So we established in the previous post that the role of systematic theological categories is significant, but we also closed by noting that there are cultural tectonic plates at work in any discussion about the teaching role of women in the church. I said in my previous post that I suspect that any church that wants to get 1 Tim. 2 right will need to already be a robust and enthusiastic proponent of Titus 2. Another way of saying this is exactly what Paul says about women praying and prophesying in Church: they must do so with their glory intact. They must do so with their heads covered, with symbols of authority in place (1 Cor. 11). Paul points to a woman’s relatively long hair as one such symbol of authority, but Paul is also appealing to a broader biblical principle regarding the natural glory of being a woman made in the image of God.
So first of all let us celebrate the glory of a woman made in the image of God. She is truly the glory of man. She makes being human look good. And God says that she exercises this glory ordinarily first and foremost as a wife and mother. This calling is not a demotion. This is not settling for anything. This is to aim for the gold. A competent and industrious homemaker will also frequently run small businesses, assist in her husband’s work, be an educator, an accountant, an administrative assistant, a doctor, a scientist, and many other lawful vocational pursuits. But, and this needs to be stated very plainly, the Bible says that a woman’s first love should be her own family and her own home (Tit. 2:4-5). This is her first glory, her greatest glory, and not the other way around. And what about a single or widowed or childless woman? Yes, she is most certainly still the glory of the human race, and that glory is still centered in making homes lovely and fruitful (cf. 1 Tim. 5:14). She may give herself to helping other mothers, she may give herself to particular fields of study or service (e.g. education, health care, etc.), or she may continue her studies and training in order to use her gifts for the building up of the Body of Christ. But her first love is still beauty, a home, a table, hospitality, children. This is a woman’s glory. And finally, the Bible says very plainly that this glory that God has given to women is not compatible with being an elder or a preacher in the Christian church (1 Tim. 3:1, Tit. 1:6). A woman who is put in authority over men in this way is being asked to demit and relinquish her natural, God-given glory.
Now, to the primary point of this post, I believe that because we have lost any semblance of cultural consensus on this first point, our discussion of exactly where a woman can teach publicly is all convoluted. And this has happened because Bible believing Christians have not faithfully defended a context in which a woman is free to be a woman, free to embrace her glory. Another way of saying all of this is that meaning in the world that God made is always contextualized. Context doesn’t trump or obliterate the meaning of words or gestures or expressions, but it is one important layer in interpretation. We have uniforms and gestures and contextual signs and symbols that frame and interpret who we are and what we are doing. Our enemies have understood this better than we, and over the last hundred years they have successfully taken one contextual sign after another from every intelligent and competent woman who would speak into the world in public with her glory intact. Of course these contextual signs and symbols can and do vary from culture to culture to some extent, but this does not mean they are therefore insignificant or worthless. Paul appeals to nature to defend the longer hair of a woman, and every culture is required by God to notice the natural difference in glory between a man and a woman and aggressively guard and celebrate those differences. In the West this has meant protocols about how and when a woman is spoken to, standing when a woman enters the room, very different dress codes, holding doors, taking off hats, etc. And my point here is that when a culture has a robust celebration of these differences, far from squashing a woman, these signs and symbols actually give a woman far more freedom to speak and teach and exercise influence — because the context is proclaiming her unique feminine glory. But we have stripped all of these away, and now we are left with a generic public square, which may be a gender neutral platform but is probably de facto masculine where everyone wears slacks and ties. Any woman with any sense, who sincerely cares about honoring God’s word and guarding her dignity as a woman made in His image, will have no use for being asked to walk into that demotion. Why should she walk into a context in which she is being asked to pretend that she is not a woman?
This is why at the present I think the most pressing need for the Church in this area is to recover a robust culture of guarding the central glory of being a woman. We need to recover numerous gestures and practices that are constantly and publicly affirming that a woman is someone’s daughter, someone’s wife, someone’s mother, someone’s sister. She is precious in the sight of God, and therefore she must be treated as precious in the sight of all men. She is not an object to be ogled or used or manipulated. But in order to recover a culture that guards and celebrates the unique dignity and glory of a woman, we need to recover a truly biblical culture of masculinity. The failure of the church and the failure of our culture to guard and celebrate all the little ways in which a woman is treated and viewed as a woman is the collective failure of men, and the individual failure of husbands and fathers and brothers. This is why before I am willing to invite a woman to teach a Sunday School class or speak at a conference sponsored by my church, I must be convinced that it would be done in such a way as to celebrate and highlight her glory and dignity first and foremost as a wife and a mother. I refuse to sponsor an event that adds to the confusion, that does not clearly and defiantly stand against our culture’s war on women. And at present, I am not sure that we even have the cultural vocabulary to say what we need to say. And in the meantime, to the extent that this vocabulary is not being actively recovered, lots of well meaning, Bible-loving folks are naively enacting egalitarian liturgies. This is why I think a simplistic application of Jim Jordan’s interpretation of 1 Tim. 2 is a recipe for disaster without a corresponding and full throated celebration of Titus 2.
Lastly, this is all related to reading the story that we are currently in. It’s the story of 21st century western culture. We are at that part in the story where the chimps in suits are walking through our house knocking lamps over and swinging baseball bats into the china hutches. Glass is flying everywhere, one of the lamps has short circuited and now one of the couches is on fire, and smoke is filling the room. Meanwhile, if the Christian Church is the family sitting at the dinner table, we’re being told that we’re welcome to keep doing whatever it is that we’re doing just so long as we don’t force anyone else to. But we keep getting the distinct impression every five minutes or so when another wine glass goes whirling over our heads and smashes on the wall, that it’s only a matter of time before one of us catches the Louisville Slugger in the back of the head. Of course it will only be an accident, and it will probably have to do with our refusal to budge out of the way. And meanwhile, they keep asking if we’d like to join in with the progress they are making. And when we decline, they go back to smashing things and lighting curtains on fire and laughing at us for our backward, fundamentalist ways, while commenting sagely to one anther about their love for their fellow man.
In other words, given this cultural context, when the question is raised about how and when and whom a woman may teach in the church, it’s frequently like asking how far can you toss a wine glass before it shatters on the floor and it’s very difficult to tell the different between you and the vandalizing chimps. Nevertheless, the American Church is called to preach and teach and baptize a new human race here in this context. There are no excuses for unfaithfulness in any direction, so let our women learn quietly during the worship services and let it be clear that our women do not hold authority over men in the church, and when a woman speaks in our churches let her be honored as a true daughter of Eve, as a Sarah, as a Deborah, as a Mary, as a true mother in the Church and let it be wonderfully obvious that she speaks from that position of priceless glory. And to the extent that anything Paul says gets caught in your throat or turns your cheeks pink, recognize that you are part of the problem with our culture and start hauling that log out of your eye before you do any more damage.