John Howard Yoder on Women in “Ministry”
Yesterday we ordained two great men at The Well. It was a pretty awesome day. More on that later maybe.
Now, it just so happens that each of our pastors is now a man. Hopefully it doesn’t stay that way for too long. I strongly affirm and believe that men and women are equally gifted and called to all areas of leadership and service in the church.
I’ve been reading Body Politics by John Howard Yoder. It is a fantastic little book on “Five Practices of the Christian Community Before a Watching World.”
These five practices are:
- Binding and Loosing
- Multiplicity of Gifts
- Open Meeting
Each chapter has had a few lightbulb moments for me and I’m pretty certain it’s a book I will come back to time and time again. In his chapter on multiplicity of gifts he talks a bit about Ephesians 4, Corinthians, and the multiplicity of gifts in the body of Christ. He works through the metaphor of “body” and how each member is vital to the whole. It is a great chapter and I’ll let you read it yourself for the whole thing.
In this chapter he talks very briefly about men and women in a role he calls “ministry” (quotes are his).
What is sweeping across the map in our century is the debate about women in ministry. Assuming there is one role called “ministry,” whether sacerdotal or episcopal in focus, some denominations agree that women can carry that role, and others, both some of the very catholic and some of the very Protestant, deny it.
The mistake that dominates this debate, the reader will recognize, from the perspective of the Pauline vision, is not in the answers but in the question. There is not (i.e. there should not be) one “ministerial” role, of which then we could argue about whether it is gender specific. There are as many ministerial roles as there are members of the body of Christ, and that means that more than half of them belong to women. The roles least justified by the witness of the New Testament – quite regardless of the gender debate – are those of priest and of (super-congregational) bishop, precisely the ones that some men have traditionally held alone and what to keep for themselves. To let a few women into an office that men have for generations wrongly restricted and did not even exist in the apostolic churches may be a good kind of “affirmative action,” but it is hardly the post profound vision of renewal…
The transformation that Paul’s vision calls for would not be to let a few more especially gifted women share with a few men the rare roles of domination: it would be to reorient the notion of ministry so that there would be no one ungifted, no one not called, no one not empowered, and no one dominated. Only that would live up to Paul’s call to “lead a life worthy of our calling.”
In the margin next to this section I wrote, “Wow” and then near the end “Boom!”.