Friday, November 27, 2009

Sex and the Spirit of God

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The Georgia Southern Baptist Convention recently severed ties with the First Baptist Church of Decatur, Georgia, a relationship of 148 years. The Convention declared the church “non-cooperating” because a woman, Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell, was senior pastor. This decision kept faith with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Faith and Message Statement, which reads: “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” This strikes me almost as odd as Roman Catholics and their males-only priesthood. If these groups are right, it appears God has a serious hang-up with the sexuality of women, and because of their accouterments even disqualifies them from particular church vocations.

Male-only pastors and priests may simply be one of those divine mysteries of faith to which the church appeals when evidence is thin—like an appeal to the mystery of the Trinity or the transformation of the Eucharistic elements! Little justification exists, however, for Southern Baptist appeals to Scripture to support male-only pastors. The word “pastor” appears once in the New Testament as a ministerial function (Eph 4:13), and no mention is made of the pastor’s gender! It is true that 1st Timothy (3:2) and Titus (1:6) hold that a bishop must be “the husband of one wife,” but the writer of the Pastoral Epistles comes across as a near misogynist (1 Timothy 2:15), and, in any case, Southern Baptists don’t have Bishops to fight about—so an appeal to these texts is off point.

Male-only pastors may just be a Southern Baptist hang-up. In the early Christian movement women were called by the spirit of God to the office (1 Corinthians 12:10, 13:28) of prophet (1 Corinthians 11:5; Acts 2:7, 21:9). But then Southern Baptists don’t have prophets. In early Christianity women served as deacons (Phoebe, in the church at Cenchreae; Romans 16:1); they also held the spirit-endowed office of “helper” (Romans 16:2; 1 Corinthians 13:28), but then Southern Baptists have neither women deacons nor “helpers.” Scripture also mentions the eminent woman apostle, Junia (Romans 16:7; see the book by Eldon Epp, Junia: The First Woman Apostle), a fact lost on non-Greek readers of the New Testament.

It is true that Paul had issues with women, but at his best he recognizes there was no limitation on the spirit of God in calling women to service in the church (Galatians 3:28)—in the community of faith men and women in spite of different accouterments were equals. In Romans sixteen Paul sends special greetings to a series of women he was apparently proud to consider his equals in gospel ministry (Phoebe, Prisca, Mary, Junia, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, the mother of Rufus, Julia, and the sister of Nereus). In short, in Paul’s view the spirit of God did not discriminate against women because of their gender. Has God had a change of mind and now discriminates against women? Hardly! A pity the same cannot be said for Southern Baptists (and Roman Catholics).

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Posted by Charles Hedrick at 9:33am

Thanks for speaking up for women. We appreciate it! I must say, I read your article thinking it would be about sex, but discovered no sex in it. LOL! (I realize that this old joke would go over better if I were a man, but I'm not.)

Posted by Holly Thompson on 2/9/2010 at 1:24am

When I was in seminary we used a neat summary of Paul's view of women in the ministry. He basically seemed to believe that "No woman should be a pastor unless, of course, she is one of my personal friends and supporters and in that case it is a noble calling."

Roger L. Ray, D.Min.
Community Christian Church
910 W. Battlefield Suite 100
Springfield, MO 65807
Posted by Roger L. Ray on 11/27/09 at 3:32pm