Friday, August 17, 2012

Theological Labelling

Theology like any other academic discipline is filled with useful terms, definitions, categories, and streams of thought for the purposes of study and research.  Once again the battle between complementarianism and egalitarianism is on the forefront of theological debate, although the subscribers to each belief system have been arguing about gender in ministry for decades, centuries even. The debate about the place of women in public ministry never seems to go away, and certainly very little seems to be definitively decided year after year after endless year.  In my own church denomination there has been a great welcoming of women in leadership and preaching roles in recent decades....on the one hand. On the other hand there is a sect or two in my denomination that has not accepted women in the pulpit, as well as one that did accept women in the pulpit until very recent years when their doctrine actually reverted back to not accepting women in the pulpit. YES to women leaders and preachers, then NO to women leaders and preachers, back and forth, up and down, side to side, and on and on it goes.

My friend over at Cheese-Wearing Theology has posted an interesting video featuring members of The Gospel Coalition discussing why they are complementarians more than egalitarians and all the members of the panel are discussing strongly their concepts of women in ministry with nary a woman present.  That sort of discussion doesn't offend me....any more.  I am old and have been listening to the same arguments pro and con regarding women in public ministry all my life.  On some level it has ceased to have meaning for me any more after listening to the same ideas on each side of the issue for over 50 years.

In the course of living most of my life in the church in its various forms and expressions I have developed my own view of the issue.  It is based on the practicality of life and the apparent practicality of God in getting his will accomplished on the earth.  A general theme of biblical scripture in both testaments for both genders is that whatever you find to do in life and ministry, do it heartily, do it well and above all do it for the Lord. I look at the stories of the Bible and see God using whoever is available at any given moment to do his good will. Sometimes it is men and sometimes it is women.

To me the questions are more along the lines of "what is God trying to accomplish in a given circumstance?" And "who is available AND WILLING to accomplish it?" In my culture I may have a strong preference for one gender or the other to perform certain acts of public ministry, but I can't claim a strong biblically based preference and know beyond doubt that my preference is God's preference. There are too many good and logical arguments on both sides of the complementarianism and egalitarianism issue.

This weekend I will have a chance once again to experience an attempt to please God by serving in one of our churches as leader and "preacher" (actually a word I do not like as it seems to scream at me both from the written page and from the lips when it is verbalized....for me the word just "feels" abusive for some reason).  There will be some in the congregation who will not like it, will feel I am overstepping my boundaries not because of my lack of academic theological degrees, but because I am a woman.  I have experienced that before and survived.  I did not ask to do this task.  I did not even want to do it this weekend to be honest as I have a lot of other things on my mind right now.   It takes hours and hours for me to research a simple 5 minute homily due to my lack of theological training.  I can't risk saying anything that is incorrect or risk giving practical application of the scriptures that leads people down the wrong path of interpretation or practise. Preparing the simplest of homilies is a stress but one is expected.  This weekend in particular I really feel I have "better" things to do with my time in terms of the practicalities involved in cancelling our vacation plans to go and assist with a dying places to stay near her, trying to figure out a way to best assist her and also to still see my son now that I can no longer go to his city, after planning this holiday for the past 4 months.  My mind is otherwise occupied, my emotions are hurting and I am finding it difficult to concentrate on planning a church service today. 
BUT is God more honoured by our church service going forward at the hands of a woman, even a somewhat distracted one, or by cancelling the service completely because no male priests nor laymen are available this weekend?  Is it wiser to gather together in praise and worship under the leadership of someone less than acceptable in the eyes of many, based on gender, or to lose out on the corporate worship of God because the leader of the service is not the desired male?  Am I supposed to post a sign outside my church doors that announces there will be no service today because no men, either ordained or laymen, are available to take it?  I honestly don't know for certain, but it seems to me that even my feeble attempts to lead the service and extend the fellowship of believers this weekend will be better than no attempt at all.  I am not a complete rookie at this sort of thing, I know God can bring something good to our corporate body at this service.  If some of the men in the congregation decide at the last minute that they are available to do a lay service instead of me taking it, that is fine as well.  They are welcome to do it. The important thing to me is not the gender of the leaders, it is whether or not God is going to be fellowshipped with this weekend by our corporate body.

I think I have just reached a point in life where I am not worried any more about who leads what in public ministry based on gender.  Let it be an issue for others. I don't have the energy any more to worry so much about it. For myself I want God to be publicly honoured and praised and for his people to gather in corporate worship.  Hopefully the leadership is competent. My constant prayer for the church is that all church leadership will learn to wisely discern God's heart for their teaching and worship leading...whoever that leadership is, male or female. 

1 comment:

chris e. said...

Theological bumpkin that i am, i read Jesus's words 'where two or more are gathered in my name...' to mean two or more humans, no matter which washroom they favour.
I'm with you. Willingness of heart is far more important than gender.