V. OUR MINISTRY IN CHRIST
The ministry of the Church involves every believer--every man and every woman. There are a variety of function to which believers are called, yet all are ministers. The proper functioning of each believer in his or her ministry is essential for the health and vitality of the Church (Ro l2:4- 6; I Cor 12:12-31; Eph 4:12).
In order to understand the nature of ministry in the Church one must understand the truth of the Church as the Body of Christ. Furthermore, in order to understand fully the truth of the Church as the Body of Christ one must understand the truth of spiritual gifts.
Paul made a great deal of the fact that the Church is the Body of Christ (Rom 12:5; I Cor 12:12-27; Eph 4:4, 11-16). The analogy he used is the human body-- an organism of diverse parts making up an harmoniously functioning whole. Just as each member of the human organism must provide its proper function for the ongoing health of the organism, each member of the Body of Christ must provide his or her ministry for the ongoing health of the Body.
The functions of the various members of the human body are fairly easy to discern. For example, Paul mentioned, among others, the eye and the hand. God created each of these members with a unique structure and capability that are relatively obvious. We would not confuse the function of one with that of the other. When it comes to the Body of Christ the basis for functioning is perhaps less obvious.
Upon what basis do we identify and call forth ministries? On the basis of spiritual gifts! In each of the key passages on the Body of Christ Paul explained that spiritual gifts are the opportunity and equipment for ministry. "For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly" (Ro 12:4-6a). "Now there are varieties of gifts. but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries. and the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good... But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ... But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired" (I Cor 12:7,11.12,18). "But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gifts... And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ" (Eph 4:7.11.12).
We cannot understand the nature of the Body of Christ and the ministry which is integral to its life apart from spiritual gifts. In the three passages to which I have just made reference Paul described gifts in the areas of ministry needs, motivation and manifestation. Each believer has been given gifts in each area.
Is it not clear that earthly distinctions--whether race, class, sex, or anything else--are not the basis for ministry? The basis is spiritual gifts! These gifts are the divine calling and supernatural capability bestowed on each believer according to sovereign grace!
VI. INTERPRETING SEVERAL DIFFICULT VERSES
At this point I will anticipate the question of how several verses in 1 Corinthians and I Timothy are to be interpreted in light of the principles to which the reader has just been given attention.
A cursory reading of I Cor 14:34.35 might seem to suggest that these verses contradict the vital principles just studied. However, a careful study of these verses and their context reveals some important clues to their interpretation and shows us the way out of confusion and contradiction. The verses in question read as follows: "Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the law says. And if they desire to learn anything, let thorn ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church."
It is so important not to lift these or any other verses out of their immediate context. First of all. note that one of Paul's primary concerns in this chapter was to deal with the problem of confusion (14:33) and disorder (14:40). The same verb which in verse 34 is translated "keep silent" is also directed towards some who were misusing tongues (14:28) and prophecy (14:30). It is apparent that one of the sources of confusion and disorder in Corinth was certain women creating some kind of disturbance in the assembly of believers.
We can only conjecture about the details of the original situation. Perhaps women who had been involved in various pagan religions had come to Christ and become part of the Corinthian congregation. Female deities were a part of these religions ( see Acts 19:24-28) and women were often made spectacles in their rites. Such women would have had to learn to behave differently in the assembly of believers Or perhaps there were uneducated women, both Gentile and Jew, who were constantly asking others out loud to explain what was going on or being taught (see verse 35). In any case, their speech was out of order!
Another significant clue is given in verse 35. Paul suggested that these women learn from their husbands at home. Obviously he was speaking to married women. (There is but one Greek word to speak both of any adult female and of a wife. The reference to "husbands" in verse 35 guides us as to the usage in both verses). It is likely that the disturbance caused by these wives in part involved disrespectfulness towards their own husbands. It is also strongly suggested by Paul's wording that they were ignorant while their husbands were well grounded in the truth. They could learn much from their husbands if they would acquire a teachable attitude.
Paul exhorted these wives to submit themselves to their husbands according to the Law (verse 34). The Old Testament clearly teaches that the wife is to respect her husband and submit to his leadership. This submission, however, does not exclude the exercise of spiritual gifts as observed earlier in this study. (However, this study would not be complete without advancing research that has recently come to our notice that sheds even more light upon this difficult passage. By minute examination of the original Greek text, references to authoritative scholars and the historical setting of the occasion calling forth the epistle, it can be clearly shown that Paul never wrote these words as a "commandment of the Lord" but was simply quoting what the Judaizers in the Corinthian church were saying. It is clear that Paul intended no absolute restriction to silence in I Corinthians 14:35 and 35 for he spoke of women being able to pray publicly and to exercise the prophetic gift in I Corinthians ll:5a: "But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head." In chapter 11 he was urging these women to exercise their newly found freedom in Christ.
Therefore, a consistent worthy sense can be found in his words if his arguments are not twisted out of conformity with Scriptures. That Paul is but quoting the language of the Judaizers in I Cor 14:34-35 is in harmony with previous parts of the epistle. Again and again from chapter 5 on to end of chapter 14, it can be seen that he is replying to a letter of questions sent to him by the Corinthian Church. As can be clearly seen in the Conybeare-Howson translation, in instance after instance it can be detected that the reference to the questions is repeated whenever a new point is taken up. We need to remember that in the Greek manuscripts there were no capital letters to words, no quotation marks, and no punctuation such as we have in our English versions of the Bible. Professor Sir William Ramsey, the most widely accepted authority on St. Paul in the early 1900's says "we should be ready to suspect Paul is making a quotation from the letter addressed to him by the Corinthians whenever he alludes to their knowledge, or when any statement stands in marked contrast either with the immediate context or with Paul's known views." Considering Paul's views on the ministries of Priscilla, Phoebe and others referred to earlier, it is clear that Paul believed in equality of women in ministry. Moreover, I Cor 14:34,35, if taken totally literally, cannot refer to the Old Testament Scriptures when speaking of the Law for there is not one trace from Genesis to Malachi of any such prohibition of women to literally keep silent in the church nor is there a single word in the whole "law of Moses" dealing with the subject. Therefore the words, "it is not permitted" and "as also saith the Law" roust refer to some "rule outside of Scripture. There was no other but the Oral Law of the Jews appealed to by the Judaizers in the church in their efforts at that time to bring Christianity back within the confines of Judaism. The Jewish Oral Law did teach the silencing of women. The Talmud also taught that it was "a shame for a woman to let her voice be heard among men". However, the Oral Law of the Jews is not Scripture. Again, the reference to the "law" is, of itself, sufficient to show that the Apostle who labored so earnestly to free the Christian Church from the very shadow of Judaism was not expressing his own conviction in the language attributed to him. Paul never appealed to the "law" for the guidance of the Church of Christ, but, on the contrary, declared that believers were dead to the law by the body of Christ" (Ro 7:4) that they might serve in newness of spirit and not the oldness of the letter (v.6).)
While referring to chapter 11 of I Corinthians it would be profitable to discuss briefly verse 3. "But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ." Some have tried to use this verse to teach a male over female hierarchy in the Church. However, it simply violates the rest of the New Testament to assert that the male stands in relation to the female as Christ stands in relation to the male. The female believer has the same personal relationship to Christ as the male (Gal 3: 26-29; Col 2:6-14; I Timothy 2:5). Christ is her spiritual authority as He is the authority over the male (Ro 14:11,12). What, then, is this verse about? Paul again was reminding wives of their proper relationship to their own husbands. He illustrated submission within oneness by referring to the Son's relationship to the Father. Christ the Son is equal with, and one with the Father, and yet His will is submitted to the will of the Father. The mention of Christ as head of the man was not to place man between Christ and the woman, but to make it clear that whatever authority the husband has is to be exercised under the Lordship of Christ.
1 Timothy 2:11,12 possesses a number of similarities to I Corinthians 14:34,35. These verses in I Ti 2 read as follows: "Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet." The context again alerts the Bible student to the fact that the truth being emphasized has to do with the marriage relationship which was given in creation. "For it was Adam who was first created . and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived fell into transgression. But women shall be preserved through the bearing of the Child (Jesus) if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self restraint" (2:13-15).
The exhortation in verses 11 and 12 quite possibly has in mind what takes place in the assembly of believers. However, the point is not to exclude women from ministry but to call for behavior that gives evidence of husbands and wives being in proper relationship to each other. The vocabulary and wording of verse 12 strongly suggests that what Paul disallowed was women putting themselves forward as teachers over men (or their own respective husbands since "men" and "husbands" are translated the same and depend entirely on contextual meaning). The verb in V. 12 translated in the NAS version "exercise authority over" is probably much stronger and could be rendered "domineer over." The King James version is not inaccurate in its translation of this verb as "usurp authority over."
To complete this consideration of verses usually used to support the exclusion of women from many important ministries In the Church I must touch upon I Timothy 3:1 and 8. "It is a trustworthy statement; if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it a fine work he desires to do.... Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double tongued, or addicted to much wine or food or fond of sordid gain." Are women absolutely excluded from serving as overseers and deacons? I do not believe so. I would submit as evidence, first of all, the principle of ministry in Christ which is set forth in Ro 12, I Cor 23 and 14 and Eph 4. This does not mean that I am choosing certain Scriptures above others. Rather, the ministry principle woven through the New Testament provides the larger context for interpreting the verses immediately before us. Further, there are features of these verses which present problems for the person choosing to make them absolute rules of exclusion.
It is not too difficult to see how one could conclude from verse 1 that no woman may aspire to, or fulfill the responsibility of an overseer or elder or pastor. (For evidence for the interchangeability of these three terms see Acts 20:17, 28 and I Peter 5:1,2). Nevertheless, that conclusion is not explicitly stated in verse 1. If there was an absolute exclusion of females from this ministry would we not find an unequivocal statement to that effect here or elsewhere in the New Testament? Notice, also, that the thrust of the whole passage (verses 2~7) is the moral and spiritual qualifications of the overseer.
Of course, should the moral and spiritual qualifications be met, a husband would appear to be the most fitting candidate for the ministry of overseer, and the best example for a discussion of the role, for at least two reasons. First of all, as Paul suggested in verses 4 and 5, the home seems to be a unique training ground for spiritual leadership and the husband is the leader of the home. Second, the proper roles and relationships within marriage are not being contradicted, at least in an obvious way, by a husband who serves as an overseer.
Is the Intention of the passage, though, to state not only moral and spiritual qualifications but also to include earthly or natural characteristics as part of the requirements for a prospective overseer or pastor? I do not believe this is the intention of the passage. A literalistic and exclusionistic approach to this passage would seem not only to eliminate women as persons available to God for this ministry, but also to eliminate unmarried men and childless married men. (As a footnote I would observe that the churches and denominations, of which I am aware, which say they believe the passage sets absolute requirements in terms of natural characteristics do not practice that position consistently. The call of single young men into the pastoral ministry is encouraged and endorsed by them. Many of the women they send to home and foreign mission fields serve as pastors though they are given some other title).
Regarding deacons (verses 8-13), the same principles of interpretation apply. In addition, verse 11 may actually refer to women deacons. As has been noted previously, there is only one Greek word to speak of adult females in general and married women in particular. The structure of the sentence favors "women" ("deacons" understood) as much as it does "wives ("of deacons" understood). Relevant here is Paul's identification of Phoebe as a deacon (or, deaconess) of the church which is at Cenchrea" (Ro 16:1).
Of enormous significance for the issue of the role of women in the Church are two conspicuous and urgent concerns expressed by Paul the apostle. One has to do with the nature of the Church, the other with the nature of the home.
The Church is the Body of Christ. All believers, both male and female, are one in Christ. There is no favored position in Christ. Furthermore. all believers, both male and female. are ministers. The basis for the identification of, and calling forth of, ministries is spiritual gifts. All believers are the recipients of spiritual gifts.
The home is ordained of God as the fundamental unit in human society. The home, rooted in monogamous marriage, has its origin in creation and is for all mankind (Gen 1:27,28; 2.18-24; Mk 10.2-12). The husband and wife have differing roles within a unity. The Bible emphasizes the husband's responsibilities of protection, material provision and leadership. The wife is her husband's helpmeet, one who complements him. She has the special responsibility of providing sensitive and creative oversight of the household. Above all. the purpose for the home is harmony in the Lord.
Obviously, our life in the fellowship of believers must be guided by the Scriptural truth pertaining to both the nature of the Church and the nature of the home. In the Church the basis for function is spiritual position and gifts, not the natural distinction of sex as in marriage. (As members of the Body of Christ we participate in an eternal order. We participate in a reality that transcends the temporal order. Jesus said that those who attain the age to come, who attain the resurrection, neither marry, nor are given in marriage. This does not mean that in the life to come there is no continuity of identity with this life. It does mean that the life to come is a different order. There the marriage functions do not exist. See Mt 22:23-33; Mk 12:18-27; Lk 20: 27-40).
Not only, however, must believers recognize and live according to the spiritual basis for their relationships and ministry in the Body. They must also recognize and live by God's ideal for the home. Believing husbands and wives must be committed to this ideal and give witness to this commitment in the larger fellowship of believers. The reader has had occasion in this study to examine passages in which Paul urged this commitment and witness.
The principle of the ministry of the Church and that of the roles in the home are not at odds! They work in harmony. God sovereignly bestows gifts for ministry in the Body of Christ. The need for a clear witness to the divine ideal for the home helps to guide the use of those gifts. In the exercise of his gifts and ministry, the believing husband must demonstrate his commitment to the priority of his wife and family. His ministry to the larger fellowship of believers must not be a hindrance to his faithful and loving provision for, and ministry to, his family. In fact, an essential part of any ministry of the husband is to be an example of his Biblical role. Likewise, the believing wife is to exercise her gifts and ministry in the context of a distinct witness to her commitment to her family responsibilities. She should be in harmony with her husband's leadership and careful not to neglect her children's needs. This will take place in a beautiful way as husbands and wives allow Jesus' love to flow in their relationships to their spouses and children. This love includes affirming and encouraging their spouses and children in the identification, use and development of their spiritual gifts in ministry.
I conclude by returning to my opening theme. We are experiencing a significant outpouring of God's Holy spirit today. However, many believers and churches are missing some of the dimensions of revival that God is making available. God is seeking to establish in the Body of Christ the life and ministry corresponding to New Testament principles. He is seeking to free each believer to realize his or her spiritual potential, and to lead each to be concerned to help free his or her brothers and sisters to the same end. This emergence of new identity and ministry will mean a more healthy Body and thus one with a greater capability to witness to its Risen Head!
-End of Part Two.