March 29, 2010 / David Fitch

Woman and Men in Ministry Together: Affirming Women and Transforming – The Missional Way

A couple weeks ago I began a series of posts on the post-evangelical landscape regarding two controversial issues – women inimages ministry and the normativity of gay/lesbian relations. To reiterate, I contended that how a church/movement comes down on these two issues together reveals much about the assumptions that drive their theology. The manner in which the Neo-Reformed missionals reject women in ministry and/or GLBT relations together reveals much about the way they do theology re: Scripture, authority, sanctification etc. Likewise, the way the post Emergent/emerging coalesence here in the U.S. (heretofore referred to as pEC) affirms both reveals the underlying assumptions that drive the way they do theology. As I see it, getting at these assumptions improves the conversation in the post-evangelical landscape moving us further together into the Kingdom of God.
The Missional Way I have been proposing is a third way of doing theology. It is an incarnational logic that drives much of Missional practice. It has some similarities to the pEC’s in that it is non-foundationalist, post Christendom, driven by cultural engagement and community life, wholistic in salvation. Yet there are differences as well which I tried to make clearer previously over at this post. This incarnatiuonal, post Christendom driven understanding of life and truth in the gospel leads, so I argue, to certain directions on the two issues of “Women in Ministry” and “GLBT sexual relations” – what I’d like to call Position No. 3 “Yes to Women in Minstry/ and Transforming of All Relationships” (this phrase was tipped off and influenced by Brad/futurist guy in the comments on this post).  FYI for the theologically driven reader- the transforming logic here comes from Yoder’s Authentic Transformation idea as opposed to Niebuhr’s transforming logic here which is where I see both Neo-Reformed and pEC coming from. This view a.) affirms women alongside men as equal participants in the ministry of Christ’s church in the world, and b.) calls for a redemptive community by which we explore together and witness to the sexual redemption God is working in the world in relation gay/lesbian sexuality and sexuality in toto.

In terms of the way this works out on the women in ministry issue first, according to the Missional Way, women are full participants in the ministerial authority of the church, including ordination, because:

1.) Authority by its very definition is flattened and thereby includes All! The Missional church understands authority in the church as manifested in a flattened leadership within the community – the priesthood of all believers. The Kingdom has begun. The Holy Spirit has been poured out on all – men and women alike, your sons AND DAUGHTERS shall prophesy (Acts 2:17). Men and women therefore partake together in the gifts and the authority of the Lord in the community. In so doing however, the very nature of this authority has been transformed. It is not exercised as the power of the world (Mark 10:42-45) – top down hierarchically. (This was part of what Christendom did to the church’s power). This power is exercised via the humility and vulnerability of the Incarnate Christ. In distinction from Reformed ways of thinking about authority, there is no senior pastor! Women and men participate equally. In that certain forms of church power has taken on hierarchical structure, we should not fight for women to enter authority on those terms. It is an outmoded Christendom way of authority in the church. Neither should we see authority as derived from democratic legitimation.  Communal authority emerges out of the gifts within communal discernment. There is difference and roles. Equality is based on the mutual participation in one Body (1 Cor 12). It is not an equality that obliterates our differences. This way of authority and power spreads out into the world instead of centralizing authority in a professionalized top down hierarchy. Under these terms, how can women be excluded from full participation in ministry? (The Anabaptist, as well as holiness and pentecostal influences here are obvious.

2.) Ordination recognizes those gifted and entrusted with the gift of teaching preaching. From this vantage point, ordination is still important for the gifts recognized for maintaining the theological integrity of the community (preachers, teachers, apostles and others as well). There’s a succession going on here. And yet it is not an ordination of hierarchy but of service. On these terms, there is no reason to exclude women from ordination? Of course there is the issue of Scripture’s pronouncements which leads to my next point.

3.) The Kingdom Has Begun and This Helps Us Understand the Tension in Scripture Between Roles in the Church and Roles in Marriage: The Missional Way is driven by Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom – that it has begun in Himself – His life death and resurrection and Rule as Lord. It has begun, yet it is not yet consummated.  For this reason gender and bodies have not disappeared yet (as the Gnostic Corinthians suggested). Marriage continues until Jesus returns and the new age  consummated (Mark 12:25). Gender difference and the roles within marriage continues to exist ALTHOUGH THE KINGDOM TRANSFORMS THESE ROLES OUT OF THE PATRIARCHAL ABUSES OF THE PAST! The main point I want to make here therefore is, given this dynamic at work in the NT, we can now understand many of the texts which chasten women from teaching over men in the NT to be the chastening of women who did not honor their marriages in the exercise of their new found authority in the church- e.g. women who did not cover their hair while teaching (1 Cor 11) or who took out their newfound authority against their husbands (1 Cor 14:34) etc. So whereas the Neo-Reformed tend to take Scripture as plainly outlawing women in ministry over men, and pEC’s tend to dismiss these Scriptures as culturally obsolete, the Missional appreciation of the dynamic of the inbreaking Kingdom allows for a fuller appreciation for the eschatological tension of the Kingdom that must be upheld in these dynamics. This inevitably extols the full participation of women alongside men in the ministries of the church while guarding the maintaining of the community’s marriages in “the in between” time.  Women are welcomed alongside men in the full authority of the Kingdom as long as they each maintain their God ordained marriage callings (1 Tim 3:4-5 if they are married that is, if not then this does not matter for women or men which is why Paul is always urging people to remain single and unentangled). This is all I can say on this here (I have a long unpublished paper on this). This all illustrates how the three ways often approach Scripture.

4.) The principle of revolutionary subordination. In Christ a new authority has begun and all are invited into it. Yoder called this the principle “Revolutionary Subordination.” The idea here is that just as Jesus our Lord incarnated himself, humbling himself, giving up the right to power, God exalted Him, the Truth was vindicated and empowered (Phil 2). We operate in all ways under this principle subordinating ourselves to powers, false authorities, ways of exercising power with the peaceful witness of character, truth and Scripture. God will manifest the truth.  This extends into the practice of mutual submission one to another in the community (Eph 5:20, Matt 18:15-20) Jesus himself inhabits this submitting of ourselves and works in each conflict, each leader to further His Kingdom via the way of peace. We therefore reject past ways of abusive power, and do not ask women to become part of the them. For many of us, the ways we have exercised power in the church is not incarnational and must be rejected period, not just for the ways it has excluded women.

So women are of course invited as full particpants in this new way of power. Yet there is an incredible transformation here that not only affirms women’s full participation in ministry but transforms the very power structures that have hardened the church and sucked the life out of its witness. Instead, all who come into the Kingdom as a community are empowered to participate in a way of revolution that spreads the power and leadership of the church into the world for Mission.

In the past I have complained how the bland politics of Western democracy obliterates difference. I have also complained that the NeoReformed evangelicals have excluded women from authority in the church thereby foreclosing the incoming Kingdom of God. To me the Incarnational logic of the incoming Kingdom -that drives the Missional church – is a way forward out of both of these malaises.

My next post on this subject will address how the Missional Approach of Welcoming/Transforming plays out in the GLBT Sexual Relationships Issues in the church today.