “Theologically, it means that in the church, a wife’s primary and eschatological relationship to her husband is one of brother/sister, taking priority over the temporal husband/wife relationship.  Applying this idea to a specific circumstance in the church, it means that a woman could remain in submission to her husband’s authority in the home, yet function in the church as an elder/leader, his ecclesiological equal or, perhaps, an authority over him” (Harper and Metzger, 205).  The gain they see here is that this claim would undermine the argument that women cannot hold positions of authority in the church due to male headship in the family.  

Ultimately, Harper and Metzger leave their readers with a question that I want to pose here, “Might this be a place of rapprochement for egalitarians and heirarchicalists?” (Harper and Metzger, 206).  

What do you think?  Have Harper and Metzger advanced the conversation at all?  Or have they simply expressed an egalitarian viewpoint with egalitarian assumptions, which makes a slight nod toward the existence of hierarchical views within some sectors of evangelicalism.  

Comments read comments(19)
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Dave Leigh

posted June 24, 2009 at 12:58 am

It seems to me that to press the slave analogy of Philemon 16 would have more immediate impact on the mistaken notion that Christian husbands have hierarchal authority over their wives (contra 1Co 7:4 NASB) than on correcting the mistaken notions of authority in the church (contra Mt 24:25-26). The slave relationship is treated by the NT in the context of being a family relationship, whereas church leadership is consistently treated separately from the family.
If being in Christ is powerful enough to change the cultural dynamic of a slave/master relatonship, which is undoubtedly the most extreme expression of hierarchy and imbalanced humanity within the ancient family, then certainly all cultural family hierarchies of lesser extremes must be affected and eliminated by it–especially in light of Paul’s statement that all baptized believers are now sons of God, with the full rights of sons (e.g. Ga 3:26-28). For a slave or a woman to possess the rights of “sonship” means that it is out of line for anyone to keep them from doing what any and every son has the right to do. This, I believe, applies equally to women’s freedom in the family and the church to exercise their equal standing with their brothers.
So I do not see why these authors would be so ready to give up on this application to either sphere.

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Jonathan Blake

posted June 24, 2009 at 3:52 am

I think she has made an incredible connection by of bringing the eschaton into the conversation. After all we are a people constantly looking forward working to make the future reality as much a present as possible so why not incorporate this view and purpose into family and present church authority. I might just buy the book because of this.

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Don Bryant

posted June 24, 2009 at 6:28 am

Isn’t this just a newer version of basing one’s conclusion on where the Bible “leads” rather than what it teaches? The problem continues that this position teaches too much. I see no way of getting around the acceptance of same sex attraction relationships in the ordained ministry if this is the hermeneutical stance.One goes with the other, and to draw a line between the two seems arbitrary, as in “stop here and go no further.” Why stop here, would be my question. I have always sensed that this debate takes place within such a small subset of the world Christian movement that I lose energy for a conversation that does not include the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions. While these movements have their fifth columnists on the role of women in the ordained ministry, it is by and large settled doctrine that the church will continue to practice what Jesus and the Apostles practiced. Protestantism is spending a lot of energy on an issue that, if worthy, would at least connect with the larger Christian communion. It does not connect,and we should learn something from this.

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Scot McKnight

posted June 24, 2009 at 7:01 am

It is not uncommon to hear a slippery slope argument as you have expressed it: if we see the telos (or where it is leading) theme for men and women, why not for homosexuals? Tell me how the issues about homosexuality are in the least connected to the non hierarchy of men and women at home or in the church. I see nothing that connects them. Doesn’t the issue of slavery make some of the telos argument important, if not necessary?
Now a more general point, and one that I have said more about on this blog before, so let me be direct: I see your slippery slope argument as an ad absurdum argument or a scare tactic but not a piece of logic. It’s dust in the eyes of fellow travelers but not light for our path.
The case of women in RC and EO is quite different and special in that both, esp RC, have always given women all kinds of teaching and ministry opportunities yet for both they fall short of administering the sacrament. Women do much more in RC than in typical evangelical Protestantism.
The debate, though, is hardly in a subset of Protestants. I suggest you need to spend more time reading about the women’s movement before making that kind of comment — the Catholic women movement has been very strong for a long time. (I can’t speak about EO on this issue since I don’t know much about the women’s movement there.)

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posted June 24, 2009 at 8:14 am

It seems clear that at the level of “being” Philemon and many other passages (James for example) demonstrate that social hierarchies are overturned. Wealth and power are not evidence for God’s favor but gifts to be used for his kingdom. All men are brothers, all women sisters.
But I don’t think that Harper and Metzger advance the women in ministry discussion at all – because we are still left with an argument at the very level of being inherent in the created order. I think the only passage that overturns this is Galatians 3:28 and the church has found reason to dismiss this for millenia.

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Don Bryant

posted June 24, 2009 at 8:17 am

Thanks for the response. I don’t think my argument is “the slippery slope.” My point is that it not the slippery slope. It is the same argument. This is not a scare tactic. It is simply the point made by charitable, gracious and ecumenically minded evangelicals throughout evangelicalism, though some certainly use the topic as a way to whip their constituency into a frenzy. The telos argument is bearing too much weight on this issue. As to the RCs and the role of women, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I think the RCs have a much larger place for women than the Evangelical church in my part of the woods. But I continue in my assertion that this larger role does not rise to the level of ordination to the priesthood and which the RC hierarchy has not opened for reexamination. The last Pope made it explicitly clear that women in the priesthood was not a subject upon which he desired to dialogue. It is settled teaching. I understand that does not make it right. But it is a fact. I do think the telos argument has impact. There clearly are cultural practices which the Bible does not explicitly prohibit but which must give way in time as the biblical worldview makes fuller impact. But it certainly must be placed within the context of explicit commands in Scripture and approved and explicitly commended behaviors and so has natural limits. Wesley’s quadrilateral is a useful boundary setter, lest any one trajectory control the whole discussion. At certain times and in certain frames of mind, I find one of four corners of the quadrilateral dominating my thinking. And that certainly has happened to me on the role of women in the church. But my conclusion is that when all four are held in balance (though one peron’s balance is another person’s imbalance) – Scripture, tradition, reason and experience – I end up in a much better place and the church does not end up tipping over, as is happening in the sad division in the Episcopal Church. I have found Peter Kreeft – IVP author, philosophy professor, and committed Roman Catholic churchman(former evangelical) – a sane and helpful companion on my journey on this issue.

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posted June 24, 2009 at 8:33 am

I believe that at least some complementarian writers posit hierarchy pre-fall. It runs in my mind that I have read articles that imply the possibility of some hierarchy in the eschaton as well. I think part of the argument might be that it was not hierarchy per se that was introduced post-fall but tension within it.
“If the eschatological people of God will not function based on a hierarchical social structure…” I would guess that complementarian apologists would consider this thesis to be begging the question.
The inherent problem with tracing a line to the eschaton is that one’s presuppositions of the ideal will necessarily color one’s view of what will be. A complementarian may claim that a completely unselfish hierarchy might exist. The egalitarian might claim that is pure nonsense and that it is obvious unselfish egalitarianism will characterize a perfect eternity. But how to prove either case? We can’t agree on the statements made about the here and now (i.e., Pauline, Petrine epistles) so what will settle the discussion about the hereafter, about which we have even less information? While I appreciate the idea and wish I could peer into the eschaton more clearly so I could get a head start on it, I’m not sure this discussion opens any new roads.
Personally, I am intrigued more by the brother-sister reminder than the eschaton idea. It’s not a new idea but I think that encouraging both sides to think in terms of brother-sister has benefit. Brothers and sisters in an ideal home would complement each other, might be quite different from each other and this without one ruling the other.

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Rick in Texas

posted June 24, 2009 at 8:51 am

To your question, I find this a very helpful image and will be remembering it.
To the disagreement here, my sense is that we have the text in the center of the room, and to one side, the “telos argument” pulling to one side and the “slippery slope” concept pulling to the other side.
But the text must remain central. And tomy mind the text that must trump, and to which all other texts must reconcile, must be the one which calls us to the highest, most gracious, and most trusting of all texts. And that is not any of the prohibitive texts, but is Gal. 3:25-29. That is the biblical vision and call, and the interpretive task must be how to reconcile the prohibitive texts as other than timeless visions and intents for the church. This, I believe, has been done successfully if Gal. 3 is given the role I have described.

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posted June 24, 2009 at 9:08 am

“I can’t speak about EO on this issue since I don’t know much about the women’s movement there.”
Are you out there? Any thoughts?

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posted June 24, 2009 at 9:29 am

Very interesting angle indeed, connecting ecclesiology with eschatology.
I could not help but recall when I first took a pastorate position, my introduction to the congregation went something like, “Please know that before I’m your pastor, I’m your brother in Christ.” Needless to say I got not a few wrinkled foreheads on that one. The Protestant church has such a deep-seated notion of hierarchy and authority structure that it fails to think outside the traditional box.
Also, I wonder too if Luke 20:33-35 may have some bearing on this connection? It reads:
“Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage.”

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Derek Leman

posted June 24, 2009 at 9:41 am

Though sympathetic to the women in ministry issue, I don’t feel this particular argument has any merit at all.
It suffers a number of problems, not least of which assuming that all things in the World to Come are appropriate now.
Should we stop marrying based on Jesus’ teaching about lack of marriage? Should Gentiles start keeping Torah like Jews based on passages such as Isaiah 56?
Also, while just as put off by hierarchical structures as everyone else, the idea of a world without authority short of the World to Come does not strike me as intelligent. Taken as a general principle, this idea of living eschatologically needs some controls and counterpoints. Yes, we live today for the World to Come, but not all things in the World to Come work in this age.
Remember, I am not arguing against women in ministry. I am simply saying this particular argument doesn’t work as far as I am concerned.
Derek Leman

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Michael W. Kruse

posted June 24, 2009 at 10:29 am

#4 Scot
I fully agree that the women in leadership issue and the homosexuality issue are not connected.
However, I can tell you that in conversations I’ve been in with leading PCUSAers who favor ordination of homosexually active persons, they regularly bring up the switch the denomination made on ordination of women as a precedence for a change in position on homosexuality. I heard the comparison raised in debate on the floor at last year’s general assembly.
The two are linked only at the most abstract sense of being changes in ordination behaviors, yet advocates of gay ordination in PCUSA contexts make a strong link, hoping to show precedence, and opponents of ordaining women make a strong link, invoking the slippery slope.
I thing the eschatological angle has some merit but I would echo some of Derek’s #11 doubts.
But, Derek, I would disagree that the issue is hierarchy (certainly not for me.) The issue is hierarchy based on an ascribed human status and unlimited in scope. John Stackhouse points out that we are each members, not microcosms, of the church. We each bring different abilities, gifts, and passions to our world. It is appropriate that we defer to those who are gifted to lead in particular contexts.
Hierarchies based on gifting and limited in scope are essential. Hierarchies based on human status (i.e., sex) that are unlimited in scope and time are the issue.

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Scot McKnight

posted June 24, 2009 at 10:45 am

Yes, that’s very true: the connection is made out of solidarity for minorities etc but the connection is sometimes tagging along instead of a good argument. If I can connect my case to something that is a perceived good (injustice against blacks, women, etc), then I gain in power … but I find many of these arguments to be an abuse of the integrity of another group instead of a compelling piece of logic.
On eschatology: the point for Jesus is that the future has invaded the present, and to the degree that the future is present in Christ we need to live out that future.

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Michael W. Kruse

posted June 24, 2009 at 11:07 am

Scot #13
“…tagging along instead of a good argument.”
I’m with the proleptic vision. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know the whole argument, but I suspect some complementarians believe that the hierarchical relationships are eternal … witness the (errant) appeal to eternal hierarchy within the Trinity. I think others who might grant the end of gender hierarchy in the new creation would argue that certain relationships have been mandated for this time before the consummation of the Kingdom. Derek’s point about marriage ending is an example.
While I readily embrace the proleptic vision, I’m doubtful it will be persuasive to many complementarians.

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posted June 24, 2009 at 11:32 am

I think that is illogical. Marriage is also a Christian community. It can also be gift based in structure. Couples can work through conflicts and impasses prayerfully with attention to one another’s needs and perspectives. I question the emphasis on authority as a basis for a healthy relationship in marriage.
We forget that Paul wrote in a 1st century context in which the structure of marriage and norms around marriage was already in place. I don’t see him as prescribing a God-given model for marriage but applying the gospel to the marriage structures of the day. He often spoke to wives who had come to Christ and were still within the household of an unbelieving spouse. (radical in itself because she wass to worship the gods of her husband). Paul also sought to help husbands within their cultural understanding, to love their wives more in line with the gospel.
I think we learn how to be in Christian community in Christian marriage and we learn how to be in marriage from Christian community. I struggle with different norms for different Christian community… i know it happens but it is so illogical.
I think the issue is really that we don’t have good relational skills to begin with… perhaps we should start there. I also think that authority is not the best basis for a healthy marriage. Submitting to one another is way better… in that we must listen and hear one another and do the hard work of relationship.
I think God is bigger than our issues around women in ministry and that he is able to work through anyone–even women.
that’s my take.

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Steve S

posted June 24, 2009 at 1:12 pm

Don #3
“…the church will continue to practice what Jesus and the Apostles practiced…”
It seems like this is rather begging the question?
Isn’t this one of the very points of contention?
I see in scripture that Jesus took on female disciples, and that the early church had female leaders. You apparently don’t see that? But to assume the truth of your position without even acknowledging the dispute…

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Cam R.

posted June 24, 2009 at 4:20 pm

I like this post. I think it makes sense if you have a egalitarian view of the coming age and God’s Kingdom then why not start living in that now.
I think there are valid points that if you have a complimentarian view of the Trinity or of the Kingdom then it is a tougher argument for women in ministry.
How far do we take living like we are in the age to come? Should I not have gotten married if there is no marriage in the age to come? Or should we at least be strongly promoting being celibate for the kingdom?
If we are all equal in Christ and that will be perfected in the age to come, wouldn’t that be an argument for ordination of nonpracticing, celibate gay and lesbian pastors?

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Dana Ames

posted June 24, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Rick @9,
There is no “women’s movement” in Orthodoxy. There is some talk of restoring the female diaconate, which faded out but was never officially ended, and allowing girls to serve at the altar as candle bearers, but right now it’s only talk; there’s not a lot of energy behind it from ordinary O. women. That’s because, as Don mentioned above about RCatholics, O. women do much more, as a given and with not only permission but blessing, than many evangelical women are permitted to do. E. Orthodoxy celebrates and honors women who were responsible for evangelizing whole nations. Male saints are not regarded as somehow “more saintly” than female saints. Women are outstanding professors at O. seminaries. Women are in charge of ministries in local O. churches, without reference to their husbands. The only thing women don’t do is serve at the altar as bishop, presbyter (priest) or deacon, which is not actually connected to gender in and of itself; it’s connected to why there were only male priests in Judaism, and to a liturgy that developed from Jewish tabernacle/first temple worship recast around Jesus (see the works of Margaret Barker, English, Methodist), and to the constant running theme in EO of the-Union-of-Heaven-and-Earth-in-Jesus. Orthodoxy affirms the ontological equality of men and women as full human beings; messing with the equality of the Trinitarian Persons not only shipwrecks the doctrine of the Trinity, it makes women less than human. Period.
However, a parallel between RC/EO ordination and Protestant ordination can’t be drawn, because the RC/EO priest is not in the same category as the Protestant pastor/minister- they are apples and oranges, even though what they all “do” in terms of their horizontal relationships with people in their flocks is similar. Don is mistaken in that attempt at analogy. RC/EO priests have additional different expressed ministry purposes than Protestant pastors, because RC/EO have a liturgy centered on the Eucharist as the Real Presence of Christ, and all that that means.
The issue is not “what the bible teaches”. I think the authors of the book are correct that the only thing discussion about this has led to is impasse. Plenty of proof texts can be marshalled for either view. My belief is that if one operates from a Protestant frame of reference, there are no scriptural barriers to women in any ministry.
My answer to the question posed about whether the authors’ view is a way forward: maybe. It depends on how heirarchicalists will approach the discussion. My experience has been that egalitarians are much more open to such a possibility.

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posted June 25, 2009 at 10:24 am

Thanks for your interesting insights.

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