Hearing Her Voice

Hearing Her Voice

In my Gender and Theology series, I presented Charlotte von Kirschbaum’s case for the ordained ministry of women on grounds that preserve the ordering of the sexes (yes, subordination for woman). In her argument, she makes the point that, in contrast to the ἐκκλησία of the apostles, the voice of women has been utterly silenced in the assembly since that time. The formalization of ordained ministry and the order of the liturgy has reduced proclamation to the lone male voice from the pulpit.

John Dickson, in a recent series from Zondervan (Fresh Perspectives on Women in Ministry), makes the case that the gift and role of “teaching” has a fairly precise and technical meaning for Paul, related to the authority of maintaining the oral deposit of faith. It is a role distinct from exhortation and prophecy — the former of which is more closely related to what we conceive of as “sermons.” The role of women evangelizing and prophesying is well-known — approved and praised by Paul. By contrast, teaching is restricted to men. Dickson, an evangelical Anglican, agrees that “teaching” should be restricted to men, but this pertains to matters of authority in the first century that do not easily transpose to our current situation, much less to our practice of giving sermons. So, Dickson’s thesis is modest — he is merely arguing for the inclusion of women in the giving of sermons. It is a persuasive argument.

I also appreciated Dickson’s point that we do actually have a description of prophecy in the NT communities: “But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort” (1 Cor 14:3). Paul is contrasting prophesy with tongues, emphasizing the public character of the former. Once again, here we know that women were given a voice — not in the precise parameters of “teaching” but in significant ways that come rather close to the practice of homiletics that developed in church history.

This is an intra-complementarian debate. For those of us who are basically complementarian but open to forms of ordained women’s ministry, Dickson’s thesis is a significant aid to our arguments, even though Dickson limits his discussion to the giving of sermons and not to the broader issue of ordination. Michael Bird, in his volume in the same series, apparently gets into the larger issue — arguing for the ordination of women but proscribing positions as senior ministers.

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