In our Sunday morning preaching series on 1 Timothy, we recently looked in some detail at the Apostle Paul’s instructions regarding propriety in leadership and teaching in corporate worship. As we did so we touched on the issue of women’s ministry in the church. You can find the sermon notes and PowerPoint slides from the morning we addressed chapter 2 here in an earlier post.
Today, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has had an article published in the Church Times entitled ‘Women Bishops: Enough Waiting’. I’ll comment on it in a later post, but for now, reading it has brought to mind the perspective on the Bible it is so easy for Christians to slip into…
When the teaching of God’s Word cuts across values commonly held in our culture – as it inevitably does – we can feel… well, a bit embarrassed. We Bible-believing Christians accept what we find in the Scriptures, but, if we find God’s instructions a little too uncomfortable for our liking, we overcompensate in other areas or we grow red-faced, stammer and hide away. Rather than standing and declaring the wonderful truth of God’s Word, we feel God needs to be apologised for. We begin to think we need to do some Public Relations for God since He has made his Word so unpalatable for the world. As I once heard Dick Lucas say, “we want to put make-up on the face of God.” At least, that’s the temptation for us evangelicals.
At first take, we want to excuse ourselves and explain our response. But it doesn’t take a great deal of thought to realise how patronising and condescending and perverse those reactions can be. How dare we qualify God’s Word where he does not! How dare we be ashamed of His wonderful, liberating, life-giving truth! How dare we think God needs us to apply make-up to Him to make Him acceptable to the world!
Jesus knew no such shame in his teaching. He knew that to accept Him and His Word in obedience led to true liberation and life in all its fullness:
‘To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”’ (John 8v31,32)
Yes, Christ’s word cut across popular cultural values and beliefs. Yes, Christ’s word caused great offence to the majority – just see how the conversation in John 8 plays out. And yet the right perspective to have on His Word, says Jesus, was as life-giving truth.
Of course, in the gospels, we see Jesus warning against the opposite reaction to His Word. To those tempted not to embrace Christ and His Word but to be embarrassed by Him and His Word, Jesus said this:
“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8v38)
Notice how in both cases our reaction to Jesus and our reaction to His Word are one and the same reaction. Obvious really since Jesus and His Word are inseparable, indivisible.
Which leads us back to 1 Timothy 2 and the teaching concerning women’s ministry in the church. We need to work hard to properly understand the verses in question. You can read or listen to the sermon to see how well I did that. But should we conclude that the restrictions against women taking on the role of elder and preaching in public worship are permanent since they are based on timeless theological principles of order drawn from the Creation and Fall of humanity (as I argued for), then we should not be ashamed of such teaching. We should not see such teaching as fundamentally restrictive. It does cut across our culture. It does go against the grain of popularly held values and beliefs. It will cause offence to some. And yet Jesus would have us see His Word as fundamentally liberating, joyful and life-giving. It is a delight to live according to His Word; a delight to shape the life of our church around His Word. And, we might add with particular reference to 1 Tim 2, it is a joy and blessing and liberation for men and women alike.
Notice I do not say that we should not see such teaching as restrictive. It is restrictive. In 1 Tim 2, the Apostle Paul does present and defend certain restrictions. But to view the passage as fundamentally restrictive, is to misunderstand the nature of God’s Word. Though He calls us out of disobedience into obedience, such obedience to Him and His Word is fundamentally liberating. To live in obedience to Christ in life and in the church is to live a life of wonderful blessing.
That balance of recognising at one and the same time the restrictiveness of God’s Word and yet its fundamentally liberating function is captured by the Apostle Paul in Romans 6 where he repeatedly uses the term ‘slave’:
‘But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness… But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Rom 6v17-22)
Oh to experience more of the joyful, liberating slavery to God of which Paul writes!