“We would like CT’s pages to be a platform where [the women in leadership issue] can be debated with logical yet loving force,” wrote Terry Muck on our editorial page last July. The essay that follows was commissioned as a partial fulfillment of that desire.
Oxford has been called the home of lost causes, and here am I, an Oxford man, pleading for an end to something that is now standard practice in Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Congregational, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian denominations, along with the Anglican churches of the U.S.A., Canada, New Zealand, and Ireland. Is this a lost cause? Perhaps. Yet does not wisdom urge us to stop this practice and point us to a better way of benefiting from women’s ministry than by ordaining them to the presbyterate? Here are my reasons for thinking that the answer is yes.
Let me say, before moving into my argument, that I am as emphatically for women’s ministry as I am against turning women into substitute men by making presbyters of them. (See “What Is a ‘Presbyter’?” p. 21.) To confine women to domestic and menial roles when God has gifted them for ministry and leadership would be Spirit-quenching, beyond doubt. Gifts are given to be used, and when God-given gifts lie fallow, whether in men or in women, the church suffers. However, by envisaging a presbyterate of manly men, the New Testament indicates that the truest womanly ministry will be distinct from this, in ways that I will specify in a moment. But two other questions must be faced first.
Question one: Why has so much of the church in our time come to think that introducing women into the presbyterate is good, right, wise, and pleasing to God? Official Roman Catholicism (though ...1