Talk about gender issues in many churches and you’d think you were volunteering to be burned at the stake.
As an aside though, isn’t it better now that differences between Christians are dealt with without the need to kill each other?
Anyway, about gender issues, I am very uncomfortable with much that is said and debated about the role of women in the church. I have listened to, and read, the arguments but I find many of them unconvincing. It seems to me that a key text in the ancient documents that is often overlooked, is a portion of the letter written by Paul to the believers in Galatia (in what we now know as central Turkey).
The portion I am referring to is in Galatians, beginning in verse 26 of chapter 3 and continuing to verse 8 of chapter 4.
3:26 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.
27 For all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.
4:1 Now I mean that the heir, as long as he is a minor, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything.
2 But he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.
3 So also we, when we were minors, were enslaved under the basic forces of the world.
4 But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,
5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights.
6 And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who calls “Abba! Father!”
7 So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God.
Before we ask ourselves questions about this, and draw conclusions, it is worth noting the context. Paul was writing to a group of people that were being pressed by Jewish believers who had taken the step to follow Jesus but still believed that the rituals of the Jewish law were mandatory, including the rite of circumcision. Paul goes into some technical argument about the old covenant law being fulfilled in Christ and followers of Jesus now being justified in God’s sight by faith in Jesus rather than by works.
Paul then makes the point that connecting to Jesus is through faith (“…so that the promise could be given – because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ – to those who believe.” 3:22b) and alters the status of every believer.
Verses 3:26 and following is explaining that the new status of believers is that they are sons of God. Paul then makes some effort to mention who is included in this designation as sons of God. We see that it includes “all” that have clothed themselves in Christ (verse 27) and it excludes nobody, whether Jew, Greek, slave, free, male or female. Paul then goes on to argue that all those listed are sons, including women.
Paul is not being gender blind but is saying that a female believer has all the inheritance rights of a son and is no second-rate, or other designated, believer. Women too find themselves reading verses 6 and 7 of chapter 4 and seeing themselves there as sons.
Perhaps a variety of feminist may object to being called a son if they prefer a gender neutral term such as child. But that would be to weaken the force of Paul’s argument. Paul in not claiming that God is male, but that God had chosen to reveal himself in a male orientated society and one which would understand inheritance rights of the male heir. To say a female believer is a son is, to me, a dignifying statement that defies attempts to suppress.
Two zebras discussing women's roles in the church
Thanks to Fiona Raffell for her photo of the zebras.